Friday, July 27, 2012

Hex (Coyote #6, by Allen Steele (author), Tracy Sallows (narrator)

Ace, ISBN 9781937007515, April 2012

I listened to the unabridged audio edition; however, Amazon will not allow me to link to that, so I've linked to the paperback edition.

Andromeda Carson, captain of the Coyote merchant ship Montoya, is getting bored with standard commercial runs where, due to the fact that humans aren't yet fully accepted or trusted in the Talis, she and the crew rarely even get to disembark, much less explore. She's beginning to reluctantly contemplate retirement when her boss, Ted Harker, approaches her with an unexpected proposal. The most mysterious race in the Talis, the danui, have indirectly approached Coyote with an offer of a human-habitable planet in their home solar system.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Allies and Enemies:How the World Depends on Bacteria, by Anne Maczulak

FT Press, ISBN 9780137015467, July 2010

Most of us mainly know about the bacteria that are bad for us--with good reason. Harmful bacteria can be very harmful indeed, so it's natural that they capture most of our attention.

And that's too bad, because harmful bacteria are a tiny minority, and many of the remainder aren't just harmless. They're vital to such basic functions as digesting our food. They play essential roles in making Earth habitable. The earliest bacteria played a crucial role in creating the free oxygen that made life as we know it possible.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, by Rachel Maddow

Crown Publishing Group, ISBN 9780307460981, March 2012

This isn't a perfect book, but it's an important one. Maddow covers some important history that we've largely lost track of: all the effort that the Founders went through to make it hard for us to go to war.

The Founders recognized the attractions of war for the executive, and that if it was easy for one person to commit the country to war, the temptation to do so would be powerful. You can't make war by committee, and command of the armed forces was vested in the executive--but the power of declaring war, as well as funding it, was vested in Congress. They also had a strong bias against a standing army, on the grounds that an available army will be used. That bias became a part of our political culture. Each war required enough popular support that Congress would declare war, and Americans would enlist in the armed forces in large numbers to fight that war.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1), by C.J. Sansom (author), Steven Crossley (narrator)

Recorded Books, November 2011

The cover image is a link to the abridged edition, because Amazon for some reason won't let me link to the unabridged. However, I listened to the unabridged edition.

This is the first of Tudor-era lawyer Matthew Shardlake's adventures, several years earlier than the book I previously reviewed. He's not quite as established and prominent as in the later book, and the household and strong network of friends we see there has not yet come together. And Matthew is still deep in politics, working for Thomas Cromwell.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Class War?: What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality, by Benjamin I. Page, Lawrence R. Jacobs

University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226644554, April 2009

Page and Jacobs argue that there is, in fact, no "class war" brewing in America--that in fact a philosophically conservative American public, in a natural fidelity to fundamental American values of hard work, independence, basic fairness, and equality of opportunity, broadly favors some pragmatically "liberal" government policies. Those policies include public education, progressive taxation, food stamps, and other economic support programs that make it possible for the poor to maintain themselves and those born into poor families to have a genuine opportunity to achieve better lives. Merely saying, "you can do it if you work hard enough," is not enough. For our egalitarian values to mean anything, they have to be backed up by access to the tools that a talented and determined young person can really use to achieve success.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Tricks (Andy Carpenter Series #7), by David Rosenfelt (author), Grover Gardner (reader)

Listen & Live Audio, ISBN 9781593164249, August 2009

Andy Carpenter is a lawyer in the happy position of being rich enough that he only has to take cases that interest him, and over the last few years he has come to be mainly interested in animal welfare cases. So it's not much of a surprise when a judge calls him in and appoints him to represent, and take temporary custody of, a dog who is the subject of a custody dispute between his deceased owner's son and widow. It seems a minor additional complication that the deceased owner was murdered.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Cerebellum: Brain for an Implicit Self, by Masao Ito

FT Press, ISBN 9780132623087, August 2011

This was an unexpectedly challenging read, due to a simple misunderstanding on my part. I was expecting popular science of the brain, aimed at the educated lay person. In fact, this is not "popular science" at all. It's aimed at the advanced student or young researcher, gathering together in one place the current state of the research on the cerebellum, and Ito's judgment about what it means, as well as next questions to be addressed in future research. It would be beyond foolish for me to attempt a detailed review of this book.

Nevertheless, I found it impressively readable given the distance by which it outpaces my knowledge in this area. Ito has a clear, straightforward style and a gift for explaining complex ideas. I finished this book with a sense that I have in fact increased my understanding of the cerebellum, the role it plays in the overall working of the brain and body, and what it means for the role the cerebellum in creating our sense of identity.

Recommended to the knowledgeable or the fearless.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Singular Woman, by Janny Scott (author), January Lavoy (reader)

Riverhead Trade, ISBN 9781594485593, January 2012

Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, is an almost forgotten figure in the public story of his life. She died before his political career really took off, but she was still alive when he wrote the memoir, Dreams From My Father, that focused more on his feelings about his absent, and by then deceased, Kenyan father. Her impact on her son, though, was profound, and Scott gives us a fascinating picture of this strong and important woman.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Snuff (A Discworld Novel), by Terry Pratchett (author), Tony Robinson (narrator)

Corgi Books, ISBN 9780552166751, June 2012

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition of this. However, I am linking to the paperback because Amazon won't permit me to link to the correct audio edition.

Sam Vimes, Commander of the Watch of the city of Anhk-Morpork, is not happy. In fact, he's deeply, deeply unhappy. He's about to undergo a terrible ordeal, due to a terrible betrayal by his beloved wife, Lady Sybil.

He's going on vacation. To the country. To Lady Sybil's family lands, which he now owns.