Mary Roach writes an engaging and easy read about the challenges of man in space. The title of the book is a little bit of a misnomer as she does not...moreMary Roach writes an engaging and easy read about the challenges of man in space. The title of the book is a little bit of a misnomer as she does not deal as much with Mars as I would have expected. There are a few pages that talk about it, but primarily the book expounds on the vomit, poop, sex, and bodily harm of space.
The novel is written in the first person relating Roach's experiences while researching the book. Personal anecdotes abound in her writing, and it's hard to go a page without a pun thrown in. Maybe I read too much non-fiction, but I found some of these flourishes to be a bit tiresome. That tiny quibble aside Roach does a great job exploring the quirky and taboo topics of space flight.
At the end of the book, despite much direct talk about Mars itself, one has a clear impression of the hurdles that must be overcome to send a group of people to the distant red planet.(less)
The most salient part of this book is the exploration of the switch from a mathematics dealing with discrete numbers, to a mathematics that could deal...moreThe most salient part of this book is the exploration of the switch from a mathematics dealing with discrete numbers, to a mathematics that could deal with continuous and infinite numbers. In other terms this book explores the rise of calculus and its repercussions on the world. My expectations of the book were different than what it delivered. The publisher's summary stated very succinctly, "The Clockwork Universe is the fascinating and compelling story of the bewildered geniuses of the Royal Society, the men who made the modern world." This is maybe less than half of the book. In fact the depth of biography and place setting was very superficial at best, a mere tangent on the surface as one might say having read this book. I must admit that I came into this book having read Neal Stephenson's enormous "Baroque Cycle". What amazed me was that "The Clockwork Universe" confirmed plot point after plot point of fictionalized events in Stephenson's series. However, "The Baroque Cycle" painted a beautiful and elaborate portrait while "The Clockwork Universe" merely pointed out those plot points. On top of these points, nearly a third of the book dealt with Galileo, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler's work. Again, I enjoyed the detour, but it felt a little off from the way the book was sold.
Those quibbles aside, Edward Dolnick delivered a very easy to read look into the rise of calculus and classical physics. I took high school and college level calculus, but I never got a good sense of what it was good for. Dolnick describes in very easy terms why these tools were (and are) extremely important to modern society. I feel like I have a much better understanding of the subjects I had studied back in school, and I am appreciative of my newfound understanding. It was very nice seeing the cultural setting that these ideas sprung from, and how it led to an age that Isaac Newton probably would have abhorred.
In conclusion this novel was a good read on science and math, but too superficial on painting an in-depth portrait of the times. It hit a lot of interesting points, but I'll probably be re-reading "The Baroque Cycle" soon.(less)
David McCullough writes a very thorough biography. Typically he starts with the grandparents, and keeps on writing until he gets to his protagonist's...moreDavid McCullough writes a very thorough biography. Typically he starts with the grandparents, and keeps on writing until he gets to his protagonist's death rattle. He is a great writer, and writes a very engaging book. The events move forward, and there is real drama with the events happening around his subject. However, sometimes his books get mired into the quotidian details of life, rather than soaring up into the lofty ideas and trends that make a historical figure important.
That quibble aside, the reader is immersed in the life, thoughts, and times of Harry S Truman. It's much easier to understand this era of American politics with the cultural settings that McCullough so thoroughly paints. Truman was the unlikely president. He was the so-called every day man, and rose to the challenges of the times. He was the decision maker for such terrifying events as the dropping of the first nuclear weapons and the rise of the cold war. He was the man that linked pre-WWII depression America into the post-war boom years.
While Truman was not a paragon of intellectualism and ideals, he represented the can-do attitude of America. McCullough dove into the messy mud-slinging politics of the early 20th century (that still exist today) and left the reader with a feeling of hope and pride of our American system. Truman spent his political years raising hell in his campaign speeches across the nation, and yet his mix of pragmatism and idealism leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction with the way our system dealt with the complexities of the modern world. While not perfect, Truman got the job done.(less)
An interesting look into the physicality of the internet, but at the end a little bit unsatisfying because of the lack of technical specifics. The boo...moreAn interesting look into the physicality of the internet, but at the end a little bit unsatisfying because of the lack of technical specifics. The book was really easy and quick to get through. I'd recommend it to people with an interest in how the internet is put together. No technical knowledge is really needed.(less)
This book was at the same time exactly what I wanted, and exactly what I didn't want. It worked as a comprehensive survey of American history from 181...moreThis book was at the same time exactly what I wanted, and exactly what I didn't want. It worked as a comprehensive survey of American history from 1815 to 1848, but it was a lot of work to obtain that goal. It was odd that the book started at the tail end of the war of 1812, without explaining in the smallest of terms the way the early republic got into the mess. I had pretty John Adams' presidency in my previous readings, so I had to resort to Wikipedia to get some of the backstory that could have been easily included in the book.
As a survey of this time period, the book had to cover a lot of ground. There is a lot of interesting and random storylines that the author explored. I enjoyed learning about the history of Mormonism and many of the smaller religious movements. On the other hand the story really got bogged down early on with the history of one religious group after another. I almost changed books at that time, but luckily I persevered and the pace picked up once again.
I felt that at times the author postulated too much on the possible outcomes of historical events (if only A, B, or C had happened.) Sometimes the subjects he wrote about ended up containing too much of the author's biases, and were not treated to as dispassionate of an analysis as I would have preferred.
Overall the book contained many interesting points about slavery, the conflicts between the states, western expansion, religious movements, and the economic state of the Union—plus a whole bevy of other topics. It suffered somewhat from the meanderings, and sometimes over-exploration of a topic.(less)
I thoroughly enjoyed this read. The wife was out of town and I listened to it while working on the house. There was a sufficient level of creepy ambia...moreI thoroughly enjoyed this read. The wife was out of town and I listened to it while working on the house. There was a sufficient level of creepy ambiance in my environment to enhance my enjoyment of the book. I have really loved the Castlevania series of video games, so it was really nice to read THE book. No sparkly vampires here. I couldn't help but feel like at times I was exploring a castle and killing undead like in the game.
I loved the epistle nature of the story, and the full cast recording on the audiobook really enhanced the inherit nature of the format. I was a little disappointed about Tim Curry's addition, because I really had no idea which narrator he was. I was intrigued by the character of Mina Harker. Unfortunately towards the end of the book I felt like she fell more into the dutiful helpless wife role, but earlier on she struck me as quite a strong character. I think she represented the ideal wife of a Victorian intellectual. She was smart, yet dutiful. She actually reminded me somewhat of the "female intuition" of detective stories from the twenties.(less)
One part physics, one part biography, and one part scientific history--this book consisted of a wide variety of topics that encompassed the life of a...moreOne part physics, one part biography, and one part scientific history--this book consisted of a wide variety of topics that encompassed the life of a very peculiar and interesting man, Albert Einstein. Isaacson did a great job of blending together the science and biography of Einstein's life. I didn't have a good background in the theories of relativity, but Isaacson did a great job explaining the concepts (using Einstein's own thought experiments.) It was a really transcendent moment when time dilation really started making an intuitive sense.
Aside from the excellent relativity intro, the biography and politics of Einstein's life was interestingly portrayed. Most historic icons have their own trials, tribulations, and contradictions in life, and Einstein's were shown in a thorough manner. I especially enjoyed seeing his outlook on politics change over time, and Isaacson ability to show how Einstein's evolving views followed a central theme. On top of the politics, the examination of Einstein's religious views was also quite illuminating.(less)