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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

When Disloyal came out I knew I had to read it. Who is this most powerful of Trump’s enablers? Who is this guy that I read about long before Trump’s announcement of his candidacy, the ruthless wolverine who came after Trump’s victims and threatened to ruin them if they even tried to assert their rights?

When the White House found out that Cohen was writing this book, they tried everything they could to stop him from publishing it. It was going to be a sensational tell-all book.

Well, it is.

Cohen was there from the beginning. He knows Trump intimately, and he was his most loyal and effective confidante and protector. To understand Trump, we need to read Disloyal, because it tells what it was like to work for Trump.

Here is an excerpt:

We all flew to Green Bay, Wisconsin for the event titled Trump: The New Owner of WWE Raw. All of us invited were eager to experience what we knew was going to be a wild, fun night. In the dressing room under the stadium, we could hear the mounting noise of the crowd coming in, and it was obvious that the place was going to be sold out, not to mention the huge pay-per-view audience. This was when Don Jr. spoke out of turn, at least in the eyes of his taskmaster father. “Hey, Dad, are you nervous?” he asked. “What did you say?” Trump asked, his face reddening. “I’m going in front of millions of people. What kind of stupid fucking question is that? Get out of here.”

We all stood in awkward silence, staring at our shoes, feeling sorry for the son and his perfectly innocent question.

“God damn it,” Trump said with a heavy sigh, as if his son wasn’t present. “The kid has the worst fucking judgment of anyone I have ever met. What a stupid thing to say—to put that thought in my head.” Don Jr. said nothing, also inspecting his shoes, and no doubt desperate to flee. The hurt was evident in his face and demeanor, even though this was hardly the first time I’d heard Trump insult his son and remark on his supposed lack of intelligence. I often wondered why the son stayed around in the face of the abuse of his father, though I knew the answer, because Don Jr. had told me the story.

— Cohen, Michael. Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump (pp. 83-84). Skyhorse. Kindle Edition.

Obviously, the White House said that Cohen is a liar – and he is, by his own admission – but when you read his story, it’s obvious that he is not making this stuff up. He just tells it like it was, like a journal entry, and he doesn’t really “blast” Trump either. He just describes, almost soberly, some of his more atrocious deeds. The personality of Trump comes out, similar to how it came out in Mary Trump’s book Too Much and Never Enough.

Most of all I was struck with the realization that Trump USED Cohen, over and over again, until — suddenly — when Cohen fell due to his covering for Trump, he was no longer useful to him. Trump immediately disowned and abandoned him. Cohen is now in prison (at this time serving his sentence under house-arrest) and Trump is — still — in the White House. Trump uses people, everyone, his wife, his children, his best friends, his relatives, his employees, his vendors and contractors, and now the entire population of the United States, to serve him. Cohen’s book shows how he does that.

Michael Cohen’s book is not a “great book” or an exceptional memoir. It is a sober book, well told, revealing, and it shows us what Trump really is: a fraud.

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Too Many Books, Too Little Time

I just downloaded Rage – by Bob Woodward.

I am at 17% with Disloyal – by Michael Cohen

I am at 40% with The Room Where it Happened – by John Bolton

I haven’t started reading Donald Trump v. The United States – by Michael Schmidt

Too many books, too little time.

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Too many books, too little time!

I have never before written an “interim book report” but I found necessary to do so this time.

John Bolton’s book about his time in the Trump White House came out a month and a half ago, and I bought it on the day it came out and I started reading it.

But it’s a long (LONG) book, not the kind of work you can skim fast, so when Mary Trump’s book Too Much and Never Enough came out, I paused, read that, reviewed it here, and went back to The Room Where it Happened.

But now, I picked up Melania and Me – by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff (reading now) and Donald Trump v. The United States – by Michael S. Schmidt, and on Tuesday I am looking forward to Disloyal, Michael Cohen’s book. There are too many books to read and review before the election, but I need to fit them all in.

Too many books, too little time!

And that brings me back to John Bolton’s book and this is the actual start of the Interim Book Report. I am “only” 40% into the book, but I found it a much more insightful and convincing book than I would have expected it to be. I will do a final book report, with excerpts and a rating when I finally finish it, but I thought some of my readers would appreciate my thoughts on it before the election.

Trump and his enablers fought hard to stop Bolton’s book from getting published. And I can see why. But my take away is very different from what I expected it to be. I thought it would be a tell-all book, making Trump look bad, written by a disgruntled former staff member. At least that’s what the White House made it out to be. I also have to admit that I never really “knew” John Bolton. I took the word of pundits and critics who called him a hawk. I remember when Bolton first got appointed to be the National Security Advisor, my heart sank, since I thought that what could be worse than an incompetent president enabling a war hawk for the security of our world?

Bolton’s book is not sensational at all. It’s almost dry. If you are into foreign policy and world power politics at the highest level, kind of the Henry Kissinger level, then Bolton’s book should be required reading. Bolton must be keeping exact journals of what he does every day to be able to write that book. He does not disparage others. He observes, and intersperses his observations and opinions. He tells world history of the small slice where he was actively participating as part of the Trump administration, he tells it as it unfolded. Yes, it makes Trump look bad, but not because Bolton says so, but because we observe what Trump says and does in the room where it happened, over and over again. Bolton puts us into the room. We get to be flies on the wall, listening to what goes on, and what comes out of Trump’s mouth is “not pretty.” Make no mistake about it, the book makes Trump look bad, because Trump is making himself look bad, every day, over and over again.

Now a word about Bolton. I have to admit that I actually like Bolton. Knowing now how he thinks, and particularly what he knows, and how vast his experience on the world stage is, yes, the world was in safer condition while he was in the White House. Bolton understand world politics, and knows how to play the international game. He knows how to make and keep America strong, and still “do the right thing.”

I don’t agree with all of Bolton’s opinions and attitudes, but as much as one can ascertain this from reading a man’s book, I like the man. And now I am going to say the most controversial thing in a long time: Biden, once president, would do himself a favor and bring Bolton back right where he was: National Security Advisor.

It would be a brilliant move.

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Mary Trump’s tell-all book about her brother Donald Trump sold 1.35 million copies in the first week after publication. My copy was one of those.

Mary is an educated professional, a psychologist and a very good writer and story-teller. She is the oldest daughter of Trump’s oldest brother Freddie, who died very early in life. She has unique insight into the upbringing and lives of the five Trump siblings by her grandparents. Of course, Trump and the White House tried to stop publication of this book. Trump tweeted:

“Mary Trump, a seldom seen niece who knows little about me, says untruthful things about my wonderful parents (who couldn’t stand her!) and me, and violated her NDA,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “She’s a mess! Many books have been written about me, some good, some bad. Both happily and sadly, there will be more to come!”

Some Trump supporters have called the book a “book of lies” but I doubt that when they say this they have actually read it.

There is nothing scandalous about it. It just tells the story of a family in Brooklyn, led by an autocratic and self-absorbed man, Fred Trump, who build a billion-dollar real estate empire, and who shaped Donald Trump into the person we see today.

If Trump hadn’t ascended to the presidency, none of this would have been interesting to anyone, and the Trump Organization would have gone on doing what appears to be shady business for decades to come.

But that is not how things went.

Here is an except:

Donald was to my grandfather what the border wall has been for Donald: a vanity project funded at the expense of more worthy pursuits. Fred didn’t groom Donald to succeed him; when he was in his right mind, he wouldn’t trust Trump Management to anybody. Instead, he used Donald, despite his failures and poor judgment, as the public face of his own thwarted ambition. Fred kept propping up Donald’s false sense of accomplishment until the only asset Donald had was the ease with which he could be duped by more powerful men.

There was a long line of people willing to take advantage of him. In the 1980s, New York journalists and gossip columnists discovered that Donald couldn’t distinguish between mockery and flattery and used his shamelessness to sell papers. That image, and the weakness of the man it represented, were precisely what appealed to Mark Burnett.

— Trump, Mary L.. Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (pp. 195-196). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Too Much and Never Enough is a very readable book, not too long to become a tedious read, and it explains Donald Trump. What he does, how he acts, and more importantly, what he doesn’t do or say just makes sense after having read this book.

I would highly recommend it to everyone, both Trump supporters and the rest of us.

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Mankind’s first mission to the stars has arrived at its destination. The trip took 10 years and due to the relativistic speed, dozens of years have gone by on Earth when Captain Jack Harrison and his small crew arrive.

They quickly find out that they are not the first intelligent beings that inhabited the new star system. There is evidence of systematic destruction and extermination.

In their quest to figure out what happened, they quickly become stranded and cut off from their ship. The science mission to explore a new star system quickly turns into a battle for sheer survival against impossible odds.

Prelude to Extinction is actually a good story with a lot of potential, sprinkled with unexpected twists, some of them aided by cosmological concepts like time dilation and distortion. It’s a somewhat hard science fiction story that quickly jumps over the science.

For instance, all the aliens use engines that can accelerate to practically the speed of light in minutes without the crews feeling any acceleration by doing some “alien tech” stuff without any regard to where the energy is going to come from, and how the ships will be protected at these speeds in the relatively crowded spaces of stars systems. I know it’s fiction, but the mixture of hard science fiction in the near future,  sprinkled with impossible technology of aliens millions of years ahead of us, just didn’t work very well for me. I also had trouble understanding that aliens so advanced seem to have nothing better to do than to try to exterminate any other species they come across, which is central to the plot.

But the worst of it is that the crew, the “best and brightest Earth has to offer” consistently act like boy scouts on a field trip at best. The captain constantly has trouble asserting his authority, and his crew of scientists keep making incredible blunders that just make no sense. By making all the human actors in the story morons, whose stupid actions eventually drive the plot along, the entire novel loses its sense of reality.

Prelude to Extinction is obviously a setup for a sequel. But the author really should hire an editor to fix the dozens, perhaps hundreds of typos and grammatical errors in this book, before writing another one.

I am passing on the next ones.

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Just three days ago I finished reading and reviewed The ’86 Fix. It’s a time travel story, and I gave it a pretty dismal review and only one and a half stars. The story was “okay” but the ending was so bad, it really disappointed me. That’s when I realized I was simply set up for a sequel. When I wrote that review, I stated that I wasn’t going to read any more books by this author, let alone the sequel.

But since I was interested in what might happen to Craig Pelling next, just for kicks, I downloaded the preview anyway. After reading about five percent of the book, I changed my mind. Beyond Broadhall is the sequel to The ’86 Fix.

I just finished it, and it’s a better book. It’s getting 2.5 stars.

The story picks up right where the first book stops. It’s now 2017. Craig is in a mental hospital, basically imprisoned, for eleven months, while counselors and psychiatrists try to figure out what’s wrong with him and set him on a course to release him into society.

As soon as Craig is free, he starts researching, trying to find his parents, his wife Megan, his coworkers, and his nemesis Marcus. He realizes that rather than “fixing” things during his visit to 1986, he did far more damage to many innocent people’s lives than he could ever have dreamed. As revelation after revelation comes to him, he gets more and more disturbed – and wiser. When he finds his father, who is now a very decent man, and very helpful to his cause, he figures out that he didn’t really need to go to the past to “fix” things. He has the power right here and now.

Here is the problem with The ’86 Fix and Beyond Broadhall. They are not really two books. They are one book. The author should have put them together back to back, making them twice as long. Then he should have edited out about 25% of the fluff and boring stuff that wasn’t necessary, and it would have been a surprisingly entertaining and complete story. The total letdown of the first book, the terrible ending, would have just been one setback to the protagonist in the middle of the story, and it would not have been that bothersome. It would have also saved the author some awkward “backfilling” he had to do to give the reader of the second book enough knowledge for it to stand on its own. But then, I do not believe that anyone would read the second book without having read the first one.

I don’t have a problem with series of books. Some are done quite well. For instance, the Harry Potter books are a good example, or the “Pillars” series by Ken Follett. Each book can stand on its own. You don’t have to read the first one to enjoy the second one, even though in most cases, people will read them in sequence.

The ’86 Fix and Beyond Broadhall are not two separate books. They are one longer book with some boring passages, but a pretty entertaining story.

My advice to the author would have been to repackage the two into one.

So, if you want to read a low-tech time travel story that provides some lessons about what life is all about and how the decisions we make affect us and all those around us, buy both of those books, and read them back to back, without skipping a beat between the two. And you’ll have yourself a comfortable read.

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Craig Pelling is a 46-year-old man in England in 2016. He lives in alcohol-soft middle-age, to use a Pink Floyd phrase. He is pudgy, balding, out of shape, lazy and overall a fairly unlikable character. He has lived for more than 20 years in a love-less marriage, and his career, by his own standards, has been lackluster. When an old high school classmate and bully of his becomes his new boss, his whole world comes crashing down.

His parents are moving out of their house into a retirement home and ask him to come home and clean out his childhood room. When he turns on the computer, something surreal happens and he is transported back into this 16-year-old body. He gets to spend a weekend as his teenage self, with his middle-aged man’s experiences and knowledge of his future. He is determined to set some things right. Can he fix his life, and the lives of those around him? He definitely tries.

The first half of the book is describing Craig’s failures and current situation in 2016. It’s kind of slow and boring, being the fairly unlikeable character that he is. At about the mid-point he performs the time travel, and things get much more interesting. The pace picks up.

But the ending is terrible. Readers want to see the hero win, they want an upbeat story. The ending is deflating and depressing, and it becomes obvious that the writer simply set us up to read the sequel.

In addition to lack of editing regarding the plot, and the marketing of the book, it also has a good number of grammatical errors that somewhat distracted me. I was going rate this book two out of four stars, but the horrible ending just depressed me and I am downgrading it to 1.5 stars.

But that’s apparently not going to stop me from buying Beyond Broadhall, the sequel. I want to know what happens to Craig next.

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After reading A Ripple in Time, I wrote this review but I didn’t think I would read another Zugg book. Then one of my readers commented under that review, challenged me by pointing out a grammatical error in my blog entry while I criticized Zugg for his, and told me there was a sequel. Well, I couldn’t leave a time travel book unread.

But, unfortunately, it’s not a time travel book.

Mason, the protagonist, makes it back to 1720 at the end of A Ripple in Time. In The Planters, he comes out on the other side and the story tells how he finds his way back to the plantation, reunites with Karen, Jeremy and Lisa, and how they make a living running a plantation in 1720.

The twist is Nathan, one of the antagonists in A Ripple in Time, who unexpectedly survived the pirate raid and comes back to the plantation. While the story illustrates life in 1720 in South Carolina, and while the four survivors are occasionally drawing on their knowledge of history to drive their actions, and while Mason uses his Glock automatic pistol once to save their lives against pirates, there is absolutely no time travel in this book. Therefore, it would have been more effective to just call it a historical novel, but as such, it would not have lived up to those of the greats like Bernard Cornwell, for instance.

There were no significant grammar error in The Planters, unlike there were in A Ripple in Time, or at least I didn’t notice them. Perhaps the author had more proofreading done. I applaud that.

The way the story ended left it open to another sequel, which I definitely will not take the time to read.

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Trappist-1 is a star system about 39.5 light years away. The star is an ultra-cool red dwarf star in the constellation Aquarius, and it is found to have several earth-like planets with the potential to support life. Humanity sends a starship to explore the system.

The Forerunner One, a starship capable of traveling at half the speed of light, is outfitted with a crew that spends the 78-year journey mostly in cryogenic sleep. At half lightspeed, time on the ship moves 15% slower than it does back on Earth, due to relativistic time dilation.

But while all this is good stuff for a solid science fiction story, it’s not really relevant. As it turns out, the crew arrives at their destination, and without much thought or preparation (would you think?) they land on one of the planets, only to be attacked by the local fauna within a few hours of landing.

The local intelligent species is aviary. They are smaller than humans, about 4 feet tall, skinny, birdlike, and they can fly. The humans call them Avari. They have far superior technology compared to the humans, and within a day of arriving, having traveled most of a century, the humans are driven back to their ship and forced to flee – you get it – back to Earth.

Spoiler Alert:

It turns out that the Avari have technology to cloak themselves and even their ships. So they can be invisible. Two of them sneak on board of the human ship undetected and start wreaking havoc on the way home. Not only that, they breed a hybrid avari-human fetus in one of the females on board. Obviously, this sets things up for a lot of surprises on the trip home.

There is a twist at the end, which makes it clear that the entire book First Encounter is just there to be a setup for a series of books called The Ascension Wars, and this is Book 1.

I didn’t care too much about the writing style, the loose and unrealistic plot, and the shallow character development overall. First Encounter seems a little bit like pulp fiction, or worse, action hero comic book material. If you like light science fiction, this might be reasonable entertainment. But for me, I am done reading this series.

 

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The Stand is about a pandemic that kills almost everyone in the world.

I read this book shortly after it first came out in 1978. Then, in 1990, King reissued the “Complete and Uncut Edition” with extra chapters and some changes. I read it again the early 1990s.

I never did a review of the book. Now might be a great time to do so.

If you’d like to read up on details, check the Wikipedia page for the book here.

A modified strain of the flu (sounds familiar?) accidentally escapes a government lab in Texas. It kills almost everyone it infects. Far less than 1% of the population, for some unfound reason, are immune. This means that in any given city or community, there might be nobody or just one person left. Within just a few weeks, the entire country is a grave yard. Rotting corpses are everywhere, in every house and building. Cars run off the roads litter the highways, usually corpses inside. A few survivors eventually run into each other and small groups band together to eek out a life after “the flu.”

The story follows a group of people who start out in New England and make their way west, collecting straggling survivors as they go. They end up settling in Boulder, Colorado. However, as one might expect, there is also an “evil” group, with its own leader, and they congregate in Las Vegas. The epic struggle between good and evil is carried out by the fragments of humanity.

The Stand is King’s largest book. This is a monster, a work the size of War and Peace. However, it’s also, in my opinion, King’s best work ever, and one of my favorite novels of all time. There are some (very) long stretches of less than exciting mystical sections getting into the supernatural of the bad guys in the second half of the book, which I found tedious. But other than that, it’s riveting reading. King portrays a lot of unique and utterly memorable characters that have stayed with me for a lifetime, including the main characters of Stuart Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, Nick Andros and the ever likeable feeble-minded Tom Cullen, “Laws, Yes!” As usual, King’s characters are deeply developed, very real and convincing. The Stand also introduced me to “Payday” candy bars, which I hadn’t known before. After reading The Stand, discarded Payday candy wrappers always bring back post-apocalyptic visions for me when I randomly encounter them.

I am writing this review as we just received the order by the governor of California to stay at home for the next month to fight the coronavirus pandemic. None of us have ever experienced anything like this before, yet here we are, and the unthinkable has happened.

Well, I have read The Stand before, and I saw how it can end. It’s not pretty.

If you find yourself with some extra time and nothing to read, I highly recommend The Stand.

 

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At the end of The Clan of the Cave Bear, Ayla is expelled from the Clan, and she walks away into the unknown wilderness in search of “The Others,” her own people.

Eventually, she finds The Valley of Horses, with a suitable empty cave on a cliff in a protected canyon, a stream with a waterfall above it, and the steppe not far beyond the valley. The glacier, which shapes the local climate an the flora and fauna, is not far away toward the north.

Ayla makes her home there. The rescues a colt and raises it, and later she rescues a baby cave lion, and raises it too. She ends up spending three years alone in the valley with her animals.

Jondalar and Thonolan are two young brothers on a journey down the Danube to the “sea,” which of course is what we know as the Black Sea today. On their odyssey they get to know many different tribes. Eventually, they end up in Ayla’s valley under catastrophic conditions, with Jondalar severely injured.

Ayla nurses Jondalar to heath and eventually the two become a couple.

I read The Clan of the Cave Bear decades ago for the first time, and I remember reading The Valley of Horses, its sequel, also, but I remembered nothing about it. When I recently re-read Clan, I decided to also re-read Valley. They are the first two books of the Earth’s Children series of six books written by Auel. I enjoyed The Valley of Horses to a degree. It does a nice job portraying life in the stone age by the Cro Magnon man, our direct ancestors, and it contrasts that to the lives of the Neanderthals, of “the Clan” as they are called in this series. I have always been interested in pre-history, taking place in southern and eastern Europe during the current Ice Age but before the last glacial period – or about 30,000 years ago.

Jondalar’s home is where France is today, and Ayla’s home is originally in today’s Crimea. The Valley of Horses is about where today’s Kiev is in Ukraine. The Cro Magnon people were on the rise with their advances in hunting techniques, weapons and general social structure. The Neanderthals, who had reigned over Europe and Eastern Europe for more than 100,000 years, virtually with no changes in their lives, were on the decline. There was occasional interbreeding during that period, between the two sub-species of humans, and this overall backdrop sets the stage for The Valley of Horses.

The story is a bit boring at times, particularly when the author repetitively describes things that she has described before. There is also a surprising amount of explicit sex, with detailed, graphic sex scenes going on for pages. I can understand that it’s necessary to include sex to describe the lives of the people, but there is too much of it in this book. Sometimes I felt like I was reading a romance novel, and it should have had a Fabio-like dude with a fur loin cloth holding a blond vixen in a passionate kiss. I don’t know why the author found it necessary to include as much sex as she did. It got repetitive to me, and I found it unnecessary.

I got my fix of pre-history with these two books.

I now marvel about time-scales. This played 30,000 years ago. That’s 10 times as long as our modern timescale, if you think of the time of the ancient Greeks as the start of modern times. No innovations occurred in their lives for tens of thousands of years, thousands of generations. When I compare that to the pace of innovation we are experiencing now, I am awestruck at the length of human history, and how long we endured under very challenging conditions so I could be here today.

I will not read the next four books in the series, but it peeked my interest in anthropology. So today, at the bookstore, I picked up “Who we are and how we got here – Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past” by David Reich. It’s a science book. It won’t have sex scenes, but it’ll give me that feeling of awe when I face the unlikely history of humanity.

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Here is a generation ship story that could have been something, but unfortunately, it was not much of anything.

First, look at the cover above! It has nothing to do with the story, nothing at all. Of course, you don’t know that when you first pick up a book. As the trite saying goes, “thou shalt not judge a book by its cover.” Covers don’t matter much anymore in the age of digital delivery, when you don’t see the book laying around or on the shelf anymore. So why do covers still matter to me? I subscribe to the opposite: “Thou art entitled to judge a cover by its book!”

Call me old-fashioned, but I want my book covers to relate to the story – somehow. And this does not.

“The Ship” in this story is a giant egg-shaped vessel that spins on its center axis. Inside the decks are arranged in concentric circles, the outermost decks being the “lowest” ones with an artificial gravity due to the centrifugal force of about 2g. In the center, around the axis, is No-Weight, since there is no spin at all. The decks between No-Weight and the lowest decks are under progressively stronger g-forces. Look at the cover above and now tell me how this spaceship might resemble the actual ship in the story.

The ship left Earth about 300 years ago with 5,000 souls on board. It is on a journey to the star system of Pollux, which is one of the main stars in the constellation of Gemini, where earthbound research has found that there is a high likelihood of several habitable planets. Pollux is about 33 light-years away. At a speed of about 1/10th of the speed of light, the journey should take about 300 years.

The inhabitants of the ship are born, grow up, choose careers that are needed to maintain the ship and its small society, and once they reach a certain age around 40, they are old enough that they need to make room for the next generation. In a society that is stagnant and cannot grow in size for 300 years, where resources are absolutely limited and where there is no room for error and no possibility of replenishment,  it’s clear that absolute discipline is necessary to maintain a stable society and a healthy population.

The problem is: a computer decides who has to die when, and the “psych police” then executes the candidates, basically by murdering them, and making it look like they died by accidents. And here lies my problem with this story.

As I said above, the ship left Earth about 300 years ago. That would be like us living in an enclosed environment where 14 generations before us lived and died, since about the year 1720. That puts things into perspective. Would you not think that in 300 years they would have devised a method of maintaining a stable society that includes some form of natural death and does not rely on systematic and institutionalized murder? And would you not think that the population might have figured out what’s going on and worked on a better solution?

Be that as it may, this is the central conflict of the book, and a twist at the end makes the whole thing a bit more palatable than it was for me through 90% of the book. So it went from half a star to one-and-a-half stars in my rating.

It is, after all, a generation ship story, and I have a search category for this in my blog, and I always read them when I come across them.

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Nicholas Hook was a common 19-year-old man in England in 1413. He had one gift: He was a superb archer and as a result he ended up in the army of King Henry V invading France. Henry V thought he was the rightful heir to the French throne, in addition to the English, and he thought God was on this side in his quest to claim what was rightfully his.

This story is about the legendary battle of Agincourt, about which many scholars of history have written numerous books. It tells the story of that invasion in vivid detail from the point of view of the common man. We get drawn into the lives of the people, the thinking of the nobility and the clergy at the end of  medieval Europe during the Hundred Years’ War.

Life was rough. Lords had the power of gods and could do anything they wanted. Clergy was revered and utterly corrupt. All evil deeds were somehow done on behest of God and great suffering was inflicted on the people, through taxation, backbreaking labor, and relentless abuse. During war, the boys and men of the losers were killed, and the women raped and enslaved. This was just how life was.

Agincourt is full of terrible, endless violence. Here is an example of a battle scene:

“Stay tight, stay tight!” Sir John bellowed, making sure there was a man to his left and Sir William to his right. You fought shoulder to shoulder to give the enemy no room to pierce the line, and Sir John’s men-at-arms were fighting as he had trained them to fight. They had stepped over the first fallen Frenchmen and the second line of English were lifting enemy visors and sliding knives into the eyes or mouths of the wounded to stop them from striking up from the ground. Frenchmen screamed when they saw the blade coming, they twisted in the mud to escape the quick stabs, they died in spasms, and still more came to be hammered or chopped or crushed. Some Frenchmen, reckoning themselves safe from arrows, had lifted their visors and Sir John slammed the poleax’s spike into a man’s face, twisting it as it pierced the eye socket, dragging it back jellied and bloodied, watching as the man, in frantic dying pain, flailed and impeded more Frenchmen. Sir William Porter was stabbing his lance at men’s faces. One blow was usually enough to unbalance an enemy and Sir William’s other neighbor would finish the job with a hammer blow. Sir William, usually a quiet and studious man, was growling and snarling as he picked his victims. “God’s blood, William,” Sir John shouted, “but this is joy!”

— Cornwell, Bernard. Agincourt (p. 402). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

A good third of the book describes such atrocities. Skulls crushed by hammers and axes, a thousand eyes poked out by knives, swords rammed into bowels and twisted up to the lungs and hearts.

It is graphic and realistic, but it was too much for me. At times I’d start skimming over the battle scenes, as I simply didn’t need to know about every stabbed eye socket anymore, and I wanted to move on.

This was my first Cornwell book. It was recommended to me by colleagues as great historical fiction, and I found that it is. There are countless other Cornwell books, probably just as vivid and graphic. It was well written and very educational, but unlike other fans of Cornwell that end up binge-reading all his books, I think I am done and ready for other subjects.

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After reading a few books that I did not enjoy very much for a variety of reasons, I picked up No Highway by Nevil Shute because I knew, having read the author before, that he is a good story teller and will present a solidly crafted novel. I read Trustee from the Toolroom in 2014 and A Town Like Alice in 2015. These books were all recommended by my Australian friend (and frequent commenter in this blog), Ray Cullen. Thanks Ray!

In No Highway, the narrator is Dr. Scott, a young manager in the government agency responsible for aircraft safety in the U.K. in the 1950s. But the hero is Mr. Honey, an awkward, introverted, but brilliant engineer who does advanced work in fatigue studies in metallurgy.  He discovers an esoteric problem with the tail structure of the Reindeer, the U.K.’s most modern passenger airplane of the time that was just put into cross-Atlantic service. But being somewhat goofy and off-mainstream, many people don’t believe Honey. Only through drastic action that jeopardizes his career does he get the attention of the aerospace establishment. All hinges on the results of his experiments and the recovery of crash data from a remote site in the Canadian Labrador forests.

I can’t figure out why the book is called No Highway, as it does, at least to me, not relate to the story at all. It is, however, a well-crafted novel just like I would have expected from Nevil Shute. He did not let me down. While I enjoyed reading it, I can see it may be somewhat dry to a person not interested in engineering, and with the engineering subject matter being now 70 years outdated, the book is a bit awkward today. For instance, much of the plot depends on the fact that when you crossed the Atlantic in 1950 and went into the Canadian hinterland, you were completely out of reach. The only intercontinental communications in those days was a “cable” which is basically a telegram. It was expensive, difficult to send and receive, and it took a lot of time. We now live in a world with instant communications all over the globe, and we can’t even conceive of a situation where a major scientist is doing field work in the Canadian north in the woods where he would be completely, utterly out of reach. Today, we’d send texts and emails through satellite phones charged by solar panels – no problem at all.

This is not Nevil Shute’s problem, but Amazon’s. This book is the worst Kindle book with the classic automatic conversion errors I have ever read. Here is an example:

So had Mr Honey been, but I would not tell him that I ad raid, Tm very sorry about the Reindeer, Mr Prendergast I’m afraid this is bound to mean that all those aircraft will be grounded now at seven hundred and twenty hours.1 He said genially, ‘Oh well, worse things happen at sea. I expect we shall get over it, one way or another.’
— Nevil Shute. No Highway (Kindle Locations 5118-5121). Kindle Edition.

I highlighted the offending sections in red for you. The problem is that the entire book has these errors. There are THOUSANDS of them. Pretty much every page is messed up. I “only” paid $0.99 for this book, which is not a lot, but why doesn’t Amazon have a process in place where readers can provide edits back that a human could then use to fix the books? I am a stickler with that – Amazon should require that at least one editor reads every book and fixes it before it is going to be sold!

Terrible!

The editing issues are Amazon’s problem, so I won’t hold that against the book in my rating. Overall, I give it a solid two stars.

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Sal Paradise is an Italian American youth who lives with his aunt in Paterson, New Jersey in the mid 1940ies, after World War II. This was the time before there were interstate highways in America, and road trips took place on two-lane highways between cities, towns and villages. Sal’s best friend is Dean Moriarty, a thief, criminal and con-artist. The two, along with a sizable cast of losers and grifters, travel back and forth across the country for no particular reason, hanging out in San Francisco (which they call Frisco), New York and Denver for the most part, and touching many other cities, including Mexico, along the way.

On the Road is referenced as a classic in almost every list of best books in the English language. Schools assign it as required reading. I read it because I wanted to check off a classic between more recent science fiction material.

I don’t know what it is with me and classics, but On the Road was one of the most painful books to read, ever. I stuck with it, because I forced myself. Every. Damn. Hour.

There is no story worth telling. There is no plot. The ramblings of the losers on the road are repetitious and vapid. There is no central conflict, there is no suspense. After about a quarter into the book I realized it was not going to change. On the Road is the most mind-numbingly boring and uninteresting book I have ever touched. There is nothing to learn. There is no moral. There isn’t even an ending. Just a bunch of characters that I could not relate to and I can’t imagine anyone else can relate to.

Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac, and Dean Moriarty is modeled after the beatnik Neal Cassady. I guess if you lived in the 1940s, perhaps this story was one you could relate to. But, alas, I was born ten years later.

There were some descriptions of the American West that elicited nostalgia in me. I have spent many a day in my twenties traveling the long, endless highways across Texas and the plains, up and down Arizona and California, and across Colorado, riding the road from coast to coast and back again. Those were beautiful days, weeks, months and years, and reading On the Road got me in the mood for a long road trip.

However, I am most certainly not going to read any more books by Kerouac.

 

 

Note about the Kindle Edition: This book of full of bad punctuation, spelling errors, fragmented sentences, I presume due to automated conversion from the printed page. I guess Amazon could not afford to make a single editor go through the pain it put us paying customers through and actually read the book and fix the multitude of errors. Shame on Amazon!

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