A unique book. One of those are books that subtly alters your perception of the world around you. I only encounter a book like this once every five or six years. I wish I knew more books like this. A great legal, economic, civil planning, political, municipal history of New York City.
What is the color of the wool that Watson is trying to pull over here? It is not of a sort that I have encountered before in autobiographical science writing. If this book is self-aggrandizing--which I am not entirely sure it is not--then the mythologizing that is occurring is that of a peculiar sort. Watson show's, by fits and start, how he and Crick stumbled unto the structure of the DNA while utilizing others work and doing little bench work of their own. He is (mostly) unapologetic. Candid. Funny. A little bit Ruthless. The candor is welcome. Science is more often composed of the likes of J. Craig Ventner than Francis Collins. It is nice to read a history of science that is light on over-emphasizing altruism and selflessness. They are young men trying to establish themselves. Having fun. Chasing Girls. It is reassuring how many times Watson admits to have little understanding about various aspects of his field.
Nature, on the 50th anniversary of the paper re-issued it. It is stunningly readable, coherent, and insightful. At the moment of discovery all of the implications of the structure are correctly interpreted and relayed. Nothing is missed in the article and little has been corrected in the subsequent 60 years. This book is great in that you get all that happens in Watson's, and to a lesser degree Crick's, life that was not on the pages of that nature article.
I forget which author it was, but in the NY times 'By the Book' section he--I think it was John Grisham???--had stated that he couldn't put this book down. I purchased this on that recommendation. I am not a huge John Grisham fan, but I thought that this book looked interesting. The story is good, and there is the makings of a good book, but it is poorly executed by Sides. His writing is mechanical, if not outright clunky at times. He does not sufficiently build the tension surrounding James Earl Ray's stalking of MLK in the days prior to his assassination. Moreover, there are some tantalizing details that he leaves unaddressed that I cannot forgive. For instance, Sides states that JER, was, the day prior to the assassination, starting to run low on funds. Yet 24 hour after the crime he is in Atlanta flush with a little over a thousand dollars in cash (in 2012 that is about $12,000). James Earl Ray's had done time for forgery and I am sure the explanation is more mundane than nefarious. I tend to refuse conspiracy theories on principal. But where did this sudden influx of cash come from. Why does Side never address it? Sides states in the intro that he is trying to write a narrative history in the manner of Shelby Foote's masterly account of the civil war. A noble and ambitious task to be sure, but this is not what we end up with. Rather, it is more like the 911 report that 911 commission issued. Sides recycles much of the eventual congressional investigations that the assassination would spawn and splices this with the biographical works of others. JER's path is rather stilted and the portrait that is painted is not particularly interesting. It is almost as though Side's JER pulls over for gas in Memphis and decides he is an assassin and while he is in town he just go a head and kill the most important civil right leader in the country. I think I was hoping for something akin to Don Delillo's Libra, which is my own fault--one cannot just willy-nilly hope to stumble on Delillo all the time. Nonetheless, I do feel as though I deserved a bit better of a work than this. I did like narrative device that Sides employed in calling JER exclusively by his aliases. That is clever. I wished Sides would have taken more chances with the book.
I find this book to be much like like life itself. It is difficult. It is a slog. There is much that is tedious (It is even exhaustive to passively listen to while one does other things like drive across country or the dishes). But it is also many other things. It can be oddly beautiful. At times there are moments when Solzhenistsyn stops, breaks from the narrative history that he is relaying, and gives exquisite moments to the reader. They are beautiful and heartbreaking and make it all worthwhile. I know no other work like it. Like anything that is worthwhile, it takes work. It is not easy. But it is highly rewarding. I did not always enjoy the book while i was listening to it, but I was very happy I did listen to it, when I was finished with the work
This is a wonderfully researched book. I listened to this and The Looming Tower in quick succession. I found it to be the far better of the two. Coll is insightful and is very careful to not overstep or over-interpret his source material. I find him trustworthy and honest and evenhanded. He is also a gifted writer. It was a great listen and was well performed by Malcolm Hillgartner.
I had some trepidation about getting this book as it is about that big boogeyman of oil Exxon-Mobil. Nor was I familiar with Coll's writing or journalism either, so that was not something that I could lean on to support a purchase. This book was purchased more or less on whim and a fancy of wanting to know more about oil, energy, and energy policy. I was concerned that this book would be too narrowly focused on Exxon-Mobil and not really inclusive of the industry or energy policy as a whole. I was relieved to find that this was not the case. It is a good primer for both energy policy and the oil industry. The book was illuminating and well done. And by the end I had a respect for Exxon-Mobil that I would have NEVER, EVER thought possible.
Many, many, many friends, readers, reviewers, media outlets told me I would like this book. I did not. It took two attempts to get going on this work, years apart, as the first one was aborted for the reasons that one places a book down when one is 25% through it. You are bored with it. Something better comes in front of your eyes and you want to read that instead or whatever. Nonetheless people kept telling me to read it, or read David Mitchell. So I thought I would try it again. I am not sad that i did. Nor is this one of those cases where i would like the twenty some odd hours that i spent listening to it back. Rather, I would just like to present a dissenting voice to those that have been recommended to read/listen to this book.
First off let me say that Mitchell is a writer of intelligence and with significant literary gifts. That said, I feel like this book, while being well written, intricately structured and novel in its form, is, nonetheless devoid of what it is i enjoy most about literature. By the end of the book i just felt cheated. Cheated, because Mitchell can write, but chose to beat me over the head with a blunt tool, instead of using the other end of it to carve out a rich world that had depth to it. There are 6 narratives in this book that are only superficially connected. I say superficially as the way in which DM binds them is ultimately meaningless, so that what one is left with 6 independent novellas. Some are better than others, but for the most part they are all well written; some are even enjoyable. Mitchell spans aeons, styles, genres, in each of these independent novellas. But the books weakness is it's inability to tie these disparate facets together in way that is meaningful and not just literary slight of hand.
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