Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction

Two New Reviews up at Shiny Book Review (SBR)

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Folks, it took me longer than I’d have liked to review two new books over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always). One was nonfiction, the other was fiction. Both were outstanding.

The first, UNBROKEN CIRCLES FOR SCHOOLS by Ken Johnson, is a nonfiction book about what schools can do to help juvenile offenders. (This is a vast oversimplification, of course.) Mr. Johnson discusses the differences between retributive and restorative justice (the latter is much better, but isn’t often used by our criminal justice system), and how schools can help. Go read my review, then check out this outstanding book.

The second, DEVIL’S LAKE, is a romantic suspense novel by Aaron Paul Lazar. It’s an outstanding novel in every respect, and I was pleased to review it on Valentine’s Day for our Romance Saturday at SBR promotion.

So if you’re looking for something new to read in either nonfiction or fiction, head on over to SBR and take a look at these two reviews.

Just Reviewed Mario Livio’s “Brilliant Blunders” at SBR

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Folks, I’m a bit behindhand on letting you all know what I’ve been doing over at SBR lately.  This is partly because I’ve been dealing with the sinus infection from Hell (TM), and partly because I’ve been trying to get everything caught up by the end of the year.  (Yes, I’m still playing catch-up from that bronchitis I suffered in the spring.)

Anyway, today’s review over at SBR is for Mario Livio’s excellent BRILLIANT BLUNDERS, a scientific history that deals with the five biggest mistakes of five eminent scientists — Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin to thee and me), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein — and discusses these mistakes in the context of both the history of science and the particular scientist’s career.  Livio’s writing is clear and concise, and is accessible to the layman without being shallow or stupid, a neat trick.

I also interviewed novelist and rocket scientist Stephanie Osborn for SBR a few weeks ago.  This was a wide-ranging, no-holds-barred interview where Ms. Osborn discussed literacy and panic attacks right along with her own work, and talked a great deal about how she comes up with her plots for good measure.  Do go take a gander at that, then read her books as soon as you can, too.**

Aside from that, my plans for this Black Friday are to stay far, afar away from any store (except maybe for the grocery store, as that should be safe) as I’m not interested in fighting with anyone over a toaster.  Or a TV.  Or even something I would really like to have, like a book card . . . no, life is just too short for such silliness.

(Besides, I can always go get the book card tomorrow, and the lines will be far shorter, too!)

Stay safe, everyone.


**BTW, I’d meant to get up something about the interview a few weeks ago, but this sinus infection from Hell (TM) is just not allowing me to do much, as I haven’t had the energy to do it with.  I figured actually finishing the interview, then posting it was much more important than me coming over here to my own blog and discussing it — but as I always had intended to discuss it, today seems to be the day.

So if you haven’t already read the interview with Ms. Osborn, please go ahead and do so at your earliest convenience.  You may learn something . . . or better yet, you may both learn something and find a new favorite author.  (Stranger things have happened.)


Just Reviewed “Brave Genius” at SBR

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Folks, I’ve rarely read such an entertaining, interesting, thought-provoking piece of nonfiction as Sean B. Carroll’s BRAVE GENIUS: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize, which is why I reviewed it this evening over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always).  Carroll’s conception is this — if not for the French Resistance, would we even know about Albert Camus or Jacques Monod?  Would they be the same men?  Would they have the same drive?  And without them, would the Resistance have been anywhere near as effective?

Everything else in BRAVE GENIUS, including Camus’ sterling accomplishments as a writer and philosopher and Monod’s work with enzymes (and Monod’s later accomplishment as the writer of perhaps the most unlikely bestseller in the history of mankind, CHANCE AND NECESSITY), is subordinate to this premise.  And Carroll makes a very good case as to why this was so, to the point that I compared his case a few times to Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS.

Here we have two men who were at the beginning of their careers in 1940 when the French government fell to the Nazis.  (Carroll calls this “leading ordinary lives,” but I don’t really think any life is ordinary.  I’d rather say that they were still important, driven men who hadn’t yet found their voices.)  They were forged in the fire of the French Resistance, and without their efforts — Monod as “Malivert,” one of the top fund-raisers and activists in all of the French Resistance, and Camus as the then-unknown editor of the influential underground newspaper Combat — would everything have taken the same course at the end of World War II?

The World War II historicity here is palpable.  The suspense is still there, sixty-plus years after all of Monod’s and Camus’s efforts.  And it’s by far the standout part of the book, which it needs to be as this is Carroll’s central premise.

Overall, I think BRAVE GENIUS is one of the most interesting, most compelling pieces of nonfiction I’ve read all year.  It’s not 100% perfect (which is why I gave it an A rather than an A-plus), but it’s riveting, especially in those World War II sections.  Literally, if you open this book up and start reading, you won’t want to stop, even though some of Camus’s ideas (not to mention Monod’s research) takes more than a bit of thought to plow through.

That said, I think you definitely should continue on with BRAVE GENIUS no matter how long it takes you to finish it, precisely because those ideas are so important.

Really, if you’ve ever cared why existentialism as a philosophy matters (even though there’s evidence Camus hated the term and probably would’ve come up with another one, given time), or wondered what the French Resistance actually did during the Vichy appeasement besides the simple term “resist,” this book is for you.  And if you want to know why Monod’s research was so important, or more about Monod’s book CHANCE AND NECESSITY (not an easy read to get through, but a book with more compelling ideas per capita than most), or simply want to know more about what these two important, influential men were like as people, this book is for you.

I couldn’t recommend this book more highly, in short . . . so go grab a copy of BRAVE GENIUS (from your local library, if nothing else) and start reading as soon as you can.  Then come back here and let me know what you thought.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 29, 2013 at 12:20 am

Just Reviewed Michael Casey’s “The Unfair Trade” at SBR

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My long-delayed review of Michael Casey’s excellent THE UNFAIR TRADE: How Our Broken Financial System Destroys the Middle Class is up over at Shiny Book Review (SBR).  This may be the most important book you will ever read, and it’s one everyone should read, whether you’re a writer, an editor, or just a run-of-the-mill middle-classer on the street.

Casey’s view is that the global economy is so interdependent, yet is so poorly regulated, that it’s likely that more global meltdowns of the type we saw in 2007-8 will happen.  And as he points out so well in his book, the middle class was actively harmed by this latest meltdown — harmed badly — while in many cases the people who caused the meltdown in the first place got off unscathed.

Casey is a long-time financial writer who currently works for Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal.  He understands what he’s talking about.  And he discusses things in such a lively way that you almost forget you’re reading a book about global finance — that is, until you realize how many stupid things have been done by “the big banksters” in the name of profit that have actively hurt the middle class in every country.

Seriously, you need to run, not walk, to the bookstore and grab a copy of THE UNFAIR TRADE.  (If you’re broke, as I tend to be, go to the library and get a copy instead.)  Read this book, think about what Casey says, and then insist on the regulations that Casey points out are needed.

So what are you still doing here?  Go read my review, then go get the book.  Then ponder the need for appropriate regulation, as it’s obvious that computerization and mechanization have made most of the laws on the books either irrelevant or inaccurate, take your pick.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 10, 2012 at 12:52 am