I was vaguely aware, mostly from pop culture references, that hijacking a plane to Cuba used to be a thing, but I never knew just how common it once w...moreI was vaguely aware, mostly from pop culture references, that hijacking a plane to Cuba used to be a thing, but I never knew just how common it once was.
The best parts of the book deal with the skyjacking phenomenon in general and reactions to it. The author presents a broad range of cases that show the variety of motivations and methods used. The arguments over airport security were surprising to read about, I was shocked to learn that the FAA had once opposed widespread screening of passengers.
Tying the subject to a fuller account of one skyjacking was a good idea, but that also threw me off at times. The more general passages and the description of the Western Airlines flight zip right along. Unfortunately, some of the parts about Holder and Kerkow suffer from kitchen-sink details that feel like an attempt to squeeze in research and interview material.
Overall, this was a fast, entertaining read despite its uneven tone. I'd recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about that time period because it provided a lot of great context.
I received a copy of this book through the Goodreads Giveaway program.(less)
This is a fascinating, well-researched book. It sometimes gets bogged down in unnecessary levels of detail, but I'd still recommend it for anyone inte...moreThis is a fascinating, well-researched book. It sometimes gets bogged down in unnecessary levels of detail, but I'd still recommend it for anyone interested in the subject or time period.
Thomas Day wanted a beautiful, intelligent, educated, brave, strong wife who was willing to live alone with him in some simple, isolated cottage. He realized pretty quickly that it would be difficult to find all those traits in a woman who'd be submissive enough to suit him, so he picked up a couple of foundling girls to train as potential brides.
The main focus is on Day's life and his marriage plans, but I was happy to see that the author didn't just treat the girls as appendages to Day's strange story.(less)
I'm addicted to stories about sailing ships, and I grew up in the area where this all happened. So it's deeply disappointing that, despite the the hea...moreI'm addicted to stories about sailing ships, and I grew up in the area where this all happened. So it's deeply disappointing that, despite the the heavy research that obviously went into the book, I found it so deathly dry that I couldn't stand it long enough to even feel like I can rate it.
I enjoy a lot of books that might be written off by some as dull. I've read vintage historical fiction and memoirs from the 1800s. I've devoured multiple first-hand accounts of the same age-of-sail shipwreck, just for fun.
I made it through the first thirty pages convinced that things would pick up. Yeah, there were a lot of short, declarative sentences that made it feel kind of like a book report, but the subject was promising. Also, there was major pirate action on the horizon.
Then I got to this:
"One of Maynard's men swung his cutlass hard against Blackbeard's neck. His head flopped over onto his shoulder, dangling by a few uncut ligaments. The scourge of the Atlantic seaboard fell dead and his crew soon surrendered. Maynard ceremoniously finished cutting the head from Blackbeard's body. This would not only be his trophy but proof to Governor Spotswood that the pirate had been killed and that Maynard deserved the bounty."
The death of Blackbeard, ladies and gentlemen, presented in the same flat tone as earlier passages on trading woes and family drama.
Life's too short to drag myself through books I'm not enjoying.(less)
This memoir about working in domestic service was written in a conversational tone that, while occasionally rambling, made it a fast, easy read.
The au...moreThis memoir about working in domestic service was written in a conversational tone that, while occasionally rambling, made it a fast, easy read.
The author worked as a kitchen maid and cook, and tells frank stories about hard work, employers, and coworkers. Many of the anecdotes focus on the unfair ways that servants were treated or viewed. For example, she makes several mentions of how it bothered her that employers were always shocked to learn that she enjoyed reading (presumably because they assumed that type of pursuit was beyond a servant).
There's also plenty of gossip about sex, though some of that was about who wasn't having it and why. Much of it will probably seem tame by today's standards, but Margaret Powell speaks out against the double standards she encountered as a woman in domestic service.
Though it felt a little disorganized, the book was a fun first-hand look into another time, and I'd certainly recommend it to people interested in the period.
I got a copy of this book through the Goodreads Giveaway program.(less)
This story of the 1854 London cholera epidemic mostly centers on John Snow's efforts to prove that the outbreak was caused by water from one contamina...moreThis story of the 1854 London cholera epidemic mostly centers on John Snow's efforts to prove that the outbreak was caused by water from one contaminated well.
The author mirrors Snow's multidisciplinary approach, telling us about history, geography, scientific beliefs, and the social conditions of the time (with frequent references to Dickens). It's more interesting than a straightforward narrative of the investigation would have been, but it also leads to some rambling passages that made for a stop-and-start read. I learned a lot from this book, but it could have been improved by tightening up just a little of the side-stuff.
The epilogue, about increased urbanization and the threats that may lead to, had a jumpy lack of focus that was kind of a drag on my overall impression of the book.
It was also perplexing to me that the book doesn't have a full copy of Snow's influential map. Snow's maps helped to convince his critics, including important figures in the investigation like Reverend Whitehead. The whole book is named for the map, but the only copy that's included in my paperback edition is zoomed in and unlabeled, leaving the reader to guess whether that's an actual copy of the map under discussion. (I originally assumed it wasn't, because it's cropped to the point where the Voronoi diagram line discussed in the text isn't visible.) There are times when I appreciate that a book sends me running to Wikipedia to learn more, but searching for a copy of a map in a book partly about that map isn't one of them.(less)
John Singleton Copley was a Boston man who began his art career before the Revolutionary War. He was a highly successful portraitist, but his ambition...moreJohn Singleton Copley was a Boston man who began his art career before the Revolutionary War. He was a highly successful portraitist, but his ambition to become a great painter led him to Europe and he eventually settled in London.
The structure was sometimes too melodramatic, and it wasn't necessary to remind me for the fiftieth time that Copley tried his hardest to avoid politics. This book was at its best when it placed Copley in the middle of the tensions leading up to the Declaration of Independence, and its description of the financial and artistic decline of his final years was genuinely sad.
I was excited to see that there was an entire chapter named for my favorite painting, Watson and the Shark, so it was a bit of a let down to find that the chapter had only a couple of pages on that subject. While I'd have preferred to read more about Watson, my disappointment was somewhat tempered by the author's use of the word "highfalutin."(less)
While it's a noticeable improvement over my last attempt at reading a book about female travelers, No Place for a Lady still wasn't what I was hoping...moreWhile it's a noticeable improvement over my last attempt at reading a book about female travelers, No Place for a Lady still wasn't what I was hoping for.
My main disappointment was the book's superficial feel. Some of that likely has to do with its location-based organization, which turns the lives of the women included into anecdotes about their destinations. But it's probably also related to the flat, inconsistent writing. There's a lot of information, unfortunately the book is often more focused on itineraries and occasional wacky experiences than the overall lives of these women and their place in society. Transitions between paragraphs about various travelers are abrupt or awkward. Several women appear in multiple chapters, and the author has a habit of referring back (or sometimes forward!) to them without enough of a memory jog.
I came across a few details that don't match up with my earlier reading, which always makes me a little sketchy about trusting a book. It was especially uncomfortable to read a few breezy lines about the unmasking of cross-dressing botanist's assistant Jeanne Baret, considering that a more recent biography of Baret claims she was brutally assaulted by her shipmates.
The book includes a lot of maps and illustrations, which I enjoyed, but the placement of the images, captions, and sidebars sometimes tended to interrupt the flow of my reading.
I think I'd have preferred a longer book that, rather than giving brief sketches of so many women, went more into detail about fewer of them and drew deeper conclusions about their lives and influence. I'd recommend this for people interested in a light overview and some fun stories, but look elsewhere for a meatier experience.(less)
The history of Hawaii is an interesting, if troubling, subject. The biggest strength of this book is the way it connects the activities of the early m...moreThe history of Hawaii is an interesting, if troubling, subject. The biggest strength of this book is the way it connects the activities of the early missionaries and their descendants with other aspects of America's past and present.
The light tone and inclusion of the author's own experiences make this an easy read, at least until the end. The rushed description of the coup against Hawaii's queen and the land's subsequent annexation are almost dry compared to Vowell's snide asides about the missionaries. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because for me, the jokey tone sometimes grated against the subject matter, but it still makes the book feel inconsistent.
I don't normally do audiobooks, but I find myself wishing I had in this case. I was occasionally imagining Vowell's distinctive voice as I read anyway, which was a distraction.(less)
In the early days of space exploration, well before the first moon landing, a small group of female pilots took (and passed) the same physical evaluat...moreIn the early days of space exploration, well before the first moon landing, a small group of female pilots took (and passed) the same physical evaluations as the Mercury astronauts as part of a privately-funded research program on women in space. Jerrie Cobb, the first woman to finish the tests, went on to successfully complete the other two phases of astronaut testing, but her fellow candidates were turned away at the last minute. This book tells the story of Cobb, her "Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees," and the clash of politics and personality that surrounded their dream of spaceflight.
It begins with a general overview of the history of women in aviation. There was a special focus on Jackie Cochran's Women Airforce Service Pilots during WWII, because of the role Cochran would play in the female astronaut research. Then we get the story of the aspiring astronauts, the process of their testing, and the aftermath of the program's cancellation. Finally, there's an update on the lives and later careers of the group.
The subject was really interesting, but despite that, the book was sometimes an awkward, slow read. Only a few of the women profiled really stood out, because many of them were introduced in such quick succession that I had a difficult time remembering which name went with which bio.
Constant repetition made some sections feel too drawn out. To be fair, part of this was because the stories of early female pilots have a lot of similarities (such as being denied access to the best planes unless a company decided on a "so easy that a woman can fly it" marketing strategy), but it was also partly because the author seemed to pick up on the same larger points over and over again each time an example of them is raised.
I found the portrayal of some of the interpersonal struggles a little disappointing, the book occasionally took on an unnecessarily gossipy tone. The author acknowledges that these aspects of the story play into unfortunate stereotypes, but I felt like she could have handled the infighting more evenly and with a little more detachment.
Between much more recent examples of sexism at NASA and the continuing aspirations (as well as the odd stories) of two of the women, things end on a bit of a depressing note. This book did make me really interested in reading more about earlier stories of female aviation pioneers.(less)