#BookReview: The Guns Of John Moses Browning by Nathan Gorenstein

Remarkable Biography Of One Of The Most Influential Men Of The 20th Century. In this, the first biography of John Moses Browning ever written by anyone other than a descendant (and only the second ever written, period), Gorenstein does a truly remarkable job of showing the life, times, and inventions of a man who could arguably be said to be more actually influential on the 20th century than even Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. Yes, Edison revolutionized how we are able to see and gave us the truly 24/7 world, and Ford revolutionized both transportation and manufacturing more generally, but Browning revolutionized how we *kill things* – animal or human – and that alone has driven many of the most important issues of the 20th century. It was Browning’s early rifles that may not have won the West – but certainly made it even easier to live there. It was Browning’s (then-Colt) 1911 that is *to this day* one of the most popular types of pistol in the world, over a century after Browning won the competition for the US Army’s new service pistol (a contract it would keep for over 70 years and through both World Wars, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War). Indeed, that very model – the Colt 1911 – played a legendary part of the lore of one Lieutenant George S Patton and the first motorized military raid in the 1916-17 Punitive Expedition. In WWII, many infantry units – very likely including both of my grandfathers’ own units – carried up to four different Browning guns into battle, between his 1911, his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), and his “Ma Deuce” Browing M2 .50 caliber machine gun.

And Gorenstein does a phenomenal job of showing the development and importance of each, including Browning designing the gas-piston system of modern automatic and semi-automatic rifles *in a single day*. Gorenstein shows how Browning, of truly humble beginnings, designed his first gun from scraps laying around his dad’s engineering and repair shop – just to hunt small game to help feed the family. Gorenstein shows how these humble beginnings played such a role in Browning not even really beginning to invent until at or beyond the age when others in more academic professions say genius decays – and how this “lost decade” played such a role in Browning’s later drive and inventiveness.

It doesn’t matter what you think of how Browning’s designs and their derivatives over the last 100+ years have been used. You know about Edison, or can. You know about Ford, or can. You deserve to educate yourself about this genius as well, if only to learn the lessons of his genius. And this book is the very first time you really can. Very much recommended.

And here are (most of) the guns in question, just to show how truly prolific this amazing man was.

This review of The Guns Of John Moses Browning by Nathan Gorenstein was originally written on March 27, 2021.

#BookReview: Ten Patterns That Explain The Universe by Brian Clegg

Fascinating And Short. To be such a compact tale – 220 pages or so – this volume puts in a fairly dense amount of information at a very high level (for its extremely advanced concepts anyway, some of which deal with literally the smallest entities known to mankind), which is even more remarkable when one considers the volume of space dedicated to the often stunning imagery included in even this months-prior-to-publication advanced reader copy. (For those unfamiliar with ARC work, actually getting to see most imagery referenced in a book is a rarity. :D) As to showing these ten patterns and roughly how they can all be seen to link up to explain the universe. Clegg definitely shows – again at a very high level – that links are there, often in ways not everyone would think to look. As to whether these fully explain the universe… that, is a much larger question that Clegg never really dives into too deeply, seemingly satisfied that they seem to explain the universe *as we currently understand it*. Which is a major concession, particularly in light of just how recent most of the developments Clegg details are in human history. (Quite a few within the last 150 years or so, vs the few thousand years of even recorded history.) Overall truly an interesting book and a quick ish read to boot, that doesn’t *completely* require a science related degree to understand (though having some degree of familiarity with STEM subjects will certainly help any reader here), and thus very much recommended.

This review of Ten Patterns That Explain The Universe by Brian Clegg was originally written on May 11, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden

This week we’re looking at an in-depth look at how and why we lie to each other via scams from history through modern times. This week we’re looking at The Truth About Lies by Aja Raden.

Thought Provoking, But Could Have Used More Documentation. This is a very thought provoking book that looks at lies and how we deceive both ourselves and others, using scams from prehistory all the way through the 2010s. In its examinations of how we deceive both ourselves and each other, it seems to this reader to be very well reasoned, very well thought out, and very well written. Lots of education, a fair degree of humor, and (warning to those “sensitive” to it), a few F-bombs to boot. Indeed, the one main weakness here is the dearth of its bibliography – coming it at just 6% ish of the text rather than the more common 25-30% of well-documented nonfiction texts. Also, the cover – I don’t believe Washington and the (very likely apocryphal, and thus… a lie) story of his childhood cherry tree is ever mentioned in the text. So the cover lies… which may be the point. 😉 Overall a superb book, but the bibliography issue knocks it down a star. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr

I made it a point to get this one in during #AutismAcceptanceMonth, even though it doesn’t actually release until August.

This is apparently officially a “collection of essays”, but the organization works such that it never feels disjointed, as other efforts of this vein I’ve read tend to do. But that could just be my own #ActuallyAutistic mind working similarly to Bowman’s.

If you’ve ever heard of the late great Rachel Held Evans, and particularly if you like her style, you’re going to enjoy this particular book. Bowman has a roughly similar background to Evans (and thus even rougher similar to myself) in that he has experience in the Baptist church and now finds himself in a more progressive mainline church, and in both of their cases are more academic-oriented to boot. Thus, even while explaining his own version of the intersection of faith and Autism – and on being Autistic more generally, but through that lens – his words really do evoke the same kinds of tones Evans’ work did.

This was enjoyable for me due to the *lack* of constant “Autistics need government intervention” diatribes that so many books make their central point of Autism – even from among fellow Autistics (such as Eric Garcia’s We’re Not Broken, which publishes a week earlier and which, IIRC, I posted about here roughly a month ago). Instead, Bowman’s life and thoughts flow more closely to my own, with key community members becoming mentors over the eras and helping him naturally become all that he now is.

Indeed, if I have a criticism of the book – and I do, though it isn’t large enough for a star deduction – it is the emphasis on an “official” Autism diagnosis. I trust docs as much as I trust politicians these days – which is to say, I don’t trust them to accurately tell me the color of the noontime cloudless sky, and verify it myself. And one does not need someone else to dictate a word based on their own understanding of it, particularly when that person isn’t even living with the thing in question. And this ignores the very real, sometimes very negative, real world repercussions of having such an “official” label.

Still, for anyone interested in knowing more about what life is really like as an Autistic, this truly is one of the better books I’ve come across in my own readings. Very much recommended.

This review of On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr was originally written on April 26, 2021.

#BookReview: Asphalt by Kenneth O’Reilly

Fact Gusher. This is one of those history/ anthropology books that gives a LOT of facts very rapidly, without any real critical examination of the central thesis. For a book showing *how* asphalt has been used throughout human history, it is quite good – O’Reilly shows from the earliest human records that we have been using asphalt pretty much since we’ve been using anything else, including its critical role in Egyptian mummification and even Noah’s Ark. For a book trying to make a case of *why* asphalt has been used so extensively… again, it never really examines the central thesis or really makes any kind of solid case here. Which is why I had to deduct a star. Indeed, many of the areas O’Reilly claims that asphalt was a driving factor can be more easily – and completely – explained with factors other than this particular material. Without negating that this particular tool was indeed useful and in at least some cases genuinely necessary for the execution of the events as history records them happening. Still, a truly fascinating read showing the far longer history and much more varied uses of this substance that many modern readers hardly give a second thought. Very much recommended.

This review of Asphalt by Kenneth O’Reilly was originally written on April 23, 2021.

#BookReview: 101 Pat Downs by Shawna Malvini Redden

Enlightening. As someone who had their first flight literally weeks before 9/11 (ATL to MCO in late July 2001) and who has experienced TSA quite frequently in *cruise* terminals (rather than airline terminals, which are the focus here), I can truly say that I absolutely enjoyed this book and that the author’s general observations tend to ring true with my own. Where she goes off to examine the actual communication channels in more “research” mode… well, that was the very subject of her PhD dissertation, and thus the impetus for this very research. 🙂 The description of this book claims in part that it is “the story of Malvini Redden’s research journey, part confessional, part investigative research, and part light-hearted social commentary”. I would say that this is a spot-on summation right there. There is quite a bit here, much that even infrequent air travelers like myself will see from even our experiences. (Though many claim I am more observant than many, so perhaps the observations Malvini Redden shares here won’t be *as* obvious to others?) The approach here is much more conversational and much less “ivory tower”, and I seem to remember this book having a shorter bibliography that others – which is perfectly fine for a more first-person, personal investigation/ memoir style book. In other words, exactly this type of book. Overall a very good book to put in the hands of first time flyers and maybe even to have on hand for those situations where someone is being a major PITA through security at the airport – find a convenient way to offer them this book once you’re both through the line. 🙂 Ultimately, this was truly a fun and informative read, and thus is very much recommended.

This review of 101 Pat Downs by Shawna Malvini Redden was originally written on April 23, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Spite by Simon McCarthy-Jones

This week we are looking at an alarming and disturbing book showing insights that have the potential to control humanity ever more subtly. This week we’re looking at Spite by Simon McCarthy-Jones.

You’ve Heard Of The Imitation Game. Meet The Ultimatum Game. McCarthy-Jones does a phenomenal job in this text of analyzing what exactly spite – which he defines as a behavior that harms both oneself and the other – is, why it is seemingly necessary for human advancement, how it seems to have come to be, and even some of the biological bases of the behavior. In the process, he gives some startling and many times counter-intuitive insights on how exactly spite manifests, often using a tool developed in the 1970s called The Ultimatum Game as the basis of the science. Both a fascinating and disturbing book, this could potentially provide saavy operators yet more ways to control the masses in ways that most wouldn’t even realize they are being controlled – and yet by exposing these methods to the masses in question, gives us ever more effective tools to question the propaganda we are so incessantly bombarded with through so many modern communication channels. Very much recommended.

#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.