Category Archives: My Reading List

Book: Those Angry Days

those_angry_daysHere’s a most fascinating new book by journalist Lynne Olson. As I have outlined in my previous post about Charles Lindbergh, America’s entry into World War II was by no means a given, nor was it popular among average Americans before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Olson’s book goes into great detail describing the political division between the non-interventionist faction (of which Charles Lindbergh was a major proponent and figurehead) and those who wanted to support Britain — if not with an all-out war against Nazi-Germany, at least with arms shipments.

Olson shines a light on many little known facts, for instance, a huge clandestine British operation to infiltrate US media, spy and discredit leading non-interventionist Americans, spread propaganda materials and even disseminate forged documents designed to draw America into the war. Roosevelt not only knew about these activities, but he also issued a loose directive to the FBI to conduct massive surveillance on non-interventionists from the popular “America First” movement.

Terry Gross (All Things Considered) recorded this fine radio interview with the author.

Those Angry Days
Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight over World War II, 1939-1941
by Lynne Olson
Random House, Hardcover, 576 pages; List Price $18.
ISBN-13: 978-1400069743

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Remembering Wernher von Braun

Today would have been Wernher von Braun’s 100th birthday. He was the greatest rocket engineer of all time.

Recommended book:

Von Braun – Dreamer of Space / Engineer of War

by Michael J. Neufeld, chair of Space History Division of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

© Smithsonian Institution 2007. Published by Alfred Knopf, New York.

ISBN:  978-0-307-26292-0 (hardcover) or  978-0-307-38937-4 (paperback).


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Magnificent Desolation

A book I am currently reading. Great insights into the man, the moon and one of mankind’s greatest journeys.

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New Book On Multiple Universes

Brian Greene, the author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, tackles the existence of multiple universes in his latest book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.

Here is Brian Greene, interviewed by Terry Gross, for NPR’s Fresh Air.

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos –
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Knopf (January 25, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307265633
ISBN-13: 978-0307265630
List price: $29.95

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From My Bookshelves

A fortnight ago I attended a lecture by Robert Piccioni. Rarely have I heard Einstein’s work and the fundamentals of modern cosmology explained in such a simple, entertaining and yet informative way. Much of the lecture’s content is echoed in Piccioni’s latest book, which I highly recommend for everyone.

Learn the basics about how the universe works and understand the difference between Newton’s and Einstein’s view of gravity. Take a brief look at phenomena such as black holes, dark energy, gravitational lensing, redshift and the expanding universe! Piccioni’s work is a perfect blend of hard science and amusing anecdotes, making it very easy to follow. No advanced background in science is needed.

Everyone’s guide to Atoms, Einstein and the Universe, by Robert L. Piccioni (2nd Edition). ISBN 13: 978-0-9822780-7-9.

Talking about books: The Grand Designthe most recent book by Stephen Hawking (this time co-authored Leonard Mlodinow) just came out. (ISBN-13: 978-0553805376)

The wheelchair bound physicist from Britain is arguably the most famous scientist since Einstein. At his last lectures here at Caltech, people were lining up all night for a spot in the lecture hall. (It is amusing to see that even in this day and age, scientists can achieve rock-star fame).

Immediately after the The Grand Design appeared earlier this month, some began to misquote it, saying Hawkins claimed that there was no God. But that’s not what Hawkins & Mlodinow are saying.

If we accept that nature is governed by laws, logical questions arise: What is the nature of these laws? Are there exceptions to them (the so-called “miracles”)? Is there really only one set of laws?

Ever since the beginning of mankind’s inquiry, there were those who accused “scientists (as the believers in “natural philosophy” began to be called in the 19th century) of plunging the world into moral and ethical darkness, as theirs was allegedly an attempt to demystify or even deny God’s involvement in nature.

Even this is a misunderstanding. Descartes, Galilei, Copernicus, Newton, Darwin and the like maintained their belief in a supreme being, while at the same time carrying on their investigations into the principles and laws governing everything in the universe.

Hawkins & Mlodinow contend that modern science has reached the point where the “mysterious hand of God” is perceivably no longer necessary to “explain” how the universe functions. Rather, our level of understanding of natural laws may have progressed to the point where we can (or will soon be) able to explain all the fundamental milestones of cosmology with pure reason.

The intellectual methods used in today’s science are in effect no different to those used by Aristarchus of Samos (310 BC – 230 BC, approx.) who, during the Ionian period, correctly calculated that the Earth orbits the Sun. Furthermore, that the Sun must be bigger than the Earth, which was not the center of the universe. (Of course, it took more than 1800 years until the heliocentric world view would become universally accepted). Here too, an “explanation” such as “God made it” is not sufficient, and neither is:

The sun is a luminary whose egress is an opening of heaven, which is (located) in the direction of the east, and whose ingress is (another) opening of heaven, (located) in the west. I saw six openings through which the sun rises and six openings through which it sets. The moon also rises and sets through the same openings, and they are guided by the stars; together with those whom they lead, they are six in the east and six in the west heaven. All of them (are arranged) one after another in a constant order. There are many windows (both) to the right and the left of these openings. First there goes out the great light whose name is the sun; its roundness is like the roundness of the sky; and it is totally filled with light and heat. The chariot in which it ascends is (driven by) the blowing wind. The sun sets in the sky (in the west) and returns by the northeast in order to go to the east; it is guided so that it shall reach the eastern gate and shine in the face of the sky. (1 Enoch 72:2–5)

And yet, science has never ruled out the possible existence of a supreme being, which may well lie beyond the abilities of our intellect, in the same manner as quantum physics is beyond what a chimp can rationally comprehend.

In human terms, as Piccioni rightfully pointed out in his talk, we live in the “golden age” of Astronomy. There have been more groundbreaking discoveries about our universe within the last 100 years, than in all the history of mankind before.

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New Book: The Ikarus Sydrome – A History of American Hubris

In his new book, journalist Peter Beinart argues that when America’s optimist spirit became devoid of all limitations, the nation fell victim to hubris — the same euphoria that afflicts a gambler after winning a few times. As a result of feeling unstoppable, America began to project its power globally and beyond what is reasonable and affordable.

As an advocate of American Isolationism (and the ideas of Thomas Paine in particular), I know I will find this book to be a fascinating read.

Here are the author’s home page and blog.

ISBN: 9780061456466; ISBN10: 0061456462; Imprint: Harper; On Sale: 6/1/2010; Format: Hardcover; Trimsize: 6 x 9″; Pages: 496; $27.99;

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Less Than Zero, Revisited

When I was a junior in college, one of my favorite books was Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. I read the German translation a few years after it came out. At the time, the novel piqued my interest in Los Angeles and laid the basis for my perception of the anthropological circus that makes up “Hollywood”.

25 years after the novel’s release, Ellis has now revived its twisted characters for his latest book, Imperial Bedrooms.

Blair and Trent now have a loveless marriage. Clay is a narcissistic but successful screenwriter (“with occasional production credits”), who attempts to have Julian killed. And Rip, of course, is still a villain.

I’ll put it on the ever growing “must read” list.

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Mark Twain :. November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910

“The report of my death was an exaggeration,” he once noted laconically. And yet in the end, it wasn’t.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of one of my favorite Americans and historical figures – a journalist, author, traveler and philosopher born as Samuel Langhorne Clemens but better known under his pen name, Mark Twain. His work but perhaps more so, the way he lived his life, has been an inspiration for me since childhood.

Twain was an adventurer and explorer. A keen observer, he was convinced that it was a writer’s obligation to live life to the fullest in order to have something of interest to say. He was the embodiment of what we now call “participatory journalism”.

He was a self-made man who began his career as a typesetter and writer of humorous newspaper sketches. While working as a printer, he educated himself in public libraries during the evenings.

Twain went on to work the treacherous, highly dangerous job of a steamboat pilot, and after talking his brother into joining him, lost him in a steam boiler explosion.

Twain traveled widely and literally circumnavigated the world. He found his wife by falling in love with her photograph and befriended paupers and illiterates as well as intellectuals and royalty. He was an eccentric who in his later years wore only white from head to toe. But he was also a serious journalist, travel writer and documentarian, a book author, and a sought-after public speaker long before there was an industry hyping “media personalities”.

He made (and lost) fortunes of money (including his wife’s inheritance).

Twain was also a lifelong follower of science. He patented three inventions and was a close friend of the brilliant inventor, Nikola Tesla.

Twain supported women’s rights, the emancipation of slaves and the French and Russian revolutions. He spoke out against American imperialism and chastised the inequality of various ethnic groups before the justice system. In general, Twain made fun of mindless bureaucracies and selfish decadence. He was critical of organized religion, but became a Freemason in 1861 at Polar Star Lodge No. 79 in St. Louis. He was raised to the degree of Master Mason on July 10, 1861, but hardly commented on his ties to the fraternity.

Mark Twain’s eccentricity extended to his own death. He frequently make sardonic remarks about dying. One time, when he was believed to have been lost at sea, he published a faux article in which he promised to “investigate these reports”.

Many of the famous quotes attributed to Twain are somewhat inaccurate renditions of what he really said and wrote. This one here is easily documentable:

Twain must have jotted down this note some time in May of 1879 while staying in London. Somehow, Twain had received word that the New York Journal had published his obituary. On June 2, Twain sent a telegram to New York, and the New York Journal published this now famous quote: "The report of my death was an exaggeration. - Mark Twain"

Twain had a great fascination with Halley’s Comet. He was born during Halley’s perihelion of 1835 and predicted his own death to coincide with Halley’s reappearance in 1910. And he was right.

Book recommendation:
“Mark Twain”, by Geoffrey C. Ward, Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
Based on the documentary film by Ken Burns. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2001.
ISBN 0-375-40561-5



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“Food Rules” by Michael Pollan

Most of us are trying to become more conscious about what we put into our mouths. In the age of industrially manufactured, synthetic “food”, all-you-can eat buffets and heavily advertised junk available around the clock, it’s not always easy to separate the fad from the food.

Journalism professor and bestselling author Michael Pollan just came out with a concise paperback guide consisting of 64 simple, universal rules. These can be read in less than 20 minutes and are easy to understand and memorize.

At a suggested retail price of $11, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual is a bargain. (Publisher: Penguin Paperback, 112 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0143116387)

Pollan is also the author of the highly acclaimed The Omnivore’s Dilemma: the Secrets Behind What You Eat and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.

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