Tag - books

Dead man walking: Elie Wiesel and Night


This is not a review; this is an almost stream-of-consciousness pouring out of emotion that I wrote immediately after reading Night.

. . .
. . .

I just finished reading Night, by Elie Wiesel. It was, as Goethe says, like an axe to a frozen lake.

Not that I’ve never read about the Holocaust before. Quite the opposite.

But this simple, almost impersonal story written with the detachment of a boy/man who has seen too much, experienced too much, lived too long, and died too much, shredded my soul like a million tiny bullets.

We understand things in relation to ourselves, I think, and I often thought of my sons and my wife and daughter as I read the book. Would I give my life for my son? Would I put my body between his and the whips of the civilized savages?

But most of all I wept as I relived with Elie, as Elie, his first 15 years. The magic of the written word: I was Elie as I read each page of his words. The first years, the joy, the innocence, the almost untasted sweetness of life at home when young in a family of love!

All that was taken from him, ripped from him in the most cruel and vicious and unimaginably horrific way. Night replaced his day, never to be wholly withdrawn. Wasn’t it Rudyard Kipling who said that not all the love in the world could completely heal the heart of a child who has drunk too deeply the bitterness of hatred and rejection?

The worst parts, for me, were the death of the children, the toddlers and young ones burnt in the fiery ditches of Auschwitz: earthy temples of Molech aching for the blood of babes. And the hanging death of the child who helped the benevolent Dutch kapo who fought the Germans – the death that lasted 30 agonizing minutes since the boy was so light that his weight did not immediately cut of the flow of air to his lungs.

And the worst part of the worst parts was the terrible guillotine that sundered Wiesel from his God as he witnessed things too terrible to tell. It’s the question of evil in its starkest form: either God is good but powerless, or He is not good. My heart aches to tell the 15-year old skeleton in a German death camp that the dichotomy is false … but how can mere words counter the horrible evidence of his eyes?

This is a book that everyone needs to read. As Elie said later in his life, “to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.” And,

Let us remember, let us remember the heroes of Warsaw, the martyrs of Treblinka, the children of Auschwitz. They fought alone, they suffered alone, they lived alone, but they did not die alone, for something in all of us died with them.

Some things died in me too as I read. But to die is not the worst that can happen to a man.

Canadian election: Marxist-Leninist Party

We had an election today and nobody came.

Sorry, I just wanted to use that line for no particular reason. That’s what you can do when you have your own blog.

Actually, what happened, of course, is that we elected a lame-duck minority Conservative government that will have to battle every step of the way to get what it wants … and can be outvoted at any particular time by a combination of the Liberals and any one of the other two parties.

However, that’s not what this blog post is about.

When I voted today, there was a guy from the Marxist-Leninist party, David S. MacKay, who I had never heard of before, on the ballot. More astonishly, he actually managed to convince 85 wackos to vote for him.

I don’t say this because I’m particularly prejudiced again Communism. Or even against Marxism. (I do think they’re very foolish answers for humanity’s problems.)

But Leninism?

Who on earth in their right mind (and having any knowledge of history whatsoever) would found a party (in Canada!) with the name Marxist-Leninist Party … and actually have the gall to run in an election?

Leninism, if it stands for anything, stands for a betrayal of Communism/Marxism. A betrayal because he called for and began the practice of creating essentially a ruling class over ordinary people (proletariat in Marxist terminology). This ruling class, of course, was the Communist Party, and the organs of state control: police, secret police, and army.

And this ruling class that Lenin created and fostered was eventually to consume Russia, causing the deaths of millions during Lenin’s own lifetime, and tens of millions during the lifetime of the ruler whose path Lenin paved: Stalin.

Coming back to the point of this post – it does have a point, you can see that, right? – how could anyone in their right mind call their party Leninist, knowing, as we know now, that Lenin was in effect a mass murderer, a turncoat, and a betrayer of all he ostensibly originally believed.

We know this, because know history, but also because Lenin himself knew this.

Near of the end of his life he had several strokes, and lived in de facto retirement, slowly but surely getting divorced from the reins of power, as his successor, the brutal Georgian, gathered them into his own hands.

And, as I mentioned in my mini-review of a history of Lenin’s life, he awkwardly apologized to the proletariate he had betrayed.

Lenin ushered in a century of Russian suffering. And it has not yet ended.

Which is why no party that understands history in any realistic sense should title itself Leninist.

Back to school

It’s the new year and the kids are going back to school tomorrow.

So, ironically, am I.

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from my masters program at UBC, but decided that now was the time to pick it back up again. I’m taking a degree in Educational Technology … the artsy science of how to use technology to enhance education.

Next up: ETEC 500 (research methodology).

It’ll be a partial review from what I picked up in a Psych class while taking my bachelor’s in English at SFU, but there’ll be plenty new there too.

Ugh. Now I have to buy textbooks.

It may be a course on educational technology, but economic models die slowly, most of the time, and the dead tree as knowledge transmission device is still alive and well in academia.

Leaves of grass, as Walt would say.

There and back again

I recently had the oddest experience – picking up a book and reading it, and having the strangest sensation that it was very similar to another book that I was very familiar with.

The book was There and back again, by Pat Murphy, and the book it is similar to is The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, of course.

Murphy’s taken the historical/mythical feeling Hobbit and transformed it into a science fiction story. Gandalf is a mysterious half cyborg woman. The dwarves are also female, and are all clones. Odd, that.

I admit I was taken in with it at first, and enjoying it, but frankly, There and back again falls short, way short, of Tolkien’s masterpiece.

It’s far shorter, to start with, as Murphy seemingly does not have the patience to develop his characters through plot and conversation. And it’s very definitely not readable as a children’s story, with various more or less nasty cyberpunk-type elements thrown in – for spice, I presume.

I’d like to say nice try, but I’m not sure that even that faint praise is deserved.

The Desert Rats

Last week I finished Eighth Army, by Robin Neillands.

It’s a history of the “British” Eighth Army, which fought most famously in northern Africa during WWII, and then in the Italian campaign with the US 5th Army.

The Desert Rats, as they referred to themeselves, consisted of British, Aussi, Kiwi, Canadian, Indian, and even some Polish units. Successful in the extreme in the early months of the desert war against the Italians, they retreated for almost a year before the better-equipped and better-led German Afrika Korps, General Erwin Rommel’s (the Desert Fox) most-famous command.

Only after Bernard Law Montgomery (Monty) was sent to lead the Eighth and gave the Rommel his first serious defeat at El Alamein did the tides of the WWII turn, and he lead them from victory to victory (mostly) through Africa, until they joined up with the Americans who landed in Morroco and Algeria in Operation Torch.

(My wife’s grandfather was with those Americans in Torch.)

The Eighth Army finished out the war after another two years of battle clearing the Germans out of Sicily and Italy, and a nasty, bloody business it was. But they will always be known as the Desert Rats for their African campaigns.

I enjoyed the book, particularly because the author went to great pains to let the men speak – it’s a rare few pages that don’t have at least one lengthy quote from veterans of the Eighth.

Panzer Operations, by Erhard Raus

I’m on a bit of a war kick lately as my past few trips to the library have brought me past numerous WWII books.

Happened to pick up Erhard Raus’ Panzer Operations, which is basically the wartime diary of Raus, a German general on the Eastern front. It’s mostly tactics and strategy: straightforward history of the war.

The most astonishing thing about it, to me, is the almost complete lack of any emotion, regret, or sorrow for all the death and devastation of war. I’ve never come across this in any Canadian, American, or British war journal.

Raus’ book encompasses the deaths of perhaps 2 million German servicemen, and probably 5-6 million Soviet fighters. But we don’t ever hear him expressing any regret for this waste and pain and misery.

That’s probably due to the fact that he wrote the journal at the instigation of the US Army while in detention as a P.O.W. after the war – the US wanted to know and understand German armoured tactics. But it also reflects on his ethos, his values.

Death, it seems, is just part of duty, and not to be much remarked at. Cold – but if you need to plan a war against numerically superior opposition, this is probably a good place to start.

Hitler 1936-1945 Nemesis

I recently finished Hitler 1936-1945 Nemesis, by Ian Kershaw.

The book confirmed a couple of things for me – that the Nazi party transformed the whole country of Germany into a pyramid scheme (as I’ve talked about before) … and that Hitler was seriously, seriously deranged – particularly with regard to his deadly obsession with Jews: he imagined Jewish plots everywhere.

Self-fulfilling prophecy
One thing that I found very interesting: Hitler created the precise conditions that led to his own demise. In a general sense, of course, this is obvious. But specifically, his second major obsession – defeating what he called Bolshevism – led more than any other thing to the defeat of Germany in WWII. Plus, Hitler’s interference in military affairs caused Germany’s biggest defeats of the war: Stalingrad, Kursk, and others. A twisted genius on offense, he was a disaster on defence.

Kershaw also goes into some depth on Hitler’s hands-off war on the Christian church, parts of which were his only serious opposition until late in 1944-45, when the writing on the wall caused many to start to doubt.

Excellent book, for fans of history as well as those who are just interested in how essentially one man could drag down a whole country.

Cavalcade, by Alison Sinclair

I finished reading Cavalcade, by Alison Sinclair this past week. Good book!

It’s science fiction – a novel take on first contact, which is hard to do, as it’s been done and done and done. But not quite to death, as this book proves.

As usual in the best of science fiction, the times and technologies are simply backdrops for experience and interaction. Two to three hundred thousand volunteers are taken into an immense egg-shaped ship, and only slowly do they come to realize that it is in fact, their ship, and they are, in fact, its new crew. That, and the conflict and cooperation they experience along the way, form the basis for the novel.

Well worth a read!

You can learn more about the book here. Ridiculously, it is out of print, so it’s going to be hard to find. Amazon has it, occasionally, in the shops that book merchants can set up with them.

White Devils

It’s a guilty pleasure, I admit, but there’s nothing like a good thriller from time to time. And you’d be hard put to find one better than Paul McAuley’s White Devils.

It’s a sort of near-future science-fictional dystopic whirlwind set in an environmentally devastated and severely depopulated Africa. But someone is gene-splicing and small, white, ferocious creatures are killing soldiers, aid workers, and citizens. Naturally, there’s a cover-up. Of course, a big multinational is involved.

But this book is hard to put down! I just finished it on Sunday, and it’s well worth a few hours of your time.

An enemy among friends

Last week I read An Enemy Among Friends, an autobiographical story by Kiyoaki Murata.

Kiyoaki was a Japanese student who, through various circumstances, found himself studying – or trying to study – at an American college as war broke out between Japan and the US on the date “whch will live in infamy.”

It’s a fascinating account of what it meant to be Japanese and living in America during the height of the Second World War. Kiyoaki lived through the deportations of coastal Japanese, but eventually managed to convince the authorities to allow him to study in Chicago and other parts of the US.

And as the title suggests, Kiyoaki did not feel discriminated against, persecuted, or hated. On the contrary, he found the average American to be much more pleasant and personable than the average Japanese of the same era.

Very cool book – worth reading if you can find it.

Audible.com & iPod: Down the iTubes

Well, there goes a great partnership.

I watched the Stevenote in which Jobs announced the new iPod Nano yesterday. And saw what I hadn’t heard earlier: that Harry Potter is on iTunes. J.K. Rowling is putting her annoyingly adolescent but immensely popular books on the iTunes music store in audiobook format.

Hmmm. Guess who has been a great Apple partner – and who is still promoting iPods left, right, and center?

Audible.com, that’s who.

The biggest and the best
Audible is the biggest name in audio books … and unsurprisingly, Audible is the first link when you google for ‘Audio book’. They’ve promoted iPods for years now.

audible.com and iPods

Not out of some strange altruistic impulse, of course. iPods are what most people are using to listen to audio books. Well, at least those who are regularly spending money on new audio books.

That’s why iPods are plastered all over Audible’s homepage. And why you get a free one when you sign up for Audible’s service.

Whole new ballgame
But now Harry Potter’s on the iTunes, um, music store …. and I’m betting it’s just the beginning. What, functionally, is the difference between recorded music and recorded books, to a computer? None.

iTunes could become the biggest audio book seller overnight, if the right contracts could be signed, the right legalities observed, the right priorities set.

Money, money, money
I’m not guessing that Apple’s in any hurry. After all, the audio book industry is a fraction, and probably a miniscule fraction, of the music industry.

However, the potential profits are bound to be MUCH better – audio books sell for $10-25 – and my guess is that Audible takes a very retail-like 30-50% of that. A little different than the pennies Apple makes on song sales!

Harry Potter today …
My guess is that Harry Potter is simply a test case. If it doesn’t take off, no big deal. Jobs will try anything, once.

But if the $249 audio book package sells, and sells hard, Apple has a success story to take to book publishers all over the world. Publishers who are concerned about declining book sales. Publishers who are looking for ways to jazz up their industry. Publishers who are going to be interested in new revenue streams. And publishers who see an opportunity to increase their own profits as well.

A high-profile success story would be just the thing to get the ball rolling and speed up all the contracts and formalities … to get the publishers pushing each other out of the way in their rush to sign a deal.

If I was Audible, I’d be very, very worried.

No Time To Mourn

The year was 1948. The place was Vancouver, Canada.

The street was quite deserted, except for two drunks coming noisily along the sidewalk toward me. For a moment I watched them approach; then I crossed the sidewalk and stood in the gutter, hoping they wouldn’t notice me.

But they did.

Still arguing drunkenly, they paused to look at me, obviously surprised at what I had done. Then off they went again down the street, shouting and shoving at each other.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! Neither of them had made a move to strike me. They hadn’t call me names. They hadn’t even understood why I was standing in the gutter!

This is how Leon Kahn begins No Time to Mourn, his personal history of being Jewish in Lithuania and Russia during the World War II and the holocaust.

Kahn had recently immigrated to Vancouver, Canada from eastern Europe. But he carried the trash of an intensively anti-Semitic culture with him – in Poland, Lithuania, and parts of Russia, Jews did not use the sidewalk when a Gentile approached.

It was a fertile environment for the German philosophy of race and superiority. And it was a natural base of operations for the dreaded SS Einsatzgruppen, who killed most of Kahn’s family, some one and a half million Jews, and other ‘undesirables.’ Kahn personally witnessed SS troopers killing truckload after truckload of Jews by rifle and machine gun. Local civilians helped out by spreading layers of lime and dirt between successive waves of victims.

Kahn survived by becoming a Partisan living in the forest. He fought the Germans in guerrilla actions such as blowing up train tracks, destroying supplies intended for the front, and hunting down local collaborators … but it didn’t prevent him from continuing to experience sometime violent racism.

The book is emotionally gripping in the extreme. Not only does Kahn reveal how each of his relatives died, he does not shrink from revealing his and his otriad’s executions/killings of the worst collaborators and murderers of Jews.

The worst part of living this experience with Kahn as you read his book, however, is the pure banality of evil as the local schoolmaster or farmer or shoemaker becomes a violent child-killer, dashing little children against rocks and worse.

This book is sobering but an invaluable record of barbarism on a henceforth unimaginable scale – a very worthy read even though it was originally published in 1978.

Collapsium, by Wil McCarthy

Two weeks ago I re-read Collapsium, by Wil McCarthy.

The first book of McCarthy’s that I read was Bloom, which was absolutely mind-blowing – exactly the experience you get from top-notch science fiction.

Collapsium is very, very good as well. Imagine a scientist – a shy and awkward scientist, to boot – as the star of an action movie that is scrupulously accurate to current science, while stretching it to the absolute limits. Add in a pinch of a detective story, and you’ve got Collapsium.

Well worth adding to your library – hard science fiction no longer suffers from a lack of believable characterization, protagonists with depth, while still retaining the best characteristics of sci-fi.

And if you’re interested in Bloom as well:

Red Thunder by John Varley

Just finished reading Red Thunder by John Varley.

Good read but not nearly up to his previous effort, The Golden Globe. The book is about a couple of young reasonably disenfranchised Americans who, with the aid of a semi-autistic genius and a disgraced astronaut, build a spaceship to reach Mars ahead of the Chinese.

The book is a page-turner – it kept me up until about 2:00 yesterday morning, but it doesn’t have nearly the depth or longevity of The Golden Globe, a much more impressive book.

Recommendation: borrow Red Thunder, buy Golden Globe.

In case you’re interested, here’s The Golden Globe:

On my bookshelf right now …

I’m (still) on a bit of a biography kick. I just finished up The Life and Death of Lenin, by Robert Payne, and I’m working on Martin Niemoller, by James Bentley.

Lenin is extremely eye-opening … offering the sad portrait of a man who caught a tail by the tiger and was forced to ride it out. Lenin was a very confused man, as anyone reading more than a few of his pamphlets and books knows – clearly he’s one of the genesis points for George Orwell’s doublethink. As Payne writes,

He would say two opposite things and believe them both, for he never had any difficulty believing what he wanted to believe.

Seldom can the old saw about the road to hell being paved with good intentions have been more true in a secular sense, as this man who supposedly loved and wished the good of poor and needy people introduced policies that led to the deaths of perhaps millions … and ushered in the era of Stalin, who accounted for tens of millions more. Lenin saw this near the end of his life, and awkwardly apologized to the workers of Russia in several of his autobiographical notes.

The Neimoller book is about an extraordinarily interesting man who, a U-Boat captain in WWI, became a Christian pastor and defied Hitler in the years leading up to WWII, orchestrating probably the only organized opposition to the Nazis. He was tossed into a concentration camp for his troubles – Dachau, I believe – but survived and lived long after the war, working for world peace. The book’s a bit turgid and slow, but it’s worth plowing through to get a sense of the man.

I’m also picking at a biography of Somerset Maugham, but that will take some time yet …

Unlimited Access

Unlimited Access: an FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House is a scary, scary book – even a decade after it was published.

I just happened to pick it off the library shelf last Saturday, picked it up last night, and could hardly put it down.

The revelations that author Gary Aldrich documents about the Clinton era are nothing short of mind-blowing. Corruption was so common it became banal … to the US national media as well as the Clinton insiders.

Much of what the book broke for the first or near-first time in 1996 is well-known and well-documented now: Bill’s constant affairs, the rampant drug abuse problems in the hired help, the almost incredible degree of nepotism and favoritism exemplified by Travelgate (in which Hilary wanted to fire all the existing White House travel department in order to provide plum positions for personal friends, acquaintances, and cronies).

Every page resonates with head-shaking, depressing nonsense. For example, when Vince Foster committed suicide under suspicious circumstances, the Park Service, yes, the Park Service were commissioned to investigate his death. Not the Secret Service. Not the FBI. Not the police. Not the CIA. The park service. Unbelievable.

To me, however, the biggest things that stand out are the way that Clinton and Hilary treated ordinary people, the staff of the White House. They were dirt, or less than dirt, to the Clintons – who were supposed to be compassionate Democrats. And how they (Chelsea included) referred to their Secret Service guards: trained pigs. This for people who would have given their lives to protect them.

Character is revealed by few things as starkly as how people treat those over whom they have power. On this score alone, the Clintons fail, and fail miserably.

The other major thing is the complete lack of respect for the truth, twisting it to whatever they needed it to be. Which, naturally, also demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the people Clinton was supposedly governing.

If Hilary Rodham ever gets anywhere near the Oval Office again, America is in for a rough, rough ride.

L’Histoire sans Lettres

How will future biographers do their work?

I’ve been reading a lot of biography lately, and the vast array of detail and context historians can derive from personal letters is immense. The things is, letters were not throw-away items. They were real, physical, actual pieces of correspondence to be kept and cherished.

What will future biographers do with a plastic, electronic history? One that’s full of deleted emails, misplaced blogs?

Lawrence of Arabia

I’m on a bit of a biography kick right now. It’s one of my favorite genres, and when practised well is, in my opinion, full of opportunities for personal growth and understanding.

Backing into the Limelight: a Biography of T.E. Lawrence is the story of Lawrence of Arabia, a fascinating, conflicted figure, by Michael Yardley.

Lawrence was perhaps the first media celebrity … a figure in a sense created by the media (in fact, specific persons within that nebulous, amorphous term) and, perhaps, destroyed by the media. While Lawrence wanted fame all his young life, he fled from it most of his adult life.

After showing real pluck in the genuine British colonial soldier/academic/spy tradition in Arabia, Syria, and other middle eastern countries during World War I, Lawrence became a celebrity largely due to the efforts of American journalist and travelogue writer Lowell Thomas, who invented the ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ persona through which T.E. became known to the public. (In fact, I’m sure that much of the Indiana Jones character was derived, even if unconsciously, from characters like T.E. Lawrence.)

But as the spotlight captured him, it also in a very real sense destroyed him.

Lawrence struggled with depression, probably homosexuality, and certainly low self-esteem, and after returning to England after the war, sought a sequence of low-profile positions: army private, air force mechanic. His friends and family had difficulty understanding his withdrawal from public and – to them – productive life.

And yet his accomplishments were significant.

Among the most important is that, without Lawrence, there probably would not be a country of Jordan today. Impressive, considering that Jordan is one of the most moderate, progressive Arab nations.


I just finished reading Nelson, by David Walder. It’s a biography of Horatio Nelson, Lord Nelson, perhaps the most famous admiral in history.

It’s a great biography – the best are ones that develop a real sense or feeling for the object of the story. Not sympathy, and not something that obscures or obfuscates, just something that makes you feel like you’ve really gotten close to the person you’re reading about. Makes you feel like you know the person.

I recommend it highly, and not just for those who are interested in history, or warfare.

It’s amazing how many famous men and women are just like you and me. Average people like us have sides. Sometimes we’re happy. Sometimes we’re sad. Sometimes we’re irritable; sometimes we’re patient.

And flawed. Nelson, otherwise by all appearances a dedicated Christian, was unfaithful to his wife. He made several major errors in tactics and strategy. And yet, when it counted, Nelson delivered.

All his life Nelson saw himeself as destined and capable of greatness. Perhaps we all do. But in his case, he fulfilled that vision, winning 4 major battles for England that turned the tides of war against Napolean, who was master of most of Europe for much of Nelson’s career. Dying at his last, and greatest victory, Trafalgar, Nelson became the hero he believed himself to be.

And perhaps it was a relief for him, in a sense, to have achieved what he did. His dying words, repeated over and over again, are: “Thank God, I have done my duty.”

If only we could do the same!

For Immediate Release: Gabrielle Koetsier Wins Major National Writing Award

Sparkplug 9 would like to congratulate Gabrielle Renee Koetsier, age 8, on winning the prestigious Scholastic Canada Lucky’s Magic Treehouse Be An Author Contest!

One of only 10 recipients in Canada, Gabrielle (who recently turned 9) received a Magic Tree House Bookshelf Collection complete with 28 books from this favourite series and a treehouse bookshelf to store them in, pictured below:

gabrielle koetsier

Unfortunately, Scholastic has prematurely deleted the contest page from its website, but a Google cache is still available here.

Asked about her future prospects, Ms. Koetsier says she expects to win the Booker Prize next year, the Newbery medal after that, and, as an encore – sort of like the cherry on top of the most perfect desert imaginable, a Nobel Prize for literature.

Read on to see one of Gabrielle’s seminal achievements in literature.

Read More

Nocturne for a Dangerous Man

Nocturne for a Dangerous Man is Marc Matz’s first novel, and it is an absolute smash home run. Wow.

It’s not quite science fiction, not quite murder mystery, not quite spy adventure, but some mixture of them all, with a healthy dose of philosophy, culture, and music thrown in.

(Anti)hero Gavilan Robie is dashing and performs requisite derring-do, but he’s also an accomplished musician, art theft investigator, and not-so-homespun Deep Thinkerâ„¢ … it’s obvious that author Matz has a very wide – and deep – background in a variety of disciplines, and he brings all that knowledge to bear in this novel. It’s the wealth of setting and situation that takes this novel from an excellent thriller to a persuasively real virtual world.

Worth triple the price of admission – especially but not only when you pick it up from the library – and a worthy addition to your shelf.

A nocturne, by the way, is a slow, comtemplative piece of piano music, usually played at night, and often having a dreamlike character. (I had to look it up too – I knew it was music-related, but couldn’t place the exact meaning …)

It’s hard to believe that this book is Matz’s first … but there’s obviously something to be said about starting to write when you’re older. Matz is somewhere in his 50’s, and his writing betrays a broad range of knowledge and experience that is very welcome, and somewhat unusual, in this genre.

Rediscovering Narnia

I recently re-read all the 7 books that comprise the chronicles of Narnia. And my daughter Gabrielle is just finishing up The Last Battle, the last of the series. It’s her second time reading the series – she read it through at the age of 6 for the first time (she’s 8 now) – and probably my fifth or sixth.

The mark of a great book, or series of books, is that many people of differing ages can read it and get something out of it – and they may or may not get the same thing out of it.

If you do get a chance, pick up the series and check it out – for the first time or again. You’ll not be disappointed. The books include:
– The Magician’s Nephew
– The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
– The Horse and His Boy
– Prince Caspian
– The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
– The Silver Chair
– The Last Battle
All are worth reading, and a a movie of the second book will be released fairly soon now.

Paddle to the Amazon: a 20,000 Kilometre Epic

I just finished reading “Paddle to the Amazon: the ultimate 12,000 mile canoe adventure.” Excellent book!

I happened across it by accident … my wife’s grandfather passed away, and I received some of his books, including this one.

It’s the story of Don Starkell and his son Dana, who paddled from their home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Belém, Brazil … all in an open-top canoe. (For part of the journey, Don’s other son Jeff was along.)

The length of the journey itself is astounding: nearly 20,000 kilomtres. But the fact that a good portion of those kilometres where in ocean water is even more amazing. Canoes and the sea typically don’t mix.

Don and company followed the Red River upstream to the Mississipi, which they rode downstream all the way to the Gulf, travelled along the coast of the US, Mexico, Central America, and part of South America, until they went upstream on the Orinoco, downstream on the Rio Negro in Brazil, and finally connected with the upper Amazon and paddled all the way to its mouth at Belém.

Along the way they were robbed multiple time, accosted by hostile soldiers and militia dozens of times, and benefited from the kindness of strangers both rich and poor countless times. They camped on beaches, warehouses, and yacht clubs. They were capsized dozens of times, marooned by storms, half-starved, sick, wounded … you name it.

Don took notes – almost a million words – during the trip, and after the trip an editor and author, Charles Wilkens, helped pare that down to a more manageable 200,000 words. The book keeps the form of a diary, and recounts the ups and downs of a trip that took a little over two years to complete.

Great book, great story, great adventure.

The only wish I had after reading it was to have another book, this time told from the perspective of Starkell’s son Dana. I get the feeling that he took the trip almost entirely because of his father. While I’m sure he benefited immensely from it, I’d like to hear the story from his perspective as well.

The book is not new: it was published in 1987, and the trip ended in 1982 or thereabouts. However, it’s still very worthy of a read and I notice that the book – a newer edition – is still available on Amazon.

Books: K-19, the Widowmaker

I loved the movie, bought it on DVD, so when I saw the book by a retired US Navy captain, Peter Hughthausen (say that 5 times fast!) I grabbed it.

VERY interesting – gives the whole story of the sub, the shoddy and unsafe reactors and nuclear history of the former USSR, the human story, and the current reality of tons, literally tons of highly radioactive junk sitting in Russian ports and in dumping places in the world’s oceans.

Highly recommended.

Books: Krakatoa, the Day the World Exploded

Last week I read Krakatoa, the Day the World Exploded, by Simon Winchester.

When I picked it off the shelf, I was looking mainly for the science and info-porn behind the disaster … how big, how much, how hot, how loud, etc. etc., but the book delivered a lot more.

Winchester situates the event in a historical, cultural, and geopolitical milieux that is fascinating. Example: he ties together the volcanic explosion itself with the state of the Dutch colonial presence in what is now called Indonesia, the rise of Islam in Java and Sumatra, and the slowly growing independance movement.

But the disaster itself takes centre stage, of course, with nice tidbits, fully explained, such as:

– the sound of the final, gigantic explosion travelled up to 3000 miles away (unbelievable!)
– the pressure wave from the explosion travelled around the world 7, yes 7 times
– the highest wave (there were several) caused by the explosion was probably around 130 feet high

Krakatoa was probably the first “global village” disaster, as it was the first to be quickly reported around the world, mostly as a result of recently laid telegraph cables.

Good book; perhaps a bit tedious at points.

The thing was written in sand: Coding in Dune

I’m a huge fan of the Dune books by Frank Herbert … even though Herbert’s legacy is being dragged throught the dirt by his son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson.

So it was trés cool to see one of Frank Herbert’s riffs on mentats adapted to code architects.

I can’t resist quoting:

Above all else, the [architect] must be a generalist, not a specialist. Experts and specialists lead you quickly into chaos. They are a source of useless nit-picking, the ferocious quibble over a comma. The [architect] on the other hand, should bring to decision-making a healthy common sense …

Well worth reading for literature and programming types both.