Friday, October 06, 2017

People Are Good At Making Shit Up

Don't Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never LearnedDon't Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never Learned by Kenneth C. Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone eventually wonders how everything came to be and this was certainly true of ancient people. Of course, they did not have a reliable method of studying nature and predicting its behavior, so they made stuff up and that stuff became mythology. There are as many mythologies as there have been pre-scientific cultures, so it's a daunting field of study to master. No worries. If it's not your profession, just pick this book up for a good introduction to mythology. Davis delves into the major cultural mythologies of nearly all of Earth's civilizations. He does so in a very entertaining style and for those who want to seriously pursue the subject further, he provides an extensive bibliography. My only disappointment is in his lack of an exploration of how an established religion becomes mythology, and if he left that topic out due to its potentially sensitive nature, I get it, but dang, I'm still disappointed.
I was prompted to pick up this book while watching Stargate SG-1, which uses mythology as one of the show's vehicles for telling its story. In the show, aliens come to earth and pose as the recognizable gods of various mythologies. You'd almost think that Davis was a consultant to the show reading this book, but he was not.
In any case, if you're looking for an entertaining way to get a good overview and introduction to mythology, this is an excellent read.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017


Spook: Science Tackles the AfterlifeSpook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Roach is a journalist. It seems to me that, when presenting investigative journalism, journalists should serve the reader by presenting evidence to support a case for claims made in the investigation. This books is about how science tackles the question of an alleged afterlife. Mary Roach does an excellent job of presenting an excellent history of the subject as well as evidence collected in both research and her personal investigations with both diligence and humor. She sources both believers and skeptics, although I think she would have done well to source those who criticize the possibility of consciousness absent the body based on the absence of any plausible mechanism. In my estimation, that is the crux of the issue - believers hold their position based on ignorance (I don't know, therefore I do know) rather than actual mechanisms supported by data. Every single conclusion of a paranormal investigator given in this book involves wishful thinking. It's childish. If the evidence presented in this book is evaluated in isolation, it seems to me that any reasonable person would conclude, based on that evidence, that there is no good reason to accept as reasonably possible the existence of an afterlife or any existence of consciousness absent the body. I think it's perfectly acceptable that a journalist draws his or her own conclusions from their investigation, and I'll give Mary Roach credit for being honest in saying that her conclusion is based on feelings rather than facts, but I was disappointed that she believes in ghosts. Feelings are not a reliable basis for determining the truth of a claim. Children use feelings as a basis for constructing their world views. If you're grown up, you'll depend on facts.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Loquacious Villianary

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this more the second time around, even though Harry still doesn't fart in this book. Spoiler: He doesn't fart in any of them. There is some righteous puking though. Poor Ron. Lots of self-abuse. Silly, Dobby! Some over-the-top loquacious villianary. That Voldemort - he talks too much! I'm like, "Kill him already!" but he just keeps on talking to Harry. Maybe he's lonely. Who knows? I still say that the little hat trick that Harry pulled off is contrived, but JKR saves face in the later books. In my original reading, I came close to giving up on the series with this one. The Prisoner of Azkaban brought me back. On to that one then! Come, Watson! The game's afoot! Oh .... wrong series. Never mind!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Oh, The Humanity!

Human UniverseHuman Universe by Brian Cox
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Human Universe is the book accompanying the BBC television series of the same name. Brian Cox is the host of the show and author of this book. He is a physicist and science popularizer in the same spirit as Carl Sagan, and his writing reminds me very much of Carl's. Like COSMOS, Human Universe is a person voyage and Brian gives his personal perspective on how our understanding of the universe is woven into the fabric of society. What I admire most about his presentation is his clear delineation of what is established scientific consensus, what is scientific speculation and what is his own personal opinion. He doesn't hold back. He lets the popular press, television producers, politicians, the blissfully ignorant and even his fellow scientists have it with both barrels of the proverbial shotgun when it comes to criticizing the misunderstanding of science, miscommunication of science, or the inappropriate use of institutional power to muzzle scientists. Filled with captivating photographs and engaging stories, this book has an emotional appeal that most popular science books do not. If you read it electronically, do so on a tablet. I highly recommend it.

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Friday, August 04, 2017

Angel: After The Fall Vol.2Angel: After The Fall Vol.2 by Brian Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent followup to the first volume! I enjoyed the character stories as well as the trademark Whedon humor. If you were bummed that the series ended, read the comic. You'll be glad you did.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Hi, Jenny!

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back in the day, the young Jenny Lee gave me a hardcover copy of this book as a Winter Holidays present. Perhaps she thought that I, being an adult, was very strange. Perhaps she was right. Adults are strange, after all. But, as Aaron Fletcher would say, in any case ..... I really enjoyed the book. It is imaginative, charming, thought provoking and just a bit sad. I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it. There are times though that I wonder just what Jenny was thinking when she decided to give me that book. Thanks, Jenny!

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Sunday, July 16, 2017


All You Zombies and Other StoriesAll You Zombies and Other Stories by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of Heinlein's more charming collection of stories. A fairly quick listen (I read this as an audiobook, thank you Spider Robinson), these five stories will leave you smiling. I got this through the Hoopla Digital service - a free service that lets you read ebooks, listen to audiobooks and musical recordings and also lets you watch movies and TV shows. Much like Overdrive, this service lets you check out an item for a month and you can check it out again if you don't finish it by the end of the month and pick up right where you left off. A great service. I highly recommend it.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Boy Who Lived (Even Though He Never Once Farted)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Those who know me are aware that for 11 years, I refused to read a story about a boy who never once farted and laughed about it. That is, after all, what real boys do. They fart and laugh about it. I know. I was once an 11 year old boy. However, my friend, Tara, worked on me until I gave in and read the first book (really just to make her happy) and then, wanting to set a good example of being committed, I read the second book, which still didn't get me enthusiastic about reading the rest of them, but once I got into #3, I was hooked. I finished the series in late 2015 and now that Pottermore has its book club going, I thought I'd give the series a listen. This particular audio version is well read and unabridged. It was a joy to listen to. You have to hand it to JKR - she's not the world's most brilliant writer, but she can spin a yarn that would keep anyone thoroughly engaged, especially when it's being read to you by an excellent reader. Anyway, I'm glad that Tara worked on me. I'd have never read the series otherwise and there is enchanting magic in those pages. After all, it's about the boy who lived even though he never once farted. If that isn't real magic, I don't know what is.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Holy Cow!

The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between)The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers by John R. Shook
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Theologies are interesting, because there are so many of them and they form the foundation for the worldview (i.e. religions) of most people. The problem with trying to understand them is that most writings on the subject are very technical and dry and not very accessible. John Shook does a wonderful job of making the subject accessible, yet comprehensive enough that any layperson can understand the fundamentals of the theologies presented. Furthermore, John Shook presents the subject without being dismissive of any particular theology. Shook presents the arguments of various theologies and points out the strengths and weaknesses of each. Each chapter deals with a particular theology. Comparisons are made across chapters. The final chapters of the book look at how theologies influence society over time and using historical trends he suggests how they might affect society in the future. This is a book that a person can read regardless of his or her worldview. Even if you are absolutely convinced that your worldview is correct and any different worldview is wrong, you live in a world among other people who don't agree with you, and gaining an understanding of their point of view is critical is fostering a society that works for the betterment of all.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

A Serious Cluster!

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest DisasterInto Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jon Krakauer writes a masterful account of the tragic May, 1996 Everest climb of which he was a participant on assignment from Outside magazine. My friend Christine frequently recommends awesome books to me, so I had to start this one 40 seconds after she made the recommendation. That's the thing about ebooks. Way too easy to get. No regrets though. I did enjoy this book as evidenced by the five star rating I gave it.

I'm not one to take risks for adventure's sake, so I immediately set out to try and wrap my mind around the psyche that compels people to do something so dangerous. My mistake was trying to apply reason to my analysis. Jon straightened me out in this passage from the book:
There were many, many fine reasons not to go, but attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act—a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument.

So, I pulled a Frozen on my attitude and just "Let It Go."

The first half of the book is dedicated to providing context for the events that led to the tragedy detailed in the second half. Jon's journalistic style made me take a leisurely stroll through the first half. It wasn't exactly a page-turner, but it was necessary. However, I found the second half of the book very hard to disengage from, and I dare you to read that second half and try putting it down. The last 5% of the book is a rebuttal of The Climb, which gives the point of view of one of the guides on that venture whose recollection is flawed and, as Jon points out, can't be backed up by evidence.

Jon Krakauer is painfully honest in his accounting of the events. As he blamed himself for some of the deaths, it must have been very hard for him to write. While he did make me understand what compelled these people to climb to the highest point above sea level on Earth's surface, I still can't relate to it, and probably never will. What I did gain by reading this excellent book was a better understanding of what it takes to be a skilled mountain climber and an appreciation of the challenges involved. I highly recommend reading Wikipedia's entry on Mount Everest before reading this book, because the history and geology of the area is fascinating gives even more important context to the story.

Read this book. You won't regret it.

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

Laugh - I Thought I'd Die!

Funny Amazon ReviewsFunny Amazon Reviews by Jane Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This audiobook is effing hilarious! I only got it, because there was a sweepstake involved, but I'm very amused as a result anyhow. It's short. Kinda embarrassed that I'm counting it as a "book I've Read," but I'm doing it anyway! Fact is, there are a lot of hilarious Amazon product reviews to read. You should read the review of The Book Of Mormon that was reviewed as a D&D type game manual. It's a hoot! On that note, The Holy Bible gets some fairly outrageous reviews that will have you in stitches as well. I guess those are too topically sensitive to put in a give-away audiobook. You're forgiven, Audible. Anyway, the reviews included in this audiobook range from creatively literary to absurdly silly. They'll all make you laugh, unless you have no sense of humor, in which case, don't bother.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Failure to Prepare is Preparation for Failure

Cracking the AP Physics C Exam, 2015 Edition (College Test Preparation)Cracking the AP Physics C Exam, 2015 Edition by Princeton Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Very Decent Review

Cracking The AP Physics C Exam is a very useful guide for test prep. It also stands alone as a solid review of Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism. Equations are almost a!ways derived so that an understanding of their limitations and appropriate use are understandable. This is not a substitute for a good calculus based physics textbook (although it is superior to some bad ones I've seen) and it's scope is limited. The exercises are rigorous and solutions are detailed. Two exams with keys end the book. This book is updated annually to reflect changes in the two part AP Physics C Exam. In addition, this book is an enjoyable read for the expert seeking a trip down memory lane on a tour of fundamental physics.

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Sunday, July 02, 2017

Keeping That Zoo!

The Zookeeper's WifeThe Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Detailing the lives of a Polish family in World War II Warsaw, The Zookeeper's Wife engages the reader through masterful literary style and excellent scientific descriptions of the flora and fauna of the region. The last 10% or so of the book has an extensive set of historical notes and an excellent bibliography. It is as much a book to be appreciated for the story and writing style as it is serve as a reference book for the history, people and wildlife of the region.

I started this book as an assignment for a book club that I belonged to back in the day, so over the last 6 years, it's been on the back burner. I find Ackerman's style sometimes difficult to handle, because I find myself reading to be informed and her flowery style gets in the way of that objective. When I slowed down and got wrapped up in the story and language she uses, I enjoyed her style very much. The only author I've ever read who could be seamlessly poetic and informative was Carl Sagan. Others may find her style more palatable overall. The fault is mine. I really can't complain about it. It's an excellent book. I highly recommend it.

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