Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. It sound...moreDisclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. It sounded like the best job in the universe. I dreamed of flight, of going into space, exploring new worlds. I still have my astronaut curtains up in my bedroom. But it was not to be. By the time I hit puberty, it was clear that my poor vision would prevent me from being a pilot. Once the Space Shuttles came along and started accepting astronauts that weren’t pilots,, my life had gone down other paths. I may never get to space.
And that’s why I was so pleased to receive this book to review. it’s a bit over-sized, somewhere between standard and coffee-table. As the subtitle indicates, it’s a series of articles about various items in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum, mostly written by Smithsonian curators, and arranged in chronological order. They range from Friendship 7, which carried John Glenn around the world in orbit, to (pieces of) the Hubble Telescope, launched in 1990.
The book is profusely illustrated, and has a lot of sidebar articles that explain topics related to the objects in question. For example, an explanation of why Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit is not currently on display. (Turns out some of the fabrics and materials have long term interactions that are harmful to each other.)
The language is formal, and younger readers may struggle with some of the vocabulary, but anyone who’s followed the space program over the years should have no difficulty. There’s an extensive bibliography, and an index.
I would recommend this as a gift for anyone junior high school and up who has an interest in the space program or related sciences. I do have to warn that this book made me a little sad. Why haven’t we gone back to the moon yet? When will we finally get to Mars?
Like many a lad, I read this classic adventure story when I was quite young (despite it most assuredly not being a children’s book.) I have long plann...moreLike many a lad, I read this classic adventure story when I was quite young (despite it most assuredly not being a children’s book.) I have long planned to reread it when I had the opportunity, and was fortunate enough to get it for Christmas.
For those who have forgotten the plot, or somehow never got to read the book, the title character, White Fang, is a wolf-dog crossbreed who is born in the wilds of the Yukon Territory. He is captured by native humans and trained as a sled dog, then sold to a cruel white man who uses White Fang in cage fights. Finally White Fang comes into the possession of a kind man who treats him with compassion and retires to California.
This book is based loosely on Mr. London’s own experiences as a sourdough in the Klondike gold rush, and is a mirror to his book Call of the Wild, which is about a dog from California that is shanghaied to the Klondike and eventually goes feral. The story takes its own sweet time getting to White Fang. The opening paragraphs begin with spruce trees and ice in the Wild, then introduce dogs, then the sled they are pulling, and only then the humans who own the sled.
These humans are fleeing a starving wolf pack, and they don’t all make it out alive. We then follow the wolves for a while as their party dwindles. Finally two are left, and they spawn a cub who is named White Fang a couple of chapters later.
The harsh realities of death are constantly brought up in the story–most of the animals and several of the humans we are introduced to die, some of them at the fangs of our protagonist himself. There’s also a fair bit of musing on the “nature vs. nuture” question, though never put in those terms. White Fang’s behavior is based on his inherited instincts, but heavily modified by his environment; thus when he is finally shown compassion, White Fang can learn to love.
This is contrasted in the final chapter with an escaped convict, Jim Hall, whose circumstances have turned him into a hardened killer. (And in an instance of dramatic irony, has a genuine reason for his grudge against the judge who sentenced him to prison–he was innocent that time!) Hall never got that moment of compassion, and has passed beyond human redemption.
As you might have gathered, there are many scenes of animal abuse in this book which may be too intense for young readers. In addition, the story is a product of its time, and its portrayal of First Nations people is antiquated. (While White Fang “instinctively” knows that the white men are superior to the Indians, it’s made clear that this superiority is confined to ability to project power. The cruel Beauty Smith is a much worse dog owner than the harsh but practical Grey Beaver.)
There’s also some dubious canine behavior, some of which may because Mr. London was genuinely mistaken, and other bits exaggerated to make the story more exciting.
Overall, this is really one of the great dog stories, and highly recommended to readers mature enough to handle the themes. This story is in the public domain and you should be able to find it in an affordable edition (often paired with Call of the Wild) even new, or readily available at any used bookstore or library.(less)
There are more than a thousand British soldiers trapped on a small island off the Turkish coast, and the Germans are sending a huge force to smash the...moreThere are more than a thousand British soldiers trapped on a small island off the Turkish coast, and the Germans are sending a huge force to smash them. The British Navy wants to pull them off, but the only route that can be taken goes right past–the guns of Navarone. Unfortunately neither sea nor air attacks will work on the Navarone fortress due to its unique position, and a mass amphibious assault would take too long. But a small team of specialists might be able to scale the unclimbable cliffs, get past the elite Alpenkorps troops, infiltrate the impenetrable fortress and blow up the invincible guns. Maybe.
Perhaps the best known of action writer Alistair MacLean’s books (he also did Where Eagles Dare and Ice Station Zebra), it was made into an Oscar-winning (and notoriously loud) movie in 1961. I was made to feel quite old when the barista at the local coffee shop had never heard of either book or movie.
This is a very manly adventure book, full of stiff upper lips and overcoming fear and wishing sadly that one didn’t have to kill quite so many of the enemy. There’s really only one evil German, and even his fellow soldiers don’t approve of his actions.
The plan goes wrong almost immediately, and disaster after disaster strikes the team. Mr. MacLean was really good at amplifying the suspense and making the heroes the underdogs of the story. TRIGGER WARNING: The evil German indulges in some torture briefly
There are some large character changes from the book to the movie (the movie actually has women in it) so even if you’ve seen the film, the book should still have some surprises. Highly recommended.(less)
Disclaimer: I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
This is an autobiography of Claire Conner, daughte...moreDisclaimer: I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
This is an autobiography of Claire Conner, daughter of Stillwell J. Conner, one of the first members of the John Birch Society and one of its most fierce advocates. In it, she shares the history of her family’s involvement with the notorious right-wing organization, and her personal journey from loyal but naive supporter of her parents’ cause through skepticism and eventually to rejection.
The John Birch Society, for those who may be unfamiliar, was founded in the 1950s by candy entrepreneur Robert Welch to fight the overwhelming menace of the international Communist conspiracy. It was named after a former missionary murdered by the Chinese Communists under murky circumstances, and stood against all forms of Communism and what its members believed to be Communist fronts. The UN? Communist plot. Ending racial segregation? Communist plot. Being anti-Communist but not in the same way as the John Birch Society? Communist plot.
This is a sad story in many ways. According to Ms. Conner’s account, her parents’ fanaticism blinded them to the damage they were doing to their family relationships. It also blinded them to the flaws in those they allied with, be it Holocaust deniers, violent criminals or just political opportunists. She recalls several instances of people being stuffed down her father’s memory hole rather than have him admit he was ever wrong about them.
The Conners also seemed never to notice that the dire predictions of a Communist takeover in four, five years tops, never came true, never came close to coming true. The JBS never admitted that previous predictions were wrong, just kept doomsaying to keep the troops in line and the money flowing.
A particularly telling story is that Ms. Conner’s parents, despite finding thousands of dollars each year to spend on the Society’s cause, told her that they could not spare one penny for her college education and she would have to pay for it on her own. Then when she won a generous scholarship, forced her to turn it down as they had already picked a more expensive college for her to go to. She reports that her father exploded with rage when asked why, if Claire had to pay for her own education, she couldn’t choose her own school.
Mr. Conner also discusses her involvement with the pro-life movement, originally stemming from her personal experience and her religious convictions, and how it was co-opted by political opportunists who didn’t actually care about the children, just about enraging their donor base into giving more money.
The book also discusses how parts of the JBS ethos are still alive and well in today’s Tea Party and other right-wing groups. The John Birch Society itself may be a tiny shell of what it once was, but rabid hatred of big government , racism and a fear of the Left still linger.
There are many footnotes, and a complete index, but no illustrations.
I highly recommend this book to history buffs, those curious about right-wing politics, and those interested in biography.(less)
This doorstopper contains a multitude of fun pulp adventure stories, from the so famous it's almost cliche "The Most Dangero...moreIt's a big book all right!
This doorstopper contains a multitude of fun pulp adventure stories, from the so famous it's almost cliche "The Most Dangerous Game" to obscurities never before reprinted. With a wide range of genres and settings, there is something here for almost every pulp fan.
There are some flaws. The "humor" section is weak, one of the stories not even being from the pulp era. Plus, the racism and sexism of the pulp era are shown in many of the stories; this is acknowledged in the introduction and author notes.
But all in all, many hours of exciting reading, including the rare Tarzan novel, "Tarzan the Terrible", which owes its placement as the final entry I think in part due to its ending paragraph.