Thursday, March 31, 2016

To Conquer The Air by James Tobin

Learned men right up to the early 1900's thought that powered flight was an unattainable goal.  That thinking did not stop some men from trying. The Wright brothers' achievement of the first powered flight was one of those groundbreaking events that is all the more remarkable when you understand the Wright brothers modest background and the high esteem of those with whom they competed. James Tobin does an excellent job of blending the people, their backgrounds, and the historical circumstances to present a riveting tale.

Beyond this interesting broad story is the recurring theme in similar stories of other breakthroughs. Men deemed the leaders of their field look back on history and accept the thoughts of those who came before as most of the basis for moving forward.  They invent often at their desks and less in the field.  Those like the Wright brother's achieve by also doing research but moving beyond the accepted truths when testing shows it's necessary. Through hard work, extensive testing and perseverance they made multiple breakthroughs in near obscurity. Even after multiple successful flights, it took years for the world to believe their claims, at least in part due to avoidance of the press and their desire for secrecy.

For those interested in the birth of manned flight and a tutorial on excellent engineering, this book is a must. If you just like an interesting bit of history very well told, you will love this book.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Time travel stories can be fun.  Normally someone goes back in time once or more times and consequences often are revealed in the current version of the present.  Ms. North envisions an interesting variation on the theme by having some individuals return back to their birth after they die and remember all or much of what transpired in their previous lives.
   That is the case with Harry August, born into modest circumstances in post-WWI England.  Upon his first death, he returns to the same circumstances and believes he is going mad once he's old enough to remember the past but baffled by the memories. In subsequent lives he starts to understand and is eventually helped by others of his kind.  That's the foundation of the story.
   The story itself is an interesting speculation on what any of us might do if faced with the same situation.  It is saved from being endless variations on a theme when he meets one of his own kind who intends to break the rules and effect everyone and everything.  The remainder of the book is his interaction with that person and its consequences.
   Ms. North's writing is clean and her plot makes sense for the most part.  As expected with any scenario that has folks recycling like this, you can start to quibble that if this happened then that could not happen, but there's little of that and a pretty good adherence to the principles of existence as laid out by the author.
   Amanda gave me the book after having read it herself (thanks Amanda).  She liked it more in the earlier that the later section.  I've not discussed it with her but I liked it throughout but would have changed the ending just a little.  Why don't you read it and see what you think.  It's worth your time (at least once).

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

   A neighbor recommended this book, saying it was a word-of-mouth best seller in Europe.  It took a while for me to get the book and then a couple of chapters to get into it, but it did turn out to be a good read.
   Ove is an incredibly rigid and, at least in the beginning, a fairly unlike-able Swedish man who just wants everyone to follow the rules and leave him alone. It turns out he may be even more tired of living with his fellow man, but that's for later in the book.
   While on patrol in his neighborhood he meets an interesting pregnant emigre from Iran, her inept but friendly husband and their charming daughters.  It is that relationship that draws Ove kicking and screaming into positively reacting to an ever-widening circle of friends and neighbors.  There's also a good deal of humor sprinkled with some pathos that keeps the story moving right along.
   This is a good read, but my Ove-like reaction to treacle was kicked into high gear by the epilogue where every single person at the end had the best possible out come, thanks to Ove.  Really?  Can't someone have broken a leg or something?  Still, it's a nice pallet cleanser from some recent heavier fare and worth greeting Spring with some optimism.