Books I Have Read…

Don’t you hate it, you have finished a book a few months back with a brilliant idea that you want to tell someone about…. and you have no recollection of the name, author or further details.

This is my solution, a placeholder for me to remember great (and even not so great) reads and what made them so.  My good intentions is to include the following information:

Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3 – is the typical score
My thoughts: [my views if chatting about this to a friend].

From Chapters: [from or other reviewer]

65 thoughts on “Books I Have Read…

  1. Title: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
    Author: Tom Reiss
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: Despite enjoying history, I have a limited exposure to the events of the French Revolution. Certainly I know the broad brush details (storming of the Bastille, the terror and the eventual rise of Napoleon). Reiss’ book helped to round this out by telling a history from both sides of the Atlantic. It follows the arc of Alexandre Dumas’ grandfather who made a life in the French Caribbean with a slave wife and his mixed race children. This Alexandre was a scoundrel at best given that he sold these children, except for Alex (the black count) into slavery when he returned to France. Alex was eventually sent for and lived in a particular moment of European history when Africans and mixed races had opportunities albeit not full rights or recognition (but then even the inhabitants of Europe at this time lived a precarious life). It turns out that Alex was brilliant general both in his ability to lead men, logistics and tactics. As a result he was a celebrated general within the republic. When Napoleon went to Egypt he took Alex with him and the latter greatly impressed the locals… and this is where Alex’s trouble began. Despite Napoleon’s reputation as the person who created European institutions, one institution he brought back was slavery and the exclusion of non-whites in French society. Napoleon never forgot the impression Alex made and as a result he and his beloved family were left destitute Alex’s fall from grace and Napoleon’s role in it was the model that his son, Alexandre Dumas, used in creating the Count of Monte Cristo.

    While a good read and an interesting slice of history I was not aware of, I found Reiss’ writing to be plodding and his style to have a strong preaching or sermonizing tone. This is a compelling story and Reiss is a good writer, to bad he choose to tell this story in such a heavy handed manner.

    From Chapters: General Alex Dumas is a man almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiar—because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his larger-than-life feats as inspiration for such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

    But, hidden behind General Dumas’s swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: he was the son of a black slave—who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas made his way to Paris, where he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution—until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.

    The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. TIME magazine called The Black Count “one of those quintessentially human stories of strength and courage that sheds light on the historical moment that made it possible.” But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.

    Author: David Crystal
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: I have a soft spot for books on linguistics. Crystal’s book takes you through the development of the English language through 100 choice words. The book is not a straightforward history in that it meanders from one word to another while taking small sojourns in the French, Celtic, German and even Japanese influences. Crystal focuses on British Isle English, American, a wee bit of Australian and just a wee touch of Canadian.

    I listened to the audio version on the way to work so it was like having a Welsh accented english professor riding in my car. Nevertheless, I left craving a bit more meat and history. As well a number of the words Crystal covers are new and I would have liked more history rather than potentially fleeting Twitter-verse-esque words. Of course a full helping of Canadianism would have been even better.

    A good easy and interesting read.

    From Chapters: In this entertaining history world’s most ubiquitous language, linguistics expert David Crystal draws on one hundred words that best illustrate the huge variety of sources, influences and events that have helped to shape our vernacular since the word “roe” was written down on the bone ankle of a roe deer in the fifth century. Featuring ancient words (‘loaf’), cutting-edge terms that reflect our world (‘twittersphere’), indispensable words that shape our tongue (“and”, “what”), and more fanciful words (“fopdoodle”), David Crystal takes readers on a tour of the winding byways of our language via the rude, the obscure, and the downright surprising.

  3. Title: How to Disappear: Erase your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish without A Trace
    Author: Frank M. Ahearn, Eileen C. Horan
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: See my blog:

    From Chapters: How to Disappear is the authoritative and comprehensive guide for people who seek to protect their privacy as well as for anyone who’s ever entertained the fantasy of disappearing—whether actually dropping out of sight or by eliminating the traceable evidence of their existence.

  4. Title: The Good Steward: The Ernest C. Manning Story
    Author: Brian Brennan
    Recommended Read: 4 – is the typical score
    My thoughts: Overview: The Social Credit were a force in Alberta from 1935 to 1968 and for most of these years, Earnest Manning was the man at the center. This is the story of his association with the movement and how a poor Saskatchewan farm boy became Alberta’s longest serving premier. Although out of power for nearly 50 years, the echoes of Manning’s governments can still be heard in the halls of the Alberta legislature and its public service. To a large extent, the subsequent Conservative governments under Peter Lougheed changed very little of how the public service was run or its structures. With the consolidation being undertaken by the current NDP government, in many ways the Alberta Government is returning to its roots of a centrally controlled and administered government.

    From Chapters: The first book-length biography of Ernest Manning, the longest-serving premier of Alberta, who directed the transformation of the province from Depression-era poverty to modern, oil-based affluence.
    Brian Brennan traces the story of a poor farm boy from Saskatchewan with little formal education who rose to become one of the most successful politicians in Western Canadian history while simultaneously attaining long-lasting success as the director of Canada’s National Back to the Bible Hour radio program.
    Drawing extensively from a series of oral-history interviews Manning did for the University of Alberta archives after he left provincial politics; from an unpublished memoir written by his wife Muriel; from interviews with family members, former colleagues and others; and from the various books and articles written about the rise and fall of the Social Credit in Alberta, Brennan tells how Manning:
    1.) Left the farm as a teenager after hearing William Aberhart preaching the Bible on the radio and moved to Calgary with the intention of becoming a minister of the gospel.
    2.) Became Aberhart’s full-time assistant, helping run the Prophetic Bible Institute and participating in his radio broadcasts.
    3.) Helped Aberhart organize study groups around the province to make Albertans aware of the social-credit monetary reform theories of an English economist named Major Clifford Douglas.
    4.) Coordinated the initiative to turn Social Credit from an educational into a political movement when the ruling United Farmers of Alberta refused to adopt its economic policies.
    5.) Stage-managed the successful 1935 provincial election campaign that saw Social Credit swept to power with fifty-six of sixty-three seats and, at age twenty-six, became the youngest cabinet minister in the British Empire.

  5. Title: Charles Darwin
    Author: Cyril Aydon
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: I had a reasonably good knowledge of Darwin before reading this guide. This book helped to flesh out the details including his reluctance to publish his theories and the role a comfortable living had in supporting this long time to publish.

    From Chapters: Biographer Cyril Aydon drew upon a lifetime’s interest in Charles Darwin and his work to write Charles Darwin: The Naturalist Who Started A Scientific Revolution. The result is a fascinating and informative biography of the famed author of “The Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Man”. It was Charles Darwin whose theories of evolution (and whose proposal that the descendants of primordial primates could, over thousands or millions of years, eventually become men through the process of natural selection) would change forever how human beings think of themselves and understand their own genesis. This accurate and engagingly written biographical account blends an overview of natural science with the events of Darwin’s life before, during, and after the publication of his trailblazing scientific treatises. Charles Darwin is a very highly recommended study of a truly great man whose trailblazing contribution to biological science is still a substantial part of public debate and controversy today between religious creationists who deny, and the scientific community which supports, Darwin’s concept of human evolutionary development

  6. Title: Engines of War: How Wars Were Won & Lost on the Railways
    Author: Christian Wolmar
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: An interesting read about how trains helped to change they way wars were fought. A bit dry and redundant but also a good review of the conflicts covered. This included the Crimean, US Civil, first and second world wars and the Korean. What is interesting is how long the lessons from one conflict took to be applied to another.

    From Chapters: The birth of the railway in the early 1830’s revolutionized the way the world waged war. From armored engines with swiveling guns, to the practice of track sabotage, to the construction of tracks that crossed frozen Siberian lakes, the “iron road” facilitated conflict on a scale that was previously unimaginable. It not only made armies more mobile, but widened fighting fronts and increased the power and scale of available weaponry; a deadly combination.
    InEngines of War, Christian Wolmar examines all the engagements in which the railway played a part: the Crimean War; the American Civil War; both world wars; the Korean War; and the Cold War, with its mysterious missile trains; and illustrates how the railway became a deadly weapon exploited by governments across the world.

  7. Title:At Home: A Short History Of Private Life
    Author:Bill Bryson
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 5 – is the typical score
    My thoughts:
    Bill Bryson is the master of the rabbit hole. That is, he takes the reader down one hallway, and pops up in an entirely different place. His 2011 book: At Home: A Short History Of Private Life is an excellent example of this.

    Ostensibly, we are poking through his 19th century home in rural England. In the process he guides us through the history of poverty, architecture, constructing sewers, the development of archeology and more. This is done be going room to room of his home with each rabbit hole adventure being an excuse and theme for a collection of asides. Here is one example, the impact of ice on improving diets. Wenham Lake in Massachusetts for a while was a famous geographic local because of its ice production and the impact that had on preserving food bound for England from the United States. “For several decades, ice was America’s second biggest crop, measured by weight.”

    A great read and a very fun ride. Sort of like surfing the internet within a book but without the annoyance of having to press the mouse button.

    From Wikipedia (Reception):
    The review in The Guardian noted that the book is not really about home, but a venue for Bryson to present each of a series of historical events as a “well-turned story, a mildly humorous aside, a colourful anecdote”. Historian Judith Flanders said that “occasionally the book seems to have better jokes than it does a sense of history” but still called the book a “treasure”. Another reviewer noted that one with “any interest in furniture, food, fashion, architecture, energy or world history … (will have) stumbled across some (or all) of the information Bryson has on offer (because) countless books have been written on every subject covered in At Home; many are credited in the ample bibliography”.

    Author: Frans De Waal
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: A reasonably enjoyable read although I find that De Waal spends too much time fighting old battles and not enough time doing what he does well – describe current science in an accessible manner. As a result, it is entirely possible that we are not smart enough to know how smart animals are. More to the point, we are too limited in our own paradigm to be able to understand a cat, dog or primate’s concepts. The analogy is like a visit to a very foreign country and realizing that you really have no idea why a particular behaviour is practiced. A good read, certainly makes you wonder if we should be eating animals… well other than they are very tasty of course!

    From Chapters:
    What separates your mind from an animal’s? Maybe you think it’s your ability to design tools, your sense of self, or your grasp of past and future—all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the planet’s preeminent species. But in recent decades, these claims have eroded, or even been disproven outright, by a revolution in the study of animal cognition. Take the way octopuses use coconut shells as tools; elephants that classify humans by age, gender, and language; or Ayumu, the young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University whose flash memory puts that of humans to shame. Based on research involving crows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, whales, and of course chimpanzees and bonobos, Frans de Waal explores both the scope and the depth of animal intelligence. He offers a firsthand account of how science has stood traditional behaviorism on its head by revealing how smart animals really are, and how we’ve underestimated their abilities for too long.
    People often assume a cognitive ladder, from lower to higher forms, with our own intelligence at the top. But what if it is more like a bush, with cognition taking different forms that are often incomparable to ours? Would you presume yourself dumber than a squirrel because you’re less adept at recalling the locations of hundreds of buried acorns? Or would you judge your perception of your surroundings as more sophisticated than that of a echolocating bat? De Waal reviews the rise and fall of the mechanistic view of animals and opens our minds to the idea that animal minds are far more intricate and complex than we have assumed. De Waal’s landmark work will convince you to rethink everything you thought you knew about animal—and human—intelligence.

    Author: David H. Maister
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: This book dovetails nicely into my personal view that strategic planning is largely a waste of time. It is not that planning per se is bad it is that planning without execution is relying on wishes and fairy dust to create change. The book discusses this both at an organizational and personal level. Thus desiring to quiet smoking, lose weight and get fit are noble goals – buying the patch, getting off the sofa and measuring your cardio improvement is what counts though.

    For governments, Maister has a good section called ‘Strategy Means Saying “No”‘. In other words, Strategy is deciding whose business you are going to turn away (actively or implicitly). As an aside, see my blog on a similar theme, ‘Can we stop and define stop‘.

    From Chapters:
    We often (or even usually) know what we should be doing in both personal and professional life. We also know why we should be doing it and (often) how to do it. Figuring all that out is not too difficult. What is very hard is actually doing what you know to be good for you in the long-run, in spite of short-run temptations. The same is true for organizations. What is noteworthy is how similar (if not identical) most firms’ strategies really are: provide outstanding client service, act like team players, provide a good place to work, invest in your future. No sensible firm (or person) would enunciate a strategy that advocated anything else. However, just because something is obvious does not make it easy. Real strategy lies not in figuring out what to do, but in devising ways to ensure that, compared to others, we actually do more of what everybody knows they should do. This simple insight, if accepted, has profound implications for
    How organizations should think about strategy
    How they should think about clients, marketing and selling and
    How they should think about management.
    In 18 chapters, Maister explores the fat smoker syndrome and how individuals, managers and organizations can overcome the temptations of the short-term and actually do what they already know is good for them.

  10. Title: The Secret Language Of Doctors
    Author: Brian Goldman
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: Goldman’s book is about the ‘argot’ of Doctors (and other health practitioners): the informal and highly specialized nomenclature and vocabulary used by people in a particular occupation, hobby, sport or field of study. Goldman has organized his slang field trip into a variety of categories/chapters such as body fluids (Code Brown), difficult patients (Frequent Flyers), or the obese (Harpooning the Whale). Interestingly, much of the codification for Doctor slang came from a fictional account written by Dr. Stephen Bergman under the nom de plume: Samuel Shem in the book ‘the House of God‘.

    Goldman does not seem to have landed on his opinion on the use of slang or an argot among doctors. On the one hand he points to exclusionary nature of slang and how it objectifies and depersonalizes patients. On the other hand, he recognizes the role argot has in helping staff let off steam and create a group identity (for more on this, see my blogs on the Healthcare Ethos). As well, argot can communicate very precisely and quickly information that would be otherwise lost having to translate it into the politically correct-ese equivalent.

    The Secret Language is as much about how doctors et al manage and survive the world they find themselves in as a secret code book. Goldman has a good writing style and is a natural story teller – even if has trouble understanding exactly what message he wants to convey about the argot of doctors.

    From Chapters:
    Have you ever wondered what doctors and nurses are really saying as they zip through the emergency room and onto elevators, throwing cryptic phrases at one another? Or why they do it? Do you guess at the codes broadcast over the loudspeaker, or the words doctors and nurses use when speaking right in front of patients?

    In The Secret Language of Doctors, bestselling author Dr. Brian Goldman opens up the book on the clandestine phrases doctors use to describe patients, situations and even colleagues they detest. He tells us what it means for someone to suffer from incarceritis, what doctors mean when they block and turf, what the various codes mean, and why you never want to suffer a horrendoma. Highly accessible, biting, funny and entertaining, The Secret Language of Doctors reveals modern medical culture at its best and all too often at its worst.

  11. Title: Engines of War: How Wars Were Won & Lost on the Railways
    Author: Christian Wolmar
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: An interesting read of how the development of railway technology paralleled that of the railroad. Really this book is about the advancement of logistics to support both peacetime and war efforts. In some cases these two goals were inter-twined, for example the Russian decision to have a different gauge of railway to slow potential invaders. In other cases, the two goals were entirely separate but forced together.

    The book is a series of stories of hard lessons learned, lost/ignored and then learned again. For example during the US Civil war Herman Haupt, an obstinate whirlwind of a force that introduced two key principles of railway-warfare:
    1) The military were to leave the operation of the railway to the railway, and
    2) Train cars were to be emptied and then returned promptly to the rail head.

    These principles meant that military commanders could not commander trains for local objectives while interfering with larger strategic operations of the network. Also, hoarding train cars often meant that they were not available to transport future waves of material to support an effort. The result could often mean spoilage and bottle necks of supplies.

    While these lessons were learned early in the age of the railway, Wolmar goes onto show how often they were ignored and required re-learning in subsequent engagements. Of primary interest to a) a railway buff and then b) a history/military buff; Wolmar detail can be a bit plodding but he is generally very readable.

    From Chapters: The birth of the railway in the early 1830’s revolutionized the way the world waged war. From armored engines with swiveling guns, to the practice of track sabotage, to the construction of tracks that crossed frozen Siberian lakes, the “iron road” facilitated conflict on a scale that was previously unimaginable. It not only made armies more mobile, but widened fighting fronts and increased the power and scale of available weaponry; a deadly combination.
    In Engines of War, Christian Wolmar examines all the engagements in which the railway played a part: the Crimean War; the American Civil War; both world wars; the Korean War; and the Cold War, with its mysterious missile trains; and illustrates how the railway became a deadly weapon exploited by governments across the world.

  12. Title: Coppermine Journey
    Author: Edited by Farley Mowat
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: The journey of Samuel Hearne from the Hudson Bay to nearly the Arctic Ocean. Actually the story of three journeys of which only the third is remarkable or successful. Mowat has edited the Hearne’s journals and puts together a strong narrative about living off the land and with the natives of the time. This includes their skills as hunters but also the savagery. For example Hearne witnesses a massacre of Inuit by his guide and the guide’s camp followers.

    Author: Michael Pollan
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: I have always been a much better eater than cook. Nevertheless, I certainly like to read about where my food comes from. Michael Pollan’s previously wrote ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ which discusses the various methods by which food is produced. In newish (2013) book, he returns but this time focuses on how it is prepared.

    Pollan discusses the challenges of an industrial food production system without getting to jihadist about it. Nevertheless he is not a huge fan of over processed food or our role as a consumer. This book discusses food through four preparation means of fire (e.g. whole hog barbeque), water (stews), wind (bread) and earth (fermentation of cheese, beer, etc.).

    The classification works to a point but does fall apart if you apply too much scrutiny to it. As well, Pollan seems to have run out of steam a wee bit after a very strong start with fire and water. Nevertheless, he parades past an interesting cast of characters including a convict felon pit master, an off the grid baker and a cheese making Roman Catholic nun with an advanced degree in microbiology. Memorable bits from the book includes the following:
    – I need to get to the US South and experience the various varieties of barbeque including whole hog. The description of the mix of pork meat and crackling on a bun is now definitely a bucket list item.
    – I would like to find an artisan fermenter of vegetables. Not only would I like to try the taste but also I suspect that we have not done enough to groom our internal fauna.
    – Pollan reinforces the idea that we are a symbiotic creature that needs a healthy microbiological ecosystem in our gut to not only properly digest food but also to prevent malevolent.
    – The Beer-before-Bread Hypothesis states that humans adopted agriculture not for food but instead to ensure a steady supply of intoxicants such as beer.

    Cooked is a good read for not only the foodie, the cook but also for anyone who eats and wants to better understand where the stuff comes from. Pollan has a casual writing style that makes the consumption of his larder of facts easy to consume.

    From Chapters:
    In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.

    Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse–trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius “fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships. Cooking, above all, connects us.

    The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.

  14. Title: The Innovators; How A Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
    Author: Walter Isaacson
    My thoughts: Isaacson provides an excellent overview of the history of the development of computer science. Anchoring the story is Babbage and Ada Lovelace who first conceived and described what an artificial mind may be capable of.

    A central theme of the book is the importance of teams and collaboration rather than the lonely inventor working in his dusty attic or garage. Unfortunately Isaacson seems to strain at making this theme fit all circumstances. Nevertheless, an excellent book for a first year computer science course and hopefully one that runs through numerous editions as future changes are documented in his easy to access writing style.

    From Chapters: Following his blockbuster biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson’s New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed The Innovators is a “riveting, propulsive, and at times deeply moving” (The Atlantic) story of the people who created the computer and the Internet.

    What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?

    The Innovators is a masterly saga of collaborative genius destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution—and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens. Isaacson begins the adventure with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page.

    This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It’s also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative. For an era that seeks to foster innovation, creativity, and teamwork, The Innovators is “a sweeping and surprisingly tenderhearted history of the digital age” (The New York Times).

  15. Title:The Tell-tale Brain; A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human
    Author: Ramachandran, V. S.
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: Ramachandran is well known as a pioneer in the world of neuroscience. In this book he provides not only a history of the science (including his contributions) but also how the science is fundamentally a human study. While there are parallels to other animals including primates, a focus of the book is the uniqueness of the human brain.

    From Chapters: In this landmark work, V. S. Ramachandran investigates strange, unforgettable cases—from patients who believe they are dead to sufferers of phantom limb syndrome. With a storyteller’s eye for compelling case studies and a researcher’s flair for new approaches to age-old questions, Ramachandran tackles the most exciting and controversial topics in brain science, including language, creativity, and consciousness.

  16. Title: Shrinks: The Untold Story Of Psychiatry
    Author: Jeffrey A. Lieberman
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 4 – is the typical score
    My thoughts: See my blog: Don’t Shrink from Mental Illness.

    From Chapters:
    Psychiatry has come a long way since the days of chaining “lunatics” in cold cells. But, as Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, reveals in his eye-opening book, the path to legitimacy for “the black sheep of medicine” has been anything but smooth.

    Dr. Lieberman traces the field from its birth as a mystic pseudo-science to its late blooming maturity–beginning after World War II–as a science-driven profession that saves lives. With fascinating case studies and portraits of the field’s luminaries–from Sigmund Freud to Eric Kandel–SHRINKS is a gripping read, and an urgent call-to-arms to dispel the stigma of mental illnesses by treating them as diseases rather than unfortunate states of mind.

  17. Title: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
    Author: Mary Roach
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: See March 13, 2016 blog.

    From Chapters:
    “America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of—or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists—who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts.

    Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies.

  18. Title: Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better
    Author: Clive Thompson
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: [my views if chatting about this to a friend].
    See my blog:

    From Chapters:
    A revelatory and timely look at how technology boosts our cognitive abilities—making us smarter, more productive, and more creative than ever

    It’s undeniable—technology is changing the way we think. But is it for the better? Amid a chorus of doomsayers, Clive Thompson delivers a resounding “yes.” In Smarter Than You Think, Thompson shows that every technological innovation—from the written word to the printing press to the telegraph—has provoked the very same anxieties that plague us today. We panic that life will never be the same, that our attentions are eroding, that culture is being trivialized. But, as in the past, we adapt—learning to use the new and retaining what is good of the old. Smarter Than You Think embraces and extols this transformation, presenting an exciting vision of the present and the future.

  19. Title: The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way
    Author: Bill Bryson
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 4
    My thoughts: I have a soft spot for books about language and the english language in particular. Bryson does a great job describing the origin of language and the history of English. Bryson also explores why English is the universal language. On the one had it has a large vocabulary and rules that have been bent enough through invasion that they can easily accommodate new thoughts and ideas. On the other, English is hard to speak well. There are numerous irregular spellings and punctuations that leave non-native speakers puzzled to say the least (my wife struggled for years being able to understand the differences between paddle, pedal and peddle). As well, English speakers practice polysemy like it is going out of style – and that is just fine.

    For those, like myself, who struggle remembering the elements of grammar (participles, prepositions, etc.) and where goes what – Bryson gives us hope. English grammar was codified based on Latin rules and the corset on the elephant shows. In other words, don’t worry about ending a sentence with a preposition… or even knowing what one is.

    Unlike French, we have a laisse faire approach to changes in English. While we could use a bit of tidying up, the other side is inertia and lack of innovation resulting from having a central authority such as the Académie française.

    Written in 1990, it is slightly dated and I could not determine whether he has revised it since. If not, Bryson wrote this book just at the end of the Cold War and before the impact of the internet had on promoting English as a Lingua franca.

    Well worth the read and Bryson has an enjoyable style – with lots of asides and detours to keep even the strongest non-linguist engaged.

    From Chapters: With dazzling wit and astonishing insight, Bill Bryson—the acclaimed author of The Lost Continent—brilliantly explores the remarkable history, eccentricities, resilience and sheer fun of the English language. From the first descent of the larynx into the throat (why you can talk but your dog can’t), to the fine lost art of swearing, Bryson tells the fascinating, often uproarious story of an inadequate, second-rate tongue of peasants that developed into one of the world’s largest growth industries.

  20. Title: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science Of Life In The Void
    Author: Mary Roach
    Recommended Read: 4 – is the typical score
    My thoughts: See my blog: Packing for Mars – Bring a Strong Stomach.

    From Chapters:
    Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it’s possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

  21. Title: Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle
    Author: Thor Hanson
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: I have to admit that when it comes to birds, my thoughts better align with Alfred Hitchcock than with Jean-Jacque Audubon (of the Audubon Society fame). I have known a number of birders and they always seemed a bit to obsessed with creatures who can peck your eyes out in no time (note to self, don’t re-watch Alfred Hitchcock movies before blogging).

    So Thor Hanson (why did I not name a child Thor!) does a great job of explaining the miracle of a feather. He starts with the usual evolutionary difficulty of how do you engineer something so specialized through the blind-efforts of evolution (insert a plug for creationism here if you are so inclined). This understanding has paralleled the rise of Chinese paleontology and the recent discovery of a number of missing links (or feathers) from their fossil record.
    Not limited to natural science, Hanson discusses the impact of the feather craze of pre-World War I on birds and our society. In particular the creation of the Audubon Society and the passage of legislation protecting things such as migratory birds.
    Hanson intertwines his experiences as a field biologist into the story. For example, he juxtaposes his experience of freezing in January in Maine with how birds of with considerably less body mass survive. The answer is the complexity and inter-relationships of the feather coverings starting with the down and ending with water proof out coverings.
    Hanson is an excellent story teller. One can almost imagine walking next to him on a hike to sitting around a campfire hearing about his adventures. I see that he has another book out about grains that I am going to follow up on. In the meantime, I will have new respect for the magpie outside my bedroom window… even if it is a sewer-rate with wings.

    From Chapters: [from or other reviewer]
    Feathers are an evolutionary marvel: aerodynamic, insulating, beguiling. They date back more than 100 million years. Yet their story has never been fully told.
    In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn through time and place. Applying the research of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and even art historians, Hanson asks: What are feathers? How did they evolve? What do they mean to us?

    Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered, and they are at the root of biology’s most enduring debate. They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice. They have decorated queens, jesters, and priests. And they have inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen.

    Feathers is a captivating and beautiful exploration of this most enchanting object.

  22. Title: The Guardian of All Thinks: The Epic Story of Human Memory.
    Author: Michael S. Malone
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: Malone takes what is a relatively boring topic and makes it mostly interesting. His search for human memory really is also an exploration of how humans have worked to preserve memories through ever increasingly complex technologies ending with (maybe) the singularity. But before we shed our corporal existence, Malone starts with a humble beginning of the evolution of the human brain and the apparatus to speak, listen and be understood. In this sense, the first technology that support human memory was biological and evolutionary.
    50,000 years ago we left the womb of Africa and set out to conquer the world and 11,000 since we made the switch the agriculture (a choice some still debate the merits of). During this time our primary method of external memory storage was by the spoken (or sung) word and by basic artistic efforts. And the tax man cometh which accelerated the use of numbers and thus external memory technologies: mud. Okay, technically clay but still pretty dirt based. Nevertheless ‘the ability to write meant:
    – The ability to record information.
    – To remove something from one’s own memory and place it into a cache of synthetic memory
    – The memory would remain, largely untended, until it was needed again
    – Could be shared with others with a precision never before available and over long distances
    – Preserving the past.
    And then we took off in technology, well sort of. Malone traces the writing technologies from clay to papyrus, to velum to the first proto paper. Being a journalist in the Silicon Valley, Malone soon steers us toward the digital age of memory with the first mechanical starts through to the modern microprocessor.
    A good read and generally engaging, Malone presents a fairly well research historical account of memory over the past few tens of thousands of years. Not a page burner but a solid read.
    From Chapters:
    A fascinating exploration of the history of memory and human civilization

    Memory makes us human. No other animal carries in its brain so many memories of such complexity nor so regularly revisits those memories for happiness, safety, and the accomplishment of complex tasks. Human civilization continues because we are able to pass along memories from one person to another, from one generation to the next.
    The Guardian of All Things is a sweeping scientific history that takes us on a 10,000-year-old journey replete with incredible ideas, inventions, and transformations. From cave drawings to oral histories to libraries to the internet, The Guardian of All Things is the history of how humans have relentlessly pursued new ways to preserve and manage memory, both within the human brain and as a series of inventions external to it. Michael S. Malone looks at the story of memory, both human and mechanical, and the historic turning points in that story that have not only changed our relationship to memory, but have also changed our human fabric. Full of anecdotes, history, and advances of civilization and technology, The Guardian of All Things is a lively, epic journey along a trajectory of history no other book has ever described, one that will appeal to the curious as well as the specialist.

  23. Title: Salt: A World History
    Author: Mark Kurlansky
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: Part cookbook, part history and part social commentary. Kurlansky traces this most common of all subjects from its illustrious past to its current banal existence. Despite our current uneasy relationship with salt, in the past fortunes were won and lost on it. Much of this demand was because of the challenge of preserving food pre-refrigeration.
    A great read for foodies and history buffs alike. The one question I had which the author never answered was why are we so adverse to salt intake now when it was so much part of our food in centuries past?

    From Chapters:
    From the award-winning and bestselling author of Cod comes the dramatic, human story of a simple substance, an element almost as vital as water, that has created fortunes, provoked revolutions, directed economies and enlivened our recipes.
    Salt is common, easy to obtain and inexpensive. It is the stuff of kitchens and cooking. Yet trade routes were established, alliances built and empires secured – all for something that filled the oceans, bubbled up from springs, formed crusts in lake beds, and thickly veined a large part of the Earth’s rock fairly close to the surface. From pre-history until just a century ago – when the mysteries of salt were revealed by modern chemistry and geology – no one knew that salt was virtually everywhere. Accordingly, it was one of the most sought-after commodities in human history. Even today, salt is a major industry. Canada, Kurlansky tells us, is the world’s sixth largest salt producer, with salt works in Ontario playing a major role in satisfying the Americans’ insatiable demand.
    As he did in his highly acclaimed Cod, Mark Kurlansky once again illuminates the big picture by focusing on one seemingly modest detail. In the process, the world is revealed as never before.

  24. Title: David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants
    Author: Malcom Gladwell
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: Gladwell continues to be one of my favourite authors because of his content, writing style and the ability to make you sit up and re-think assumptions. David and Goliath does not disappoint in any of these areas. Similar to other books, Gladwell takes us a little further behind known stories such as David and Goliath and show how a sling shot will always win against a foe is slow moving, ill (Goliath probably suffered from acromegaly) and partially blind – a very likely description of Goliath. Sling shots were the colt 45’s of their day. Accurate and deadly within their firing range.

    Gladwell (re)introduces some excellent concepts in throughout this book with some highlights including:
    – Change is often wrought by those who would otherwise be non-competitive but who change or bend the rules.
    – Advantage goes to those who see beyond the insurmountable obstacle to what a barrier really is, a fence to be climbed or a mountain to go around.
    – An absence of advantage can free someone from pre-conceived notions allowing them to thinking and act in new, different and often effective ways.

    From Chapters:
    Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palestine, a shepherd boy felled a mighty warrior with nothing more than a stone and a sling, and ever since then the names of David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants. David’s victory was improbable and miraculous. He shouldn’t have won. Or should he have?

    In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.

    Gladwell begins with the real story of what happened between the giant and the shepherd boy those many years ago. From there, David and Goliath examines Northern Ireland’s Troubles, the minds of cancer researchers and civil rights leaders, murder and the high costs of revenge, and the dynamics of successful and unsuccessful classrooms—all to demonstrate how much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity.

    In the tradition of Gladwell’s previous bestsellers—The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and What the Dog Saw—David and Goliath draws upon history, psychology, and powerful storytelling to reshape the way we think of the world around us.

  25. Outbreak! Plagues that changed history.
    Bryn Barnard.
    This very short book (81 pages) was written by a layman who specializes in books about how changes history. For the apparent target audience, young readers, the length and depth is okay but may be a bit over the head of the youngest of this set. For the adult reader, his editorial comments cloud what otherwise could have been a good read on the science and history of disease. Despite his lack of a science pedigree his writing is good if he manages to stay on topic, a description of pathogens. An okay summary of the big bugs of history. Hopefully someone writes a book that explores the topic in more detail (Jared Diamond of Guns, Germs and Steel – are you listening?).

    From Chapters.

    “An engrossing introduction for young adult readers to the chillingly topical subject of man vs. microbe.” —The Wall Street Journal

    Did the Black Death destroy medieval Europe? Did cholera pave the way for modern Manhattan? Did yellow fever help end the slave trade? Remarkably, the answer to all of these questions is yes. Time and again, diseases have impacted the course of human history in surprisingly powerful ways. From influenza to smallpox, from tuberculosis to yellow fever, Bryn Barnard describes the symptoms and paths of the world’s worst diseases—and how the epidemics they spawned have changed history forever.

    Filled with fascinating, often gory details about disease and history, Outbreak! is a wonderful combination of science and history.

  26. Title: Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen
    Author: Christopher McDougall
    Recommended Read: 5, a book worth reading again.

    My thoughts: I generally don’t keep books anymore. Read them, blog on them if worthy and then pass them on (or more likely return them to the library from whence they came). Born to Run is the exception in that I will likely buy this book and even re-read it in the future it is that good.

    To start, McDougall has the professional writer’s style down pat. He is engaging, draws you into the story and takes you down lots of small alleyways that add to your understanding of running as a sport and lifestyle. This ranges from deep American history of the Spanish conquest through to Nike’s invention of the modern day running shoe.

    Central to the story are the tribe and people of the Tarahumara Indians who are ‘born to run’. Doing so on car-tire sandals that out endure the best of the (semi)professional runners in a number of races in the mid-1990’s. More important than winning, they also demonstrate that running is part of life that makes life worth living in their closely knit community. Thus while McDougall strives to endure running, the Tarahumara thrive/laugh/enjoy the race.

    I have never been a runner but Born to Run almost makes me want to get off of my couch and do so… almost.

    From Chapters: Isolated by Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons, the blissful Tarahumara Indians have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. In a riveting narrative, award-winning journalist and often-injured runner Christopher McDougall sets out to discover their secrets. In the process, he takes his readers from science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultra-runners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to a climactic race in the Copper Canyons that pits America’s best ultra-runners against the tribe. McDougall’s incredible story will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.

  27. Title: Leonardo and the Last Supper
    Author: King, Ross
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: Listened to as an audio book on the drive to work, King provided an excellent portrait of Da Vinci as a human racked by insecurities and his own personal demons. Like most good non-fiction histories, King weaves back stories amongst the main thread of the story. Perhaps most interesting was the fact that the Last Supper quickly became a sensation and a tourist attraction and that it also quickly began to fade and fail. Nearly lost to history due to flooding and environmental circumstances, its survival is as interesting as the story of the genius who painted it. A good read for those who want to understand history, Da Vinci as the genius gift from the gods and the Last Supper as a sublime piece of art work.

    Image from Wikipedia.
    Last Supper - Wikipedia

    From Chapters:
    Early in 1495, Leonardo da Vinci began work in Milan on what would become one of history’s most influential and beloved works of art-The Last Supper. After a dozen years at the court of Lodovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, Leonardo was at a low point personally and professionally: at forty-three, in an era when he had almost reached the average life expectancy, he had failed, despite a number of prestigious commissions, to complete anything that truly fulfilled his astonishing promise. His latest failure was a giant bronze horse to honor Sforza’s father: His 75 tons of bronze had been expropriated to be turned into cannons to help repel a French invasion of Italy. The commission to paint The Last Supper in the refectory of a Dominican convent was a small compensation, and his odds of completing it were not promising: Not only had he never worked on a painting of such a large size-15′ high x 30′ wide-but he had no experience in the extremely difficult medium of fresco.

    In his compelling new book, Ross King explores how-amid war and the political and religious turmoil around him, and beset by his own insecurities and frustrations-Leonardo created the masterpiece that would forever define him. King unveils dozens of stories that are embedded in the painting. Examining who served as the models for the Apostles, he makes a unique claim: that Leonardo modeled two of them on himself. Reviewing Leonardo’s religious beliefs, King paints a much more complex picture than the received wisdom that he was a heretic. The food that Leonardo, a vegetarian, placed on the table reveals as much as do the numerous hand gestures of those at Christ’s banquet. As King explains, many of the myths that have grown up around The Last Supper are wrong, but its true story is ever more interesting. Bringing to life a fascinating period in European history, Ross King presents an original portrait of one of the world’s greatest geniuses through the lens of his most famous work.

  28. Title: The Vatican Diaries; A Behind-the-scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church

    Author: Thavis, John
    Recommended Read: 3
    My thoughts: Admit it, have you ever been at someone’s house, went to the bathroom and took a small peak around at their medicine cabinet or behind the shower curtain? This is a bit what the Vatican Diaries is like, a personal tour by a family member (Thavis) of a familiar home (the Pope’s) when everyone else is out. Thavis has the journalist’s patter down pat and this makes for a great read (or listen in my case) and he provides some excellent anecdotes about the Catholic Church. He does not shy away from the dirt (sex abuse, corruption, etc.) but he also includes the good work the church and its members do and aspire to (John Paul II’s missionary and diplomatic work).

    Unfortunately he published this book just before the most significant event of church’s recent history unfolded, the retirement (as opposed to death) of Pope Benedict XVI. (Side note, the Chapter’s link below refers to a more recently published volume so perhaps in subsequent editions, Thavis provides a glimpse into Benedict’s retirement).

    A great read whether your or Catholic or not (my inclination) about an institution much maligned both justly and unjustly so. Even better, a satisfying scratch to itch that makes us look in the medicine cabinet when visiting….

    From Chapters: For more than twenty-five years, John Thavis held one of the most remarkable journalistic assignments in the world: reporting on the inner workings of the Vatican. In The Vatican Diaries, Thavis reveals Vatican City as a place struggling to define itself in the face of internal and external threats, where Curia cardinals fight private wars and sexual abuse scandals threaten to undermine papal authority. Thavis also takes readers through the politicking behind the election of Pope Francis and what we might expect from his papacy. The Vatican Diaries is a perceptive, compelling, and provocative account of this singular institution and will be of interest to anyone intrigued by the challenges faced by religion in an increasingly secularized world.

  29. Title: the Art of Urban Cycling: Lessons from the Street
    Author: Robert Hurst
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: As a sometimes urban bike commuter, I am always on the look out for tips and tricks to get the exercise of riding to work while not getting killed in the process. Hurst does a good job explaining the ins and outs of cycling in an urban environment. Best of all, Hurst writes in an accessible manner that does not have the preachiness you can find on some bike commuter blogs and sites. Instead, he gives a good overview of the history of cycling (including the fact that the roads are car-focused society drives on were first conceived by bicycle touring clubs), how to be visible and thoughts on everything from helmets to how to fall off the bike.

    The author of a number of books on cycling which can be found on his own website ( Unfortunately the version I had was a bit dated (2004) but I do see that he has updated the book since then. Without reading his other books, the bad news is that I can’t think of anything new that I found in Hurst’s book that I was not already doing or aware of. The good news is that it is great to get confirmation on your current technique and hard lessons learned.

    A highly recommended read for those who want to get the most out of their urban cycling experience or who are starting out as a bike commuter.

  30. Title: For All The Tea In China: How England Stole The World’s Favorite Drink And Changed History
    Author: Sarah Rose
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: Sarah Rose provides a good historical overview of the theft China’s tea secrets by the East Company. Perpetrated by Robert Fortune, he spent three years traveling through China under cover visiting forbidden corners of the empire.

    Rose provides good historical context to most of the story such as the creation of the company, the colonization of India and the relationship of China to the European world. Added to this was some botanical history and a glimpse into the life sciences in their infancy.

    Generally well written and researched, the only compliant I have of the book is from the audio version I listened to. The author herself narrated the story complete with faux English accents. Unfortunately she is not a trained voice actor and as such the initial part of the recording has a high school science project quality to it.

    From Chapters:
    “If ever there was a book to read in the company of a nice cuppa, this is it.” -The Washington Post

    In the dramatic story of one of the greatest acts of corporate espionage ever committed, Sarah Rose recounts the fascinating, unlikely circumstances surrounding a turning point in economic history. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the British East India Company faced the loss of its monopoly on the fantastically lucrative tea trade with China, forcing it to make the drastic decision of sending Scottish botanist Robert Fortune to steal the crop from deep within China and bring it back to British plantations in India. Fortune”s danger-filled odyssey, magnificently recounted here, reads like adventure fiction, revealing a long-forgotten chapter of the past and the wondrous origins of a seemingly ordinary beverage.

  31. Title: Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie
    Author: Gail Saltz, M.D.
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 2.5
    My thoughts:
    The Secret to a Secret Life

    From Chapters:
    We think we know those who are close to us, and we want to believe that what we see is what we get. But we can never know for certain, because what really goes on inside another’s head and heart is essentially a secret. How do you know if that secret is something that will hurt you?

    Your husband turns to face you in bed. Is he thinking about you or your closest friend? Your boss shows up in another new outfit. Did she get a raise or is she a compulsive shopper who is stealing money from the company? Your teenaged daughter is upstairs in her bedroom. Is she doing her homework or chatting online with a man twice her age?

    Anatomy of A Secret Life will take you inside the minds of secret-keepers and show you how secrets start, how they’re kept, and how they exact their devastating emotional and social toll. Using contemporary case studies and historical examples, Dr. Gail Saltz shows you how to spot—through subtle behaviors and clues—and safely stop the potentially dangerous secrets that someone, even you, might be concealing from the world.

  32. Title: Iron Curtain: The Crushing Of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956
    Author: Anne Applebaum
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 4
    My thoughts: The images of Joe McCarthy and his red-scare are not sometimes remembered as an over reaction to a benign threat. Applebaum provides the backdrop as to why the communist scare was so successful. Ultimately the communist take over of eastern europe was brilliant and cruel ploy by Stalin and a time of fatigue and moral weakness by the allies. An accessible read and a good addition to any history-buff’s library.

    From Chapters:
    In the long-awaited National Book Award–shortlisted follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize–winning Gulag, acclaimed journalist Anne Applebaum delivers a groundbreaking history of how Communism took over Central Europe after WW II and transformed in frightening fashion the individuals who came under its sway.

    At the end of WW II, the Soviet Union, to its surprise and delight, found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Central Europe. It set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to a completely new political and moral system: Communism. Iron Curtain describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created, and what daily life was like once they were completed. Applebaum draws on newly opened European archives and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief, rendered worthless their every qualification, and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality and strange aethestics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of this book.

  33. Title: Proofiness: How You’re Being Fooled By The Numbers
    Author:Charles Seife
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: See my Blog, Proofiness.

    From Chapters: [from or other reviewer]
    From the author of Zero, comes this “admirable salvo against quantitative bamboozlement by the media and the government” (The Boston Globe)

    In Zero, Charles Seife presented readers with a thrilling account of the strangest number known to humankind. Now he shows readers how the power of skewed metrics-or “proofiness”- is being used to alter perception in both amusing and dangerous ways. Proofiness is behind such bizarre stories as a mathematical formula for the perfect butt and sprinters who can run faster than the speed of sound. But proofiness also has a dark side: bogus mathematical formulas used to undermine our democracy-subverting our justice system, fixing elections, and swaying public opinion with lies. By doing the real math, Seife elegantly and good-humoredly scrutinizes our growing obsession with metrics while exposing those who misuse them.

  34. Title: Franklin And Lucy: Mrs. Rutherfurd And The Other Remarkable Women In Roosevelt’s Life
    Author: Joseph E. Persico
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 2.5 – is the typical score
    My thoughts: This was an audio book so making notes are always difficult. As a drive to work audio book, this read was fine. It provided a good background history to FDR that I otherwise would not have known about. The author uses rather old fashion physical descriptions of people that to the modern reader may sound sexist (striking woman, handsome man, etc.).

    Elenaor Roosevelt is not painted in a particularly sympathetic light where as Lucy Mercer (the Lucy of the title) is more of a saint even if she was a potential home-wrecker. Overall FDR’s ability to attract (and in some cases destroy or atrophy) the women around him would not be permitted in this 144 character universe. Any interesting read, good backgrounder to a legendary American President.
    As a drive to work book, it was fine. It provided a good background history to FDR that I otherwise would not have known about. The author uses rather old fashion physical descriptions of people that to the modern reader would sound sexist (striking woman, handsome man, etc.), happy to pass on to someone else as I will not be reading again.

    From Chapters: [from or other reviewer]
    In Franklin and Lucy, acclaimed author and historian Joseph E. Persico explores FDR’s romance with Lucy Rutherfurd. Persico’s provocative conclusions about their relationship are informed by a revealing range of sources, including never-before-published letters and documents from Lucy Rutherfurd’s estate that attest to the intensity of the affair, which lasted much longer than was previously acknowledged.

    FDR’s connection with Lucy also creates an opportunity for Persico to take a more penetrating look at the other women in FDR’s life. We come to see more clearly how FDR’s infidelity contributed to Eleanor Roosevelt’s eventual transformation from a repressed Victorian to perhaps the greatest American woman of her century; how FDR’s strong-willed mother helped to strengthen his resolve in overcoming personal and public adversity; and how both paramours and platonic friends completed the world that FDR inhabited. In focusing on Lucy Rutherfurd and the other women who mattered to Roosevelt, Persico renders the most intimate portrait yet of an enigmatic giant of American history.

  35. Title: The Age Of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons For A Kinder Society
    Author: Frans de Waal
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3.5
    My thoughts: Frans de Waal is a fish out of water or perhaps as a Dutchman in the United States. This slight incongruence makes him a perfect observer of not only of his research primates but also of American and more generally western society. In the Age of Empathy, de Waal introduces the notion that empathy rather than aggression or competition gave humans the leg up on our primate competition. Mother child bonding, social bonding and troupe/tribe bonding created an unbeatable combination of intelligence, communication, cooperation and competition that has made man (in a gender neutral sort of way) the dominant species on the planet.

    De Waal’s premise is that empathy pre-dates our species by many millions of years of evolution and that empathy is not a purely human emotion. The linkage to organizational biology is readily apparent. Adeptness of an organization is at least partially a function of empathy and group cohesion.

    Unfortunately I listened rather than read this book which always makes retention harder. Nevertheless, I will keep an eye out for a hard (or digital) copy of this book.

    From Chapters:
    An engrossing, lucid exploration of the origins of human morality that challenges our most basic assumptions, from the world’s leading primatologist

    Is it really human nature to stab one another in the back in our climb up the corporate ladder? Competitive, selfish behaviour is often explained away as instinctive, thanks to evolution and “survival of the fittest,” but in fact humans are equally hard-wired for empathy. Using research from the fields of anthropology, psychology, animal behaviour, and neuroscience, de Waal brilliantly argues that humans are group animals — highly cooperative, sensitive to injustice, and mostly peace-loving — just like other primates, elephants, and dolphins. This revelation has profound implications for everything from politics to office culture.

  36. Title: Triumph Of The City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier
    Author: Edward Glaeser
    Recommended Read: 4
    My thoughts: See my Blog Post on Triump of the City.

    From Chapters: A pioneering urban economist presents a myth-shattering look at the majesty and greatness of cities. America is an urban nation, yet cities get a bad rap: they”re dirty, poor, unhealthy, environmentally unfriendly . . . or are they? In this revelatory book, Edward Glaeser, a leading urban economist, declares that cities are actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in both cultural and economic terms) places to live. He travels through history and around the globe to reveal the hidden workings of cities and how they bring out the best in humankind. Using intrepid reportage, keen analysis, and cogent argument, Glaeser makes an urgent, eloquent case for the city”s importance and splendor, offering inspiring proof that the city is humanity”s greatest creation and our best hope for the future.

  37. Title: Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won
    Author: L. Jon Wertheim, Tobias Moskowitz
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts:
    I listened to this as an audio book, as a result, some of the effect of using statistics was lost. A voice actor rattling off a stream of numbers is not like seeing them in a table or in a graph. Nevertheless, as much as I am not a sports-guy, this book was enjoyable. A few less realms of statistics and more of the anecdotes linking sports to economics would have been better. I will pass the book along to a family member who is a sports nut, otherwise, a good listen.

    From Chapters:
    Chapters Link

    In Scorecasting, University of Chicago behavioral economist Tobias Moskowitz teams up with veteran Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim to overturn some of the most cherished truisms of sports, and reveal the hidden forces that shape how basketball, baseball, football, and hockey games are played, won and lost.

    Drawing from Moskowitz’s original research, as well as studies from fellow economists such as bestselling author Richard Thaler, the authors look at: the influence home-field advantage has on the outcomes of games in all sports and why it exists; the surprising truth about the universally accepted axiom that defense wins championships; the subtle biases that umpires exhibit in calling balls and strikes in key situations; the unintended consequences of referees’ tendencies in every sport to “swallow the whistle,” and more.

    Among the insights that Scorecasting reveals:
    – Why Tiger Woods is prone to the same mistake in high-pressure putting situations that you and I are
    – Why professional teams routinely overvalue draft picks
    – The myth of momentum or the “hot hand” in sports, and why so many fans, coaches, and broadcasters fervently subscribe to it
    – Why NFL coaches rarely go for a first down on fourth-down situations–even when their reluctance to do so reduces their chances of winning.

    In an engaging narrative that takes us from the putting greens of Augusta to the grid iron of a small parochial high school in Arkansas, Scorecasting will forever change how you view the game, whatever your favorite sport might be.

  38. Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power
    James Mcgrath Morris

    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 2
    My thoughts:
    A long, tedious read of an otherwise interesting life. Pulitzer is one of those fascinating self-made Americans who rose from poverty to extreme riches. While we know him today from his prize, he was as much an industrial-celebrity as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs is today. Unfortunately this is not the book to get a good summary view of the man. While the early chapters are engaging, it gets plodding and downright boring toward the end. Likely a good volume for the scholar, not a great read for the historical-gadfly such as myself.

    From Chapters:

    Like Alfred Nobel, Joseph Pulitzer is better known today for the prize that bears his name than for his contribution to history. Yet, in nineteenth-century industrial America, while Carnegie provided the steel, Rockefeller the oil, Morgan the money, and Vanderbilt the railroads, Pulitzer ushered in the modern mass media.

    James McGrath Morris traces the epic story of this Jewish Hungarian immigrant’s rise through American politics and into journalism where he accumulated immense power and wealth, only to fall blind and become a lonely, tormented recluse wandering the globe. But not before Pulitzer transformed American journalism into a medium of mass consumption and immense influence. As the first media baron to recognize the vast social changes of the industrial revolution, he harnessed all the converging elements of entertainment, technology, business, and demographics, and made the newspaper an essential feature of urban life. Pulitzer used his influence to advance a progressive political agenda and his power to fight those who opposed him. The course he followed led him to battle Theodore Roosevelt who, when President, tried to send Pulitzer to prison. The grueling legal battles Pulitzer endured for freedom of the press changed the landscape of American newspapers and politics.

    Based on years of research and newly discovered documents, Pulitzer is a classic, magisterial biography and a gripping portrait of an American icon.

  39. Traders, Guns and Money: Knowns and unknowns in the dazzling world of derivatives
    Satyajit Das

    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3 – is the typical score
    My thoughts:
    A good dead-pan view of where our retirement-investments dissipate to. Author Satyajit Das, provides a behind the scenes view of the money laundering ways our pension funds are being treated. With a focus on the self-centred world of the trader or the quant, this should be enough to encourage anyone to steer clear of anything besides a good old bond or blue-chip stock.

    Although I like a good economic history, my math is not strong enough to follow some of his examples. This got a bit tedious towards the end. However math-junkies should have not trouble keeping up. I think Das could have benefited from a stronger editor who would have kept the narrative more front and center. As well I may keep an eye out for the 2010, post 2008 financial melt down edition (my was the 2006 edition). A good read for those who like a financial, economic, accounting book. For the average layman, read the summary.

    From Chapters:

    Traders Guns and Money is a wickedly comic exposé of the culture, games and pure deceptions played out every day in trading rooms around the world. And played out with other people s money.

    A sensational insider s view of the business of trading and marketing derivatives, this revised edition explains the frighteningly central role that derivatives and financial products played in the global financial crisis.

    This worldwide bestseller reveals the truth about derivatives: those financial tools memorably described by Warren Buffett as financial weapons of mass destruction . Traders, Guns and Money will introduce you to the players and the practices and reveals how the real money is made and lost.

    The global financial crisis took almost everyone by surprise and even now new problems keep appearing and solutions continue to be elusive. In the original version of Traders, Guns and Money, Satyajit Das provided a highly prescient insight into the structure and risk of the world financial system exposing the problems that are becoming readily apparent. In a 2006 speech The Coming Credit Crash Das argued that: “an informed analysis shows that risk is not better spread but more leveraged and (arguably) more concentrated . This does not improve the overall stability and security of the financial system but exposes it to increased risk of a “crash”.

  40. The Book Of Books: The Radical Impact Of The King James Bible 1611-2011
    Melvyn Bragg

    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 2
    My thoughts:

    The book on the Books of Books is a boring book. I was looking forward to this read to better understand how one book could influence a world. Be it standardization of the English language, protestant religion or influencing the creation of the United States – the King James Bible is a good story and important piece of history. Bragg does this, sort of. Unfortunately I find his story line hard to follow, there seems to be a lot of filler to flesh out requisite number pages and his arguments are not compelling. I ended up skipping and skimming large parts of the read. Biblical scholars will probably enjoy this book about the Book of Books more than us laymen.

    From Chapters:

    Chapters Link

    The King James Bible has often been called the Book of Books both in itself and in what it stands for. Since its publication in 1611 it has been the best selling book in the world, and many believe, had the greatest impact.

    The King James Bible has spread the Protestant faith. It has also been the greatest influence on the enrichment of the English language and its literature. It has been the Bible of wars from the British Civil War in the seventeenth century to the American Civil War two centuries later and it has been carried into battle in innumerable conflicts since then. Its influence on social movements – particularly involving women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – and politics was profound. It was crucial to the growth of democracy. It was integral to the abolition of slavery and it defined attitudes to modern science, education and sex.

    As THE ADVENTURE OF ENGLISH explored the history of our language, so THE BOOK OF BOOKS reveals the extraordinary and still-felt impact of a work created 400 years ago.

  41. The Art of Choosing
    Sheena Iyengar
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 2
    My thoughts:
    To be honest, I never finished this book. The title and subject was intriguing but I found it a slogging bore. Iyengar put too much of herself into the book and not enough about the subject. This is too bad as this is an important subject to ponder in the context of behavioural-economics. I am looking forward to reading the abridged version.

    From Chapters:

    Chapters Link
    Every day we make choices. Coke or Pepsi? Save or spend? Stay or go?
    Whether mundane or life-altering, these choices define us and shape our lives. Sheena Iyengar asks the difficult questions about how and why we choose: Is the desire for choice innate or bound by culture? Why do we sometimes choose against our best interests? How much control do we really have over what we choose? Sheena Iyengar’s award-winning research reveals that the answers are surprising and profound. In our world of shifting political and cultural forces, technological revolution, and interconnected commerce, our decisions have far-reaching consequences. Use THE ART OF CHOOSING as your companion and guide for the many challenges ahead.

  42. Microcosm: E. Coli And The New Science Of Life
    Carl Zimmer
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3 – is the typical score
    My thoughts:
    Named for a German pediatrician, Theodor Escherich; Escherichia Coli is intertwined with us humans. While we may recognize it as the villain behind hamburger disease, it is also a faithful friend in our gut. In fact, you could think of it as the first pet a new-born owns. It is typically the first to take up residence in baby’s gut. Initially it has the place to itself before its oxygen consuming ways paves the path for other pathogens. E. Coli then ends up being an important minority of about 1% in most of our guts.

    A few question I have had were answered by this book. This includes:
    1. How to bugs get through the stomach acid? A, E. Coli enters a ‘Zen-like’ state in which it manages bilge pumps during the 2-hour acid bath to the intestines.
    2. How does E. Coli both live within us and kill us? The answer is complex but starts with a symbiotic relationship. We need our gut-bugs. The defend our digestive system and are the digestive system. E. Coli helps by consuming free oxygen in the gut thus maintaining a comfy CO2 world for its bug cousins.
    The second part of the live/kill conundrum is that E. Coli is not so much a species as a larger eco-system in itself. Plus, it reproduces fast – about once every 20 minutes. And E. Coli viruses and the bugs themselves can exchange genetic material. This creates a law of large numbers laboratory in which it is not surprising that a few hamburgers get infected.

    Back to the book, a good albeit slightly technical read about one of our most important bug friend/foes. A good read for biologist out there.

    From Chapters:
    A Best Book of the YearSeed Magazine • Granta Magazine • The Plain-DealerIn this fascinating and utterly engaging book, Carl Zimmer traces E. coli”s pivotal role in the history of biology, from the discovery of DNA to the latest advances in biotechnology. He reveals the many surprising and alarming parallels between E. coli”s life and our own. And he describes how E. coli changes in real time, revealing billions of years of history encoded within its genome. E. coli is also the most engineered species on Earth, and as scientists retool this microbe to produce life-saving drugs and clean fuel, they are discovering just how far the definition of life can be stretched.

  43. Title: The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution
    Author: Sean B. Carroll
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: A good albeit slightly technical read on how evolution can be explained through DNA. Some interesting side trips are presented including a discussion on how species characteristics can both arise and then fall into disuse. This creates a fossil gene, one that still is part of the DNA but which no longer presents as a characteristic. The example the author gives is the de-selection of Red/Green colour vision in a species of fish that only lived in depths for which blue light penetrates.

    Another side trip was the Soviet Union disaster known as Lysenko. He was a senior official and a favourite of Stalin who rejected heredity and instead focused on nurture as influencing an organisms characteristics. A few million starvation victims later, he was ousted but unfortunately his legacy still lingers in the Russian sciences.

    Overall a good read, a bit technical for my layman inclination but that is okay. Carroll spent a bit too much time defending evolution against creation-detractors. I guess as an American author he needs to deal with this perplexing social circumstance.

    From Chapters:

    Chapters Link

    Throw out your fossils-the best evidence for evolution is now found in DNA.
    DNA is the genetic blueprint of all creatures. Scientists have only recently discovered that it is also a living chronicle of evolution. In this book, leading biologist and writer Sean B. Carroll takes us on an exhilarating tour of the exquisite evolutionary record. The DNA record of evolution is filled with surprises. Immortal genes and evolution repeating itself are two of the stunners that await the lucky reader. The case for evolution can no longer be contested now that the DNA evidence is revealed.

  44. Title:Call Of The Mall: The Geography Of Shopping By The Author Of Why We Buy
    Author:Paco Underhill
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: An okay read with some interesting snippets of history and behavioural-economics about this modern day institution. Underhill writes well but I found the content a bit thin.

    From Chapters:
    Paco Underhill, the Margaret Mead of shopping and author of the huge international bestseller Why We Buy, now takes us to the mall, a place every American has experienced and has an opinion about. The result is a bright, ironic, funny, and shrewd portrait of the mall — America”s gift to personal consumption, its most powerful icon of global commercial muscle, the once new and now aging national town square, the place where we convene in our leisure time.
    It”s about the shopping mall as an exemplar of our commercial and social culture, the place where our young people have their first taste of social freedom and where the rest of us compare notes. Call of the Mall examines how we use the mall, what it means, why it works when it does, and why it sometimes doesn”t.

    Chapters Link

  45. Title: The Perfect Storm
    Author: Sebastian Junger
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: The phrase, ‘the Perfect Storm’ is now a bit overused. However for the men of the Andrea Gail it was the cliché that cost them their lives. The 1997 book which inspired the movie with George Clooney (and which I have not seen). A bit of a strange read with two distinct stories (one about the Andrea Gail, the other about an ill-fated Coast Guard helicopter).

    Nevertheless, Junger does a good job of mixing history of this area of the sea with the perfect storm.

    From Chapters:
    It was the storm of the century, boasting waves over one hundred feet high a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it “the perfect storm.” In a book that has become a classic, Sebastian Junger explores the history of the fishing industry, the science of storms, and the candid accounts of the people whose lives the storm touched. ?The Perfect Storm? is a real-life thriller that makes us feel like we’ve been caught, helpless, in the grip of a force of nature beyond our understanding or control.

    Chapters Link

  46. Title: the Disappearing Spoon, And Other True Tales Of Madness, Love, And The History Of The World From The Periodic Table Of The Periodic Table of the Elements.
    Author:Sam Kean
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 4.5
    My thoughts: See my 2014-02-08 Blog, a great read!

    From Chapters:

    Chapters Link

  47. Title: Bennett: The Rebel Who Challenged and Changed a Nation,
    Author: John Boyko
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: See My Blog on this book.

    From Chapters:
    In the late 1920s, Canada’s economy was showing all the signs of a full-fledged depression. Life savings were evaporating, unemployment was up, and exports were dramatically down. Riding on the popularity of his promise to “blast” Canada’s way into world markets – and thus stop the economy’s downward spiral – Richard Bedford Bennett defeated William Lyon Mackenzie King at the polls on July 28, 1930, and assumed the leadership of the country. Over the next five years, however, Bennett’s name became synonymous with the worst of the Depression – from Bennett buggies, to Bennett tea, to Bennett-burghs. Eighty years later, he is widely viewed as a difficult man, an ineffectual leader, and a politician who “flip-flopped” on his conservative beliefs in exchange for popularity. John Boyko offers not only the first major biography of the man, but a fresh perspective on the old scholarship. Boyko looks at the Prime Minister’s sometimes controversial and often misunderstood policies through a longer lens, one that shows not a politician angling for votes, but rather a man following through on a life-long dedication to a greater role for government in society and the economy. It is easy to understand why Bennett has been so misunderstood. It is not often, after all, that a Conservative Prime Minister finds himself to the left of his Liberal opposition, but that it exactly where Bennett landed. Bennett’s New Deal – a series of proposals that included unemployment insurance; the establishment of a minimum wage and limits on work hours; an extension of federally backed farm credit; fair-trade and anti-monopoly legislation; and a revamped Wheat Board to oversee and control grain prices – was certainly a departure from the Conservative politics of the day. The same could be said for his creation of the Bank of Canada and the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission. Boyko explores the origins and hardening of those beliefs as he details Bennett’s birth (;into relative poverty); in Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick, his stunning success as a corporate lawyer and financial entrepreneur in Calgary, his years in politics, and his eventual retirement in England. As he ranges through the ups and downs of his subject’s career, Boyko also invites his reader to compare the challenges faced by Bennett to those faced in Canada’s more recent history. Nearly every other Canadian prime minister finds his or her way into the analysis, with Bennett’s beliefs and actions measured against theirs.

  48. Title: Being Digital
    Author: Nicholas Negroponte
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: Please see my Blog on this book.

    From Chapters: In lively, mordantly witty prose, Negroponte decodes the mysteries–and debunks the hype–surrounding bandwidth, multimedia, virtual reality, and the Internet, and explains why such touted innovations as the fax and the CD-ROM are likely to go the way of the BetaMax. “Succinct and readable. . . . If you suffer from digital anxiety . . . here is a book that lays it all out for you.”–Newsday.

    Chapters Link

  49. Title: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
    Author: Mary Roach
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 4
    My thoughts: Cadavers, Cremation and Pressure Cookers – Stiff: the curious lives of Human Cadavers

    From Chapters:
    “One of the funniest and most unusual books of the year….Gross, educational, and unexpectedly sidesplitting.”-Entertainment Weekly
    Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers-some willingly, some unwittingly-have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They’ve tested France’s first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.

    In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries-from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors’ conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

    Chapters Link

  50. Title: One In Three: A Son’s Journey Into The History And Science Of Cancer
    Author: Adam Wishart
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts:

    A good overview of the science of cancer and a person perspective as Wishart watches his father pass from the disease.

    Chapters Comments:

    When his father was diagnosed with cancer, writer and documentary director Adam Wishart couldn”t find a book that answered his most basic questions: What was the disease, how did it take hold, and what did it mean? What is it about cancer”s biology that makes it hard to eradicate? How close are we to a cure? Wishart couldn”t find the book he was looking for, so he wrote it. Here is his personal, journalistic take on the history of cancer and the encouraging story of science”s progress in changing the outlook on cancer from a disease we die from to one we live with. Wishart eloquently interweaves two powerful stories: his father”s personal experience from diagnosis onward, and the full story of the discovery of cancer, its treatment, and–increasingly now–the hope for a cure. From the heroic science of the eighteenth century, when the disease was first recognized, to the research projects around the world that have enormously extended the life expectancy of people with cancer, One in Three covers two hundred years in cancer”s history, and the story of one man”s life and his illness. One in three of us will develop cancer. This book will help us to understand it without fear.

  51. Title: The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It
    Author: Tilar Mazzeo
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts:

    It is the story of apparently the world’s most famous champagne and the woman who started the empire. Of interest is the span of European history from the French Revolution through Napoleon and into the Franco-Prussian War. Along the way is the industrialization of the sparkling wine making industry and the daring of a woman (Clicquot) who capitalizes on the changes and circumstances.

    A good read. Not necessarily a great read probably because the biographical details are so limited. As a result there is a lot of filler discussing the impossible odds of a woman making good in man’s world. An important point but not necessarily one that needs to be reiterated every 10 pages – unless you are trying to fill those pages.

    From Chapters:
    Veuve Clicquot champagne epitomizes glamour, style, and luxury. In The Widow Clicquot, Tilar J. Mazzeo brings to life-for the first time-the fascinating woman behind the iconic yellow label: Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, who, after her husband”s death, defied convention by assuming the reins of the fledgling wine business they had nurtured together. Steering the company through dizzying political and financial reversals, she became one of the world”s first great businesswomen and one of the richest women of her time.

    As much a fascinating journey through the process of making this temperamental wine as a biography of a uniquely tempered woman, The Widow Clicquot is the captivating true story of a legend and a visionary.

    Chapters Link

  52. Title:Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything And The Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It
    Author: Julia Keller
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts:
    A good read and author Julia Keller provides lots of asides and story-deviations to keep the history buff well engaged. I found the book fell apart a bit towards the end. That is Keller discusses Gatling’s financial decline but fails to give enough details of what exactly caused it. As well, she alludes to the other competitors to Gatling including the likes of Maxim – without a lot of detail. Nevertheless, Gatling is one of those 19th/20th century men who were self-made and who made the century.

    From Chapters:
    A provocative look at the life and times of the man who created the original weapon of mass destruction

    Drawing on her investigative and literary talents, Julia Keller offers a riveting account of the invention of the world”s first working machine gun. Through her portrait of its misunderstood creator, Richard Jordan Gatling-who naively hoped that the overwhelming effectiveness of a multiple-firing weapon would save lives by decreasing the size of armies and reducing the number of soldiers needed to fight-Keller draws profound parallels to the scientists who would unleash America”s atomic arsenal half a century later. The Gatling gun, in its combination of ingenuity, idealism, and destructive power, perfectly exemplifies the paradox of America”s rise in the nineteenth century to a world superpower.

    Chapters Link

  53. Title: How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish without a Trace
    Author:Eileen C. Horan, Frank M. Ahearn
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: See my blog on this book

    From Chapters:
    How to Disappear is the authoritative and comprehensive guide for people who seek to protect their privacy as well as for anyone who’s ever entertained the fantasy of disappearing-whether actually dropping out of sight or by eliminating the traceable evidence of their existence.

    Chapters Link

  54. Title: The Price Of Everything: Finding Method In The Madness Of What Things Cost
    Author: Eduardo Porter
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 5
    My thoughts: See my blog post: Lapdances, Polygamy and Relgion – The Price of Everything

    From Chapters:
    Many of the prices we pay seem to make little sense. We shell out $2.29 for coffee at Starbucks when a nearly identical brew can be had at the corner deli for less than a dollar. We may be less willing to give blood for $25 than to donate it for free. And we pay someone to cart away trash that would be a valuable commodity in poorer parts of the world.

    The Price of Everything starts with a simple premise: there is a price behind each choice, whether we”re deciding to have a baby, drive a car, or buy a book. We often fail to appreciate just how critical prices are as motivating forces. But their power becomes clear when distorted prices steer our decisions the wrong way. Eduardo Porter uncovers the true story behind the prices we pay and reveals what those prices are actually telling us.

    Chapters Link

  55. Title: The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood
    Author: James Gleick
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3; if Information theory and its history is your thing
    My thoughts: See my Blog Post on this Subject.

    From Chapters:

    Chapters Link

    James Gleick, the author of the best sellers Chaos and Genius, now brings us a work just as astonishing and masterly: a revelatory chronicle and meditation that shows how information has become the modern era’s defining quality-the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world.

    The story of information begins in a time profoundly unlike our own, when every thought and utterance vanishes as soon as it is born. From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long-misunderstood talking drums of Africa, Gleick tells the story of information technologies that changed the very nature of human consciousness. He provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable development of our modern understanding of information: Charles Babbage, the idiosyncratic inventor of the first great mechanical computer; Ada Byron, the brilliant and doomed daughter of the poet, who became the first true programmer; pivotal figures like Samuel Morse and Alan Turing; and Claude Shannon, the creator of information theory itself.

    And then the information age arrives. Citizens of this world become experts willy-nilly: aficionados of bits and bytes. And we sometimes feel we are drowning, swept by a deluge of signs and signals, news and images, blogs and tweets. The Information is the story of how we got here and where we are heading.

  56. Title: The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine (1999 edition)
    Author:Tom Holzel & Audrey Salkeld
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: Since the mid-1980’s I had a passing interest in George Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine. By way of summary, George Mallory made three trips in the early 1920’s to reconnoitre and then climb Mount Everest. His last attempt, in 1924, saw him and Irvine disappear near the summit. There has been speculation as to whether they had actually made the summit or at least established, for that year, an altitude record. Now nearly 60 years since Everest was first climbed, the question of whether these gents from a long ago era of tweed and wool jackets have made it still beguiles historians and climbers.

    The conclusion of the 1999 revised edition of the book is now no, they probably did not – but they got awful close to it. This read is interesting from the perspective of the post-Great War politics and that went into selecting and sending out climbing expeditions. In this age when you can virtually pay someone to carry you up an mountain – we forget the effort and organization needed to climb in by gone days. As well, the era of which class you were born into as a criteria for being selected for being an expedition member rubs our 21st century sensibilities the wrong way.

    A bit of a tedious read for those not into the Alpine sports and/or history, the next-to-final chapters are particularly long. Nevertheless and interesting glimpse back in time for English society, Alpine sports and test to be the first to climb the mountain.

    Wikipedia-George Mallory

  57. Title: Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections On Mortality
    Author: Pauline W. Chen
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 4
    My thoughts: I have an ongoing interest in all things medical and certainly death is no exception. This book explores how doctors and surgeons relate to death. On the one hand, we pay them to be clinical and non-emotional when us lay people are anything but. On the other hand, they too are human and death often represents failure on their part. The key take away from this book is the importance of giving death back to those who own it – those that are dying themselves. To do this, physicians (and persumably all medical folks, nurses and the like) need to be trained and have forums to discuss their experiences, choices and responsibilities both to the living and to the dying.

    A good read for those interested in how physicians are trained, their inter-action with the dead and that enivitable bump ahead of all of us in our life-journeys.

    From Chapters: A brilliant transplant surgeon brings compassion and narrative drama to the fearful reality that every doctor must face: the inevitability of mortality.

    When Pauline Chen began medical school, she dreamed of saving lives. What she could not predict was how much death would be a part of her work. Almost immediately, she found herself wrestling with medicine’s most profound paradox-that a profession premised on caring for the ill also systematically depersonalizes dying. Final Exam follows Chen over the course of her education and practice as she struggles to reconcile the lessons of her training with her innate sense of empathy and humanity. A superb addition to the best medical literature of our time.

  58. Title: Suburban Safari; A Year on the Lawn.
    Author: Hannah Homes.
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: A whirlwind history tour of the american lawn, its benefits and costs to the natural environment. Holmes invites experts in to discuss aspects of her 0.2 acre lawn and the creatures living therein. I like her suggestion to focus on native species rather than planting imports. But given that I don’t do much gardening, a suggestion easy enough to ignore.

    From Chapters: The suburban lawn sprouts a crop of contradictory myths. To some, it’s a green oasis; to others, it’s eco-purgatory. Science writer Hannah Holmes spent a year appraising the lawn through the eyes of the squirrels, crows, worms, and spiders who think of her backyard as their own. Suburban Safari is a fascinating and often hilarious record of her discoveries: that many animals adore the suburban environment, including bears and cougars venturing in from the woods; how plants, in their struggle for dominance, communicate with their own kind and battle other species; and that ways already exist for us to grow healthier, livelier lawns.

  59. Title: Censored Hollywood: Sex, Sin, & Violence on Screen
    Author: Frank Miller
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: A bit dated now, published in 1994, nevertheless a good romp through the history of film, the American censorship process and a few references to the Canadian equivalents. A good secondary book to pick up and read about someone’s job to count sex, violence and course languages in a film. Also interesting was the active involvement of the American censors in developing the film’s storyline and editing from the beginning.

  60. Title: A Peace to End All Peace; The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and Creation of the Modern Middle East.
    Author: David Fromkin.
    Recommended Read (out of 5, 5 being highest): 3
    My thoughts: Having visited Istanbul, I was interested in learning more about the Ottoman Empire. To me and in reflection, I believe that the period of 1913 to 1919 will be regarded in the future as the most important since the defeat of Napoleon. This book provides some interesting backstory of the machinations and maneuvering during this period by the British, Russian/Soviets and of course the locals in the Middle East. A bit of a slog to get through, but a good read as one of those secondary books on the coffee table that might take you a few months to get through.

    From Chapters: The Middle East has long been a region of rival religions, ideologies, nationalisms, and ambitions. All of these conflicts-including the hostilities between Arabs and Israelis, and the violent challenges posed by Iraq’s competing sects-are rooted in the region’s political inheritance: the arrangements, unities, and divisions imposed by the Allies after the First World War.

    In A Peace to End All Peace, David Fromkin reveals how and why the Allies drew lines on an empty map that remade the geography and politics of the Middle East. Focusing on the formative years of 1914 to 1922, when all seemed possible, he delivers in this sweeping and magisterial book the definitive account of this defining time, showing how the choices narrowed and the Middle East began along a road that led to the conflicts and confusion that continue to this day.

  61. A very good read for anyone interested in the future of climate change, the arctic and a very reasoned and balanced opinion thereof. What I like about the book is that Smith describes the forthcoming changes as both opportunity and costs without minimizing either. As well, for an American author, he does a great job of knowing what lies above the 49th parallel. A good companion read to Jared Diamon’s Collapsed.

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