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Sean Carroll is a theoretical cosmologist and senior research associate at the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His most recent book is “The Particle at the End of the Universe” which is focused on the story of Higgs boson, the widely and incorrectly termed “god particle”, that may have recently been found by CERN with Large-Hadron-Collider’ experiments. (HIGGS BOSON PARTICLE CONFIRMED 7/4/2012.)
Carroll explains that experimental proofs of quantum mechanics are the reason Higgs boson, or something like it, must exist. That is why the discovery is so important. Higgs boson is the field in which known particles of the universe gain mass. Without Higgs boson or something that works like Higgs boson, life would not exist.
Carroll offers other insights—about symmetry, super-symmetry, and breaking symmetry. He touches on dark matter and string theory. All are interestingly presented.
In general, Carroll crystallizes the importance of theoretical and experimental science. When listeners finish “The Particle at the End of the Universe, they will understand why Higgs boson is a magnificent discovery and the LHC is worth a nine-billion-dollar investment.
“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” is an empty history because it misses the mark of great story telling. Johnathan Aris and Paula Wilcox do a good job of narrating the story but David Mitchell fails to develop characters or a theme that sparks much interest in the listener.
There is little romantic chemistry felt by the listener when Jacob de Zoet, the hero, expresses his love for Orito Aibagawa, the heroine. The listener feels she is de Zoet’s interest not his passion. This may be consistent with Mitchell’s characterization of the hero but it detracts from the entertainment value of the story.
Incidents are injected into the story at the last minute with a feeling of listener manipulation rather than enlightenment. An English captain, near the end of the story, is described as having had a son killed in the war that reminded him of de Zoet. This memory kept the captain from killing de Zoet when he had the chance.
The book ends with narrative explanation that reveals the hero’s failure as a lover, father, and husband, a disappointing denouement. This book is a fair listen but not worthy of high praise.
Andreas Wagner suggests molecular life is nature’s library. He believes Darwin’s theory of natural selection is recorded and accessible in the cellular history of life; i.e. a coded library buried, and partly indecipherable, in the molecules of life.
In “Arrival of the Fittest”, Wagner explains the vast distance between Darwin’s theory of evolution and the mechanics of evolution. Darwin’s theory does not explain the cellular mechanics of life because science had not reached that level of observation and measurement. The nearest Darwin comes to explanation is based on natural selection which only infers there is some mechanism, without identifying it. In other words, there is no examination of the mechanics of evolutionary change in Darwin’s theory.
Andreas Wagner reveals the immense complexity of human evolution by associating organic molecules with enough information to fill all libraries of the world. Access to this immense library is being decoded and organized with biological research and computer technology. Wagner’s book makes one wonder–is this research a harbinger of earth’s infinite or finite organic life?
“World Order”, Henry Kissinger’s latest book could have been titled World Engagement. Kissinger is a consummate diplomat who crafts opinions that resonate with many interested Americans. Reader/listeners’ of “World Order” will draw their own judgments about Kissinger’s book.
“World Order” will confirm disparate political prejudices of its audience; i.e. every political pundit will find something to like or dislike. However, a fundamental belief of this wizened and wise intellect is that America must stay engaged in the world. America cannot let the Middle East or Africa devolve into tribal fiefdoms by withdrawing from conflicts over religion, tribal territoriality, terrorism, and/or nationalist fervor for independence.
Kissinger relies on lessons of history to make his point. Reaching back to the 17th century, Kissinger cites the Peace of Westphalia as a turning point in the history of world peace. Two treaties, signed in Germany in 1648, ended the Thirty Years’ War in the Holy Roman Empire and eighty years of war between Spain and the Dutch Republic. The Peace of Westphalia provides a formula for peace based on three concepts. The first is “every nation’s right to sovereignty”; the second is the principle of “balance of power”, and the third is the centrality of international law based on the aforementioned principles.
Kissinger ponderously and broadly sets the table for his arguments for nation-state’ engagement in international affairs. Once past the table setting stage of the book, Kissinger offers a compelling argument for America to remain fully engaged in the troubles of the world. At the end of “World Order”, Kissinger infers that cyberspace is the new frontier for nation-state’ international relations. Though undoubtedly true, it seems the Westphalia’ protocol remains relevant to diplomacy for peace.
“H Is for Hawk” fails to fit a specific category of writing. It is partly memorialist; partly biographic, and partly naturalist (in a call-of-the-wild sense). It seems a perfect book to be awarded a Samuel Johnson literary prize. Johnson’s scatological mode of writing about everything from word definitions (Johnson wrote the first comprehensive English’ dictionary) to Shakespearean literature is evident in Helen Macdonald’s interesting book.
Macdonald’s book reviews the life of T. H. White. White is an English author admired by modern writers like J. K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman. White wrote “The Once and Future King” and “The Sword in the Stone”, two magical stories about the legends of King Arthur. Interesting thoughts about White’s life are weaved into Macdonald’s view of herself, the recent death of her father, and her experience as an austringer (one who keeps goshawks).
Like White, Macdonald feels she has to prove her human’ competence. In contrast to White’s goshawk’ experience, Macdonald is quite successful as a trainer and keeper. This is not a story that will resonate with all who listen to it. However, Macdonald is a very good writer. Among other categories, “H Is for Hawk” is an excellent manual on how to keep and train a goshawk. Any fault in the book is in its subject; not it’s writing.
“Panzer Commander” offers a glossy view of WWII from a German tank Commander’s perspective; a man who becomes Combat Formation Commander of the 21st Panzer Division, late in the war. The gloss comes from genuine heroism. However, heroism hides war’s tragedy behind memories of tactical experience and heroic acts, rather than intimate reflection. Hans von Luck is a highly decorated German tank commander and author of “Panzer Commander”.
Ironically, Stephen Ambrose, a famous American’ biographical historian (somewhat disgraced by misrepresentation of historical facts about meetings with Dwight Eisenhower) provides the foreword to von Luck’s book. One suspects von Luck, like Ambrose, creates a story that is largely true but colored by modern experience, cultural influence, and the exigencies of writing an interesting story.
Memory, even when drawn from real-time, is clouded when recreated in a story. Inevitably, there is loss of relevant details because feelings and perception of the past are changed by time and experience of the present. Additionally, there is the ever-present pressure to entertain an audience and protect one’s privacy; i.e. a pressure that influences facts when telling a story.
Von Luck’s book is an informative story about WWII. It tells a listener how German officers went to war, courageously represented their country in battle, and rationalized their jobs as executors of a politician’s demented decisions. “Panzer Commander” explains what happens to defeated soldiers; how rank and a liberal education has its privileges, and how good leadership makes a difference in the outcome of a battle, a war, or a losers’ captivity.
One hesitates to review Eula Biss’s book “On Immunity” about inoculation because it likely reduces the probability that a reader/listener will fairly consider her point of view. Once a reviewer shows that Biss supports inoculation, those opposed are likely not to read or listen to her book. Biss is not a doctor. However, she is a mother, and an award-winning non-fiction writer who is praised for the quality of her research, and writing.
In light of Biss’s hyper-vigilance as a research writer, and more importantly as a mother, one knows she is committed to making the most responsible decisions possible about inoculation. The word “hyper-vigilance” in regard to research and motherhood is used to suggest Biss carefully considers inoculation’s benefits and threats. Biss notes that inoculation deniers are not entirely wrong about inoculation but she argues that their concerns are based on weak science. The evidence of history is that inoculation reduces the number of deaths and disabilities from illness; not without errors in manufacture and distribution, but with dramatic improvement in reduced mortality rates.
Biss infers those doctors who sit on the fence regarding inoculation (she mentions a famed pediatrician named Dr. Bob), do a disservice to the public. This synopsis of "On Immunity" is a candle light on Biss's book about inoculation. Read or listen to the book. It replaces candle light with sunshine.
Helene Wecker’s first novel opens a new world of imagination. As in all stories built on myth or legend, “The Golem and the Jinni” draws on universal human interest. Wecker explores differences between men and women, faith and religion, caring and not caring, love and friendship. The choice of George Guidell as narrator makes a good story even better.
Forget what you think you know about a golem or jinni as a monster. In Wecker’s novel, the monster under the bed, or in your dream, is not a golem or jinni. The monster is you, a human being. Wecker cleverly reveals myths of Jewish and Islamic demons in a story that blends human nature with a perception of differences between masculine and feminine mystique. Along the way, Wecker raises issues of faith and religion; caring and not caring; love and friendship. Wecker creates two powerful mythological characters with a supporting cast that contrast and reveal the nature of human beings. Wecker’s golem is feminine; her jinni is masculine.
At the story’s end, one hears an echo of the author’s view of love and friendship. Love and friendship lays somewhere between trust in what one says and the reality of what one does.
It is past time for Americans to re-read Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man”. Though his primary purpose is to refute Edmund Burke’s condemnation of the 1789 French revolution, his observations on British Aristocracy are the essence of today’s American “Money-ocracy”.
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are an amorphous scream of disgust by an educated population that resents American “Money-ocracy’s” control of the economy, elected representatives, the election system, and the “Rights of Man”. “Money-ocracy” is an inheritable line of an American aristocracy.
Stockholders in American companies need to fight employee compensation inflation that is disconnected from human productivity. Entrepreneurs that create productive enterprises should be rewarded by as much money, power, and prestige as their contribution warrants but not by ridiculous salaries that make a mockery of human productivity.
“Occupy Wall Street” is an unlikely precursor of another American Revolution; however, it may be a symptom of an American cancer that debilitates productive life without killing the patient. “Occupying Wall Street” is not a hippie “sit in” but a plea for reform of American “Money-cracy” just as Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man” was a plea for reform of Aristocratic inheritance.
History of the Lusitania is only vaguely, if at all, remembered by young Americans in 2015. Erik Larson spectacularly revivified WWI by chronicling the sinking of the Lusitania by a German’ submarine in 1915. In Larson’s detailed exposition, a reader/listener learns about early submarine warfare and its role in indiscriminate slaughter of civilians in war.
In the beginning chapters of “Dead Wake”, the choice of Scott Brick as narrator seems inept. However, as the brutality of the story rises, Brick’s somber delivery fits the tone of Larson’s sharpened history of the Lusitania. After leaving New York, the Lusitania slipped beneath the sea in 18 minutes on May 1, 1915, only 11 miles off the Irish’ coast; on that date, 1,193 men, women, and children became victims of a torpedo attack by a German’ submarine. The submarine, christened the U20, sinks the Lusitania at sea between Ireland and England.
Listeners will draw their own conclusion from Larson’s history of the sinking of the Lusitania. John F. Kennedy said, “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind”. Kennedy may have been referring to nuclear war but the story of the Lusitania suggests weapons are only a part of a slippery slope destined to end civilization.
After World War I, “the number of people killed today” became a measure of success in war. Adolph Hitler, Winston Churchill, and Harry Truman reinforce belief in bombing civilian targets as a way of ending war. (Joseph Stalin is in the same group, but not so much as a bomber but as an amoral mass murderer.) The fundamental argument is that civilian deaths demoralize the enemy. Once war is declared, morality disappears. In war, there are no “good guys”. There are only victims.
This is a panegyric for Beethoven and musical artists; i.e. a tribute to what makes Beethoven great and musicians talented.
In this two-hour narration, one begins to understand why Beethoven’s music is important; what makes the difference between a good musician’s performance, and a great musician’s performance.
Jonathan Bliss began taking Beethoven seriously at the age of ten. Bliss’s introduction to music became an obsession that began with emotion felt in listening to Beethoven’s Sonatas. He began practicing Beethoven’s most difficult pieces to develop muscle memory to exercise his technical talent but left an “in the moment” appreciation of Beethoven’s genius to future maturation. Bliss debuted at the New York Philharmonic in 2001 at the age of 21. He is the winner of the 2005 Leonard Bernstein Award and the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award which suggests high qualification for his insight to musical quality and musicianship.
There is an element of salesmanship in this vignette because Bliss is planning to produce recordings of all 32 Beethoven’ Sonatas. One is tempted to buy his first two albums to see how he escapes recording studio mediocrity.
On balance, “Beethoven’s Shadow” offers insight to how far Beethoven’s shadow extends into the music world, what “real talent” is in composers and musicians, and what is gained and lost in studio recording of great music.
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