Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik
Do you want to know why glass is transparent or why you only taste the food and not the spoon? “Stuff Matters” is an introduction to materials science and will answer these questions plus others you never knew you had. It delves into topics ranging from why stainless steel makes the sharpest knives to how sand goes from being opaque particles to transparent glass when heated. Mr. Miodownik has written a creative and absorbing look at some of the materials that surround our everyday lives. He skillfully navigates the fine line between pure entertainment and pure science through excellent writing. The book also includes hand-drawn illustrations which makes the whole thing feel more like a journal than a text book. Fun snippets of history + easy to understand chemistry = a phenomenal good time with materials.
￼￼￼￼The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle
“The Atlantis Gene” is a sci-fi, historical thriller. It contains everything from technologically advanced beings to secret societies vying for the fate of the human race. The book begins with Dr. Kate Warner doing autism research in Jakarta, Indonesia. She quickly becomes involved in a dangerous conspiracy when two of her child subjects are kidnapped. From there the story jumps around the world following a host of different plotlines which do not merge until much later. While I understood the interconnectedness of the narratives, I was much more invested in the characters of Kate Warner and her protector, David Vale, than I was in any of the other action. However, overall, I liked the action-packed, tension-filled writing. I also liked that the science fiction was far-fetched but still believable and had some very interesting historical links. “The Atlantis Gene” is the first of three novels and I can say I am intrigued enough to finish the trilogy.
Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta
Review: Ms. Hotta’s book on the eight months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is a diplomatic, fact-based account that still does not pull any punches in detailing Japan’s unfortunate decisions leading up to December 8, 1941 (December 7th in Hawaii). It uses primary source documents from government archives and contemporary citizen papers to discuss the Japanese side of the events. Like a tragedy of errors, one hard line decision after another, created a situation in which Japan felt that it had no choice but to start a war that they knew was virtually unwinnable.
“They felt they had to choose between waging a reckless war and giving up all of Japan’s imperialistic conquests of many years in order to stave off war. They tended to ignore that such extreme choices grew directly out of their own recent decisions and actions. As they made more diplomatic missteps and committed themselves to an impracticable war, claiming all the while to be more prepared then they ever were, their range of policy options both at home and with the outside world narrowed considerably. It was as if Tokyo had gotten stuck in the thin end of a funnel. The war option, it must have seemed to those leaders, provided the quickest and surest way of breaking free of that constricting situation. That they didn’t think about what would happen afterward was a tragic act of negligence.”
Those in power had an overconfidence in their alliance with Germany and an ultranationalist view that prevented them from truly negotiating with the U.S. even when it would have resulted in favorable terms. If you have any interest in history and World War II, I recommend this unique take. Ms. Hotta’s writing can be, at times, a little dry but overall it was very informative.
The Copernicus Legacy: The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott
Review: A fast-paced, adventurous romp. Mr. Abbott’s first entry into a new YA series reminded me of Dan Brown’s historical mysteries. It has evil secret societies, historical treasures, guardians of secret codes and European settings. I was really pleased with this little gem that I might never have found without Amazon Books of the Month.
Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent by John Reader
Review: I received this book as a Christmas present from my sister who said she expected to see it on my blog at some point. So, here it is. Now I know that an entire book about potatoes might seem incredibly boring at first glance, but I happen to love both learning new things and potatoes. This book is a vindication of my often expressed feeling that potatoes are the perfect food. Mr. Reader goes into detail about the history of wild and domesticated potatoes and how potato cultivation played a large role in world history. Potatoes are a hardier crop than most grains making them easier to grow in harsh and colder climates. Yet, they are also a very efficient source of protein, vitamins and slow-carbohydrates. I have just one complaint about this book and that is I felt that some of the history sections veered too far into general history having nothing to do with potatoes. I felt those sections while somewhat interesting were unnecessary. However, in general, the book is well-researched and very informative without being too dry. And now, I need to go find something potato to eat…
No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Review: Okay, bad news first. This book is LOOOONG. I felt every bit of the 636 pages of body text. However, the good news is the length makes this book chock-full of goodies about two of the most influential and interesting people of the 20th century. It is extremely well-researched and well-written. Arranged chronologically from 1940-1945, this book touches on all aspects of American life during the war. I can see why Ms. Kearns won a Pulitzer Prize for this effort. So if you can get on board for 600+ pages about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and World War II, I recommend this book.