I'm not entirely certain what I was expecting from this book, but it proved very interesting. It's a family / personal history of the Churchill (or SpI'm not entirely certain what I was expecting from this book, but it proved very interesting. It's a family / personal history of the Churchill (or Spencer Churchill) clan, from John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough circa 1650 through his slightly more famous descendent (Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, who's paternal grandfather was the 7th Duke, uncle was the 8th, and cousin the 9th) and the family until the late 1970s.
Not unexpectedly, the bulk of the book is spent on Winston and his immediate family; modern readers might be surprised to discover that Winston's parents were probably more famous (or infamous) than their elder son until the Second World War.
However, the focus of this work is on the interpersonal relationships of the Churchills, and this is an area which is probably skipped over most frequently in political or military biographies, but the author makes an interesting case for the importance of these relationships in both shaping the individuals concerned as well as their world-view and actions when in some form of power. ...more
From the late '50s to the mid '60s a group of scientists and engineers, never numbering more than 50, and spending barely $10 million over seven yearsFrom the late '50s to the mid '60s a group of scientists and engineers, never numbering more than 50, and spending barely $10 million over seven years, developed what remains the only efficient method of putting large cargoes into space or of sending large scale missions to explore other planets. Their method? Explode nuclear bombs a short distance from the spacecraft and ride the shockwave like a surfboard.
The science & engineering behind it were never shot down, and in fact consistently cited as sound.
The fact that it used nuclear explosions, however, meant that it was both highly classified and politically impractical to use.
The author of this book, George Dyson, is the son of one of the group's founding minds, physicist Freeman Dyson, and some 40 years after his father left the project, George Dyson went about systematically reconstructing how the project began, developed, and died, conducting hundreds of interviews of the surviving scientists & engineers, as well as combing archives and journals for those details which have been declassified (with the amusing result that when NASA reopened studies on the concept in 1999, they asked the younger Dyson for nearly 1,800 pages of Project Orion reports which they could not find in Government vaults).
Project Orion was founded by many of the scientists who were heavily involved in the nuclear arms race following WWII, the big brains at Los Alamos & Livermore who tried to create ever more powerful, efficient, and smaller nuclear warheads. Eventually, they wanted to use them for something other than destruction, and quickly realized that they would make an extremely efficient propulsion source for a spacecraft. A 4,000-ton Orion-style spacecraft was expected to place well over 1,000 tons of payload into Earth Orbit.
These giants of science were no doubt naive in their idealism and optimism, but nevertheless managed to hit upon a vastly more efficient means of leaving Earth's gravity well than all the billions spent leading up to Apollo -- which they correctly prophesied would become a technological dead-end where space development was concerned. If ideas of sending a manned mission to Saturn in the mid-60s or even mid-70s seem far-fetched today, at the time many people were riding the post-WWII high when anything imaginable seemed possible...a state of mind which seems quite foreign to people today.
This book is not terribly technical; no major math is required, and only a very basic understanding of science. It is much more about the power of a few bright individuals left to develop an idea in a nurturing environment and then about the unthinking power of a bureaucracy to stifle something for which it has no immediate use...even if there may be a use for it in the future....more
This was a well-crafted story, which purposefully avoided a large number of standard fantasy tropes, but suffers from one critical flaw, which might bThis was a well-crafted story, which purposefully avoided a large number of standard fantasy tropes, but suffers from one critical flaw, which might be salvaged in future books in the series. It's put together well, and has a rather interesting world to explore, with hardly the tip of it seen in this volume. That's good, and all. It sticks with modern language and ideas, generally, and while I find it odd that a fantasy universe has developed medicine nearly to germ theory but doesn't understand anything about magnetism, I'm willing to let it slide. At least it doesn't club the reader over the head with made up languages, words, and concepts just to show how imaginative the author is.
On the other hand, the hero is a twerp. This is somewhat forgivable in this book, where he spends the bulk of the story somewhere around 15-16 years old. So a lot of the character traits and concepts reads about like Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix. I can call it in-character, but the older Kvothe telling his story really doesn't strike me as much wiser, just world-weary.
However, the real flaw is his schoolmasters, only one of whom appears to consider maturity and judgement to be of importance -- and he has a stupidly draconian method of attempting to teach it to Kvothe, while not caring a whit for everyone else's lack of maturity or judgement. The masters of the University are about as useless a group of instructors as you could possibly find at what is purported to be the most elite school in the civilized world, and they do a lot to drag down my respect for the author.
Then again, only one and a half characters in the story get anything worth calling "development" (and the half has most of it implied under the veil of mysteriousness). So it's all Kvothe's show. He has a couple friends (with whom he almost never hangs out or does anything of significance; they only exist to further the plot by having someone for Kvothe to ruminate with). This might be forgiven on account of Kvothe telling his own life story...but I suspect many people would consider their friends an important part of their life stories. YMMV. Jury's still out with me on this.
If I had to sum up this book in a sentence, I'd call it A Wizard of Earthsea with a lot of not-terribly-useful extra fluff thrown in. But the characters and their interactions could be ripped straight from it, especially parallels between Ged/Kvothe, Jasper/Ambrose and their relations. ...more