#BookReview: Across The Airless Wilds by Earl Swift

Astounding History Of An Oft-Forgotten Era. One point Swift makes in this text is clear even in my own experience – *even as someone who has been to the NASA Cape Canaveral Visitor Center many times*: The era of Apollo after 11 and in particular after 13 is often forgotten in the zeitgeist. People talk about Armstrong and Aldrin all the time. People even talk about Lovell and Mattingly in Apollo 13 a fair amount (helped somewhat by the excellent and mostly realistic Tom Hanks movie and the fact that to this day, NASA sells quite a bit of “Failure Is Not An Option” merchandise).

But after that particular era is when the “real” lunar science began. And for that, NASA needed another tool that got a fair amount of (slightly inaccurate) press back in the day, but whose story has never been quite so thoroughly documented as this particular effort by Swift. That tool was the lunar rover, aka the “moon buggy”, and here Swift does an extremely thorough job of documenting the first inklings of an idea that it may be possible through the early history of American rocketry (while not hiding one iota from its roots in Nazi experimentation) through the conceptualization and manufacturing of the actual rover and even into its impacts on modern rover design, such as the newest Mars rover, Perseverance.

The book does get in the weeds a bit with the technical designs and what exactly went into each, along with the various conceptual and manufacturing challenges of each. Similar to how Tom Clancy was also known to get so in the weeds about certain particulars from time to time, so Swift is in good company there.

But ultimately, this is an extremely well researched and documented book that does a simply amazing job of really putting you right there as all of these events unfold, all the way to feeling the very dirt and grit the final men to walk on the moon experienced when they had certain cosmetic failures on the buggy… millions of miles away from being able to really do anything about it. Truly an excellent work that anyone remotely interested in humanity’s efforts to reach outside of our own atmosphere should read. Very much recommended.

This review of Across The Airless Wilds by Earl Swift was originally written on April 11, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Pipe Dreams by Chelsea Wald

This week we’re looking at a book all about the history and development of an issue that was at the forefront of our minds one year ago during the Great Toilet Paper Outage of 2020. This week we’re looking at Pipe Dreams by Chelsea Wald.

Thought Provoking and Informative. I consider myself a well read guy, a guy that has thought through a lot of problems and who generally knows a lot about a lot. Admittedly, I did *not* know much about toilets and related plumbing, though I had read bits and pieces in other books. (Such as a more in-depth look at John Snow and his work during the 19th century London cholera outbreak in Dierdre Mask’s The Address Book.) But I had never read up on the general history of toilets – apparently because there are scant details about historical toileting beyond the last couple of hundred years or so – much less the bleeding edge issues and technologies of this field. And that is exactly what Wald provides here, a look at everything from the history to almost to-the-day bleeding edge issues, including the Great Toilet Paper Outage of 2020 during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Very well written and mostly reasonably documented (about 15% or so is bibliography), this truly is a fascinating read. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Planet Palm by Jocelyn C Zuckerman

Eye Opening, Yet Problematic Itself. This is a well documented work – roughly 30% of the text was bibliography, even if much of it wasn’t actually referenced in the text of the advance reader copy I read. (Perhaps that will be corrected before actual publication, so if you’re reading a fully published version circa June 2021 or later, please comment and let me know. :D) It does a tremendous job of showing the development of palm oil from regional subsistence level agriculture to today’s modern arguably Big Palm level industry, and how it spread from regional staple to in seemingly every home in the “developed” world, at minimum. It is here that the book is truly eye opening, and truly shows some areas that perhaps still need some work.

HOWEVER, the book also often lauds communists and eco-terrorists, among other less than savory characters, for the “efforts” to “combat” this scourge – and this is something that is both pervasive throughout the text and a bit heavy handed, particularly when praising a team of Greenpeace pirates who tried to illegally board a cargo ship a few years ago.

Still, even with the aforementioned pervasive praise of people who arguably truly shouldn’t be, the fact that the text does such a solid job of explaining the various issues and histories at hand alone merits its consideration. Recommended.

This review of Planet Palm by Jocelyn C Zuckerman was originally written on March 7, 2021.

#BookReview: Doom by Niall Ferguson

Complete And Well Documented Examination of Disaster. This is a book that looks not just at one disaster or one type of disaster, but at all of them. It doesn’t look to one threat or another threat or a third threat, but moves between types of threats and shows how they, really, are all interrelated by a common element: the human, and in particular the governmental, response to them. From ancient plagues and volcanoes to hot-off-the-press (at the time of writing a few months prior to even my own seeming first public review level early read) details of the current global catastrophes. While docking a star for Ferguson’s high praise of John Maynard Keynes (suffice it to say I tend to hold economists such as Hayak, Bastiat, and Von Mises to levels Ferguson holds Keynes), that isn’t really my style since those are more a couple of aside level comments randomly in this near 500 page volume. But also, don’t let the near 500 page count deter you – in my copy, 48% of that text (or nearly 200 pages) was bibliography, making this one of the more well documented books I’ve read in the last few years. Truly a book that needs to be considered by at minimum policy makers but really the public at large, at times it doesn’t really go far enough to point out that voluntary community based disaster preparedness can often do more good than government top down approaches (even as he continually points out that the failures most often happen at middle management levels). Very much recommended.

This review of Doom by Niall Ferguson was originally written on January 17, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Divided We Fall by David French

This week we’re looking at THE book every single American needs to read before they vote in the 2020 General Elections in a few weeks. This week, we’re looking at Divided We Fall by David French.

Note: In light of the events unfolding this weekend following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I’m moving this post’s publication up by a couple of days and giving it that much longer at the top of the site and my socials. Yes, this is *that* important. Particularly now. -Jeff, 9/20/20

I’ve read some *extremely* disturbing books. Books with some of the most graphic, horrific acts any human can possibly imagine. Some of them have even been nonfiction.

And y’all, the scenarios French lays out at roughly the halfway mark – one from the left, one from the right – of how America as we know it could dissolve nearly instantaneously are at least as horrific as any of them. This is the clarion call that will hopefully snap people awake and get them to realize just how perilous the path we are on truly is. Particularly since these scenarios are truly so real that in theory either one of them could happen between when I write these words on July 4th, 2020 and when they publish – along with the book – on September 22, 2020.

He spends the front half of the book building to this point by showing, in crystal clarity, the stark realities of exactly where we have been and exactly where we are now. His analysis of history and current events seems solid to my mind, and it is only once he is finished showing exactly where we are – at least through the end of 2019 – that he unleashes his horrific master strokes.

French then spends the back third of the book in “this could happen – but it doesn’t have to” mode. Here, he expounds on really two primary points – which I’ll not spoil here – that would require a commitment from us all to actively work towards, but which could ultimately walk us back from the brink we currently find ourselves at. Neither of his points are nearly as readily achievable as the disaster scenarios, but both – particularly when working together – present arguably one of the best defenses against the disaster scenarios I’ve come across of late, and indeed actually play into my own “stop the pendulum” philosophy of the last decade.

Ultimately, if you are an American reading this, you need to stop reading this review and go read this book already!

As always, the Goodreads/ Bookbub review:
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#BookReview: A Small Farm Future by Chris Smaje

Wildly … Imaginative… Reasoning, Close Yet Still Incorrect Conclusion. Most any math teacher (even former ones like myself) have stories of situations where when told to “show their work”, a student somehow has so-incorrect-as-to-nearly-be-incomprehensible reasoning, but somehow still manages to wind up at an answer that is close but still not quite correct. Maybe a decimal point in the wrong position, but the right actual digits in the right sequence, for example. Another example relevant here would be a space mission to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa that somehow launches when Jupiter is at its furthest point from Earth and launches away from Jupiter (or any reasonable path to the planet) to boot… and yet still manages to wind up on Callisto – another of the Galilean Moons of Jupiter with similar properties, though not the originally intended target and not as rich in desired attributes for the science aboard the mission.

This is effectively what Smaje has done here. More conservative readers may not make it even halfway into the first chapter, which is little more than a *very* thinly veiled anti-capitalist diatribe. Even more liberal/ progressive readers will have some tough pills to swallow with Smaje’s ardent defense of at least some forms of private property as the chief means of achieving his goals. And at the end, Smaje does in fact manage to do at least some version of what he sets out to do – make some level of a case for A Small Farm Future. The case Smaje makes here is indeed intriguing, despite being so deeply flawed, and absolutely worthy of further examination and discussion. It seems that he is simply too blinded by his own political and philosophical backgrounds to truly make the case as it arguably should have been made. Recommended.

This review of A Small Farm Future by Chris Smaje was originally written on August 26, 2020.

#BookReview: Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault

MEmoir/ History / Political Treatise… all in one package. I’ll be honest, I picked up this book thinking it would be a bit closer to my own history of being in and around a mill town. In my case, the actual mill town was, by my time – roughly when Arsenault was graduating HS – , just a neighborhood of a larger County seat town it was founded just outside of around the same time as the mill Arsenault writes about. I know what it is like to live in such an area and have the mill be such an important aspect of your life, and I was expecting a bit more of an examination of that side of life. Which is NOT what we get here. Instead, we get much more of the specific familial and mill history of Arsenault and this particular mill and its alleged past and current environmental misdeeds. We even get a screed against Nestle along the way, and even a few notes of misandrist feminism. Also quite a bit of heaping of anti-capitalist diatribe, all tied up in Arsenault’s own complicated emotions of being someone who cares about her home town, but who it was never enough for. (The exact dichotomy I was hoping would have been explored directly far more than it actually was, fwiw, as that is exactly what I struggle with myself.) Overall, your mileage may vary on this book depending on just how ardent you are in your own political beliefs and just how much they coincide with Arsenault’s own, but there was nothing here to really hang a reason on for detracting from the star level of the review, and hence it gets the full 5* even as I disagreed with so much of it and was so heavily disappointed that it didn’t go the direction I had hoped. Recommended.

This review of Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault was originally written on August 11, 2020.

#BookReview: Members Club by Piet Hoebeke

Factual Overview Of The Penis. This book, written by a Belgian urologist, has a bit of everything when it comes to factual information about the penis. We’ve got history. We’ve got biomechanics. We’ve got anatomy. We’ve got medical recommendations for a wide range of topics related to the penis from basic hygiene to STDs and when to seek further consultation. If you’ve ever wanted to know really most anything about the penis, this is the book you should probably look to if you don’t already have some degree of academic knowledge of it. Seemingly comprehensive, though the version I read (nearly 5 months before actual publication) didn’t have much of a bibliography at all – just about 5% of this text, vs closer to 25% of an average nonfiction text. Still, Dr. Hoebeke mostly relies on his own decades of experience and appears generally authoritative – at least in a general sense – even without the extensive bibliography (which may yet be added between the date I write this review in early July 2020 and the date of publication in early November 2020). Very much recommended.

This review of Members Club by Piet Hoebeke was originally written on July 8, 2020.

#BookReview: Last Mission To Tokyo by Michel Paradis

Slightly Misleading Title, Solid History. If you’re looking for a history of the actual Doolittle Raid… this isn’t it. Instead, this focuses on the 1946 war crimes trial of the Japanese officials implicated in murdering four of the Raiders after their capture in China following the raid in 1942 and subsequent conviction in a kangaroo court. But for what it is, this is truly a remarkable story that brings to life a part of history I personally had never so much as heard about. Paradis notes in the afterword that upon researching what was originally supposed to be a more straightforward legal analysis, he realized that he needed to change the focus to be a historical narrative fit for a wider audience, and in that new goal this reader can confirm that he did particularly well. Yes, Paradis is a miliary lawyer historian by trade, and this particular background comes through quite blatantly in the text, but it is never so full of jargon from any of those parts of his background as to be incomprehensible to the wider audience only cursorily aware of those subjects. Very much recommended.

This review of Last Mission To Tokyo by Michel Paradis was originally written on July 5, 2020.

#BookReview: Political Junkies by Claire Bond Potter

Solid Discussion Of Sometimes Obscure History. Full disclosure up front: As a former political blogger who was an organizer of one of the Tea Party events (before the professionals got involved) and as both a Party Official (for the Libertarian Party, at both local and State levels) and Candidate (for City Council in a town encompassing an area just four square miles), I actively participated in some of the history Potter discusses here. Though quite a bit of it was before I was born – she begins her discussion in the 1950s, before even my parents were born, and I would come along during Ronald Reagan’s first term as US President but not become truly politically active until November 5, 2008.

But even as someone with the aforementioned background, even as someone who once had a very high level of behind the scenes access within at least State level politics of at least one State, this truly seems like a comprehensive and accurate history of how we got to where we now find ourselves as Americans relating to politics through media. Potter has done a remarkable job of showing how various movements and moments played on and into each other, building on and around prior and contemporary techniques to go from a dude in his garage just trying to present news the Big 3 weren’t to the modern era of ubiquitous cameras and Deep Fake technology. Though actual Deep Fake tech is one area Potter doesn’t *truly* get into, likely as it hasn’t been shown to be actually active in political circles in the US. Yet. Truly an excellent work, and anyone who is interested in why we are as fractured as we are as a populace would do well to read this to at least know how we got here from an alternative media side. If you’re discussing regulation of social media or complaining about the vitriol far too many online discussions turn to, read here to find out how we got to this point – and a couple of passing ideas on how we can do a little better. Very much recommended.

This review of Political Junkies by Claire Bond Potter was originally written on July 4, 2020.