The fire tower lookout (aka "the freaks on the peaks", as they are called by the Forest Service) is a dying breed and Philip Connors gives us a tantal...moreThe fire tower lookout (aka "the freaks on the peaks", as they are called by the Forest Service) is a dying breed and Philip Connors gives us a tantalizing glimpse into that isolated existence - which only last 3-4 months, but can feel like a year of misery depending on the hardiness of the person. This is a life that he embraces, considering he has done it for 8 seasons, and his descriptions of the joy of solitude, the contentment of watching and listening to the mountains, experiencing all the nature around him with all of his senses was very vivid. I've read some reviews where people took issue with his "tone" - condescension of those who quickly realize that a fire lookout life is not for them, that they crave the social atmosphere and fear being alone and in the dark. I can see some of that tone, but he also points out his own weaknesses, when he's craving a return to civilization for even just a couple days after a 10-day stint on a mountaintop in one of the most remote parts of the Gila with only the occasional hiker passing through for social contact.
This book wasn't all about him, however. I really enjoyed the tangents he took into the history of the failed fire policy of the Forest Service and how nearly a century's worth of suppressing every fire is now the culprit for the explosive conflagrations that we're seeing all over the West. I previously had only the briefest understanding of it, but it's a topic that I will be reading up on and exploring more.
He also takes many opportunities to opine about the current range policy (a prisoner to "tradition") and how cattle and ranching has also led to the disintegrated state of the ecology of the West which doesn't help the land deal with wildfires like they would have in a more untouched and undeveloped condition. If you're on the side of the ranchers, or think that the New Mexican wolf should be eradicated because they do what predators do and attack cattle, then I can see how this book would come across as excessively preachy. But to me he was singing to the choir so it didn't bother me at all.
I'm knocking this down a star because I thought the tangent to 9/11 was unnecessary. He brought it in when talking about the closest he's been to fire and smoke, but what does the incinerated dust of collapsed skyscrapers have in common with the crown fires of ponderosa pine? I'm tired of every book written by someone who happened to be in NYC that day having it shoehorned into the narrative. It comes across to me as an obvious emotional ploy, and it falls short every single time.
But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought there was a pleasant balance between the history of the Forest Service, Aldo Leopold's transformation from Forest Service utilitarianism to wilderness advocate, fire policy, previous famous fire lookouts like Kerouac, Victorio's raids, and his own personal story of self-enforced solitude in what has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the Gila of southern New Mexico.
Not really knowing anything about Descartes, this was an excellent introduction to him and his philosophy with the added awesome factor of how his bon...moreNot really knowing anything about Descartes, this was an excellent introduction to him and his philosophy with the added awesome factor of how his bones and skull trotted across Europe over the course of centuries due to admirers wanting a relic of his remains. Ironic, since Descartes, despite being religious, gave rise to the philosophy of materialism and atheism during the Enlightenment.
The narrative flowed smoothly as Shorto laid out the journey of Descartes' bones. It was not linear, but continued to leap back and forth progressively throughout the last 350 years as new sciences cropped up that at the time explained the mystery of Descartes, such as phrenology (and organology) hopefully demonstrating to the practitioners of the time that Descartes had a massive brain cuz he wuz so SMRT.
More than anything, this book illustrates the role that science and reason, begun by Descartes, has played in the formation of our current modern world. And how the church and monarchy fought so vehemently against this threat to their established control over society that they had enjoyed for millennia.
I thought the ending of the book was forced, as he tied Descartes into the present modern world with an interview he had with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I was more interested in the past story of Descartes and the trailblazing thinkers of the day, but I can also see the connection that he was trying to make with Ali. She is the voice of reason who is working to transform the ancient and superstitious thinking of Islam just as Descartes did with Christian Europe nearly 400 years ago. And if you haven't read her book, Infidel, do so now!
I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was excellent and his French sounded superb. :D(less)
A reprint of a Moyers article. Very short read, but as always with Moyers, very eloquent with a perfect mix of facts and humanity. In 20 very small pa...moreA reprint of a Moyers article. Very short read, but as always with Moyers, very eloquent with a perfect mix of facts and humanity. In 20 very small pages he gives a vivid picture of the religious fundamentalists who believe in the Rapture and therefore all things on this Earth need to go to utter shit in order to bring on the Second Coming (a belief, incidentally, that only cropped up less than 200 years ago). The increasing catastrophes due to climate change are a good thing in their minds. Cuz, you know, it's all about them - so they can fly up to Heaven and party with Jesus for the rest of Eternity. It's terrifying to think that people can possess such suicidal beliefs - or should I say murderous, since they have no qualms about poisoning the planet for future generations. Where's the humanity? The empathy?
I try to comprehend this mindset, but I always come up empty. How do you understand people who firmly believe that we're better off dead and that this life is only a temporary stage to the afterlife when things really get good?(less)
I watched the YouTube lecture that this book draws from and loved it. However reading about quantum physics etc is nothing like listening to an engagi...more
I watched the YouTube lecture that this book draws from and loved it. However reading about quantum physics etc is nothing like listening to an engaging speaker like Krauss talk about it. Especially to someone who has no background in physics or cosmology. It's definitely geared toward the layman, but not enough for me. With so many other books in the pile, I'll be leaving this one unfinished.(less)
This was a very inoffensive and very even-handed look at the Mormon religion, particularly the history of its beginnings and the figure of Joseph Smit...moreThis was a very inoffensive and very even-handed look at the Mormon religion, particularly the history of its beginnings and the figure of Joseph Smith. Perhaps the only offense someone might take with it is that Joseph Smith comes across as a lying manipulative charlatan, but hey, facts is facts. Mansfield allows the words and actions to speak for themselves with a fence-sitting attitude that allows the reader to decide. In a way it was rather wishy-washy, but I also felt it gave the book more credibility. (The large font and 1.15 line spacing adds to the readability factor, but it felt like a kid's book - or the latest James Patterson novel - at times.)
The only thing I'll dock this book for is the real-life vignette of modern day Mormon interactions that begin each chapter. The dialogue and exposition was stilted and more than a little painful to read. But skip those and read the history. I only know the barest facts about early Mormonism so there was much in here that was new information (Brigham Young spoke in tongues?) An interesting and quick read.(less)
A rather rough emotional read. Much of this book first appeared in Vanity Fair, as Hitchens chronicled his journey into a new land of doctors, agonizi...moreA rather rough emotional read. Much of this book first appeared in Vanity Fair, as Hitchens chronicled his journey into a new land of doctors, agonizing pain, and an uncertain time of death - and often wishing that the time would come sooner rather than later. It's a very unflinching look at the fate we all share and the way he met it was, for lack of a better word, inspirational. He addresses the way society treats cancer (and wishes it would change) - how cancer is a battle, the victim is "fighting" cancer, and yet in fighting it, the victim weakens themselves by the poison of chemo. I loved the passages about the urge to tell people to just STFU with their commiserating cancer stories. Perhaps the most poignant part was his visceral fear of not just losing his voice but perhaps losing his ability to write. If his one joy of living was gone, what was the point of going on?
Although a very slim volume, it's a very dense, meaningful read in Hitch's usual style.(less)
This has only whet my appetite for more of Ingersoll's insightful, humanist oratory and one of these days I'll tackle that huge 12-volume set of his w...moreThis has only whet my appetite for more of Ingersoll's insightful, humanist oratory and one of these days I'll tackle that huge 12-volume set of his works that is so readily available on the interwebs. Minus 1 star for the fact that the speeches contained in this little volume are cut, clipped and snipped and therefore the full context is gone. However Ingersoll's speech about corporal punishment (especially toward children, which he is totally against) was very heartfelt and tender and should give parents pause before they whack their kids.(less)
Ray Jardine pontificates at length (at length!) about everything he does to make hiking a less physically grueling ordeal. Some of his tips I already...moreRay Jardine pontificates at length (at length!) about everything he does to make hiking a less physically grueling ordeal. Some of his tips I already do, others I'll try, and still others I will never bother with. As with any kind of screed ("The Ray Way!") there is illogic aplenty, so I started to skim to find the little nuggets of wisdom that I was looking for. I paid no mind to such firmly stated "facts" that an umbrella is the most valuable piece of gear you can have, trekking poles add 2 tons of weight over the course of a long hike, and to cut out the tongue of your shoe lighten the load and simply dump out the rocks every time one gets in there - which, without a tongue, would ALWAYS happen in certain areas, like the Southwest.
My favorite part of this book was all the marginal notes that a persistent skeptic reader before me wrote, countering Ray's proclamations. So, there is some helpful info in here, but it's nothing to be taken whole.(less)