Tag Archives: books

Birds of Australia: New Book

There are close to just under 900 species of bird in Australia, and The Australian Bird Guide by Peter Menkhorst, Danny Rogers, Rohan Clarke, Jeff Davies, Peter Marsack, and Kim Franklin covers just over 900 of them. Where do the extras come from? Sea birds in the nearby oceans, I think.

This is an excellent bird book that all Australian birders simply need to have. Holiday season is just around the corner. Get one of these for your favoriate Australian!

This is not exactly a pocket guide. It is more of a car guide, and you better have a big glove box. The 6.8 x 9.7 inch format is hefty, and there are over 550 pages of high quality thickish paper.

There are some 30 pages of excellent front matter giving all the usual contextual information any bird guide gives. Then, the species are laid out taxonomically with color coded bleeds grouping major taxa. Each spread of pages has information on the left and pictures, which are excellent Peterson style drawings, on the right.

The typical spread has four species, but many have three. A species will be represented by several drawings showing the different morphs (by age status and sex, typically) as well as other features, such as what a wing looks like in flight, or a close up of a tail’s markings, etc. The authors were very thoughtful in this aspect of the layout. The book is designed to help you identify the bird. Information needed to address subspecies or hybrids, etc. is provided. There are range maps for everything on the same page layout.

There is a checklist, glossary, and index.

The Australian Bird Guide has spread the 900 birds across 4,000 images divied up on 249 plates (with, as mentioned, three or four bird species per plate).

A very notable feature of The Australian Bird Guide is what appears to be a very extensive coverage of the elusive sea birds in the region. Distribution and status of the bird species is very up to date as well.

About the authors:

Peter Menkhorst is a principal scientist with the Victorian government and has forty years’ experience in ecological research and the survey and management of Australian mammals and birds. He is the author of A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Danny Rogers is an ornithologist specializing in shorebird ecology and patterns of feather molt in birds, and works for the Victorian government environment department. Rohan Clarke is a lecturer in vertebrate ecology at the School of Biological Sciences, Monash University. Jeff Davies is a Melbourne-based artist who specializes in portraits of Australian birds and their environments. Peter Marsack is an award-winning wildlife artist based in Canberra. Kim Franklin is a freelance artist and illustrator who has exhibited worldwide and is based in Adelaide.

Shooting At The Queen, Torchwood, AI: Cheap Books

In Tooth and Claw, Season 2 Episode 2 of Doctor Who 2.0, we see the formation of The Torchwood Institute and the banishing of The Doctor (and Rose) from the United Kingdom. Fat lot that does. Anyway, we also see Queen Victoria make mention of the multiple attempts at her assassination. I suppose it is understandable that some eight or nine (nine if you count the werewolf) attempts were made on her life. She was a women in charge of men in the most patriarchal culture ever (the White West generally, not just UK). They also said “Lock her up!” All the time, and there was a never ending investigation of her use of postage stamps, which by the way she freakin’ invented.

Anyway, I’ve been rewatching the new series, and saw that episode just today. I did not know about all those attempts on Her Majesty’s person, but by the way the fact was written into the script in DWS2E2, I suspected it was for real. So I looked it up. And, I cam across a book on it that was marked down to two bucks in Kindle form!

Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy

During Queen Victoria’s sixty-four years on the British throne, no fewer than eight attempts were made on her life. Seven teenage boys and one man attempted to kill her. Far from letting it inhibit her reign over the empire, Victoria used the notoriety of the attacks to her advantage. Regardless of the traitorous motives—delusions of grandeur, revenge, paranoia, petty grievances, or a preference of prison to the streets—they were a golden opportunity for the queen to revitalize the British crown, strengthen the monarchy, push through favored acts of legislation, and prove her pluck in the face of newfound public support. “It is worth being shot at,” she said, “to see how much one is loved.”

Recounting what Elizabeth Barrett marveled at as “this strange mania of queen-shooting,” and the punishments, unprecedented trials, and fate of these malcontents who were more pitiable than dangerous, Paul Thomas Murphy explores the realities of life in nineteenth-century England—for both the privileged and the impoverished. From these cloak-and-dagger plots of “regicide” to Victoria’s steadfast courage, Shooting Victoria is thrilling, insightful, and, at times, completely mad historical narrative.

For two bucks, we also have Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence–and Where It’s Taking Us Next by Luke Dormehl.

When most of us think about Artificial Intelligence, our minds go straight to cyborgs, robots, and sci-fi thrillers where machines take over the world. But the truth is that Artificial Intelligence is already among us. It exists in our smartphones, fitness trackers, and refrigerators that tell us when the milk will expire. In some ways, the future people dreamed of at the World’s Fair in the 1960s is already here. We’re teaching our machines how to think like humans, and they’re learning at an incredible rate.

In Thinking Machines, technology journalist Luke Dormehl takes you through the history of AI and how it makes up the foundations of the machines that think for us today. Furthermore, Dormehl speculates on the incredible–and possibly terrifying–future that’s much closer than many would imagine. This remarkable book will invite you to marvel at what now seems commonplace and to dream about a future in which the scope of humanity may need to broaden itself to include intelligent machines.

CheMystery is a graphic novel

CheMystery authored by C. Al Preece is a graphic superhero novel, drawn by Josh Reynolds, that teaches — wait for it — Chemistry!

A radiation accident transforms two youngsters into superheros, and simultaneously creates an evil villain for them to fight. The graphic novel covers that story and is indurated with frequent cleverly placed molecule size chemistry lessons.

Teachers need to know that this book complies with Next Gen science standards and is very classroom friendly. Indeed, author Preece is a chemistry and physical science teacher (and a trained chemist).

It is a great read, an engaging story, and the lessons are informative and easy on the eyes. I recommend it for the youth in your life who is into science. Teachers should have a look at it!

How to do Statistics Wrong

Telling people that they are doing statistics wrong is a cottage industry that I usually want nothing to do with, for various reasons including the fact that the naysayers are often blindly repeating stuff they heard but do not understand. But, Alex Reinhart, in Statistics Done Wrong: The Woefully Complete Guide, does not do that, and this is a book that is worth reading for anyone who either generates or needs to interpret statistics.

Most of the 10 chapters that address specific technical problems with statistics, where they are misused or misinterpreted, are very helpful in guiding a reader in how to think about statistics, and certain fallacies or common errors may well apply to a particular person’s work on a regular basis. I’ve put the table of contents below so you can see how this may apply to you. This is a worthy addition to the bookshelf. Get this book and stop doing your stats wrong!

The author is a grad student and physical scientist at Carnegie Mellon.

Here’s the table of contents:

Chapter 1: An Introduction to Statistical Significance
Chapter 2: Statistical Power and Underpowered Statistics
Chapter 3: Pseudoreplication: Choose Your Data Wisely
Chapter 4: The p Value and the Base Rate Fallacy
Chapter 5: Bad Judges of Significance
Chapter 6: Double-Dipping in the Data
Chapter 7: Continuity Errors
Chapter 8: Model Abuse
Chapter 9: Researcher Freedom:Good Vibrations?
Chapter 10: Everybody Makes Mistakes
Chapter 11: Hiding the Data
Chapter 12: What Can Be Done?

The Wildlife of Ecuador

Wildlife of Ecuador: A Photographic Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians by naturalist Andrés Vásquez Noboa, witih photography byablo Cervantes Daza, covers mainland Ecuador (but by “mainland” we also mean ocean mammals). Focusing only on non-piscine verts, you will need to go elsewhere for your inverts and plants and such. But you get the point. This book covers most of what you are looking for when you are out in the wild looking for animals.

This is not a comprehensive guide, but covers the most frequently seen animals, totaling to 350 distributed across over 400 plates.

There is a good chance that if you are an American or European going to Ecuador, you are visiting the Galapagos, in which you will want to check outg Wildlife of the Galápagos: Second Edition. A rather broad gulf of evolutionary change and outlandish biogeography separates Ecuador from its famous island possessions. But there is a good chance that if you are going to teh Galapagos, you are making at lease one nature related stop, so this is the book for you.

This is a well done nicely bound standard field guide of field guide size and format with animal info and excellent photos on the same pages, and organized by taxonomic category (not all field guides are!). You might think a tiny country like Ecuador does not need range maps, but the topography is highly variable with conditions running from lowland moist to alpin-ish and from wet to dry, so there are, indeed, range maps as needed. And, that ecological diversity is explained in the preface material.

I highly recommend this book for travelers to the region.

If you want more ecology and evoluitonary biology with your field guides, check out my review of the Neotropical Companion, here.

My Review of Hillary Clinton’s Book Part I

Before discussing What Happened by Hillary Clinton, the nature of the political conversation demands that I preface this review with some context.

First, about me.

I supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election because I did not want Donald Trump to be president.

During the primary, which was not the 2016 election, I seriously had a hard time deciding between the various candidates (Clinton and Sanders). On an issue by issue basis, I preferred Sanders’ position over Clinton. However, on the issues about which I have an informed view (climate change and energy related, and education) by view was different from both, and the difference between Sanders and Clinton was smaller than the difference between either of them and me.

I decided early on during the primary to support the candidate that was likely to win the nomination as soon as I was pretty sure who that was. In order to facilitate that, I developed a model predicting the primary outcome. At the very outset, Clinton was predicted to win, but we needed to pass through several actual primaries to have confidence in that. In the end, it turns out that my model predicted almost every primary outcome to within a few percentage points, often getting the outcome exactly correct, and predicted the winners very well (when a primary is a half point difference, the difference between a very good prediction and the actual outcome is literally a coin toss). A very small number of primaries were different from what I predicted in magnitude, and I never made predictions using my model for Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, and the various territories (the model could not work in those areas). (I made predictions, but not based on my model.)

It became clear to me that Clinton was going to win the primary long before I openly stated that. I avoided stating it because I knew that would cause an unfair and obnoxious reaction from many Sanders supporters. So I waited until a blueberry muffin would have the brains to see who was going to win. In retrospect that was a mistake because none of those folks I was worried about ever got smarter than a blueberry muffin anyway.

So, to summarize, I supported Sanders and Clinton both, liked them both, avoided being mean to either one of them, attended fundraisers for both, attended rallies by both, but all along I knew Clinton was the more likely nominee.

I want to add something else about Sanders vs. Clinton. I regarded Sanders non-incrementalism as better than Clinton’s incrementalism for many but not all issues. I Think both candidates were flawed in having one or the other of a strategy. I know because I’m much smarter than a blueberry muffin that there are times for incrementalism and times for revolution. I also knew it was time for more revolution in two or three areas (such as the energy transition and health care). That’s why I leaned more towards Sanders than Clinton with respect to that philosophy.

Having said that, I felt that Clinton was the more competent and more likely to simply do a good job as president, and I had no sense whatsoever as to how Sanders would do with foreign policy. I did, however, have confidence and reason to believe that Sanders would have come up to the challenge of foreign policy excellence, and Clinton have put the hammer down on certain issues, casting aside the incrementalism.

Now, a quick word about Hillary Clinton.

Clinton was a gubernatorial first lady, and a presidential first lady. She was a trained lawyer and political activist fighting hard fights. She brought the whole idea of public preschool to the US and did more for health care reform, including and especially for children than any other individual until Obamcare. Then, she was an effective and much liked Senator and an excellent Secretary of State. She then became the first woman to win a major party nomination for president, won the popular vote, and probably would have won the election were it not for Russian meddling.

After her loss, she withdrew from public view for over half a year.

Then she wrote a book, What Happened, expressing her point of view.

Then, a lot of people felt compelled to tell this woman to shut her pie hole based on this book.

Finally, my review of the book:

I don’t have one. The book is not published yet. I don’t intend to say anything about the book until I’ve read it (I pre-ordered it). And, if I hate it, I will tell you what I did not like about it, and I’ll even tell Clinton if I get a chance, but I will not tell this woman that she should not have written it. She gets to do that, and all those people telling us that the book that is not yet published is terrible and that Secretary Clinton should not have written it, are deeply embarrassing themselves.

Disagree with the contents of this book you haven’t read, if you can manage to eventually read it and be fair and not a cherry picker with your opinion. But do not, I repeat, do not, tell her to shut up. That’s what Republicans do, that’s what dictators do. That’s what the original American Patriots did, who burned literature they didn’t like and physically assaulted the authors, and burned their homes, back before we got civilization.

I’ll tell you this: I am very interested in what happened during the last election. I’ve written quite a bit about it, I’m writing more about it. Why would I not want Clinton’s point of view?

Stay tuned for Part II of this review, in which I … actually review What Happened after I have actually read it!

(PS: If you didn’t know that bit about the original American Patriots you must read THIS BOOK. )

The Horses Of The World: Don’t say Neigh to this great book.

Over the years, the field guide and the coffee table book have merged, and we now have coffee table-ish books (but serious books) that include a species description of every critter in a certain clade. In the case of Horses of the World by Élise Rousseau (Author), Yann Le Bris (Illustrator), Teresa Lavender Fagan (Translator), while every living species of horse is in fact covered, the book is a comprehensive guide to breeds of horses.

Of which there are 570.

A horse is horse, of course, but but is a donkey or an ass? What about zebras?

Horse people are very picky about what they call a horse. It is generally thought that there are onlly three living or recent species of horse. The Prewalski’s horse (Equus ferus prezewalski), which lives in Asia, the tarpan (Equus ferus ferus) which is the European version of this animal, and went extinct when the last zoo inmate of this species died in 1909, and the modern horse, Equus ferus caballus. But if you think of a horse as a member of the genus Equus, there are more, including the donkey/ass and three species of zebra, the Kiang (a Tibetan ass), and another Asian ass called the Onager. And, since when speaking of horses, the extinct European wild horse is generally mentioned, we will add the Quagga, the half horse-half zebra (in appearance) African equid that went extinct in 1984 (having disappeared from the wild in 1883).

Since “horses” (as in Mr. Ed and friends) and Zebras can interbreed successfully, and some of these other forms can as well to varying degrees, we need to think of Equus as a close knit genus and not be exclusionary in disregarding the Zebra and Donkey.

Anyway, that is not what this book is about. As noted, there are some 570 or possibly more varieties of horse (no two experts will likely agree on that number) and Horses of the World covers them all. There is introductory material about horses, breeds, how we tell them apart, conservation status, etc. Each horse breed is then given one half of a page on each of two folios, so you see overleaf some illustrated text on one side, and a fuller and very official illustration on the other, for most breeds, with some variation.

This is one of the few books that comes with a movie, compete with some rather galloping music:

Élise Rousseau is the author of numerous books on horses. Illustrator Yann Le Bris has illustrated numerous books.

Science Books: New And Cheap (not necessarily both)

Let’s start with CheMystery.

This is a fun graphic novel mystery book by C.A. Preece and Josh Reynolds. Two cousins experience an incident that would make a physicist cry, but that works in a chemistry book because they now have the ability to observe and change matter. So this is a superhero book, designed to teach chemistry. The story is great, the science is great, and the pedagogy is well suited for kids and adults that like graphic novels.

Preece is the chem teacher (high school) and Reynolds is the artist.

This is written for grades 7 through 10 (ages 8-12) but some younger kids will do fine with it.

This book is pretty new, but I think it is available.

Here are some books that are currently available cheap on Kindle, for anywhere from free to two bucks, that are either science or otherwise, I suspect, of interest to readers of this blog:

Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World

In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, an d 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World

Adams: An American Dynasty

Almost Free Book Alert: The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

Tom Levenson is a professor, a teacher of journalism and science journalism, and an Einstein scholar. He also knows a thing or two about Isaac Newton.

One of my favorite non fiction books of all time is Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist. One of the reasons this book is so good is because the author is an expert on the subject and a great writer. These are not necessary or sufficient conditions to make a book good, but probabilistically, if you’ve got both you’ll probably be spending your book money well most of the time.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to inform you that Levenson’s The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe is currently on sale, in Kindle form, for two bucks!

The Hunt For Vulcan brings together Levenson’s Einstein expertise and his Newton expertise and his expertise on other things to look at this interesting historical thread whereby Newton predicted the existence of Planet Vulcan, everybody looked for it but did not find it, and Einstein ultimately explains it all.

Little did any of them know that Vulcan does actually exist. In a galaxy far far away accessible only with a five year voyage …

To help you make your decision about spending this $1.99, here’s the publisher’s blurb. I do not know how long this deal will last so act before midnight!

The captivating, all-but-forgotten story of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and the search for a planet that never existed

For more than fifty years, the world’s top scientists searched for the “missing” planet Vulcan, whose existence was mandated by Isaac Newton’s theories of gravity. Countless hours were spent on the hunt for the elusive orb, and some of the era’s most skilled astronomers even claimed to have found it.

There was just one problem: It was never there.

In The Hunt for Vulcan, Thomas Levenson follows the visionary scientists who inhabit the story of the phantom planet, starting with Isaac Newton, who in 1687 provided an explanation for all matter in motion throughout the universe, leading to Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier, who almost two centuries later built on Newton’s theories and discovered Neptune, becoming the most famous scientist in the world. Le Verrier attempted to surpass that triumph by predicting the existence of yet another planet in our solar system, Vulcan.

It took Albert Einstein to discern that the mystery of the missing planet was a problem not of measurements or math but of Newton’s theory of gravity itself. Einstein’s general theory of relativity proved that Vulcan did not and could not exist, and that the search for it had merely been a quirk of operating under the wrong set of assumptions about the universe. Levenson tells the previously untold tale of how the “discovery” of Vulcan in the nineteenth century set the stage for Einstein’s monumental breakthrough, the greatest individual intellectual achievement of the twentieth century.

A dramatic human story of an epic quest, The Hunt for Vulcan offers insight into how science really advances (as opposed to the way we’re taught about it in school) and how the best work of the greatest scientists reveals an artist’s sensibility. Opening a new window onto our world, Levenson illuminates some of our most iconic ideas as he recounts one of the strangest episodes in the history of science.

Your Summer Novel Reading List

I’m avoiding books that are recent so you can get a deal on price, and to bring books from the past that you didn’t read but should have back into focus. Each of these, I’ve either read (most of them) or have a recommendation from top notch sources. You should be able to finish then all by the end of summer, easily, and you can report back. Meanwhile, if you have other suggestions, let me know and I’ll periodically add them to the main post unless I think they are bogus.

Happy reading!

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author.

Called “a tour de force”by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century Spain.

When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history….

Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of-a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known-and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself-to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed-and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe.

In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign-and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions-and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad’s ancient powers-one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful-and utterly unforgettable.

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Charles Wang, a brash, lovable businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, has just lost everything in the financial crisis. So he rounds up two of his children from schools that he can no longer afford and packs them into the only car that wasn’t repossessed.

Together with their wealth-addicted stepmother, Barbra, they head on a cross-country journey from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the Upstate New York retreat of the eldest Wang daughter, Saina. The trip brings them together in a way money never could.

The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, the #1 New York Times bestseller from Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear.

That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive.

But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Three books by by Mary Doria Russell:

The Sparrow: A Novel
Children of God (The Sparrow series)

These two books go together. I’ve written about them before. For the above books I supplied the usual text given by the publisher, but for these two, that is inadequate.

These two novels are a four-field anthropologist’s take on what happens when a) civilization, such as it is, advances to the point where religion is gone, governments don’t exist, but that’s OK, everything is being run by giant corporations; and b) a group of people including a child prostitute and a Jesuit missionary fly in a space-ship retrofitted asteroid to a planet with two forms of sentient life, both somewhat resembling, in my mind, Barney the Friendly Dinosaur, but without his attitude or weird little friends. These two sentient species have a symbiotic(ish) relationship. The interaction between the Earthlings and the others is long and complex and plays out over several years, complexified by the fact that the relationship between the Earthlings and their own people back on earth plays out over many years affected by relativistic time slow down.

And so on. Anyway, two of the best books I’ve ever read, just go read them, your enjoyment is guaranteed.

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral

Mary Doria Russell, the bestselling, award-winning author of The Sparrow, returns with Epitaph. An American Iliad, this richly detailed and meticulously researched historical novel continues the story she began in Doc, following Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday to Tombstone, Arizona, and to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

A deeply divided nation. Vicious politics. A shamelessly partisan media. A president loathed by half the populace. Smuggling and gang warfare along the Mexican border. Armed citizens willing to stand their ground and take law into their own hands. . . .

That was America in 1881.

All those forces came to bear on the afternoon of October 26 when Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers faced off against the Clantons and the McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona. It should have been a simple misdemeanor arrest. Thirty seconds and thirty bullets later, three officers were wounded and three citizens lay dead in the dirt.

Wyatt Earp was the last man standing, the only one unscathed. The lies began before the smoke cleared, but the gunfight at the O.K. Corral would soon become central to American beliefs about the Old West.

Epitaph tells Wyatt’s real story, unearthing the Homeric tragedy buried under 130 years of mythology, misrepresentation, and sheer indifference to fact. Epic and intimate, this novel gives voice to the real men and women whose lives were changed forever by those fatal thirty seconds in Tombstone. At its heart is the woman behind the myth: Josephine Sarah Marcus, who loved Wyatt Earp for forty-nine years and who carefully chipped away at the truth until she had crafted the heroic legend that would become the epitaph her husband deserved.

The Sympathizer: A Novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as six other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year.

With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal.

The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.

Happy Anniversary Harry Potter!

Today is the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Harry Potter phenomenon.Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published on this day in 1997, and Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) were produced with regularity afterwards, eventually in some degree of step with the movies.

Author J. K. Rowling was to produce a number of Harry Potter related things later, but she also started a series that we hope continues about something unrelated to the world of wizardry and witchcraft, with the production of a series of books starting with The Casual Vacancy about a British detective and his very interesting assistant.

If you have not read these, read them now. If you have read the Harry Potter series, red it again now.

The Best Children’s Books #2

Installment # 1 is here

Without delay, here are four five star choices and four four star choices:

The Emperor’s New Clothes, the classic story by Hans Christian Anderson, illustrated for the modern retro child by Virginia Lee Burton.

You know the story, so I won’t give you a summary, and the whole point is the illustrations so you should just click through to see. (The graphic at the top of the post is from within the book, illustrating the overall reading level and quality).

So Few of Me by Peter Reynolds.

Alternate title: Calming the helicopter parent.

Leo’s list of things to do keeps growing, until one day he wishes, “If only there were two of me.” Just as the words are out of his mouth, poof! Another Leo appears! Two Leos become three, three become four, and four become more . . . but Leo can’t help but notice that he has even more to do than before. As he struggles to deal with his overcomplicated life, Leo realizes that there may be a simpler solution to his overscheduling woes. Peter H. Reynolds, the award-winning author-illustrator of THE DOT and ISH, returns with an important message for readers of all ages: stop and take a little time to dream.

I’m Here a second installment by Peter Reynolds

I’m here.
And you’re there.
And that’s okay.
maybe there will be a gentle wind that pulls us together.
And then I’ll be here and you’ll be here, too.

Pure, powerful and deceptively simple, bestselling author and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds reminds us that children—and the friendships they make—can take flight in unexpected ways.

Other books (not reviewed her) by Peter Reynolds, including a box set:

The North Star

Happy Dreamer

The Dot

Going Places

Peter Reynolds Creatrilogy Box Set (Dot, Ish, Sky Color)

Ish (Creatrilogy), a third suggestion by Peter Reynolds

Ramon loved to draw. Anytime. Anything. Anywhere.

Drawing is what Ramon does. It¹s what makes him happy. But in one split second, all that changes. A single reckless remark by Ramon’s older brother, Leon, turns Ramon’s carefree sketches into joyless struggles. Luckily for Ramon, though, his little sister, Marisol, sees the world differently. She opens his eyes to something a lot more valuable than getting things just “right.” Combining the spareness of fable with the potency of parable, Peter Reynolds shines a bright beam of light on the need to kindle and tend our creative flames with care.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (A Click, Clack Book) by Doreen Cronin (Author) and Betsyh Lewin (Illustrator)

Keyboarding Kows:

New York Times bestselling duo Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin’s Caldecott Honor–winning book is now available as a Level 2 Ready-to-Read!

Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type. All day long he hears:

Click, clack, moo.
Click, clack, moo.
Click, clack, moo.

But Farmer Brown’s problems REALLY begin when his cows start leaving him notes! Come join the fun as a bunch of literate cows turn Farmer Brown’s farm upside-down!

I Stink! by Kate McMullan and Jim McMujllan

This is more illustration than words, but the image gives you an idea of the words.

For fans of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train comes a noisy addition to the hilarious read-aloud series from Kate and Jim McMullan, the popular creators of I’m Bad! and I’m Dirty!

“Know what I do at night while you’re asleep? Eat your trash, that’s what!”

With ten wide tires, one really big appetite, and an even bigger smell, this garbage truck’s got it all. His job? Eating your garbage and loving every stinky second of it! And you thought nighttime was just for sleeping.

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara and Mark Fearing.

Introduce kids to the planets and solar system in this fractured fairy tale retelling of the classic The Three Little Pigs. Parents and children alike will adore this out-of-this-world story, which is set in outer space!

GREEP BOINK MEEP! The three little aliens are happily settling into their new homes when the Big Bad Robot flies in to crack and smack and whack their houses down! A chase across the solar system follows in this humorous and visually stunning book from Margaret McNamara (How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?) and Mark Fearing (The Book that Eats People). The endpapers even include a labeled diagram of all the planets.

Scaredy Squirrel by Mélanie Watt.

(I would have given this a five star, but Amanda gave it a four.)

Scaredy Squirrel never leaves his nut tree. It’s way too dangerous out there. He could encounter tarantulas, green Martians or killer bees. But in his tree, every day is the same and if danger comes along, he’s well-prepared. Scaredy Squirrel’s emergency kit includes antibacterial soap, Band-Aids and a parachute.

Day after day he watches and waits, and waits and watches, until one day … his worst nightmare comes true! Scaredy suddenly finds himself out of his tree, where germs, poison ivy and sharks lurk.

But as Scaredy Squirrel leaps into the unknown, he discovers something really uplifting …

From John Peters at Booklist:

Gr. 1-3. In a tongue-in-cheek tale that may help to prod anxious readers out of their hidebound routines, a squirrel discovers the pleasures of leaping into the unknown. As the world’s a scary place, what with the killer bees, green Martians, tarantulas, germs, and sharks that might be lurking about, Scaredy Squirrel keeps to his tree, and to a precise, minute-by-minute daily schedule–until a supposed “killer bee” actually wanders by, causing Squirrel to dislodge his suitcase-size emergency kit. A wild lunge to rescue it turns into a long glide (portrayed in a gatefold), as Squirrel discovers to his astonishment that he is a flying squirrel. Eventually, Squirrel returns in triumph to his tree and from then on adds a daily glide to his accustomed rounds. Despite the simply drawn cartoons and brief text, this is more sophisticated in tone than Martin Waddell’s Tiny’s Big Adventure (2004), though the message is similar.

The Best Children’s Books #1

It is hard to find a good book for kids between the ages of 5 and 9. These are kids who can read, but at varying (and rapidly changing) levels, and who are too fancy for the little kid books (thick, big pictures, few words, boring).

Amanda and Huxley spend a lot of time figuring out what the good books are. They forage at two different libraries, they take home huge piles of possible good books, then narrow that down even more to identify just the best, and then, those are often re-acquired and re-read multiple times. We purchase some of these knowing that we can pass them on to the emerging younger cousins and that they will like them too because, as noted, these are the best books.

Recently, it dawned on me that others can benefit from Amanda and Huxley’s hard work. She uses a GoodReads account to keep track of and rate the books. Poaching her account allows me to pass some excellent recommendations on to you.

I’m going to do this over several posts, as it is a lot of work to put together the info and links, etc. I’ll give you her five star books as well as a few of the four stars, and I’ll ignore everything she gave fewer stars to.

I’m also providing the publisher’s descriptions and a picture of the insides so you’ll have a good idea of what the book is and what level it is at. Kids in this age group are in that strange zone where a book they can read and a book that they can enjoy having read to them are vastly different, but since they are in fact two different things, a book that can be read to them (like the first example I’m giving you, below) will later become a book they can read. And, in some cases, it can become a book they can have on their own bookshelves for a long time and go back to now and then.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

Example of text

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who adored him completely. And then, one day, he was lost. . . .
Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. Along the way, we are shown a miracle – that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.

This is a fantastic book, excellent story. Huxley’s teacher read it to the students in class, then we got it out of the library, Amanda read it to Huxley, then I got a copy of it and now it sits on the shelf in an honored location.

If you recognize the author’s name, it may be because she also wrote Because of Winn-Dixie.


Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann.

One small step for a mouse; one giant leap for aviation.

These are dark times . . . for a small mouse. A new invention—the mechanical mousetrap—has caused all the mice but one to flee to America, the land of the free. But with cats guarding the steamships, trans-Atlantic crossings are no longer safe. In the bleakest of places . . . the one remaining mouse has a brilliant idea. He must learn to fly!

Debut illustrator Torben Kuhlmann’s inventive tale and stunning illustrations will capture the imagination of readers—young and old—with the death-defying feats of this courageous young mouse.

Example of text. This book is mostly illustration.
This is more of a picture book than a chapter book, but the text is chapter-book like in the sense that the vocabulary is middle level, it uses lots of sentences, etc. So this qualifies as a read-to book for kids in this age range, except the ones that are a bit older.

Torben Kuhlmann is mainly an illustrator and has done quite a few other books that we’ve not seen up close but that look interesting, in both English and German, and Spanish.

These include: Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon and Moletown.

The next too books are categorized by Amanda as four star (the above were both five star) but they are quite good and Amanda is very picky, so they are worth a close look.

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention by Barb Rosenstock:

Example text and page. This book has several pages with only a few words, but also, a time line and list of sources at the end. Very richly illustrated.

Every inventor has to start somewhere, and one of the greatest innovators in our history was no exception. Ben Franklin developed his first invention while doing what he loved best: swimming! Ben’s Big Splash is the story of Franklin’s first invention, his journey through the scientific method, and the surprising successes that result when you’re willing to make mistakes. Barb Rosenstock’s rhythmic, whimsical style is the perfect complement to S. D. Schindler’s pen and ink and watercolor illustrations. Together they recreate history in an engaging and unique way. Both author and illustrator worked closely with Franklin experts, and the book includes Franklin quotes, an extensive author’s note, timeline, and bibliography.


Otis by Loren Long is one of several books by that suthor, many of which are about “Otis.” He also illustrated Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama.

New York Times bestselling author/artist Loren Long creates an unforgettable children’s classic.
Otis is a special tractor. He loves his farmer and he loves to work. And he loves the little calf in the next stall, whom he purrs to sleep with his soft motor. In fact, the two become great friends: they play in the fields, leap hay bales, and play ring-around-the-rosy by Mud Pond.

Otis example text.
But when Otis is replaced with the big yellow tractor, he is cast away behind the barn, unused, unnoticed . . . until the little calf gets stuck in Mud Pond. Then there is only one tractor—and it’s not big or yellow—who can come to the rescue. It is little old Otis who saves his friend. It is Otis who saves the day.

In a wonderful new palette, and in the tradition of classics like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Story of Ferdinand, Loren Long has crafted an unforgettable new story—and character—celebrating the power of friendship and perseverance.


OK, that’s all for now. June is Book Month on Greg Laden’s blog, so they’ll be more of this series and other great stuff about books coming up.

CLICK HERE TO SEE: The Best Children’s Books #2

New Neil deGrasse Tyson Book Out Now

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by NdGT is now available.

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.

Give a listen to my interview with NdGT, from a few years back. Which, by the way, was a great interview, because I did two things to prepare. First, I checked out several other interviews done of him, and vowed to not ask any of those questions. Second, I read all his books and looked into his professional and academic background, and mostly asked him questions about his area of research. Do you know what his specific research area is? Most people don’t. Find out.

His new book is actually more about his research are than many of his other books are.