This is a book that my dad had been telling me about for years. "It's about a guy who has a dice-based baseball game and during one of the games his fThis is a book that my dad had been telling me about for years. "It's about a guy who has a dice-based baseball game and during one of the games his favorite player is killed by a pitch," which sounded like a pretty interesting concept. I've always had this book in the back of my mind for some reason, and my brother's recent obsession with Strat-O-Matic baseball (a dice-based baseball game) finally made me pick it up.
This is not an ordinary baseball book and it's more of a commentary on the life of J. Henry Waugh, the main character, than baseball. After the Universal Baseball Assocation's (UBA) rising star Damon Rutherford pitches a perfect game Waugh sends him in, somewhat unrealistically he realizes, the next day to pitch again. The most rare roll of the dice on the game's Extraordinary Occurrences chart shows a mortal result for poor Rutherford and he is struck down dead by a pitch when he comes up to bat.
The traumatic event sends Waugh's life into a tailspin and the book turns dark. His obsession with the game becomes all-consuming. Conversations will real people begin to mix with the UBA in Waugh's mind and the reader's. The author, Robert Coover, blends imaginary conversations with UBA players into the description of the game that Waugh is playing. This serves to make the latter half of the book very confusing but does successfully give the impression that Waugh is certainly going nuts. Unfortunately, it also made me want to skim over large portions of the book. An unsatisfying ending didn't help much either. I can see how some people might consider this a good book but it ended up being a bit disappointing for me. Sorry dad. ...more
I knew absolutely nothing about this book before I cracked it open, which I realize is a bit hard to believe considering it's popularity. Because I muI knew absolutely nothing about this book before I cracked it open, which I realize is a bit hard to believe considering it's popularity. Because I must be one of the last people in the world to read it, and so I don't give anything away, I'll refrain from a detailed plot summary and just offer my opinion.
It was immediately apparent to me that Brown is not a spectacular writer and this told me that the popularity of the book is based on plot, not Brown's use of the English language. I don't mean to demean Brown's writing style, which is above average, but his strength clearly lies in plot development.
And what a plot it is. There is a twist or startling revelation in nearly every chapter, and that's what has made the book such a page-turner. The plot can be summed up simply: symbologist Robert Langdon and cryptologist Sopie Neveu decode various clues and riddles left by Neveu's murdered grandfather in order to find the answer to the secret that he had been protecting.
Along with most other people who have read it, I enthusiastically recommend "The Da Vinci Code" - just keep in mind what it says on the front cover: "A Novel"....more
I could feel my understanding of baseball changing as I turned each page of "Moneyball". Michael Lewis is a very good writer who explains how the smalI could feel my understanding of baseball changing as I turned each page of "Moneyball". Michael Lewis is a very good writer who explains how the small market Oaklad Athletics, managed by the irascible Billy Beane, took everything they knew about baseball and, with the help of people like Bill James, turned it upside down. Batting average is not important; on base percentage is. Drawing walks is preferable to being fast on the basepaths. They turned out to be right, and the A's won a lot of games (100+ in 2001 and 2002) and made it to the playoffs several years in a row.
The book is hardly all about statistics however, and Lewis provides biographies of several players by telling the personal stories of Jeremey Brown, Scott Hatteberg, Chad Bradford and Beane himself. The chapters about individual players and Beane's antics give the book the glue that holds it together and allows Lewis to blend in the statistics and theory without boring the reader.
The only notable drawback of this book is that it doesn't touch on the batting order. As I understand it, traditional baseball knowledge says that you put your fast runner first, a good bunter or hitter second, a high batting average player third, and your power hitter fourth. The goal is to get as many runners on base so that your cleanup hitter can drive everyone in. Considering that Beane does almost everything different than most general managers, I would guess that he has a very different way of putting together a lineup but, sadly, this is not mentioned in the book....more
In his book "In the Presence of Mine Enemies", Edward Ayers takes two typical counties during the Civil War, one from the South and one from the NorthIn his book "In the Presence of Mine Enemies", Edward Ayers takes two typical counties during the Civil War, one from the South and one from the North, and compares and contrasts them. In the early 90's, Ayers started the "Valley of the Shadow" project. After choosing two counties linked by the Shenandoah Valley, Franklin to the north of the Mason-Dixon line and Augusta to the south, Ayers obtained relevant documents from both counties during the Civil War period, transcribed them with the help of an army of UVA students, and put them all on the internet. The project alone is remarkable, and has become a valuable online resource for the war, but Ayers went a step further. He dug through the collection that he himself created and used selected resources to write a history that compares and contrasts the counties. His results in some cases are typical and fit the stereotypes for each side, but they are simply astonishing in others. What is most noticeable in the end is that the two counties weren't all that different at the start of the war, and both became almost completely devoted to the side they were fighting for.
Ayers has written a book that successfully uses micro-history to tell the reader about individual people and events while maintaining the wider context and relevance to the Civil War period as a whole. With "In the Presence of Mine Enemies" Ayers has made a valuable and lasting contribution to Civil War scholarship....more
"Undaunted Courage", by Stephen Ambrose details the journey of Lewis and Clark across the American frontier. I read this book at the perfect time beca"Undaunted Courage", by Stephen Ambrose details the journey of Lewis and Clark across the American frontier. I read this book at the perfect time because the 200th anniversary is this year and I recently traveled across much of the same ground that Lewis and Clark did. Ambrose, if a bit un-academic at some points, is a fantastic writer and he relates the tale of the journey of the Corps of Discovery in riveting fashion. I never understood all the fuss about the anniversary of the expedition but Ambrose brings the topic alive. Someone really ought to make a feature film about this expedition and base it on this book (the Imax film "Great Journey West", highly recommended, is as close as you can get for now).
Drawing heavily on the journals of the expedition, Ambrose goes into fascinating detail about the character of Merriweather Lewis, picturing him as a highly motivated and skilled explorer, naturalist and ethnographer. I had virtually no knowledge of Lewis before I read this book but I now see him as one of the most fascinating characters of American history. He and the others set out into the unknown, documented almost everything they saw, and lived to tell about it. The expedition made huge leaps forward in science, relations with the natives and geography. It's not hard to see how Lewis and Clark's journey changed America forever by expanding her borders and making the unknown of the frontier accessible to settlers.
I have newfound respect for all the men, woman and baby who took part in the expedition. They were perhaps the last true explorers, at least until humans land on Mars. Thanks to Ambrose, I now understand why the 200th anniversary is such a big deal. Whether you're travelling over the same ground or not, this book is a fascinating story worth reading....more
Noted Civil War historian Gary Gallagher takes on some of the common perceptions of the Civil War in this thoughtful historiography, "The ConfederateNoted Civil War historian Gary Gallagher takes on some of the common perceptions of the Civil War in this thoughtful historiography, "The Confederate War". He contends that Civil War historians look at the conflict by working backwards from Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and by examining why the South was defeated. Gallagher takes on the issue in a different way, looking at the conflict from beginning to end and detailing how the Confederacy was able to last so long in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.
Gallagher begins by looking at the previous works of other historians and sets forth his own hypotheses in three areas: popular will, nationalism, and military strategy. In the first, he looks at the widespread belief that the South lost the will to fight. Most historians contend that this occurred in the summer of 1863 after the dual defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Gallagher disagrees, and gives ample evidence that the South was still in favor of continuing the war. He even claims that, if anything, the South became more determined as the war stretched into '64 and '65. To prove his point, Gallagher looks at desertion rates and attacks the widely held theory that the Army of Northern Virginia was disintegrating during the Petersburg campaign. He argues that desertions occurred because soldiers were worried about the safety of their families in the face of the Union advance into Virginia, not because they were losing faith in the cause. He also contends that many soldiers actually returned to the front lines after ensuring the safety of their families.
As the war continued, and as the Confederacy became more desperate for troops, the idea of gradual emancipation was raised, even by such notables as Robert E. Lee. Gallagher uses this to show that the South was willing to do anything necessary to win the war; they were even willing to give up their basic social structure: slavery, in order to become an independent nation. At this point Gallagher brings up the idea of nationalism, and contends that civilians of the South felt a strong national identity. Furthermore, that sense of nationalism is due in large part to the Army of Northern Virginia and it's charismatic General Lee. Gallagher makes a strong case throughout the book that the Confederate people saw the army as the figurehead of the South.
Finally, Gallagher tackles military strategy. Historians often make the case that the Confederacy should have changed it's military strategy by waging a defensive campaign and by adopting guerilla warfare. Gallagher argues that these are flawed ideas, and this is the strongest portion of the book. Neither of these strategies would have been successful because they both lack inspiration. By waging a defensive war, the South would not have received the benefits of the morale boosts provided by Lee's army after victories like Chancellorsville and Fredricksburg. Gallagher uses Lee's first campaign as an example. During the Seven Days, he was nicknamed "King of Spades" because of his insistence on digging earthworks. During this time morale flagged in the South because Lee was waging a defensive campaign. Thereafter, he employed an aggressive offensive strategy which was mostly successful until Ulysses S. Grant took command in 1864.
Gallagher uses a similar argument to contend that a guerilla war would not have produced a Confederate victory. He goes through a long list of problems with this theory. Most importantly, there would be no massive army like Lee's to look up to, which would cause morale problems amongst the civilians of the South. A guerilla war would have caused problems with slavery and would have required ceding some territory to the Union because the very nature of a guerilla war is that it is fought against an occupying force. Also, the professional military would have been alienated and there would be almost no chance that the Confederacy would be recognized, much less supported, by European nations.
In summary, this book looks at some of the most common perceptions of the Confederacy which have been in place throughout this century and refutes them. However, Gallagher encounters the same problem of the historians that he is refuting, in that he is still generalizing. Of course he can find letters from the common Southerner that speak of "our country", but there are plenty of letters that support the opposite theory. Because of this, there will always be disagreements about what was in the hearts and minds of Southerners during the war. The strong point of this book is when Gallagher shows that Lee's army was the rallying point and figurehead for the Southern cause and that they followed the best strategy possible by more often than not taking the fight to the enemy, rather than letting the enemy come to them. In the end, the book once again shows just how important Lee and his army were to the Confederacy, and demonstrates that without his leadership and the inspiring effect he had on the populace, the war would certainly have ended much sooner....more
Originally a television show aired on the BBC in Britain, "Dreams of Iron and Steel" is TV presenter Deborah Cadbury's print version of the popular seOriginally a television show aired on the BBC in Britain, "Dreams of Iron and Steel" is TV presenter Deborah Cadbury's print version of the popular series. In it, she looks at seven wonders of the industrial age: the Great Eastern, London sewer system, Brooklyn Bridge, Panama Canal, transcontinental railroad, Bell Rock Lighthouse and Hoover Dam. Each modern marvel receives its own chapter in which Cadbury delves just deep enough into the topic to keep the reader informed and interested. She gives enough technical information to show the genius of each design, and tells of the common workers and the conditions they endured to build each of the seven wonders. If anything, Cadbury's book is as much about the people as it is the technology. And, considering the volumes that have been written about every one of the wonders in this book, she manages to narrow each one down to perhaps 40 or 50 pages, making "Dreams of Iron and Steel" a captivating read.
BBC History has a brief summary of it's popular series along with a gallery of images that were not put in the book....more
This book is unlike any other Civil War history that I've ever read as it deals not with battles, but with the politics of secession and the often-oveThis book is unlike any other Civil War history that I've ever read as it deals not with battles, but with the politics of secession and the often-overlooked events that led the North and South to full fledged civil war. With this micro-history approach, Lankford has composed an intricate, wonderfully written, day-by-day and sometimes hour-by-hour account of the crooked road to Civil War....more
This book was not very good. It was written by a park ranger who kills a rabbit within the boundary of a national park for no apparent reason. That woThis book was not very good. It was written by a park ranger who kills a rabbit within the boundary of a national park for no apparent reason. That would be a federal crime by the way. The incident basically confirmed my opinion of the author as a complete moron and total jerk....more
This is the first time I've read a detailed account of Grant's last days and it's only made me respect the guy even more. Perry writes simply but knowThis is the first time I've read a detailed account of Grant's last days and it's only made me respect the guy even more. Perry writes simply but knows how to tell the story without getting too academic....more
Although I once worked with Jim, the ranger who wrote this book, his writing style is a bit too conversational for my tastes. It feels like every sentAlthough I once worked with Jim, the ranger who wrote this book, his writing style is a bit too conversational for my tastes. It feels like every sentence is being delivered with a chuckle and it gets annoying after a while....more
The New York Public Library has elected to categorize "One Good Turn" as a mystery/crime novel as shown by the red skull sticker on the spine but I coThe New York Public Library has elected to categorize "One Good Turn" as a mystery/crime novel as shown by the red skull sticker on the spine but I contend that this is false advertising. The story, which takes place in Edinburgh over a few days of the Fringe Festival, is several narrative threads woven together around a road rage incident. But the book isn't actually about the crime. Instead, it's the stories of several characters who happened to be on the scene when the crime occurred.
Author Kate Atkinson takes the reader through each of the witnesses lives: the author who intervened in the incident, the former policeman who stumbles on the scene, the wife of a wealthy businessman, an investigator who shows up to solve the crime and a few other peripheral characters. Each have their flaws and idiosyncrasies and the reader will get to know them intimately as the story draws to its conclusion and we finally find out, on the last page, how they are all related.
Calling "One Good Turn" a crime or a mystery is inaccurate since the book doesn't have all that much action. Calling it a fantastic, engaging read would be a more suitable description. Don't miss this one. ...more