## ODonnellWeb – Books


This is not a complete list, because I'm lazy and disorganized and don't remember to record every book I read. It's probably kind of close though.

Books I Read in 2017

*The Bloodline Feud by Charlie Stross

The book combines the first two novels in Stross' The Merchant Princes series. Our protagonist is a hip tech journalist that accidentally transports herself to a parallel world set in feudal times. It turns out she is a long lost princess in this feudal timeline of America, and predictably not everybody is happy to know she exists. But then the story takes a sharp turn to the more interesting when she learns this world walking between parallel worlds is a family trait, and that the family uses it to transport massive amounts of heroin across the US by taking it the feudal world, getting it the west coast, then bringing it back to our timeline. Then we learn there is a 3rd timeline in which the US did not revolt and early 1900s Boston is a steampunk inspired British colony. It won't surprise me if we learn of more worlds in books 3-6.

However instead of following the straight fantasy path with the story, Stross makes it really interesting by turning it into an economics novel. If you could freely bounce back and forth between these three worlds, and wanted to make a fortune in a legitimate business, what would you do? What do we have today that you could bring back to steampunk Boston to get rich, and not get yourself branded a witch at the same time? You'll have to read the books to get the answer, but I assure you that you will enjoy the journey. And the free book gambit worked too, as I've got books 3-6 queued up in Amazon wish list.

Stuffocation: Why We've Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever by James Wallman

Millennials being more experience focused than stuff focused is a common meme these days. Stuffocation traces how we got here, what it meant for the economy, and how we need to change, as a consumption driven economy just isn't sustainable. I'm in a major downsizing mode these days, with the intent of spending my time and money on experiences and not stuff. The book was interesting to me, but I did find myself skimming at times, especially in the back half. There is a lot of interesting stuff here (pun totally intended), but it felt like a long form Atlantic essay that was extended into a book. Worth reading if you are interested in this stuff though.

Pin Action: Small-Time Gangsters, High-Stakes Gambling, and the Teenage Hustler Who Became a Bowling Champion by Gianmarc Manzione

A kindle $1.99 special that I bought just because the idea of the Mafia controlling local bowling was fascinating. I used to watch the PBA on ABC back in its heyday, so a lot of the names in this book were familiar to me. What I didn't know was the story of action bowling, of 24 hour bowling lanes on every corner in NYC in the 50s and 60s, with the Mafia running gambling on head-to-head bowling matches. It sounds ludicrous at first, but I guess no more so than betting on horses or dogs. You don't need to care about bowling to enjoy the book, as ultimately it's a rags to riches story of a teenage bowling hustler that finally makes the PBA tour, and struggles there before finally becoming a winner. It's a highly entertaining and fascinating look at the seedy side of America's wholesome pastime of the 60s and 70s.

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons

Another budget Kindle special. Dan, a 52 year old unemployed journalist, gets a PR job with pre-IPO Hubspot. Hilarity ensures, mostly in Dan's telling of the mismanaged disaster Hubspot is. I always that software was BS, so I wasn't surprised by his description of working there. Software that promises to turn you into an inbound marketing machine is in fact mostly sold by an army of cold calling 20 somethings. I've been on the receiving end of some of those calls.

Dan also gets into some bigger issues of age discrimination in the tech industry, and the insane bubble of companies with no profit going public at stupid valuations. It'll all ring very familiar for anybody that works in tech.

Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy - Until You're 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge

This was a $1.99 Kindle special. It's targeted at guys my age, and since I was starting up my annual attempt to exercise regularly and eat better, I thought I might get some motivation from it. It's kind of a weird book. Chris is a retired lawyer, Henry and actual doctor. They more or less alternate chapters, with the Dr. explaining the science around aging and Chris providing the motivation by sharing stories of how much fun he is having at 70. I found myself just barely skimming Chris's chapters. Dr. Lodge's chapters were really interesting though.

The crux of his theory is that you have to exercise 6X a week. We all know that exercise breaks down muscle, which then gets built back up stronger. By exercising nearly daily you keep you body in a constant regrowth state, and that is the key to feeling like you are 50 when you are 70. And by exercise they mean 45 minutes minimum at 65% max heart rate - so a decent workout. Combine that with eating decently and staying emotionally and intellectually engaged and you have the secret to feeling good well into retirement. Nothing earth shattering about the advice, but exercising almost every day is in some ways easier than 3 or 4 times a week as it gets to be more of a routine. That may be the one thing useful I got from the book, and for $1,99 that makes it an OK purchase.


Out Of My League by Dirk Hayhurst

Dirk continues the story he started in The Bullpen Chronicles, detailing life as a fringe prospect hanging on as the 25th guy on the major league roster. It’s far more absurd than you might think. The 26th guy is in AAA, living on peanuts if he isn’t down there on a MLB contract, while the 25th guy literally can’t eat enough to spend his daily food stipend, because guys making $500K minimum can’t be expected to buy their own meals, right? The 26th guy is sharing a room on the road at a Holiday Inn Express. The 25th guy has a suite at a 4-star hotel on the road. However, underlying all the glamor of big league life is a serious amount of insecurity and paranoia about staying up there. When it’s funny, this book is just as funny as The Bullpen Chronicles. However, it’s not always funny. There are some hard lessons that come with fulfilling a lifetime dream.

Bigger Than The Game: Restitching a Major League Career by Dirk Hayhurst

Bigger Than The game is Hayhurst’s 2nd full season in MLB, which ends up being an entire season on the DL. It’s darker than his previous books, diving into issues of team chemistry when you are the odd duck on the team, as well as the physical and mental challenges of playing baseball, and recovering from injury, and ultimately dealing with the reality that your sports career is coming to an end. Of course he has some hilarious stories to mix in, but this is clearly a more personal book than his previous efforts.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

It’s a much better song than a book. Bruce wrote a book much like his concerts, long and rambling. He desperately needed a strong armed editor on this book. He didn’t get it. I didn’t even finish it. I gave up at the 50% mark.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

The XKCD guy writing a book answering absurd questions sent to him by readers. If you ever wondered about hitting a fastball thrown at the speed of light, or building a Lego bridge across the Atlantic Ocean, this is the book for you. If you haven’t wondered about that kind of stuff, what is wrong with you?

The Thrill of the Grass by WP Kinsella

If you think this collection of short stories about baseball is just about baseball you need to go back and read it again.

Chancellorsville's Forgotten Front: The Battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, May 3, 1863 by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White

2nd Fredericksburg and the Battle of Salem Church get overlooked in Civil War history because they were part of the more famous Chancellorsville campaign. This battle is of special interest to me because I live about a mile from Salem Church, and my backyard was a Confederate campground the night preceding the battle.

So I definitely feel like I have a much better understanding of what happened at this battle, and why it was important. It's your typical Civil War book in that the level of detail on troop placements and movements can be a little dense, and often more than the casual reader like me really wants to know. I enjoyed reading it, and I'm smarter for having done so, even if I did skim over some of the more detailed sections. I'm sure my son loved it though. It is his book.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

This is another one of those $3.99 Kindle specials that will cost me more as I now have to continue the series. Darrow is a slave, a married 16 year old miner on Mars in the lowest social group on the planet, the Reds. He has never seen the surface of the planet, because he believes it is uninhabitable and he is doing God's work of mining to help make the planet safe for his children, or there children. Actually, he is just an slave, as the surface of Mars has been transformed for generations and holds thriving cities full of parks and green spaces.

His wife's execution sets off a series of events that see Darrow inserted into high society on the surface of the planet as sort of a Manchurian Candidate, sent there to gain power and eventually get high enough up to take it all down. Or at least that is what we think in book 1. Society is built on some perverted ideals of the Roman Empire, and Darrow has to find his place in an elaborate and violent game of Survivor that combines the spirit of The Hunger Games with a little Harry Potter.

Red Rising was a very pleasant surprise that I stayed up later several nights to finish.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman's first book, and damn did he start with a bang. It's a totally engrossing adult fairy tale in which mild mannered Richard, by way of helping what he thinks is a young vagrant, finds himself forgotten in his world of London, and now part of London Below, an alternate world of magic and feudalism for people that slip through the cracks. So of course, Richard sets out to get back to the real world, with many adventures along the way, only to learn the time honored fairy tale lesson of being careful about what you ask for.

It's really a fantastic story.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury does a fantastic job in this book of making the creepiness of the story jump out of the book or Kindle, and infect your soul. It's a fantasy horror story, written 50 years before those became super trendy. It's much better than most of the current genre stuff too. It probably deserves the word classic and should be read by everybody.

Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors by Benjamin Wallace

This is an attempt to take the post-apocalyptic world as envisioned in Mad Max and infuse it with a bit of Douglas Adam's absurdity. It mostly works. I enjoyed the story, even if the ending was telegraphed from about the middle of the book. It's part I of a trilogy which I got for the Kindle dirt cheap, which is why I took a flier on an author I didn't know. If I had paid $23.99 for a hardcover or even $12.99 for an e-book here I'd probably be disappointed, but I think I paid $9.99 for the trilogy. At $3.33 for this book I feel ok with what I got for money, and I'll likely continue on and read book two soon.

Carpet Diem by Justin Lee Anderson

So what if had a magic carpet in your living room that is the final piece of a eternal bet between God and Satan, and their agents are sitting in your living room trying to convince you to hand it over. Then the next day it gets stolen. Carpet Diem feels like an attempt to channel Prachett's Good Omens, as if it were written by Douglas Adams. That's not an insult at all, the book was entertaining and very fun to read.

Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer by Liam Veitch

Liam is a web developer who failed at freelancing, retreated to a cushy corporate gig for a few years, then armed with what he learned about how to run a business, gave freelancing another shot, this timing growing it to a $1 million plus business. If you even dream of hanging out a shingle as a solo creative or technical developer, this is a good book for you to read. Twice.

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck

It's a well written and entertaining book, even if it's not mostly true. I'm pretty sure Steinbeck made most of it up, probably while the camper was parked at a luxury hotel where he was writing from a couch with a whiskey nearby. That said, he did nail a few things right on, particularly the homogenization of America, and the lack of respect for the environment.

Written in Fire: Book 3 of the Brilliance Trilogy by Marcus Sakey

This is a brilliant (sorry about that) ending to the trilogy. With Cleveland in ruins and the President assassinated, the lack of trust between the normals and brilliants explodes into vigilantly justice and all our war between the 1% and the 99%. The premise of the series is not unique, as the X-Men follow the same idea. However, the execution here is superior, keeping even the super powered brilliants very human, making this not a super hero story, but a story about a repressed minority that just happens to have super powers. Unlike many authors, Sakey wraps up the story and doesn't leave any lose ends. Well, except that one.

I'm the Man: The Story of That Guy from Anthrax

Scott Ian's autobiography is entertaining enough. It's not The Dirt about Motley Crue, mostly because Anthrax was never quite that crazy on the road. The most interesting element of Scott's story to me was the thread of financial insecurity that runs through it all. Even with Anthrax's success, it doesn't seem like Scott ever made rock star money. They are a classic working class band. They can make a living, as long as they never stop touring.

The Buy Side by Turney Duff

Turney Duff was a wide eyed and naive Ohio University journalism graduate ready to make his mark in NY as a writer. Instead, when he can’t get a job writing he calls an uncle who works on the Street, and ends up at Morgan Stanley. From there, Turney takes us on a wild ride as he goes from Morgan Stanley lackey to 7 figure hedge fund trader. If you’ve seen the movie Wall Street you know how this story goes. As a buy side analyst, the sell side guys need him to call them to make the trades. Given the size of the commission checks on the line, there really is no limit to what the sell side guys will do to earn that call. Turney has everything, money, power, influence, and yet at the same time he has nothing. He ends up checking into $400 a night hotels to snort coke and watch porn all night, even though his girlfriend and baby daughter are back home. A couple of failed tries at rehab later, his girlfriend has split with the kid and the 2008 real estate crash has taken his $10,000 a month Long Island mansion. The book ends with Turney happy and clean, eeking out a living as a writer from a 1 bedroom apartment in Queens.

For me, the most interesting thing about this book was the inside look at what a hedge fund trader does all day. It seems like Turney made a million plus each year without adding any actual value to the economy. He mostly just shuffled money from here to there, taking a few points off each transaction and getting rich in the process. I almost quit reading in the middle when it was just party after party, bar after bar, hot woman after hot woman, and line of coke after line of coke. I’m glad I stuck with it though as Turney’s fall from the top is a great story, and a great example of the adage power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Within the small circle of hedge funds on Wall Street, Turney had power, and it corrupted him.

The God's Eye View by Barry Eisler

What happens when the NSA domestic spying program that Snowden didn't know about is on the verge of being exposed, and the NSA director is a megalomaniac sociopath with a squad of trained assassins at his disposal?

This book is fiction, as far as we know. However, everything in it seems plausible enough. I don't want to give away too much plot, but there is nothing in this book that the "9-11 was an inside job crowd" doesn't already believe. Take a program that can listen in real time to just about every conversation happening anywhere, add in the the kind of correlation that big data makes possible, one psycho NSA Director, some government assassins, and a reluctant whistle blower; and you get one hell of an entertaining story that is just close enough to reality to make you wonder.

One Fearful Yellow Eye by John MacDonald

This time we find our hero Travis McGhee in Chicago, at Christmas time, helping out an old (girl)friend whose MD husband drained her inheritance before he dies. Travis needs to figure out why, and find the money. This was a return to form after the really dark Darker than Amber and a better book, as our Florida beach bum's ruminations on Chicago and the north are quite entertaining. Yet, the archaic attitudes about women and minorities really make it hard to stick with the series. That said, the guy can write. Consider this passage about his approach into Chicago.

Even with the buffeting, there is an impression of silence inside the aircraft at such times. People stare outward, but they are looking inward, tasting of themselves and thinking of promises and defeats.

Also a plot twist at the end was way out of character. Travis McGhee would never walk into that trap. After two in a row I need to take a break from Travis. I'm sure I'll back eventually.

Darker Than Amber by John MacDonald

By far the darkest Travis McGhee novel I've read so far, also my least favorite. The con pulled by Travis on a cruise ship just seemed too far fetched, even for a fictional detective that lives on a boat he won in a poker game. I hope it's not indicative of a darker turn in the series.

Even Keel: Life On The Streets of Rock and Roll by Ron Keel

It's not the worst rock and roll autobiography that I've read. Ron never really got over the hump to the big time, but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. A lot of the stereotypical elements are here, dropped out of high school, sex, booze, drugs, multiple marriages, etc. Every time Ron mentioned somebody that he worked with he told us how successful that person was later on. It was annoying and felt like Keel was a little insecure, which he shouldn't be. He set out at age 17 to make a living in rock and roll, and he did it. There is no shame there, even if he never had a platinum record. It's not The Dirt from Motley Crue, but if you are a 80s metal fan you'll probably enjoy this book.


No Land’s Man by Aasif Mandvi

It’s really non-fiction(ish), as Aasif admits up front that the stories are not necessarily 100% true. He’s a comedian, I assume he took some liberties to up the comedic value of some of these stories, and that is fine. I don’t think that point detracts from the book it all. It is a warm, charming, insightful, and funny look at growing up an Indian kid displaced from his culture in both the UK and USA.

As You Wish: Storming the Castle and Other Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Carey Elwes

It’s exactly what the title suggests, a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening as they filmed The Princess Bride. It funny, it’s a little bit sad at times, and it’s an interesting look at how Carey deals with his own insecurities as an actor in his first “big” role. It’s pretty much required reading for any fan of the film, which should be anybody reading here. If you don’t like “The Princess Bride” we can’t be friends.

Get In The Van by Henry Rollins

I really wanted to love this book. However it took me over a month to get through it. It’s not that it’s bad or poorly written, it’s more that it’s painful to read, I’ve never had depression or crippling social anxiety. Rollins apparently did, all while trying to tour the county and sometimes the world as the lead singer for Black Flag. It’s not so much a tour diary as a personal diary, and Rollins was not a happy camper, even though he had what to outsiders looked like a dream job. He was lead singer for one of the most influential punk bands around. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not.

Don’t Put Me In Coach by Mark Titus

If Mark could shoot like he could write he might have seen more than 40 odd minutes of playing time over a 4 year career at Ohio State. A laugh-out-loud, R rated, insiders look at life as a Big 10 walk-on basketball player.

Walking With The Wind, A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis

Should be required reading for everybody in America, probably as a high school assigned book. But it’s not, because reasons. However, as a first hand account of the Civil Rights movement it’s invaluable. As the personal story of Congressman John Lewis, it’s riveting.

A Better World (The Brilliance Saga Book 2 by Marcus Sakey

Picks up where the first book ends. Except that now the Brilliants and the rest of the country are marching towards all out war. Once again a lot of insight into how people react when their perceived natural superiority is threatened. Once again a great read.

It’s So Easy: and other lies by Duff McKagan

Who knew Duff was the smart one in Guns N Roses? I was really surprised by how insightful this book was. Duff started out as a drunk and stoned punk rocker from Seattle. I’m surprised he remembers so much of his touring days with GnR, as he was always loaded. However, he got sober, got in shape, and got smart. He took finance classes at community college just so he could understand the financial reports he got as a member of Guns N Roses, Inc. That led to him returning to college. He took up martial arts, mountain biking, running, got married, had kids, and in general just go his life together. The book is quite well written, with a lot of fun stories from GnR, and a lot of insightful wisdom about getting and staying sober. Any fan of rock and roll should read this.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

Fascinating insight into the company we all grow more dependent on every day. I’m not sure the obsession with lower prices really serves the world well though. The suppliers need to stay in business too.

Remote by Jason Fried

"Long commutes make you fat, stressed, and miserable. Even short commutes stab at your happiness." That’s Remote in a nutshell. It’s part manifesto and part how-to guide for working remotely. I’m sold.

Underbelly Hoops: Adventures in the CBA - A.K.A. The Crazy Basketball Association by Carson Cunningham

Amusing journal of Carson’s last year in professional basketball, in the CBA.

The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams

I learned more in the first 20 pages of this book than in entire textbooks for various subjects back in my school days. Now that I have a basic understand of design though, I’m haunted by all the bad design I see around me.

The Music Book by Dave O’Leary

Maybe I’m not the target market for a book set in Seattle in which a music writer looks deep into the meaning of music, all through a fictional narrative set in the Seattle indie scene. It sounded great in the blurbs, but I don’t think I got 25% through it. It just didn’t hold my interest.

The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun

I thought this would be a good follow up to reading Remote. Unfortunately I got bored about 50% through and never finished. When the author was talking about Wordpress and what makes the company unique it was really interesting. When you got more into how he was managing his job there I got bored.

The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir

Best book I’ve read this year. This story of an astronaut accidentally stranded on Mars alone is completely engrossing, you won’t be able to put it down. and as it nears it’s conclusion you might be so emotional invested that you kind of forget its fiction.

The End of All Things (Old Man’s War Book 6) by John Scalzi

This is the first Scalzi book I’ve read that didn’t suck me in completely. I never really got into the story and never really developed any emotional connection (good or negative) towards any of the characters. The book is presented as 4 novellas, with a different narrator for each one. I read it, I finished it, I didn’t not enjoy the book, but once I was done I was happy; not because I was completely enveloped in the book, but because I could now go on to read something else. So meh? It’s certainly not a bad book, but for whatever reason I just couldn’t get into it.

You're Never Weird On The Internet by Felicia Day

If you are a fan of Felicia you kind of already know what to expect from this book. She was hippie unschooled, a violin virtuoso, turned actress, writer, producer over-achiever with at times crippling social anxiety issues, all the while being funny as hell. She's thirty-ish and already has enough life behind her to write a great autobiography. I suspect volume 2 in 30 more years will be even better.

The Ocean At The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

Adult fairy tail is a very apt description for this book. It follows the classic fairy tail good versus evil formula, with a layer of adulting on top to make it relevant to the over 8 crowd. Just like classic Grimm, it peels back our vulnerabilities and fears to make the story downright creepy at times.

Through-Hiking Will Break Your Heart by Carrot Quinn

I'm a sucker for thru-hiking journals. This one is from a women that did the Pacific Crest Trail. She made it to the end, barely. It's really a journal of suffering; of sore feet, of being cold or hot, or wet, or hungry, or thirsty, or tired, or disillusioned, or lost. Not that she doesn't find enjoyment along the way, because she does. I suspect a lot of other hiking writers gloss over the bad parts. Carrot didn't do that.

The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon

The Challenger Sales confirms something I've long believed, that most "relationship" sales people are full of shit. When you sell high value expensive stuff buyers don't want nice guys. They want answers and solutions. They want people that come in a challenge the status quo, and show them a better way to do stuff. This is probably required reading for anybody making a career out of selling stuff.


The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

Did a quick re-read the week prior to going to see the final installment of The Hobbit movie franchise. I should have quit while I was ahead with the book.

Game Over by Scott Peterson

I read it in two nights, so that probably tells you what you need to know. Scott doesn’t waste any words in the book. He jumps right into the plot and he keeps the plot accelerator floored for pretty much the entire book. I’m a little beyond the target age range of the book, but my enjoyment of it had nothing to do with the fact that a certain high school I attended had to spend a bunch of money on Apple II computers when the military base pulled the schools terminals because certain students, some of whom avoided punishment, had socially engineered a teacher account and engaged in some non-authorized exploration of the base mainframe file system. I may or may not have been involved.

Time and Again by Jack Finney

It starts slow but stick with it. The payoff is worth it. It’s a unique take on the time travel concept. The depth and detail of the descriptions of late 19th century NYC really do take you back there and draw you into the story.

The Casablanca Tango by James Lileks

The Casablanca Tango is a murder mystery set in post WWII Minneapolis. I’ve never been to Minneapolis at all, yet I feel like I’ve time traveled there after reading this book. Lileks does a superb job of setting the sense of place in this novel. You can almost smell the city while reading. The story is good too. Quick moving, and told through the lens of a city newspaper photographer covering the murders. You won’t see the ending coming. Overall a very entertaining read, and you can’t beat the .99 Kindle price.

Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In continues John Scalzi’s streak of never writing a book that I didn’t immensely enjoy reading. I’m sure that weighs heavily on his mind ;) Lock In is a little different that most of his recent novels. It’s a near future mystery thriller set in the Washington DC area that is very recognizable to anybody currently living there, like me. A devastating virus has killed millions, and left many of the survivors “locked in” their non functioning bodies. They have full mental ability, but completely non-responsive bodies. A massive government program leads to the development of both a virtual world for the affected to use, as well as androids called threeps (think about it for a minute) that they can link up with to provide an almost full “real-life” experience out in the world. I’m not going to get into the plot as I don’t want to spoil anything, but Scalzi manages to weave serious issues such as disability rights, health care reform, discrimination, and the nature of a virtual existence into a tightly spun murder mystery. Also, the Scalzi trademark wit and snark is well represented in the book.

The Cause by Roderick Vincent

The Cause is a real world fantasy thriller in which a small band of Patriots (or traitors, depending on your point of view) starts the ball rolling on the rollback of the surveillance state in a 2022 USA which is on the verge of economic and social collapse. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and hacker activist Isse Corvus has to figure out what side he is on, and how far he is willing to go, to protect his country from itself. When voting no longer matters, and the government has total control of all means of communications, and re-education camps for those who disagree, how exactly do you affect change? I’m not going to give the plot away, but let’s just say there were no candlelight vigils with a kumbaya sing-along involved. In this, his debut novel, Roderick Vincent has crafted a fast moving, action packed thriller of a libertarian wet dream that is damn fine entertainment, even if you disagree with the book’s dystopian take on modern day America.

Pint-Sized Ireland: In Search of the Perfect Guinness by Evan McHugh

This is the third book I’ve read based around hitching and drinking across Ireland. I’ve greatly enjoyed all three. Clearly this is the universe trying to tell me something. When you add in the fact that I hitchhike to and from work most days one could argue I’m sort of in training for a trip like this. However, at my age I think I might opt for a 7 day rental on a car instead. But I definitely want to drink my way around Ireland. Clockwise.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination by Chris Hadfield

Part biography, part guide on how to become an astronaut, part this is what life on the ISS is like, and completely enjoyable to read. If you ever wondered how the astronauts poop in zero gravity, this is the book for you.

Cell by Stephen King

Stephen King doing what Stephen King does. In this case, a “pulse” sent out over cell phones turns everybody that answers the call into zombies, more or less. Then the zombies evolve. Then it gets really interesting. If you like King you’ll enjoy this book. If you don’t, Cell probably won’t change your mind. It’s not scary like Salem’s Lot - more creepy at times.

The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman

It’s not high literature. However, if you are a fan of the graphic novels and TV show you’ll enjoy this novel that backtracks to explain how The Governor became The Governor.

Graveyard Special by James Lileks

James Lileks applies the wit from his blog to a novel, and it works well. Part murder mystery, part spy adventure, part fake memoir of an 80s college student at U Minnesota; and it works. "So much strife in life could be avoided if we all just put our egos aside and realized that sometimes the toast actually is burned."

Punk Rock Dad by Jim Lindberg

No matter how cool, rebellious, and anti-authoritarian we think we are, once we become parents we are just another guy deep in the shit. That is the central message I go from the book. It’s a fun, light-hearted look at how the lead singer for a relatively successful punk rock band balances that life with his minivan filled with 3 kids. It’s a mix of amusing antidotes about the stupid stuff he’s done as a parent, the hilarious things kids do, some actual parenting advice, and how all that makes a punk rocker not that different that the banker parent down the street.


The Bullpen Chronicles by Dirk Hayhurst

A year in the life of a non-prospect minor league pitcher. It reminded me a lot of Ball Four. Very funny, often insightful, and definitely worth reading.

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Brilliance covers some of the same ground that Greg Bear covered in Darwin’s Radio. In the 80’s, some kids started being born with exceptional mental capabilities. These “abnormals” are seen as a threat by some in the 99%. The government gets involved and starts treating these citizens very much like we treat Muslim Americans today. The government and the media are in cahoots to suppress the truth and position the abnormals as dangerous. Then it gets really interesting. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but not counting some advanced tech that we don’t quite have yet, nothing in this book seems that far-fetched. And that is sort of scary once you understand the deep of the conspiracy in this book. It’s the first of a trilogy. I’m looking forward to the others.

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

So why did a young college graduate from an upper middle-class family give everything he owns away and spend several years living the like of a hobo, before finally dying in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness? Krakauer can’t give us that answer, really nobody can. But he does bring Christopher McCandless to life as he tracks his journey to Alaska and tries to shed some light on what he was thinking. A fascinating and engrossing read.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K. Rowling

Meh. This book got a lot of press due to JK Rowling releasing it under a pseudonym. She spends so much time describing every little scene in detail that the plot suffers at times. I would read chapters at a time and feel like nothing happened. I did finish it, and the ending had a nice twist.

*The Human Division by John Scalzi *

Set in the Old Man’s War Universe, The Human Division revolves around a bunch of new characters embroiled in a classic spy type thriller with somebody from the inside leaking information, formidable new challenges for the Colonial Union, and plenty of Scalzi’s trademark wit and snark. This is a fun addition to the OMW universe, and the ending definitely set up another book.

The Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S Grant

Generally considered one of the best military autobiographies ever written. It’s a well deserved reputation. As a first person history of the Spanish American and Civil Wars, it is invaluable. Grant is an entertaining writer and writes in prose that is clear and easy to understand. I think it’s fair to say that without Grant in charge the Civil War may have turned out differently. Grant probably would not agree as it’s clear from the book that he thought the Confederate cause was doomed from the start. Also interesting was the revelation that he thought he missed a chance to capture Lee’s Army at The Wilderness. He barely acknowledges his time as President, probably because he is generally considered in the bottom quartile of US Presidents.

AWOL On The Appalachian Trail by David Miller

In 2003 software developer David Miller quit his job and started walking north from Springer Mountain, VA. He didn’t quit until he made it to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve walked maybe 100 miles of the AT on various day hikes. I greatly enjoyed this book. It’s inspirational, even though he does a good job of capturing the drudgery of walking all day in the rain on the AT. You get a real sense of the community that develops among thru-hikers on the AT. It’s recommended for anybody that has ever daydreamed about doing what David did.

Fletch Won by Gregory Macdonald

Fletch looks back and tells us the story of his first big story. if you like Fletch you’ll like this.

  • Homeland by Cory Doctorow*

Homeland is the sequel to Little Brother. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Little Brother. At the start it feels like Doctorow is trying a little too hard to make a point, and the story suffers as a result. There is too much Burning Man, too much Maker culture, too much telling us about technology and not enough showing us through the characters point of view. The story does kick in about halfway through the book, and at that point it becomes riveting, right up to a disappointing ending where nothing really gets resolved.

Almost Perfect: by W.E. Peterson

Almost Perfect is is story of WordPerfect, the dominant Word Processor back in the days of DOS. It’s a classic David and Goliath story, a group of spunky young guys running a company with zero debt and following management principles gleaned from the Mormon Church almost, almost beat Microsoft. In fact, they kicked MS ass during the DOS days, as WordPerfect had 60% market share at it’s peak. The book chronicles their key mistakes such as a fanatical devotion to making WP available in every computer platform that was around in the 80s, betting on IBM and OS/2, and not recognizing the danger of Windows until it was too late. Recommended for any computer nerd that remembers using WordPerfect.

The Lonely Silver Rain by John McDonald

The final book in the series as the McDonald died the year following publication. It’s my favorite Travis McGhee novel so far, but I’ve got about 18 more to read.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

In the future, the Internet will be wirelessly implanted into our brains at birth, and our corporate masters will have unfettered access to the feed as they attempt to sell us stuff 24 X 7. Nobody in the story has a problem with this, except one homeschooled teenager who got her feed late at age 7 and thus sees the world just a little bit differently than her peers. This biting satire of our brain dead consumption obsessed culture is both funny, and downright scary at the same time. What makes the story truly brilliant though is that the author takes it deeper than the obvious analogy with consumerism. When the story delves into how the feed impacts your ability to empathize with those you should care about, the story gets dark and a bit depressing. You don’t finish this book feeling happy. If the book seems difficult to get into a first, stick with it. I was 13% read on the Kindle when it plot really kicked in, and then I couldn’t put the story down.

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Rob Tannenbaum

This is probably required reading for anybody that grew up watching MTV. And by MTV, I mean the channel that played mostly music videos. It’s a wildly entertaining oral history of the network, broken down by time period, or artist, or music genre, or even by specific videos in some cases. It’s full of dirt, scandal, and behind the scenes info on just about every page. If you wondered what the secret ingredient at MTV was, the one definable thing that made the network go, I now know the answer. Coke. The powdered kind.

Power Chord: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes by Thomas Scott McKenzie

You are 35 years old. You own about a dozen guitars. You can’t play a single chord. So what do you do? You start taking lessons while tracking down your 80s metal guitar heroes to interview them. Seems like a good premise for a book, and it works ok. It’s not really a “Where Are They Now” tale though. It’s more about the author’s journey to understanding why we all at some point imagined ourselves on stage as we played air guitar to Bon Jovi in our bedroom; and why for a select few, they never outgrow it and keep slogging away even though their arena headlining glory days are way in the past. It was a fun read, although not quite as fun or interesting as I was expecting going in.

American Fencer: Modern Lessons from an Ancient Sport by Tim Morehouse

American Fencer is the autobiography of Tim Morehouse, US Silver Medalist in Team Saber at the 2008 Olympics. We got this for my son for Christmas, as he is a fencer. He read it quickly and passed to me. I enjoyed it greatly. Tim’s journey from a 7th grader who signed up for fencing because it got him out of gym class to Olympic medalist is inspiring. He did not get high priced lessons as a kid, he did not go to college on a fencing scholarship, and coming out of college he was not even in the conversation as a contender on the international fencing circuit. Yet through hard work, willpower, and determination, he made it to medal stand in 2008. One really interesting angle of the book for me is all the crap minor sport US athletes go through to compete. Tim was holding down a full time job as a public school teacher and running up his credit cards on flights to Europe. Compare that with many of the guys he was competing against, who were basically government employees being paid to train and compete. Tim’s book is probably mandatory reading for any teenage fencer, or really any teenage athlete at all. His example of overcoming obstacles in pursuit of your dreams is a solid lesson for all teenagers, and their parents.

To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink

In “To Sell Is Human,” Daniel Pink takes a look at the world of selling in the digital age. As a career sales executive, I noticed a while ago that the dynamic between buyer and seller has changed. Buyers frequently know as much about our products and services as we do. In this book, Dan takes a look at that issue and how it impacts what we need to do to stay successful in sales. He also expands the scope of selling a bit to recognize that we all are in sales. We have to sell our spouses, kids, and coworkers on stuff just about every day. Convincing your wife that a punk rock concert is a good use of date night is just as much a sales job as convincing a corporate buyer that your widget is the best. This book is a must buy for anybody whose job it is to sell stuff, and not a bad idea for anybody who regularly finds themselves trying to convince somebody else to do something.

Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll by Joe Oestreich

This book is the ultimate episode of “Behind the Music.” It’s 50% autobiography and 50% insightful and hilarious look into what life is really like for a touring rock and roll band. Watershed is the ultimate blue collar, Midwest rock band. With the exception of 18 glorious months in the 90s, they’ve never made enough playing music to make a living at it. That didn’t stop them though, and they’ve toured every year since they all got out of high school.

Be sure to check out their music. These guys made plenty of hit records, it’s just that nobody outside of their hometown of Columbus, OH ever figured that out.

Note: It is e-lending enabled on the Kindle, so if you would like to borrow my “copy” let me know.


A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffett

Another epic Caribbean adventure book from Jimmy. However, I thought “A Salty Piece of Land” was a better story and better executed than “Where is Joe Merchant.” I enjoyed this and was completely into it right up to the last page.

Where is Joe Merchant? by Jimmy Buffett

A fiction adventure thriller that starts off really strong and entertaining but ultimately disappoints when it feels like it went about 100 pages too long. Also, I really didn’t get the inclusion of the mystical hocus pocus with Desdemona. It seemed to mostly detract from the plot.

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Pirate Cinema is a ripped-from-the-headlines near future tale in which 16 year old Trent McCauley gets his family’s Internet access blocked for a year because he was downloading movie clips for the brilliant remixes he makes and posts online. The lack of Net access costs his father his job, and makes it very hard to him and his sister to succeed in school. So Trent does what any 16 year old would do. He runs away to London, where he hooks up with a quirky cast of friends and eventually finds himself the focal point of the attempt to overturn the draconian copyright protection laws that have been bought by the entertainment industry in Europe. Sound familiar? This is another Doctorow YA book in which he does a fantastic job of putting together a fun story that also says something very important about the world we live in today, and the world we might be stuck with in the near future. If you enjoyed his book Little Brother you’ll almost certainly enjoy this one too.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

The Long Lavender Look by John McDonald

Bright Orange for the Shroud by John McDonald

A Pirate Looks at 50 by Jimmy Buffett

I didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected. The biographical first half was very interesting, but the 2nd half of the book is a detailed account of the South American vacation he took with his family for his 50th birthday. The extended text version of lifestyles of the rich and famous just wasn’t that interesting to me.

The Quick Red Fox by John McDonald

Nightmare In Pink by John McDonald

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Nothing I read will motivate me to change my long standing bias against Apple products. In the Gates vs Jobs battle of very closed systems versus mostly closed systems, I stand with the penguin and open systems. They talk a lot about the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. Unfortunately, when it came up against science, it turns out that you can’t will away pancreatic cancer with homeopathy. Shocking, isn’t it? My brain just can’t wrap around the idea that somebody so smart could also be so dumb.

He may have been a marketing genius, but he was a lousy boss, an inattentive parent, and an insensitive spouse. If he hadn’t given us the Macintosh, iPod, and iPhone I think his legacy would mostly be as a megalomaniac dick. But he did give us those things, which millions and millions of people love. Somewhat surprisingly, I’m a more accomplished computer programmer than Steve Jobs. He was a far more accomplished manipulator of people than me. I’m ok with that. Jobs thought that Buddhism had a great impact on his life. He was wrong.

He managed to spend his entire life studying Buddhism and yet somehow missed the point. Compassion. If the book was supposed to make me like Steve Jobs it failed. If anything, I have much less respect for him now than I did before I read the book. He may have been a marketing genius, but he was kind of a miserable human being.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The third book in the Hunger Games trilogy is the least enjoyable for me. The author tries to wrap up the countless plot lines introduced in book 2, and I don’t think it is done particularly well. I felt at times as though I was forcing myself to keep reading this book, just to finish the trilogy.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Book 2 of The Hunger Games trilogy introduces numerous plot twists and new characters. It’s a great read, but not quite as addictive as the first book.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The characters are a little thin, it’s not great literature, but it is a story that will keep you up way past your bedtime.

Fletch by Gregory Macdonald

You’ve seen the movie right? The book is better.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Funny, insightful, and full of the sort of meta-humor you would expect from a book by him with that title.

Shut Up and Give Me the Mic by Dee Snider

I predicted the rise of Twisted Sister long before any of my head banging friends in high school got on the bandwagon. I had You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll and Under the Blade before Stay Hungry hit big and made them famous. So nobody should be surprised that I bought Dee Snider’s autobiography Shut Up and Give Me the Mic. I’ve read a lot of rock and roll autobiographies, and this is ranks up there with the best. Dee takes a shot at Nikki Sixx in the first couple of pages, and never lets up. But mostly he takes shots at himself. He went from a desperately hungry wanna be rock star to on top of the world for about a year in 1984, and then lost it all again, and he mostly blames himself. He was reduced to working a minimum wage office job before he reinvented himself as a disc jockey, movie producer, and Broadway star. Most interestingly, he did it all without alcohol and drugs while staying married to his wife and raising a relatively normal family. His insights into how the music industry really works are interesting, and his memories of the PMRC hearings are awesome.

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

A re-read of a book from my baseball crazy youth. It’s the ultimate growing up in the shadow of Ebbets field book, and a must read for any baseball fan.

I Was Right On Time by Buck O’Neil

I Was Right On Time is the autobiography of Buck O’Neil, Negro League player, manager, and all around wonderful human being. This is a must read for any baseball fan. Buck traces his path from skipping high school because he wasn’t allowed to attend the local high school, through his years playing and managing in the Negro leagues, to his later years scouting for the Cubs. Along the way we get a history lesson on the Negro Leagues, and some great stories about Satchel Paige and many other Negro League stars. Maybe more importantly, the book is a lesson in leading a bitter free life. Buck was denied a high school diploma until he was in his 80s, was denied the opportunity to play in the major leagues, and was ultimately denied a spot in Cooperstown by one vote. Yet through it all, he manages to live a life completely devoid of anything resembling bitterness.

The 100 Dollar Startup by Chris Guillbeau

There is some inspiration to be had in this survey of basement businesses and others who started up with pocket change for capital. Bit overall, it read more like a series of blog posts than a book.

The Last Best League by Jim Collins

The Last Best League follows a group of college kids that are playing for the Chatham A’s of the Cape Cod League. The Cape Cod League is the premier summer league for college baseball players. Just about every kid playing is a legitimate major league prospect. The season is short, only about 45 games. For many of the kids, this is the first time they are playing in a league where everybody is as good as they are. We follow the kids through the games, their part time jobs, living with host families, partying, girls. and all the usual stuff you would expect of a group of Type A jocks thrown together on Cape Cod for a summer. The author does a good job making the kids (all real-life people) more than caricatures. If you are a baseball fan you’ll enjoy the book. If you are not a baseball fan you might enjoy this book. It’s a look into one of the last bastions of community supported high-level amateur baseball in the US. It reads at the pace of a baseball game. It’s relaxing and interesting, but most of the time, not exciting. The book follows the 2002 season. About 15 of the 23 kids from the A’s were drafted by major league teams. I looked each one up to see if any made it. A few had a cup of coffee in The Show, but not one stuck. One guy is playing in Japan. The other 14, as far as I can tell, are out of baseball.

The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski

Noted sportswriter spent the 2005 baseball season travelling with 94 year old ex-Negro League star Buck O’Neil. You can’t help but to finish this book with a desire to live a life more like Buck’s. It’s not often you get the secret to life and the secret to a long lasting marriage in a book about baseball.

The Irish Americans: A History by Jay Dolan

Rarely is a book title as perfectly descriptive as this one. The book is exactly as advertised. Written by retired Notre Dame Professor Jay Dolan, it does read like a textbook. It’s not a book that you will sit down and devour in big chunks. It is a book that you will finish though, and I feel much smarter about my ethnic background for having read it. A few things that struck me as I read the book. Not of all this was news to me.

The first wave of Irish immigrants were not Catholic. They were Presbyterian and Anglican, and they settled in the NE in the years prior to the Revolutionary War. They immediately faced extreme discrimination from the Puritans, who of course came to American in search of religious freedom for themselves, but not for anybody else. After 100+ years of extreme discrimination, when the Irish Americans finally “made it” in America, they remembered the lessons of bigotry and were on the front lines of Emancipation. Ha! Not even close. The Irish were gung-ho about discriminatory practices against any group that might compete with them for jobs. This was primarily the Chinese and African-Americans early on, and later the Italians.

It’s not really possible to discuss the history of the Irish in American without also discussing the history of the Catholic Church. I has my history backwards on this one. I always thought Irish culture and the Catholic Church was sort of a bottom up process, but it was the opposite. Irish Priests quickly gained control in the US, and remade the Catholic church as they saw fit, which was actually quite different than how it worked in Ireland. One example, regular weekly attendance at Mass was not that big of a deal in 18th Century Ireland. Skipping a Sunday in the US put you on the highway to Hell.

White flight to suburbia was very damaging to Irish Catholic culture. Prior to the 40s, the Irish tended to live in enclaves where everything, and I do mean everything, revolved around the local church. The neighborhoods were insular and an Irish family could get everything they needed without venturing more than a few blocks from home. They never got that back after the move to the suburbs. (I can remember my Grandmother pinpointing the downfall of the neighborhood to the day Italians starting moving in). The fighting in Ireland and the eventual victory with the establishment of home rule was primarily financed by Irish-Americans. As recently as the early 1990s the Irish Pub I hung out at in Atlanta (The County Cork) occasionally passed the hat when somebody was traveling back to Northern Ireland. The fallout of pious Catholicism was remarkably quick. In about a 20 year time period from the early 40s to early 60s, regular weekly attendance at Mass dropped from 80% to 40%. That’s remarkably quick for such a dramatic shift in cultural practices. Catholic kids moved from Catholic to public schools in mass over the same time period.

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnik

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker is Kevin Mitnick’s memoirs of his life as the most notorious hacker in America. For a guy that attracted so much attention from law enforcement, he did remarkably little damage. It reads like a thriller, with Kevin frequently not that far ahead of the Feds that were hunting him, until the day that they caught him. One thing that struck me, he was truly addicted to hacking. He’d been to jail already, he knew they were tracking him, tracing his calls, bugging his phone, but he just couldn’t stop. It’s not like he needed the money from it, because he didn’t make any. He downloaded the source code for all the newest cell phones, and simply stashed the code on a server like a trophy. His greatest talent wasn’t really computer hacking. It was social engineering. He is a very talented Unix admin, but his preferred way of getting into a network was simply getting an employee to give him an account and a password. His arrest and incarceration was a complete sham. I want to write it off as a lack of clue on the part of law enforcement, but I don’t think that is it. The sophistication involved in the effort to track him down was impressive. I don’t think the people that did that really believed he could launch missiles by calling NORAD and whistling into the phone. The brain dead judges probably did believe it though.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s only published novel was a bit of scandal when it came out over 100 years ago. I’m not sure my pedestrian command of the English language is really sufficient to review such a richly written book. An unexplained event sets young, dashingly handsome Dorian Gray up in a situation where a painting of him absorbs all the sins of his life. The painting ages as Dorian looks 20 forever, and the stain of Dorian’s immoral and decadent lifestyle stain the painting and stays clear of Dorian’s conscience. Or does it? The book is extravagantly written, and at times veered off into deeply detailed descriptions of events that don’t really advance the plot. There isn’t a likable character in the book, in fact, the two stars of the book are miserable human beings. The descriptions and setting in Victorian England are wonderful, and Wilde was clearly playing the book for satire in many places. In the end though, the book is somewhat disturbing morality tale that borders on horror at times. It’s one of the classics, and I can’t believe I made to 2012 without reading it. I’m glad I finally got to it.

Good Eats: The Early Years by Alton Brown

This is not a cookbook. It’s the print companion to the first 5 seasons of Good Eats. It does include recipes from each episode, which makes it handy for looking up that thing he did with shrimp in season 3. It’s much quicker than trying to navigate the Food Network website. It’s also includes lots of cool behind the scenes info about the episodes, shooting locations, etc. And of course, it’s filled with science!

Beer Is Proof God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing by Charles Bamforth

“In 2005 I was interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle. I was asked: “If there are 50 beers on tap, what do you order?” I answered, “Something out of a bottle.”

Only January 2 and I’ve finished my first book of the year. I did cheat and start this in 2011 though! The author Charles Bamforth is a long time employee / executive at Bass and currently a Professor of Brewing at UC-Davis, in a position endowed by whatever we are calling Anheuser-Bush these days. I wanted to love this book, but I just couldn’t.

First of all, almost half the book is endnotes, which is a very odd was to organize a book. Some of the endnotes are technical details related to a point he was making, and thus are placed appropriately. Other endnotes are almost entire chapters, and should have been incorporated into the text of the book. I’m not sure what his editor was thinking.

Charlie has spent his career in the big brewer side of the beer world, and thus his view of beer is colored appropriately. He adamantly defends macro-lagers on several occasions in the book. I’ll grant the technical achievement in making Budweiser taste the same across the world. It is true that even a minor mistake is magnified and more noticeable in such a thin and flavorless beer. Personally, I think wasting such technical brewing ability on soulless beer is a crime.

However, his explanation of what happened to the British pub culture and brewing industry was fascinating, and I’m much smarter for having read his book; as I knew nothing of Thatcher’s changes to the beer industry in the 80s. Beer enthusiasts on the right-wing side of the US political spectrum may very well have to take her off the pedestal when they understand what she did to beer culture in the UK. He also takes on MADD and other neo-prohibitionist organizations in the US. This a subject I can agree 100% with him on. And finally, the quote I started this review with. It sounds heretical on the surface, but he has good reason for it. But you’ll have to read the book to find out why :) If you are a beer nerd and can get the book cheap, I’d recommend reading it. I got is as free Kindle download. If I had paid a couple of bucks for the book, I wouldn’t feel cheated. I think I would be disappointed if I had paid much more than that though.


Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft by Paul Allen

The first half, covering his time at Microsoft, is very interesting, more so if you are a geek. The after MS part of the book reads more like a series of blog posts about all the cool stuff he gets to do with his billions of dollars. I found myself skimming a lot towards the end.

Seven Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin by James Sullivan

Meh. I suspect there are better biographies of Carlin out there. I didn’t hate it.

The Lodestone (Edalwin’s Legacy) by Jay Horne (2011)

The Lodestone, Jay Horne’s first novel, is a classic YA epic fantasy quest, populated with dragons, evil wizards, good wizards, grumpy dwarves, and of course, a reluctant hero. What sets The Lodestone apart though, is the pacing. Its written more like a thriller than a epic fantasy novel. The plot bolts off of page one like a racehorse out of the gate at Churchill Downs, and never really slows down. It’s a fun, quick read appropriate for fantasy fans of all ages.

Pet Semetary by Stephen King

I’ve never owned a cat. This book insured that I will never own a cat. Creepy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Drinking With Strangers by Butch Walker

Regular readers know that I am a big Butch Walker fan. So it did not take me long to ante up for his first book, Drinking With Strangers. It’s insightful, occasionally touching, but mostly it’s just damn funny. We learn how a hair metal band can sign a six figure contract yet still be living off of Raman noodles. We get the inside scoop on said hair metal band’s disastrous tour of China. Then he hits again with The Marvelous 3. Butch doesn’t hold back, you’ll know exactly what he thinks of a lot of what and who goes on in the recording business. But most importantly, I finally understand why the Avril Lavagne song Girlfriend is such an ear worm for me. It’s the only Avril song I have ever liked. Butch wrote it, although the story of how he gets screwed out of credit for it is instructive and I take it somewhat common in the music business. Butch never comes right out and names the song in the book. but I am sure that is it. If you are a rock and roll fan, I can’t imagine that you won’t enjoy this book.

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Short and too the point, it’s an inspiring account of the decisions made (both good and bad) as the author built CDBady.com from a hobby site to a thriving business. My favorite quote from the book. If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no.”

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson

Growing up in the 50s is not that much different than what I experienced growing up in the 70s. Because of that, this book resonated quite well with me, and I disturbed those around me multiple times by laughing out loud as I read. Highly recommended for anybody from the Boomer or Gen X generations.

In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy

Both of Google’s founders were Montessori kids. That goes a long way towards explaining why they do things the way they do. I never really understood what happened with Google and China. This book devotes ample time to Google’s mistakes in China. This book did not quell my concerns regarding Google and privacy though. They aren’t trying to be evil, they just can’t understand why anybody would mind Google scanning and indexing your email, just to serve up better, more targeted ads.

Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks

This is quite possibly the most perfectly descriptive book title ever conceived. In this book, our hero wakes up to discover he bet a friend 100 pounds that he would hitchhike around the perimeter of Ireland for a month, with a refrigerator. This book is that travelogue of the trip. It’s full of interesting, quirky characters that offer Tony a place to stay, or a pint, as he makes his way 'round Ireland, towing a refrigerator behind him. And drinking, lots and lots of drinking. He is in Ireland! I don’t think this trip would have worked out nearly as well if he had tried it in England, or France. There is something special about the Irish, and that specialness shines through in this book.

*The Magician King: A Novel by Lev Grossman *

A worthy follow-up to its predecessor, The Magicians. I thought was a little less dark than prequel, although it’s certainly not happy fun time in the lives of Quentin and Julia. Whereas the main characters were very unsympathetic in the first novel, this time they come off as more likable. A great book, and I’m hoping there is at least one more on the way.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Just a fun book to read. It’s a fast paced, geek friendly story centered around online gaming and online community. Oh, and it totally shatters the existing world record for number of 80s pop culture references in a book.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Classic Bill Bryson. He examines each room in his 150 year old house, and uses the content or purpose of the room as a take-off point for an trip through history, exploring he we got to a point where the average middle class house (in the US anyway) seems to have one bathroom per resident. It’ll make you real glad you didn’t grow up 150 years ago.

The Magicians: A Novel by Lev Grossman

Take the teenagers go off to magic college meme from Harry Potter, add in the magical land full of talking animals reminiscent of Narnia, mix it up with a bunch of teen and recent college grad angst, and you get this wonderful book. However, these aren’t the choir boys that attend Hogwarts. These teenage magicians drink, do drugs, smoke, have sex, and all the other teenage / early 20s proclivities, so it’s probably not a book to suggest to your 12 year old Harry Potter fanatic. But you and you older teen kids will definitely want to read it.

Jetpack Dreams: One Man’s Up and Down (But Mostly Down) Search for the Greatest Invention That Never by Mac Montandon

One man’s quest to answer the question, where the hell are those jetpacks that the future promised us? The answer, unfortunately, is far, far away, but we get to meet an oddball assortment of dreamers along the way that refuse to wait on the future.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

An unique take on the apocalyptic earth story, with an interesting dichotomy between the characters that dive into the science to understand what has happened to the earth, and those that retreat into religion. I also liked the converging time line, with the first person story being told both in current events, and looking back, with the time lines converging at the end of the book. Although it is a science fiction book, it’s not really a science fiction story. The story is more about relationships and how people react to the cataclysmic event.

The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood by Jane Leavy

Mantle was a lousy husband, crappy father, and perpetually injured throughout his career. Who knows what kind of numbers he would have put up if he had been healthy. I’m too young to have grown up watching him, so he was always just one of those old timers to me, and one who played for the wrong team :) Knowing how screwed up he really was doesn’t really help me. In fact, I’m not sure I’m really happy about knowing. Maybe I should have just let old legends lie.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford

I wanted to love this book, but I just couldn’t. I agree with the author thesis, but unfortunately the book reads too much like a master’s thesis. It just wasn’t fun to read, even though I mostly agree with everything he was saying.

The Disunited States of America by Harry Turtledove

A fun YA story in which a couple of teens are trapped on the Ohio / VA border in a war between those two states in a 2091 America that never replaced the Articles of Confederation. One of the teens was visiting from CA, a much more progressive state than VA, especially when it comes to race relations. The other teen is a visitor from an alternate time line, essentially our world in 2091. Touches on issues of racism in a mature and interesting manner that won’t come off as preachy.

Makers by Cory Doctorow

Not my favorite book by Corey at all. There is a cool story built around the maker culture in here, but it gets dragged down by bad relationship drama,and one overly long and poorly done sex scene that should have started with, 'Dear Penthouse Letters."

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

In Fuzzy Nation, Scalzi combines his usual quick witted take on sci-fi with a legal thriller to produce a totally fun book to read. Even though the book is loads of fun, it takes on a very serious issue. What would happen if corporate America were mining a distant planet and stumbled into a sentient life form whose existence threatened its investment in the planet? Also, Fuzzy Nation gets the honor of being the first book I ever read on a Kindle. I enjoyed the experience more than I expected.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

I finally feel like I sort of understand what happened in the mortgage industry meltdown, and I was entertained as I learned. Lewis, as always, writes a very entertaining book. This time he tells us the story of the global financial crisis by helping us get to know a handful of people that saw it coming, and made billions when it happened.

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

Told entirely in letters, notes, and news clippings, Last Days of Summer is the story of Joey Margolis and Charlie Banks. In 1941, 12 year old Joey is a Jewish kid living in a part of Brooklyn where Jewish kids, particularly ones with mouths as big as Joey’s, aren’t treated too well. Charlie Banks is the hot-headed up and coming third baseman for the New York Giants, and he’d just as soon slug a guy for calling him a name on the basepaths as he would hit a long ball over the wall. Joey is a smart-alecky kid with uncanny persistence and a knack for writing letters to famous people that actually elicit replies, like his correspondence with President Roosevelt and his staff, for example.

It’s no shocker, then, that when Joey figures that Charlie Banks might well be the solution to his problem with the neighborhood bullies, Charlie hardly has a chance of resisting. Soon the two are sniping back at each other in letters. It’s not long, though, until their real struggles start to work their way into the letters even if they are buried in snark, fibs, and tough guy-isms. Soon, Charlie is proving himself a worthy stand-in for Joey’s father, a philandering factory owner with no time for anybody but himself and his new wife, and Joey is calling his hot-tempered hero out on his unsportsmanlike conduct. Last Days of Summer is, perhaps, a profoundly implausible story, but that small fact never crosses your mind while you’re reading it. Kluger gives each of his two main characters such vivid, believable voices that you can’t help coming to care about each of them quickly.

Only using letters, Kluger fleshes out an entire cast of characters that include Charlie’s lounge singer girlfriend, Hazel MacKay, arch enemy of Ethel Merman; Joey’s mother and his aunt, a Jewish stereotype of sorts who’s always saying that if things go wrong “let it be on your head;” Joey’s upstairs neighbor Craig Nakamura, his partner in entrepreneurial pursuits and tracking the movements of old Mrs. Aubaugh the “German spy” with the wooden leg; Charlie’s teammate Stuke, famous for making the first unassisted triple play in 21 years; not to mention Joey’s Rabbi, a patient if humorless man who gets more than he bargained for when the distinctly un-Jewish Charlie steps in for Joey’s dad at Joey’s Bar Mitzvah. Given all this, it’s not surprising that Last Days of Summer is laugh out loud hilarious to the point that you might embarrass yourself while giggling away during lunch break while you’re at a table by yourself. What is surprising, though, is the way these characters work their way into your heart while you’re busy trying not to laugh too loudly in public, how the story can be heartwarming without ever crossing the line into cheesy, and how, even when you guess the ending coming from a hundred pages off, it still takes you by surprise and makes you cry like a baby. I absolutely loved this story of a pair of unlikely buddies who needed each other more than they could have guessed and of two boys who ultimately teach each other how to be men.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Every once in a while you have to go back and re-read a classic. It’s been over 30 years , but the stories all still seemed so familiar. Really, everybody should read Tom Sawyer, and not some modern whitewashed version either.

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella

A 2000 inning long baseball game.....check. Time travel......check. Native American mythology.....check. A slightly odd church that lives life 12 hours offset from the rest of the world....check. Finding the love of your life. Again. Or previously....check. Learning that getting what you’ve always wanted doesn’t necessarily solve your problems....priceless? This is just a fantastic book. I finished it last night and I’m ready to re-read it starting today. Kinsella, who wrote “Shoeless Joe,” which was the basis for the movie Field of Dreams, gives us another fantastical story of magic, love, and life wrapped around the mythology of baseball, and once again set in a Midwestern corn field.

The Plot to Kill Jackie Robinson by Donald Honig

I picked this up at a used bookstore and it’s the best 3 dollars I’ve spent in a long time. It’s film noir, on paper, as the author really captures the feel of the times in this hardboiled crime fiction set in NYC in the months leading up to opening day, 1947, with Jackie Robinson playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It’s a good story that moves along quickly, and would make one hell of a good movie. ESPN, are you listening?

At The Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War by Thomas Reed

This book can be neatly divided into two halves. The first half, encompassing the author’s career from his start in the USAF in the late 50s, through Reagan’s election in 1980, is a fascinating account of cold war history that reads like a Tom Clancy novel. Once Reagan is elected, and the author becomes Secretary of USAF, it becomes too autobiographical and loses objectivity. He spends 4 chapters cheer leading Reagan’s accomplishments, and devotes about two sentences to Iran Contra, which he seemed to blame on Nancy. There is a lot of fascinating history in this book, and the I do share the author’s admiration for the men and women on the ground who never screwed up and pushed us over the brink into WWIII. One thing you will get from this book is a sense of just how lucky we are to have made it through the cold war without a civilization ending accident.

Brainiac by Ken Jennings

Ken Jennings is much, much funnier than you would expect. The book is 50% stories from Jeopardy, and 50% tour of trivia culture in the US. But it is 100% funny.

Under the Dome by Stephen King

1070 pages, yet it felt like a quick read. In fact, I read it in about a week. The basic plot - an invisible force field cuts a small New England town off from the world. Imagine living in a snow globe. How would you react? How would other react? At one point about half-way through the book I almost quit. It was so dark, and so depressing, the evil in men’s hearts so domineering, that I really didn’t want to read anymore about it. Luckily, that is the point where good starts to make its presence known. This is not scary in the Salem’s Lot or Pet Cemetery sense. It’s scary because King has nailed human nature in this book, and it isn’t pretty.

The Film Club: A Memoir by David Gilmour

The word unschooling is never used in this book, but trust me, this is a book about unschooling. The author’s 16 year old son is flunking out of high school. School just doesn’t work for him. So he makes a deal with the kid. He can drop out, but he has to watch 3 movies a week with dad. How much can you learn watching 3 movies a week? How much can you learn about somebody else by watching 3 movies a week with them? I think we all instinctively know the answer to those questions is “a lot.” The author is a professional movie critic. His insights into the movies, the movie selections themselves, and his conversations with his son, are all fascinating. This book is a fun, quick read. But that doesn’t mean that is doesn’t have a much bigger message. Content warning: The 16 year old in the book smokes, drinks, and fornicates with his girlfriends. His father is aware of all of this. If that bothers you, don’t read the book.

Now I Can Die In Peace by Bill Simmons

I first read this in the Spring 2005. Simmon’s collection of his Red Sox related columns though that fateful October night in St Louis in 2004 is a must read for any Red Sox fan. On re-read as Spring Training ramps up in 2011, some of the pop culture references are really dated, but because I’m old enough to remember them all, also still really funny.

Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner

Punk rock, monster movies, and Zen. It’s hard to see how those go together, but they do, in Brad’s life anyway. Hardcore Zen is part auto-biography, part intro to Buddhism, and whole lot of fun. This was actually a re-read. I originally read Hardcore Zen a couple of years ago.

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge

Possibly the single best account in life in the infantry during the Pacific Campaign of WWII. This book is the basis for the HBO show, The Pacific, which I have not seen yet. Sledge’s descriptions of the horrific conditions suffered by the Marines on Peleliu and Okinawa defy simple explanation. That anybody came out of that campaign with their sanity intact is a miracle. That Sledge came out of alive, without even a Purple Heart, is either a miracle, or random luck. Take your pick. That so many young men willingly did this is something that I can’t even wrap my head around.

Return to Eden by Harry Harrison

The 3rd book in the Eden trilogy, and the rare case of the third book being just as good, if not better than the other two. This series is highly recommended for any fan if sci-fi or alternative history.

Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John Hennessy

2nd Manassas is a somewhat overlooked battle in the American Civil War. That is a shame, because it provides a compelling drama in the brilliance of General Lee’s leadership, contrasted sharply with the utter incompetence of General Pope on the Union Side. This richly detailed account gets deep into the weeds of regimental level troop movements, but does so in a way that maintains a focus on the fact that these are real live people fighting and dying on the battlefield.

I never really understood 2nd Manassas prior to the book. It doesn’t have that one majestic battle that is associated with the more famous Civil War events. Instead, it is comprised of clashes set over several days. Lee just misses the chance to destroy the Union Army here. It is amazing how often the survival of either the Union or CSA armies in this war came down to a matter of just a few minutes. Both sides missed numerous chances to end this war years before the final surrender at Appomattox. A delay by Jackson of maybe an hour on the final day could have cost Lee his chance to pin the Union army in, and destroy it. Who knows what the US and even the world would look like today if that had happened.

Even though this campaign is a resounding victory for Lee, it is a victory at a steep cost. The losses and attrition resulting from the battle and the march through Manassas to Maryland would severely impact Lee’s ability to achieve victory at Antietam later in the fall.

The Forever War by Joe Hadleman

A 1974 book about an inter-stellar war that goes on forever, with an enemy we don’t understand, fought by soldiers that were drafted, and led by officers that are idiots. Vietnam anybody? Anybody? This parable of the follies of war is as relevant today as it was in 1974. By taking the never ending war to a ridiculous extreme and by applying the paradox of near light speed travel to the protagonist, we get a hero who lives through the entire 1000 year war, while only aging a few years himself. The difficulties of integrating back into a culture that has gone through several generations while you aged two years also lets Hadleman say something about shell-shocked Vets that volunteered to go back to 'Nam 2 or 3 times. Tea Party sympathizers, if they can even get through an anti-war novel, will recoil in horror and how humanity solves its war problem. Everybody should read this book though, especially those that won’t get it.


Virtual Light by William Gibson

Entertaining enough read, but the ending seemed to come out of nowhere. Gibson’s vision of a 2005 dystopian San Francisco, complete with huge homeless community squatting on the Golden Gate Bridge, is well developed. In fact, the big ideas in this book (SF and LA after the big one, a fractured USA, South American data havens, TV Christian cults,) are all really well developed. It’s the plot of the book that was a little thin.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

Apparently, I don’t dig Steampunk. I couldn’t get past page 100.

Night Relics by James Blaylock

Creepy. That is the best way to describe this book. It’s a ghost story, full of people with secrets, people seeing ghosts, and people trying to reconcile the two and figure out if they are connected. The book will send a chill up your spine at various points. It starts out quite creepy, gets a little slow in the middle, and then ends with a bang that left me a little confused. I’m not sure I really understand what happened in the end, and I suspect that was the intent of the author. Some things should not see the light.

Tongue of Serpents by Naomi Novik

I’ve been a huge fan of this series, going so far as attending a reading and getting a book signed by Naomi. However, I felt like I was forcing myself to finish this book. Nothing really happens. They spend the entire book traveling across the bland and featureless desert landscape of Australia. There is no action, and the dragons self-absorption has become annoying. I’m sure I’ll finish out the series, but I hope the next book is far better.

The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock [permalink]
by Frank O’Reilly

The definitive book on The Battle of Fredericksburg. Incredibly detailed, exhaustively researched, and vivid in it’s description of the horrors of war. In a lot of ways, it’s the ultimate anti-war book.I can’t imagine reading this and thinking the carnage is cool. Although it delves deep into the minutia of troop level movements and battle strategy, Frank’s writing style keeps you completely engaged, and his extensive use of directly quoted accounts from the participants brings a real humanity to this 150 year old battle. And if you are ever in Fredericksburg and have the opportunity to take a tour led by Frank, don’t skip the chance.

All the Bells on Earth by James Blaylock

As usual, Blaylock dances on the line between fantasy and horror with his novels. This one might lean a little more to to the horror side than some of his other work, and it’s not quite as fast paced as The Last Coin. Still a very good read though.

Coyote Destiny by Allen Steele

Book 5 of the series I think? Good story, but not my favorite. I think the Coyote stories are maybe becoming a little bit predictable.

The Life of Johnny Reb by Bell Irvin Wiley

If you ever wondered what it was like to fight for the CSA, this book is for you. It’s a detailed and scholarly description of the life of the common foot soldier in the Confederate Army. It got repetitive in the final 3rd of the book, but you’ll learn enough in the first 2/3 of the book to be happy.

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Godin takes an interesting Fast Company article and tries to expand it into a book. It didn’t work for me. Find an article online and save the cash.

To Sail Beyond The Sunset by Robert Heinlein

There are some Heinlein books that I love. This is not one of them. I couldn’t finish it.

Winter in Eden by Harry Harrison

In this follow up to Return to Eden, the reptiles are expanding into human territory, and the humans are fighting back. This is a fantastic sequel in which man’s ingenuity and ability to learn and matched against the reptile race’s dominion over nature. I won’t spoil it by telling you who wins.

West of Eden by Harry Harrison

So what if that meteor never hit earth, and man didn’t evolve as the dominant species? What if the dominant species was a reptile with more advanced technology than man, and they were out to wipe humans off the face of the planet? A very entertaining story.

Rise To Rebellion by Jeff Shaara

In this historical fiction novel, Shaara goes back and looks at the period from the Boston Massacre to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Per his usual style, the facts are accurate while he dives into the heads of the participants to to present their POV. As usual, it works brilliantly.

I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne

It took me most of the first chapter to stop hearing Ozzy’s slurred British accent as I read, but once I got over that this book was very entertaining, as in LOL funny at times. How Ozzy is still alive is a mystery. He doesn’t skip anything in the book. The drugs, alcohol, drugs, more booze, even more drugs, bats, pigeons, jail time, etc are all there. If these are the stories he can remember I’m not sure we want to hear the stories that he’ll never remember. I thought the Motley Crue book set the bar pretty high for rock and roll debauchery, but Ozzy shows that he is the master in that dubious category. I was really expecting him to deny some of the more outrageous stories I heard as a teenager, but it seems as most of it was all true. Even with all that, Ozzy still comes off as a genuinely likable bloke. All the usual content warnings apply, this is not a book for anybody that is offended by creative use of the F word. But if you grew up on Black Sabbath and Ozzy, as I did, you’ll want to read this book.

For The Win by Cory Doctorow

In For The Win, Cory Doctorow takes on the world of online gaming. Specifically, he uses online gaming and gold farming to write a near future novel built around the idea of oppressed and abused gold farmers in China and India needing to unionize to get a fare shake from the bosses. It’s more interesting that it sounds, really. For today’s under-educated teens, they’ll get a pretty good education in economics as Cory frequently steps away from the plot to explain the economics behind gaming. In his previous novel, Doctorow took hacking and made it heroic. This time he does the same thing with online gaming. Close minded conservatives will hate the book because of the positive depiction of unions, and to be fair, even I think Doctorow could have put just a little of the big business point of view into the story. It’s not always 100% about simple exploitation of the workers. It’s a riveting story built around near future technology, economics, gaming, and union organization. Little Brother is still my favorite book by Doctorow, but For The Win is a close second.

No Less Than Victory by Jeff Shaara

No Less Than Victory is the 3rd and final book of the WWII in Europe trilogy. I don’t need to do a long winded review on this one. If you’ve read any other Shaara books you know what you are getting. It’s a meticulously researched historical novel with realistic and very believable details added to fill in the gaps that we will never really know.

Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes

An alternate, and more accurate subtitle for this book would be, “How the Soviets Stole The Bomb.” There is a fair amount of science in the book, and I had flashbacks to high school chemistry when Rhodes started printing nuclear equations. However, if science isn’t your thing you can skim those sections as the book overall is definitely recommended.

A fair amount of the book focuses on the post WWII espionage efforts of the USSR to catch up on bomb making by stealing all the secrets from the US. They mostly succeed in that department and the book often reads like a top notch spy thriller.

Another focus is the political machinations around getting the thermonuclear bomb built. Scientists with egos invested in the process had differing opinions of how best to go about it. Some scientists, upon seeing the devastation in Hiroshima, had second thoughts about building an exponentially more powerful bomb. And some thought we should build the bomb, but that just one nation having it was a destabilizing influence in the world. Not surprisingly, these differing factions didn’t get along with each other.

The final third of the book is a somewhat quickpaced history of the beginnings of the cold war. There are accusations online that Rhodes' history is not entirely accurate through this part of the book. Details aside, what I took from it is that we were much closer to nuking Korea during that war than I had ever imagined, and that elements within SAC strongly believed that a preemptive nuclear strike on the USSR (before they got their bomb program rolling) was a really fine idea. Also, and this really isn’t news, the CIA was generally widely inaccurate with their estimates of Soviet capabilities. Also interesting to me was just how much of the US economy was going into the bomb program in the 50s. Those glory days of free market capitalism in mid-century didn’t really exist. The economy was booming in big part to all the money the government was spending building bombs. Overall, the book is highly recommended as a richly detailed look at the early years of the cold war and the political machinations surrounding The Bomb

The God Engines by John Scalzi

Scalzi tries something new here. It’s not his traditional sci-fi story. It’s fantasy, and dark fantasy at that. He takes the idea that a God’s strength and power is directly connected to the faith of its followers, and plays that out to a dark and disturbing conclusion. This is a novella, only 130 or so pages that I easily read in an hour or so. It’s a great story that definitely held my interest. However, it seems like there was a full length novel just begging to to written here. Maybe this is Scalzi’s way of testing out a new universe before diving in. I could see multiple novels coming out of the world he has created here.

A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti by Bartlett Giamatti

A quick and easy read in which Giamatti’s best work writing about baseball is collected into one volume. A must read for any baseball fan.

The Mallorean Volume 2 by David Eddings

The final two books in Eddings epic 10 book story of the battle between good and evil. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you who wins ;) The Mallorean and The Belgariad are highly recommended for fans of Lord of The Rings, or really anybody that enjoys a good story.

The Mallorean Volume 1 by David Eddings

David Eddings does like his 5-part epic stories. After saving the world once, Belgarion gets called out again when his son is kidnapped as part of the ultimate and final meeting of dark and light. Volume 1 encompasses “Guardians of the West", "King of the Murgos” and “Demon Lord of Karanda.” Do not read these books without first reading The Belgariad series. Although the story could stand on its own, I think it’s more enjoyable as a 10 book arc.

The Belgariad Volume 2 by David Eddings

The epic quest concludes with books 4 and 5 (Sorceress of Darshiva, The Seeress of Kell). The series was so successful that Eddings got to write a follow up. 5 more books.

The Belgariad Volume 1 by David Eddings

The Belgariad is an epic fantasy in the spirit of Lord of The Rings. However, it’s much easier reading, sort of a LOTR light. That’s not meant to imply that it’s not good though. The story is fun and the characters are interesting. You just don’t need to learn Elvish to get through the book :) Volume 1 contains 3 books (Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician’s Gambit)


Pretty sure I read more than two books in 2009 :) I guess I was really lazy about updating the database.

Nam: The Vietnam War in the Words of the Men and Women Who Fought There by Mark Baker

There are still a lot of questions about the Vietnam War. Why we were there in the first place, what went wrong, could we have won? This book answers none of them. Instead, this book is a deftly edited narrative based on interviews with Vets. Nobody is named, and their stories from Vietnam are raw, gritty, profane, and horrifying. This is the phrase “War is hell” personified. However, it does provide some insight into how good people, when put into horrifying situations, can allow themselves to do horrifying things. I think we’d all be better off if we tried a little harder to stop putting our military into horrifying situations.

What We Hold In Our Hands by Fred First

Fred First’s 2nd book reads much like how I imagine a conversation with him over an iced tea would proceed. A wide range of topics, all approached with a naturalists eye and the gentle yet wry humor of a southern gentleman. Fred has a level of contentment with his life that I’m still searching for, and the lessons learned from his stories will help me get there. Fred “gets” more out of his remote 40 acres in the VA mountains than many of us do in the hustle and bustle of the big city. The lesson here is to slow down, smell the roses, turn over the rocks in the creek with your kids, look up at the birds in the sky, and appreciate the wonder that is life on this small insignificant planet, even if your suburban back yard is as close as you normally get to the wilds of nature.


Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

So you are an intelligent, peaceful race of aliens that wants to make contact with the humans on earth. Unfortunately, you smell bad, and in your natural state you are essentially an intelligent blob of jello. What do you do? You hire an agent, of course! The Yherajk, highly intelligent, and mostly hip to earth culture after monitoring our TV signals for years, hire a hot shot Hollywood agent to do for them what he has done for the careers of marginally talented actors and actresses. Because this is a Scalzi novel, pop culture references abound, and the LOL moments are plentiful. Interestingly, this is actually Scalzi’s first book, which he released as shareware back in the olden days of the Internets. The original version is still online if you want to read it for free. The republished version was edited to bring the pop culture references up to date, and I imagine just generally improved all around since Scalzi now has multiple novels under his belt and is (one would assume) a better writer than he was when 1997. Like all Scalzi novels, Agent to the Stars is highly recommended.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

Zoe’s Tale is a retelling of the story from Scalzi’s book The Last Colony. Except this time we get the story through the eyes of 17 year old Zoe Boutin Perry, the adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan, the stars in The Last Colony. It’s your basic teenage girl leaves home planet to help colonize a new planet and gets caught up in a plot between 400+ planets that requires her to save the day, all while dealing with a moody boyfriend and the fact that she is a deity like figure to a race of beings that can crush a human like a twig story. Zoe’s Tale is Scalzi’s first effort to write a book that will appeal to the teen market, and in that regard I think Scalzi scores. 17 year old Zoe is a protagonist that teenage girls will completely identify with, while teenage boys will secretly crush on her knowing that in real life, they would be completely and totally intimidated by a girl like Zoe. Note that appeals to teens and a real life YA book are different things. From a content standpoint, this is a PG-13 book for normal people. PG-you-are-going-to-burn-in-hell for fundy homeschoolers.

The Appeal by John Grisham

I stayed up until 1 AM reading last night, yet still got up at 6 AM and ran. Yea me! The Appeal is Grisham’s take on dirty politics and the influence of money in elections. A chemical company whose pollution has caused many deaths in backwoods Mississippi loses a million dollar verdict. They decide to win the appeal by stacking the Mississippi Supreme Court. They recruit a nice, polite Christian lawyer to run on a pro-business, pro-family, anti-gay marriage agenda and pump millions into the race from out of state conservative groups with no real interest in Mississippi. The book, as the saying goes, is a page turner. It ties together nicely several issues that come up here frequently. The influence of money on government and the hypocrisy of the religious right. Although to be fair, the social conservative groups in the book are mostly tools being used by big business interests. You know, just like in the real life Republican Party. And it wraps these issues around a fictional story that could easily be true. Grisham’s last book was a true story that read like fiction. The Appeal is fiction that reads like an episode of 48 hours.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Sunday night I was up until 1 AM reading. Last night I finished the book at 2 AM. That probably tells you all you need to know about my opinion of the book. Breck read it in one sitting the day it came in. I handed him the book at 1:30 PM and he was done at dinner time. My thoughts on the book in no particular order.

  1. First and foremost it’s a damn entertaining yarn. Even if you ignore the message (which I’m not sure is possible) it’s just a great story.
  2. The message is important. The author, Cory Doctorow, used to be the European Director for the EFF. He is clearly trying to influence teenagers to take civil rights seriously, to not lay down and let the government continue to erode our freedom in the name of safety. It’s not a fair trade, and they are not making us safer anyway. He demonstrates that line of thought brilliantly in the book.
  3. Cool technology and civil rights issues aside, at it’s core this is a coming of age story about a 17 year old who through the horror of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, his imprisonment and torture by the Dept. of Homeland Security, his success galvanizing some action against the government oppressors, and falling in love for the first time, figures out who is he and what is important to him in life. I wish I’d figured that stuff out at 17. Hell, I’m not sure I have it totally figured out today!
  4. The book contains an epilogue by noted security guru Bruce Schneier, and a bibliography of resources for teens interested in learning more about the issues raised in the book.

Given my diverse readership, I should probably offer up a mild content warning. Our hero is a 17 year old computer and gaming geek. He may be thinking about PKI encryption way more than the average kid, but he isn’t thinking about sex any less often. It may be a YA book, but it’s a YA book that treats teens like young adults, and not over grown children. That said, I think every 14 year old in the country should read this book. Their parents too. You don’t even have to buy it. Cory gives all his books away for free online. For a traditional bound copy, try Amazon. 20 years from now, we make look back at 2008 as a turning point. The year we turned away from a jingoistic selfish view of the world. It may be also be the year we stopped trading freedom for security, and ending up with less of both. If that second one comes to pass, it won’t surprise me at all if many of our leaders in 2030 reference Little Brother as a major influence in their life.

Anvil by Greg Bear

Anvil of Stars is the sequel to The Forge of God. In Anvil, a group of 80 teenagers have been plucked from the survivors of earth’s destruction and tasked with hunting down and eliminating the creators of the robots that destroyed earth. They are guided by robot overlords who train them for the task but otherwise don’t interfere. The book starts sort of slowly, with the first third or so being a “Lord of the Flies” like examination of how these kids would self organize and structure their society. The 2nd half of the book is much better IMO, and when they meet up with another sentient alien species also hunting the killers it becomes difficult to stop reading, as evidenced my finishing the book at 2 AM last night. The 2nd half also becomes a bit of a morality play as the kids wrestle with the decision to potentially kill trillions of innocent life forms that are shielding the killers. You don’t have to read Forge first to enjoy this book, but I recommend it. Forge was so great that no sequel would stand up, and that is sort of the case here. Anvil is fine book and if you are a sci-fi fan you’ll enjoy it. Just be warned that you may have to force yourself to slug through the first third or so, but the payoff is worth it.

The Heroin Diaries by Nickki Sixx

When I was a college freshmen my father handed me Wired: The Short Life & Fast Times Of John Belushi. It was as close as he came to ever having a drug talk with me. The Heroin Diaries by Nickki Sixx might be that book for Gen X. I don’t see how anybody could read this sordid tale and come away with any desire to do drugs. I stayed up late several nights to finish the book. The brutal honesty in the diary entries is addictive itself.

The book is built around Sixx’s diary that he wrote in regularly from Christmas 1986 to Christmas 1987. This was when Motley Crue was peaking. They released Girls, Girls, Girls in 87 and toured to support it the entire year. What is striking is just how miserable Sixx was the entire time. He should have been on top of the world, instead he was barely alive in the depths of a heroin and cocaine addiction that probably should have killed him several times that year. The diary entries describing the depths of his addiction and misery are powerful. The after the fact commentaries supplied by Sixx himself, the band, his managers, etc reflecting on these diary entries 20 years later are also quite powerful. Nobody admits to understanding just how far gone Sixx was back then. I know addicts are often quite good at hiding it, but I think in this case there was an element of not wanting to know.

One humorous aside (or maybe it’s not funny, I’m not sure) is that Sixx’s writing while whacked out on drugs makes far more sense than the stuff his now sober ex-girlfriend Vanity contributed. I think her drug use in the 80s did permanent brain damage. I don’t know how much editing was done to the diary stuff, but Sixx wrote some stuff in 86 while whacked out that was surprisingly prescient. He wrote about how the record companies chewed up rock bands to maximize the immediate profit with no thought to the long term consequences to the band. He was convinced that as long as he kept making everybody around him rich they would continue to enable his destructive lifestyle. He was right. He talks about how screwed musicians are by not owning the rights to their output, and in fact he is still under an NDA on how he out negotiated the record company and got 100% of the rights for all Motley Crue’s records, which he then assigned to a record label owned by the band. He predicted Guns N Roses would be huge well before they broke big.

For a drugged out high school dropout rock star, he is pretty smart. The book is borderline soft core porn. Between the detailed descriptions of his drug use, the photography, and the descriptions of certain after the show activities involving groupies, this is definitely not a book for kiddies, or adults squeamish about the stereotypical elements of the rock and roll lifestyle. That said, a 16 year old dreaming of dropping out of school to chase the rock and roll dream very well might be scared straight be this. I can’t imagine a more realistic look at life as an addict. Disclaimer – the author of this post is still a Motley Crue fan, and in fact saw the Girls Girls Girls tour in Indianapolis in 1987.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives by Wil Wheaton

Wil Wheaton has a talent for taking his past, and his present, and making it yours. The Happiest Days Of Our Lives is mostly about the past, and how it connects to the now. It’s about growing up as a D&D, fantasy role playing video game nerd that was more interested in getting high score on a game than scoring on a date. Well, maybe not necessarily more interested, but the game high score had better odds. Been there, done that, and I could still kick your ass in Popeye if we could only find a machine. You may not have been a D&D nerd, but growing up is growing up, and I think we all experience pretty much the same stuff. Wil takes that stuff and builds entertaining, touching, and often hilarious stories around them that will resonate with anybody from that grew up in the 70s and came of age on the 80s.

Against All Odds: An Autobiography by James Dyson

I read James Dyson’s biography in 3 days. It is that good. Of particular interest to my readers will be chapter 2, where he just skewers the public education system in England. It was interesting that he successfully designed several products prior to his vacuum, but poor legal and ownership decisions led to him not reaping the financial rewards that should have come his way. Also interesting was the legal battle with Amway, who stole his design (I knew they were evil), and utter lack of creativity from the big name manufacturers that just could not conceive of a vacuum without a bag. Or more likely, couldn’t fathom a business without the highly profitable business of selling vacuum cleaner bags. The book is also quite inspirational if you are itching to build a better something, and I think it will apply equally regardless of if the something is a website, or a consumer product.

Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer by Maureen Ogle

I learned a lot from this book. The history of beer in the US really starts in the 1800s, not in colonial times. German immigrants brought the brewing skills with them, and set up biergartens wherever they settled, most famously in Milwaukee. Germans also saved the US from the first round of prohibition just before the civil war. The brewers were able to convince governments across the country that the typical beer at 3.2% alcohol was not an intoxicating beverage. Also, the typical German immigrant that went to church and then spent Sunday afternoon at the biergarten with the whole family set a model for a moral lifestyle that could coexist with the more puritanical elements of society. It ultimately turned public favor against the temperance movement, although the Civil War also had a lot to do with the shift in priorities. Later, home brewing sort of led to the craft brewing revolution. I always thought it was the other way around. I do have a couple of minor criticisms of the book though. It does read a little too much like a history textbook at times. Although I was very interested in the subject, I found it hard to read more than a chapter each night. Also, after covering the early history of beer in detail, the craft brewing revolution of the last 20 years sort of got the quick overview treatment in the final 2 chapters. I would have liked to see more depth applied to recent history. That said, it’s probably a must read for anybody that cares about the beer reviews I post here.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

In The Last Colony we return to the universe inhabited by John Perry and Jane Sagan, our heros from Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades. They are happily married, retired from military duty, and living the comfortable life of civil servants while raising their teenage daughter. Of course, this can’t last. Like the previous books in this trilogy, the plot moves along swiftly. Scalzi gets more action into a 300 page novel than many of his contemporaries can get into 600 pages. The thing I really like about Scalzi is that even though his characters inhabit a future world with technology we can barely imagine, they (the humans anyway) are still just people who act more or less like you or I would in the same situation. Bacon even makes an appearance in the book, although I have no idea if that was inspired by the infamous Bacon Cat incident. Compared to the two earlier chapters of the trilogy, this book has less shoot ‘em up military action. The action here is really more political intrigue as Perry unravels the conspiracy that he has gotten his family mixed up in. So it’s a little different than it’s predecessors, but you’ll still have problems putting it down once you start reading.

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

I finished reading Mayflower last night. To say my American history education was a little off on what really happened around Plymouth would be an understatement.

  • Within 24 hours of landing on shore, the Pilgrims had stolen corn from the natives. They did ultimately pay it back a year later to help smooth over a dispute.
  • The Pilgrims came to the New World in search of religious freedom, for themselves. They had no interest in allowing free choice in that area for anybody else though.
  • The Pilgrims considered religious celebrations to be blasphemous. They certainly would not have been on board with Thanksgiving. They did have a feast with their native neighbors, but they didn’t mix fun and religion.
  • They didn’t believe marriage was a religious issue. All marriages were civil affairs.
  • I got though high school history without ever hearing of King Philip’s War. It was the more deadly than the Civil War. About 8% of the colonist population and 12% of the native population perished in the fighting. The Pilgrims managed to live peacefully (more or less) with the natives for about 50 years before competition for land and natural resources caused tensions to flare and led to war. The war was not native versus colonists either. Without significant native allies, the colonists would not have had a chance.
  • The Pilgrims were merciless bastards in war and believed the Bible justified selling native captives into slavery. Boatloads of women and children were sent south the the Caribbean Islands. - Indian culture and society was far more sophisticated than was presented in my history classes.
  • 10% of the country today can trace a branch of their family tree back to the original Plymouth settlement. The colonists were quite enthusiastic about recording the events of their lives.

The truth was always out there, it was just whitewashed to present an idealized version of how this country started. I give the book the ‘ole 2 thumbs up.

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

I finished The Shadow of the Torturer last night. It’s book one of the 4 book series The Book of The New Sun. It’s an absolute classic of fantasy and has won every award they give out. Meh. Gene Wolfe is a wonderful writer with a command of the English language that I can only dream about, but after 200 pages I simply don’t give a damn about the lead character Severian. And since the books are a first person account of Severian’s life, it’s sort of difficult to continue reading when I don’t care about the character.

The Check List by Dr. Manny Alvarez

Dr. Alverez is the medical editor for Fox News. His new book, The Checklist: What You and Your Family Need to Know to Prevent Disease and Live a Long and Healthy Life , is a decade by decade guide to all the stuff that typically starts to go wrong with you. It’s not as morbid as it sounds though. The real value of this book is all the common sense advice on what you can be doing to prevent said maladies. Dr. Manny writes in a straight forward, easy to understand manner that you would expect from somebody that frequently has to get his point across in the 45 seconds Fox News gives him to explain an important new medical development. I’m usually pretty cynical about medical self help types of books – but this one is actually useful. And I’m not just saying that because I got a review copy from the webmaster of Ask Dr. Manny.

Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top by Seth Mnookin

The inside scoop on the Red Sox from the time John Henry bought the team, with an emphasis on 2004, of course! Reads more like a soap opera than a sports story at times, but that is why we love the Red Sox, right?

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun by Steve Wozniak

I finished iWoz last night. Usually I trying to take something away from autobiographies. In this case, I’m not sure what to take away. Woz is a fracking genius who saw the potential of computers well before just about every other person on the planet, and had the ability to act on it. He was the first person ever to connect a computer to a keyboard and a TV. He designed and built the Apple 1 and Apple II. His life post-Apple is interesting. He made 10 million dollars and then spent 10 years teaching 5th grade. Actually, there is no post-Apple as he is on the payroll to this day. Very interesting book, especially if you tend towards the geeky side of life.


The Innocent Man by John Grisham

I was up until 2:30 AM last night finishing this book. That should tell you all you need to know about my opinion of it. However, the book is too important to leave at that. The Innocent Man is Grisham’s first non-fiction book. If you didn’t know this was a true story you would never believe it. If Grisham had released this as fiction the critics probably would have panned it as too unbelievable a story. Unfortunately, it is all true.

The small town of Ada, OK really did put two innocent people on death row, one of them chronically mental ill. His state appointed attorney was past his prime, and was blind, literally. There was no evidence to convict the two, so the state manufactured some with junk science and jailhouse snitches willing to say anything for a break on their sentences. There was a real prime suspect, but since he was busy selling drugs to the cops, they weren’t real interested in pursing him. The story takes a real dark turn when Ron Williamson gets to death row. Granted, prison should not be a pleasant place, but we as Americans should be well above refusing proper medical care to prisoners. Even as criminals they have some basic human rights. Not to mention all those in prison that aren’t really criminals. I fear that number is far higher than most of us want to believe.

A side story in the book is Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot. They were convicted and sentenced to life in the same small town after a confession that can only be viewed as extracted via mental torture. They are still in jail to this day. I don’t think there is any doubt that they are innocent. This is not one of Grisham’s lighthearted legal romps. This book is dark and depressing. There is no happy ending in freedom after 9 years on death row and 20+ years of mental illness. No government that can do this sort of stuff to its own citizens can be trusted with the power of life and death. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What power is more absolute than state sanctioned murder? Also, I gained a whole new respect for Barry Scheck. I only knew him previously as part of OJ’s defense team. However, he was instrumental in overturning this travesty of justice, and his organization The Innocence Project continues to work to free wrongly convicted persons.

One more takeaway from the book. If you are ever brought in for questioning by the police, you don’t give them your fucking name until you have an attorney present. Yes, 99% of police officers in this country are upstanding people with your best interests in mind. Unfortunately, you never know when you are dealing with the 1%, and 1/100 is not good odds on your freedom, or your life.

The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

What if a ill timed fart started an international incident that could lead to the destruction of the earth? John Scalzi answers that question in his brilliant new book, The Android’s Dream. It is sort of a spy chase thriller, set in a future in which the US is a bottom feeder in the galactic equivalent of the UN. It’s exciting, and funny. There are more than a couple of LOL moments, and plenty of pop culture references too. There is a certain Hitcher’s Guide vibe to it, although the story does not get quite as ridiculous as H2G2. The ending actually makes sense in this book. It’s highly recommended.

The Onnovore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I just started, I haven’t even followed corn all the way through yet. One thing that I read last night though really stuck in my head. One economist estimated that it takes 1 barrel of oil to get a steak onto your grill. Think about the number of cows in this county. Maybe the real culprit in our energy problems is not Detroit, but wherever it is that Cargill is headquartered. We don’t eat all lot of beef anyway, but I’m wondering how difficult it would be to avoid corn fed beef. I can remember commercials pitching corn fed beef as some sort of advantage. Cows, of course, don’t eat corn, unless it’s force fed to them by humans. It’s not even good for them. They have to be pumped full of antibiotics to counteract the negatives of the corn. It’s an ugly cycle that isn’t good for the cows, or the people.

Eternity by Greg Bear

The sequel to Eon, in which man has a permanent settlement on the asteroid ship, but now has to deal with some ancient enemies of mankind. Like Eon, it is gripping and brilliant at times, but inter sped with just enough technobabble to make finishing feel more like a job than a treat.

  • Eon by Greg Bear*

A cold war inspired epic in which humans, exploring a vast asteroid sized ship from the future in orbit around earth, get trapped there when the Russia and the US launch all their nukes at each other and destroy the planet in the process. The book is long, very heavy on techno babble, and often a chore to read. I did finish it, but it felt forced at times.

Queen of Angels by Greg Bear

I made it about 100 pages into this and just quit. The story didn’t grab me, and stylistically I found it difficult to read.

Slant by Greg Bear

Set in the same universe as Queen of Angels, this is sort of a who-done-it in a future US where just about everybody is happy due to manipulation via nanotech, and everybody is connected to a super high bandwidth Internet full of, well, mostly porn it seems.(Certainly a plausible future!) However, under the surface, problems persist. Fairly fast paced and often tense, this was a pretty good read.

The Forge of Gods by Greg Bear

This is one you want to read. It’s simply one of the finest alien invasion novels, ever. What would happen if The President of the United States announced to the world that aliens were going to destroy the earth, and there absolutely nothing anybody can do about it? Would people fight it, or would they see the aliens as God, delivering His final justice on a weak and sinful people? The answer of course is both. It’s one of those books I carried around with me, sneaking in a few pages every free moment I got. If you enjoy sci-fi at all this book has to be in your library.

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

This was a great book. Set in a future when the US Marines are basically clones, fighting wars out in space. It’s space opera, but it’s space opera with soul.

The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama

If I had to pick one spiritual leader to sit down and have dinner with, it would be His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In this book a US psychiatrist managed to get a bunch of face time to interview him, and write a book on his teachings, from a western perspective. The western part is not needed. The Dalai Lama’s teachings on respect and compassion for all sentient beings, or the fundamental right of all beings to seek happiness, are universally appealing. Translation into western thought is not needed, and in fact detracts from the book. I found myself quickly skimming through anything that the co-author wrote to get back to the direct words of the Dalai Lama. I would not recommend buying the book, only because I think there are probably other books directly authored by the Dalai Lama that will be far more likely to be read multiple times. However, your library probably has the book, and it’s worth checking out.

Slow Road Home by Fred First

In Slow Road Home, VA resident Fred First invites us to join him on his journey to discover his home. I’m not talking about a quest of epic proportions here. I’m talking about Fred getting to know his 40 acres, 1 tree at a time. With a naturalist’s eye, he writes of symphonies of fireflies in his meadow, and the honor of the wood that shades him from the sun as it lives, and heats his home on its death. Fred lives the life I aspire to; busy, but not hurried. There are lessons for all of us in his journey. The world, even our suburban backyards, are wondrous places, if only we would slow down to see it. The book is a selection of essays from his fabulous weblog, Fragments From Floyd, of which I have been a loyal reader for several years.

1776 by David McCullough

Where the not-so-young proprietor of O’DonnellWeb finally gains an understanding of what went on in that first year of the battle for Independence. If school history books had been written like this I might have actually paid attention.

Gene Keady: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth by Gene Keady

After 35 years coaching collegiate basketball you’d think he could come up with more than 150 pages. The book felt very rushed – like he didn’t really want to write it. I remember many of the key games he discussed, but he added little insight into some of the biggest basketball games in Purdue history. Hopefully, this was some sort of contractual obligation and his opus on coaching basketball is still forthcoming.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, travel writer Bill Bryson attempts to track down the answers to life, the universe, and everything. He does an admirable job of putting together a 500+ page book that covers the basics of what we know about the the origin of the Universe, the earth, mankind, etc., in an engaging and entertaining manner. My general impression after reading the book is that we don’t really know a hell of a lot yet. The universe is big; really, really mind blowingly big. Earth is old, about 4.5 billion years old. Sometime about a million years ago early man started to expand geographically from our origins in Africa. However, the entire fossil record of man would fit into the back of a Ford F-150, so the details on just how we got from there to today are mostly conjecture at this point. Also, the geological history of earth would suggest that we are very lucky to be here. 99.99% of all species ever to exist are extinct, and humans have wandered the earth for about .0000001% of it’s time in existence. (Might be off on the number of zeros – too lazy to look up the actual number he referenced in the book.) The next big catastrophic comet / earthquake / volcano could hit tomorrow. Historically speaking, we seem to be overdue for the big one. All of which says to me that maybe we should all relax a bit about {inset cause de jour here}. None of it really matters.

The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams

A must read for any Douglas Adams fan. It’s a collection of essays, letters, articles, and the beginning of a 3rd Dirk Gently book, all recovered from the hard drives of his computers after his way, way, too early death. Plenty of laugh out loud moments, and a few poignant ones too. I feel the need to brew a really good cup of tea, and to re-read H2G2 for the umpteenth time.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Breck picked up The Killer Angels at the Antietam Gift Shop. It’s the story of Gettysburg, told first person through the eyes of Lee, Longstreet, Chamberlain, and others. Obviously, we don’t know exactly what Lee and Longstreet talked about at 12 AM the night before battle, but author Michael Sharra does a damn interesting job of recreating what those conversations might have been like. The book is historically accurate as far as the facts go, with the author filling in all the details from letters and records of the time, colored with his artistic license. More so than any other Civil War book I read, this one gives you a sense of just how bad Lee screwed up at Gettysburg. You get a sense of Lee’s desperation, that he knows the South can’t win a protracted war. You also get the sense that Lee and unreasonable expectations of success from their previous successes. The first person accounts of battle serve as a testament to the glory, and futility, of war. I find myself with a lot more respect for General Longstreet now too. I’m going to have to do some more research to determine if he really was as adamant in his opposition to the Gettysburg battle plan as this book makes him out to be.

Failure is not an Option by Gene Kranz

Kranz was in the mission control center for every launch of the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo programs. His up close and personal recollection of early days of the US Space program is a fascinating read. One thing that struck me though. If we were just starting on the race to the moon today, I don’t think we’d ever get there. These guys took a lot of risks that just would not be allowed today.

Hackers by Stephen Levitt

Hackers is the history of the hacker ethic, starting with the MIT Model Railroad Club in the early 60s hacking on a DEC PDP-0, through the Homebrew Computer Club and the Altair, and ending in the early 80’s with the game hackers turning out games for the Apple II and Atari 800. It’s a good book for a geek, the rest of you will probably be bored.

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown

Before Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code (which I still haven’t read), he wrote this thriller, set in the National Security Agency. It’s very “Tom Clancyish,” full of intrigue, crosses and double crosses, heroic and not so heroic government agents, and heroic and not so heroic hackers. The NSA can read any email sent anywhere (ECHELON anybody?), or they could but now they can’t, or maybe they still can. You’ll have to read the book to figure it out. Set aside a few hours though – this is one of those can’t stop till you finish it books.

Never Call Retreat by Newt Gingrich

This is the third and final installment of Newt Gingrich’s “what if” trilogy on the Civil War. It’s August 1863 and the Union is in deep trouble. Lee has just routed The Army of the Potomac and Grant is moving east with everything he has. It all cumulates in a final battle at Frederick, MD. I’m not saying who wins. I hope Newt stays out of politics and keeps writing though. He and cowriter William Forstchen do a fabulous job of getting you into the nitty gritty details of battle without overdoing the details. The book moves quickly. I gave it to Breck last night at about 9 PM. He handed back at about 3 PM today. I quizzed him. He read it and comprehended it all. The kid scares me sometimes.

Freakanomics by Stephen Levitt

I just finished reading Freakonomics, sort of a lightweight look at social issues, from a Econ 101 point of view. I learned that the illegal drug trade is only very profitable to those at the very top and thus most drug dealers still live with mama. I learned that real estate agents really don’t have your best interests at heart. Actually, I think I already knew that. And I learned that parents don’t matter, or more specifically what we do doesn’t matter. Economist Steven Levitt argues that almost all academic success can be explained by who your parents are, not by what they do for you. Basically, if you are born into a middle class family with parents who both went to college, you are overwhelming likely to do fine in school. Parents that stay home, take junior to museums and do all that other stuff have no measurable impact on junior’s academic success. He did regression analysis on a bunch of government data to get to this conclusion. My immediate thought was…so why the hell am I homeschooling my kids? I’m kidding, that was not my first thought. My first thought was that this guy has a pHD from the University of Chicago and it never occurred to him to think about whether or not all those school tests actually measure anything meaningful. So he’s proved that parents don’t influence the outcome of their kid’s school careers. He didn’t bother to check into whether or not “school success” had any relevance beyond meaningless social sciences studies. That seems to be a hell of a lot more interesting question.

In The Heart of the Sea - The Tragedy of the Waleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

After being rammed by an 85 foot sperm whale in the Pacific, the crew of the Essex must abandoned ship and set out in three rickety whaling boats for the South American coast, which happens to be about 2000 miles away. Along the way most of them die as the survivors are pushed to the absolute limits of the both physical and psychological survival. This is a brilliant book. Author Nathaniel Philbrick does an amazing job enveloping the reader in the sights, sounds, and smells that were the 19th century whaling industry. This is also a true story, put together from the memoirs of two of the survivors, and this real life maritime disaster was the inspiration for Moby Dick.