#BookReview: Cities In The Sky by Jason M. Barr

Solid And Seemingly Comprehensive Examination Of The Topic. This is a book that takes a look at the ever-evolving quest to build the world’s tallest skyscrapers, from its origins in the 19th century (and the debate over who first created what) all the way through Summer 2023, when the book was being written. Along the way we learn of various periods of American skyscraper construction – yes, including Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center towers, and others. But we *also* get just as detailed a view of skyscraper construction in other areas of the world and how each builds on advances in the other locations as time progresses. We visit the Middle East and learn of its mega projects. We visit Hong Kong in both the Colonial and Chinese eras. We visit Taiwan and China and see how their standoff plays out in their construction efforts. Along the way, we get the histories and economics of how and why such structures are wanted and what makes them profitable – hint, it isn’t always the rents they generate from tenants. We even get a solid examination of the arguments for and against such structures, along with the (seemingly requisite in this type of book) predictions for the future and a few suggestions for how to make those predictions become reality.

Overall truly an interesting book, well written for the average reader – yes, there is some jargon, but Barr does a solid job of using it sparingly and explaining it reasonably well when he does. Also reasonably well documented, clocking in at 20% of the text of the Advance Review Copy edition I read.

Very much recommended.

This review of Cities In The Sky by Jason M. Barr was originally written on April 27, 2024.

#BookReview: Vanishing Act by Dan Hampton

How Jimmy Doolittle’s Raid Connected Directly To The Atomic Bomb. On the weekend of the anniversary of the Doolittle Raid (as it has come to be known) and with conversations sparking again about whether the dropping of the bomb was necessary or not, I had an opportunity to read this book – which admittedly won’t release until the day after Memorial Day here in the US. (For everyone else, this book’s release date is the last Tuesday of May 2024.)

Here, Hampton adds a wrinkle to the discussion of the bomb by revealing what had previously been hidden about the Doolittle Raid – a *second* mission, known only to the pilot of the plane and to Doolittle’s own boss, to gauge just how ready the Soviet Union was to actually engage in warfare against Japan. Here, Hampton argues that the plane that for 80 years had been believed to have gotten lost… knew *exactly* where it was going and largely *exactly* what it was doing. Or, at least the one driving it did – and he relayed those instructions to those whose help he absolutely needed, his copilot and his navigator, and *no one* else. As in, the bomber’s bomber and gunners didn’t know of this secret mission. According to Hampton here, at least.

That the crew of “Plane 8” landed in the Soviet Union and was there imprisoned for a time before being repatriated back to the US has been known effectively since the events happened over 80 years ago – at least by then current communication standards, particularly during a time of global war.

But just what they were *actually* doing is new here – and because of what they found on that mission, we now have better information about what the various Generals and civilian leadership knew or thought they knew in the closing months of the war, as J. Robert Oppenheimer and his teams on the Manhattan Project were finalizing their new weapon. We now know what Roosevelt, MacArthur, Stinson, and Arnold knew about Soviet capabilities in the Far East… because this secret secondary mission got them the data they needed, three years prior. We now know that even if they had heard – as at least some claim – as early as February 1945 that Japan may possibly consider surrendering so long as the Emperor was kept in control of at least the Shinto religion (as, ultimately, is exactly what happened on Sept 2, 1945 on the USS Missouri), that even if they had heard this that the Soviet Union was not yet able to put the kind of resources into the region that may have made even Japan’s own war hawks reconsider their actual options.

This is a harrowing tale, very well told – in some respects, it reads as easily as fiction, yet gives a complete picture of all that was happening in and around the Doolittle Raid, specifically as it relates to this second, secret, mission.

The one problem I have, at least with this early edition I read, was that the bibliography is lacking, clocking in at just 10% of the available text. Even with original research as the basis of the claims of this book – and that is indeed the case here – one would still expect that number to be perhaps at least 50% higher to meet the bare minimums of being described as adequately documented given the explosive nature of the claims contained herein.

Overall a truly well written and apparently well researched tale that just needed a touch more documentation. Very much recommended.

This review of Vanishing Act by Dan Hampton was originally written on April 22, 2024.

#BookReview: How To Be A Citizen by C.L. Skach

Making The Case For Practical Anarchy While Proclaiming Non-State Democracy. As an avowed and open Anarchist, any time I find a book proclaiming in its title to be about how to live effectively in community without the State… I tend to pick it up.

Here, Skach makes quite clear that she is terrified of a particular “A” word (that I’ve already used twice in the preceding paragraph) and instead proclaims her arguments to be in favor of State-less democracy… while failing to realize that Anarchy literally means only “no government” – ie, “no State”, ie, “Without the State” (to use the exact phrasing from the subtitle). As Lysander Spooner and other thinkers over the Millenia have espoused, there can be numerous forms of order under Anarchy – Anarchy has never meant “without order”, only “without government”. Thus, Skach’s preference for community-based democracy falls right in line with the very idea.

But regardless of Skach’s fear of the “A” word or your own (the reader of my review) preference for any other form of community organization, Skach actually does a truly remarkable job of showing just how a Stateless – ie, Anarchic – society could practically work *even in the current environment*. Yes, there are numerous issues she doesn’t touch, and yes, there is plenty of room for the usual “what if” game that proponents of State and its slaughter of literally hundreds of millions of people in the last 150 yrs alone routinely bring up.

But for those who don’t think it can work even at a very basic level, that survival would be impossible because the world would be “without order”, Skach makes clear that both spontaneous and coordinated order can be had – and can be had in a far better manner than at present – *without* the State.

There will be many who won’t read this book at all or won’t truly consider its ideas, but for those who are willing to at least consider the possibility that perhaps the West (and East, insofar as their systems of government go) could do better, that perhaps the US in particular *has* to have some better way of doing things… maybe pick this book up. Read it slowly. Truly ponder its ideas and trul ruminate over them, asking yourself the hard questions about why you may think the State is the best answer, even in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.

Oh, and the fact that this book is releasing in the US going into its biggest State holiday weekend, when the entire country – and, due to the US’s prominence since 1944 or so, even large parts of the entire world – will be celebrating a few hundred thousand people declaring their independence from the *then* global superpower… well, that’s just icing on this particular cake.

I will note, as really more of an aside, that the bibliography clocks in at just 17% of the Advance Review Copy edition of the book I read, which is perhaps a touch low – but I’ve also been openly stating for a bit now that perhaps my 20-30% standard should be lowered a touch given so many more recent books have been a touch lower than this, and 17% seems like it would fit within the true current average, if maybe still a touch on the lower end of the range.

Overall a truly excellent book so far as it goes, I personally just really wish it had more openly embraced the very concepts even its title openly yet not brazenly proclaims. Very much recommended.

This review of How To Be A Citizen by C.L. Skach was originally written on April 11, 2024.

#BookReview: Chamber Divers by Rachel Lance

Reads Almost Like Fiction – And Should Give Soraya M. Lane Inspiration For A Future Novel. First, this is one of the better researched books I’ve come across in all of my Advance Review Copy reading efforts – over 1100 books since 2018 – at 45% documentation. Kudos to Lance for being so thorough there.

And she needs it – because this is one of the more fantastical nonfiction books you’re ever going to come across. A brother and sister experimenting on themselves – as their father, who also experimented on himself *even with chlorine gas*, had trained them to do – gathering a team of like minded scientists to push the limits of the human condition under extreme environments, later in a direct race to help save their country from annihilation.

Before Jacques Cousteau developed SCUBA, there were the scientists working to discover what, exactly, humans could survive under water. What, exactly, happened as the human body was compressed to ever higher pressures? What happened as that pressure was relaxed – either suddenly or gradually? How could we allow humans to survive at ever increasing pressures, and what, exactly, were the limits?

And then… Normandy.

It had already been tried once, and failed miserably – because the soldiers didn’t have the data these very scientists were racing to obtain. Could they get it in time for the next invasion attempt?

They could… and they would change the face of warfare (and, to be honest, some entertainment and other scientific pursuits) forever when they did.

This is their story, told for seemingly the very first time.

Very much recommended. And please tag Soraya Lane and beg her to bring this story to actual fiction.

This review of Chamber Divers by Rachel Lance was originally written on April 10, 2024.

#BookReview: Alien Earths by Lisa Kaltenegger

Solid Examination of The Field Of Planet Hunting. This is a solid look at how scientists find extra-solar planets and work to determine what they may be like – compositionally, temperature, whether life (as we understand it) may be possible, etc. Written for a general audience by a US-based Austrian native scientist working at the Carl Sagan Institute, the author clearly knows her stuff, but perhaps the English can be a touch stilted at times. It wasn’t enough to distract from the book for me, but there absolutely were a few “huh, weird phrasing” moments. Which happens even with fully native English speakers even in the same country – I’m sure there are Americans reading this review who will question even my own phrasing, and I’m a son of the Southern US to the tune that parts of my family have been on the North American continent since the second generation of Europeans to get here at all.

Overall truly a fascinating book, and Kaltenegger’s own experiments sound quite fun and interesting to boot. The only flaw I noticed here was such a small bibliography, which is where the star deduction comes into play. Still, this is ultimately a solidly written depiction of a truly fascinating part of interplanetary science. Very much recommended.

This review of Alien Earths by Lisa Kaltenegger was originally written on April 9, 2024.

#BookReview: Our Fight by Ronda Rousey

The End Of An Era. I write this review nearly a week after reading this book, and hours after the conclusion of Wrestlemania 40 – the beginning of a new era of WWE. Which is fitting, because so much of what Rousey talks about re: her involvement with the prior regime in WWE had been relatively well documented both in court and in the court of public opinion over the last couple of years in particular, as Rousey was experiencing some of it and then working with her writer to write this book. Yes, much of this book are complaints about how she was mistreated in various ways by both her longtime UFC trainer and later by Vince McMahon, whom Rousey rarely holds back on her disgust and disdain for, but there is actually much about this book to like as well. For one, for those looking for celebrity “look who I know and run with” kind of memoirs… this is absolutely that. (As contrasted to Rebecca Quin’s Becky Lynch: The Man which released a week earlier, and which played a heavy role in Quin’s Wrestlemania 40 presentation, which was pretty well the opposite of that.) Particularly husband Travis Brown and the other three “Four Horsewomen” of UFC, Rousey talks a lot about all of them and largely in a particularly glowing manner, while not holding back on those she disliked in both her UFC and WWE runs. Indeed, there is little “foundational” material here – perhaps because this is her second book and the prior book perhaps covered more of that, being written before her WWE run? And perhaps the very coolest encounter she recounts is actually with a Mexican colleague, ring name Santos Escobar, as she was getting ready to finally hang up her fighting boots and return to life on the farm. A similarity she shares with another former UFC and WWE star… Brock Lesnar, not mentioned once in this particular tale.

Overall an interesting read that “peels the curtain back” more than some, if in a more negative/ pessimistic/ self-centered manner than others. Still, a truly interesting read and very much recommended.

This review of Our Fight by Ronda Rousey was originally written on April 8, 2024.

#BookReview: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

Encyclopedic Look At The Botany Of Booze. This book has a few hundred pages (or just under a dozen hours, for Audible readers) to cover pretty well every plant that can either directly intoxicate a human or any plant that can be used as a mixer to help such other plants taste better. So there is going to be a lot of 2-3 sentence or so summaries of various plants – which is particularly prevalent in the back part of the book. Up front is a larger examination of the botany and history of the primary global liquors and beers and wines, though even here due to the sheer volume of the field, many important (yet more specific) details are often left out. Still, as an overall introduction to the complete field of the botany of booze… this is actually a rather great book. Mostly recommended for bartenders (professional or home) or those looking to possibly begin an actual scientific career in the field, but an interesting read for nearly anyone interested in the overall science of booze. Just be ready to read an encyclopedia volume. (Which I did many times as a kid, fwiw.) Recommended.

This review of The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart was originally written on April 5, 2024.

#BookReview: Faithful Politics by Miranda Zapor Cruz

Comprehensive Look At Different Ways Different Christian Communities Have Viewed Politics Over The Millenia. This book is truly one of the most comprehensive looks at the subject that I’ve yet run across, and for that alone is to be commended. It is also immensely readable, which is always a nice bonus in an academic-oriented book.

Perhaps the only “negative” thing to be said here (and certainly some will view this as quite the positive, or even argue she doesn’t go far *enough*), is that Cruz at times can be a bit *too* tough on the Christian Nationalism crowd, while openly claiming a high degree of tolerance for every other perspective she discusses. Even as I oppose the Christian Nationalists myself (finding more cause for Anarchism in the text of the Bible than any support for any modern nation, *including* the modern State of Israel), I would have liked to have seen their positions presented with the same detached rational approach as all of the other perspectives presented – mostly because I truly believe that when presented in those same terms, the Christian Nationalists *still* lose, and lose bigger because they *were* given a rational chance.

Even this, though, is not the actual cause of the star deduction. The cause of the star deduction is instead the complete non-existence of any hint of a bibliography, which are generally present even in these Advance Reviewer Copy forms of texts, as I have quite a bit of experience reading and reviewing over the last several years (where 20-30% is considered my norm, though I’ve also openly discussed perhaps lowering that a touch more recently).

Still, even that is a flaw that will hopefully be corrected in the final form of the book.

Overall an interesting and comprehensive examination of the topic, one anyone interested in Christianity and Politics in America – for any reason – should make it a point to read. Particularly before any Presidential Election. Yes, including the one being conducted less than 90 days after the publication of this very book. Very much recommended.

This review of Faithful Politics by Miranda Zapor Cruz was originally written on April 5, 2024.

#BookReview: I Will Tell No War Stories by Howard Mansfield

Father. Grandfather. Farmer. Engineer. Clerk. WWII Badass. Wait. What? While this book focuses more on the air war over Britain and Europe, it does in fact get to the heart of what so many of us born in the post WWII era have only been learning over the last 20-30 yrs or so: Our fathers (in the case of Boomers/ maybe Gen Xers) or grandfathers (for Millenials and Zoomers) that we knew as just that (+ whatever occupation they may have had as we knew them) had experiences during WWII that most of the rest of us can never imagine. For Mansfield’s dad and his dad’s fellow Airmen, Mansfield does a fairly thorough job of combining the personal and the global, of showing both where his dad was and when and also what was going on in the overall war effort – at least as it related to the air war over Europe and what the fliers encountered up there.

Personally, as the grandson of a pair of Infantrymen who both survived the Battle of the Bulge (and one of whom became a legit hero during its mop-up, earning a Silver Star and Purple Heart, while the other became one of the first to liberate the concentration camps on the American side of the war), I was hoping for more of a general look at this entire phenomena, of our fathers and grandfathers choosing to remain silent about their experiences during this pivotal time in human history, rather than the far more personal and specific look we get here – but that is more my own fault than the author’s. My own pre-conceptions and desires, rather than any fault of the author’s motivations or writing skills.

Indeed, the only actual fault vis a vis the writing itself is the dearth of a bibliography, despite the author clearly doing quite a bit of research. So that was the star deduction right there, simply for that. Beyond the lack of bibliography though, this really was an excellent look at the Air War in the European Theater as it was felt by the people flying as crew in the bombers themselves.

Truly an excellent book anyone remotely interested in that era and in particular that facet of that era will very much enjoy and may find quite informative. Very much recommended.

This review of I Will Tell No War Stories by Howard Mansfield was originally written on April 4, 2024.

#BookReview: Becky Lynch: The Man by Rebecca Quin

Excellent, If Not Overly Shocking, Memoir. This is one of those memoirs where if you’ve known of this person for much time at all, you’re already going to know a lot of the public stuff about their career – much of which is in fact covered in this particular tale, including how Rebecca Quin first became Becky Lynch before later becoming “The Man”, then, in one of the most famous moments of the COVID era of WWE, her famous line to colleague Kanako Urai (better known as Asuka) “You go and be a warrior. Because I’m going to go be a mother.” Finally, the tale wraps up with at least a bit of what happened after, through the birth of her daughter Roux and getting back into the ring.

Like I said, anyone who has followed Quin even through her WWE days knows most of these details already, and let’s face it, “engaged woman in her early 30s is pregnant” is about as shocking as “the sky is blue”. Even Quin’s earlier relationship with Fergal Devitt (better known to WWE fans as Finn Balor) and her being trained as a wrestler by him was already known.

But there is quite a bit here that *hadn’t* been as openly discussed publicly, if ever discussed at all, including so much about her childhood and how much her parents and older brother meant and mean to her. Even her actual history of first getting into the ring, meeting Fergal, their relationship and eventual breakup, her early days in Japan before seeming to give up on the entire industry, her eventual comeback and why… these are all details that show who Rebecca Quin, the person, is and was well before Becky Lynch ever came to be.

And yes, we also get the story of how the name Becky Lynch came to be and her rise in WWE, including how she met a colleague named Colby (Lopez, better known to WWE fans as The Architect, The Revolutionary, The Visionary Seth “FREAKIN” Rollins, the current World Heavyweight Champion) on her first day on WWE’s “main roster” (the Raw and Smackdown shows) and how she was actually in another relationship at the time and he simply became a good friend. She talks about meeting Big E, the various McMahons that have been so integral to WWE over the last decades – Vince, Stephanie, and Stephanie’s husband Paul Levesque, better known to all as Triple H – and several others. She talks about how she met Charlotte and her actual friendship with her – and their falling out and Rebecca’s hopes that that relationship can be repaired. She talks about Ronda Rousey’s entrance to WWE and their eventual legendary Triple Threat with Charlotte at Wrestlemania. She talks about how quickly things started heating up with Colby once she allowed the possibility that there might be something there. She talks about the days leading up to the meeting with Asuka above, and she talks about the months after that and all that was going on in that period of her life. She even directly mentions getting the deal to write this very book.

Overall, this isn’t one of those WWE memoirs that is meant to be a tell-all of all the famous people she has met and known or of all the various rivalries she has had, though all of that is done a fair amount as well. This is instead meant more as a way to humanize Becky Lynch back to Rebecca Quin, to reveal the actual woman behind the character, full of all of her own doubts and insecurities that the character largely (but not completely, as this is what in some eyes makes her so endearing) hides.

And in the build up to what WWE is currently billing as “the biggest Wrestlemania of all time” just 8 days out from when I write this review and just 11 days removed from the publication of this book, this is a particularly timely book with Quinn herself challenging for the Women’s World Championship and “Colby” now being so heavily featured in the event – seemingly working both nights of the massive two night event.

I’ve read a lot of WWE memoirs over the years, including from HBK Sean Michaels, The Rock, Mick Foley, now AEW superstar Chris Jericho, and even Batista’s memoir. In all honesty, even though many of those lean more into the “look at all the famous people I know” (and perhaps even *because* of this), this book, even in its brevity of discussing some of the finer details of her relationships, particularly with others in the public eye (and, admittedly, her current work colleagues) is one of the most “real” WWE memoirs I’ve ever come across. Quinn doesn’t hold back from her own thoughts and her own problems, even as she shies away from discussing too much about others’ issues around her.

Ultimately a compelling memoir, and, again, a very timely released one. Very much recommended.

This review of Becky Lynch: The Man by Rebecca Quin was originally written on March 29, 2024.