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The Fabric of America: How Our Borders and Boundaries Shaped the Country and Forged Our National Identity

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How borders and frontiers have determined the expansion of the American nation and culture from colonial times through today. Features Andrew Ellicott, one of America's earliest astronomers, who began a career shaping the nation by extending the Mason-Dixon line to the west to enclose Pennslyvania and separate it from Virginia and New York. He went on to draw western borders with Spanish territory along the Mississippi River (and help push the Spanish settlers out of the newly enclosed lands); between Spanish Florida and the southernmost states; between the United States and Canada; did most of the surveying (and a fair amount of the design) of Washington, D.C.; and who took part in the definition of most of the other borders drawn during the rest of the United States' continental expansion either in person or through his influence as an instructor at West Point.
Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist

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A nice introduction to Newton's scientific and alchemical work, with a deeper exploration of his work as Warden, and later, Master, of the Mint than some other biographies (many of which tend to focus on the science and gloss over the other aspects of his life), but not quite as much detail about his time at the Mint and a bit more of the science than I was hoping for (having read some of those other biographies).I did enjoy the read, however, and many of the details of life in the seventeenth century were very good. The notes are also very good, with lots of pointers to other sources, some of which I look forward to reading.
The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World

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As the Revolution raged, two astronomers were sent to determine the length of the meridian passing through Paris, from Dunkerque in the north to Barcelona, Spain, in the south. That figure, in turn, would be used to determine the length of the meter, a new measure of length that would, in turn, be used to establish an entire system of weights and measures—the metric system.Both expeditions ran into problems from their onset—the weather, ignorant peasants, angry revolutionaries, approaching armies, disease, and the land itself. But Mechain’s measurements were undermined further by his own personality, his insistence on precision leading him into a significant error and an attempt to cover up that error.Alder not only covers the details of expeditions, but also the politics surrounding the quest to establish a new measurement standard and the efforts required to get them adopted by France and other nations. The book is well written and a great read. If you ever wondered about the origins of the metric system, Alder’s book is a great place to start.
Type: The Secret History of Letters

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Scattered history of typography, dipping in and out from Gutenberg to the nineties and beyond. Lots of fascinating bits of information, both informative and inspirational. Makes me want to know even more.
No Logo

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I probably should have read this book long ago, but I felt that I had a pretty good handle on its arguments from other sources. Stumbling across it in a Foozles, though, made picking it up a no-brainer, and last week’s Frontline (``The Persuaders’‘) made reading it seem apropos.
Dark Cities Underground

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I’m not sure how I missed out on Lisa Goldstein, except maybe that her books are categorized as ``fantasy’’. Which they are, but this book, at least, has much more in common with Powers and Blaylock than McCaffery. Powers and Blaylock are an especially apt comparison with this novel, which deals with a world- and history-spanning intrusion of myth into our world.
How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions

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The world is a scarily illogical place. Francis Wheen has some ideas on why that is, and while I don’t completely agree with him about everything he has to say, I definitely enjoyed the ride.
Fantômas

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The introduction is largely positive about the popular appeal and long-lasting influence of the Fantômas stories on French and European fiction, film, and culture, including the fascination of many artists in the Surrealist movement. At the same time, the writer is adamant about distancing himself from the actual novel, repeatedly pointing out the authors’ pulp origins, denigrating the quality of the writing, and sneering at the coincidences that the plot hinges on.But, at least in this newly tuned-up translation, the book is a shining example of a pulp mystery -- shocking murders occur, scandalizing society and devastating families. Our hero, Inspector Juve, appears and disappears, trying to understand the pattern of events and draw together the seemingly independent threads to knot together a net to capture the evil mastermind that only he seems to truly believe in -- Fantômas!As we’d expect from the first in what came to be along series of books, films, and other realizations, all is not what it seems, and seeming triumphs may not be all that we might hope for.The novel’s Fantômas is really quite tame compared with the reputation the character builds over the ensuing tales. Evil, yes, but some of his motivations are quite pedestrian (illicit love, greed). Still, the crimes he seems to have committed in pursuit of these goals show the beginnings of a truly dangerous psychopath.If you like pulp fiction, reading Fantômas is a must. Knowing a bit about the character’s cultural influences might make the task appealing even if the prose were not an enjoyable read, but for me, at least, I enjoyed every minute I spent on the book, and would gladly read more if the translations were available.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

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I wasn’t sure about this book when I first started, but once the main character had been killed, it picked up dramatically and I quite enjoyed it.I’m glad I did, as I’d purchased another book by Doctorow at the same time.
Little Brother

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Doctorow's latest is aimed at teenagers, hoping to inspire them to learn more about the way security really works, and to teach them how to see through the stories the government tells us about how their Orwellian tools -- RFID chips, debit and credit cards, surveillance cameras with and without gait- and facial-detection software -- work better for invading the privacy of ordinary citizens than they do at their purported function of "stopping terrorism".Our hero, Marcus, is a somewhat geeky high-school kid who, along with his friends, gets swept up by Department of Homeland Security agents responding to a terrorist attack on San Francisco. They are briefly detained in a Guantanamo-like prison, interrogated, humiliated, and let go with a severe warning. But one friend isn't released, and Marcus vows to find him and get revenge on DHS as they ratchet up the security theater measures.Using tools and techniques available on the Internet today, Marcus builds an ad-hoc resistance movement against the constant violations of civil rights perpetrated by DHS on everyone in and around the city. Throughout the book, Doctorow provides brief infodumps about various technologies, the history of the founding of the United States and the writing of its Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the myriad ways in which policies sold as means of protecting people can be used against them in their everyday lives.As the story goes on, Marcus has some triumphs and some setbacks; meets new people (and some he'd known but never really spoken to); learns about the advantages and risks of anonymity and self-organizing flashmobs; deals with family tensions; falls in love; and deals with some events from his own past.I enjoyed the book, but I'm not sure how the infodumps will play for people who aren't as familiar with the things they describe as I am. I'm also not entirely sure I buy some of the family or social dynamics; they serve well to advance the didactic agenda, but for some of them, I'm not convinced they follow from the background we're given.The book ends with two afterwords, one from security expert and security-theater critic Bruce Schneier, and one from Bunnie Huang, who figured out how to break the security measures on the Xbox to allow it to be used for more than just playing prepackaged games. Both encourage the reader to learn more about the world of security and to explore how various systems work -- to hack.Doctorow also provides a bibliography of both traditionally published (dead-tree) and electronic publications providing more information about the topics discussed in the novel, as well as some discussion about the people and works that inspired him to write the book.
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