In Splendid Solution, Jeffrey Kluger tells a thorough history of the life and career of Jonas Salk and the development of the Flue and Polio vaccines that he was instrumental in delivering to the world. I found this to be a fascinating story that shows both the technical challenges for developing vaccines as well as the confrontational and political issues involved. The scientists involved are shown to be more of a collection of domineering and passionate partisans as opposed to a group of rational technologists. My only complaint for the story is that the level of detail in describing certain events seems to be excessive, as in the sequence that reports and VIP’s entered the Polio vaccine trial announcement ceremony. That said, Splendid Solutions tells an important story that saved perhaps millions of shattered lives over the last 50 years. I give Splendid Solution a good read.
No Easy Day is the first hand account from a Navy Seal from Seal Team 6 of the life of a Seal and the takedown of Osama Bin Laden. When I started reading this book I did not expect it to read like a Tom Clancy novel, but it does. It is a short book but it is told well and gives the reader a real sense of what it is like to be a seal every day, not just on May 1, 2011.
I expected to hear a tale of bravado in dealing with the legendary difficulties of seal training. There was necessarily some of this but what surprised me was the telling of Owen’s insecurity of whether he could make it combined with a strong confidence in his capabilities. Simple mistakes during training could wash out a prospective candidate. This is a well told personal story.
The other thing that I learned from No Easy Day was the number of missions that these teams carry out each year largely resulting from actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. At times these teams are in action every week to clear buildings and capture or kill bad guys. Each of these actions put the seal team members in life threatening situations that civilians can barely imagine. Owens describes in detail several larger operations, including a takedown of an “impenetrable” mountain enclave of Taliban fighters.
He describes the evolution of tactics from zip lining from a helicopter onto a building, “Flying to the X”, to landing a few kilometers away and marching with stealth to the target. Many of the tactics used by bad guys exploit the changing rules of engagement that the soldiers need to follow. For example, when confronted they would make sure their weapons were out of reach so the seals would not be allowed to shoot them. At one point, after reading of so many tactical “secrets” I did begin to wonder if the bad guys could take advantage of this information. On reflection, the bad guys already know all of these tactics and it is the civilian readers who are learning them in this book.
From my perspective this was not a political book. Although it is clear that many seals do not favor the Obama administration this is a minor part of the story. Releasing this book has of course raised many eyes as actions by seals are supposed to be kept secret. In the book the team members made jokes about who would play each other when the Takedown of Bin Laden movie is released. Perhaps Owen just wanted to make sure the script was accurate. Whatever the motives for writing this book were, the result is that the military now has the most powerful recruiting tool that can be produced.
This is a fast paced, well written, timely and interesting book and I give it a good read.
This book was nothing like what I expected when I started it. I was thinking CIA agent infiltrating Iran’s nuclear program and I eventually realized that this was just an interesting sub-plot to the main event. It is not often that I find a book that throws me a complete curveball, but The Twelfth Imam threw it right past my head (we are close enough to Opening Day for Baseball to get away with that phrase). Beyond the suspenseful and surprising storyline, the writing by Rosenberg is top notch. This is a novelty in this Genre of books. The conclusion was a bit of a surprise in that it suggested more of a sequel rather than a wrap-up for this book. Although I was a bit disappointed at the finish, I am also looking forward to the next installment. I give the Twelfth Imam a good read.
The Power of One is now on my Life List of Must Read books. I listened to this book as an audiobook read by Humphrey Bower, perhaps the best narrator in the business. He also narrated Shantaram, which is also on my Life List. I didn’t expect to like The Power of One as much as I did as the topic of a young boy growing up in South Africa didn’t immediately attract my interest. After 30 minutes I was hooked and I finished the 21 hour audiobook in five days. The story is compelling, the writing is top notch and the narrating is the best. Bryce Courtenay has a gift as an author and I look forward to trying out his other works. If you have seen the movie, the book is ten times better. As I said, I give The Power of One a Must Read.
I was a bit surprised that I liked this set of lectures as much as I did. Professor Peters has an engaging speaking manner and he provides a concise, but interesting, discussion of the early beginnings of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. The early prophets that are common to each of these faiths are described along with the subtle, and not so subtle, differences that produced the three paths. I rate this lecture to be a good read.
Dan Parry supplies a direct and appropriately detailed story of the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon with the historic first man on the moon event. Parry interweaves the background story for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins with the chronological sequence of events occurring during the space flight. Well researched and well written, this book flushes out the many hazards and challenges that occurred during the training and execution of this mission. Of course, the 8 day mission culminated with Neil and Buzz stepping on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Parry keeps the readers interest with accounts of the amazing X-15 rocket plane, Lunar Landing training, Soviet gamesmanship and the dozens of other sub-plots occurring during the space race. I give Moon Shot a good read.
I listened to Moon Shot on an audiobook and I must complement the reader, John Chancer, for his smooth and engaging narration of the story. I give Moon Shot a good read.
In Alas Babylon, Pat Frank provided one of the first atomic war disaster stories that is still chilling when reading it in 2011. I first read this book in the 60’s and will always remember the list of contaminated zones being read on the radio which included the phrase: “the New England States”. Although the story presents several of the difficult trials and tribulations affecting a central Florida town of Fort Repose, it does so in a fairly innocent way. The classic confrontations between roaming bad guys and the town seems more like a clash with bullies than the outside threat that other books describe. While it is a bit naïve, it was still fun to read again. I give Alas Babylon a good read.
In The Faithful Spy, Alex Bernson tells a modern day story of John Wells, a deep cover CIA agent working to get close to Al Qaeda as a fighter in Afghanistan. Wells is an interesting character that of course the CIA doesn’t trust and Al Qaeda is guarded about. Wells is trying to save the USA from a major terrorist attack but is not always successful. The general storyline is well trodden territory but the general dialog and clever twists and turns in the bad guys characters will keep your interest through to the last page. Although there are a few lame events in the middle of the story I still give The Faithful Spy a good read rating.
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