Monday, July 30, 2012

Texas Bug Book, by Howard Garrett & Malcolm Beck

This is an essential reference text for anyone who lives in Texas and not in a city apartment.   In fact, there's no particular need to limit the readership to Texas residents, because there are two very appealing aspects to this book.    First, there is a encyclopedic list of Texas bugs, their impact (are they beneficial to gardens or trees, or dangerous) and how to control them (without chemical poisons!).   Second, the book is full of terrific anecdotes about experiences with bugs, plantings, trees and what not.   It is that latter part that will amuse and inform no matter where you live.

A theme running through this book is the avoidance of chemical treatments for plants, trees or insects.   Instead, natural, organic treatments are proposed (with instructions for mixing them). 

This is a good example of the value of all the side bar stories in the book.   If you just paged through to find a currently annoying bug, and saw instructions to leave it alone or for an organic control approach (which often is introducing yet another bug!), you might be skeptical.   But once you get a feel for the incredible long term value of an organic and holistic approach to managing pests, the advice makes much more sense.

This book is just plain fun, whether you're looking up that bug you saw on the porch, or trying to figure out if the wasps near the tomatoes are a problem (they are not!), or even if you skip the bug photos and descriptions and just read the stories.

Conquering Any Disease, by Jeff Primack

This excellent book was a gift from Steve (Thanks!), and it is full of useful information.   So full that it took me about three passes through the book before I realized that the only was that I could effectively use it was to fold down the corners on about a dozen pages and just start with those.

Let me get a big negative out of the way:   the author did a very poor job on references.  Admittedly, my bar is set high; as a member of the ACM and IEEE, and reader of peer reviewed engineering journals, I expect clear attribution and clear reference of assertion.   Mr. Primack didn't do this in any meaningful way.   So if this will be horribly off putting for you, don't read the book.

On the other hand, for the open minded reader who's already seen tons of evidence for plant based eating as a means for avoiding or overcoming many diseases common to the 21st century, this may be a very useful reference book.   (See, for example:  Esselstyn, McDougall, Campbell, or the PCRM.)

Lest you be concerned about how to purchase some esoteric vegetables or what have you, Mr. Primack points to a web site from which you can easily order any of the items he discusses.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Golden Lane, by Sam Pfiester

Kudos to Mr. Pfiester for an excellent book, one I could not put down.    Written in the Simon Schama -style of fictionalized history texts, "The Golden Lane" tells the story of the identification of a highly productive range of oil wells (near Tampico, Mexico) in the early 20th century. 

He does this by focusing on Everette DeGolyer's work for El Aguila (oil company).   Because this is a history, and not a fiction, the character development is really the additional and immensely interesting biographical discussion of key players in both the oil arena and Mexican politics of the time.

DeGolyer became a big time player in the oil business, and his spouse, Nell DeGolyer, was a founding member of both Dallas Planned Parenthood and the Dallas League of Women Voters; the DeGolyer home is the site of the Dallas Arboretum.

If you're interested in Mexican history and particularly its politics, or in the oil business's start off the Gulf of Mexico, this book's for you.

If, on the other hand, you have no interest in such things, but do enjoy a fast paced and well written novel, then this book's for you as well.

That's a unusual coupling, but this is an unusually good book.    One peeve though:  Mr. Pfiester should have included a couple of good maps of the region to put it into perspective for those not so familiar with Mexican or Gulf geography.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Force of Nature, by C. J. Box

This suspense / mystery novel continues Mr. Box's series featuring game warden Joe Pickett and his mysterious friend Nate.   The plot isn't as strong as another Joe Pickett novel I read a few years ago, but the writing was sufficient to be entertaining. 

This is exactly the novel you want if you're waiting in line somewhere, or hanging out in a coffee shop waiting for someone else to finish shopping or what not. 

And my lukewarm reaction seems to be an anomaly; Amazon reviews indicate most readers really loved this book.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Feynman, by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

I'm feeling pretty positive about the day; having stumbled upon this book at the local public library this morning, I'm celebrating my good fortune.    Because this is one of the most interesting biographies I've come across.

Now any biography about Richard Feynman is apt to be interesting:  Nobel Prize winner, somewhat of a whack job, he was famous for probing questions in directions no one else considered.   If you're interested in physics, Feynman is a hero.

What makes this biography stand out is the approach:  it is in graphic novel format.   (As my spouse said, "you're reading a comic book?")    This really works.  It works incredibly well.

If you have any interest in science (especially physics) and in getting a sense of the personality of one of the 20th century's top American physicists, read this book.   You're going to want to follow up by reading Feynman's "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) "   And, if you have the scientific background (or stamina), the first six chapters of his "The Feynman Lectures on Physics " is available as "Six easy pieces:  essentials of  physics explained by its most brilliant teacher."

By the way, in case you're curious about the other American scientists honored on the US postage stamp besides Feynman, they are:   Barbara McClintock, an early geneticist (whose work on maize makes me wonder if she was the innovative mind that inadvertently led to GMO crops, just as Feyman and others working on the atomic bomb with reservations afterwards about the long lived impact of their efforts);  Joshiah Gibbs, who received the first doctorate in engineering (1863) in the USA and invented vector calculus (a painful topic for some folks who struggled through differential equations);  and John von Neumann, (born in Budapest but the US takes credit for him!) who did so much breakthrough work in math, statistics, physics and computer science that I wouldn't know where to begin to describe him .

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Seeking Wisdom, by Peter Bevelin

Everyone should read this book.  Certainly it is a great gift for any college students who've not yet entered the workforce -- or those who have.   The only concern I have about handing this book to someone is, will they read it.

You might recognize the old joke:  how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one, but she has to want to change.

And so it is with this compilation of wisdom and systems of thinking.   Advice on how to evaluate information, think critically, avoid having business decisions overly swayed by emotional or wishful thinking, and build check lists to help avoid mishap.    It is not a difficult read!   But you have to want to read it.

My take on it is that almost all of it is common sense.  But then again, that would be the point.

Mr. Bevelin quotes from a number of authorities, and much to my delight, heavily from Charlie Munger and to a lesser extent Warren Buffet, both of Berkshire Hathaway fame.  (Speaking of Mr. Munger, his book, "Poor Charlie's Almanack" is awesome.)

It is a fast read.  Be sure to get the 3rd edition (2007).

Monday, July 9, 2012

An End to Suffering, by Pankaj Mishra

Don't be confused by the title or subtitle, "the Buddha in the world;" this book is nothing like what you think it is.   The first third or so of the book is auto-biographical.   Then, some historical material on the Buddha but also on Alexander the Great and others.  Finally, a retrospective of sorts, again auto-biographical, that asks how Buddhist thinking plays out in the 21st century -- but doesn't go very far in terms of an answer.

So is it worth the read?   Well, maybe.  If you want to read about the life of a modern Indian -born writer, then sure.  But, and no offense to Mr. Misra, but his life isn't really all that interesting.

If you're very interested in Buddhism, or in how Buddhism might relate to modern 21st century life, then you won't be satisfied with this book at all.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Silenced, by Brett Battles

I can't tell:  have I made a mistake in reading several of Mr. Battle's "Cleaner" novels one after the other?   Or is it that the plots are just getting less and less believable?   The first book in the series seemed grounded in believability, as did, more or less, the last one I read.   But now?

Maybe I wouldn't have this reaction, this criticism, had I spaced out my reading.   So I'm going to take a break from Mr. Battles' novels for a bit.

Don't get me wrong though:  for what it is, this is still a well written and interesting novel.

Shadow of Betrayal, by Brett Battles

Enamored of the first book in the series, I decided to read more of these suspense novels featuring "cleaner" Jonathan Quinn. 

I liked this novel also.   It is interesting to me that there often seems to be a secondary character in this sort of book, the hero's assistant, who has amazing (albeit unexplained) capabilities in one or more areas.   In this case, it isn't Quinn's apprentice who is the mover behind the man, but rather his friend Orlando whom the author may summon any time he needs magic to happen behind the scenes.  Assigned to her, tools are acquired, accounts hacked and general mayhem executed.

Not a problem.  Just saying it is amusing.

The Cleaner, by Brett Battles

This is the first novel in a series of espionage / adventure novels featuring Jonathan Quinn.   Quinn is a "cleaner," the person who follows, for example, an assassin, and cleans up the bodies and traces.

The book is well written, and it is interesting to have a hero who's on the B team as it were (the typical lead character in the espionage genre is more likely to be the killer than the cleaner).