Fascinating book, perfectly marrying scientific fact with the amazing story of one woman and her immortal cells which are still growing today in thous...moreFascinating book, perfectly marrying scientific fact with the amazing story of one woman and her immortal cells which are still growing today in thousands of labs all over the world. The author, Rebecca Skloot becomes a vital part of the story as she takes the angrily uninformed Lacks family by the hand and drags them from the superstition and misinformation that plagues the family, through to a more appreciative understanding of the contribution their mother's cells have made to the world.
The idea of reading a scientific history of cell culture wouldn't exactly thrill me - but this is an amazing (true) story, wonderfully told with a bunch of interesting characters. And the audiobook is beautifully narrated too which really brought it to life.(less)
I have a particular interest in memory and mnemonics and my interest was really piqued by a review of this, as it’s a very similar story to mine; some...moreI have a particular interest in memory and mnemonics and my interest was really piqued by a review of this, as it’s a very similar story to mine; someone with an average memory (or in my case, a terrible memory) discovers amazingly effective memory techniques, then spends a year memorizing all kinds of obscure things with ease, but ultimately, realises he still can’t remember where he left his car keys, or his car! and also realises that even though these techniques are very handy for some things, it’s still far easier to write down shopping lists and stick people’s numbers in your phone. The one big difference with my story and this is that I didn’t end up entering a national memory competition.
Joshua Foer is a journalist who began writing an article about the U.S Memory Championships, and then a year later gave as good as the other memory masters. “Moonwalking with Einstein” is bookended by those two events; his attendance at the 2005 U.S Memory Championship, and his entry into the 2006 event. What you get between the book ends is a fascinating exploration of the science, art, and history of memory, mnemonics and memory techniques.
When I first heard of the book, I thought it may only be for people like me who have an interest in mnemonics but it’s selling by the truckload and getting great reviews everywhere. The title “Moonwalking with Einstein” is a reference to the kind of mental image that’s all too familiar to anyone who uses these techniques. When the missus asks me for one of my numerous pin numbers, or the WiFi code, or similar, I say something like, “let’s see that’s a bear on a bike trying to eat a cat in a shell…. that’s 94977165.” So I found reading about someone else’s experience with all this stuff a fantastic read. Though everyone else seems to be enjoying it just as much.(less)
A lot of the chapters in At Home have an amusingly tenuous link to the supposed subject matter. I like to imagine the pitch went like this:
Bryson: So...moreA lot of the chapters in At Home have an amusingly tenuous link to the supposed subject matter. I like to imagine the pitch went like this:
Bryson: So I want to do a follow up called "A short history of some other stuff too" - a potted history about lots of other odds and ends I find interesting. Publisher: No, no, no. You can't do that - you need a new title and a new theme. Bryson: Oh. Publisher: Here's a whacky idea. But it might just work. Call it "At home" and base each chapter on a room of your home and then just talk about whatever you like. Bryson: Really? And not have anything to do with the room I'm talking about? Publisher: Well there will be a few easy ones at the start, like the kitchen and the bedroom. You have enough material for those to make them very topical. But then you could start getting more and more tenous in other chapters, no one will notice. Bryson: ummm Publisher: Yeah it'd be hilarious - do a whole chapter called The Study - but instead talk about mice and rats, and don't even mention the study. By the end you can talk about whatever you want. The Attic can be about Darwin, you like Darwin don't you? Bryson: Erm - yeah Publisher: So what are you waiting for? Off you go.
So some chapters are specifically related to the room at hand, others amusingly bear not the most tenuous link. Not that that takes anything away from the content. It's a good book It's not quite the fantastic read that "A short history of nearly everything" is, but it's in the same vein.
Though, despite lots of amusing historical stories, and word origins, and top notch trivia, I didn't enjoy this book half as much as some of his others, and hardly laughed at all. Unusual for reading Bryson.
Pretty sure I can put it all down to buying the audiobook even though I knew better after having major doubts while listening to a sample. Someone told me I'd get used to it. He was wrong. Bryson just doesn't have the delivery to read an audiobook and amazingly makes his own words sound far less interesting by merely reading them out loud. So I imagine it's a much better book on paper. (less)
I can't quite fault it. It does what it says on the tin; a very well written history of the Periodic Table, and some amusing stories surrounding the d...moreI can't quite fault it. It does what it says on the tin; a very well written history of the Periodic Table, and some amusing stories surrounding the discovery of some of the elements. But the genuinely interesting stories were far and few between. And in general there was lots of hard science, some of which... didn't as much go over my head, as it did go in one ear and out the other very quickly. I was bored by a lot of it unfortunately, even though I have a passing interest in the periodic table.
That was hard work! It started off well and was mostly interesting but I just found it too long and the last third was torturous (which I hope isn't t...moreThat was hard work! It started off well and was mostly interesting but I just found it too long and the last third was torturous (which I hope isn't too inconsiderate a word given the subject matter). Not the first time for this to happen but I didn't realise that I had only downloaded 2/3 parts of the audiobook. When I was informed I had another 1/3 to listen to I emitted some groan and only then realised how little I had started enjoying this. Narrative Fiction is currently my favourite genre but this felt like a completely different kind of book to the wonderful The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I had a gut feeling about this book, that I wished I stuck with. I think it may have a niche market, and that market isn't me.(less)
What I found enjoyable about this book was almost it's downfall. Oliver Sacks is very charismatic and there's casual mention of spirituality on some o...moreWhat I found enjoyable about this book was almost it's downfall. Oliver Sacks is very charismatic and there's casual mention of spirituality on some of the stories, which made me balk. So it's by no means a dry scientific piece of work but it almost goes too far in the other direction, seeking divination from brain malfunctions, and lots of soul searching. In fact on two accounts he asks the nuns who look after different patients if they think the patients still possess a soul. This musing does add a necessary depth as the stories go on; a book full of frivolous case studies, even though highly entertaining, as in the eponymous wife mistaking man, would still run out of steam quickly enough and not hang together so well as an entire piece.(less)
Fascinating insight into what a psychopath actually is, not simply a violent nutjob. A specific part of their brain called the Amygdala doesn't functi...moreFascinating insight into what a psychopath actually is, not simply a violent nutjob. A specific part of their brain called the Amygdala doesn't function properly and it's primary role is in the processing and memory of emotional reactions. So they feel no emotions or remorse.
Even more fascinating is the idea that psychopaths can just as easily end up a serial killer as they can a high powered boss who loves firing people.
I found the book strayed a bit randomly in places, particularly, and strangely, at the very start, I had to check I was reading the book that I thought it was, but otherwise very interesting and entertaining. (less)
I haven't read much true crime in my life, and I would like to, but I fear now that too few would live up to the standards of this. It's such a well w...moreI haven't read much true crime in my life, and I would like to, but I fear now that too few would live up to the standards of this. It's such a well written book about a fascinating story, which I've just realised is exactly what I said about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. That's my experience so far of narrative non-fiction, it's either brilliant for the entire book, and every page has you totally captivated from beginning to end, or you start to wane half-way through and once boredom sets in that's it, you'll be bored to tears by the end.
Gladly People Who Eat Darkness, was for me, the former. Even before the first page, it starts with a brilliant title and just gets betters as it goes on. I don't think structure is something you would usually notice in a book. It's quite easy to appreciate a well structured sentence but I think harder to appreciate a really well structured book. It's the kind of thing you might notice less, the better it is, the less you notice. But I noticed it with this for some reason. It's just so well formed. Characters, and nuggets of information are introduced at just the right time. And certain parts of the story are given the perfect amount of pages so you're never bored with one of the story strands
And there many fascinating strands to this story; the hostess culture in Japan, the exploration of how grieving parents are expected to act in the eye of the public, and of course the main crime itself.
Usually after a few pages, or at least a chapter of a book, I know whether I’m going to like, love, or hate a book. In my experience it’s all down to...moreUsually after a few pages, or at least a chapter of a book, I know whether I’m going to like, love, or hate a book. In my experience it’s all down to the author’s voice, not the actual plot. So if it’s not working for you in the first chapter, that’s not going to change by the time you get to the end. That’s why I no longer persevere with a book that isn’t working for me. Life’s too short. And finding out what happens at the end rarely balances out the torturous perseverance.
With this book however my initial perception was turned on its head. After the first chapter, I thought it was going to be an average Vietnam war novel. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it at all.
And then suddenly the story stops and the author starts talking about writing, and story-telling, and truth, and real truth, and story truth, and memory, and and rose-tinted glasses. And suddenly we’re in the territory of metafiction and narrative non-fiction. Which is when I really perked up. This was suddenly an altogether different book. The writing was so sharp, and dripping with a life experience that few of us could imagine, and even fewer of us could so expertly depict.
Where it falls down slightly is that there is a lot of overlap between the stories, and it becomes more and more obvious that this is not a book but series of previously written essays. A collection of brilliant essays, but still, a bit of editing could have possibly reduced the overlap and repetition.
On the audio end of things, it’s narrated by none other than Bryan Cranston. And if you think it couldn’t get any better than that, there’s a bonus chapter where the author revisits Vietnam with his daughter years later, and he narrates that chapter himself which is dripping with that old soul life experience. And it’s a perfect finish to a great audiobook(less)