The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

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Historical or hysterical?…….  *

 

When I was young and my family drove across the U.S., one of my dad’s habits was to call historical landmarks, hysterical landmarks.  Unfortunately I picked up this habit and have a hard time not using it when I need to say historical.  In this case, hysterical applies.

David McCullough is cited as an historian, but in The Wright Brothers he fails miserably. Relying mainly on the diaries of Wilbur Wright for the story of how the brothers came to succeed in flying, McCullough misses not only the knowledge of those before them, but their use of that knowledge.  This is like relying on just the testimony of the wolf, who would then be known as a mistreated canine instead of a grandmother killer.

The biggest failing is the lack of information on the Wright brothers and Octave Chanute. Chanute was a proponent of all involved in trying to fly sharing information. This, as McCullough notes, was against the belief of the brothers. However, Chanute had openly shared the results of experiments and the knowledge of men like John Montgomery who had been flying gliders since 1899. Montgomery’s study of birds in flight and use of a wind tunnel preceded anything the Wrights had done.  McCullough ignores this with statements like, “they were the first to use a wind tunnel”.

The book Quest for Flight, documents how Montgomery studied and perfected wing warping. Chanute admonished the Wright brothers when they claimed to have been the pioneers on the subject.  Rather than investigating this dispute, McCullough simply gives us Wilbur’s response, who naturally does not admit to knowing of Montgomery’s work.

McCullough treats Orville and Wilbur as if they are gods, untouchable, and almost superhuman. He even speculates – in describing why the Wright’s ignored the death of William McKinley by working when others mourned as, “their way of dealing with his death”.

The Wright brothers were the first to fly under power.  For this there is no dispute, but an historian should not be as biased as McCullough seems to be in making them more than they were.

If I were McCullough’s professor and this was a dissertation, I would send it back for major rework, instead all I can do is give him one star.

 

Quest for Flight by Craig S. Harwood and Gary B. Fogel

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History is an amazing subject…  *****

When you are in grade school you learn Columbus discovered America.  In high school you find out it was actually Leif Ericson who was the first European who landed in America, about five hundred years before Columbus.  Then in college you discover Columbus was a tyrant whose cruelty cost him his governance and may not be worthy of the fame we give him..

Quest for Flight is a college course revealing the truth of the history of flight.  We have all been taught that the Wright brothers were the first to fly and North Carolina uses that phrase on their license plates. As this book details with excellent research, the Wright brothers were the first to fly an airplane under power, but not the first to fly an airplane.

The story of John Montgomery is eye opening for its revelation of how he flew gliders long before the Kitty Hawk boys, and also reveals the true character of Orville and Wilbur.  Like Columbus, we discover their character can be brought into question. Not only did they try to stifle competition in aviation, but actually tried to rewrite history in their favor.

If one looks at the history of many inventions, it is easy to find one person or persons who get credit for an invention that many may have actually succeeded in producing.  The telegraph is a good example, with Samuel Morse being credited with its invention, yet history shows many proir to him who used a similar device successfully.  So it is not surprising to read about other flyers before the Wright brothers.  What makes this book stand out is its account of their dishonesty.

This book, however, is mainly about John Montgomery and the accomplishments he made in the field of aviation.  As an engineer, he approached the problem of man flying very methodically and scientifically. His design of an airplane’s wing was a result of understanding the circulation patterns that flow over and under a wing that had never before been understood.

Written in a very readable style, Harwood and Fogel have compiled a well researched, documented, treatise that pulls back the curtain on the history of aviaton. This is a must read for anyone interested in the truth of aviation history and my only question is, did David McCullough read this in preparing to write his book on the Wright brothers?.

This one gets five stars.

 

Gallipoli by Peter Fitzsimons

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Lessons can be learned from this…..   *****

Having traveled to Australia twice now, I have been curious as to why a country would “celebrate”, what seemed to me, a major defeat in World War I.  To me this seemed like the United States celebrating the day we left Vietnam.  This book clarified it for me.

Australia had just unified as a commonwealth of Great Britain, and World War I became the unifying factor, especially the battle fought on a small beachfront in Turkey.  The story of Gallipoli is one of amazing bravery, comradery, incompetent politicians, and soldiers who did not question orders that led to so many deaths.

Peter Fitzsimons has compiled an incredible amount of research, combined with a writing style that makes this a page turner, in a book of over 700 pages. Detailing from both sides of this battle, he gives a very accurate picture of not only what happened here. but paints a  vivid account of what it is like to fight a war.

The soldiers are remembered to this day in Australia as the country gathers on ANZAC day to both mourn the losses and celebrate the bravery of those who fought. I am writing this as Memorial Day approaches in the U.S., and we could take a lesson in patriotism from the Aussies and Kiwis.

The sad part of the book is the reminder of how in so many wars, those who lead us in, are often politicians who sit back and make decisions, some bad, some good, that result in the loss of so many of a country’s finest. Fitzsimons does not shy away from documenting both types of decisions at Gallipoli.

This book will enlighten you, anger you, make you tear up, make you smile. An incredible read!!

Dear Professor Einstein edited by Alice Calaprice

dprofeinstien     So much for expectations…  *

It is common in marketing, or at least in marketing surveys, to ask if a product or service exceeded expectations.  This means the product or service went above and beyond what the customer was anticipating.  When you get the service you expect that just means the company is doing okay but is not outstanding.  When you get less than you expect you complain or at least do not return to that company.  This book is one that I should return.

Promoted as letters from children to Einstein and his responses gets it only half right.  There are letters from children, but only thirteen responses. Some of the responses do not have a letter, but at least one can guess the content.

The first one hundred ten pages of two hundred thirty two, consists of a quick biography and photos of Einstein’s life.  Subtracting the afterword, suggested further reading, and index, the book has one hundred pages of letters.  Even scarier is the suggested retail price is $25.99. at least Amazon sells it for $19.37.  A better price would be $9.67, half of Amazon’s price, fitting for the half of the book that is actually correspondence.

I have two heroes in my life, Mickey Mouse and Albert Einstein.  Mickey reminds me to not take things to seriously and Albert reminds me to question everything.  With that in mind, I question why I bought this book, but have to laugh at myself for wasting the money.

This one gets one star.

The Metadata Handbook by Renee Register and Thad McIlroy

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Do not waste your money…. *

 

This book should have a bold sticker on it saying “Buyer Beware”.  It retails for $95, on Amazon it is discounted to $76.  This is an ebook!  Not only is it overpriced, $1.99 would be fair, but it has very little information in it.

If you have published a book through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes Producer, or any other source then you were asked to include all the metadata this book describes.   There is a chapter titled “Enhancing Data to Stand Out In the Marketplace”, that basically just tells you to have an author page.

Everything that is in this book can be found by a simple Google search.  Based on the Amazon ranking it is not selling all that well and hopefully, my review will keep writers from thinking this text may have some benefit.  I purchased this book with Amazon points, thankfully not with real cash.

True Freedom: How to Heal Your Anxiety by Amanda Rex

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They say there are no free lunches… ****

 

There are no free lunches, but at $3.99 for the Kindle edition, this comes close.  By that I mean there is a great deal of information for very little outlay.

Usually self help books have two major flaws. One, they outline steps too complicated for most of us to take the time to follow.  Second, they spend too much time explaining the steps making the book a drudgery to read.  True Freedom does not suffer from either of these.

Amanda Rex lays out a very distinct, easy to read plan for dealing with anxiety. The steps she gives are practical, and would not be hard to implement.  Her understanding comes from her own experience and that gives her a unique perspective.  Her humor makes this an enjoyable read.  The advice is the kind that when you read it you say, “I can do that”.

While Amanda’s anxiety was paralyzing for her, anyone reading this book will identify with their own anxiety, no matter to what degree they may suffer.  We all have anxious moments of one kind or another, and her practical approach will be a benefit to any reader.

This is a book you don’t just read once.  My recommendation would be to read it through, then go back and reread it slowly, digesting the treasures of insight and then read it again, putting her advice into practice.  And then, maybe, read it every few months just to keep yourself grounded and anxious free.

This gets a solid four stars.

The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi

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An eye opener for more reasons than you might think…   ****

 

Every once in a while a book comes along that not only makes you think, but challenges you in ways you were not expecting.  This would be one of those books.

Azar Nafisi has the unique advantage of viewing this country and its attitude toward art and literature from the outside.  Originally from Iran, she has become an American citizen (in her words because she found herself grumbling about America so she knew she was an American).  But it is her heritage that gives her a different understanding of the meaning of fiction and how this country views it.

Using four writers, which she had narrowed from a list of twenty-four, Nafisi shows us how fiction is not only necessary but vital to the health of this nation.  She makes the point that imagination, defined as free thinking, is nurtured by fiction and without it a society will suffer and stagnate.  Beginning with Mark Twain, then Sinclair Lewis, followed by Carson McCullers, and ending with James Baldwin, Nafisi reinforces the idea that literature is as important to one’s education as science and technology.

Nafisi knows what it means to live in a country where imagination is stifled, books are banned, and people are imprisoned or killed for simply seeking an education.  This book challenges all of us to make sure literature and art do not disappear and to actively promote both in our schools and in our communities.

Her ideas can be summed into one question she asks in the book.  “Why do tyrants understand the dangers of a democratic imagination more than our policy makers appreciate its necessity?”  While I agree with almost all of what she says, the only negative aspect to the book is that she injects her opinions with a heavy hand.  Having said that, I also admire her passion which brings the book to life.

What I was not expecting, was my reaction to her vast knowledge of literature.  I am an avid reader but as Nafisi referred to author after author to make her point, most of whom I have not read, I questioned just what have I been reading.  My reading time has been spent with King, Koontz, Child, Kellerman, and Connelly to name a few, but little if nothing of Baldwin, Lewis, Fitzgerald, Hemingway or Tocqueville.  This book has inspired me to get back to reading literature, not just fiction.  I am not giving up on the others, they are too much fun to read, but I am expanding what I read.

This is a must read, and gets a solid four star review.

The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin

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Everybody needs a junk drawer…    ****

 

This is one of those books that has a lot of information, some obvious, some informative.  Levitin gives practical advice on getting organized in this age of too much information.  The author spends time to explain, with examples, how to implement his ideas.

The discussion of how our brain works in dealing with information is easy to grasp and as my Calculus teacher used to say, “obvious to even the casual observer”.  While parts drag a little, overall the book reads quickly.

There were two points that I was glad to see aired.  First, there needs to be a change in how and what we teach children.  Levitin makes the point that we need to be teaching how to handle information as opposed to teaching information.  Second, he ends with everybody needs a junk drawer.  There are some things that just don’t fit into a category or are to few in number to separate, so just let them collect off to the side.  This has applications at least for me, you will have to read and decide for yourself.

The author gives a practical mathematical method for making decisions using a four square box.  There is even an appendix that helps the reader to grasp this concept. If one applies this along with the Ben Franklin method of a list with pluses and minuses, no decision should be too difficult.

The only flaw is, at times, the author injects more of his personal bias than one would expect in this type of book.  This shows mostly in the sections on medical issues.

Still. this is a good read and if it makes you think then Levitin has done his job.

Bill Cosby: His LIfe and Times by Mark Whitaker

Bill Cosby

 

 

Hey friend….  *****

 

Whenever I read a biography I hope to glean information that I did not know.  Having been a fan of Bill Cosby since his debut album was released in 1963 and an avid watcher of I Spy, I looked forward to reading this book.

I was not disappointed.  Whitaker does an excellent job of capturing Cosby’s background, thoughts, and accomplishments.  The behind the scenes stories of his life lend an even better understanding of the man’s humor.  The accounts of the people in his life that helped him become the famous comedian we all know, are told with a narrative that keeps you reading and surprises you.  An example is the recognition by Robert Culp as to just how talented Cosby was that led him to push for Cosby as his acting partner on I Spy.

One of the things I did not know is how much Cosby is responsible for the success of Ray Romano’s series Everybody Loves Raymond.  Whitaker gives us insight as to the influence Cosby has had on not only the entertainment industry but also how much he has contributed to black colleges and people not in the spotlight.

As with any human there are flaws and weaknesses, of which Bill Cosby has his share.  This biography does a good job of discussing these without getting into tabloid details.

Whether you are a fan or not, this book is well worth the read.

Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century

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Forever To Boulder Dam To Me..   *****

 

First, this is an incredibly well researched account of the politics, engineering, and human achievement that went into creating this dam. Hiltzik combines excellent documentation with a personal writing style that compels one to keep turning the page. After reading this I will always call it the Boulder Dam.

Read for yourself and see if you agree!