Archive for October, 2009

Book Review: The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton

Author: Alain De Botton
Title: The Art of Travel
Publication Info: Recorded Books, LLC (2002), Audio CD
ISBN: 1402545096

Previously Read by Same Author: The Architecture of Happiness

Summary/Review:

This book reflects on travel focusing on the little things such as the novelty of the commonplace in a new place, disorientation, the boredom of travel, and even ponders whether travel for pleasure is even a necessity.  Along the way he shows travel through the eyes of various artists: Van Gogh, Wordsworth, Flauber, Von Humboldt and others.  He even details how artists create the vision we have of the destinations we wish to visit.  This is all written in the intellectual vein of someone who attends a literary salon, so  if that’s not your thing, you won’t like this book.  I found it brain-teasingly good, but I think that de Botton is meant to be read more than heard so I don’t recommend the audiobook.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Little Book by Selden Edwardse

Author: Selden Edwards
Title: The Little Book
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2008), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN:  0143143514

Summary/Review:

Wheeler Burden is a lot of things:

  • son of a revered athlete and war hero
  • a successful – if not ambitious – high school and college baseball pitcher
  • a rock & roll superstar
  • heir to a mentor’s collection of writings about fin-de-siecle Vienna which he publishes into a book
  • a time traveler

I do love a time travel adventure and this is a pretty good one as the protagonist Burden suddenly arrives in Vienna in 1898.  Armed with the knowledge provided by his teacher “the venerable Haze” he successfully navigates a time half-a-century before his birth and becomes acquainted with the intellectual socialites of the time.  More surprisingly he meets quite a few people he already knows.  The novel jumps between Burden’s story in Vienna and biographical stories of three generations of the Burden family. Along the way, Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Buddy Holly among others play a part.

It’s not a perfect book as Edwards’ dialogue and characterization is kind of weak, and there’s no end to the superlatives he lays on the characters we’re supposed to like.  But there’s enough of a cracking adventure to make it worth a read.  File it under intellectual brain candy.

Recommended books: To Say Nothing of the Dog; or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis, Time and Again by Jack Finney, and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  Also reminiscent of John Irving’s early works because of the New England boarding school and Vienna connections.   Said to be inspired by Fin-de-Siecle by Carl Schorske.
Rating: ***

Book Review: What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science

Author: edited by Max Brockman
Title: What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science
Publication Info: New York : Vintage Books, 2009.
ISBN:  9780307389312

Summary/Review:

This short book is a collection of essays about the future of science and was a nice illuminating read.  Oddly enough, much of the material was already familiar to a dilettante like myself which I guess shows the efficacy of listening to podcasts of Radiolab and Scientific American.  The title is a little misleading as the majority of this book is “what’s now” with the authors not speculating much about the future, which is good science.  Popular topics among the essays are climate change, neurology as it relates to memory, language, and morality, and human evolution.  Favorite essays include Lera Boroditsky: “How Does Our Language Shape The Way We Think?”, Nathan Wolfe: “The Aliens Among Us” (about viruses), and Katerina Harvarti: “Extinction and the Evolution of Humankind.”  This is a good book to pick up if you’re interested in a quick overview of contemporary scientific research.

Recommended books: Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science–From the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi, Thumbs, Toes, and Tears: And Other Traits That Make Us Human by Chip Walter
Rating: ***

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