Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"The Cosmic Connection" By Carl Sagan

I found this book in a used book store and bought it simply because it was written by Carl Sagan.

Summary: This is a non-fiction book in which Sagan discusses projects and theories that he is familiar with regarding our place in the universe and the possibilities of contacting other intelligent life. Surprisingly for a book written in the 1970's, it is a nice introduction to all the major ideas on the topic. For example, he discusses Dyson spheres, which still comes up today as an exciting futuristic idea. Similarly, he spends time considering the SETI program, both in terms of finding evidence of other life and ways that others might find us.

One gem is his discussion of the plaque added to Pioneer 10 as a message for any extra terrestrials that might discover it in flight. Sagan was the person who made it happen on this mission and several following missions. His insight as to the intentions and the process of designing the plaque is something you likely wont find in any other book.

He shares his experiences studying dolphins, giving insight into the difficulties in communicating with a totally different but intelligent lifeform. The most persuasive point he makes in arguing that dolphins are in fact intelligent is that they have learned several words in English, but not a single human has learned any Dolphin. It is a fascinating idea to think that maybe dolphins are as smart as we are, and the thing that distinguishes us from them is our manual dexterity and ability to use tools.

I am also extremely fond of Chapter 37, where he begins his Starfolk narrative. Chapter 37 is subtitled A Fable and recounts the history of us, from the beginning to today. It places us right here and now, in context, cleanly and clearly, with the grandeur of myth, but without the falsehoods.

What I Liked: I love the feel of Sagan's writing. He is 100% that one professor you had that was able to pack profound knowledge into a casual conversation. His books feel like a transcript from a musing lecture with the rigor of a researched publication.

What I Didn't Like: I have no complaints about Sagan.

Rating: Recommended.

Also Read by this Author: Pale Blue Dot, The Demon-Haunted World.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Salt to the Sea" by Ruta Sepetys

Image via amazon
I picked this book up after I saw it land on the New York Times Best Seller List. 

Summary:  The Red Army is advancing upon Germany, brutalizing anyone in their path.  The Nazi's have ordered citizens to remain in place.  Those who are caught disobeying orders are shipped off to work camps or killed.  It's a brutally cold and lean winter.  And you're a young adult on your own, hoping to make it to the coast and the ships that could bring you to safety...if the rumors are true.  Told in alternating points of view, "Salt to the Sea" is the story of four young adults desperate to find safety in the unforgiving German countryside.  As their paths cross, the young adults reluctantly band together, using each others strengths to and weaknesses to gain advantage and reach a ship that will take them out of harms way. 

My Thoughts:  "Salt to the Sea" is one of those books that I think about long after I've turned the last page.  While I hold a degree in History, World War II has never been an event on which I've spent much time.  Battles and politics don't interest me, and that's the gist of most lower education courses.  What "Salt to the Sea" did differently, and what captured my attention so soundly, was the focus on the people effected by the war; specifically, those that would be left behind by those fighting: children, teens, the impaired and elderly. 

To steal a term from the targeted demographic: this book gave me all the feels.  At times I found "Salt to the Sea" so bone chilling I had to put the book down.  The idea of children and young people left on their own in situations where death is near certain made me feel  angry, helpless and unsettled.  I wanted to know where the parents were, why the children were alone, and why someone didn't step in to protect them.  However, when the story felt most bleak and all hope seemed dash, the bright glimmer of hope was woven through the fear and sadness.  The combined goal of survival and sudden loyalty among the main characters lends a lighter touch to a dark story.  I enjoyed watching the characters open their hearts to one another as they built their own family from the wreckage around them. 

Overall, I thought "Salt to the Sea" was wonderfully written.  The action was fast paced, which felt appropriate for the story and the events unfolding.  The alternating view points of the four main characters flowed together masterfully - it was easy to keep track of the characters and their back stories and different view points added layers of  emotion to the overall plot.  Finally, although "Salt to the Sea" is a work of fiction, the authors passion for telling an honest story was well done.  I imagine any of the plot points could--and probably did--happen. 

Rating:  I'll reread this one over and over again.  Please note, there are some triggers in this book, as well as imagery some parents will not find acceptable for their children. 

Also Read:  Nothing yet, but the Author's other works are now on my TBR list. 

Reviewed By:  Tami