Book Review: 1972


Llywelyn, Morgan

Tom Doherty Associates, 2005

1972 was a heavily discounted book that I picked up more casually than usual for me, even from the bargain bin – a quick glance at a couple of paragraphs and I decided it was worth picking up.  Like with many books bought in such an off-the-cuff fashion I probably wouldn’t have bought it on a closer inspection, but overall it was still worth reading.

It’s a work of historical fiction set in Ireland during the 50’s and 60’s, up to the culmination of the title, 1972.  From the cover it is described as part of a series essentially following the fortunes of a family through the “interesting” times of Ireland’s history.  In this case, the grandson of a “hero” of 1916 is trained up as an Irish Republican and, having been given his grandfather’s rifle, slips away to join the IRA.  He enjoys the camraderie and the sense of adventure, but one night in the 50’s he is part of an attack and shoots a constable while his best friend dies in his arms.  He becomes a top explosives expert and is constantly on-call to various units while at the same time he goes to college and eventually discovers an interest in photography, gives up “active” service to essentially become a propaganda photographer, earns a degree in journalism, and begins to see his cause in light of other international civil rights causes.  He alternates between regular free-lance photojournalism and that helpful to his cause, skirting a line between being a typical free-lancer and a politically focused one.   Things quite down, he buys a house, gets married, and settles down, but keeps his interest.  Sensing there will be trouble at a march in Derry, he takes his cameras and is present at “Bloody Sunday” – and on his way home stops by the family farmhouse to reclaim the guns he had hidden there when he laid them down years ago.

That’s about it.  The style took some getting used to, and I never quite did.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: 1000 Neue Dinge, die Man bei Schwerelosigkeit tun kann

1000 neue Dinge, die man bei Schwerelosigkeit tun kann

Zylka, Jenni

Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbeck, 2003

An easily readable, fairly light story of a few weeks in the life of Judith. Judith is single, past the 20-somethingish age, lives in Berlin, works nights as an editor of a morning TV show on a 2 week on, 2 week off schedule, has a range of odd friends and odd habits, is infatuated with a radio DJ, and hates her job.  So we follow her around for a few months until she changes her employment situation.

That’s about it.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Animal Dreams

Animal Dreams

Kingsolver, Barbara

Harper, 1990

An impressively vivid account of the social and environmental issues in the late 1980s from the perspective of a bright woman who just doesn’t fit into the mold anyone tries to make for her.  Central American refugees, US activity in Nicaragua, rural health care, grassroots environmental activism, teen pregnancy, education, Alzheimer’s, native American incorporation into society, single parent households……  all of it rolls together and leaves you emotionally tired but elated.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Colonel Cody and the Flying Cathedral

Colonel Cody and the Flying Cathedral

Jenkins, Garry

Picador USA, NY, 1999

Subtitled “The Adventures of the Cowboy who Conquered the Sky”

This book was lent to me by a friend’s uncle during a visit to his house while on a work trip at the “Cody Technology Park” on the grounds of Farnborough airport in England.  I was describing our initial navigational difficulties in finding the proper gatehouse when he interrupted and asked if I knew who Cody was, then handed me this book by way of a response to my confused look.

The subtitle is apt.  My expectation when starting the book was that it would mainly deal with flying, and I was not expecting the long time it would take before anything resembling an airplane was mentioned.  Despite that, the book was interesting from a biographical vantage and the topic of early English aviation new to me, both of which lead to a reserved recommendation.

So who was Cody?  Apparently one of those rare individuals whose bad breaks lead to spectacularly good breaks and who is societally unencumbered sufficiently to follow those at the opportune moment.

Briefly, a kid from Iowa runs west and advances through the frontier cowboy life sufficiently distinct in “cowboy skills” to be a desired participant in “Wild West” shows.  After a few seasons of trick-riding and pistol tricks along the East coast he opts to try Europe, first as a supporting act and eventually on his own.  He becomes a celebrity by riding horses in races with bicyclists and winning, as well as for the play he and his family put on.

He becomes interested in kites and creates a system capable of carrying humans, which the British Military eventually takes notice of and begins to work with (but mainly against) him.  He finds himself designing an airship, and then an airplane. Plenty of intrigue and red tape later he becomes the first person to fly in England, then takes English citizenship during England’s first airshow. As the commoner (and not just any commoner, a former American cowboy sub-commoner) moving in the circles of officers and aristocrats, he captivates the public attention and  becomes the focal point for British aviation.  Fittingly, just as he begins to receive the rewards for his efforts he dies in a crash.

The connection to the Technology park name?  That general area was where he did much of his development.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: A River Lost

A River Lost

Harden, Blaine

W.W. Norton, 1996

This book is a general overview of the state of the Columbia in the mid 1990’s from the various vantages of river users which does a fairly good job of presenting the issues and the arguments from the various sides without leaning too heavily one way or the other.  This lets the book itself comes across more about the underlying issues than the specifics of the Columbia.

The basic question of the issue is “Is it right to permanently alter a key component of the landscape and ecology to improve the situation for a section of the human population?”   This question is turned in this book to focus on the specifics of the Columbia drainage.  On the Columbia, the world’s largest and longest salmon run was essentially destroyed by a series of dams created to generate electricity and provide irrigation water.  The people who depended on the salmon lost out, the salmon lost out, the taxpayers across the country who paid for (and are still paying for) the project from the 1930’s onward may or may not have lost out depending on their connections, and the business interests of the Pacific Northwest have won.  It can be argued if the residents of the area have won, but it should be recognized that the explosive growth of this area has been in large part due to the electricity generated by the dams.

This all ends up tying back in to the salmon.  Should we remove the dams to let the salmon returned to an “original” condition river system?  Should we continue doing as we have done?  Is there a compromise?  The strength of this book lies in not attempting to force an answer to these questions while at the same time provoking that there needs to be an answer.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Adrift in Caledonia

Adrift in Caledonia

Thorpe, Nick

Abacus, London, 2006

A rather enjoyable travel book based on the premise of hitching rides on boats and ships around Scotland.  It’s certainly one of the cases I usually don’t like where an author has managed to come up with an array of contacts and ties them together in a web, in this case the willingness to take him on-board, but this time it works, and it works well.

From a re-constructed medieval boat to a modern fishing trawler and covering several other versions of  water-borne transport the story moves along, with non-trival observations on the cultural landscape through which he passes, both on shore and on water.  In one of the cases where he didn’t have a contact lined up you can sense the shock in the well-heeled yacht culture when he wanders along a dock and just asks if anyone is heading in the direction he wants to go, as well as the relief he feels when someone does offer a lift.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: 8 Men and a Duck

8 Men and a Duck

Thorpe, Nick

Free Press, New York, 2002

This book was on the bargain rack at Hastings in Waco shortly after I had read _Adrift in Caledonia_ by the same author and found it an interesting book, so I picked this one up.  Unlike Adrift, where he essentially hitchhiked his way around Scotland on whatever watercraft he could find, in this book he has a chance encounter on a South American bus and finds himself sitting next to someone off to sail across the Pacific in a reed boat.  Interested and sensing a story, he finds out where the team is based and heads off to meet them.

Chance encounter meets adventurous journalist and a team missing a crewmember, and a few weeks later he is making sails for a reed boat about to cross from Chile to Easter Island with him and a fairly random assemblage of 7 others onboard.

It is good travel writing of a journey on many layers; the development of a team camaraderie of necessity; personal reflections of spending weeks on the ocean with minimal distractions; somewhat anthropological issues (after all, the idea of the trip in the first place was to show that it was possible that people could have sailed a reed boat from Chile to Easter Island), and a somewhat dramatic villain in the form of another adventurer who had tried the same and failed and had a bit of a chip on his shoulder leading to a press war, or at least one in the press that was interested in covering reed boats.


Posted in Book Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment