Book Review: A Man on the Moon

A Man on the Moon, written by Andrew Chaikin, is the definitive recounting of the amazing journey the United Sates took From the Earth to the Moon.** I was given this book for my birthday by a good buddy. I’m very happy to have gotten it. I could not put it down.

Chaikin takes you on a trip through history beginning with the famous speech by John F. Kennedy where he commits the nation to ‘put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth before the decade is out,’ and ending with the final Apollo mission, Apollo 17. The book is a vivid recounting of each major mission in the apollo program. But Chaikin doesn’t just focus on the missions, but on the people who flew them, and the people who organized them. You get to learn about the kind of people the astronauts were, what their past was like, and how they delt with their trips to the moon.

What’s amazing is how Chaikin wrote this book. He interviewed 23 of the 24 men who were lucky enough to travel to and from the moon. Apparently each interview was hours upon hours. Chaikin used these interviews, along with many other texts/references to bring us back to humanity’s giant leap: how we did it, why we did it, what it was like, and how we’ve delt with it since.

In reading this book, it honestly felt like I was right there, back in the 60’s glued to a television screen as Armstrong took his first steps, as Lovell commanded Apollo 13 through its trials, as Conrad bounced around merrily, and as Scott dropped the Feather and the Hammer. This may have been because Chaikin wrote it much like a story, he includes dialogue, from the real missions. It’s as if you’re listening to the transmissions as you read.

This book inspired the HBO series ‘From the Earth to the Moon,’ produced by Tom Hanks. As Hanks was researching for his role as Jim Lovell in the film Apollo 13, he read Chaikin’s book. After completeing Apollo 13, Hanks moved forward with telling the rest of the Apollo story, basing the series almost entirely on this book.

I can’t say enough good things about it. I was completely hooked on reading it, and learned so much about a space age I never knew. Highly recommend reading.

Now I’m off to watch the HBO series!

Happy reading!

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** From the Earth to the Moon: the title of one of Jules Verne’s books, as well as the title of the HBO miniseries produced by Tom Hanks, based on the book of which this blog post is about.

Book Review: Fifth Business

 

Written by Robertson Davies, Fifth Business is one of the Canadian modern classics.  Honestly, I had absolutely no idea what this book was about before I read it, which was the allure.  In the age of constant teasers, trailers, spoilers, facebook, twitter, etc, it’s really hard to find something that you know nothing about before going into it.  I love when I know nothing about the book/movie/show, hence…Fifth Business.

From the front of the book:
Fifth Business … Definition
Those roles which, being neither those of
Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain,
but which were none the less essential to
bring about the Recognition or the denouement
were called Fifth Business in drama
and opera companies organized according
to the old style; the player who acted these
parts was often referred to as Fifth Business.
-Tho. Overskou, Den Danske Skueplads

 

The book begins with the definition above, describing and setting up for you the title and tone of the book.  The story is written in the first person, narrated by Dunstable Ramsay, in the style of Ramsay writing a letter to the headmaster of a school for boys (in which Ramsay teaches).  Ramsay is lamenting to the headmaster over Ramsay’s recent retirement, and how the school paper covered it.  Ramsay wishes to convey to the headmaster his story from the beginning, hoping to shed new light on the person Ramsay has become.

Ramsay grew up in small town in Southern Ontario, Deptford, and is haunted with guilt by an event that happened early in his life.  One night coming home, Ramsay and his counter-part Boy Staunton were having a tiff.  Staunton decided to throw a snowball at Ramsay that had a rock inside it. Ramsay dodged the snowball but it hit a pregnant women named Mary Dempster, who then went into early labour.  This even plagues Ramsay for most of his life, and guides most of the decisions he makes.

I found Fifth Business to be similar in allure to reading Catcher in the Rye.  It is a piece of prose that so beautifully captures the inner workings of a person’s mind.  I highly recommend reading it!

Fifth Business is the first installment of a trilogy known as the Deptford Trilogy.

Happy Reading!

Book Review: Physics for Future Presidents

 

I had meaning to read this book for a while; both because it was lent to me and I wanted to get it back ASAP, but also because I was interested in what physics a president should know.  Of course, from my point of view, a president could benefit from a formal education in physics, but what were the bare essentials?

Physics for Future Presdients: The Science Behind the Headlines is written by Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at UC Berkley.  I’ve learned a bit about him since I read this book, and he seems to be a very interesting physicist, not content to sit in his lab and research, but to write and be vocal.  I respect that.  He also has a new book called ‘The Instant Physicist: An Illustrated Guide,’ that i’d like to check out eventually.

Anyway, this book was great.  Muller writes as if the reader is running for the presidency, and he is trying to prepare him/her.  Muller speaks directly to you as you read, which is an interesting and more engaging way to read.  The book covers all the basic things a president needs to be aware of, but from the physics point of view: energy, global warming, space, nuclear power, radiation, etc.

This should not just be required reading for all presidents (and prime ministers), but this should be required reading for EVERYONE.  I feel like this book has a place in any high schooler curriculum.  Though perhaps it would incite better discussions in university.  I say that, because this book directly addresses what is FAKE in the media, and what is REAL.  Is nuclear power dangerous? Should we be worried about global warming? What’s the best way to power a city?  All of the questions are important, and this book covers them all in a very straight forward way.

I highly recommend reading this book, whether a physicist or not!

happy reading!

Book Review: The Mars Trilogy

 

Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars; collectively known as the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.  It has taken me a while to read all three of these books, mostly due to my schedule not permitting a lot of recreational reading.  But I’ve finally gotten through the three of them, and I’m a little sad to see it end!  These 3 books were unbelievably good.

 

I HIGHLY recommend reading these three.  They’re in the genre of Science Fiction; in a similar style to Michael Crichton (author of Jurrasic Park, among many others).  Meaning, a strong consideration is given to the actual science behind what’s happening. But there is a lot more than cool science going on in these books.

 

In short, these three novels tell the tale of the colonization of mars by Humans.  That really should be enough to entice you, but I find I can’t stop talking about it, so I’ll give you a little more.  The main plots of the books follow the First Hundred.  In Red Mars, the First Hundred were the original people sent to mars for a permanent settlement (not the first people on mars, the first settlers of mars).  100 brave souls were chosen, composed of top scientists, engineers, pilots, leaders, etc.

 

These books tackle so many interesting issues, the biggest of course being terraforming: the act of changing the conditions on the surface of mars to be more liveable for humans.  This means raising the temperature, thickening the atmosphere, providing the right gases, creating topsoil, ….the list goes on.  Not only do the books cover the technological aspects of doing it, but questions the very idea of doing it.  Do you humans have the right to change mars as they see fit?

 

Mars quickly grows in population, and faces many of the same issues the Europeans did when they came to the Americas, ruling without representation.  Mars needs to become its own planet, its own self.  The storylines cover racism, psychology, morality, oppression, POLITICS, science, immortality…and more.

 

There is so much in these three books, I’ll almost certainly read them again in the future.

 

happy reading!

Book Review: Maus II -..and Here My Troubles Began

This is the second book by Art Spiegelman, telling the story of his father’s journey as a jew trough the second world war. I wrote about the first Maus here.

So in this one, Vladek (Art’s father), has just made it to Auschwitz. This is arguably the most well known prison camp from the holocaust. Vladek goes on to describe what it was like living here. He talks of how they treated them, how they didn’t have clothes that fit. You would have one size 13 shoe and one size 9. one spoon for food, if you lost it…tough luck.
The constant fear of being sent to the chimneys was always there. Always hiding, always in fear. There was death all around. These two books are very powerful. It’s a graphic novel, so you have pictures to go along with it.
What I found to be really well done in these books is that the story is told in pieces, and you see Art talking with his father in the mid 80s and then you’re transported to the time in Auschwitz as Vladek narrates. You constantly see the man he was, and what the experience did to him in his later life; how he dealt with it, how he’s changed.
With all the horror I read about in this book, it gave me one big smile at the end. I suggest you go looking for it!
happy reading!