On the upside, getting out of school and homework means more personal reading time for me. This is some of the things that I’ve read recently, and being passed along as a firm recommendation:
The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson. This is the story of the Chicago World Fair, 1892, all the hardships, the various people and how the fair affected the development of the US later on (Introducing such staples as the Farris Wheel, Shredded Wheat, Cracker Jakes, not to mention a number of advances in city planning and development). The story is split between the construction and operation of the fair, and a man named H.H. Holmes, considered America’s first serial killer, who admitted to 27 murders, most of them young women.
The book’s a quick and fantastic read. This is the sort of history that I really enjoy – the social aspect, and it branches into a number of different subjects that you might not expect, such as crime, science, industry, not to mention really capturing the mood of the 1890s. Larson’s got a couple other books out, which I’m definitely going to try and get.
The First Men In, Ed Ruggero. Coming out of Normandy back in May, this book was a complete delight to read. It’s a better version of Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose’s book really captured one company of the 101st Airborne Division, Easy Company. It’s a fun read, but really limited. This book is about the entire actions of the 82nd Airborne division, and it really puts the airborne actions into the context with the rest of the invasion, and it only focuses on the invasion (pretty much the same stuff that I was researching – it’s a pity that none of the Norwich guys in the 82nd were at the invasion – this would have been a great source). This book is detailed, but not overwhelmingly so. It really tells the story of these guys, and you get the sense that these guys were really in trouble when they landed, and shows just how much the battle cost – something that Ambrose’s books don’t show as well.
Victoria’s Wars, Saul David. I wanted to learn more about England’s expansion into the world, and this book is a fantastic look at the military side of that, from the British Empire’s forays into Afghanistan, India, China and other parts of the world. This book is dense, complex and really, really detailed, going right down to soldier’s diaries and things like that. There’s a lot of information here, and it’s a really cool look at England’s actions in the world other than the US, how they advanced militarily, assimilated cultures and changed. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this book is published in the US – I got my copy from Waterstone’s in London.
Soon, I Will Be Invincible, Austin Grossman. I learned about this book from the Wall Street Journal, of all places. This is a really fun read for any comic and science fiction fan. And The Incredibles. It’s a bit short, and a very quick read (I read it in a day) but it’s fun. Basically, it’s a creation of a modern super hero saga, but one that’s set today. Super Heroes in this book have their own product lines and make money, and are essentially celebrities, when they’re not saving the world. The book centers around two characters, Dr. Impossible (World Dictator Wannabee) and Fatale, a rookie Cyborg superhero. It’s got roots in much of the superhero stuff that we have today, but it’s still pretty unique, and original. And, from this one book, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a couple more on the way, because there’s thousands of stories that are alluded to in this one. Think Fantastic Four (the comics, not the movie) + The Incredibles + Max Barry. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were up for an award or two of some sort.
Iron Sunrise, Charles Stross. This book opens with a very literal bang, and then gets complicated and really good. It’s the sequel to Stross’s fantastic Singularity Sky, and follows with a couple characters from it. It’s hard sci-fi, with the opening being a very cool look at how a world would end with the star going supernova. There’s intergalactic politics, fights, hijackings, and quite a bit more here. It’s a little slow at points, and a little more complicated, but this is some of the best modern contemporary SciFi out there at the moment. I really hope that Stross revisits this universe sometime soon, because I really love this universe that he’s setting things in.
The Road, Cormic McCarthy. This book just won the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year. It’s an interesting read, and don’t let the Oprah’s Book Club sticker put you off it peels off easily), this is a really good read. Centered on a father and son in a post-apocalyptic America, trying to get to the coast. They’re not trying to rebuild society or are really actively looking for an Eden; they’re just trying to survive. The writing’s quick and pretty easy, and it’s a dark story. If you liked the show Jericho, you’ll probably like this one.
Rocketeers, Michael Belafore. This book’s actually not out yet – It’ll be released sometime in August as a hardcover. I was fortunate to get an Advanced Reader’s Copy. While this one didn’t have the forward by James Cameron, a couple of pictures, no index or accurate table of contents, it’s a very interesting read in the direction that space travel is likely to go – commercial. Over the course of the book, Belafore talks about the recent history of space travel, and a bit about how NASA has essentially died as the forefront of space exploration. The reason? It’s expensive. Thus, as smaller companies, with a much smaller overhead and no politicians to answer to, we’re likely to go to space again, this time as a tourism package, and only if you’re very rich, at least at first. Personally, I think that this is a very promising vision of the future, and it’s got some good parallels that the author points out – to the earlier history of flight. It’s got me hoping again that I’ll see people walking on the moon during my lifetime. With any luck, I’ll see them with my own eyes.
The Wild Trees, Richard Preston. Preston’s got a pretty varied list of books. On one hand, you have American Steel, about the Nucor Corporation and their work in the steel industry during the 1980s. (It’s actually an interesting read). On the other, you’ve got Demon in the Freezer and The Hot Zone, both about lethal viruses, Smallpox and its eradication and Ebola, respectively. Preston here turns to a new place – the Redwood forests and the extremely small group of people who’ve literally risked their lives to study them. Apparently, not much is really known about the upper regions of a forest, especially a temperate one. Here, we see entire ecosystems, from ferns and berry bushes growing hundreds of feet up in the air, not to mention the extremely varied wildlife that makes their homes up there in the trees. It’s a quick read, but a fun one.
Those are some of the notable books that I’d recommend. I’ve read a bunch of others, 35 in all this year. Next on the book list that I’m looking forwards to:
A Crack at the Edge of the World, Simon Winchester. Winchester’s written one of my favorite histories, The Map that Changed the World, about William Smith and his geological map, which was fascinating. This one’s about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and should be another interesting read of geological history.
Grave Peril, Jim Butcher. Book 3 of the Dresden Files. I snagged one with the new cover, which is much better than the older ones (They’ve revamped the covered of his newest books, and seem to be doing the same with some of his older ones). Dresden is a fun character, and this’ll be a fast, but fun read.
Newton’s Cannon, Greg Keyes. I read this a long time ago, and I now have all the books in the series. It’s anot
her Alternative History series, where Newton discovered Alchemy instead of physics. The rest gets exciting from there.
A couple books that I don’t have, but I’m probably going to get:
Last Flag Down, James Bradley and John *Something* (I think). James Bradley also co-wrote the WWII book Flag of Our Fathers, and now they’ve moved to the Civil War. This book’s about the last unit in the Civil War to surrender, one of the Confederate ships at sea, and the efforts to stop them, I think. Looks fantastic. Which reminds me, I actually need to read Flag of Our Fathers. I’ve had the book for ages, but haven’t actually finished it.
Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch. This one’s the first book by a new guy to the fantasy realm, and it’s come highly recommended by an online acquaintance, Mastadge, who apparently knows him or something. I read the first couple of chapters a while back. It’s a bit dense, but it’s pretty well written.
This I Believe, Jay Allison & NPR. A series of essays from the NPR special This I Believe, which is a fun listen if you ever listen to that station. It’s got some good wisdom in there, and they’re fun looks into every walk of life. I’ve gone through a couple chapters in the store when things have been slow.
Six Frigates, Ian Toll. This guy came over for the Colby Writer’s Symposium earlier this year, and it’s about the creation of the US Navy. I didn’t get a chance to listen to his talk when he was on campus, but the book looks to be a really good read.
World Without Us, Alan Weisman. I found out about this book in a Scientific American article. It’s a simple concept – What would happen if humans just vanished from the face of the planet? He goes through the steps to see just how all of our buildings and cities would vanish.
Unfortunently, it doesn’t do as much to take my mind off of things. I’m still miserable most of the time.