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stellarexplorer: A New Hope

This is a continuation of the topic stellarexplorer: A Leap of Faith.

The Green Dragon

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1stellarexplorer
Jan 1, 2017, 2:12pm Top

Starting out fresh in 2017, with an enthusiasm for upcoming reading, and for posting about it here! I'm not a reading goal person. I aim to follow my curiosity and my bliss!

2jillmwo
Jan 1, 2017, 2:30pm Top

Well, here's a lovely place to sit and have a chat! I went and reviewed that link in MSG 143 of the previous thread about beef stew and discovered I was doing it all wrong! Now I must revisit my process of making beef stew. Although I always add sherry to my beef stew (just as he had recommended). So at any rate, I've starred this thread and will be popping in and out.

3majkia
Jan 1, 2017, 2:33pm Top

Love the title, Good luck and happy reading!

4stellarexplorer
Jan 1, 2017, 2:38pm Top

>2 jillmwo: I love a hearty beef stew in the winter, and I had NO idea how much improvement was possible. I thought I made a good one ... until I made this one. Each little item adds something worthwhile. Please do let me know how it works out if you make it!

>3 majkia: Thank you, majkia

5Peace2
Jan 1, 2017, 3:27pm Top

Wishing you a happy new year and plenty of opportunities to relax with a good book (or two)

6clamairy
Jan 1, 2017, 4:02pm Top

Happy New Year, my friend! :o) You know I'll be here.

7stellarexplorer
Edited: Jan 1, 2017, 4:21pm Top

I'm counting on it and grateful for it! Wishing you a wonderful and improved 2017!

8lynnoconnacht
Jan 1, 2017, 6:22pm Top

Happy new year! May your curiosity in books take you to amazing and wonderful things!

9Marissa_Doyle
Jan 1, 2017, 10:00pm Top

Looking forward to following along in this new year. :)

10imyril
Jan 2, 2017, 7:43am Top

Happy new year - any thread that starts with beef stew is one I need to star :)

11hfglen
Jan 2, 2017, 7:49am Top

Happy New Year! Interesting differences between this beef stew and a good Cape Malay bredie.

12Sakerfalcon
Jan 2, 2017, 2:42pm Top

Happy new year! I hope it brings you some great books!

13LizzieD
Jan 2, 2017, 10:39pm Top

Here you are!
Wishing you many great books in 2017! Wishing me the opportunity to read about your many great books in 2017!

14pgmcc
Jan 3, 2017, 3:56am Top

Happy 2017. As with others here I have been smitten with yearning for the beef stew. We have book bullets in other threads but this is the first beef bullet I have spotted.

15pgmcc
Jan 3, 2017, 3:58am Top

>2 jillmwo: Would that be MSG 163?

16stellarexplorer
Edited: Jan 3, 2017, 4:41am Top

>14 pgmcc: Well I hope I hit you with that beef bullet. You'll thank me.

>13 LizzieD: How lovely to have a visit! Please drop by impromptu, but if I know you are coming, I'll roll out the red carpet!

17thehawkseye
Jan 3, 2017, 11:59am Top

Happy New Year! It's a lovely rainy day here and now I'm craving beef stew, but the rest of the family has their hearts set on pizza.

>14 pgmcc: >16 stellarexplorer: Beware, beef bullets are messy.

Anyway, hope your 2017 is filled with books! I'll reserve my ringside seat here :)

18Peace2
Jan 3, 2017, 2:36pm Top

Happy New Year. May 2017 bring you many good books to read.

19stellarexplorer
Edited: Jan 15, 2017, 2:22pm Top

A Girl in Time by John Birmingham

I admittedly got involved in this book, and enjoyed it. But it's really not something I could recommend. I read it because an Australian friend who is a huge fan of this Australian writer rated it highly. I expected that the 5 stars he gave it would turn out to be more out of his fanship than objectivity. Of course there is no such thing anyway.

This book is similar to many of Birmingham's previous efforts in that he takes an old trope that is almost embarrassing to repeat, and does it anyway. Previously, he's sent modern aircraft carriers into the middle of the Battle of Midway. Ademittedly, that's fun. In this case, a young woman from Seattle in October 2016 is whisked off in time and left to try to get back. I've encountered that kind of scenario before, I think ;)

Let me mention the most entertaining part of this book. I'd do that fancy spoiler thing I've seen around these parts, but I don't know how to do it.

Oh! The disclaimer: The views reflected in this book that are of a quasi-political nature do not necessarily reflect the views of management or of this station. But here it is:

The time traveling young woman misses in her attempt to return to October 2016, and instead returns to 2019. She finds a country altered. The US is now a police state. Hillary is in jail. Trump is an absolute dictator. All Muslims have been sent to the Mexican border to build The Wall.

That is definitely the highlight of the book, but its a small part. I'm sure many would find this a fun read, but that's not to say that it is good.

I am resolved to read something next that I feel I have a high likelihood of liking so I do not get the exaggerated but not entirely untrue reputation for being a negative curmudgeonly stick-in-the-mud. At least I like cheese.

20lynnoconnacht
Jan 15, 2017, 2:37pm Top

>20 lynnoconnacht: If you want to add a spoiler tag to your posts, all you need to do is write <spoiler>the text of the spoiler</spoiler> and it'll render the text as a spoiler that gets hidden.

I hope your next book will be more enjoyable!

21stellarexplorer
Jan 15, 2017, 2:45pm Top

Thank you Lynn!

22lynnoconnacht
Jan 15, 2017, 3:04pm Top

You're welcome! I hope it helps! You can copy/paste the code and just edit the text in between the spoiler tags as well if you want to.

23clamairy
Jan 15, 2017, 3:19pm Top

>19 stellarexplorer: Ouch. Well, you didn't hate it or you would have left it unfinished, am I correct? I do hope you pick up something you enjoy completely next.

24stellarexplorer
Jan 15, 2017, 5:13pm Top

>23 clamairy: Definitely didn't hate it. But it's also not worth investing in a comprehensive critical review.

I have a number of nonfiction books ready that I know I'll like, but it's been a few months since I read fiction that I loved.

Maybe I'll try The Lions of Al-Rassan. I have a good feeling about that one, and I liked Under Heaven, my one previous Kay, very much.

25clamairy
Jan 15, 2017, 5:59pm Top

>24 stellarexplorer: If you do decide to read Lions I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

26stellarexplorer
Jan 15, 2017, 6:30pm Top

>25 clamairy: I totally get how gunshy you would be about book recommendations after the episode that shall not be named. I too hope I would like it as much as you did.
Or more, even!

27stellarexplorer
Edited: Feb 8, 2017, 5:55pm Top

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Who doesn't love magic? The Magicians is a book about magic, in fact much of it takes place in a school of magic. The difficulties of the school of magic in the post-Harry Potter world notwithstanding, another problem presents itself. As delightful or terrifying as magic may be, books with magical themes are still books, and as such the magic alone is not enough. They need characters to care about, creative world building, a plot to move things along, etc.

I enjoyed a lot about this book. In particular, the world building was convincing and easy to clamber onto. The author offers quite a few clever ideas and innovations that bring pleasure. The action proceeds apace, with little lag. We sense that we are faced with real people facing real problems and real relationships, albeit in a magical setting, which is an accomplishment.

There are problems here. While the characters are consistent and believable, they are, for the most part, not especially likable or easy to root for. I will not here elaborate, but in general these are callow, immature, rather selfish individuals with little sense of themselves or their purposes. It's a rather lost group, and their magical studies apparently do little to help them find themselves. With one notable exception, but no need for spoilers here.

The second issue had to to with payoff. I think it's fair to say this book rarely gives the reader the gratification desired. There is more frustrating rather than gratifying the reader. This might still make for a great book if done well, for a clear purpose. Think Jude the Obscure. But Grossman was not successful in conveying this, at least not to me, and so I depart this world with some sense of frustration and misfired potential.

One thing desperately lacking here is any sense of charm. There is magic with no charm or joy. Good writing and creative ideas ameliorate this somewhat, but insufficiently to be able to recommend this without reservation.

28stellarexplorer
Edited: Feb 8, 2017, 5:49pm Top

I am starting Naomi Novik's Uprooted. I am hopeful that I will be able to fully embrace my next book. I've run into a bit of a dry spell lately.

29clamairy
Feb 8, 2017, 8:17pm Top

>27 stellarexplorer: Sorry you didn't enjoy it more, but might I ask what it was that drew you to it in the first place?

>28 stellarexplorer: This also won't be like Hardy, but I hope you enjoy it. I'm about half the way through it at this point and I'm still quite pleased with it.

30stellarexplorer
Edited: Feb 8, 2017, 10:16pm Top

>29 clamairy: I received it as a gift from someone who was trying really hard to think of something I would like. He's someone I exchange gifts with yearly, and I knew he was really trying to find something that might be roughly in the ballpark of my reading tastes. He reads almost no SFF - I gave him a sampler of a few classics, but I can't say he much liked them. He reads contemporary "literary fiction". Funnily this one, almost an anti-fantasy fantasy book, is the only fantasy I think he's read in his adult life. And then I'd heard others who'd read it, heard there was a Scify Channel production, so I thought it would be worth a read.

Looking forward to the Novik, haven't read her before. Glad you are enjoying it! And also looking forward to the coming months. I read a lot more from February to September than October through January, because I'm a sucker for football. {blush} I have a lot of things I want to get to.

31SylviaC
Feb 8, 2017, 10:42pm Top

>27 stellarexplorer: Doesn't sound very appealing! Unlikeable characters usually put me right off, and it takes a heck of a lot to make up for that. I hope you have better luck with your next venture.

32Narilka
Feb 9, 2017, 8:45am Top

>27 stellarexplorer: I'd been curious about this one. I think I may pass now.

33zjakkelien
Feb 10, 2017, 1:34am Top

>27 stellarexplorer: I completely agree. This was the most depressing fantasy book I've ever come across. A pity, because the world building was good. But I would never recommend it to anyone.

34stellarexplorer
Feb 10, 2017, 1:48am Top

Narilka, Sylvia, clammy, thanks for your comments and visit.

You too zjakkelien, and it's good to find we saw this the same way. (And while I have your attention, may I take a moment to mention to you that it was a great pleasure to have visited your city of The Hague last summer? What a lovely place! I'd never been there before and I was struck by so many things. Especially just how livable the place was. Amsterdam was a great place to visit, but I'd much rather live in The Hague!)

35zjakkelien
Feb 11, 2017, 1:37pm Top

>34 stellarexplorer: Then we agree again! I think Amsterdam is nice for tourists, and it has neighborhoods that I would probably enjoy living in (if I could afford it!), but I much prefer to live in the Hague. It's not quite as crazy and has a bit more space. To me, it feels more relaxed than Amsterdam.

36Bookmarque
Feb 11, 2017, 1:46pm Top

Amsterdam is the LEAST relaxed place I've ever been. It felt like one giant epileptic seizure. Nice buildings and lay out, but exhausting.

37jillmwo
Feb 11, 2017, 2:46pm Top

That's interesting. I've not been in Amsterdam since the mid '90's, but I never felt as if it were particularly manic when staying there. Has it changed dramatically in the 20 years since I last visited?

I did see The Hague briefly and I did think that area was lovely.

38Bookmarque
Feb 11, 2017, 4:23pm Top

It could have been where we stayed, but we did walk from the Crown Plaza (our hotel) to the Van Gogh museum and back (while getting lost a bit) so it wasn't like we stayed in one spot. Just SO MANY cars, bikes, boats and people. Made Brussels seem calm by comparison and Bruges like a back water. We found some fabulous little restaurants and side streets, but boy it was tiring after a few hours.

39stellarexplorer
Feb 11, 2017, 6:26pm Top

It's probably a different matter if you live there and instinctively understand the rules, but there are a million bicycles coming at you from every direction. It seems that they know exactly where they are going and how to speed around safely. But for the uninitiated, walking in Amsterdam feels like one false move will get you run over by a bike. It seems very easy to step in the wrong place and have caused offense or danger. As a result one walks with a sense of vigilance and anxiety. Manic describes it too. The place is energetic, active, scenic, but no one could say it's calm.

40zjakkelien
Edited: Feb 12, 2017, 7:01am Top

Hahaha, I remember a friend of a friend telling me she had been to Amsterdam and hated it because of the bikers that kept ringing their bells at her. When I asked, though, she admitted to stepping onto the road or biking lanes, and that is indeed asking for trouble. That would annoy me too, if someone stepped right in front of me when I was biking somewhere!

But I can imagine it can be overwhelming if you're not used to it. On top of that, the sidewalks tend to be narrow in Amsterdam, so there isn't that much space to walk to begin with.

41Sakerfalcon
Feb 13, 2017, 4:23am Top

I enjoyed visiting Amsterdam last year, and it is a beautiful city, but I totally agree with >39 stellarexplorer:. I do think it's good that cycling is so dominant though, much better than the streets being filled with cars. If I were going to live in the Netherlands I'd prefer Leiden, Utrecht or Rotterdam of the cities I visited.

42hfglen
Feb 13, 2017, 5:07am Top

Heartily agree with Sakerfalcon about Utrecht. If I were to move to the Netherlands, I'd also look hard at Wageningen or Baarn or, remembering that even tiny, remote places have excellent public transport, Ermelo (nod to the place of the same name in Mpumalanga) or Otterlo.

43zjakkelien
Feb 15, 2017, 2:58am Top

>42 hfglen: Really? You have an Ermelo too?

44hfglen
Feb 15, 2017, 6:02am Top

>43 zjakkelien: 26.52 South, 29.96 East. It's quite a bit bigger than the one in Gelderland.

45zjakkelien
Feb 15, 2017, 10:21am Top

>44 hfglen: I am flabbergasted. I see a lot of names end in 'spruit'. To me, that is reminiscent of sprouts (Brussels sprouts = spruitjes in Dutch). But I guess it has a different meaning to you?

46hfglen
Feb 15, 2017, 10:29am Top

>45 zjakkelien: Not sure what Dutch word it would map to. Here it indicates a small (probably seasonal) stream. I'll confuse you further by telling you that Bronkhorstspruit (east of Pretoria) is named after a General Brohkhorst, not after the presence of watercress. And it's a pity that the GD isn't wired for sound, or I'd come out with the old chestnut of the Last Outpost pronunciation of Winklespruit, Kloof and Botha's Hill.

47zjakkelien
Feb 16, 2017, 1:40am Top

>46 hfglen: Well, I know how I would pronounce that, but I imagine your pronunciation could be quite different!

To me, Bronkhorst is just a town, and I have never heard that it means something. Are you saying it has something to do with watercress? Ah, googling tells me it is bronkors in Afrikaans. In Dutch, it is waterkers.

Man, these things can be confusing!

48stellarexplorer
Edited: Feb 19, 2017, 11:32am Top

I have had a lot of trouble with fiction lately, and even though I am reading and so far enjoying Uprooted, I haven't had that delicious feeling of being so drawn to a book, that I don't want to do anything but read it.

But that has now happened. It is a tome, but hard to imagine anyone ever doing it better. This is not a review because I'm only 125 pages into an 800 page book. Nonfiction often grabs me by the throat in a way that fiction does less frequently.

The book is Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I've been thinking about nuclear war a lot recently. I won't go into the details as some of it borders on politics, although I can say that I am concerned that sparing our children the traumatic and ridiculous experiences of hiding under the desk at school in preparation, and Fallout Shelters, etc may have weakened the concern they ought to have about these weapons. There really is a before the bomb/after the bomb divide, the seriousness and danger of which cannot be understated.

So I listened to a wonderful Dan Carlin Hardcore History 6 hour podcast which was chillingly entertaining, rewatched 13 Days (movie about the Cuban Missle Crisis), rewatched Fail-Safe, watched the documentary "The Day After Trinity" about Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. I can get obsessive about a topic.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb is a comprehensive, impeccably-researched broad-scope account of the developing of the bomb. It ranges in granular detail across the science of the prior 50 years and the dramatis personæ. It details the broad context in which the wholesale slaughter of noncombatants became acceptable. And of course presents the actual making of the bomb, which I haven't gotten to yet.

Incidentally, this won The National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Critics Circle Award.

I can't put it down. And I am remembering with satisfaction what it is like when I am captivated by first-rate nonfiction.

49stellarexplorer
Mar 11, 2017, 6:02pm Top

I am on page 459 of 790. The Manhattan Project has just started, and Oppenheimer has arrived in Los Alamos. Long, if fascinating, lead up!

50clamairy
Mar 11, 2017, 7:48pm Top

>49 stellarexplorer: Just added it to my wishlist. :o)

51stellarexplorer
Mar 15, 2017, 4:26pm Top

My pre-order of New York 2140 just arrived. Can't wait to read it. KSR is one of only 3 authors whose work I buy and read sight unseen, no other information necessary.

52stellarexplorer
Mar 15, 2017, 4:27pm Top

Unfortunately, other reading commitments prevent me from opening it up today with intention to devour!

53tardis
Mar 15, 2017, 4:35pm Top

>51 stellarexplorer: I don't buy KSR books because I know I'm unlikely to ever re-read them, but I DO always read his work, thanks to the library. I just read a positive review about this book and I look forward to your report. I put it on hold as soon as I saw it in the library's on-order list, but it won't get to me for a bit yet.

54stellarexplorer
Mar 15, 2017, 4:53pm Top

>53 tardis: Preordering his books is a delightful indulgence, but a more affordable one than a Lamborghini. At least that's what I tell myself, lauding my temperance!

55stellarexplorer
Edited: Mar 15, 2017, 5:05pm Top

This latest acquisition puts my collection at precisely 4600 books. KSR is a fitting author to navigate across that milestone:)

56tardis
Mar 15, 2017, 5:34pm Top

>54 stellarexplorer: I agree. I always figure that I don't smoke, drink, gamble, or do drugs (and like you, no Lanborghini), so buying books is perfectly reasonable. I buy a few favourite authors in hardcover, too.

KSR is indeed worthy to establish such a milestone. My 4600th book was a hardcover by Barbara Hambly :)

57clamairy
Edited: Mar 15, 2017, 5:35pm Top

>55 stellarexplorer: Congrats, and I had no idea who KSR was until I looked. I have heard of one of his books so I don't feel completely out of the loop.

58stellarexplorer
Mar 15, 2017, 5:52pm Top

>57 clamairy: oh boy! I am jealous - you have some great books to look forward to, clammy! While I love his voice and so many of his books, I think my favorites may be the Science in the Capital trilogy beginning with Forty Signs of Rain. These are near-future books with a focus on global warming, but with memorable, colorful characters through whom the author expresses his expansive breadth of knowledge and interests. But a case can be made for many others.

59stellarexplorer
Mar 15, 2017, 5:55pm Top

>56 tardis: I must confess that I don't know the work of Ms. Hambly. What should I know?

60jillmwo
Mar 15, 2017, 7:24pm Top

I'll agree with >58 stellarexplorer: with regard to the Science in the Capitol trilogy. Very interesting insights into how science and policy operate. (I also am somewhat partial to KSR's Antarctica because of its rendition of the exploration of that continent and because of the back story to the work. He wrote it on an NSF grant that included living there in Antarctica with the scientific community.)

61clamairy
Mar 15, 2017, 8:46pm Top

>59 stellarexplorer: & >60 jillmwo: Oh, gang up on me why don't you? :o)

62tardis
Edited: Mar 15, 2017, 10:47pm Top

>59 stellarexplorer: I've never read a bad book by Hambly. Her characters are so real (which considering she mostly writes fantasy is quite a trick). Her Benjamin January mysteries are set in slave-era New Orleans - a violent, bleak time (esp. if, like Ben, you're black) but fascinating. Bride of the Rat God is set in 1920s Hollywood, and is amusing and scary. The series I buy in hardcover is her take on vampires, starting with Those Who Hunt The Night. Her vampires are Not Nice. Really, start at the beginning of any of her series.

63stellarexplorer
Mar 15, 2017, 10:47pm Top

64ScoLgo
Mar 16, 2017, 2:44am Top

>62 tardis: I have read the first two vampire novels from Hambly and really enjoyed them. The writing style and characters pulled me in right away. I need to track down book 3 one of these days to continue the series.

65Sakerfalcon
Mar 16, 2017, 6:54am Top

>59 stellarexplorer: A couple of years ago we had a group read of Stranger at the wedding by Hambly, which most of us thoroughly enjoyed.

I'm looking forward to the new KSR too. I hope my library gets a copy.

66stellarexplorer
Mar 16, 2017, 11:09am Top

Thank you ScoLgo and Sakerfalcon. I will have to track down some of her work.

67stellarexplorer
Edited: Mar 29, 2017, 10:10pm Top

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

This is a powerful, deeply affecting book. Its 800 pages are dense, and require much of the reader. But in return is a comprehensive account of the development of the atomic bomb: the nuclear physics of the first decades of 20th century that made the effort possible; the historical context that led to its construction; the scientific collaboration at Los Alamos and how the feat was accomplished. Throughout and in a forceful closing, Rhodes offers a thoughtful examination of the results, implications and challenges the bomb brought to the world.

Many books fail to stand the test of time; but the three decades since its publication have only affirmed its centrality in telling the story of the atomic bomb. Rhodes had access to some of the key figures in the making of the bomb who were then still alive, which supplemented his exceptional talent for writing history and the history of science. And to the reader’s good fortune, Rhodes happens to be an impeccable prose stylist. The book justly received the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.

As a reader of the history of science, I was firmly in the grip of Rhodes’ delivery of the familiar but ever thrilling story of nuclear physics from the early discovery of xrays and radioactivity (Röntgen, Becquerel, Curie) at the end of the 19th century through its culmination here in Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner’s discovery of nuclear fission. While told in meticulous detail, this long section reads like a scientific thriller.

Any serious account of the making of the atomic bomb must contend with the responses of the scientists to the consequences of their work. Three figures cast giant moral shadows over this story, all of them central to the intellectual underpinnings of the Manhattan Project. Leo Szilard is well known for his letter with Einstein to FDR informing him of the feasibility of a bomb, and warning of the possibility of a German nuclear effort. He was also the man who developed the idea that connected nuclear fission to a bomb: the nuclear chain reaction. And yet as the bomb neared completion, Szilard exhausted himself in trying to encourage the United States not to use it. Robert Oppenheimer, brilliant director of the Manhattan Project, is seen after his greatest success to labor under the impossible burden of having brought such destructive power into the world. Finally, Neils Bohr, among the greatest and most influential of scientists, is shown as the conscience of his peers. Bohr used his authority to present to the Allied leaders his concept of the complementarity represented by the bomb. In this he meant that the destructiveness of the weapon contained an inherent opposite – that the power of the bomb necessitated fundamental changes in political arrangements, and in fact required us to put an end to war. The alternative was an arms race leading to the unthinkable.

Rhodes ultimately puts the atomic bomb into its most important human context: with Bohr’s notion of its complementarity, comes the imperative to face the fundamental changes wrought by nuclear technology. He argues that the modern nation-state has appropriated the power of science and fashioned out of it a death machine. He sees citizens “slowly come to understand that in a nuclear world their national leaders cannot, no matter how much tribute and control they exact, protect even their citizens’ bare lives, the minimum demand the commons have made in exchange for the political authority that is ultimately theirs alone to award.” Our minimal protection is the mere hope of the restraint of others similarly armed. Seventy years after Hiroshima, thirty years after the publication of this book, are we any closer to addressing the imperatives thrust upon us?

In 1946, Einstein famously warned “The splitting of the atom changed everything save man’s mode of thinking, thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.” Einstein was right about so many things. Let us hope that ultimately this too will not prove to be one of them.

68ScoLgo
Mar 30, 2017, 1:17am Top

>67 stellarexplorer: Thank you. Absolutely great review. I think I took a direct hit on this one.

69suitable1
Mar 30, 2017, 11:12am Top

>67 stellarexplorer: Great review!

70stellarexplorer
Mar 30, 2017, 9:23pm Top

Thank you both! I enjoyed writing it.

71clamairy
Apr 4, 2017, 9:34pm Top

>67 stellarexplorer: Awesome review!
I do hope your reading dry spell has dissipated.

72stellarexplorer
Apr 4, 2017, 10:15pm Top

>71 clamairy:

Thank you! And yes, I think I'm into a fair weather phase now. I'm reading a fun book that I will review soon, a page turner about a Latino Los Angeles drug gang led by an intriguing young woman... and in the car, Gravity's Rainbow, which I've never read, and is dense, with wonderful sentences, and undeniably good. (Did I mention that it's dense?) Not an easy read, but I'm glad I'm reading it.

73ScoLgo
Apr 4, 2017, 11:20pm Top

>72 stellarexplorer: Oh! I loved Gravity's Rainbow! Well... at least the few and far between parts that I understood. ;)

74stellarexplorer
Apr 5, 2017, 12:00am Top

>73 ScoLgo: yeah, it's a bear. But a great bear!

75stellarexplorer
Edited: Apr 5, 2017, 3:12pm Top

Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Lola is the tale of a Latino drug gang, and a portrait in miniature of life in the LA barrio. I enjoyed this book, breezing through it rapidly. It might be a perfectly acceptable light beach read (with some violence requisite for the genre) if not for two bonus elements: the novelty of an engaging female gang leader, directing loyal male soldiers, and the glimpse into a way of life not often viewed from the outside. The book argues that escape is not a meaningful goal, and that the inhabitants of this realm will not feel at home elsewhere. 4 stars, promoted from 3.5 for believability and readability.

76ScoLgo
Apr 5, 2017, 5:08pm Top

>75 stellarexplorer: Bang! Right. Between. The Eyes...

You know I already have way too many books to read before shuffling off this mortal coil, right? ;)

77pgmcc
Apr 5, 2017, 5:13pm Top

>76 ScoLgo:

You know I already have way too many books to read before shuffling off this mortal coil, right? ;)

Does not compute! Significance of irrelevant data not understood. What has number of books in possession have to do with the acquisition of more books? No connection found.

78stellarexplorer
Apr 5, 2017, 6:26pm Top

>77 pgmcc: Agreed. But he did specify reading them...

79stellarexplorer
Apr 5, 2017, 6:28pm Top

>76 ScoLgo: I am honored to have harpooned you!

80ScoLgo
Apr 5, 2017, 10:05pm Top

>77 pgmcc: Haha! Too true... I must remember to repeat Umberto's quote to myself daily as I often lose sight of the real reason for compiling a library.

>79 stellarexplorer: Thanks for the review. It was an unexpected potshot that hit the bulls-eye. I have added Lola to my Overdrive list with the library. Of course, it will have to wait until the four titles I currently have on hold become available and are subsequently consumed.

81stellarexplorer
Apr 5, 2017, 11:40pm Top

This may be the moment to cite a favorite (paraphrased) quote from Saul Bellow that I have on my profile page:

"My books stand as guarantors of an extended life -- one far more interesting and meaningful than the one I am forced to lead daily."

82clamairy
Apr 5, 2017, 11:52pm Top

>81 stellarexplorer: That's couldn't be more appropriate.

83jillmwo
Apr 6, 2017, 12:18pm Top

>81 stellarexplorer: I love that quote. Seriously considering theft.

84pgmcc
Apr 6, 2017, 5:59pm Top

>81 stellarexplorer: Excellent quote!

85stellarexplorer
Edited: Apr 9, 2017, 12:57pm Top

I am now engrossed in KSR's newest tome (600+ pages), New York 2140. So far it has the wonderful world building, slightly wacky sincerity, and cornucopia of ideas that characterizes his work generally. Which is to say I'm liking it. Sea level has risen 50 feet, much of lower Manhattan and the surrounding lower areas are under water, and accommodations have been made. Including securing the stability of buildings whose lower floors are submerged, a proliferation of building in northern Manhattan which stands on higher ground, skywalks to get from building to building, etc. Well done so far, but not less that one would expect from him. He's thought about these issues for a long time. How it holds together as a work of fiction I cannot yet say, but at 50 pages in, it has me wanting to continue...

86Sakerfalcon
Apr 10, 2017, 9:01am Top

>85 stellarexplorer: I'm looking forward to this one, so will be keen to see what you think as you continue reading.

87stellarexplorer
Apr 24, 2017, 11:52am Top

I have a painful dilemma. I am reading Gravity's Rainbow in the car. It's probably a very worthy book, but I am finding it painful to tolerate. It's like taking bad tasting medicine because I think it will be good for me. And yet, I feel I should have this book under my belt. Yuck! I hate reading books because I really should, though I do it not infrequently.

I am also 300 pages into KSR's 2140, which I hope to review in a week or two.

88Narilka
Apr 24, 2017, 2:05pm Top

After seeing a few other's experiences with Pynchon this year I think he's one I'll pass on. Good luck though!

89clamairy
Edited: Apr 24, 2017, 3:13pm Top

>87 stellarexplorer: You mean reading as in listening to while driving? Or reading while someone else drives? Either way if it's painful then stop, at least for a while. You can always try again in a few months (or years) to see if it still tastes bad, am I right?

90ScoLgo
Apr 24, 2017, 3:23pm Top

>87 stellarexplorer: I ended up having a pretty good time with Gravity's Rainbow but... it is very dense and the going can be slow due to the spaced-out and digressive nature of the narrative. It took me a looonnnggg time to read as I did not even try to go at it all at once. I would read a chapter or two, then take a break with 3 or 4 other, lighter novels, before coming back to tackle a little more. Took me nearly a year but I did find myself picking the book up more often as I worked my way into it. I occasionally thumb through it now for a chuckle or two, (I enjoyed the subversive humor).

91SylviaC
Apr 24, 2017, 4:39pm Top

>87 stellarexplorer: If you are determined to keep going, maybe you could try switching to a different format. Some books work better in print for me, and others in audio.

92clamairy
Apr 24, 2017, 6:48pm Top

Or see if there is an interpretive dance version. ;o)

>90 ScoLgo: I've done that with a few things. Sometimes walking away for a while helped me focus on them more clearly when I finally picked them up again.

93stellarexplorer
Apr 24, 2017, 10:03pm Top

>88 Narilka: >89 clamairy: >90 ScoLgo: >91 SylviaC:

Narilka, thanks. If I ever finish, I'll report back!

ScoLgo, yes, small doses might work, but I think I OD'd!

clammy, while I'm driving. Alone. With an impossible non-linear hard-to-engage-with plot.

Sylvia, I agree. I strongly suspect audio is the worst format for this particular book.

You will all be pleased to hear that I have put it away for now. Thank you for your support!

94stellarexplorer
Edited: May 7, 2017, 7:16pm Top

I am pursuing a research project on the reception of the physics community and the general population to Einstein's 1905 papers, and to a lesser extent to his 1915 General Theory. I have been able to find little information on this topic. I am particularly interested in the period just after the papers were published, perhaps 1905-1911.

I have located two books Comparative Reception of Relativity (a collection which can be purchased for roughly $300!) and Understanding Relativity: Orign and Impact of a Scientific Revolution by Stanley Goldberg. A little less tailored to my interests is Einstein's Jury by Jeffrey Crelinsten.

Might anyone here have a suggestion?

95jillmwo
May 7, 2017, 7:28pm Top

Have you tried putting the titles of the two books that you have found useful into Google Scholar to see what subsequent articles or books cite those two? That might be one slightly round-about way of finding other relevant materials for your research. (Forgive me if that seems too obvious. I never know how aware folks may be of such tools for these types of projects.)

96stellarexplorer
May 8, 2017, 2:53am Top

>95 jillmwo: Thanks Jill. I did find some potentially helpful papers that way. I have to find a way to get access, as most of them require substantial payments or an institutional connection I don't have anymore. I think there may be a way to get access as an alumnus of my alma mater - I have to check. There appear to be almost no books on the topic, only papers in academic journals.

97stellarexplorer
Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 5:18am Top

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

New York 2140 is a wild romp through Venice-cum-New York City in the aftermath of two massive ice melts that have significantly submerged large parts of Manhattan. People live in the skyscrapers of the city even as the lower floors are underwater. The rivers and canals are now traversed by all manner of watercraft, where before the subway and automobile reigned. KSR captures the indomitable energy of the city, which persists and thrives despite the drowning. The book is vivid, wild, untamed with colorful characters.

It is also chock full of ideas and chaos and survival. Readers familiar with Stan’s books will recognize impeccable research – in this case especially into New York City history, global financial shenanigans, and the science of sea level rise – and the courageous risk-taking that characterizes much of his work. Prominent in the cake mix are the author’s utopian leanings, with a healthy icing of critique of capitalism. I use that odd expression in part to try to imitate his fearless inventiveness at new verbal constructions, puns and neologisms, seemingly unconcerned about the inevitable failure of some portion of these. And most elicit at least a wry smile.

Under all this energy is a carefully constructed structure, with repeating sequences of orderly chapters each one following a particular character. The structure appears to mimic in abstraction something of the grid-like face of the city itself. The homage to Dos Passos’ cinematic, panoramic experimentalism is hard to miss. In the end, one may wonder about the payoff; after all, this is a long and imperfect novel requiring the time and persistence of the reader. But against that is balanced dynamic world-building, an entertaining romp without let-up, and a serious consideration of a future that seems ever more possible. Maybe the most fun one can have with global warming!

4/5 stars

98clamairy
May 13, 2017, 6:43pm Top

>97 stellarexplorer: Oooh, that looks wonderful. It's a singleton, right? Not umpteenth in a series?

99SylviaC
May 13, 2017, 6:49pm Top

>97 stellarexplorer: How's the violence level?

100Narilka
May 13, 2017, 6:52pm Top

>97 stellarexplorer: That sounds interesting. It's going on my wish list.

101stellarexplorer
Edited: May 13, 2017, 7:30pm Top

>98 clamairy: Yes, an old-fashioned stand-alone.

>99 SylviaC: Violence level = zero

>100 Narilka: Just to be clear, I gave it four stars rather than five. My bias is that KSR is one of my very few "favorite authors", so I'm predisposed to want to spread the gospel. This is a very interesting book, it's getting a lot of attention in the Halls of Organized SF, but it's not flawless, and it's not his best book. It is highly ambitious. But, and I hate to say this, but there's at least a little truth to it: I admire the book more than love it. That said, it's worth a read. But I feel morally obligated to add this corrective/disclaimer.

IMHO, his best books, the ones I've enjoyed most, are the Science in the Capital series beginning with Forty Signs of Rain, followed by The Years of Rice and Salt (an alternate history with the premise that the Black Death wiped out 99% rather than 33% of Europe), 2312, Aurora, the Mars Trilogy (which made his career and was highly awarded) and Shaman. In approximate but don't hold me to it order.

102SylviaC
May 13, 2017, 7:38pm Top

Onto the list it goes, then.

103Sakerfalcon
May 15, 2017, 6:56am Top

>97 stellarexplorer: I'm really excited about this one now!

104stellarexplorer
Edited: May 17, 2017, 9:01pm Top

>94 stellarexplorer: >95 jillmwo: Much thanks jillmwo -- thanks to your suggestion I now have in my possession Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity: Emergence, 1905 and Early Interpretation, 1905-1911

In combination with Understanding Relativity: Origin and Impact of a Scientific Revolution and Einstein's Jury: The Race to Test Relativity, and several journal articles, I now have a wealth of material for my research project. The idea is to try to understand something of scientific revolutions in general by studying the scientific prologue to Special Relativity, and the response by the physics community and eventually the world at large. I find this an extremely rich and fascinating topic. There are certain issues that I come back to time and time again through my life, each time immersing myself in its details in greater depth. Physics and the history of science is one of those central themes.

105pgmcc
May 18, 2017, 3:24am Top

>104 stellarexplorer: Are you aware of Einstein's explanation of Relativity to reporters when he arrived in the US and was asked what it was? He said, and I paraphrase, "If you spend a minute sitting on a red hot stove it will feel like an hour, but if you spend an hour with a red hot woman it will feel like a minute. That is Relativity."

106stellarexplorer
Edited: May 18, 2017, 5:14am Top

>105 pgmcc: Thanks -- I hadn't heard that before Peter, but a little research shows that variants of the phase appeared back in 1929, when Einstein was still in Germany. The earliest formulation appears to have been "When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.” Shortly thereafter, selected US newspapers decided in their wisdom to shift "nice" to "pretty". I was unable to find any reference at all to Einstein having applied the adjective "red hot" to either stove or girl.

107pgmcc
May 18, 2017, 5:42am Top

>106 stellarexplorer: Interesting detail. At least you did not discover that he didn't say it at all which is the fate of many qoutes attributed to Einstein on the Internet. :-)

108jillmwo
Edited: May 18, 2017, 8:08am Top

>104 stellarexplorer: Great success! I'm glad it worked for you. Now you can settle down to some serious investigation. (Although I am a bit intimidated by anyone who is up to the challenge of self-educating themselves about a subject with that degree of complexity. Personally, I stick to the humanities.)

Although in some moods, I too can enjoy KSR. Characterization isn't his strong suit, but he does make some areas of science much more approachable. Have you read the book he did on an NSF grant, Antarctica? I have to go look up that Shaman title now.

109stellarexplorer
May 18, 2017, 2:03pm Top

>108 jillmwo: That one is owned but not yet read. But I know many people think it's great. Agree character isn't his strength, but he's also not Asimov. He usually has a position to put forward, and usually it's one I'm sympathetic to. And he does it well.

110stellarexplorer
May 20, 2017, 6:48pm Top

Finished Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. A virtually plotless book of unusual form and construction. Some beautiful writing. Subject matter profound, and still inevitably obscure. I admired and respected it, though was not especially entertained.

111SylviaC
May 20, 2017, 9:04pm Top

>110 stellarexplorer: I haven't read the book, but I think that's a nice, succinct summation. It perfectly describes how I've felt about some of the odder things that I've read.

112stellarexplorer
May 20, 2017, 10:28pm Top

>111 SylviaC: Thank you Sylvia -- I'm glad it resonated!

113stellarexplorer
May 27, 2017, 6:41pm Top

I acquired several more volumes for my Relativity project:

Einstein's Generation: The Origins of the Relativity Revolution by Richard Staley
Masters of Theory: Cambridge and the Rise of Mathematical Physics by Andrew Warwick
Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps: Empires of Time by Peter Galison (May 22)
Frontiers of Physics 1900 - 1911 by Arthur Miller

It's easier to find them than to make time to read them! But I am excited to have enhanced my collection on this fascinating topic.

114Jim53
May 28, 2017, 5:18pm Top

>110 stellarexplorer: Have you read Saunders's short stories? I loved a lot of Tenth of December, especially the title story.

115stellarexplorer
May 28, 2017, 9:56pm Top

>114 Jim53: No, I haven't. Thanks for the suggestion - I'll have to check it out!

116stellarexplorer
Jul 26, 2017, 6:01pm Top

I've been remiss lately, but I have posted an interesting piece about elephant history here:
http://www.librarything.com/topic/265909#6125995

Upcoming I'll also be reviewing Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos, Ted Chiang's short story collection Arrival, formerly titled Stories of Your Life, and The Rise and Fall of DODO, the recent collaboration between Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland centering around time travel, witches and magic.

117Sakerfalcon
Jul 27, 2017, 6:53am Top

The rise and fall of DODO is on my TBR pile, so I will look forward to your review of it.

118clamairy
Jul 27, 2017, 9:06pm Top

>116 stellarexplorer: No worries. Many of us a posting sparsely these days.

119stellarexplorer
Aug 25, 2017, 1:03pm Top

Ok, update time. I finally have a moment sitting in the airport waiting to fly home from Aruba. It's been a delightful summer for vacations this year. I spent a few days in LA in July visiting college friends, and a few in SF visiting another friend. Then I met stellarwoman in Boulder for a week in Grand Lake, Colorado outside Rocky Mountain National Park. Glorious! And I'd love to retire to Boulder, but I don't think I'll be allowed.

Just spent the last week on a family vacation to Aruba before stellarkid returns to college and stellargirl starts high school. Can't complain!

So to books -- next post!

120stellarexplorer
Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 5:11am Top

The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

For months, I avoided writing something about Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos. It was complex and only suited to summary in the most superficial way. Or so I tell myself. More likely, I am not up to the task. The book is an introduction to the current scientific understanding of the nature of space and time, emphasis on the former. While I wouldn't describe it as technical per se -- lacking the mathematics that would further illuminate but also complicate the material -- it is nonetheless challenging. The material requires the motivated nonphysicist to persist and focus, and the effort is well rewarded.

Greene offers a substantive review of quantum mechanics and general relativity, both necessary to examine current conceptions of space and time. The punchline, at the risk of imprecision, is that we cannot look at space in a common sense way at all. There are important ways in which space does not involve a conventional notion of locality; quantum phenomena resist explanations that rely on the familiar behavior of quotidian reality; at the smallest dimensions space and time themselves seem to lose meaning; ultimately there is no such thing as “empty” space, as what appears empty is actually roiling with the energy of quantum fluctuations.

Having established this basis, Greene uses these concepts to paint a picture of cosmic inflation and quantum loop gravity theories, aiming to show how these prominent approaches account for space itself and the vastness of the universe.
Where is the controversy, one might ask? Ultimately, the trajectory of the book leads to Green's great personal interest in physics, string theory. We see how this theory, if true, might address some of the current mysteries in our understanding of space and time. But there are those for whom them’s fightin’ words. Some argue that string theory lacks the quality of falsifiability, and as such cannot be taken seriously. If you are a staunch adherent of this position, you no doubt do not need to be reading this review.

The book was excellent and I highly recommend it. I found it all rather thrilling.

121Marissa_Doyle
Aug 25, 2017, 1:33pm Top

And a direct hit with The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O....

122stellarexplorer
Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 5:24am Top

Arrival by Ted Chiang. A collection of short stories.

Ted Chiang's short story collection was formerly titled Stories of Your Life, after the once eponymous story. The collection has been renamed Arrival , but it was the original story that inspired the recent major motion picture. "Stories of Your Life" is probably familiar to many, and is the best of the collection. It tells of a linguist called upon to attempt communication with an alien species, and through that process, time and causality are radically altered and understood in a new light.

I also enjoyed "Understand", a story of a brain-damaged man who is given an experimental drug to attempt to repair the injury, the side effect of which is an acceleration of his cognitive processes and a dramatic increase in his intelligence. He becomes something more than human, but is he alone?

123stellarexplorer
Edited: Aug 25, 2017, 1:48pm Top

Yes, I did promise to review The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.
The truth is that I got through the first hundred pages or so, and it was fine. But not so fine -- not Cryptonomicon fine -- that it was not subject to supplanting by something else. I have it on good authority that it is worth finishing, and I intend to get back to it, but I took a side track, as described below.

124stellarexplorer
Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 5:23am Top

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

This book elegantly and gently tells the story of an aging military man and a ten year old girl, taken at age six and recently released by the Kiowa Indians. The Colonel undertakes the task of returning the girl to her remaining family through the lawless Texas under Reconstruction after the Civil War.

Complicating matters is that she has lost all apparent memory of her previous life, and is in speech and culture now entirely Kiowan.

Beautifully written, News finds a lightness in dark material. It addresses the profound difficulties in sundered cultural identifications, and speaks to the new human connections that one would hope are still possible.

125stellarexplorer
Aug 25, 2017, 2:04pm Top

Teaser: I am currently reading a novel that I expect will become my favorite of the year. But I am only halfway through, so I am reluctant to say more until I finish. It's really good. Stay tuned!

126LizzieD
Aug 27, 2017, 11:16pm Top

>120 stellarexplorer: I tried as hard as I could to read Greene and finally decided I just didn't want to work that much. I'd love to have a basic understanding of all that stuff, but I just couldn't do it. Maybe in my extreme old age I'll try again.
Thanks for your review of the Jiles. I'm off to do further investigation. I won't be in such a frenzy to lay hands on *D.O.D.O* now; frenzy transferring to *NY 2140*. Thanks, friend.

127clamairy
Aug 29, 2017, 10:28pm Top

I'm happy to see you're still reading, stellar!
(I'm not even trying to keep up with posting, at this point.)

128jillmwo
Aug 30, 2017, 7:37pm Top

So have you moved on to The Emperor's Soul yet? You did say you thought it would be some time in August that you'd get to it.

129stellarexplorer
Aug 30, 2017, 9:36pm Top

>128 jillmwo: Thanks Jill. I'm sure you're familiar with the ever-changing reading plan. The best laid plans and all that. It's currently second in line after my current book, in the fiction category :)

But I haven't forgotten. I've even gone and taken the step of obtaining it!

130clamairy
Aug 31, 2017, 9:30am Top

*cough*
'Bout time.
😉

131stellarexplorer
Aug 31, 2017, 11:17am Top

Wow. The bullets are flying, and they ain't book bullets! :)
At this rate, I'll have the thing read by the end of September, max. Barring disaster.

132stellarexplorer
Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 5:21am Top

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles


I’m not sure when I last read a book as delightful and smart as this one. Count Alexander Rostov, cultured young gentleman of the old Russian aristocracy, has run afoul of the new Soviet regime, and is sentenced to live under permanent house arrest in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol. And so ends the unfettered period in a formerly vigorous and expansive life. A novel that takes place almost entirely within one structure, however grand and intricate, might feel claustrophobic. Anything but! For the Count is a reservoir of deep inner strength, of manners, of commitment to an identity, and every page crackles with the authenticity of his personhood.

The writing here is impeccable. Many times I was tempted to turn to those around me to read a particularly enchanting passage. It was hard to do so, because such lines are the fulfillment of a chain of description and preparation, of which the felicitous ending is but the fitting culmination. The prose is charming, concise, unadorned, and elegant.

The colossal weight of a desk is accounted for: “A king fortifies himself with a castle, a gentleman with a desk.” This is a book of sublime miniatures: A sister’s silver scissors fashioned in the shape of an egret has a golden screw at the pivot representing an eye. Throwing the clasps, a leather case opens like a giant book to reveal 26 pairs of glasses “each shaped to its purpose, from the grand embrace of the Burgundy glass down to those charming little vessels designed for the brightly colored liqueurs of southern Europe”. And of immense ideas as well. The vastness of inner life confronts the constraint of the external. Enduring values are set against the inevitability of change. Tolstoy’s view of history gurgles always in the background, as the reader grapples with the relationship of individual action with the impenetrable play of events.

I laughed, I cried and I called out in appreciative satisfaction. Loose ends duly tied up, with interest. A banquet served in words, best savored slowly. This is everything a book should be. Run, don’t walk.

133Bookmarque
Sep 2, 2017, 5:35pm Top

I loved that book, too!

134SylviaC
Sep 3, 2017, 12:07am Top

>132 stellarexplorer: That is on my To Read list!

135stellarexplorer
Edited: Sep 3, 2017, 11:36am Top

>134 SylviaC: You will surely enjoy it, Sylvia. I should have added that a slow and careful read is well rewarded. This is a book to savor.

edited to add that I have so altered the review

136MrsLee
Sep 3, 2017, 7:45am Top

>132 stellarexplorer: It is on my wishlist now, what a lovely write up you have given it!

137jillmwo
Sep 3, 2017, 11:10am Top

>132 stellarexplorer: Sounds like a must-read! I have added it to the ever-ridiculously-lengthening wishlist.

138stellarexplorer
Sep 3, 2017, 11:33am Top

>136 MrsLee: >137 jillmwo: I am very pleased to have been persuasive enough to get it on your wishlists! You must let me know what you think when you get to it. I would be very surprised were you to be disappointed.

139suitable1
Sep 3, 2017, 12:06pm Top

> 132

A powerful bullet!

140clamairy
Sep 4, 2017, 12:57pm Top

>132 stellarexplorer: I placed a hold on the ebook. I'm #105 in line for 5 copies! By the time I get it I'll probably have no clue who recommended it. :o/

141stellarexplorer
Sep 4, 2017, 6:32pm Top

>140 clamairy: When you post about how much you loved it, I'll remind you ;)

142Sakerfalcon
Sep 5, 2017, 4:48am Top

>132 stellarexplorer: I'm really looking forward to reading this, when it comes out in paperback. Your review has made me even more impatient!

143LizzieD
Sep 5, 2017, 10:24am Top

>132 stellarexplorer: A stellar review, friend! I'm almost literally in the midst of it, and it's everything you say.

144stellarexplorer
Sep 5, 2017, 11:47am Top

>142 Sakerfalcon: Thank you, and please do let me know what you think, Claire!

>143 LizzieD: Peggy, Thank you and I am so glad you are enjoying it!

145Jim53
Sep 20, 2017, 8:24pm Top

>132 stellarexplorer: added to my wishlist too. I'm #67 in the queue at the library.

146pgmcc
Sep 24, 2017, 7:22pm Top

>132 stellarexplorer: A Gentleman in Moscow is on my shelf. I generally avoid reading reviews of books the I haven't read yet. When I spotted your comments on this book I was intrigued and read the first sentences of both the first and last paragraphs. That was enough. I am pushing this book up the tbr list.

147stellarexplorer
Sep 25, 2017, 12:05am Top

>145 Jim53: >146 pgmcc: I've been recommending this, and everyone has been happy with it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

148stellarexplorer
Oct 7, 2017, 6:41pm Top

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

My first Sanderson, after numerous recommendations that this is the best of his works to start with. This is more of a novella than a novel, and even reads more as an extended short story. As a result, it’s scope is narrow, and character development is limited. The construction of a peculiar magic is done well. The protagonist, a Forger, has the ability to alter the present form of things by altering their past histories. For example, a shabby old table acquires a lustrous sheen when it’s past is reworked so that it has been well-maintained over the years. Under threat of execution, the Forger is tasked with applying her skills to a person, something never before done. In particular, she must modify the emperor, wounded and in a vegetative state, to appear vibrant and well to his subjects.

I am aware of a strong impulse to damn the book with faint praise. I will try to resist. I enjoyed the book as far as it goes. The writing is good if not extraordinary. If this is a book to establish a world of further adventures, it’s off to a good start. As a stand-alone, it works effectively within the scope of its length. I did wish for a deeper insight into the characters. I’m glad to have read one of Sanderson’s books. I’m not sure how quickly I’ll rush off to read another.

149Narilka
Oct 8, 2017, 11:16am Top

>148 stellarexplorer: I'd probably have recommended Mistborn if you wanted a deeper experience. Still at least you enjoyed it. The Emperor's Soul is a novella set in the same world as Elantris, so it builds upon that world though it is only linked to that story indirectly.

150stellarexplorer
Oct 8, 2017, 1:26pm Top

>149 Narilka: Thanks Narika. I am aware of Mistborn, but received many suggestions to start here. Maybe I’ll continue with Mistborn at a later date. That said, for fiction, unless it’s one of my very favorite writers, I seem to prefer to familiarize myself with a new writer rather than to go deeper into the further works of. But I would like to choose the very best of that new writer.

151jjwilson61
Edited: Oct 9, 2017, 2:10am Top

The Emperor's Soul was good, but it didn't grab me the way Mistborn did. I don't think I'd recommend Soul as the best representation of his work.

152stellarexplorer
Edited: Oct 11, 2017, 10:59pm Top

Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street by Sheelah Kolhatkar

Yes, this is a book about greed and the naked pursuit of riches at all cost. Steven Cohen is one of the world’s wealthiest men, founder of the now-defunct SAC Capital Advisors, and while he is no doubt a talented trader, the phrase “ill-gotten gains” could not be more aptly applied. Cohen ran a hedge fund for many years that aggressively sought and profited from insider information, extracting billions illegally from the market. Kolhatkar’s account of Cohen’s career portrays his working class background, precocious early successes, and rise to dominant position in the industry. Along the way, we are treated to the illicit delivery of information by corporate confederates, and the depraved extraction of dollars through the manipulation of trusting relationships.

But this vivid telling is as much about about the pursuit of Cohen and his empire by the FBI, the SEC, and the US Department of Justice. The story mutates into that of hardworking and devoted attorneys and investigators whose years of persistence and passion in trying to bring Cohen to justice and to right the shameless wrongdoings on Wall Street comes to little in the end. Justice does not prevail. Cohen pays 2 billion dollars in fines to settle up his differences with the US government. Apparently this is a trifling inconvenience in a career undeterred and unrepentant. In a short time he is seen writing nine-figure checks for Giacometti sculptures, and the following year his profit exceeds the $2 billion fine.

The pace and interest increase steadily and deliberately during the second half of the book. Kolhatkar is a skilled journalist and former financial analyst, and she takes on a complex web of financial dealings and delivers it all as riveting thriller. Depressing though the denouement may be, a clear view into Wall Street criminality can be had in a form that manages to feel embarrassingly like entertainment.

153stellarexplorer
Oct 18, 2017, 7:59pm Top

American War by Omar El Akkad

So much promise. The coming war in the US. A line from the turmoil and division of today to the ruinous, violent severing to come.

So sad that promise was not realized. The book is slow. Tedious. Painful. Perhaps the intent was to elicit in the reader some of the emotions that would follow in the novel’s scenario. But as a reading experience, this one is a disappointment.

154jillmwo
Oct 21, 2017, 11:54am Top

>152 stellarexplorer: That account of his chicanery just sounds depressing. Did the book leave you feeling that way?

155stellarexplorer
Edited: Oct 21, 2017, 1:01pm Top

>154 jillmwo: Well, more angry than depressed. But it made for an illuminating and engrossing read. I do recommend it for anyone who has an interest in finance, Wall Street, the mindless pursuit of money, or white collar crime where the perpetrator has more resources than the government.

156stellarexplorer
Oct 29, 2017, 1:41am Top

Is there a deaccessioning thread? I donated about 175 books today, all expendable works. That makes around 300 so far in 2017.

This culling made it possible for me to move two bookcases out of the living room and into a 12’x10’ room I think of as “The Library”. The Library now accommodates 7 substantial bookcases. I have a separate office where I keep my science fiction, about 60 shelf-feet of it, including the first SF books I ever acquired as a kid - from the venerable Science Fiction Book Club.

I now have some space for “newly acquired TBR” (so as not to lose them in the vast morass of books in the house), can get some piles of books off the floor, and also have the rare luxury of some empty shelves for future acquisitions.

Oh - the living room is being repurposed as a gym, the motive behind the above efforts. I ordered rubberized flooring samples today.

157stellarexplorer
Oct 29, 2017, 1:47am Top

I’m also considering culling the SF. I’m increasingly willing to part with older paperbacks or others in so-so condition. My working concept in recent years is that if I ever do read these in the future, I wouldn’t read those copies. I’d get a new one or buy the ebook. It’s not a pleasure to read a yucky edition. The exception is the older hard to get out of print SF. It would be difficult to part with those.

158suitable1
Oct 29, 2017, 9:47am Top

Culling is such a nasty word when applied to books.

159MrsLee
Oct 29, 2017, 11:06am Top

>156 stellarexplorer: That is hard work, adjusting your mindset to move on. Good job! Curious about the living room being repurposed as a gym. Do you have a family room, or some space for relaxing in? I suppose your library?

160stellarexplorer
Oct 29, 2017, 11:52am Top

>158 suitable1: It’s true, but I have the same attitude about my cattle when it’s their time. I guess I just prefer to look directly at the harshness of life.

161stellarexplorer
Oct 29, 2017, 12:02pm Top

>159 MrsLee: Great question! It is lovely to know you were paying attention!

So the kids are older now (20 and 14), one in college but a frequent visitor (and probably a future returnee for a while). We all agree a workout space would suit our family needs better at this point.

But it wouldn't work if, as you surmise, we didn’t have a family room for group viewing and winter hibernating.

162MrsLee
Oct 30, 2017, 8:44am Top

>161 stellarexplorer: It sounds like a great plan to me. Having a gym in house removes excuses. :) Although, I've managed to find enough exercises to do in my small space, it would be lovely to have room for equipment too. Ah well, someday. Right now we have room for mom, so it's all good.

163stellarexplorer
Oct 30, 2017, 11:12am Top

>162 MrsLee: Room for the necessary people is certainly the bigger priority!

164reading_fox
Nov 2, 2017, 6:51am Top

>157 stellarexplorer: - I find older titles to be somewhat variably available as ebook! Do check before you de-accession something as even books from the 90s may not be around. Not just publisher inertia but author contracts etc effect this - and many manuscripts were just that, and an electronic file version never existed. Living in the US does help - there are still geographic restrictions on ebooks.

165stellarexplorer
Nov 2, 2017, 11:44am Top

>164 reading_fox: Thank you r_f. I haven’t touched the sff yet. I have a feeling many of those will be hard to find again in any form.

166stellarexplorer
Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 5:16am Top

What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology by Addy Pross

We lack an adequate theory of what life is, and therefore cannot give adequate answers to fundamental questions in biology. What are the principles at work in abiogenesis, the emergence of life from inanimate chemical building blocks? What principles guide life’s arrant defiance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the demand that systems tend toward maximum disorder? How is it that life, which behaves as if it has purpose could come about from a universe without purpose? I was prepared to report that this book was dry, pessimistic, and set up the reader for a lackluster attempted salvation by our heroic author/scientist. So the unexpected urgency that overcame me upon completion took me by surprise. After I finished the book, I realized I wasn’t finished at all. I needed to review to make sure I understood these proposals, research the status of Pross’ ideas in biology, and write it all out for the sake of clarity.
A complete summary of these ideas is beyond the scope of this review. I will focus on the core concept, one with which I had not previously been familiar. He argues that despite efforts to identify the historical origin of life on Earth some 4 billion years ago -- ocean thermal vents, the clay template model, primitive redox reactions across proto-membranes – it is likely we will never have conclusive answers about these matters. The more knowable – and more important – question surrounds the principles at work in the establishment of life and in propelling it from the simple to complexity.
A fundamental characteristic of life from a chemical point of view is its organization, its movement from the simple to the complex. Life persists despite by its very nature opposing the principle that guides all physical systems: the thermodynamic tendency to move toward maximum disorder, toward a state of maximum stability, toward the endpoint of reactivity. The explanation has always made sense. Systems can resist this thermodynamic imperative as long as they have an input of energy that powers the opposing tendency toward disorder. What Pross has done is to detail how life gets around the Second Law without violating it, and in so doing he elaborates explanatory chemical principles that illuminate the nature of life.
The proposal here is a fundamental chemical principle that allows life to perpetuate itself despite the inexorable requirement of the Second Law. His idea comes out of the field of chemical systems, specifically replicating systems. Replication is fundamental to life. Life makes more copies of itself. The genetic code is copied and recopied billions of times per day. Every protein in every cell is replaced in a perpetual process of making more and more of the chemicals of life. The better at replicating, the more persistent life is over time. Replicating systems are stable, in the sense of persisting, not by reaching an endpoint of reactivity as in classical chemical reactions. Instead, replicating systems are stable when they are powerfully able to sustain the activity of replication by ready access to the reactant materials used in the replication process. In this way, living systems have a different kind of stability than do conventional chemical reactions, which can be called dynamic kinetic stability. A waterfall supplies a visual example. It is a system that persists by the constant turnover of its materials (water) and the ongoing energy supply that comes from the conversion of potential to kinetic energy. Like the waterfall, life is driven by the stability that comes from the nature of replicative chemistry. For the author, a division between chemistry and biology is misleading. Biological systems are a form of organized and “complexifying” replicative chemical systems.
Pross concludes with his own definition: life is a “self-sustaining kinetically stable dynamic reaction network derived from the replication reaction”. It’s a beautiful addition to our understanding of what is fundamental about life. The book was valuable to me. I recommend it highly if the topic is of interest. If this brief review doesn’t intrigue you, I’d suggest something else.

167stellarexplorer
Dec 6, 2017, 4:30pm Top

I just finished Dominion by C J Sansom. 1952 England. Britain made peace in 1940, and is now dominated by Nazi Germany. WWII never happened as such. Churchill is in hiding, figurehead for the Resistance. Pretty good, well thought out and researched historically. Not a truly great book, but a decent one though, with an interesting idea and world. I enjoyed it. 4 stars

168jillmwo
Dec 6, 2017, 5:54pm Top

>166 stellarexplorer: It's not that you don't make it sound intriguing. You do. The issue is that it sounds as if it might prove too challenging to those of us who might tend to bluff our way through seriously scientific discussions. (People like me who listen wide eyed and subsequently make non-committal noises as conversation.)

>167 stellarexplorer: My husband enjoyed that one, too!

169stellarexplorer
Dec 6, 2017, 8:15pm Top

>168 jillmwo: Thanks Jill. Yes, I tried to give an accounting of the book, but didn’t want to encourage anyone who wasn’t going to enjoy or be up for the work involved. I definitely wouldn't want to represent that the book is a piece of cake. For me it was a thrill, though. :-)

170LizzieD
Dec 8, 2017, 7:38am Top

Greetings, Friend. I wish I thought that I'd read and understand your big book - not happening. I'm thankful that you could and did.
Getting back to my level, I wonder whether A Kindness of Ghosts appeals to you at all. I don't quite recommend it to you, but I'd be interested to know what you make of it.

171stellarexplorer
Dec 9, 2017, 5:23pm Top

Thank you, Peggy. I will have a look - as you know, I regard you as a most trusted reader!

172stellarexplorer
Edited: Dec 16, 2017, 8:04pm Top

With the 20 books I removed from my collection today, my total subtractions since 2013 come to 442, representing just under 10% of my library. This is a good thing. I’ve eliminated the unnecessary, the volumes never to be reread in an unpleasing physical state, the undesired, the head-scratching how-did-I-ever-get-this books. And I’ve created some actual shelf space!

173jillmwo
Edited: Dec 16, 2017, 5:47pm Top

Regarding success noted in >172 stellarexplorer: , *Jill sighs enviously*

174Narilka
Dec 16, 2017, 7:25pm Top

>172 stellarexplorer: That's quite an achievement.

175SylviaC
Dec 17, 2017, 9:20am Top

Nice achievement! I hope you manage to keep a little open shelf space—it represents the unlimited potential of what could be there. Not that I would know the feeling. Even though I donate about 100 books a year on average, I never manage to get beyond the books-stacked-on-the-floor stage.

176stellarexplorer
Dec 17, 2017, 11:17am Top

Thank you, guys.

>175 SylviaC: I didn’t mean to suggest that I have exceeded the stacks-on-the-floor standard. There are still some large book-stalagmites that have formed permanent excrescences in the bedroom and in my “study” aka science fiction room. But I have created some shelf space.

The most important shelf space for me is a place for new arrivals to dwell for a while, visible for potential reading, lest they be absorbed into the general population of the library. It’s sort of a new book purgatory before an ultimate shelving location is determined. Prior to this innovation, I had confronted many sad cases of desirable books lost to posterity by immediate designation.

177MrsLee
Dec 17, 2017, 7:32pm Top

>176 stellarexplorer: I keep trying to read enough to empty one shelf by my reading chair for a sort of "on deck" stack; but thus far no such luck.

178stellarexplorer
Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 5:10am Top

Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto

Don’t be fooled by the subtitle. This is a headlong, breathless history of Amsterdam. But the heart of its project is global and abstract. Shorto, an American living in the city, explores the origin of the concept of liberalism in Amsterdam. Liberalism here is roughly defined as an ideology centering around the priority of the individual and the core value of human freedom. Shorto wants to convince us that these ideas originated in Amsterdam’s early history, were honed and amplified during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, and then bequeathed to the world where they have played a outsized role ever since. However persuasive this considerable claim – and it succeeds in no small measure – the book takes the reader on a ride that is not confined to the intellectual. This history of an idea is the backbreaking work of a community reclaiming land from the sea, the voyage over distant seas to the riches of exotic Java, and the tolerance that allowed the Jewish Baruch Spinoza to dwell and blaspheme as a minority in the Protestant city.

Shorto tells a foundational story about the origins of liberalism in Amsterdam: the struggle to reclaim land from the sea required communal effort unlike conditions elsewhere in Europe. Reclaimed land became the property of individuals who were free to rent, buy or sell it. The sense of communal affiliation was enhanced, and individualism simultaneously strengthened. Feudalism thus never became entrenched in the Netherlands as the dominant economic form. I will tell you what Shorto does not: the story is a myth, with elements of reality. I am not qualified to weigh in on the proportions of the two. Scholars differ in accounting for the economic circumstances of Amsterdam from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. But it is an effective story, one that makes for a coherent, if fanciful, narrative of what came after.

The rest of the book is a colorful romp through the last four centuries in Amsterdam through the lens of liberalism and the emergence of the individual. The exploits of the Dutch East India Corporation which enriched the city; the development of a stock market which afforded the small-fry the chance to get a piece of the action; Rembrandt’s depiction of the primacy of private individual experience; Spinoza’s revolutionary rejection of religious authority and the grounding of belief in human reason, something over which institutions hold no monopoly. And we are treated to the author’s account of the dissemination of these values through a variety of channels. Notable among these are a “Dutch-invasion” account of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and its subsequent influence on the world through emerging English power; and the Dutch role in the establishment of New York and the spread of its ideas to the New World.

I can quibble over the details. Shorto has fallen in love with Amsterdam, and has a tendency to romanticize it. How much of Dutch tolerance and liberalism is deeply-held principle and how much expediency? What about the dark side of capitalism, if Amsterdam is its parent? But this is a colorful tale well-told. One cannot but emerge impressed with the dynamism of the story, and the power of the city’s history and influence.

179jillmwo
Dec 28, 2017, 2:07pm Top

>178 stellarexplorer: Now that one looks as if it would fit in well with my resolution to read more non-fiction in the New Year.

180stellarexplorer
Dec 29, 2017, 5:44am Top


Welcome to the 2017 edition of my Favorite Reads of the Year.

In recent years I have maintained a tradition of sending off the list of the books I’ve enjoyed the most at the end of each year. I’ve shared these with my various online reading communities. I always have fun with any feedback and I peruse the lists of others with great interest.

I hope you enjoy --

Best wishes for the New Year!

stellarexplorer


Guidelines:

1. I try to limit myself to five books each at most in fiction and nonfiction. I had an excellent year in nonfiction, and somewhat less stellar but still good in fiction.
2. It’s ok to cheat on Guideline #1.
3. The books are not necessarily published this year, just read.
4. Previous lists available upon request

FYI: This year I wrote reviews of almost all books I read for online posting and to consolidate my sense of what I read, and consequently they tend to be a little more extensive than the ones I’ve offered in previous years. My apologies for the length of a few of these.



Nonfiction


The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

This is a powerful, deeply affecting book. Its 800 pages are dense, and require much of the reader. But the return is a comprehensive account of the development of the atomic bomb: the nuclear physics of the first decades of 20th century that made the effort possible; the historical context that led to its construction; the scientific collaboration at Los Alamos and how the feat was accomplished. In a forceful closing, Rhodes offers an astute evaluation of the results, implications and challenges the bomb brought to the world.
Many books fail to stand the test of time; here the three decades since its publication have only affirmed its centrality in telling the story of the atomic bomb. Rhodes had access to some of the key figures in the making of the bomb who were then still alive, which supplemented his exceptional talent for writing history and the history of science. And to the reader’s good fortune, Rhodes happens to be an impeccable prose stylist. The book justly received the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.
As a reader of the history of science, I was firmly in the grip of Rhodes’ delivery of the familiar but still electrifying story of nuclear physics from the early discovery of xrays and radioactivity (Röntgen, Becquerel, Curie) at the end of the 19th century through its culmination in Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner’s discovery of nuclear fission. While told in meticulous detail, this long section reads like a scientific thriller.
Any serious account of the making of the atomic bomb must contend with the responses of the scientists to the consequences of their work. Three figures central to the intellectual underpinnings of the Manhattan Project cast a giant moral shadow over this story. Leo Szilard is well known for his letter co-written with Einstein to FDR informing him of the feasibility of a bomb, and warning of the possibility of a German nuclear effort. He was also the man who developed the idea that connected nuclear fission to a bomb: the nuclear chain reaction. And yet as the bomb neared completion, Szilard exhausted himself in trying to encourage the United States not to use it. Robert Oppenheimer, brilliant director of the Manhattan Project, is seen after his greatest success to labor under the impossible burden of having brought such destructive power into the world. Finally, Neils Bohr, among the greatest and most influential of scientists, is shown as the conscience of his peers. Bohr used his authority to present to the Allied leaders his concept of the complementarity represented by the bomb. In this he meant that the destructiveness of the weapon contained an inherent opposite – that the power of the bomb necessitated fundamental changes in political arrangements, and in fact required us to put an end to war. The alternative was an arms race leading to the unthinkable.
Rhodes ultimately puts the atomic bomb into its most important human context: with Bohr’s notion of its complementarity, comes the imperative to face the fundamental changes wrought by nuclear technology. He argues that the modern nation-state has appropriated the power of science and fashioned out of it a death machine. He sees citizens “slowly come to understand that in a nuclear world their national leaders cannot, no matter how much tribute and control they exact, protect even their citizens’ bare lives, the minimum demand the commons have made in exchange for the political authority that is ultimately theirs alone to award.” Our minimal protection is the mere hope of the restraint of others similarly armed. Seventy years after Hiroshima, thirty years after the publication of this book, are we any closer to addressing the imperatives thrust upon us?
In 1946, Einstein famously warned “The splitting of the atom changed everything save man’s mode of thinking, thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.” Einstein was right about so many things. Let us hope that this too will not prove to be one of them.








Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto

Don’t be fooled by the subtitle. This is a headlong, breathless history of Amsterdam. But the heart of its project is global and abstract. Shorto, an American living in the city, explores the origin of the concept of liberalism in Amsterdam. Liberalism here is roughly defined as an ideology centering around the priority of the individual and the core value of human freedom. Shorto wants to convince us that these ideas originated in Amsterdam’s early history, were honed and amplified during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, and then bequeathed to the world where they have played a outsized role ever since. However persuasive this considerable claim – and it succeeds in no small measure – the book takes the reader on a ride that is not confined to the intellectual. This history of an idea is the backbreaking work of a community reclaiming land from the sea, the voyage over distant seas to the riches of exotic Java, and the tolerance that allowed the Jewish Baruch Spinoza to dwell and blaspheme as a minority in the Protestant city.
Shorto tells a foundational story about the origins of liberalism in Amsterdam: the struggle to reclaim land from the sea required communal effort unlike conditions elsewhere in Europe. Reclaimed land became the property of individuals who were free to rent, buy or sell it. The sense of communal affiliation was enhanced, and individualism simultaneously strengthened. Feudalism thus never became entrenched in the Netherlands as the dominant economic form. I will tell you what Shorto does not: the story is a myth, with elements of reality. I am not qualified to weigh in on the proportions of the two. Scholars differ in accounting for the economic circumstances of Amsterdam from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. But it is an effective story, one that makes for a coherent, if fanciful, narrative of what came after.
The rest of the book is a colorful romp through the last four centuries in Amsterdam through the lens of liberalism and the emergence of the individual. The exploits of the Dutch East India Corporation which enriched the city; the development of a stock market which afforded the small-fry the chance to get a piece of the action; Rembrandt’s depiction of the primacy of private individual experience; Spinoza’s revolutionary rejection of religious authority and the grounding of belief in human reason, something over which institutions hold no monopoly. And we are treated to the author’s account of the dissemination of these values through a variety of channels. Notable among these are a “Dutch-invasion” account of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and its subsequent influence on the world through emerging English power; and the Dutch role in the establishment of New York and the spread of its ideas to the New World.
I can quibble over the details. Shorto has fallen in love with Amsterdam, and has a tendency to romanticize it. How much of Dutch tolerance and liberalism is deeply-held principle and how much expediency? What about the dark side of capitalism, if Amsterdam is its parent? But this is a colorful tale well-told. One cannot but emerge impressed with the dynamism of the story, and the power of the city’s history and influence.






The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

For months, I avoided writing something about Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos. It was complex and only suited to summary in the most superficial way. Or so I tell myself. More likely, I am not up to the task. The book is an introduction to the current scientific understanding of the nature of space and time, emphasis on the former. While I wouldn't describe it as technical per se -- lacking the mathematics that would further illuminate but also complicate the material -- it is nonetheless challenging. The material requires the motivated nonphysicist to persist and focus, and the effort is well rewarded.

Greene offers a substantive review of quantum mechanics and general relativity, both necessary to examine current conceptions of space and time. The punchline, at the risk of imprecision, is that we cannot look at space in a common sense way at all. There are important ways in which space does not involve a conventional notion of locality; quantum phenomena resist explanations that rely on the familiar behavior of quotidian reality; at the smallest dimensions space and time themselves seem to lose meaning; ultimately there is no such thing as “empty” space, as what appears empty is actually roiling with the energy of quantum fluctuations.

Having established this basis, Greene uses these concepts to paint a picture of cosmic inflation and quantum loop gravity theories, aiming to show how these prominent approaches account for space itself and the vastness of the universe.
Where is the controversy, one might ask? Ultimately, the trajectory of the book leads to Green's great personal interest in physics, string theory. We see how this theory, if true, might address some of the current mysteries in our understanding of space and time. But there are those for whom them’s fightin’ words. Some argue that string theory lacks the quality of falsifiability, and as such cannot be taken seriously. If you are a staunch adherent of this position, you no doubt do not need to be reading this review.

The book was excellent and I highly recommend it. I found it all rather thrilling.










Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street by Sheelah Kolhatkar

Yes, this is a book about greed and the naked pursuit of riches at all cost. Steven Cohen is one of the world’s wealthiest men, founder of the now-defunct SAC Capital Advisors, and while he is no doubt a talented trader, the phrase “ill-gotten gains” could not be more aptly applied. Cohen ran a hedge fund for many years that aggressively sought and profited from insider information, extracting billions illegally from the market. Kolhatkar’s account of Cohen’s career portrays his working class background, precocious early successes, and rise to dominant position in the industry. Along the way, we are treated to the illicit delivery of information by corporate confederates, and the depraved extraction of dollars through the manipulation of trusting relationships.

But this vivid telling is as much about the pursuit of Cohen and his empire by the FBI, the SEC, and the US Department of Justice. The story mutates into that of hardworking and devoted attorneys and investigators whose years of persistence and passion in trying to bring Cohen to justice and to right the shameless wrongdoings on Wall Street come to little in the end. Justice does not prevail. Cohen pays 2 billion dollars in fines to settle up his differences with the US government. Apparently this is a trifling inconvenience in a career undeterred and unrepentant. In a short time he is seen writing nine-figure checks for Giacometti sculptures, and the following year his profit exceeds the $2 billion fine.

The pace and interest increase steadily and deliberately during the second half of the book. Kolhatkar is a skilled journalist and former financial analyst, and she takes on a complex web of financial dealings and delivers it all as riveting thriller. Depressing though the denouement may be, a clear view into Wall Street criminality can be had in a form that manages to feel embarrassingly like entertainment.
.





What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology by Addy Pross

We lack an adequate theory of what life is, and therefore cannot give adequate answers to fundamental questions in biology. What are the principles at work in abiogenesis, the emergence of life from inanimate chemical building blocks? What principles guide life’s arrant defiance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the demand that systems tend toward maximum disorder? How is it that life, which behaves as if it has purpose could come about from a universe without purpose? I was prepared to report that this book was dry, pessimistic, and set up the reader for a lackluster attempted salvation by our heroic author/scientist. So the unexpected urgency that overcame me upon completion took me by surprise. After I finished the book, I realized I wasn’t finished at all. I needed to review to make sure I understood these proposals, research the status of Pross’ ideas in biology, and write it all out for the sake of clarity.
A complete summary of these ideas is beyond the scope of this review. I will focus on the core concept, one with which I had not previously been familiar. He argues that despite efforts to identify the historical origin of life on Earth some 4 billion years ago -- ocean thermal vents, the clay template model, primitive redox reactions across proto-membranes – it is likely we will never have conclusive answers about these matters. The more knowable – and more important – question surrounds the principles at work in the establishment of life and in propelling it from the simple to complexity.
A fundamental characteristic of life from a chemical point of view is its organization, its movement from the simple to the complex. Life persists despite by its very nature opposing the principle that guides all physical systems: the thermodynamic tendency to move toward maximum disorder, toward a state of maximum stability, toward the endpoint of reactivity. The explanation has always made sense. Systems can resist this thermodynamic imperative as long as they have an input of energy that powers the opposing tendency toward disorder. What Pross has done is to detail how life gets around the Second Law without violating it, and in so doing he elaborates explanatory chemical principles that illuminate the nature of life.
The proposal here is a fundamental chemical principle that allows life to perpetuate itself despite the inexorable requirement of the Second Law. His idea comes out of the field of chemical systems, specifically replicating systems. Replication is fundamental to life. Life makes more copies of itself. The genetic code is copied and recopied billions of times per day. Every protein in every cell is replaced in a perpetual process of making more and more of the chemicals of life. The better at replicating, the more persistent life is over time. Replicating systems are stable, in the sense of persisting, not by reaching an endpoint of reactivity as in classical chemical reactions. Instead, replicating systems are stable when they are powerfully able to sustain the activity of replication by ready access to the reactant materials used in the replication process. In this way, living systems have a different kind of stability than do conventional chemical reactions, which can be called dynamic kinetic stability. A waterfall supplies a visual example. It is a system that persists by the constant turnover of its materials (water) and the ongoing energy supply that comes from the conversion of potential to kinetic energy. Like the waterfall, life is driven by the stability that comes from the nature of replicative chemistry. For the author, a division between chemistry and biology is misleading. Biological systems are a form of organized and “complexifying” replicative chemical systems.
Pross concludes with his own definition: life is a “self-sustaining kinetically stable dynamic reaction network derived from the replication reaction”. It’s a beautiful addition to our understanding of what is fundamental about life. The book was valuable to me. I recommend it highly if the topic is of interest. If this brief review doesn’t intrigue you, I’d suggest something else.




FICTION


New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

New York 2140 is a wild romp through Venice-cum-New York City in the aftermath of two massive ice melts that have significantly submerged large parts of Manhattan. People live in the skyscrapers of the city even as the lower floors are underwater. The rivers and canals are now traversed by all manner of watercraft, where before the subway and automobile reigned. KSR captures the indomitable energy of the city, which persists and thrives despite the drowning. The book is vivid, wild, untamed with colorful characters.

It is also chock full of ideas and chaos and survival. Readers familiar with Stan’s books will recognize impeccable research – in this case especially into New York City history, global financial shenanigans, and the science of sea level rise – and the courageous risk-taking that characterizes much of his work. Prominent in the cake mix are the author’s utopian leanings, with a healthy icing of critique of capitalism. I use that odd expression in part to try to imitate his fearless inventiveness at new verbal constructions, puns and neologisms, seemingly unconcerned about the inevitable failure of some portion of these. And most elicit at least a wry smile.

Under all this energy is a carefully constructed structure, with repeating sequences of orderly chapters each one following a particular character. The structure appears to mimic in abstraction something of the grid-like face of the city itself. The homage to Dos Passos’ cinematic, panoramic experimentalism is hard to miss. In the end, one may wonder about the payoff; after all, this is a long and imperfect novel requiring the time and persistence of the reader. But against that is balanced dynamic world-building, an entertaining romp without let-up, and a serious consideration of a future that seems ever more possible. Maybe the most fun one can have with global warming!





A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I’m not sure when I last read a book as delightful and smart as this one. Count Alexander Rostov, cultured young gentleman of the old Russian aristocracy, has run afoul of the new Soviet regime, and is sentenced to live under permanent house arrest in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol. And so ends the unfettered period in a formerly vigorous and expansive life. A novel that takes place almost entirely within one structure, however grand and intricate, might feel claustrophobic. Anything but! For the Count is a reservoir of deep inner strength, of manners, of commitment to an identity, and every page crackles with the authenticity of his personhood.
The writing here is impeccable. Many times I was tempted to turn to those around me to read a particularly enchanting passage. It was hard to do so, because such lines are the fulfillment of a chain of description and preparation, of which the felicitous ending is but the fitting culmination. The prose is charming, concise, unadorned, and elegant.
The colossal weight of a desk is accounted for: “A king fortifies himself with a castle, a gentleman with a desk.” This is a book of sublime miniatures: A sister’s silver scissors fashioned in the shape of an egret has a golden screw at the pivot representing an eye. Throwing the clasps, a leather case opens like a giant book to reveal 26 pairs of glasses “each shaped to its purpose, from the grand embrace of the Burgundy glass down to those charming little vessels designed for the brightly colored liqueurs of southern Europe”. And of immense ideas as well. The vastness of inner life confronts the constraint of the external. Enduring values are set against the inevitability of change. Tolstoy’s view of history gurgles always in the background, as the reader grapples with the relationship of individual action with the impenetrable play of events.
I laughed, I cried and I called out in appreciative satisfaction. Loose ends duly tied up, with interest. A banquet served in words, best savored slowly. This is everything a book should be. Run, don’t walk.




News of the World by Paulette Jiles
This book elegantly and gently tells the story of an aging military man and a ten year old girl, taken at age six and recently released by the Kiowa Indians. The Colonel undertakes the task of returning the girl to her remaining family through the lawless Texas under Reconstruction after the Civil War.

Complicating matters is that she has lost all apparent memory of her previous life, and is in speech and culture now entirely Kiowan.

Beautifully written, News finds a lightness in dark material. It addresses the profound difficulties in sundered cultural identifications, and speaks to the new human connections that one would hope are still possible.



Arrival by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang's short story collection was formerly titled Stories of Your Life, after the once eponymous story. The collection has been renamed Arrival , but it was the original story that inspired the recent major motion picture. "Stories of Your Life" is probably familiar to many, and is the best of the collection. It tells of a linguist called upon to attempt communication with an alien species, and through that process, time and causality are radically altered and understood in a new light.

I also enjoyed "Understand", a story of a brain-damaged man who is given an experimental drug to attempt to repair the injury, the side effect of which is an acceleration of his cognitive processes and a dramatic increase in his intelligence. He becomes something more than human, but is he alone?








181LizzieD
Jan 27, 2018, 11:37pm Top

I bow before your non-fiction "Best Of" choices. I believe I might have to stop reading forever if I had to finish *Fabric/Cosmos* before I could move on. Would that it were not so! (I think my best non-fiction choices were The Boys in the Boat and Beyond the Beautiful Forevers or The Fires of Vesuvius or Jonathan Swift:His Life and His World, all quite different from your reading.)
You know how I feel about the Count, and I look forward to *2140* and the Jiles.
I'm here because I'm reading and enjoying and being muddled by Too Like the Lightning. Have you / will you read / read it? Off to see whether I can find some chat about it elsewhere.

182stellarexplorer
Edited: Jan 28, 2018, 1:53am Top

Thank you for checking out my list! You just might find that the audiobook provides a more fluent experience of Fabric...

No, I haven’t read Lightening, but I’ll be very interested to learn whether I should after you’ve finished!

At your recommendation, I am now grateful to be reading and enjoying HHhH

183clamairy
Jan 28, 2018, 10:59am Top

I'm just catching up on your thread now. I have to ask, are you using that new exercise room?

184stellarexplorer
Jan 28, 2018, 11:13am Top

OMG: it’s the greatest thing ever! Thanks for asking. Stellargirl is highly mechanical and did all the measuring and brain work for the installation of the heavy duty gym flooring. I was the brawn, doing the cutting and placement. We did hire someone to paint the room and mount a large screen tv on the wall.

Now the room is large, beautiful, and welcoming, and I am working out during the winter like never before. It’s wonderful to have a pleasing comfortable place to exercise. I hope wherever I live in the future I’ll always have an accessible workout space like this one!

185stellarexplorer
Jan 28, 2018, 11:16am Top

Also I found Stephen Malinowski’s incredible graphic music video designs on YouTube, and they are fantastic generally, but great for watching on the spinning bike!

Example:

https://youtu.be/ljGMhDSSGFU

186clamairy
Jan 28, 2018, 11:19am Top

>184 stellarexplorer: That's great to hear. Hoping to set up a similar space when I move. (Not a whole room, but a dedicated corner.)

I'll check out that video when I'm on a bigger screen.

187stellarexplorer
Jan 28, 2018, 12:13pm Top

I hope you love it!

188clamairy
Jan 28, 2018, 4:15pm Top

Okay, THAT is just too cool. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't that!

189stellarexplorer
Jan 28, 2018, 4:32pm Top

Yay! I had a feeling it wouldn’t be what you were expecting! ;)

190LizzieD
Feb 12, 2018, 11:25pm Top

Wow!
I swim, but I can totally see how that would be quite a motivator. Congrats to StellarGirl for a successful design!

191stellarexplorer
Feb 13, 2018, 12:38am Top

Thanks Peggy! Now if I could infect her with my love of reading....oh well, she’s great as she is —

192clamairy
May 10, 2018, 3:54pm Top

You've been awfully quiet.

193stellarexplorer
May 10, 2018, 4:20pm Top

Yeah, thanks for saying so. I’ve been...retrenching a bit. RL has pulled on me some, I’ve been meditating, being mindful, which rightly sets one more firmly in the moment. Not sure where I’ll end up re:being less quiet. But I’m here, feeling good, and hoping you are too!

194clamairy
May 11, 2018, 5:33pm Top

Good for you! I haven't had much free time myself. Though I do feel like the constant hum in my brain has quieted quite a bit since my son moved out. I'm not feeling terrible. LOL I do feel like there is too much on my plate, but that is nothing new.

I'm very happy for you. :o)

195stellarexplorer
May 19, 2018, 7:44pm Top

No reviews at present, but here's what I've read recently:

Fiction:
Book of Joan: A Novel by Lidia Yuknavitch
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin

Nonfiction:
Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy From a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein MD
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

Currently reading:
Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich
Halfway through, it presents an astonishing body of new knowledge.

Next:
Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
10% Happier by Dan Harris
Finity's End by CJ Cherryh, in preparation for a rare new Alliance/Union book expected in early 2019

196stellarexplorer
May 19, 2018, 7:47pm Top

I have also been busy preparing for the launch of my new YouTube channel. I expect this to demand a lot of my time, but I think I may have found something I can get excited about and pour a lot of creative energy into. I expect it to be a good month or so at least until the Grand Opening.

197LizzieD
May 19, 2018, 11:23pm Top

Whoa! A new YouTube Channel???? How is an interested person to find it? Information, please!
Meanwhile, I'm thrilled to hear about a new Alliance/Union book in the making. You know I love them even more than *Foreigner*, and I love and adore *Foreigner*!!!!!

198stellarexplorer
May 20, 2018, 1:25am Top

I will be sure to let you know. I don’t yet have a link to share. It’s in the preparatory stages right now.

I entirely agree re: A/U. Very exciting! It isn’t clear where the new book will fit into the existing timeline. But the best guess suggests that familiarity with Finity’s End may be useful. Of course that may prove incorrect. But a reread couldn’t hurt, right?

199clamairy
Edited: May 20, 2018, 10:48am Top

>196 stellarexplorer: How exciting! Be sure to share the link when it's ready.

>195 stellarexplorer: How was that Sam Harris? I'm a big fan of his, but I was unaware of this book.

(Edited for touchstone.)

200stellarexplorer
Edited: May 20, 2018, 12:05pm Top

>199 clamairy: Great minds! I find him valuable. Have you checked out his podcast, The Waking Up Podcast? He has really interesting guests, and he himself, whether you agree with him or not, is a refreshingly articulate user of the English language.

Because I listen to his podcast, a lot of the book was familiar. I liked it anyway however, as I’ve been exploring many takes on this topic. I’d recommend it.

I will definitely share the link to The YouTube channel. Right now I’m super excited about it. I’ve always been a seeker of privacy on the internet, so even though I will not be putting my name on it, this is a major departure for me. I plan to put out an ongoing series of short videos with the theme being “things that fascinate me”. It will probably draw on some of the topics I’ve introduced in the History at 30,000 Feet group, some of the book reviews I’ve done of particularly interesting books, and other material I’ve collected over the years. And new discoveries. I have always been in the position of saying to the next person “Hey! Have you heard about this amazing thing?!”, with variable responses ;)

201stellarexplorer
Jun 5, 2018, 5:56pm Top

My YouTube channel preparations are going very well. I have acquired adequate video shooting and editing skills, and photo editing skills for making thumbnails. The content is the easy part. The whole thing is great fun. I have two videos completed, and when I finish four I will make the channel public. Enjoying sinking my teeth into a new creative project, especially because I just can’t get myself to come home after a long day and write. The challenge is that this is so time consuming I’ll need to figure out how to not let it interfere too much with reading!

202jillmwo
Jun 8, 2018, 7:24pm Top

>201 stellarexplorer: Well, things tend to go in cycles. The reading will return and, in the meantime, I look forward to the release of your channel.

203stellarexplorer
Jun 8, 2018, 9:33pm Top

Thank you Jill. I hope you like it!

204stellarexplorer
Edited: Jun 27, 2018, 6:18pm Top

Here’s the announcement I’ve been working on for the last several weeks: my new YouTube channel is up and running! I’m very excited to announce the Grand Opening of Shouting From The Rooftops.

The link to the first video:
https://youtu.be/cTl-0NnhuDk

This is my effort to convey the things that inspire my sense of curiosity, fascination, awe and wonder. They are miniatures; 5 minutes or so is my aim. They will run the gamut from science to history to great books I’ve loved to just things I think people might want to know about.

I’ve made the first four videos, and have just released the first one. Well really the third one, because there’s an enormous learning curve and I didn’t want to lead with my first meager effort! I’ll be releasing two a week for the first two weeks and then the goal is a new one each week if I can keep up. Please excuse the awkwardnesses and the missings-of-the-mark in these first several. I’m working hard to improve!

Two requests: please subscribe as I need 100 subscribers in order to qualify for a dedicated YouTube URL, ie something along the lines of YouTube/ShoutingFromTheRooftops. Also, may I ask you to please forward to anyone you think might be interested?

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy!

205MrsLee
Jun 28, 2018, 9:26am Top

206stellarexplorer
Jul 10, 2018, 3:26pm Top

Who Are We and How we Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of Ancient DNA by David Reich

This book is an exiting look at a revolutionary innovation. The author is one of the foremost experts on human paleogenetics. an emerging field radically influencing traditional paleoanthropology. Over the last few years, DNA technology has advanced from the examination of the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA to whole genome analysis. The results are staggering. The history of the human migrations that colonized the globe over the last 50,000 years are rapidly being made clear. The primacy of the mixing of populations in human history is laid out. Even the contributions of other ancient human populations, for example the Neandertals and Denisovans, to the human genome are becoming clear.

In this book, Reich conveys the methodologies and recent results of this work. I am in awe that questions about human origins I have pondered for most of my life are rapidly being answered. As Reich indicates, much of the specifics in the book will change over the coming years due to the pace of research. But the insight in this book leaves one well prepared to assimilate the wealth of discovery that is surely coming. To me, it’s essential reading.
Four and a half stars for the book itself, but five for importance!

207clamairy
Edited: Jul 10, 2018, 4:34pm Top

>206 stellarexplorer: I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've been eyeing that one since I saw it mentioned in the 'History at 30,000 feet: The Big Picture' group. I just know I won't get to it for a while, so I will wait for it to either go on sale or until after I move.

208stellarexplorer
Jul 10, 2018, 6:09pm Top

>207 clamairy: I know it’s partly my intense interest in this, but I found it thrilling.

There is a 50 page coda about race, gender, and other implications which have gotten some play among people who want to argue against some of his points that relate to contemporary society and social issues. I was really fine with the coda, but it’s a shame for that section to in any way minimize the significance of the underlying work.

209clamairy
Jul 10, 2018, 7:39pm Top

My library does not have it, but Southold's does in both paper and digital form, so as soon as I get that new library card number it will be one of the first things I request. (Might not be until Fall, though. I'll be reading fluffier stuff until then, I think. My brains are already turning to guacamole from the stress.)

210stellarexplorer
Edited: Oct 28, 2018, 1:33am Top

It was my birthday, a big one that ends in a zero. I’m giving a speech next week at a party, but I gave it a test run tonight at a small gathering of friends. Was lovely.

On the reading front, I finally read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, which I enjoyed a lot.

It’s been a difficult reading year because of my video projects. One per week, and they take 12 hours or so to make. That eats up all my free time, but I’m committed to it for now. The link to the channel is on my profile page.

I just started Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson, one of the few authors whose every book I read. So far, so good. But then he’s very reliable.

In nonfiction, I did manage to reread Circumference: Eratosthenes and the Ancient Quest to Measure the Globe. This was excellent the first time, and even better the second, partly because it was especially useful for a video I made called “Measuring the Earth: Ancient Science”, and also for a follow up “What Sized Earth was Columbus Seeing?”

I did just acquire two books I’m looking forward to with fresh new views on biology:

A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink

And

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen

And several others that look good:

Neal Boscomb’s The Winter Fortress about the famous sabotage of the Nazi heavy water plant in Norway. I bought this in honor of Joachim Ronneberg, leader of the mission who recently died at 99.

and

Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military by Neil deGrasse Tyson

211Busifer
Nov 2, 2018, 7:06pm Top

Almost two years' worth of posts in one thread, and I must admit I didn't get around to every detail, but I found your YouTube - cool!

Need to reflect on the discussion on Amsterdam from almost two years ago, though... because to me Amsterdam is quite the laid-back place, compared to a lot of cities that I've been to. It is certainly more accessible than for example the city I live in, Stockholm, despite Stockholm's population being only slightly larger than that of Amsterdam.
To me part of it has to do with the bikes, and the way people ride their bikes, ie the opposite of how I read in what you expressed of your experience.

It's curious how differently things can be perceived and experienced!

(People, and that includes me, bike a lot in Stockholm, too, but in a much less relaxed way. Swedes, especially middle aged males on designer racer bikes, can be extremely rude and unforgiving.)

I enjoyed Name of the Wind greatly when it first came out, and pre-ordered the sequel... which never arrived, and never arrived, and... finally I cancelled my pre-order, and never got around to pick the series up again, ages later, when Wise Man's Fear finally was released. Maybe I should give it a new chance.

212MrsLee
Nov 3, 2018, 10:18am Top

>211 Busifer: Personally, I think Name of the Wind should have been a one-off. The second book had some good spots, mixed amongst a lot of frustration for me.

213Busifer
Edited: Nov 3, 2018, 10:23am Top

>212 MrsLee: Ah. I haven’t heard anything in particular about it, publishing coincided with my hiatus. As fantasy isn’t my main genre I think I’ll take your insight as advice and stay with the first one. There are so many other books out there, waiting to be read!

214stellarexplorer
Nov 3, 2018, 11:25am Top

>212 MrsLee: Good to know, MrsLee. I have the sequel, but haven’t yet started it. I did finish the first with many questions I’d hoped the sequel would shed light on. Still planning to give it a try...

>211 Busifer: Interesting about Amsterdam, Busifer. Perspective matters. I am curious to compare to the biking situation in Stockholm. I have the impression there is more room for pedestrians in Stockholm, but I’ve never been there, so it’s totally a bias I hold...

215stellarexplorer
Nov 3, 2018, 11:41am Top

>211 Busifer: And thanks for checking out my YouTube!

216Busifer
Nov 3, 2018, 12:23pm Top

>214 stellarexplorer: Room for both pedestrians and people on bike, relatively speaking, but the past 5-6 years has seen a spike in bike commuting, mainly by 40-50-ish males who have invested in super-expensive bikes and a lot of extra gear, who think everyone but them is a nuisance. To avoid slower riders speedster bicyclists sometimes uses the main streets instead, which in turn infuriates the motorists... and so it goes, everyone is angry at everyone ;-)
In comparison everyone in Amsterdam - or the Netherlands - know that bikes have precedence, so heads are not as hot, and people are generally more nice.

I do exaggerate a bit, but I've been shoved aside by speedster bikers, son has been screamed at when he were uncertain of which way to go, and I do personally know some of these middle-aged lycra-guys and see the things they spew on Facebook. The inner city speed limit applies to them, too, but they a) tend to forget that, and b) you can't brake that fast when on a bike at high speed, or you'll fly off.

217hfglen
Nov 3, 2018, 12:28pm Top

>216 Busifer: Sounds familiar. Around here "sports cyclists" seem always to use the roadway on principle, even when there's a marked and empty cycle track alongside. Mutter mutter grumble.

218Karlstar
Nov 3, 2018, 5:27pm Top

>210 stellarexplorer: >211 Busifer: Glad to hear you enjoyed Name of the Wind. I really enjoyed it also, and the sequel, but I do agree somewhat with Mrs. Lee, the sequel was not up to the first book. It wandered a lot and seemed to get stuck in its own head quite a bit, if that makes sense. Still the world and the characters were worth it. Some short stories and novellas have been written since. Those books have almost achieved the stature of Martin's books in the sense of anticipation by fans - lots of fans clamoring for the next book while the author basically says they'll get around to it when they are darned good and ready.

219Sakerfalcon
Nov 5, 2018, 6:18am Top

I too really enjoyed Name of the wind, and I've reread it too - unusual for me these days when my TBR pile is so huge. I agree with MrsLee and Jim about the sequel not being as good. Not much happens in the first half, but I enjoyed it in the way that you enjoy hanging out with old friends - not doing anything special but just catching up. When the plot got going I found it very self-indulgent with far too much time spent on Kvothe's unrealistic sexual prowess. I will still read book 3 if it ever appears though.

220reading_fox
Nov 7, 2018, 10:50am Top

>217 hfglen: - there's often (at least in the UK) several very good reasons not to use a cyclepath, to the point where the default becomes don't use it, even though occasionally they're great. (not going where you're going, least safe at junctions, surface frequently worse than road). There are no easy answer other than whatever mode of transport you're using, be considerate of everyone else - something that just seems too hard for some people.

Also agree with all of the WMF comments, for all of the words not enough happens, and the main plot doesn't advance at all.

221stellarexplorer
Edited: Dec 9, 2018, 3:37pm Top

On the topic of Patrick Rothfuss, now that I am halfway through book two Wise Man’s Fear, here is what I’m feeling:

(Mild Spoilers ahead)

I agree it’s not as well done or as picturesque as Name of the Wind, largely because the sequences in book one that tell of his childhood with his parents and their outcome, and his time as a boy making his way alone in Tarbean are so colorful and vivid. But it’s still good.

Second, even though it’s a story I’m interested in hearing, a few things bug me.

One is what feels like a gratuitous sexism. The boys at the University are caricatured as oblivious to women, and continually critique each other as “girly”, etc, using feminine references as putdowns or failings. This seems awkward, forced, archaic, and sloppy to me.

Second, and this might be remedied by the end of book two (not finished) but there is a major disconnect between the grown character of Kote the tavern owner with the larger-than-life past, and the awkward, out of control, self-defeating but promising lad at Unversity. Really, we need to know more of how to connect the two or it just seems unbelievable, unfulfilled, a device.

222Busifer
Dec 9, 2018, 1:09pm Top

>221 stellarexplorer: This definitely didn't persuade me to pick it up ;-)

223Darth-Heather
Dec 13, 2018, 12:41pm Top

>221 stellarexplorer: I've had Wise Man's Fear in my TBR for some time now, but am reluctant to pick it up because the third book is so slow in coming. It's been so long since I read the first one that I'm afraid I will need to reread it to get ready to read the second one, but then would have to read them both again before the third one and who knows when that will be!

As far as your second point, maybe it just suffers from Middle-Of-Trilogy-itis? I have found plenty of other "second" books that seem unfulfilled until the third book fills the gaps.

224stellarexplorer
Dec 13, 2018, 9:32pm Top

>223 Darth-Heather: You could well be right, I’m just saying it needs to happen or the series will be diminished. Maybe it is the pace of new books that has me without full trust in the author...I may be unfair to him, however. I hope you are right.

That said, I am still enjoying book 2 despite its issues.

225Karlstar
Dec 14, 2018, 2:32pm Top

>224 stellarexplorer: I had some of the same feelings about book 2. Parts of it were a bit felt like filler, but I really enjoy the story that he's putting together. I don't mind the Kvothe the adult vs. Kvothe the young adventurer contrast, maybe someday the author will fill in what's happened since and why, that's the whole story, right? However, I don't have a lot of faith we'll see the end of this series as he seems stubbornly insistent on feeling absolutely no responsibility for finishing it. I'm sure he will some day, but that day may be a long time from now. Enjoy the books while we have them though, they are good, he's writing what I think is high quality fantasy.

226stellarexplorer
Dec 14, 2018, 3:22pm Top

>225 Karlstar: I agree with you Karlstar, with the exception of some of the problems of characterization and odd gender language and attitudes that are sometimes distracting and disconcerting (I think in general the minor characters are less fleshed out than one would want). But overall, yes. Good fantasy, I wish he would get on with it -

227littlegeek
Dec 14, 2018, 6:36pm Top

>226 stellarexplorer: I remember when the first book came out, a bookseller told me that the whole trilogy was sold as already complete, so I wouldn't have to wait long for subsequent volumes. What a crock!!

228stellarexplorer
Dec 14, 2018, 6:57pm Top

>227 littlegeek: preaching to the choir! :)

229MrsLee
Dec 16, 2018, 12:25pm Top

I think I would rather an author didn't force their writing though. I would like to read that in-between story which is missing, but if he wrote it out of obligation, not inspiration, I don't see it being any better than what I can imagine it to be.

230stellarexplorer
Edited: Jan 5, 1:17am Top

FAVORITE READS OF 2018

This year’s reading was limited compared to years past. This is because my YouTube channel has required around 12 hours a week, which has seriously eaten into my reading time. On the other hand, I have managed to make a lot of videos, so that’s all to the good.

I have made a video version of this Favorite Reads of 2018 lavishly adorned with images :), which can be found here:

https://youtu.be/VwafAUXU94U

These are books I’ve read this year, not necessarily published this year.

NonFiction

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich

I loved this book!
An exciting look at a revolutionary innovation, this book was a revelation! The author is one of the foremost experts on human paleogenetics, an emerging field radically influencing traditional paleoanthropology. Over the last few years, DNA technology has advanced from the examination of the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA to whole genome analysis. The results are staggering. The history of the human migrations that colonized the globe over the last 50,000 years are rapidly becoming clearer. We see the primacy of the mixing of populations in human history. Even the ancient contributions to the human genome of other early human populations, for example Neanderthals and Denisovans, are not lost, but in fact detected and discerned.

In this book, Reich conveys the methodologies and recent results of this work. I am in awe that questions about human origins I have pondered for most of my life are rapidly being answered. As Reich indicates, much of the specifics in the book will change over the coming years due to the pace of research. But the insights in this book leave one well prepared to assimilate the wealth of discovery that is surely coming. To me, it’s essential reading, and I do intend to make some videos on this topic soon!

I give this 4 and a half stars for the book itself, but five for importance!

Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy From a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein MD

This book lay in wait for many years. Without argument, the title is fantastic! While Buddhist ideas have been useful in Western psychotherapy for a long time, it is rare to find an author with Epstein’s combination of both Buddhist and psychoanalytic sophistication in depth. This is not the book for someone looking for an introduction to Buddhist ideas, nor is it a self-help book. But it is a fascinating insight into how a an expert integrates Buddhist insights into western psychological thinking.

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

Sam Harris, most rational spiritualist, offers this concise guide to striving for meaning and happiness. The appeal is neither to theology nor to the conventional sources of satisfaction alone: hedonic pleasure, family, wealth, contribution to others. In this he follows the Buddhist insight that while these may bring temporary gratification, they are transitory, and that there is more enduring serenity and bliss to be found beyond these through clarity about human life and the workings of our minds.

The book is in part memoir of Harris’ own spiritual journey. He credits early drug experiences with teaching him that there is more joy to be found in life than he had previously understood. He subsequently spent many years with Buddhist teachers in Asia. Harris came away with a Buddhist meditation practice that he regards as among the most important of spiritual tools.

To me, the first chapter on spirituality is a useful encapsulation of the problem of happiness and Buddhist perspectives on it. Harris then attempts to integrate his Buddhist practice and his experiences with his knowledge of Western science, especially neuroscience, and philosophy. I find this part of his thinking less useful. He offers tools for beginning a meditation practice, and a structure for thinking about spirituality without appeal to faith. Overall, he has performed a valuable service.

Harris became a voice of the New Atheism after The End of Faith. Perhaps he owed his readership this book, a way back to spirituality!

Fiction

The Fifth Season by ‎N. K. Jemisin

If the book weren’t enough, I’d be intrigued by Jemisin’s unprecedented success. She is the first author ever to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel in science fiction or fantasy three years in a row. She burst on the scene with The Fifth Season in 2015, and followed it up with two terrific sequels.

The Fifth Season takes place in the Stillness, a place not Earth, where cyclical conditions mean civilization and empires rise and fall, and perhaps are in the process of falling once again. The inner lives of characters carry the narrative (the author is a psychologist by training who used a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to allow her to write full time!). This is a story of trauma, of betrayal, of internecine politics. Description eclipses judgments here. A villain is perhaps not so easily vilified if understood in her own context. There are great empires, and small constituencies laboring quietly in their own interests. And years of training sometimes equip the disenfranchised with unexpected resources in a grand narrative of power and collapse.

HHhH by Laurent Binet

What is the obsession with Reinhard Heydrich? I suppose it must be that Himmler’s right hand man in the SS was the highest ranking Nazi to be assassinated during WWII. An architect of the Holocaust, force behind the Einsatzgruppen paramilitary death squads, and Deputy Reich Protector of the largely Czech Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Arguably the intended successor to Adolf Hitler. WWII alternate history aficionados ever since find it convenient to thwart his assassination, establishing for him a prominent role in a new timeline. Witness Amazon’s production of The Man in the High Castle or Robert Harris’ Fatherland for two recent examples.

This book is hard to characterize, and in the hands of a lesser author, would have been a mess. It is part biography of Heydrich, part thriller as we follow the heroes Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš as they parachute toward destiny and near-certain death in Nazi-controlled Prague. But in Binet’s hands, HHhH (acronym from the German meaning “Himmler's brain is called Heydrich”), is also meta-historical meditation on writing history, personal memoir of Binet himself, travelogue as the author researches his book: in other words, this book has a unique structure and an idiosyncratic plan, and I am happy to say that he pulls it off gloriously.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This popular recent work of fantasy is the first in a series. Rothfuss is above all a storyteller, and that makes up for what amount to niggling criticisms. The book has an intriguing protagonist in Kvothe, who has burnished a reputation as a larger-than-life master of magic and force of nature. He hides from his many enemies in a remote town as Kote the tavern keeper, dictating his memoirs. This book details Kvothe’s childhood arc from promising but utterly alone young boy eking out an existence among orphans on the streets, to his goal of reaching the University. The worldbuilding is colorful and vivid, and the pacing never lags. The action takes place in a pre-technical world, as does so much fantasy. It could roughly be the Game of Thrones realm, physically and technologically. And the book lover, a group to which the author no doubt belongs, will understand the appeal to young Kvothe of the library of the University, whose vast stacks may hold the key to understanding his past.

There’s some YA language, but why not, I suppose, as Kvothe is a teen through most of the telling. There’s too much caricatured anxiety of male romantic inexperience for my taste.

I’d dish out more criticism, but I think it would be undermine my main message: while flawed, this is a colorful story that entertains.

Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson

More often than not a Kim Stanley Robinson book is on my list of yearly favorites. This is both a tribute to his productivity as a writer, and to his poetic and thoughtful style. I’ve been hooked ever since his acclaimed Mars Trilogy from the early 1990s beginning with Red Mars, the long tale of the terraforming of that planet.

But Robinson has written many other worthy and delightful books, all with fidelity to the science, linguistic experimentalism, and an introspective narrative voice, distinct and unmistakable.

In Red Moon, he turns his attention to the near-future politics of lunar life, China having gained ascendancy there. It is no surprise that his vision of the human experience on the moon is convincing and informed, from the challenges of locomotion to the perception of Sun and Earth from the lunar surface. As with many of Robinson’s novels, his utopian aspirations and concerns for the future of humanity rest close at hand. This inspires some and tires others. I’m in the former camp. This book also feels like the author’s attempt to grapple with the rise of the world’s future hegemon. Chinese society thirty years hence is energetic and vibrant, riven and restrictive. I found the grand stew that is Red Moon quintessential Robinson.

The Object-Lesson by Edward Gorey

This very short book is on my list because it represents the reading I’ve had time for since the advent of my video career. It is 32 pages long, lovingly and pithily illustrated in pen and ink, with one sentence per page. Perfect!

If you are not familiar with Gorey’s work, there’s that too. These words come to mind: obscure, absurd, enigmatic, compelling, charming. Meaningful and yet hard to say exactly what that meaning might be. I recommend this book. And I can promise one thing: it will not require a large commitment of your time!

231Sakerfalcon
Jan 5, 5:40am Top

Edward Gorey's books are wonderful! A great choice for your limited reading time.

232clamairy
Jan 24, 2:40pm Top

I know you've been busy, and I hope that the YouTube channel isn't sucking up all of your free time.
I finally got to watch your Favorite Reads of 2018 and your Ten Awesome Books for 2019. Nicely done! I too have the latest Pollan on Mount Toobey, but in my case I bought it as an Audible book. I'm not terribly far into it, but I am enjoying it immensely.

Also, thanks for the reminder about Who We Are and How We Got Here. I've added it to my OverDrive holds. I think you recommended it last Summer, and it looked fascinating, but it wasn't available from my former library's consortium. I'd completely forgotten about it due to the moving process.

233stellarexplorer
Jan 25, 10:37am Top

Thanks so much for watching, and visiting!

I’m through about half the Pollan book, and it’s quite good, intriguing, etc. What prevents me from raving more, and this wouldn’t be applicable to last people, is that I’ve heard several interviews, podcasts, read an article (NYT? New Yorker? I forget) and by now the book seems familiar as I read it. I’ve gotten the main points, so may not need the whole book....but still, recommended.

Yes, I still think Who We Are is riveting stuff, for a technical difficult science-y book...

YouTube: yes, unfortunately it’s around 12 hours a week, most of which comes out of former reading time :(

I hope you are enjoying your new environment. By the look of your gorgeous photos, which I love seeing!, it seems you are!

234stellarexplorer
Edited: May 12, 10:54pm Top

Just finished Educated by Tara Westover. My review:

Tara Westover begins her memoir by emphasizing that it is not about Mormonism. And she is right. There are fanatics and extremists of all stripes, kind and malevolent, disciples of all belief systems, even among adherents to the disavowal of religious beliefs. What Westover does in her book Educated is to communicate her story of growing up under the yoke of an odious physical and emotional abuse. The context is a family steeped in a rigid, intolerant fundamentalism. But the effect might be similar in any destructive family environment in which a collective covenant, sealed like a sacred pact, conspires to protect its own perverse falsehoods.

Much of the power of her story comes from one interpretation of the title’s meaning. Westover grew up in a family that denied her a formal education - she was less homeschooled than part of the labor pool in the family’s scrap metal and herbal medicine business in a remote part of Idaho. In a meaning she would no doubt disavow, it feels like a redemption to read of her educational journey: her private study to pass the college entrance examination, her discovery of an unknown wider world at BYU, and her trajectory to Cambridge University where she is ultimately granted her PhD.

Her disavowal would come from other meanings of the title. The task, her becoming educated, involves something far more difficult than academic study. The obstacles before her are immensely greater. Facing an unbending family narrative, she seeks to undo the gaslighting, to learn to trust her own memories and perception, and to craft and believe her own truth about her family and her life. The price she pays for this deliverance is steep, but her efforts necessary and courageous. There are valuable lessons here at a this historical moment. It is a success in itself that stories like that of the author are sometimes no longer shrouded in darkness.

235clamairy
May 12, 7:18pm Top

>234 stellarexplorer: This book sounds fascinating. You didn't find it disheartening to read about her upbringing? I suppose knowing she'd obviously made it through might have helped a bit.

236stellarexplorer
May 12, 11:14pm Top

Not disheartening, more horrific yet fascinating. To think there are many people, in the US, growing up under conditions like this is not something that is front and center. Yet we know it exists. This is beyond the garden variety perversity of abuse alone. Im sure it does make it easier to know from the beginning that the author is a writing from a point where at least she in some way she has escaped her upbringing. The need to find one’s own truth in the face of such craziness keeps the narrative alive.

I think it’s worth a read - I’m glad I read it.

237Sakerfalcon
May 20, 8:53am Top

>236 stellarexplorer: I read this earlier in the year and agree wholeheartedly with your review and comments. I think Westover managed to write about her childhood in such a way that the book never became a misery memoir - she didn't dwell on the bad things, rather narrated them quite dispassionately. It was a fascinating and inspiring read, I thought.

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