Monday, July 01, 2024

Challenger by Adam Higginbotham

Challenger by Adam Higginbotham is subtitled A True Story of Heroism and Disaster of the Edge of Space and details the history of the space shuttle program and 1986 Challenger disaster.

The shuttle, with Columbia in 1981 the first launch, was pitched as something that would go into space like regular plane flights, with trips on a roughly weekly basis. Higginbotham covers the bureaucracy of NASA decision making and how the desire to move forward with shuttle launches despite raised safety concerns led to the death of the seven astronauts, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.

There's detail about shuttle booster contractor Thiokol and the O-rings that led to the disaster. Thiokol engineer Roger Boisjoly was one of those concerned about the cold weather and impact it would have on the O-rings. The cold hindered the ability of the rings to seal a gap, allowing hot gas to shoot past. This was raised in an evening meeting prior to launch, but Larry Mulloy from NASA pushed Thiokol to change its don't launch recommendation. Thiokol was hoping to not have the booster contract go out to bid and a "management decision" changed it to a launch recommendation.

Video of the Challenger launch shows the O-rings going, with a black puff of smoke prior to the explosion and NASA Public Affairs Officer Steve Nesbitt, announcing to the crowd "obviously a major malfunction."

The initial investigation led by NASA was looking at virtually everything except for the cold weather and decision to launch in it despite warnings. Allan McDonald from Thiokol spoke up in a meeting and noted the objections raised by Boisjoly and others, with this new information causing the investigation to go to being not one of technical, but human failure. It came out that the recommendation had been to not launch below 53 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature at launch was 29 degrees. Caltech professor and physicist Richard Feynman conducted an impromptu experiment during a commission meeting, showing how O-rings lost their resiliency in cold water. Feynman published an appendix F report, one where he was very critical of NASA and those involved, both pressuring the launch to occur and disregarding warnings about the O-rings.

It also came out that evidence suggested that at least one member of the crew remained alive the entire time the capsule plummeted from the sky to the surface of the Atlantic, and the end of the book covers the shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. A piece of foam insulation breaking off during ascent, smashing a hole through the heat shield, leading to the shuttle breaking apart during reentry. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board concluded that many of the lessons of the Challenger disaster had gone unheeded.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Fire Weather by John Vaillant

Fire Weather by John Vaillant is a compelling work of nonfiction subtitled A True Story From a Hotter World. Vaillant writes about the May 3, 2016 fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, a community of 88,000 people. 

There had been a fire burning outside of town and at an 11:00AM news conference on the 3rd, people were told to go about their lives, but be prepared. Shortly after the press conference, the weather-aided fire reached a point known as "crossover," with it in the tree canopies. The wildfire manager was giving an interview on air at 12:30, which he hustled out of when he saw how the smoke had changed. By 2:05, the first neighborhood evacuation order came and by 2:30, the fire was in the neighborhoods and streets. By 7:00, the entire city was under a mandatory evacuation order. 

Vaillant makes the statement about what people expected the fire to do of "it happens every year. which was true until it wasn't." People couldn't consider events they weren't familiar with. The worst-case scenario wasn't really the worst case, rather it was the worst case they knew about happening previously. Mention was made in the book of Nassim Taleb and his book The Black Swan, as well as the Lucretius Problem, where people have trouble imaging and assimilating things outside their personal experience. Vaillant references how the 9/11 Commission Report noted that the most important failures was one of imagination. 

Covered in the book are two people that were able to picture the worst-case scenario. Father and son firefighter Jamie and Ryan Coutts from the small town of Slave Lake had five years before seen more than a third of the houses in their town burned down in a matter of hours. They had a much more accurate view of what the fire could and likely would do than Fort McMurray officials, and they knew traditional firefighting methods wouldn't work. Entire houses were being consumed in three minutes during the peak flashover stage of the fire. What worked in combatting the fire was to see how quickly it spreading through a neighborhood, and then take down a house five houses in front of the fire, pushing it into its own basement, making it so there no fuel when the fire got there. Only by destroying a house would they have a chance of saving others. 

Incredibly, it seems there were no fatalities in the fire, but the city was closed for a month, with residents allowed back in early June. Nearly 100,000 people were forced to flee in what remains the largest single-day evacuation in the history of modern fire. More than 2,500 homes and other structures were destroyed, and 2,300 square miles of forest burned. The Fort McMurray Fire became the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history, and burned for months, with it not being declared fully extinguished until August of the following year. Its behavior was entirely new, with towering pyrocumulus clouds, those usually seen over volcanoes, formed over the fire. There's also solid content about the town of Fort McMurray, oil industry in Alberta, and the impact of climate change on fires, the increased numbers of them globally and their behavior and impact. Covered are the fire tornados in Canberra, Australia in 2003, and then in 2018 in Redding, CA. 

The Wide Wide Sea by Hampton Sides

The Wide Wide Sea by Hampton Sides is a solid book subtitled Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook. The book jacket notes how it an examination of the complexities and consequences of the Age of Exploration and Sides covers the trip Cook started in London on July 12, 1776, then his death two and a half years later on Hawaii.

The main point of the voyage was for Cook, leading the Resolution and the Discovery, captained by Charles Clerke, in a search for a Northwest Passage, something that would enable ships to sail from London to the Pacific over the pole, a hypothetical route much shorter than going around Africa. The expedition went around the Cape of Good Hope, then stopped in the Kerguelen Islands in the Southern Indian Ocean, Tasmania, New Zealand, and Tahiti (where a Tahitian, Mai, who had gone to England, was dropped off). The two ships than happened across Hawaii, and after reaching the Pacific coast, went up through the northwest, not going into the Columbia River Bar, then British Columbia, and Alaska, where Cook in 1778 explored Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet as he searched for a way over the top of North America back to England. He continued north around Alaska and was stymied by the ice pack, and chose to return to Hawaii for the winter, rather than stay in Russia.

Cook's plan was to return to Alaska early the following year and continue searching for the elusive, and nonexistent, Northwest Passage. Returning to Hawaii culminated in his death, though, and it was fascinating reading how his arrival there fulfilled a prophecy, with how he arrived in the middle of an extended period of ceremony locals were having to welcome their God, Lono, including Cook coming into the harbor in the exact direction Lono was foretold to come from. The story of his death is an interesting one as while he was first feted as a perceived God, the locals began to realize he likely wasn't Lono. They expected him to not be there after the duration of the ceremony ended, and then when Cook and his men left for Alaska, they ran into trouble with the ship and returned, not something expected of an infallible God. A small boat from one of the vessels was taken by locals, and Cook formed a plan to kidnap the local chief until it was returned, leading to his murder. 

The ships returned to Russia and left word of Cook's death to travel across the continent to England. Then the two vessels arrived in London October 7, 1780, 1,548 days after departure. It's a good book from Sides, an interesting travelogue with great history told well.

Saturday, June 01, 2024

You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live by Paul Kix

You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live by Paul Kix is an excellent work of nonfiction subtitled Ten Weeks in Birmingham that Changed America. Kix starts the book talking about what it was like for he and his wife Sonya as an interracial couple with kids in 2020, when George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, MN by Police Officer Derek Chauvin. Kix focuses on a pivotal place and period of time in 1963, where the events in Birmingham, AL helped bring about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and provides fascinating reading of the inflection points that triggered events happening. 

In January 1963, leaders from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) met in Savannah, GA. Participants including Wyatt Walker, Fred Shuttleworth, James Bevel, and Martin Luther King Jr. met to plan a campaign to end segregation in the city of Birmingham, led by Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor. The SCLC had suffered a defeat in an effort in Albany, GA, where police recognized the need to not be seeing being brutal to blacks, neutralizing any public story. SCLC leaders intended to model the nonviolence shown by Ghandi, and shock America into changing. They planned a four-stage effort, starting with sit-ins at businesses, and then a boycott of the downtown business district by black citizens. The third stage was to be a protest march, and fourth much larger marches that would come from people seeing the brutality suffered by protestors and joining them en masse. The plan was contingent upon white people heaping abuse, and black people taking it and not fighting back.

The ten-week campaign started out known as Project X, for X marking the spot of confrontation, and transitioned into Project C, for confrontation. Money was needed for the effort and covered in the book is famous people like Harry Belafonte trying to raise for the cause, and Fred Shuttlesworth at a fundraiser in New York uttered the line the book title came from, with this helping raise $475K that night for the campaign. Things got off to a slow start, without a huge amount of support from the black community in Birmingham, as to be involved was to risk their livelihoods, freedom, and safety. The SCLC needed to antagonize Bull Connor and others in position of white power in order to have images of brutality captured and broadcast by the press. At first Connor was holding back, but then he resorted to violence, unleashing police dogs on marchers, leading to the famous photograph from May 3 of a police dog appearing to lunge at a young black man, Walter Gadsen. 

An injunction was issued saying that the black community couldn’t march or they would go to jail, and while daunting, this proved to be a trigger helping the effort be successful. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march, was arrested, and wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail, which would become famous as a rallying cry for the cause. Then there was an outreach to black youth in Birmingham, enlisting them to march, and in one day, 973 children were arrested and jailed. The news showed the arrests and attacks on black marchers, with fire hoses spraying down children. This garnered national attention, including from Bobby and John F. Kennedy in the White House, and in Birmingham, some numbers of firefighters became unwilling to spray black children for simply marching and singing.  On May 6 there had been over 4,000 arrests, 2,500 of them children. Eventually the city of Birmingham backed down from some of its racist actions, and the brokering of segregation in the city then spread to other cities. As the eventual Civil Rights Act of 1964 was being put together, Kennedy himself said to black leaders, “but for Birmingham, we wouldn’t be here today.” 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Demon of Unrest by Erik Larson

The Demon of Unrest by Erik Larson is a really good work of nonfiction subtitled A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War. Larson delves into the period prior to the war and the specific events at Fort Sumter, on an island in the harbor just off the shores of Charleston, SC. 

It's fascinating how Larson takes a large event and then focuses on a specific thing that helped bring it about. The lobbing of munitions at U.S. military personal at Fort Sumter by forces of South Carolina, who had announced a succession from the Union, could be considered a powder keg prior to the blast that was the Civil War, which would kill 750,000 Americans. 

Lincoln won the presidential election on Nov 6, 1860, enraging southerners who felt that Lincoln wanted to end slavery, taking away the forced labor that harvested their cotton. The results of the election triggered people to align themselves with either the government of the U.S. or those who wanted to continue slavery. South Carolina led the charge to succeed, holding first a session of the legislature on Nov 10 about whether to leave the Union, and then a succession convention at the start of January. Mississippi then joined in succeeding on Jan 9, again due to slavery. 

 The certification of Electoral College votes was Feb 13, and leading up to it, there was concern that there would be disruption from people who didn't want Lincoln in office, and inauguration was Mar 4, with there rumors of planned assassination attempts on Lincoln while on the way to Washington. The outgoing president, James Buchanan, had hoped that Lincoln would be defeated in the presidential race, as he simply wanted to harmony before leaving his responsibilities. Lincoln's speeches leading up to his assuming office were critical as people wanted to know what he would do both about slavery and the states wanting out of the Union.

During this time, Major Robert Anderson in South Carolina consolidated U.S. forces from other forts around Charleston Harbor into Fort Sumter, an action viewed as an affront by those in Charleston as the state declared itself outside the government. South Carolina began making preparations to attack the fort if Anderson wouldn't abandon and hand it over to them. When Lincoln was sworn into office, Anderson had been at Fort Sumter some three months and he others there had dwindling provisions  and not a great deal of guidance, much less timely guidance, coming to them from Washington. Confederate President Jefferson Davis wanted to be done with the American flag flying from Fort Sumter in view of Charleston and on the April 12, 1861 day that artillery was lobbed at Fort Sumter, Anderson had been there for 113 days. The bombardment caused a fire, compelling Anderson to surrender the fort and evacuate with his men. 

Many people in the South thought this was all a grand adventure, one that would be over quickly, but Lincoln responded by calling for troops to assemble to reassert the authority of U.S. law, and the war commenced. Four years later the U.S. retook Fort Sumter, with the Civil War killing a full third of the 60,000 men in the state who fought. Also, the war brought what southerners feared, the end of slavery cost South Carolina planters some three hundred million dollars in human capital. Larson does a great job in the book of detailing this specific place and event at the start of a conflict that wound up killing a quarter of a million people, and all the sliding door moments that led up to the Civil War.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Dogland by Tommy Tomlinson

Dogland by Tommy Tomlinson is an excellent work of nonfiction about the Westminster Dog Show, dogs in general, and Tomlinson and his relationship to dogs, especially his dog, Fred. 

Tomlinson in this book starts off by writing about the mockumentary Best in Show and he covers how dog show judges pick winners based on the dog that best epitomizes the breed. The most popular dogs aren't usually going to win. He writes about a dog show champion Samoyed named Striker, Striker's handler, Laura King, and a great cast of characters different than most. I love reading about cross-sections of people that are passionate about something that others aren't, fully enveloped in a world they love, that they inhabit not for money, but because it's who they are and what they do. 

There's also great personal narrative included, bringing to mind Tomlinson's first book, The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America. The part of the book about Tomlinson's dog Fred is definitely my favorite. As he writes, the unspoken contract of having a pet is you will die before them. As is talked about by John Wick, dogs make us be "unalone." They provide companionship, force us to exercise, and keep us engaged with the world by forcing a schedule on us, making us get up in the morning. Tomlinson also tells the story of ESPN Sportscenter anchor Scott Van Pelt and his dog Otis

Tomlinson quotes from a story by his friend Chris Jones, one of my favorite writers, on the magician Teller for Esquire. Teller is quoted saying "sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect." Tomlinson connects how that sort of like the dog-human relationship, perhaps dogs figured out the path to their survival is becoming indispensable to humans. The book is nominally about Westminster and dog shows, but uses that frame to tell about relationships and how we feel about our dogs, what they give to us, and what we seem to give to them. It's a book about connection, it's lovely.

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

South of Broad by Pat Conroy is a beautifully written novel set in Charleston, SC and includes richly drawn characters and great writing about place, with Conroy from the South and drawing from his experiences.

The book features the characters of Leo King, three sets of siblings in Sheba and Trevor Poe, Chad and Fraser Rutledge, and Niles and Starla Whitehead, Betty, Ike Jefferson, and Molly Huger. South of Broad (which is a part of Charleston) begins prior to their senior year of high school in 1969 and each person came to the friendship with their own unique hurdles to overcome. Sheba and Trevor had an evil father, Niles, Starla, and Betty were orphans, Chad and Fraser were blue bloods with the expectations of Charleston society, Ike was a young black man in the South, and Leo had to deal with the suicide of his older brother, Steve.

Sheba and Trevor moved across the street from Leo, and Leo and Ike were co-captains of the football team, with Ike's father the new head coach in a often-racist town. Sheba and Trevor were memorable characters, with each like glamorous comets shooting through the world. Trevor was flamboyantly gay and a bringer together of people and Sheba the center of attention, and they lived with their alcoholic mother, who had taken them and fled from their perfectly evil father. Leo had a domineering mother, and tremendously decent father and was a remarkable character, someone who tried to do what was right, becoming the glue of the group. 

The book jumps forward twenty years in time, with Sheba coming back to Charleston from Hollywood, where she had become a goddess-like movie star. During the intervening years, Leo married Starla, Niles married Fraser, Ike married Betty, and Chad married Molly. Sheba enlisted the group to go with her to San Francisco in search of Trevor. They then return to Charleston, and Hurricane Hugo comes into their lives. There's so many fork in the road moments for the characters, where the arc of their lives could have gone a different direction had different choices been made or outcomes occurred. There's also quite a bit of painful to read heartbreak in the book, and the bond between the group is remarkable with how they rally around each other.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel is a novel set in Seattle that tells the story of software engineer Sam Elling and the computer simulation he creates for his girlfriend Meredith so that she can communicate via email, and later via video chat, with her grandmother Livvie who recently passed away. 

Sam scrapes the digital record of how Livvie communicated with Meredith when they would email and video chat, and writes the program so that it provides back the communication to Meredith that she likely would have given. Sam, Meredith, and her cousin Dash then create a company, RePose, to provide this service for others, with people coming to the RePose space rented in Sam and Meredith's apartment building where they can communicate electronically with loved ones who have passed. A community of sorts then forms with those people sharing in common recent loss, and Sam and Meredith trying to help them through it.

The idea is to provide people a way to say goodbye and deal with their grief, but it's an open question whether the technology a healthy thing for people to have available, with it both a tool to say goodbye and to not move forward. It's an interesting and heartfelt story, with a turn taken towards the end making it that much more profound.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Fairy Tale by Stephen King is a novel that tells the story of 17-year-old Charlie Reade. He meets and decides to care for a dog, Radar, and her aging owner, Howard Bowditch, after Bowditch suffered a fall.

Charlie learns that something seriously amiss in the locked shed on Bowditch’s property, and that the man had at least a bucketful of gold pellets. After Bowditch dies from a heart attack, Charlie listens to a recording Bowditch left for him, and hears a story of how the shed on top of a passageway to another world.

Part of what Bowditch tells of is a sundial in the other world that reverses the aging process, something Charlie desperately wanted to do with the dog who was now his, Radar, near death from old age. Charlie a third of the way through the book travels with Radar down the spiral staircase in the shed, and are in the other world.

When Charlie and Radar return home, he had been gone from October to February and King tells well the story of myth and wonder, one he notes as having wanted to write from early in the pandemic. 

One Two Three by Laurie Frankel

One Two Three by Laurie Frankel is a good novel that tells the story of the Mitchell triplets, Mab, Monday, and Mirabel. They're teenagers in the town of Bourne, where many of citizens were afflicted with disabilities almost certainly caused by Belsum Chemical that once operated in town. 

Runoff from the plant was said, but refuted by Belsum Chemical-hired specialists, to have gone into the town's drinking water, leading to high rates of cancer and other maladies. The girls' father died of cancer just before they were born and their mother Nora leads the decades-long uphill battle to hold the Belsum and its owner, Duke Templeton, liable for what they did. People died, moved away, and those who remained live with their afflictions. 

Of the girls, Mab is the most scholarly, Monday particular, with an affinity for all things yellow, and Mirabel dealt a body that betrayed her constantly, leaving her wheelchair-bound and unable to easily communicate outside her family. The story introduces how the dying town that never had anything new happen in it then very much does. 

Someone shows up at the High School, River Templeton, grandson of Belsum owner Duke and son of Nathan Templeton, sent by his father to reopen the plant. River develops a relationship with one of the sisters and is enlisted in their efforts to expose Belsum and the harm it did, and would likely do again if the plant were to reopen. The people of the town actually were going to make reopening a reality, voting for repairs needed to a dam on the river near the plant, until Mab, Monday, and Mirabel take action. It's a cool drama-filled conclusion, and the book an entertaining and satisfying read about people, the circumstances thrust upon them, and what they choose to do about those circumstances.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Escape Artists by Neal Bascomb

The Escape Artists by Neal Bascomb is a work of nonfiction subtitled A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War. It details a 1918 World War I escape from the German POW camp Holzminden by a group of Allied Airmen and David Grann on the book jacket describes it as "a remarkable piece of hidden history, told perfectly... brims with adventure, suspense, daring, and heroism.” 

The book starts out with the story of Jim Bennett, one of the escapees who then in WWII was working for British Military Intelligence, showing people how escapes could be made. Bascomb details many different escape attempts by prisoners, and then the ultimately successful one led by pilot David Gray, with twenty-nine men going through a dug out path that came to be known as the Holzminden Tunnel. 

The part after the escape, where the men travelled in small groups towards freedom, was the most engaging of the book. One group of three featured a former prisoner feigning being a patient from a lunatic asylum, and the other two his handlers. Of the twenty-nine, a number noted as the greatest breakout of the war, one in which 192K prisoners were held in Germany, ten men ultimately made it to safety. It's an interesting story, with the book description giving a good summary...

"Their plot demands a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, fake walls, and steely resolve. Once beyond the watch towers and round-the-clock patrols, Gray and almost a dozen of his half-starved fellow prisoners must then make a heroic 150 mile dash through enemy-occupied territory towards free Holland."

Friday, March 29, 2024

Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg

Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg is an excellent book subtitled How to Unlock the Secret Language of Communication. Duhigg notes that the goal for conversations should be to have learning conversations, ones where we learn how the people around us see the world and they understand our perspectives. 

The prologue covers the idea of reciprocating in conversation, connecting by showing people that you're hearing what they're saying and sharing your own stories while you're asking people to share theirs. This matching principle in conversation means that you're doing equivalent things to what the person you're talking to is doing, becoming neurally aligned. If they're sharing, you're sharing. If they're either excited or restrained, you're the same. Also, looping for understanding is the technique of asking questions, summarizing what you heard, and asking if you got it right. There should be lots of questions asked, but more importantly, follow-up questions. Ones that don't have a straightforward answer, but rather ask how someone feels about something, or asks about something impactful to someone. 

Rules for learning conversations: 

1. Pay attention to what kind of conversation is occurring (what someone hopes to get from a conversation). 

2. Share your goals and ask what others are seeking. 

3. Ask about others' feelings, and share your own. 

4. Explore if identities are important to this discussion (keep in mind how important peoples' identities are to their world view). It's helpful to prepare for a conversation, think about or even write down what you want to discuss, what you hope to say, what you plan to ask.

Duhigg writes about connecting with others as having empathy and emotional intelligence. He details astronaut selection and how if someone isn't doing the things to connect, they likely could have a difficult time being successful on a long space mission in close quarters with others. The story is also told of The Big Bang Theory, and how the pilot reveals people trying to connect (by saying "hi"), but who don't know how. 

Three types of conversations: 

1. What's this really about (practical, are different things being discussed)? 

2. How do we feel (emotional, does someone feel controlled or do they feel understood)? 

3. Who are we (social, what's the world view of the person and how can that not be compromised)?

There's also interesting content about online communication and how it important to overemphasize politeness, underemphasize sarcasm, express more gratitude and hedges, and avoid criticism in public forums.

Duhigg closes with the need to invest in relationships, connect with more people, and avoid social isolation as it's an unhealthy thing. He notes that if he gets an email at, he'll respond and that "what's important is wanting to connect, wanting to understand someone, wanting to have a deep conversation, even if it is hard and scary, or when it would be so much easier to walk away." 

The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey

The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey was written in 2005 and subtitled The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Coffey intersperses a recounting of what happened in the game with backstory on head coach Herb Brooks, who died in 2003 at the age of 66, and many of the players.

It's fascinating how Brooks bonded players together against him, and Coffey notes that Brooks called his year coaching the team his loneliest in hockey. Even years later, it was hard for Brooks to connect with the players, twelve of whom played in the NHL. 

There were twenty players on the team and profiled in order in the book (along with Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov, U.S. goalie coach Warren Strelow, and 42-year-old Brooks) were Billy Baker, Buzz Schneider, Jack O'Callahan, Mark Johnson, Ken Morrow, John Harrington, Neal Broten, Eric Stobel, Steve Janaszak, Mark Pavelich, Steve Christoff, Jim Craig, Dave Christian, Mark Wells, Dave Silk, and Mike Eruzione. The end of the book covers that prior to the Olympics, none of the 1,780 players selected in the 17 years of the NHL draft had been an American high schooler, two years later, 47 of 252 players were.

Coffey notes how Brooks scheduled a pre-tournament game against the Soviets, who won 10-3, so that they would be over confident. In the Olympic matchup between the teams, Vladislav Tretiak, the star Soviet goalie, was pulled after giving up the tying goal at the very end of the first period. Shots on goal in the game were 39 to 16 in favor of the Soviets, with Jim Craig playing an outstanding game in goal and Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione scoring a minute and a half apart midway through the third period of the 4-3 U.S. win. It was a solid read and interesting how the movie Miracle closely followed real-life as chronicled in the book. 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Women by Kristin Hannah

The Women by Kristin Hannah is a compelling novel about Frances "Frankie" McGrath, who served in the Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam. The first half of the book covers Frankie in Vietnam following the enlistment and death in combat of her brother Finley, and second half is about her life after returning from the war.

While in Vietnam, Frankie worked numerous MASCAL, or mass casualty, events at the same time that the American government was lying to people about how successful the war was. Hannah wrote that on a day the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported no American casualties, seven men died in Frankie’s operating theater. Also, she saw cases of South Vietnamese civilians being killed by American bombs and napalm. 

Returning home, she had strangers proclaim her a “baby killer,” people at the VA tell her that services weren’t for her as "women weren't in combat," friends from school say she was joking about having been in the war, and her father get revealed as having told friends while Frankie gone that she was studying in Florence. 

The book jacket notes how idealism and courage come under fire in this era and as a female veteran, Frankie had to face people telling her “there are no women in Vietnam.” This was particularly cruel because as Hannah notes, “remembrance matters.” The ending is well-written and shows that people can start anew, and help others do the same. Also, it's noted that “being proud is something people have for themselves, even if others don't say they should be.”

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Family Family by Laurie Frankel

Family Family by Laurie Frankel is a really good novel about actress India Allwood, her adopted children Fig and Jack, her two biological children that she placed for adoption, their birth fathers, and adopted parents, and their interconnected lives. 

The book covers how adoption stories aren’t all either horrifying ones of abused children or uplifting ones about overcoming abuse. They’re life stories about people, and those stories don’t always fit into the small boxes we might think they do. 

India Allwood is a compelling character, someone who worked tirelessly to succeed, would write plans on index cards, and rip them up and throw the confetti in the air to celebrate successes. 

Frankel notes of how India didn’t “give up her babies for adoption," she placed them with loving families, leading to wonderful outcomes. Along with India, the book is about Robbie, and Bex, and Camille, and Davis, and Lewis, and Andrew, and Drew. They’re all part of one another’s stories, making each other who they are.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a lovely novel about the characters Vianne Mauriac and her sister Isabelle in occupied France during World War II. 

It's so important have books like this that keep alive the stories of German atrocities during the war, and Hannah does a great job telling of the heroic actions of the sisters, with a great conclusion to the book about the lasting impact of both women.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Doppelganger by Naomi Klein

Doppelganger by Naomi Klein is a compelling nonfiction book subtitled A Trip into the Mirror World. Klein writes about herself and Naomi Wolf, someone she has been often mistaken for, and provides an interesting examination into our society and the extremist beliefs held by many. Klein and Wolf at one time were both writing about individual autonomy and corporate power, with Klein in 2007 publishing The Shock Doctrine about exploitation of large-scale events, and them being mistaken for one other seems understandable.

Wolf began to espouse more conspiracy theories prior to pandemic, and then with it, her statements became much more unhinged. Her anti-vax views went to the level of writing about "vaccine shedding," the idea that vaccinated people could infect the unvaccinated. She also put out videos like "Why Vaccine Passports Equal Slavery Forever" and became a regular guest on Steve Bannon's show. 

Where the book gets particularly interesting is in how Klein points out that Wolf takes ideas and questions that are legitimate and should be asked, but goes so far with them to make any discussion around the topics seem wrong or like binary opposites, basically the legitimate argument gets co-opted by the outlandish one, rendering it moot.

The extremist right argues against governmental controls, and does so in such a wild manner, that normal people can't argue against them also. Basically, government conspiracists take over the argument about government in general. Extremists talk about government spying on us and Liberals react with how crazy Extremists are, and lose the ability to make arguments about privacy from governmental incursion. 

Another example is criticism of the role Bill Gates had in COVID-19 policy and drug companies having patents on COVID vaccines when vaccine development was so heavily government subsidized becomes muted, lest that discussion be confused with people demonizing Gates and vaccines in general. Klein writes that legitimate debate functionally gets killed when you have situations that this, with about Wolf, her noting that it felt like Wolf took Klein's ideas and fed into a bonkers blender, with the  thought-puree then shared with Tucker Carlson. 

Klein raises the concept of diagonalism, or diagonal alliances, where different conspiracy theories or grievances all roll together, or at least align together. The term pipikism is also used, with it from writer Philip Roth and about the idea of inconsequentializing or trivializing things, with perhaps the most dangerous form of pipikism being the make-up possibility that perhaps the Nazis weren't so awful, and also invented idea that vaccine cards are sort of like Star of David that Jews were forced to wear. Equating vaccines with the attempted extermination of an entire race makes the extermination seem less of a big deal, a dangerous and horrifying slope to go down when the actions of Nazis are trivialized. There's a lot to the book that Klein writes. It starts with the idea of Wolf as her doppelganger, but then covers well so much more.