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Some More Books Worth Reading

Continued from Books Read.

"The Devil and the Disappearing Sea"

"The Devil and the Disappearing Sea" by Rob Ferguson, ©2003, ISBN I-55192-599-0.  The sad story of one of the doomed efforts to save the shrinking, polluted Aral Sea in Central Asia, despite the good efforts and committed backing of the World Bank and many selfless experts and supporters.  Frustrated and sabotaged by the culturally institutionalized corruption of many bureaucrats in the area, these efforts are in vain and the Aral Sea, "once the world's 4th largest inland body of water", will probably be gone by 2020.  A fascinating story, written by someone who tried to help.  The author is Canadian, the tragedy is international.  With maps and a short bibliography. (June 2006)

"The Voynich Manuscript"

"The Voynich Manuscript" by Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill, ©2004, ISBN 0 75285 996X.  This book is a very readable summary of the known and supposed history of an intriguing and mysterious manuscript which has baffled historians, cryptologists and literary experts since at least 1912.  The manuscript's unique and undecipherable script and many "almost familiar" drawings have puzzled all who studied them.  With source notes, bibliography and index.  My thanks to Don Clark (NSG) of Washington, DC, for introducing me to the Voynich Manuscript in the mid-1970s.  (June 2006)

"It's The Crude, Dude"

"It's The Crude Dude" by Linda McQuaig, ©2005, ISBN 0-385-66011-1.  Revised and updated, this is an important book and everyone should read it.  Sub-titled "War, Big Oil, and the fight for the planet".  Well-researched and wide ranging, it is a history of Big Oil and their exploitation of oil and its users (that's you and me).  Read it and weep because there is not a damned thing we can do about it (the U.S. government is on their side).  With source notes and index.  (December 2005).


"Starfarers" by Poul Anderson, ©1998, ISBN 0-812-54599-0.  Hard sci fi by a classic author, the story of the farthest interstellar voyage ever attempted by mankind, full of searching, excitement, discovery, drama, good extrapolations based on solid science, real characters, and human nature.  It doesn't get any better than this.  Obviously I should be reading more of Anderson's work.  (October 2005).

"A Brief History of the Crusades"

"A Brief History of the Crusades" by Geoffrey Hindley, ©2003, ISBN 1-84119-766-1.  Subtitled "Islam and Christianity in the struggle for world supremacy", this book is about the failure of the Christian church and its followers to regain Jerusalem during the Middle Ages due mainly to their fragmented efforts and internal, convoluted conflicts (byzantine is a good adjective).  Brief mention is made of the many pre-Crusade attacks (7th and 8th century) by the Islamic world upon the Christian world.  While we have forgiven them, they have never forgiven us.  With 3 maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index.  (October 2005).


"Colossus" by Niall Ferguson, ©2004, ISBN 0 14 30.3479 0.  Subtitled "The rise and fall of the American Empire".  From the occupation of American Indian lands to the war in Iraq, this is a provocative history of the political, economic and cultural impact on the world of the United States as an "empire in denial".  Well-researched and well-written, this book changed the way I think about American foreign policy.  With index, some tables and graphs, extensive notes and bibliography.  (October 2005).

"Radio Wizard"

"Radio Wizard" by Ian A. Anthony, ©2000, ISBN 7715-8050-9.  Subtitled "Edward Samuel Rogers and the Revolution of Communications", this commissioned biography of Ted Rogers, Sr. (1901-1939) is a very readable non-technical description of his technical and entrepreneurial achievements during the early years of broadcasting in Canada.  Without Ted Rogers (Amateur Radio 3BP) and his many business initiatives and electronic innovations, despite his short life, Canada would have been just another backwater for American broadcasting giants.  The inclusion of more technical detail in this fascinating story would have been appreciated.  With index, bibliography, and a good selection of photographs.  (August 2005).

"The Beginning of the Long Dash"

"The Beginning of the Long Dash" by Malcolm M. Thomson, © 1978, ISBN 0-8020-5383-1.  Listeners to C.B.C. radio in Canada will recognize the title as taken from the announcement for the daily 1 p.m. time signal from the National Research Council.  This book is a "history of timekeeping in Canada", the astronomy, the physics, the electronics, the economics and the politics, and some of the social and industrial effects of the advancing science of precision time and its dissemination.  Many famous people in Canadian science appear in this story, a very few of whom I had the great pleasure of meeting personally.  A well-told history.  (August 2005).

"To Say Nothing of the Dog"

"To Say Nothing of the Dog" by Connie Willis, ©1998, ISBN 0-533-57538-4.  My two favourite kinds of fiction, science and satire, in one book.  A satirical look at human nature in Victorian England (1888) with a science fiction basis (time travel), wrapped around an engaging mystery story.  Funny and charming, and very intriguing.  Watch out for Lady Shrapnell!  (August 2005).

"Doomsday Book"

"Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis, ©1992, ISBN 0-553-56273-8.  Wow!  A historical novel set in England at some time in the future and in the past, during the Black Death, with a science fiction premise (time travel) and a page-turning plot that is funny (bloody beaurocrats!), sad (so many died), and inspirational (with saintly social and religious devotion).  Did I say page-turning?  It's a historical delight!  Another book I should have read years ago.  By the way, practical time travel is the dream of every genealogist and family historian (myself included).  (July 2005).

"Secret Weapons of World War II"

"Secret Weapons of World War II" by William B. Breuer, ©2000, ISBN-13: 978-0-7858-1952-3, ISBN-10: 0-7858-1952-5.  A well-researched collection of anecdotes illustrating the triumphs and failures of intelligence, counter-intelligence, cryptology, and scientific research and developments that contributed to the outcome of the Second World War.  Most of the stories are British but a number of American and German stories are included.  SOE, OSS, and R. V. Jones and his "boffins" feature prominently in many of the stories.  Easy to read and relatively non-technical with many illustrations.  Bibliography and index.  (June 2005).

"Spin State"

"Spin State" by Chris Moriarty, ©2003, ISBN 0-553-58624-6.  Part murder-mystery, part hard sci-fi, this intense novel takes place in a future where technology is sufficiently advanced as to seem almost magical.  Most people have bionic add-ons and enhancements, quantum mechanics has been mastered, and super-computers are everywhere, but human affairs are still driven by greed and the lust for power.  A fast-paced twisty and turny read!  (June 2005)


"Omega" by Jack McDevitt, © 2003, ISBN 0-441-01210-8.  Hard sci-fi; another fast-paced and satisfying story about the mysteries of alien technology, the problems of making first-contact with an alien species, and the human need to take care of those less fortunate.  McDevitt does it again!  (June 2005).

"Digital Fortress"

"Digital Fortress" by Dan Brown, © 1998, ISBN 0-312-99542-3.  What to say about this book?  A fast-paced, action-packed mystery with lots of twists and turns in the plot to keep you interested.  But it is flawed.  For example : Brown's definition of public-key cryptography (p 21) is about any other kind of cryptography, not public-key!  His portrayal of the National Security Agency (NSA) is unrealistic and he would have benefitted from reading any of James Bamford's books on the subject.  The German Enigma machines were not "twelve-ton beasts" (p 403).  The Top Secret Umbra classification is not the USA's "highest level of security" (p 177).  Just a few.  But it is a good story.  (May 2005)

"Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code"

"Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code" by Bart D. Ehrman, © 2004, ISBN 0-19-518140-9.  Though somewhat repetitious in style, this is an interesting accounting by an established historian of what is known, and is not, about the early Christians.  I have not read "The Da Vinci Code" but perhaps now I will, suitably forewarned.  (April 2005)

"A Short History of Progress"

"A Short History of Progress" by Ronald Wright, from the CBC Massey Lecture Series, ©2004, ISBN 0-88784-706-4.  A thoughtful and thought-provoking look at the mistakes of past civilizations and some of the lessons that we evidently have not learned.  With index and extensive footnotes and bibliography.  (March 2005)

"The Skeptic's Dictionary"

"The Skeptic's Dictionary" by Robert Todd Carroll, ©2003, ISBN 0-471-27242-6.  A well-researched and well-written "collection of strange beliefs, amusing deceptions and dangerous delusions", with index and an extensive bibliography.  (March 2005)

"Absolute Friends"

"Absolute Friends" by John Le Carré, ©2003, ISBN 0-14-301694-1.  Novel about a reluctant spy, excellent!  (Who would expect less f Le Carré?)  (Feb 2005)

"Infinity Beach"

"Infinity Beach" by Jack McDevitt, ©2000, ISBN 0-06-102005-2.  Hard sci-fi; fast-paced story of humankind's disastrous first contact with an alien species, but it doesn't end there.  A real page-turner.  (Feb 2005)

"Rushing to Armageddon"

"Rushing to Armageddon" by Mel Hurtig, ©2004, ISBN 0-7710-4162-4.  "The shocking truth about Canada, missile defence and Star Wars", and he isn't kidding either.  One wonders how our politicians can be so naive and illogical.  (Jan 2005)

"The Border"

"The Border" by James Laxer, ©2003, ISBN 0-385-65982-2.  Very interesting history and portrait of the Canada-U.S. border, entertaining too!  (Jan 2005)

"The Haj"

"The Haj" by Leon Uris, ©1984, ISBN 0-385-3459-8.  Historical novel exploring the social and psychological roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  I wonder why I didn't read this years ago?  (Jan 2005)


"Hybrids" by Robert J. Sawyer, ©2003, ISBN 0-765-34906-X.  Hard sci-fi and third in his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy.  All of Sawyer's stuff is good.  (Fall 2004)

"The Secret Wireless War"

"The Secret Wireless War" by Geoffrey Pidgeon, ©2003, ISBN 1-84375-252-2.  Anecdotes and reminiscences, many by the actual players, on the role of radio in some British intelligence and counter-intelligence operations during World War II.  Somewhat technical but not technical enough (IMHO).  Fun to read. (Fall 2004)

"The Music of the Primes"

"The Music of the Primes" by Marcus du Sautoy, ©2003, ISBN 0-06-093558-8.  Entertaining and engaging non-mathematical history of the search for the cause of prime numbers and an explanation of their importance.  (Fall 2004)


"Evolution" by Stephen Baxter, ©2003, ISBN 0-345-45783-8.  Hard sci-fi; a slow-moving but entertaining exploration of the course of evolution of life on earth, in both past and future.  (Summer 2004)


"Krakatoa" by Simon Winchester, ©2003, ISBN 0-06-621285-5.  An engaging natural history of the volcano that blew its top in 1888 and a good though unintended introduction to the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster of 2004.  (Summer 2004)


"Crypto" by Steven Levy, ©2001, ISBN 0-14-02.4432-8.  "How the code rebels beat the government -- saving privacy in the digital age".  And how! in this rollicking tale of the origins, development and triumph of public key cryptography.  A well-researched, well-told true story.  (Summer 2004)

So there, if you be so inclined.