The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
Great book mixing science, history and politics. The story goes back to understand the science (and the struggle to find the right path and understanding). It also helps you appreciate the way scientists work. It is a thick book, but very rewarding for its insights.
This was a major development in science, but Rhodes downplays it’s military importance. During the way it was speculation on how far along the various countries were in developing an atomic weapon. When the war ended it was clearer that the countries were much farther behind. Rhodes also writes about that time when only Japan is still fighting and the leaders in the U.S. are trying to decide how to bring the war to a quick end.
The atomic bond was terrible but so was the incendiary bombing in cities such as Dresden and Tokyo. Those bombings killed tens of thousands of people too. In the decisions of which cities might be bombed with an atomic bomb, those targets were chosen partially on cities that had not been bombed with incendiaries.
Rhodes book stop with the bombing of Nagasaki, but the book discusses how the scientists were already far along on the development of the thermonuclear bomb. The development of atomic weapons shows just how terrible the rise of Hitler and Nazism was viewed across the world. It was evil that must be stopped.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen
Way outside what I would typically pick, but I enjoyed the book. That’s what trips are for.
Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek
Medical examiners are portrayed as big crime solvers in TVs and movies, but Judy Melinek shows that it’s a lot of routine work with an occasional insight, but few dramatic breakthroughs.
The book was interesting in the intersection of routine life, such as taking the children to the park, in the afternoon after a doing an autopsy after some grisly death.
Melinek also recounts what it was like working in the NY medical examiners office in the months after then 9-11 tragedy and how the suicide of her father impacted her
Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin
“Toms River” is frustrating because it shows how slow it takes to determine if there is a problem and the delays in implementing a solution. Fifty years my be a short time for new scientific research, but it’s a lifetime for people impacted and the businesses that could be held accountable.
Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman
Masterman gave me different views of characters and place, which is one reason I chose it. It had some rough edges, but still enjoyable. This one is set in Arizona and the main character is a former FBI agent, in her late 50s.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
“Capital” is a very long-term look at wealth that argues that wealth is becoming more concentrated, contradicting the common outlook.
The book looks at the situation in several countries, and reaches the same consequence. Hi recommendation of a one-time tax to redistribute wealth is not likely to be enacted anytime soon.
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
A very different view of Helen Keller than from the movie “Miracle Worker”. Her life into college and later was also very interesting and the support of Anne Sullivan and others give a more enjoyable and broader view.
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
I enjoy Bill Bryson. The feel less like a book than sitting down for an evening of fascinating conversation. His stories about Lindbergh and New York theater in 1927 (the high-water mark before radio and talkies) were the best parts.
Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow
A good introduction to the issues of DRM. It helps you understand the issues, but I didn’t feel capable of deciding on new issues and this is an ever-changing frontier now. I am a big fan of Doctorow and enjoy his writings.
Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court by Sandra Day O’Connor
Interesting facts about the Supreme Court, but that was about the extent of the book. I had no pre-knowledge of the books, and I was expecting more.
Skink–No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen
Hiaasen is a wonderfully funny writer. This is a book aimed at Young Adults. It was good, but his earlier books were funnier and more enjoyable.
An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson
The best parts of this book were the stories of how the U.S. learned to fight World War II. It took until 1943 for the U.S. to get its war effort and war smarts developed. The book helps you understand why this theater of the war was so important. Winston Churchill captured the importance of the War in North Africa with this quote: Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
So often we focus on U.S. history of the war starting at D-Day. Atkinson’s book show how D-Day was more the beginning of the last phase of World War II.
Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime — from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door by Brian Krebs
Krebs writes some of the most readable pieces on cybersecurity being published these days. I look forward every day to reading his latest posts.
This books takes a deep and focused view. The pacing of the story is different, but it covers the issue better. It’s a business story and whether legal or illegal, it was interesting to hear how the issues are the same.
Business Adventures by John Brooks
These are old stories from the 50s and 60s, but Brooks’ reporting and writing is as fresh now as it was then. The story about the Ford Edsel was the best.
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King
The first story in the book is intense. It hit me several ways. It took place in association with a murder trail in Columbus, Tenn. It also happened in the early 1950s — less than 15 years from some of my earliest memories about Nashville. My memories are the last sounds of that era. There was still indications, such as schools and signs in some stores.
Much of the book focuses on Thurgood Marshall’s cases in the south where black men faced murder charges and capital punishment in cases where there was little or no evidence. There was no justice in these cases and Marshall led a team trying to find cases that could be appealed — which was the only way any resemblance to justice could be obtained. Justice in these cases was not being found not guilty. It was often just being able to get a death penalty reduced to life imprisonment.
This book won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. Of the several Pulitzer Prize winner I’ve read, “Devil in the Grove” touched me the deepest.
Nella Last’s War by Nella Last
Nella Last recorded her time during World War II as part of project by the U.K. government. The book records her feelings, including the idea that praying for peace or Hitler’s death was pointless. Her argument was that she did not believe God needed convincing by her on what to do. Hard to argue.
The life in the U.K. during World War II is fascinating to me. So is the time in Germany prior to the war. It would also be interesting in the U.S. but the war was more distant for most people. There was a time when the U.K. expected to be invaded and there was proof.
Last writes about food shortages, here two boys, how she managed to keep up her spirit and contribute to the war through thrift shops and other means. She found talents and strengths during the war that she did not realize she had before the war. It really was an enjoyable book and I learned more about the lives of the families and people who lived with the uncertainty and fear of that war.
Code Breakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park edited by F.H. Hinsley and Alan Stripp — A collection of memories by people who worked at Bletchley Park. Some of the stories are very technical, but it gives an good day-to-day idea of what it was like to work there. There were many codes needing breaking many from Gernmany and from other countries too. Not all the codes were transmitted through Enigma either. In World War I, the British used the Playfair Cipher, which the German’s broke. So codes are used with the realization that they will be broken. It’s just a question of when and how soon the next code is adopted. Also the code from Enigma machines was used for at least 15 years before World War II. Much of the initial breaking of the code was done by the Poles. Britain developed methods and technologies to quickly break the codes and respond with that intelligence. Some of the biggest advantages were in fighting Rommel in North Africa.
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb — This was published in 2001 before he became popular with The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. I agree that much of what is predictable and measurable as signs for success might really be random luck. It doesn’t mean that factors such as education, careful and reflective aren’t important, but just be aware that there are many more factors that are random. From this book, I went to to his latest book.
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb — This one felt long on preaching and less on actionable items. He also branched into lots of areas from medicine to U.S. foreign policy to modern professionals, especially economists. He also is no fan of journalists and stock analysts. I liked the story that the less popular journalists, such as radio journalists compared with TV, the more likely they were to have read and tried to understand his books and message. His books remind us to be more skeptical and remember there’s always a lot more noise than important information. I really wonder if he’s able to stay away from the news media as much as professes. He may need those frequent injections of anger the way some need their morning cup of coffee.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller — I’m a fan of apocalypse novels. While I was reading this, I also saw World War Z. Apocalypse novels do make us realize how thin the threads of civilization are and make me wonder if I would even have the chance to be a survivor. This story is told in the first person and it can take a little to get the flow of the narrative, but it is a good story. The story takes place nine years after a pandemic infection. I wonder if the conditions described in the book would take nine years to reach. From One Second After, I don’t know how long modern society could really last. Gasoline goes bad, which is acknowledged in the book, but so many other things would break and fail and little way to keep them going. Would the knowledge be really lost or would there be just enough to let us, or them, survive? That’s the trickiest balance of all. These books have to believe there is hope, and I guess I read them with that same hope.
Traveling and vacation created the free time to finish all these books this month. These were a combination of physical books and electronic editions.
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles — I chose this book because this biography won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. The challenge for this biography is the story of the man and the story of the man in the times. Vanderbilt lived during the dramatic change in America as the country moved from small owner businesses to large corporations. Vanderbilt created monopolies in business, but initially he was breaking up the legally sanctioned monopolies of government created monopolies in transportation — ferries, short-haul and passenger ships and later railroads. At times, he angered the established power base by charging less, which in the end ran the competitors out. He also operated during the growth of the corporation as a legal person. Also how wealthy was Vanderbilt? Stiles writes that if Vanderbilt had liquidated his estate in 1876, his last full year of life, he would have received $1 for every $9 in existence. At the time the book was written, Bill Gates III was the richest man in the world. If his holding had been liquidated, he would have received $1 for every $20 in existence. I also feel that even though Gates is worth so much more than most, we all live so much better than those at the time of Vanderbilt. We all have gained from better nutrition, medicine and our lives feel richer thanks to computers, music, books, planes, trains and cars, etc. Vanderbilt had trains, but that’s not the same as a car.
The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton Christensen — His story of how new technologies lead to the undoing of some companies and success for others is fascinating. It’s a challenge many technology companies face, and I’ve seen how daily newspapers have struggled. Christensen lays out reasons how companies can try to weather these changes, but in the end few do. But that change is necessary, it’s better than trying to stop the innovation.
Reading Vanderbilt’s disruption of his economy and the challenges existing companies have from new technologies were an interesting paradox.