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Beyond the Horizon: The Great Race to Finish the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Planet

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A previous reviewer summed up my feelings about Beyond the Horizon very succinctly:"The expedition comes across as poorly planned and underfunded. I had the same feeling about the book."The author's style is tough at times because it feels incomplete, as if the reader is watching a skipping DVD. The story itself is an interesting one, and the expedition has fascinating locales and exciting events, but the narrative is really bad in spots. The author does not stick to the story and instead offers points of opinion and argument which detract from the reader's enjoyment of the adventure story. While this book is mildly engaging, it was underwhelming, choppy, and does not offer a voice up to the excitement of the voyage itself. Two and one-half stars.
The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

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Rick Atkinson's incredibly-researched second book in the Liberation Trilogy covers the Allied battle for the Axis 'soft underbelly' of Sicily and Italy. Told greatly from a US Army perspective, the concerns and considerations of Generals are comingled with the grim, gutter reality of life of Privates and Captains. From the initial movement of the Sicily invasion force (which started the trip in the recently conquered Tunisia and other spots in North Africa) through the triumphant entry into Rome, Atkinson proves yet again he is a master at his craft.I felt this second entry in the Trilogy trumped the Pulitzer Prize-winning first book, An Army At Dawn. The landscapes of Sicily and Italy make the background more dense, more colorful, and unfortunately, more deadly to those doing the fighting. Soldiers fought and died in famous locations, such as Monte Cassino, and not so famous ones, such as the Rapido River. Gen. Mark Clark's conundrums are carefully and masterfully interwoven with various first-hand battle recollections of screams, sheets of mortar and machine gun fire, smells of burning flesh and cordite, visions of smoke and death, and the harrowing isolation of life on the front. An amazing amount of research poured into this work, just like its predecessor, and Atkinson's gift of highly-readable narrative turns hundreds of sources into a breathtaking 588 pages. Starting with the invasion of Sicily, the reader follows the participants, high and low, to the invasion of Salerno and then Anzio, bloody battles for the various heavily defended German lines, numerous attempts to take key high ground, such as Monte Cassino, and the tactical decision-making that led to each success or failure. This is simply one of the most complete popular military history books I've ever read, one that will certainly inspire and haunt me for quite some time. I cannot wait for the third and final book in this Trilogy. Five stars.
The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945

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I received this advance copy as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I have read the first two books in the Liberation Trilogy previously, and found both to be overwhelmingly immersive large-scale narratives of the European Theater of WWII from a decidedly US viewpoint. Eagerly, I jumped into Atkinson's finale and found a solid but somewhat mixed result.The pieces are all there in this third book in the trilogy, but unlike the first two books, where we got solid details of fighting in Africa, Sicily, and Italy, this book felt compacted. Individual battles and movements were consumed in the overriding larger narrative. Despite the length, this book would best have been split in two, with action up through Market Garden being the first book, and the winter campaigns and run into Berlin the second. Because so much was packed into this book, whole pieces of the narrative are rushed through in order to get to what Atkinson wanted to focus on. I didn't get this from the first two books and would have loved for the author to slow down a bit and give the reader more detail of actions and decisions at the front-line level. So much of the narrative takes place at the general officer level that the soldier fighting for his life and that of his buddies is often glossed over. While there are certainly some decent scenes of battle described, I agree with another reviewer who mentioned the anecdotal nature of the narrative. The battle maps are excellent, as expected, and overall, despite the drawbacks, this is a solid narrative of the war in Europe in 1944 and 1945. Certainly by no means an exhaustive study of the campaigns nor of the participants, but a decent read for anyone wanting a general officer-level view of the defeat of Germany.
Afterlives of the Saints

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The Afterlives of the Saints offers a small glimpse into the history of saints and those they influenced. The pace is quick and there isn't a grand overarching narrative to draw together the various people who have achieved sainthood. While not a terribly comprehensive look at saints, Dickey does a solid job of introducing each subject and providing some interesting tales.
Why Does E=mc2?: (And Why Should We Care?)

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Cox and Forshaw have presented a streamlined, focused popular science book aimed at teaching relatively new science readers the basics and history of the famous equation in the title. While experienced physics readers will not likely learn new information, the book offers an approachable description of relativity, how we know it works, and why it is important in the modern world and beyond.While I personally didn't gain much new from this book (as an experienced non-professional physics reader), I believe new readers could be in for a treat. I'd certainly recommend starting a discovery of relativity with this book if the concept seems difficult. The authors take time to explain various concepts and make solid efforts to present reasonable analogies to aid in the explanation. Combined with a singularly-focused subject, the book is an excellent starting point for curious, intelligent readers wishing to know more details about E=mc2. Four stars.
The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise

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Keizer's Unwanted Sound documents how society has largely ignored the problem of noise pollution as 'progress' advances through the years. As we get 'everything we want', including snowblowers, motorcycles, and various other advanced 'toys', few of us have stopped to consider the impact of the noise generated by such devices. Personal space is often considered sacred, but not when sound is considered. Keizer points out how often we notice when someone has infringed on our personal rights while we constantly ignore unwanted sounds and noisy behavior (though we still are annoyed by this).The book itself is interesting and informative. Keizer relies on both research and anecdote. For me, the reliance is too often on the latter as Keizer lets his own views and annoyances drive the narrative at times. Still, a useful and worthwhile read if only because this subject is completely ignore by most of us, and the problem of unwanted noise will only grow worse as population densities continue to rise.
Assault on Juno

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I received Assault on Juno as part of the Early Reviewers program. I'm a long-time military history reader, including dozens of WWII books. AoJ is in the Rapid Reads series, and I think that was the cause of the discomfort I felt while reading the book.The overall narrative is ok, if a bit colorless. Details of the Canadian Army's assault on Juno Beach are reasonable, given the overall size of the book, and a few anecdotal personal stories are peppered throughout. However, the subject did not lend itself well to the Rapid Reads format (and admittedly, this may be due to my own experience in reading military history - to a new or novice reader, this might be an excellent format). The author dryly skips around without spending too much time building up tension or developing characters or scenarios. Moving on quickly from point to point, the reader gets a bit of a Cliff's Note view of the assault. A decent first read for young readers, perhaps, but not recommended for military history readers.
Collapse

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Jared Diamond goes deeper into the natural histories of societies in Collapse, continuing a broad and detailed look he began in Guns, Germs, and Steel. This time, Diamond looks into the details of why some societies failed and what those failures can say about our current world. While Collapse is less steamlined and more myopic (at times) than was Guns, this amazing historical investigation, centering on ecological and environmental subjects, offers a wealth of knowledge for those willing to dig through it.Unlike Guns, Diamond stays small throughout much of this book, giving the reader in-depth descriptions of many societies that have existed over the past two thousand years. His thesis emphasizes a set of five basic areas where societies tend to prosper or fail, and focuses on those where the society had an opportunity to affect the outcome directly. In each society he investigates, Diamond takes time to detail how and why the society eventually collapsed or survived. Much of the book reveals that deforestation and destruction of basic natural resources should be primary concerns for everyone at all times. No society, shows Diamond, is immune to the dire consequences which come from such ecological disasters.Starting off with discussions of a small area of Montana (which did set a slow pace) and the mysterious Easter Island (where the pace began to get much better), Diamond moves on to explore Pacific islands such as Henderson and Pitcairn. From there, he explains the collapse of the Anasazi in the southwestern US, the large-scale decline of the Maya long before Spanish arrival, and the westward exploration, expansion, and settlements of the Viking Norse. The Norse examination takes several chapters, and Diamond uses different fates of each Norse colony to explain why some failed while others succeeded. Further discussions open the book to New Guinea (a speciality of Diamond's own first-hand research), as well as modern societies in Rwanda, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, China, and Australia. Each society offers clues to its own environmental situation, opportunities to exploit resources, and internal decisions which directly affected survival. Diamond spares no time on biased judgements, ensuring that his natural experiment has ample opportunity to define the characteristics of failed versus surviving societies.The latter parts of the book consider all the information Diamond has layed out for the reader, and takes the time to carefully work up to a set of important environmental and ecological priorities. These priorities, including ensuring sustainable use of forests and marine resources, are Diamond's prescription to anyone wishing to affect survival of any society. Diamond includes points about big businesses, such as oil companies, and uses both positive and negative examples to show how these companies, as well as the public at large, can directly determine how ecological decisions play out.This book is dense by popular history standards, but not overburdening in any way. While the text itself is a solid 525 pages, the dozen or so societies on which Diamond focuses offers the reader a new area of interest every few dozen pages. While the overall flow and subject matter are not as well-constructed as Diamond's Pulizer Prize-winning Guns (the opening discussion on Montana was a touch dry), this book nonetheless offers a unique natural history of societies to which most readers will have only brief exposure. Four solid stars and recommended to anyone interested in natural history, ecology, environmental issues, climate change, and histories of societies around the world.
Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures

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Virginia Morell has offered up a light, thought-provoking book on the minds of animals and some of the research being done to discover just what goes on in animal brains. From laughing rats to ants that teach, Morell has delivered an uplifting look at cutting-edge researchers who are finding the keys to what animals may think and how they feel.Each chapter features Morell visiting one or more researcher who has hands-on experience in projects looking to find out how various animals cope, care, plot, plan, and learn. This was certainly an enjoyable book. My central critiques are around the anecdotal narrative. The author often lets the voice of one or two researchers speak as authorities on the subject while giving the naysaying critics of the researchers' findings little discussion. I would have preferred a bit more clinical, evidence-grounded reporting along with the personal narratives in each chapter. I want to know what the best of science has to say about these subjects, not just those who are positively claiming to have found something matching the author's thesis.That said, Morell's narrative moves swiftly, covers a lot of conversations and studies, and leaves the reader considering carefully the implications. If even a few of the researchers discussed in the book are on the right path, our understanding of animal thoughts and emotions has a long way to grow.
What Bothers Me Most about Christianity: Honest Reflections from an Open-Minded Christ Follower

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Like many others who received this as part of the Early Reviewers, I thought I was going to receive a book with an honest, open discussion of the serious issues surrounding Christianity. Faith, the problem of evil and suffering, incompatibility with science: these are all areas the author tackles. However, what I got was an apologetic for the Purpose Driven Life era. Another shallow repetition of nonsensical rationalization which isn't even interesting to a non-believer. Not only is there no serious exploration of any of these 'bothers', the author repeatedly sums up each item with (paraphrasing) 'well, I don't know why, I just know God is good/exists/knows/etc'. Throw in an unscientific and very shallow discussion of evolution and sprinkle in a few references to those mean, angry atheists, and you've got yourself a pointless waste of a couple of hours.
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