Review: The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic

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The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic
The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those amazing non-fiction adventure books, on the level with Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, and Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival. (That’s funny, I just now noticed they all have subtitles. Must somehow be typical of the genre.) I had heard of Balto, but I didn’t know there was a statue of him, and I had never heard the story that made him famous. The Salisburies tell the story expertly, paying due respect to the people and dogs involved, and the utmost respect to the villian, Mother Nature. After reading this book I feel especially fond not of Balto, who crossed the finish line, but more of Togo, the lead dog of the team that logged the most miles of the relay. Every single dog, of course (over 100) and every single driver (around twenty), played their part and deserve credit.

The book contains many incredible stories of these dogs’ feats. For them and their drivers, this was just another day’s work and duty. But to the world, they were doing something extraordinary, braving negative hurts-to-even-think-about temperatures, thin ice and blizzards in order to expedite the delivery of medicine to a community cut off from civilization eight months out of every year. I thoroughly enjoyed this page-turner, and I have even more faith than ever in the intelligence and loyalty of man’s best friend.

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Review: Common Sense

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Common Sense
Common Sense by Thomas Paine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A delicious piece of 1776 Colonial propaganda. Paine was obviously an effective writer but I can see why so many looked on such pamphleteers with disdain. He certainly reminds one of the modern fire-and-brimstone hardliners. There are some great takeaway quotes. My favorite:

“One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise, she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass for a lion.”

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Review: Night in Funland and Other Stories From Literary Cavalcade

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Night in Funland and Other Stories From Literary Cavalcade
Night in Funland and Other Stories From Literary Cavalcade by Jerome Brondfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, there’s a story to this one. I’ve been trying to go back in time lately and find copies of stories that have stuck out in my memory from middle & high school. One of my all time favorite short stories is Borden Deal’s “Antaeus.” Aside from periodicals, it was very difficult to find a paperback collection containing that story. This book is the only one I could find. So I ordered it, and when it arrived in the mail, I was shocked and excited to discover the treasure troves it contained: Night in Funland, The Most Dangerous Game, Flowers for Algernon, all of which I’d read before. I was very happy, therefore, to have hit on several of my old favorites, and now own them in print, in a single collection. My favorite story in the bunch that I’d never read was probably “The Sea Gulls,” by Elias Venezis. This whole collection definitely has a kind of “Twilight Zone” feel to it, almost exactly like Bradbury’s “The October Country” collection.

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Review: The Best Bits of Physics

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The Best Bits of Physics
The Best Bits of Physics by Alasdair C. Shaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked it. It’s split into two halves that don’t seem to have anything to do with one another. Half 1 is a short breeze through major concepts in physics. Half 2 is a list of do-it-yourself physics experiments. Half 1 takes a dozen or so physics concepts like thermodynamics, general relativity, absolute zero, and attempts to distill each to about a page of short, lay explanation. This does not succeed, not through any fault in the writer, but because it is an impossible task. I am well-read in these areas, but trying to read it from a lay perspective, I can see how none of these short walk-throughs add anything to understanding. The author is trying to do what the Michio Kakus, Carl Sagans, Stephen Hawkings, and Guy Murchies have been doing for years: teaching high level physics to laypeople. Perhaps this concept would work better as a Glossary of Physics Terms for reference, not explanation.

Half 2 has some wonderful experiments, for parents and teachers especially. Earlier, I mentioned a direction problem, because things that were explained in Half 1, like General Relativity can’t be demonstrated by household experiment. So there is a sharp disconnect between the two halves. Overall, this is a great reference for teachers & parents attempting to brief children on the subject and inspire them. But in terms of explanatory power, it just doesn’t touch the masters.

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