Down By The River Where The Dead Men Go; George P.
Pelecanos writes dark, violent crime stories centered in Washington DC, and starring his Greek (what else!) protagonist, Nick Stefanos, a bartender and private investigator, and a full-blown alcoholic. At the start of this book, Stefanos gets roaring drunk,and passes out on the bank of the Anacostia. He revives enough to be aware of a killing taking place nearby, and when he is finally awake and able to move, he finds the corpse of a young black, who has been executed. Feeling involved, he sets out to find out what went down. After many binges later, he does, and puts a violent finish to the gang, and later murders the head of the group. Not a fun book, but it is a well told yarn.
Honorable Enemies; Joe Weber
Weber writes novels about the military and high tech. In this one, a Japanese cruise ship, in Pearl Harbor near the ARIZONA, is taken under fire by an armed helicopter, painted to look like a traffic helicopter. The CIA and the FBI each appoint an agent to cooperate and find the guilty parties. Then, in Japan, a bus full of American tourists is incinerated by a flame thrower. Alternate outrages occur, and the USA and Japan move toward a war. All the episodes are in fact orchestrated by a Japanese, and the object is to do in the USA. This aim is eagerly supported by assorted Japanese politicians, and military officers. It is not all that good a story, not well told, and the plot is essentially old. It has no good to say of the Japanese, and plenty of bad. I don't object to that -- it massages my one of my predjudices -- but it here leads the author to improbable situations.
Rainbow's End; Martha Grimes
This is the latest of the detective novels that star New Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury. In this one, three women die seemingly unrelated deaths, but there develops a belief on the part of one of Jury's colleagues that they are related. The one thing the three have in common was a stay in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Jury takes off for Santa Fe, leaving his civilian friend, Melrose Plant, to pursue the deaths in England. The story oscillates between England and America. There are the familiar and somewhat strange characters, and peculiar semi-romantic relationships. The only character of real interest is a new one -- a 13 year old American girl whom Jury meets in New Mexico. These novels never quite work for me; among other things the characters seem cardboard cut- outs. This one is about par for the course.
Vertical Run; Joseph R. Garber
A vigorous, violent, action-suspense yarn that produces a deja-vu feeling. The hero is a successful executive, who starts out with a VERY bad day. His boss, and friend, walks into his office with a gun, and tries to kill him. Our hero thwarts the attempt, only to find two professionals in the hallway intent on the same thing. He eludes them, but finds there is a network of people in the building who are intent on killing him, and that his family is on the side of the killers! His day goes downhill from there. The yarn is essentially a chase scene, mostly set in a multistory office building. The hero must evade the killers, and try to find out why he is the target. Fortunately he is an ex Special-Services officer, and an expert at violent action and behind-the-lines reconnaissance. I think I saw something very similar in the movies once; Bruce Willis perhaps? It is a good, if unbelievable, action-adventure yarn, with our hero demolishing a large part of the opposition. Vaguely like Point of Impact.The last page suggests that a possible sequel will be in the works. Good yarn of the type.
Seven Experiments That Could Change The World: A Do-It Yourself Guide
To Revolutionary Science; Rupert Sheldrake
I skimmed through this book, pausing here and there to read pages. Sheldrake is a young biologist, technically part of the science establishment, but emotionally and critically apart from it. He is a believer in "morphic" fields and "morphic resonance," as mysterious physical entities that explain many things that he finds otherwise inexplicable. The latter are the things that he deals with in this book. He is really a new-age guru; a believer in astral projection and out-of-body experiences, psychic learning, and paranormal abilities. These are projected in the book via a series of subjects that he feels are inexplicable by modern science, and should thus be explored, by his readers -- he hopes. These include the "extraordinary powers of ordinary animals" -- which include dogs that know when their owners are returning, homing pigeons ability to home, the organization of termites etc.; the sense of being stared at; the phantom limb phenomena; etc. It is actually an interesting book, and discusses interesting puzzles of which quite a few are currently under study. However, I fear that to invite the reader to begin experiments will only perpetuate the "anecdotal" nature of the current evidence for many of the phenomena. Understand that I view this book through the eyes of an orthodox -- if irreverent -- former member of the science establishment, and a confirmed skeptic. Read the book to find some interesting ideas; just do not take the author's beliefs to heart. Remember there is no evidence at all of paranormal abilities, and where the "morphic resonance" idea has been subject to experiment, it has been found to be non-existent.
Fortress In The Eye Of Time;C.J.Cherryh
Ms. Cherryh writes both sci-fi and fantasy. I could not read her last sci-fi book Heavy Time, so I picked this up with some misgiving, even though it is labeled as fantasy. It is almost typical fantasy: the society is essentialy middle-ages feudal, complete with kings, castles, knights etc.; there is REAL magic and there are real WIZARDS, although now almost extinct; there are evil wizards; and there is sword slashing warfare. Ho Hum -- except for the idea of Cherryh's that makes all the difference: the last great wizard rares back at the very beginning of the story, and produces a SENDING, which turns out to be a grown young man, whom the wizard, Maurel, names Tristen. Tristen is ALMOST a tabula rasa (the exceptions are interesting and ultimately very important), and lives with Maurel in the foreboding and decayed ancient fortress, Ynefel, and learns about the world -- although not about magic. When Maurel's arch-enemy, a disincarnate evil wizard, overcomes Maurel and casts him in stone in the castle, Tristen sets out on foot to follow the road that Maurel had indicated to him. It leads him to Prince Cefwyn. Cefwyn is the oldest son of the reigning monarch, and living in an outlying territory, removed from the capitol. Cefwyn is having territorial problems, and difficulties with an adjoining land -- outside his father's kingdom. It becomes clear that Tristen is a SENDING, but no one knows what he is or what purpose Maurel had in creating him. The story follows the development of Tristen, and the fortunes of Cefwyn. I did not expect to really enjoy this 568 page story, but I did. Glad I picked it up!
The Health Robbers: A Close Look At Quackery In America;
edited by Stephan Barrett, M.D. and William
T. Jarvis, PhD.
This is the latest in a series called "Consumer Health Library" published by Prometheus Press -- the somewhat "rational" publisher. The other books are really along the same line, but tend to concentrate on one area. This is a summary of the whole scene. The 36 articles are written by various authors, and are unrelated. There is nevertheless some redundancy. The quality of the writing, and the quality of the articles vary widely, but it is an interesting book. It is, of course, from the point of view of orthodox medicine; but since that is the only documented and reliable one we have, the book is useful -- and a bit scary. For instance, the account of chiropractic makes it clear that the profession is probably mostly a scam -- but many people buy into it. A book that you can browse through, and from which you can learn a lot that may be helpful to your health -- and pocketbook. Of course if you believe in any of the listed frauds, you will probably be infuriated!
If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him; Sharyn McCrumb
The title is not related to the famous advice about meeting the Buddah; rather it has to do with a quotation from a battered woman: "If I'd killed him when I met him, I'd be out of prison now." This is the eighth novel that McCrumb has written about forensic anthropologist, Elizabeth McPherson, and her somewhat strange family. This centers around abused women, and Elizabeth's brother Bill, who is operating a new law firm with a feisty female attorney, A.P. Hill. Each attorney comes up with a complicated case. Bill takes on the case of Donna Jean Morgan, mistreated by her evangelist husband who brings home a second wife. When he dies of poison, Donna Jean is accused of murder. A.P. Hill takes on the case of Eleanor Royden, who cold bloodedly shot her ex-husband and his beautiful new wife, and is tickled pink that she did so -- and willing to say so to anyone! Elizabeth, mourning her husband, is an "investigator" for the law firm, and as the story goes on, finally gets involved in both the new poisoning case, and another circa the Civil War. There is a gratuitous jarring side bar that involves a young woman who wishes to marry a dolphin, and a lesser interjection involving Elizabeth's mother. For me, this is like others in this series: slightly disjointed, and vaguely disappointing, but with some interesting technical stuff. This is presumably a "funny" type, but McCrumb's dark side works its way through.
Death At La Fenice; Donna Leon
This mystery story was awarded "Japan's prestigious Suntory Prize for the best suspense novel of 1991." Don't know what the Japanese were thinking of. I don't think it is a suspense novel, and certainly not the best of 1991. Perhaps some inscrutable oriental wisdom was at work. It is actually an interesting police story that seems very uninteresting for a long time, then gradually gets the reader interested, and finally ends up as a neat story of implacable devastating revenge. The death is that of world famous composer Hellmut Wellauer, in the La Fenice Opera House in Vienna. At intermission he dies of cyanide poisoning, and it is up to Guido Brunetti, vice- commissioner of police, to sort through the clues, many enemies, and past history, and thus to gradually uncover the surprising truth -- and a moral dilemma. Stick with it; it turns into a neat story.But surely not the best suspense story of 1991!
Practical Magic; Alice Hoffman
This book is practically pure magic -- you will be spellbound by the first ten pages, and compelled to read the rest. It is the offbeat story of several generations of the gray-eyed Owens women; unusual women indeed. We meet orphaned Gillian and Sally as children, being raised by their maiden aunts, in the old Owens house on Magnolia Street. Their childhood is unusual to say the least; not only are the aunts unconventional --as are all the Owens women-- they are the local witches! That causes the girls many problems while growing up in a small town. They eventually leave the aunts (although they never quite escape witchcraft). Gillian, the sexpot, runs away; Sally falls in love in the town, marries, has two girls, loses her husband, and moves away in order to bring up her daughters in a "normal" way. They do visit the aunts however, once a year. Although she and her sister correspond, she essentially does not see Gillian again until her sister unexpectedly shows up one evening, driving a station wagon in which is the corpse of her latest, nasty, dope- dealing, criminal boyfriend. Gillian thinks she may have killed him by administering a potion that she learned from the aunts! The sisters bury Jimmy under a lilac bush in the dead of night, and Gillian stays on. The lilac bush grows and flowers unbelievably! The story follows the sisters, Sally's troublesome adolescent daughters, and their complex interrelationships, and the malevolent ghost of Jimmy. Ultimately a lawman comes looking for Jimmy, and the story reaches a climax -- and a happy ending. The storytelling is very good, although the author bounces around in tense and person, with most of the story in the third person present tense, which to my surprise works well. Fantasy is mixed with perceptive, poignant descriptions of growing up, touching emotions and family conflicts, with sex thrown in for good measure. Perhaps this is a Romance that casually segues into and out of magic? Naah --I don't read Romances, so it can't be one of those! Regardless: I found this a delightful yarn, and the Owens women are truly enchanting.
Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills; Russell L. Blaylock
Blaylock is an M.D., a neurosurgeon with excellent credentials, who has here written a passionate attack on several food additives in common use. In this polemical jeremiad he attacks monosodium glutamate [ACCENT], aspartame [NutraSweet], and Hydrolized Vegetable Protein (ubiquitous in bouillions and many other items). He carefully explains brain chemistry, and the effects of excitoxins, and methodically relates the items in question to neurodegenerative diseases: Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's, and Huntington's, as well as seizures, headaches etc. This is a very scary book if you use these additives, or consume foods that contain them. I have been a big user of ACCENT and preparations involving hydrolized vegetable protein -- but no longer. When I finished the book, I threw out my ACCENT, my GOYA seasoning, and several other things. I believe that the evidence may not be as compelling as the author feels, but if a man of his stature and experience felt that he had to write such a book -- with nothing to gain, and knowing the attacks that the food industry will certainly launch on it -- I will take his advice.
Iced; Carol Higgins Clark
I did not read this. I got to about page 25 with growing disbelief, and quit there. The writing to that point is about what one would expect from a literate junior in high school -- totally amateurish, and markedly juvenile. Clark is the daughter of Mary Higgins Clark, (surely her mother could have taught her how to do this stuff?) and this is her third novel in a series. It seems to have been a selection of the Mystery Guild, etc.; and we are told that her first novel was nominated for an award. Amazing. Perhaps this is really a neat story; I shall never know. My stomach wouldn't let me get into it!
Dark Sun:The Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb; Richard
A somewhat confusing title. It is a dense, 725 page history only partly dealing with American and Russian work on developing thermonuclear weapons (hydrogen bombs). The rest contains extensive, interesting, but frequently irrelevant material on the development of nuclear weapons (atomic bombs); nuclear weapon espionage in the United States; the deployment of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons; the chilling attitude of the Strategic Air Command, with its pit bulls: Curtis LeMay and the "hard, cruel, sadist": Thomas Power; the Oppenheimer affair; and the argument that there was significant harm ultimately inflicted on the United States by the attitudes, advice, and actions of Edward Teller. The book is roughly chronological, and alternates between work in the United States, and work in the Soviet Union. It is a fascinating, revealing, chilling, and sometimes confused work that is slow reading. It is well written. A major problem the author had was organizing the multi-strand history, and that problem was never completely solved it seems to me, but the information is there - although some of it is to be taken with a large grain of salt. The story of the US development is good, but there is more that could have been included. The inclusion of all the espionage stuff makes for interesting reading, but essentially had nothing to do with the Russian development of their hydrogen bomb. Also, the author has significantly abridged the story of the final Russian work on the H-bomb. We are told in detail (but without a complete explanation) of Andre Sakharov's "layer cake" configuration (really a boosted weapon), but there is only a mention of the Russian evolution of (essentially) the Ulam-Teller concept that led to the first "true" H-bomb configuration. The inclined technical reader will find it very desirable to supplement this book with Stalin And The Bomb (David Halliday) (see above). I was surprised to see Rhodes indicate that an old colleague of mine (Krause,[Ernst]) was at Los Alamos. In fact he was at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. There are a few other minor things that are not quite right -- because of classification problems I suspect. The index could be better too. Minor quibbles about an interesting read.
The Melatonin Miracle: Nature's Age-Reversing, Disease-Fighting,
Sex-Enhancing Hormone; Walter Pierpoli
and William Regulson with Carol Colman.
It is all absolutely true -- for mice! No good data for people!
The Last Coyote; Michael Connelly
Wonderful. Conelly writes police stories that are exactly the kind of yarns I think are great. I thought his last book The Concrete Blond was great; (see above) and I think that this is better. Connelly's protagonist is LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) detective Harry (Hieronomous) Bosh, an honest, dedicated policeman who is pretty much an unconventional loner (related to the title). In this book he is on the edge of a breakdown under stress. An earthquake has ruined his house, his girlfriend has left him, he has had to turn in his badge and gun, he is on forced leave from the Department for pushing his commanding officer through a pane of glass, and he is required to visit a department psychiatrist for therapy and evaluation before he can return to the Job. Harry visits the psychiatrist - female and good at her job -- and decides that in his now mandatory free time he will investigate the 1961 murder of his mother -- a prostitute -- when Harry was 12. His psychiatrist warns against it -- a Pandora's Box. Of course Harry does it. The story is of Harry's investigation of the decades-old murder, and the twisted paths that he travels towards the final solving of his mother's killing. Gradually it appears that there was in fact a cover-up at high levels, probably even in the LAPD; and Harry does not know which high level officers he can trust. I stayed up well past my bedtime to finish this gripping, suspenseful story. True, I am a sucker for "old crimes reinvestigated" stories, but I think that my bias does not predjudice my feeling that this is a truly first-class story. As with other novels of Connelly's, the solid factual solution falls apart in the final pages to reveal to Harry, and the reader, the final unexpected solution. There is more to this than just a very good police/suspense story. It is about a good man, traumatised by his youthful experiences, and his discovery of himself with the aid of a compassionate therapist. It is touching and very poignant in spots. It is also a dandy thriller. Don't miss it.
The Castle Of Indolence: On Poetry, Poets, and Poetasters; Thomas
I do not read modern poetry. I didn't like the work of Ezra Pound or most of T.S. Eliot (with one notable exception of course: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats), and almost all of the little modern poetry that I have read since then I did not understand, nor like (with the exception of Robert Frost)* Thus I did not know that Disch was a poet! I knew he was a prolific novelist, and I picked up this book, a little puzzled by the subtitle. First I was startled by the jacket picture. A grabber -- the picture shows a powerful, mephistophelian face, with an ear stud, and two folded hefty forearms sporting vivid extensive tattoos! Talk about your stereotype biker -- it is clear Disch just got off his Harley! Next I was astounded to find out that he is a well published poet, and a respected (and reviled) reviewer of poetry. This book [the title of which was lifted from James Thompson, an 18th century poet] is a collection of several essays on poets and poetry, and quite a few reviews of poetry. I found it slow going, and fascinating. Some years ago I took a course in speed reading, and it worked, so I read at a very high speed. But not this. This I read sentence by sentence for a number of reasons: the prose is so good, I wanted to savor it; the subject matter is not something that can be skimmed over, and the man uses vast numbers of words that I never knew existed. A dictionary is a must -- and if it is not unabridged, you will not find some words. That was fairly irritating, and the fact that I stuck with the book shows how much I enjoyed reading it -- in my old age I do not readily tolerate irritations. Despite the fact that I know nothing of modern poetry, and know none of the poets mentioned, I really enjoyed the book. Disch is a master of English, has a gift for phrasing, seems to have read everything in the world (and remembers it), is almost too erudite for the reader's comfort, and has a mildly reverent approach to what he considers good poetry, sharp words for bad poetry, and an irreverant approach to poets in general. He has praise, but also some of the sharpest, funniest critical zingers that you will encounter. I laughed out loud in places. It is a joy to watch a brilliant mind and writer at work, but it can also be a traumatic experience to realize how relatively ungifted you are! I MIGHT actually try (cautiously) to read several of the poets that he discusses. Great, enlightening experience. *Note: One does have interesting moments of revelation. After I wrote this note, I sat down to listen again with pleasure to Paul Simon's wonderful GRACELAND CD (an old recording, which I just learned about from my daughter). I was suddenly struck by the astounding fact that I was listening to modern poetry set to a Ladysmith Black Mambazo African beat - - and feeling I understood it! I dug out the sheet for the CD and read Simon's lyrics. They are just the sort of thing that I felt I could not understand in modern poetry! In one sense I still don't -- but when Simon sings them, damned if they don't make some kind of sense. I suppose for me it is the synthesis of words and music, but perhaps it is what properly-tuned-in readers get just from reading poetry. If so, I envy them. Maybe it can be learned. I have to re-think my attitude.
Ill Wind; Nevada Barr
Nevada Barr is a Park Ranger, creator of the fictional Anna Pigeon (also a Park Ranger), and a first class story teller. She has again created a very interesting and entertaining mystery which is interwoven with expert dilineation of complex characters (Anna is especially well portrayed, and a complex, interesting woman), authentic backgrounds, and interesting social and political portraits -- especially of the Park Service. In this, the setting is Mesa Verde, original home of the mysterious Old Ones - the Anasazi, who vanished without a trace from their intricate cliff dwellings. Barr weaves a fascinating tale of the Rangers, the Interpreters, and the other officials in the park, members of a construction crew there to tear up part of the mesa, and two families. There are strange happenings, and a large increase in tourists collapsing in the ruins, and having to be stretchered out. When one of the staff is found dead in the ruins, an FBI investigation begins; the agent is one whom Anna has known in the past. This is a story of mood, emotions, reality, and a little bit of near fantasy, and the reader is neatly drawn into the lives of the characters and the mystery. The Mesa Verde Anasazi ruins are vividly evoked, and although it has been some years since I last visited there -- I was carried back instantly. Barr has much action take place at night, and there is a wonderful eerie mood invoked in those scenes. That too carried me back to some scary nights in the desert! I am impressed by this story -- missed my bedtime because I was reading slowly rather than at high speed! I was so caught up with the lovely deformed child Bella, and her wonderful aunt (who could have been a witch created by Alice Hoffman !), that I was distressed when they sort of vanished from the book at the end. Life is like that of course -- but I WOULD have liked to follow them further. Maybe another novel?
Listening to America: Twenty-five Years in the Life of a Nation as
Heard on National Public Radio; Linda Wertheimer,ed.
1995 was the 20th anniversary of National Public Radio, and Linda Wertheimer, who was there when it started, has published material culled from broadcasts during those 25 years. There is a set of photos of the staff of various shows over the years. To the excerpts Wertheimer has added her commentary, and one bit in the middle describes the problem "... you can't read radio...", and although she adds "...with the exception of this book", the first statement holds here too. It is interesting to read here and there, but it was impossible for me to read steadily through it. Actually, her commentary is quite interesting, but the broadcasts just lie there -- mostly. There is at least one exception: a heartwrending narration by a man who placed his elderly father in a nursing home. Otherwise it is of minor passing interest -- and serves mostly as brief reminders of some of the history of the past 25 years; but what a LOT of work it must have been. It was clearly a labor of love.
'Subtle is the Lord...':The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein;
Another labor of love; a specialist book, and one I should have really known about when it was published in 1982 -- but didn't. Pais, a world class physicist in his own right, and friend of Einstein, completed a tour de force when he wrote this. In a dense 550 pages, he gives a beautiful account of: 1.The world of physics before and during the life of Einstein 2.The major players in the science 3.The life, thoughts, and inspiration of Einstein and 4.The overwhelming influence of Einstein on science. I was astounded to realize the tremendous amount of pioneering work that Einstein did in ALL the major fields of physics.I thoght I knew his contributions, only to find that I had not really an inkling of his work! I was enthralled by the tale. The organization of the book must have presented what I would have thought of as an almost insuperable task; Pais has accomplished it. It is a frequently re- entrant tale, but somehow it seems integral and coherent. Mind you this is really a physicist's book, although Pais has cleverly arranged a map for the unskilled-in-science reader who is interested mainly in Einstein's life: he has indicated, in the extensive table of contents, italicized entries which yield up the life (somewhat sketchy here) of Einstein. For those somewhat familiar with (if not really skilled in) thermodynamics, atomic theory, statistical mechanics, relativity, quantum mechanics, electromagnetic theory, and unified field theory) the author gives a fascinating detailed technical dilineation of the history and progress of the physics of the times, and indications of the state of the art in 1980. That is when I lost touch with those worlds (which I only knew as a casual visitor). So this was a great discovery for me. It is a superb job, covering a very broad and difficult subject.
Telling The Truth; Lynne V. Cheney
Warning: this book may be dangerous to your health -- it may raise your bloodpressure to dangerous levels! Cheney was Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities for 6 years, and that brought her head on in conflict with some of the things that she discusses here. Basically -- and correctly -- she notes that facts, and truth, are no longer considered of any importance. History, Law, Scholarship -- all are concerned with the advancement of political points of view or agenda -- and insist that truth and facts are all relative. Under the banners of multi- culturism, feminism, critical legalism, critical race theory -- proponents blithly lie, and if accused of it, blandly attack the critics! My personal observation of the current Afro-Centrism proponents is in agreement: they are pseudo historians who are ignorant of scholarship, but who propose myths that purport to be historical truths, and viciously attack good historians who take issue with them; not by factual refutation, but by accusations of racism. The problem is that competent black scholars fear to undertake the refutation! Political correctness is only a small part at the erosion of truth in our society. Cheney has her own axes to grind from her period as Chairman, but she is essentially right on in most of this book. It is a very frightening book, and one that invokes in the reader feelings of outrage and anger -- and even fear. Read it.
The Nightingale's Song; Robert Timberg
This non- fictionl book surprised, enthralled, and impressed me. I brought it home with mixed feelings engendered by the cover and jacket; flipped through it and decided my negative feelings were probably right, then sat down to read my obligatory 100 pages. To my truly great surprise, I was caught up competely in the narrative. Not only is it a fascinating book, but it is a remarkable one. Timburg is a journalist, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and a Marine veteran of the Viet Nam conflict. He has written about five other graduates of the Academy, also veterans of Viet Nam: John McCain, James Webb, Oliver North, Bud McFarlane, and John Poindexter. He interweaves the detailed stories of their lives and careers, and the history of the country. We learn the great strengths, the great abilities, the remarkable courage, the great ambitions, and many of the human weaknesses of these men, in what is at times almost a classical Greek tragedy. To understand this complicated, engrossing book, one MUST read the fascinating prologue in which the author describes his intent, the motivation that he at first did not realize he had, and the way in which the book changed on him. The title is, the reader will see, a great one. Let me just note briefly here that the concept is that these five warriers were molded by their Academy experience, and by their Viet Nam experience, and were then inspired or enabled by Ronald Reagan's views of American warriors to actions that changed the United States. The author was (originally) very bitter about the fact that men such as his protagonists (and himself, one supposes) fought and bled for the United States, while those who criticized them had stayed home in luxury, like Jane Fonda, dodged the draft in one way or another, or were simply REMF's (rear echelon mother-......). He despises Robert McNamera and his Whiz kids, and has contempt for that "amiable dunce" Ronald Reagan, a "ditzy" man, with the "attention span of a fruitfly" [and most likely, I think, already showing signs of Alzheimer's]. He discovered that he REALLY undertook the book to use the five men to say things that HE needed to say and had repressed, and then found that simply would not work! The book surpasses all those things -- but one must realize that they are still there in some way. This could not really be a dispassionate work, and is not, although the author does a good job of trying to view his subjects objectively. But it is a thoroughly fascinating, well- researched work that gives remarkable portraits of the men (and indirectly of the author!), is persuasive in discussing motivation, is incisive in analysis of the individuals, and revealing in looking at what separated the warriors from the stay-at-homes. A complicated, riveting book. Not to be missed; it is one of the great books of the time. And Olly North is a SCARY guy!
Breaking Ranks; Ed Ruggero,
Ruggero is an ex infantry officer, who writes good military yarns. In this one we meet career Army Major Mark Isen, field soldier, who is working in the Pentagon on the Army Staff. As the story starts, Isen is attending the Arlington military funeral of a young Airborne lieutenant who comitted suicide at Fort Bragg. He is asked by an old acquaintence, Major General Patrick Flynn, to go to Fort Bragg and look into the death -- the deceased was a relative of Flynn's. Isen is no investigator, but he goes. He encounters hostility - from the batallion commanded by Lt. Col. Viers -- the deceased's commanding officer, and from the young, inexperienced female CID investigator who was in charge of the case. The only welcome - a warm one - is from a previous acquaintance, a female Major in the 82nd Airborne. Isen plugs away, and gradually the case begins to become suspicious -- key individuals are suddenly transfered out, one witness is beaten up, a cover-up of some sort seems to be underway, and Lt. Col. Viers dark side is gradually uncovered, Isen, his friend the female Major, and the CID investigator gradually unravel the case, under great pressure from the Army to leave it alone. It is a taut, exciting investigative story, with interesting and likeable protagonists. Another very good yarn from this author.
Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who Have Lived Through
it; Studs Terkel
This is the latest by the man who pretty much established oral history in the mind of the average reader. It seems (according to the jacket) to be a sequel to a work published in 1974 -Working, a book I have not read. It is a set of histories related by people in their seventies, eighties and nineties - - a bracket into which I fit; and to my surprise I found it was not appealing to me! After a bit I realized that it was that I could find no empathic ties to most of the speakers (well, hardly any; the comments about mental and physical infirmities did resonate!). The dedication "To those old ones who still do battles with dragons" outlines the problem: these people have all done battles with dragons, and many are still so engaged. Almost all were (are) agitators against social injustices -- a large number of them labor agitators; I presume that is because they are carry-overs from the first book about working people. I could not identify. Mind you there are several that I found very interesting -- non labor types; but one can encounter second-hand burn-out from vicariously fighting ALL the social injustices in the country! I have enjoyed other works of Terkel, but not this one.
Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost Civilization;
I skimmed through this book, which is very interesting in places. Basically it is a Erich von Daniken (Chariots of the Gods), or Immanuel Velikovsky (Worlds in Collision) type of book: the marshalling of a variety of archaeological information, and folk tales or legends, into the construction of a theory that purports to explain a lot of supposed mysteries. In this one, Hancock's structure is that of a scientifically knowledgeable civilization which was present in Antartica (mild in those days), and which perished about 12,000 BCE. The civilization knew that catastrophe would strike the world, so it arranged to store scientific information in various parts of the world, e.g. in South and Central America, and in Egypt. And it sent emissaries to the various places to teach people how to be civilized. The author marshals a LARGE number of things to lead to this conjecture: presumably inexplicable old maps (showing things he considers impossible for the map makers to have known on their own); the seeming appearance of certain relevant numbers in various cultures; legends in the Americas of the arrival of bearded light skinned teachers; the belief that the Sphinx and the pyramids at Gizeh are far older than has been believed; the argument that the three pyramids in fact are laid out to match the three stars in the belt of Orion, as seen in about 12,000 BCE, etc. Be sure to note how VERY OFTEN the phrases "is it just a coincidence that...," "could it be that...," "could it have been that...," "looks as though...," etc.. The reader will find titillating stuff here, but it should be treated with skepticism. When all is finished, the author has postulated a civilization which presumably encoded astronomical earth precessional information so that we would find it and be impressed by the fact that it was done. Sort of "Kilroy was here". With an additional twist: it might also demonstrate that another cataclysmic event will occur on earth in the year 2000 or so -- a flip of the earth's axis. I am a skeptic about things like this, but it is just too much work to try to find out how much of this stuff has some basis in fact. There are some interesting points about some thirteenth and fourteenth century maps, and the parallel myths in this hemisphere about visitors like Quetzalcoatl have always intrigued me; but I think I shall cast this book as an interesting exercise of the author's vivid imagination.
The Takeover; Stephen W. Frey
Frey is an investment banker, familiar with mergers and acquisitions, who has written this, his first novel, about an investment banker who is an expert on mergers and acquisitions. I did not like the book very much. The writing is awkward at times, as is the storytelling. The characters are ultimately neither engaging nor interesting. It is the story of Andrew Falcon, competent new partner in a prestigious banking firm, who decides to quit the firm and open a business. The head of the firm is furious at his departure, and the rest of the book is the story of the head's machinations to ruin Falcon. The plan involves a major operation to cause the incumbent President of the United States to lose the forthcoming election by involving him with a business scandal that is deliberately engineered. This breathtaking scheme is being engineered by the mysterious and powerful "Seven" -- a secret group of Yale graduates who are rich and powerful, and intend that the country go in a direction that will keep them that way (sort of secret Republican Congressmen).(The "Seven" fillip is an amateur version of the secret society in the excellent Shelly's Heart by Charles McCarry). Falcon, whose business has failed (because of sabotage it happens), is hired by a company to arrange the takeover of an American firm by a German one. In the process, he is being set up for a prison term. He gradually learns about this, and thwarts his enemy. The author's inexperience at storytelling shows strongly, but his arcane information about banking is abundant.
The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British
Isles From 500 to 1500; Sherrilyn Kenyon
An interesting book that seems at first somewhat unsatisfying. The author, apparently an amateur rather than a scholar, has accumulated a miscellany of information about the period, and has produced a sort of a handbook reference for people who want or need to have some knowledge of the life and times - presumably most of them are writers who have decided to place their work in the period. There are interesting omissions; for example there is no discussion of personal hygene, or of sanitary facilities. The only way you would know from this book that people of the period had to use toilets is the presence of the term "Garderobe, Garde Robe" in a list of terms associated with castles. The term means "privy." On the other hand, since writers almost universally ignore the fact that people have calls of nature, perhaps it is not important to cover the matter in this book for writers! In fact, it is essential to realize that the book is exactly what the title says, and that it is not a history. The author provides a very good set of "further reading" references at the end of each chapter for those who wish to explore the subject and the history. The book does a very good job of providing the designated audience with most of what would be needed. The index however is a disgrace for this type of work.
Doctors and Lawyers and Such; Susan Rogers Cooper
This is the sixth "Milt Kovak" story. The protagonist is the sheriff in Prophecy County, Oklahoma, and the stories involve homicides. They are technically police procedurals, but Cooper has also made them into a study of a complex and interesting series of relationships between Milt Kovak and others. The stories are told in the first person. They are not feel-good, nor are they routine procedurals. They involve pretty real emotions, and even tragic events. The people are real, and their problems are treated compassionately. In this one, Kavak deals with two problems: a remarkable increase in the number of suicides in the area, and the brutal murder of a pregnant female TV personality who married a local boy, and moved to Prophecy County. While working these problems, Kovak and his wife, a local psychiatrist are awaiting the birth of their first child -- an event of major significance to the two over-age people. About three fourths of the way through the story, the reader will probably figure out the homocide problem, but it is still a good story. I like Kovak, and I like these stories.
Who Wrote the Bible?; Richard Elliott Friedman
Professor Friedman is a well known Bible scholar, and has written here an exposition of his long study of the Old Testament, and his persuasive conclusions about the authors of material in that volume. It is a fascinating detective story, which involves the history and politics of the times, and which differs from much of the conventional theory. It is probably going to be controversial -- given the contentious nature of scholars -- but this reader was convinced as well as impressed. It is not a book for skimming through, but if the subject matter is of interest to you, you will find it a fascinating, and very informative work. Friedman has just published a new book entitled:The Disappearance of God, another examination of the Old Testament with respect to the gradual ceasing of the appearances of God in the scriptures. Can't wait to read it!
Independence Day; Richard Ford
This is a sequel to a book that I have not read:The Sportswriter. After reading this fascinating novel, I am anxious to read the earlier one. This book is a first person recounting of the activities and thoughts of Frank Bascombe during four days culminating on the fourth of July during the year that George Bush was ultimately elected. Frank is a well- off real estate salesman living and working in Haddam, New Jersey. He owns a couple of rental houses -- in a black neighborhood -- and a root beer stand elsewhere. He has been divorced for seven years. His ex-wife has remarried, and she and their two children have moved from the town. Frank has a girlfriend. As we enter the story, Frank is winding up some business before driving to pick up his adolescent son, to take him on a wide ranging drive covering such places as the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is hoping to establish a connection with his son, who is clearly having significant emotional problems, and is not, to the reader, a very likeable child. We follow Frank through what may be a break up with his lady, a showing of a house to two unpleasant clients, a visit to his root-beer stand, a trip to his ex-wife's home, and the trip with his son; the latter ends when his son suffers severe damage to one eye. Sounds uninteresting, right? Don't believe it for a minute. There is really no plot to this beautifully told account of the world, the thoughts, and the memories of a nice, observant, somewhat bewildered man, but it is a delight.
The Lost World; Michael Crichton
This sequel, the title from Arthur Conan Doyle, is essentially Jurassic Park revisited. It seems that unusual creatures are being found, dead, on the shores of Costa Rica. This is of interest to Richard Levy, a very rich young paleontologist who is an expert on dinosaurs, and to mathematician Ian Malcolm, who gradually becomes a friend and colleague of Levy. They are also of interest to Lewis Dodgson, unscrupulous head of a genetics company called Biosyn. The time is six years after the Jurassic Park disaster. Dodgson wants to restart the work that had been done by the Ingen corporation, which had developed the dinosaurs. The others are interested in the dinosaurs for scientific reasons. Malcolm, it may be remembered, was in the preceding novel. It turns out that the original island that housed the Jurassic Park was not really the place where the dinosaurs were produced; that was on another secret island which was abandoned by Ingen. That island is now over run with dinosaurs, a real "Lost World". Levy, Malcolm, and several specialist friends, as well as two children who stow away on the trip, end up on the island as do representatives of Biosyn - including Dodgson. There ensues another, more intense than in the earlier book, struggle of humans plus technology against the critters. Some interesting comments on evolution, but otherwise an action- adventure yarn as before. Seems slightly more tedious, but I may have read it at a bad time!
Horse of a Different Killer;Jody Jaffe
A surprisingly good first novel. Surprising in that the theme -- murder in the world of horses and riders -- is a much overworked one, and surprising in that this new mystery writer tells a story very well. She is a journalist who is a rider in horse shows, and she has written a novel about a journalist who is a rider in horse shows: Natalie Gold, a red haired Jew from New Jersey, who is living in the Southern world of Charlotte, where she is a fashion reporter on a local newspaper. She also owns a horse, which she rides and shows. The story opens with the deaths of a trainer and a horse. She is asked to help the male reporter assigned to the story because she is knowledgeable about the world of horses and horse people. She becomes a partner in the investigation, which encompasses several murders before it is concluded. The story involves both the world of the newspaper, and the interesting horse world, and the reader meets a bunch of nice and interesting people. It is a nifty yarn.
Beowulf's Children; Larry Niven, Jerry
Pournelle, Steven Barnes
About ten years ago these three authors wrote a dandy action-adventure SF yarn -"The Legacy of Heorot" -- in which a group of several hundred colonists from Earth find a lovely planet around Tau Ceti, settle on an island, and are almost demolished by an unforseen upsetting of the planet's environment. They made an ecological mistake, which led to a vast increase in the numbers of a superfast, vicious predator, which they named a "grendel", after the monster slain by Beowulf. By the skin of their teeth they survived, and killed all the grendels on the island -- becoming the equivalent therefore of Beowulf. (Heorot was of course the castle in the epic "Beowulf"). In the current story, twenty years have passed. There are now two generations of humans on the island: original colonists (Earthborn) and their children, the children of Beowulf (Starborn). There are great differences in the two groups, and the book is in a sense a perceptive recounting of the usual generational differences, and frictions, which are enhanced by the unusual circumstances of the exploring colony, and by the fact that the hibernation process that all the Earthborn went through caused varying amounts of brain damage. As there begins to develop a strange change in the environment, and peculiar explosions occur in remote automated mines on the mainland, the Starborn push for an exploratory settlement (with the intent of ultimately having their OWN colony) on the mainland (where grendels still live), and one is established. The Earthborn are very wary of the planet -- having been nearly exterminated 20 years earlier -- but go along. The story explores the very interesting culture that has developed on the island, the complex and interesting people in that culture, the exploration of the continent, the ambitions of one charismatic Starborn to found a new colony on the mainland -- for Starborn, and a second vicious unsuspected threat to the humans by the environment of the planet. It is, I think, even more interesting than the first novel. It is difficult to believe that such good story telling can be done by THREE authors; but somehow they did it.
The Seven Wonders of the World: A History of the Modern Imagination;
John & Elizabeth Romer
When I was young, I found that the most fascinating books my father had were in a four volume, lavishly illustrated set called "Wonders of the Ancient World," an account of archaeology as it was known in the early twenties. Listed, among many other things, were accounts of the seven wonders of the world. I have never forgot them. Thus I had to take home this volume. The book is 244 pages long. If one were to describe most of the known facts about the seven wonders of the ancient world, it would probably occupy 20 to 30 pages at most, so there is a lot more than that in this volume. In fact it is a somewhat rambling account not only of the seven wonders, but of the civilization of the times, factors surrounding the design, construction, and demolition of the items, architecture of the times, architects, historical writers and their accounts of the wonders, accounts of the changing lists of the wonders of the world (I guess I had not known that the currently accepted list was not always THE list of world wonders), a look at the fascination of humans for such lists, and a hodgepodge of related subjects. It seems somewhat disjointed at times, and I suspect that this might be the result of compiling this book from a TV script; and the arrangement of illustrations is just as disjointed, and occasionally baffling. It can be frustrating. For example: I couldn't determine exactly when and where the currently accepted list became accepted, and who in fact compiled THIS list for the first time -- this despite a discussion of about twenty such lists. Don't get me wrong, I found this to be a very interesting book, and I learned quite a few things. For instance: Nashville has an Athena Parthenos, complete with a statue of Athena; mausoleums are named after King Mausolus who was buried in the Mausoleum at Halicarnussus (surely I must have known that from my father's books!); the myth that gave the name to the Colosseum in Rome, etc..If you like this sort of stuff, you will find this very interesting -- if a bit irritating at times. It has an excellent bibliography, and an adequate index.
The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery; Richard Elliot Friedman
[Little,Brown and Co.;1995; IBSN 0- 316-29434-9]
A delight. Friedman is a well known biblical scholar, an authority on the Old Testament, who has written here, in three parts, about three mysteries. In fact, I suspect that he probably wrote the three parts somewhat independently of each other, and then fitted them together in this book. The first part is entitled "The Disappearance of God in the Bible", and is a fascinating recounting of how, over time, God withdraws from commanding and helping mankind, and mankind assumes more and more responsibility for its own actions. The second part entitled "Nietzsche at Turin" is an intricate discussion of Nietzsche as an early and best known exponent of the "God is dead" philosophy, with a discussion of almost eery parallels with Dostoevsky, and illustrative of the resurfacing of the disappearance of God in the 19th century. The third part is entitled "Big Bang and Kabbalah", and is concerned with the possibility that science, which has helped cause God to disappear, may be on the edge of an intersection with religion, and a new comprehension of God, and that there is an interesting parallel in the Jewish mystical Kabbalah. To my great surprise, some of this sounds like the strange stuff written by Frank Tipton in The Physics of Immortality (see above).Friedman writes beautifully, and leads the reader carefully through his thinking, opinions, and guesses, which culminate in a dire warning that there is not much time left for us to rediscover God. He progresses from clearcut biblical scholarship in part one, to psychology and theology in part two, and theology and mysticism in part three. As one would expect, Professor Friedman provides extensive and helpful notes, a complete bibliography of references cited, and a very good index. A fascinating work indeed.