It’s been a little over six months since my last Bookshelf Post, so I suppose it’s as good a time as any to bring you, my Esteemed Readers, up to date on the books I’ve been reading.
As I pointed out in my last bookly summary, the above photo is somewhat misleading, filled as it is with Dead Trees. More and more I find myself gravitating toward books in electronic form: This past six months, exactly half of my reading has moved to my iPad and iPhone. Electronic books are eminently portable, and new ones can be delivered unto my devices in seconds at the touch of a button (or, more likely, the click of a mouse, accompanied by the instant drainage of bank account.) When I use my iPad, I can read in the dead of night without the need for a reading lamp... and I can adjust the size of the font all the way from microscopic to Old Blind Guy. Hardcopy books, on the other hand, still deliver a more satisfactory tactile experience... and when the electrical supply fails, I can still read by natural light.So there’s that.
Enough prefatory drivel! Here are the last few months’ worth of reads, with electronic versions marked with an asterisk:
- Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety - Eric Schlosser
This book will scare the ever-loving crap out of you. The Damascus accident is not something that took place in Syria - it was a fire in a Titan II missile silo that came very close to wiping Arkansas off the map. And it is by far not the only close call involving our arsenal of Doomsday Weaponry. When you learn how vulnerable nuclear weapons are to simple accidents, you realize that it is a thoroughgoing wonder that in the time since these devices were invented almost seventy years ago, there has not been an accidental nuclear detonation. Yet.
- Relish: My Life in the Kitchen - Lucy Knisley
Lucy Kinsley tells the story of growing up and being exposed to Good Food in an unusual combination of memoir, graphic novel, and cookbook.
- Insane City* - Dave Barry
Nobody captures the complete nuttiness of south Florida quite like Dave Barry. This novel includes Haitian refugees, a giant snake, a horny orangutan, a billionaire, and a good-intentioned, somewhat nebbishy young man who is trying to juggle all of the above without blowing his Big Wedding.
- Doctor Sleep* - Stephen King
The long-awaited follow-up to The Shining, one of King’s great novels from the 1970’s, catches up with Danny Torrance many years after the horrific events in The Overlook. Informed by the author’s own struggles with alcoholism, it’s vintage King: horror, but with a warm heart beating at its core.
- Fate is the Hunter - Ernest K. Gann
Ernest K. Gann, author of The High and the Mighty, recounts his adventures as a pilot in the early days of commercial aviation... a considerably more hazardous business then than now, and as always one that requires grace under pressure, the ability to make quick decisions, and a cool head.
- The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets* - Simon Singh
Given that the writing staff for “The Simpsons” has an exceptionally large percentage of talented mathematicians, it is hardly surprising that they would cram all kinds of subtle (and not-so-subtle) mathematical jokes into the show. This book has the lowdown on the ones you saw... and the ones you may not have noticed.
- Tartine Bread* - Chad Robertson
Chad Robertson, the mad genius behind the Tartine Bakery in (where else?) coastal California, shares his knowledge on making amazing sourdough breads. It has become my sourdough bible, and it’s where I learned to make great sourdough boules, baguettes, and English muffins.
- Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II* - Mitchell Zuckoff
The adventures of a band of American soldiers stranded on the Greenland ice cap during World War II... and of the salvors who, half a century later, searched for and located their wrecked plane.
- As a Driven Leaf - Milton Steinberg
A novel set during the early Rabbinic period, this is the story of the moral and intellectual struggles of a scholar who, disillusioned with the faith of his people, seeks enlightenment among the pagan Romans who occupy their land.
- Russka*- Edward Rutherfurd
A novel of sweeping historical scope and turgid phrase, this book nevertheless provides the reader with some insight into the history of both Russia and the Ukraine and the fraught relationship between the two.
- The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese* - Michael Paterniti
The title says it all. After having read this book, I want to live in Spain where I can drink wine and eat cheese.
- A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance - Portrait of an Age* - William Manchester
Manchester puts forth the thesis that Ferdinand Magellan’s historic voyage - his expedition succeeded in circumnavigating the globe, even if Magellan himself did not survive it - spelled the end of the Dark and Middle Ages, a lengthy period that is in itself an instructive cautionary tale concerning the effects of an insufficient separation of Church and State. An excellent book that has an enormous amount of information about just how nasty things were Back in the Day.
- Calculating God*- Robert J. Sawyer
Aliens arrive in Toronto (yes, Toronto), looking not to meet our leader but to study prehistoric extinction events in an effort to better understand the nature of God.
- The Stars My Destination* - Alfred Bester
A science fiction classic from the 1950’s that introduced the idea of teleportation by mental power alone (the “Jaunte”), it’s one that I had managed never to read... until now.
- The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker
A love story involving characters of very different backgrounds. This is Helene Wecker’s debut novel; I believe it is the beginning of a fine career as a novelist.
- The Man Who Ate Everything - Jeffrey Steingarten
Jeffrey Steingarten manages to overcome his loathing of Greek food after he is appointed food editor of Vogue magazine. A collection of food-related essays - many amusing and most of them informative. (Thanks, Cappy!)
- Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't - Stephen Prothero
The premise of Stephen Prothero’s book is that Americans are the world’s most vocal proponents of religiosity, but at the same time they are by and large completely ignorant of what’s actually in those Bibles that they love to thump... not to mention the basic tenets of other major world religions. Faith is a powerful force in today’s world, as anyone who remembers the 9/11 attacks can attest, and this ignorance does not serve us well.
- Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season - Nick Heil
The 2006 climbing season was the deadliest since 1996, that latter captured in Jon Krakauer’s riveting account Into Thin Air. Everest has since become ever more commercialized, but the dangers still persist - as evidenced by the massive death toll in 2014 after an avalanche on the Khumbu Icefall struck a group of climbers and their Sherpa guides, wiping out twelve. I am happy to leave the mountain climbing to others, thankyouverymuch.