Author Topic: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations  (Read 1199 times)  

Offline NogDog

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Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« on: February 23, 2017, 01:34:41 PM »
In response to this thread, I figured I'd start up this one and see how much interest it garners.

If you've read a nonfiction ebook that you'd like to review and/or recommend, drop a note here; or feel free to respond to such posts with your own reviews, questions, comments, etc.

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Offline NogDog

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2017, 01:44:17 PM »
As someone who reads an occasional book on quantum physics and other things I still don't really understand, I'd like to recommend one science book that anyone could learn some important things from: Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, by Robert L. Park.



This book does a great job of explaining how, if not careful, we can  all become victims of bad science -- whether it be due to honest mistakes, outright fraud, or everything in between. It is quite readable, and you do not have to be a scientist by any stretch of the imagination to understand it. It was published in 2000, so may be a bit dated as far as the latest issues being discussed today; but I think its themes are timeless enough that it should not matter.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2017, 04:12:43 PM by NogDog »

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Offline The Hooded Claw

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2017, 03:22:15 PM »
I'm going to cheat and repost one of my lengthy reviews from the "80 books" threads I've done in some years. This one is from March, 2013, almost exactly four years ago!





The Truth About Cruise Ships, by Jay Herring

This is another of my occupational memoirs, this one by a fellow with a computer job in industry who was laid off. He decided to apply at Carnival Cruise Lines for another IT job, and was one of three people hired out of six hundred applicants.  The book is a running memoir of his experiences, dominated by explanations of how different things work on a cruise ship, war stories and extensive descriptions of partying and (not graphic) sex. Most of the staff on a cruise ship are young, in good shape, and either single or with relatively open (whether they've acknowledged that with their spouse or not) marriages. Conventional recreational opportunities are limited (though often excellent when they do happen), and the result is a culture of endless extensive drinking and sex among the crew.  To quote the author, "Sex is the lifeblood of the shipboard environment."  The author's drinking was heavy enough that after eight months, he developed a case of gastritis, stomach irritation caused by (in his case) excessive alcohol consumption. He responded by reducing (from six to eight drinks per night to "only" three drinks per night), not stopping his alcohol consumption until the gastritis stopped, then resumed heavy drinking! In most cases, sex is not literally promiscuous, couples pair off and usually stay faithful until one of them is transferred off the ship (which is almost never more than eight months later). In general, even when a relationship goes sour, the author found it easier to wait till a routine transfer broke things up than to deal with the consequences of a breakup and being in close proximity to a possibly angry ex-lover until relieved by a transfer. The alcoholic consumption isn't limited to crewpersons, the author says that alcohol sales are more profitable for the line than the casino. Only 30% of passengers gamble significantly, but nearly every adult drinks while on a cruise.  He claims sex with passengers happens, but isn't rampant. It is prohibited by the management, but the rule is selectively enforced.

The book isn't just a diary of nonstop partying, there is lots of interesting stuff about life on a cruise ship, how things work, and the difficulties of not having a permanent home anywhere--When you do manage a break of a few days at your "home port", you probably don't own a car there!

Lots of interesting war stories, including standing in a long passageway that isn't open to passengers and being able to watch the walls and ceilings flex when the ship moves normally through calm seas, being on a cruise ship caught in a hurricane, dealing with an outbreak of norovirus on a cruise ship (casino chips were disinfected by dumping them into buckets of water with a handful of denture cleaning tablets thrown in!), going on a cruise where the whole ship was rented by an organization of nudists, and more IT emergencies and relationship complexities than you can imagine.

The author lasted through two eight-month contracts of this lifestyle. He might have lasted longer except that his second contract was on a smaller ship with only one IT person (instead of two or three people). He slept in a room on the ship where he had to wear earplugs to sleep. The routine workload wasn't too bad, but being the only IT person on the ship meant that he was continually on call with a pager for eight months. This was too much, and he left cruising at the end of his contract. However he did later marry a fellow crewmember he met on his work!

The book concludes with a list of "dumb passenger questions," I will give you a few samples:

"What time is the Midnight buffet?" (he insists that at least one person asks this on every cruise)

"What do you do with the ice sculptures after they melt?"

"Do these stairs go up or down?"

"I'd like to meet Captain Stubing, please." (If the author hadn't explained that Stubing was Captain on the old show "The Love Boat", this would have gone past me)

Allegedly one passenger was very angry that the itinerary for her cruise included a stop at Grand Cayman, not at The Grand Canyon as she'd believed when she made her booking. But Herring doesn't say he heard this one himself.

Crew members who work in the lounges have their photos on the wall, labeled with their name and home country.  One hostess who was from Scotland was continually asked how long she had been speaking English.

The book is basically a series of incidents and anecdotes. If you can handle that sort of thing, rather than a continual narrative, you'll probably like it if you think reading about cruising would be interesting. I was satisfied, and give the book three and a half stars out of five.

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Offline The Hooded Claw

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2017, 07:01:48 PM »
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/09/03/the-jefferson-bottles

It is a magazine article, not a book, but I found the above article on counterfeiting rare wines to fool collectors to be very interesting! And I'm not even an avid wine drinker!
« Last Edit: February 26, 2017, 08:00:55 AM by The Hooded Claw »

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Offline The Hooded Claw

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2017, 08:23:27 AM »


This is a 611 page book that took me a month to read! I did take breaks, and read at least two other books while reading this one. The book was interesting, but heavy going, and until the last 1/3 or so, I could only take it in small doses. My interest picked up later in the book, which covers Chinese history from legendary times roll roughly the end of the 20th Century. I read perhaps the last third in one evening! I think getting into eras and rulers I'd at least heard of (The Ming Dynasty, the Mongols, the Boxer Rebellion) piqued my interest more.

I learned a lot of things that shook up what I thought I knew. The Great Wall of China wasn't built specifically to hold off the Mongols, and the barrier that is such a famous tourist attraction was built much later than I'd been lead to believe. I'd seen The Grand Canal on maps of China, but didn't realize how old it was. It appears to have had an enormous economic effect, the author compares it to the building of railroads in the United States. Most sadly, one of my youthful delusions was shattered! I'd always been inspired watching the Late Movie as a teenager, by Charlton Heston and the gang heroically holding off the Chinese hordes in "55 Days at Peking." It ends up that the Imperial Chinese forces weren't really trying to capture the Foreign Quarter held by our heroes in that movie. Oh, and Mao's Long March was sort of a fake, again, the Republican forces weren't really trying to go after the Communists, they just wanted to get them far, far, away! Oh, well....

Recommended highly for those with an intense interest in the subject, but the length and the difficulty in keeping straight the numerous names factions, and emperors probably rule it out for anyone not in that category. But here are a few bits of trivia from the book that interested or amused me:

"The Englishmans thirst for the beverage (tea) knew no bounds. The 200,000 pounds sold [in London] by the Company in 1720 was up to a million pounds a year by the end of the decade In 1760 it was just under three million and by 1770 nine million.  It would double and double again in the nineteenth century. Porcelain, once packed in tea to prevent breakages, was now carried largely as kintledge, or ballast to stabilise sailing ships too lightly laden just with dried leaf."

By the 1830s, tea was contributing about ten percent of the English government's annual receipts.

A word, "yi" that the Chinese used for Europeans in the 1800s was so offensive that the British insisted on inserting language prohibiting it in a treaty! The Chinese insisted it was just an innocent geographical reference....

Similarly, "Manchuria," a word I thought of as an innocent geographical term, is not Chinese, and at least for a long time was viewed as offensive by the Chinese government.

A treaty between the Russians and the Chinese was written in Latin, because it was a language shared by both Russians and the Jesuit monks who were advisors for the Chinese Emperor.
 
On reaching the age of 21, one Ming emperor was determined to lead his troops in battle himself. Against all advice, he lead an expedition against the Mongols which was a disaster. His army was shattered, and he was captured by the Mongols, who thought they had a wonderful bargaining chip. Ransoming an emperor was unthinkable, so the Chinese bureaucracy proclaimed a new emperor, ignoring the captive. After less than a year, the Mongols returned their prisoner with great formality. Both new and old emperors were surprisingly calm about things--the erstwhile captive was stashed away quietly in a distant palace, and was called off the bench when his replacement became ill and unable to rule. So this emperor had two separate reigns, about eight years apart!

Direct quote about the invading Mongols vs. the dilapidated army of the Song Dynasty:

"Seldom can more mismatched adversaries have squared up to one another. The Song, with a massive army but a wretched military record, had been retreating, on and off, for nearly three hundred years; the Mongols, though fewer and occasionally repelled, had been advancing for fifty years, had never lost a war, and had conquered most of the known world."
« Last Edit: February 26, 2017, 09:01:24 AM by The Hooded Claw »

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Offline WHDean

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2017, 11:25:21 AM »
Great job, guys! I'm glad to see my dream has finally come to fruition.

Anyway, I like this because Claw's cruise book is not something I'd normally go looking for, but I'll read his synopsis of the book because I'm always curious about other things that aren't on my beaten path. The book on China is something I'd read so that works too.

As someone who reads an occasional book on quantum physics and other things I still don't really understand, I'd like to recommend one science book that anyone could learn some important things from: Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, by Robert L. Park.

This book does a great job of explaining how, if not careful, we can  all become victims of bad science -- whether it be due to honest mistakes, outright fraud, or everything in between. It is quite readable, and you do not have to be a scientist by any stretch of the imagination to understand it. It was published in 2000, so may be a bit dated as far as the latest issues being discussed today; but I think its themes are timeless enough that it should not matter.

I read of few of these book years ago, but the authors' were shooting fish in a barrel. You'd only get some reportage about why something was wrongheaded and some moral outrage, though without much of an explanation and few sources. Does Park get into the specific reasons something is junk science and the evidence? If so, I might give it a skim at some point.



 

Offline WHDean

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2017, 03:39:33 PM »
I've got to recommend some recent reads. Anthony Everitt's Rise of Rome and Rise of Athens. I know the histories fairly well, and he does a great job of weaving a narrative history for the general reader that's still worth listening to if you're an old hand. The history of Athens and Greece generally is hard to write because, unlike Rome, Greece didn't begin at a discrete place and time. Everitt makes up for this by beginning with the two other powers that shaped Athens' rise, Sparta and the Persian Empire. It works.

Another fantastic history is Roger Crowley's Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World. This history was more exciting than most fiction. I knew the outcomes of both conflicts and I was still on the edge of my seat to the end--that's a testament to the writer. He was helped along by the history, though, because multiple daily accounts of the battles (by both sides) survive. I've got the rest of his books on my wish list.

More to come...
« Last Edit: February 27, 2017, 03:44:09 PM by WHDean »

Offline The Hooded Claw

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #7 on: February 27, 2017, 06:31:34 PM »
I have the Malta book in my library, but never seem to get around to raising it despite owning it for years! I didn't realize Crowley was author of a book I read a couple of years ago. This is my review of City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, unedited from July 2013:



City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley

This October I am going on a trip to Italy that will start in Venice, and end in Rome. As usual before big trips, I am reading up to help me understand what I see. I was in Venice several years ago, and hadn't prepared, but got some hints of fascinating stuff--For instance in the tour of the Doge's Palace, I remember being in a huge room for ceremonies that had portraits of every Doge hanging from the wall. But there was one portrait which was blacked out, and we were told he had "betrayed the Republic" or words to that effect.

I wanted to read a history of Venice, and this book looked promising and well-reviewed. Now I could find out what that treacherous Doge did! Unfortunately I didn't scrutinize the description of the book as carefully as I might have. This is a history of Venice, yes. But it is not a domestic history. The title actually explains pretty-clearly that it deals with the massive overseas empire the Venetians built in the first half of the second Millenium. There is minimal information on domestic history! So there is only a sideways reference to the treacherous Doge (I did look him up separately and got at least an outline of what he did, however).

Since I'm a fan of nautical history, this wasn't all bad, but I'm gonna have to get another Venice history book in the next few weeks. For the chosen topic, the book is extremely readable and interesting. The Venetian Republic was very different from the rest of Europe in the age of iron-plated knights and chivalry. Venice was about business. Period. They would trade with anyone, and viewed interfering with trade as the worst possible offense against them. On a less obsessive note, Venice did have a very strong system of rule of law, and though not a democracy, appears to have been a better place for non-nobles to live than most of Europe in those times.

The book goes into considerable details about how Venice expanded its business network to not only cover the Mediterranean, but to reach up to London and Germany. The period of this expansion and greatest maritime prosperity covers almost exactly three hundred years, from 1200 to 1500, and this is well-covered. Things didn't turn off like a light after 1500, but a combination of loss of many of their trading bases, plus competition from Portugese traders who "cheated" and brought the products of the Far East to Europe through a route around Africa meant things weren't nearly so rosy for the Merchants of Venice. The Black Plague didn't help...

My favorite person in the book was Enrico Dandolo, leader of Venice at the start of the critical years. He was ninety years old and blind, but nevertheless lead a military expedition, including sending his ship into the lead of a major naval battle, and cruising his ship up within shouting distance of an enemy castle so that he and the opposing leader could "negotiate" by calling to each other. What a guy! But there are many more interesting characters and events.

Here are a few factoids or bits that caught my eye enough to highlight:

The critical events in 1200 that I mentioned above involved the Venetians agreeing to provide naval transport for forces of the Fourth Crusade, which set out to support the Crusaders in the Holy Land, but ended up attacking not one, but two different Christian cities instead! The expedition took 4,500 horses in 150 special galleys. Many of the galleys had hinged landing doors that could drop to ground so that a horse could be lead onto the galley, and at their destination, the galley could be beached, and fully-armoured mounted knights could ride out onto the beach, ready for battle! This expedition was so large that half the adult population of Venice was needed to man the ships.

I was pleased to see that one Venetian warlord was named Malabranca. The book says this translates as "The Cruel Claw"!   :D

The Venetians disdained the responsibility of owning huge tracts of conquered land. They only wanted trading bases, usually on small islands, that could be easily defended but were strategically located. Some of these they took by force, but they accepted applications from places that wanted to be assimilated, and were very shrewd and discriminating in balancing the plusses and minuses of an potential acquisition before agreeing. One city applied seven times to be incorporated.

There were some very modern things about the laws and government of Venice. Everything was carefully documented and extreme steps were taken to prevent government officials from being bribed or influenced. When the Venetian state finally fell to Napoleon, the official archives of the state filled forty-five miles of bookshelves! Stern steps to keep Venetians, especially government officials from being influenced or "going native." High-ranking colonial officials were limited to two years at a particular place, and intermarriage or religious conversion was sternly frowned upon. Auditors from Venice could arrive at any colony with no notice, and authority to do anything and question anybody. In one case, they kidnapped the Duke who was head of the entire island of Crete without notice and took him back to Venice for interrogation and torture.

On a more positive note, there was justice, and it was reasonably fair, even for accused nobles, as well as (at the other end of the scale) peasants and foreigners. But penalties for the guilty were harsh. One man accused of stealing public monies had his right hand amputated, forced to publicly confess, and THEN was hung outside the treasury he had raided. A man who let a rebel prisoner escape lost a hand and both eyes removed. There are records of some cases where the initial judgement was unfair, and a retrial was granted, sometimes after several years (not that this would help anyone who had had body parts removed!). Religious toleration was enforced.

They may have had justice, but they did not insist on fair play in international relations; When an aggressive Ottoman Emperor threatened Venetian interests, the Venetians authorized fourteen different attempts to poison him. On the other hand, unless either greatly threatened, or else presented with some commercial prize that was deemed absolutely essential to their interests, the Venetians viewed war as bad for business, and tried to use diplomacy with most enemies. Their efforts in this area to deal with the Turks and Ottomans earned them suspicion from most of Europe, especially since the Venetians were not above trading with an enemy. An exception to this moderate policy was Genoa, a rival Italian trading city with whom Venice had multiple long and violent wars.

A couple of bonus words used in the book that I had to look up on my Kindle:
threnody--a lament
percipient--A person having a good understanding of things; perceptive.

I like the book a lot, even if the subject isn't quite what I expected. Highly recommended for history buffs. Four and a half stars from me.






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Offline NogDog

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2017, 06:59:15 PM »
...
I read of few of these book years ago, but the authors' were shooting fish in a barrel. You'd only get some reportage about why something was wrongheaded and some moral outrage, though without much of an explanation and few sources. Does Park get into the specific reasons something is junk science and the evidence? If so, I might give it a skim at some point.

It's been quite a few years since I read it; but I've always been interested in science and have no recollection of it being anything but well presented and properly argued. Unfortunately, I lent my copy to someone a few years back, apparently permanently, so I can't take a quick glance now to remind myself what sort of footnoting/end-noting he may have done. (I think I'm trying to convince myself to buy the ebook version now. :) )

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Offline marianneg

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2017, 08:12:59 AM »
I just finished Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, checked out from the library.



I had seen the movie when it first came out, so was interested to check out the book as well. I wholeheartedly recommend both. The movie was very well done, I felt, bringing out the drama of John Glenn's flight and the discomfort of the racial tensions of the time. The book gives, as Paul Harvey would have said, the rest of the story. There is a lot of information about how the women ended up working at Langley, and even how NASA grew up out of NACA in the 1950s. Many of the events shown in the movie actually happened in the 1950s, although I don't begrudge the producers the artistic license to show them on the big screen. The book was able to continue with chapters about the women's contributions to the Apollo program, including the moon landing and the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. I particularly enjoyed reading about what happened to these women as NASA downsized after the last Apollo mission. I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn these women's stories through both media.
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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2017, 11:13:20 AM »
I just finished Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, checked out from the library.




I read that as well, but haven't seen the movie yet. I thought the subject matter was interesting, but found the writing a bit dry and the stories a bit disjointed. I suspect the movie shines by being a bit more narrative in style.

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2017, 07:02:48 PM »
I picked up Hidden Figures when it was reduced recently, but haven't read it yet. Sounds hopeful!

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #12 on: March 12, 2017, 06:27:34 AM »
View from Flyover Country is excellent.







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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #13 on: March 12, 2017, 12:17:59 PM »

(Image only, not a link)

Tramp Royale, by Robert Heinlein

In 1953, Robert Heinlein was top-of-the-heap as a science fiction writer, so much so that he was very comfortable with a nice paid-for house, and had a lump of money that wasn't urgently needed for anything. He decided to "do something (with it) before a distinguished stranger came along and persuaded me to invest in a Wyoming oil lease." He settled on a trip around the world for him and his wife Ginny (known exclusively as Ticky in this book). A great deal of the entertainment in the book comes from his interactions with Ticky, and her interactions and reactions with what they encountered on the trip. The trip took place in 1953-54, and in the modern introduction, Ticky refers to it as a period piece. There is a great deal of that era in the book, many of his interactions with people he meets involve their reaction to US foreign policy of the time, and he inexplicably inserts an unenthusiastic defense of Senator Joe McCarthy in the book.

Planning a trip around the world was much more complicated in those days without the internet. I'm sure it was made worse because Heinlein wanted to pass through the Southern Hemisphere, avoiding Europe and the more familiar places for Americans to travel. They ended up on a route through South America, South Africa, and Australia and New Zealand, with brief stops in a couple of little-known islands in between. Heinlein inserts his observations on the countries and cultures he observes, and quite a bit of Ticky's personality and interactions as mentioned above. She was a rebel, who wanted to fight and protest at idiocies imposed by Customs or Immigration, rather than grin and bear with the men who could hold delay or even prison them, as Heinlein would've preferred to do. Heinlein liked or at least respected and accepted most of what he saw, even if it wasn't to his taste, except that he makes blistering denunciations of the Apartheid system, and he seemed to hate almost everything about New Zealand (I suspect fatigue as the trip was stretching out was a factor in this). While finishing up a trip marred by scheduling and bureaucratic difficulties, but completely free from mechanical problems, they had a fright when their airliner caught fire literally within sight of their home.

Here are a few quotes from the book:


[Ticky's reactions to being told of their trip]"Why...I like it here....What has Timbuktu got that we haven't got more of here? Except fleas maybe?....No airplanes for me."

You may disclaim the horrid title, lady, but you are a tourist, once you leave your home town for any reason other than removal of domicile or business. That terrible couple over there with the impossible child (and he is a nasty little brat, isn't he?) resents your presence, your table manners, and your personality quite as much as you detest and despise them. You are all tourists together, so why not relax and enjoy it?

First class one-way by air from New Orleans is now $529, air tourist class is $402, whereas the ocean freighter fare is $410, to which you can add $30 or $40 in tips. Another way is to compare round-the-world fares:

President Lines tour ships... about $2600
Air First Class................................ $1720
Air Tourist..................................... $1580

Brazil has been successively an unknown territory awarded by the Pope to Portugal, a colony, a kingdom, an empire, and a republic.

And Coca-Cola, of course-we rich barbarians have been accused of having added nothing to world culture. This is a most unfair canard; we have contributed Coca-Cola, jukeboxes, and comic books, all worldwide in scope.

I am prepared to swear on a stack of Baedekers that a lion in the open is much bigger than one behind bars.

[Regarding customs and immigration] But will somebody tell me, please, why it is that countries will advertise for tourists, then do their very damndest to make the tourist feel like a child being kept in after school?

[on boarding a TransPacific flight] They bedded us down when we took off from there, beds much like Pullman berths, but with safety belts. Ticky did not fasten hers, since the flight was smooth as a superhighway. But early in the morning we passed through some turbulence and she was awakened by finding herself two feet over her bunk, from which position she descended rather suddenly to her mattress.

In the first place, travel to see scenery is not worth the trouble. Scenery is everywhere. Hollywood has long since listed all the outdoor backgrounds in the world, right in California. The hypothetical trip I described whereby one could see everything New Zealand has in a few states of our west could be duplicated for any part of the globe, if not inside the forty-eight states, then certainly within North America.

Back to Claw now...For Heinlein fans, I'd rate the book four stars. For fans of interesting travelogues, I'd rate it three and a half stars. I won't rate it for people who don't fit one of those (I fit both), but they shouldn't read it.

The book has had a rough publishing history. Apparently Heinlein decided not even to attempt to submit it when he wrote it after returning. The book languished in files till after his death, and it came out in paper in 1992, but doesn't seem to have been in print for awhile. It isn't available in Kindle form. I read the book in paper form a few years after it was published in the 1992, and in ebook form can be purchased from Baen Books here:

http://www.baen.com/tramp-royale.html

I should mention that the Baen conversion is flawless, none of the typos so often found in older books scanned or otherwise converted to ebook.








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« Last Edit: March 12, 2017, 12:21:42 PM by The Hooded Claw »

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Offline WHDean

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #14 on: March 27, 2017, 10:22:33 AM »
Thanks, Claw. I never knew Heinlein wrote a travel book!

I've been listening to the first volume of William Manchester's biography of Churchill. The narrator does voices, which I normally don't like. But Frederick Davidson does Churchill so well I can't tell whether my memories of Churchill speaking came from Churchill or from Davidson. The narrator generally does a first-rate job channelling voices.

The story is absolutely incredible. I knew generally about Churchill's exploits in early life, but I had no idea about how much mischief and daring-do he'd gotten himself into. His life is so incredible that you couldn't sell it as fiction.



Offline The Hooded Claw

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #15 on: April 06, 2017, 06:16:58 PM »


The title is accurate. This is a book about Plutonium, mostly the history, though there is a digression into some chemistry in one chapter. The author apologizes in advance for it, and explains that it can be skipped if the reader is willing to take his word for some things.

Plutonium wasn't known of till quite late. It was predicted before actual discovery, and the book begins by discussing some of the theories about Plutonium's existence, right and wrong, and some of the intriguing that went on over credit for the discovery, much of which took place in Europe against a backdrop of Hitler's rise and the beginning of his aggression. But the actual creation of the first microscopic sample of Plutonium took place in sunny Southern California. A useless aside, I formerly worked with a (now deceased) fellow who had Glenn Seaborg, lead figure in the discovery, as advisor for his PhD thesis!

The book continues with a history of how Plutonium was used, mostly on bombs, but also in reactors. The author has a personable writing style, inserting a lot of himself in the book. He even laments that a friend of his youth was the son of an important scientist in this story, and regrets that he never got the father to talk about his work.

The book ends with the short excursion into Chemistry before talking about the weird behavior of pure plutonium, and gives some examples of incidents and problems.

The book has numerous moments of humor. My personal favorite was how a German scientist who plays an early role in the story succeeded in getting some scarce wartime tobacco (almost impossible to get because the allies were  blockading Germany during WWII) by claiming the tobacco smoke was needed to generate fine particulates for a special experiment! He actually got away with it the first time!

Highly recommended for those interested by the history of nuclear stuff or atomic weapons, or advanced physics in general. Other than that small group, I suspect it would not please. But I liked it!

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Offline WHDean

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #16 on: April 12, 2017, 08:10:59 AM »
@Claw

If you havent read it already, you might be interested in Sam Keans The Disappearing Spoon, And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements.

It was an enjoyable read. The anthropomorphizing got on my nerves a little. I know its a useful expository device, but greedy and lonely elements that love or hate other elements and so on was too over the top for my taste. Still, its packed with interesting historyI say this as someone who reads a lot of science history.     


Offline CynthiaClay

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Re: Nonfiction E-Book Reviews and Recommendations
« Reply #17 on: August 07, 2017, 03:14:03 PM »
1421 The Year China Discovered America, incredible book!

The Memoirs of Madame De Tour De La Pin, great autobiography

If you are into theater, The Theatrical Image

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