Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Origins" by Neil de Grasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith

I selected this book because I am a fan of Neil de Grasse Tyson, the Director of the Hayden Planetarium. He does a lot of speaking engagements and special projects. He can be found all across the internet, but I had not read a single one of his books.

Summary: As the title suggests, this book is about the beginnings of things. The authors discuss the best theories out there as to the origins of the universe, including the fascinating moments immediately after when the energy of the cosmos begins to form matter. The authors discuss the role of anti-matter and dark matter in our universe as well. They then move to the origins of galaxies and other cosmic structures. Then a focus on the origins of stars, which formed out of the cosmic dust. The stars play an essential role in the creation of heavy elements.

At the beginning of the universe only hydrogen and helium were created when protons and electrons smashed into each other. All the elements heavier than those two were formed in the hearts of stars. In fact, that is where the energy of a star comes from. It is the energy released as the protons clump together and form the periodic table. In fact, most if not all of the molecules in our bodies came from stars that died and exploded these same heavy elements. When the planets formed, they collected this detritus and that is how we have iron in our blood, carbon in our flesh, oxygen in our lungs. As Carl Sagan said, we are star stuff.

The authors also go in detail regarding the origins of life on earth and the possibility of finding it elsewhere in the universe. In short, this book addresses all the big questions and presents the leading answers in the scientific community.

What I Liked: I liked how it went in chronological order and sort of told the story of the universe. It covered all kinds of exciting topics and explained them in a way that made a lot of sense. I learned a lot about this place.

What I Didn't Like: There were a few places where the theories get complicated and the authors do a little hand-waving to avoid overwhelming the reader with math or technical details. I am not a fan of hand-waving, even if it means I get a little confused.

Rating: This is a very good text for any one interested in science.

Also Read by This Author: None.

Published: 2004

Reviewed by: Nick

Special Note: Cosmos A Spacetime Odyssey, is currently being aired on Fox and National Geographic Channel, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I recommend it!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson

We selected this audiobook based on our success with a previous audiobook, Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson.

Summary: This is an autobiographical story about the time Bryson hiked the Appalachian Trail (and no, that is not a euphemistic reference to Mark Sanford). Bryson decided to start in Georgia and walk his way up to Maine. He talks about preparing for his trip, shopping for gear and foodstuffs. Worried about being alone in the middle of the forest, he recruited his friend Katz to come with. They overcome a variety of obstacles,  but physical and mental. They fight all kinds of weather, make mistakes and come to moments of realization. The whole book is littered with interesting analysis regarding the management of the National Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conference. He describes the trail, its amenities and the scenic points. He recounts the history and construction of the trail and how it has shaped the region. This edition was read by the author, who happens to do a very good job of it.

What I Liked: Personally, it reminded me of my two teenage trips to Philmont Scout Ranch where I hiked two weeks at a time in the Rockies of New Mexico. I remembered what it was like to carry your life on you back and wonder if you really needed all that food or a sleeping bag. Also, Bryson has a fantastic sense of humor typically found in Britain, which I love.

What I Didn't Like: They don't accomplish everything they had hoped for, and I felt sad for them.

Rating: Wonderful! Totally worth the read. 

Published: 1998

Also Read By This Author: Lost Continent.

Reviewed By: Nick

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Size 14 is Not Fat Either" by Meg Cabot

Former mall pop sensation turned residence hall director Heath Wells is back with yet another dorm murder on her hands.  Will she be able to solve the latest mystery of Death Dorm?

Summary:  Winter break has come to a close and the New York College freshmen and sophomores have returned to Fischer Hall to kick off a new semester.  Heather herself is ready to spring into action when a gruesome discovery in the cafeteria puts the dorm on high alert and Heather in the middle of yet another who-done-it.

What I Liked:  I feel like I repeat myself every time I review an installment of the Heather Wells series, but I'll say it again.  These books are funny, cute and definitely lighthearted.  They are easily read over a few afternoons, or ideally a day at the beach!

Another side benefit: the farther I get away from the college, the more hilarious college students seem.  This story in particular poked fun at Greek life and boy bands in a clever, if slightly insane way.

What Drove Me Nuts:  I had to put the book down twice because the main character is sometimes just TOO DITZY.  But I always get over it, pick it back up, and enjoy how her moments of total airheadedness turn out.

Rating:  Drop the kids off with grandma, pick up a cocktail and enjoy.

Reviewed by:  Tami

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks

"People of the Book" has been on my to read list for years....I've even checked it out from the library a time or two, but never got around to reading it.  When I spotted a copy at a charity book sale for a dollar, I bought it on impulse.  And there it sat on the top of my ever-growing to read stack for five months before I picked it up.  From the first page "People of the Book" had me hooked.  Take my advice...pick this book up and read it now!

Summary:  Book Historian Hannah is called upon to restore and stabilize a rare Jewish Haggadah found and saved by a librarian in Kosovo amid the armed conflict in the city.  As Hannah begins her work, she extracts bits and pieces of foreign material from the books old binding - a white hair, an insect wing and a sample from a wine stain.  These bits and pieces lead Hannah on a search for the history of the people that have handled the book through some of histories most tumultuous times.

What I Liked:  First of all, I want to come straight off and say that I loved this book.  It appealed to both my amateur history buff and my reality TV loving sides.

"People of the Book" starts with Hannah's story as she flies into Bosnia to start her work preserving the book.  We the readers get just enough information about Hannah to be curious what happens to her next when we turn the page to chapter two and find ourselves face to face with the story of Lola.  About one page into Lola's story and I didn't want to stop reading.

That's the magic of this book: each chapter switches between Hannah's quest to find out more about the book, and the story of the book itself.  Often tragic but always compelling, "People of the Book" will pull at your heartstrings while keeping you guessing on what will happen next.

What Drove Me Nuts:  It was too short.  I wanted more!

Rating:  Absolutely read this book.  Then tell me what you thought!

Also Read By:  "Year of Wonders"

Reviewed By:  Tami

Image of the book from amazon.com