Sunday, January 30, 2011

Book 3: The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol
By Dan Brown

OK, confession. I don’t have the book I was reading for this week finished yet. What I am reading is ‘Surely you’re Joking, Mr. Feynman’ which is a pretty fantastic book. However, it is also considerably long, which is why I am only halfway through. Oh, and not only long, but full of some fairly hefty topics regarding physics and the atomic bomb. Soooo, this is going to be a book review on the last book I read before starting this blog. Dan Brown’s, ‘The Lost Symbol’. 

Yeah, yeah, mainstream book, yadda yadda, Dan Brown, yadda yadda. Stop it. I like the guy. I like the guy for the same reason I like Clive Cussler, Stephanie Myer, and James Patterson. Sometimes, all you want to do is shut your mind off and enjoy a story. The Lost Symbol is precisely such a book, however, rather than tell you all about the storyline, which you can quickly pull from your neighbor, I’ll tell you what I really liked about the book. It  is exactly what I really liked about Michael Crichton books (though, nod to Crichton, his books are way better). It was interspersed with all sorts of interesting factoids. Really fantastic factoids actually. 

For example, one of the unsolved codes in the world is called Kryptos, located at the CIA headquarters IN DC. Who knew? Oh, and what about the experiments around the turn of the century that demonstrated that the SOUL may actually have WEIGHT? Wow. What about a whole branch of science that deals with ‘fringe’ issues such as an afterlife, called Noetic Sciences?  This is great stuff. It unlocked a whole REALM of Google-searching on my phone into the wee hours of the morning. 

I can really appreciate a book that is well-researched, and then read that research squished together to make a pretty coherent storyline. Granted, in some places it felt like there was too much research packed into the story, but really, I can’t blame Dan. If I had done all that investigation, I’d want to cram as much in the book as I possibly  could. 

The storyline is great too. There’s a lot of action, mystery, suspense, plenty of daddy issues, and some interesting stuff regarding death and sensory deprivation chambers. All this is somewhat wildly interconnected. I have to really appreciate Dan’s ability to make completely unbelievable bad-guys with the worst issues imaginable highly believable. Then, what actually turned out the BE the lost symbol at the end of the book? Pretty fantastic!

It’s definitely worth a read. Is it as great as ‘The Da Vinci Code’? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still worth borrowing from your library or friend and running through it. Especially after you’ve had some sort of a week where you need a bit of escape. 

Sorry for posting on an old topic. Next week, it’s the Feynman  book, promise. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book 2: Notes from a Small Island

Book 2: Notes from a Small Island
By Bill Bryson

I had such a hard time finishing this book in the allotted week. Not because it was particularly long, or involved, but because it was such a meandering storyline I really had to force myself to keep reading. The book was…cute. The premise is fairly basic. The author, about ready to return home to the US, decided to tour England after living there for 20 years. 

So….reading the book felt like sitting in on a conversation between two people who have a lot of inside jokes. It was all about how quirky the English are, how charming they are, how they find boring things interesting and on and on and on. I’ve always wanted to visit Britain, personally, so I thought that this book would be very enjoyable…unfortunately it was just a bit tedious having never been there. Individually, the stories were entertaining; however as a whole, the book it just seemed to drag.  

I wish I had more to say. Of course I still very much want to visit Britain, there’s a portion of the book where he embarks on a walking trail that goes past monuments and roman ruins and the like and that seemed fascinating. Eventually I would very much want to do that. However I imagine it’s much more enthralling doing it than reading about it. I WAS introduced to Ordnance Survey Maps, which sound intriguing with their intense level of detail. I wish I had some for Colorado, or even just some portion of America I could drive to. I know when I visit Britain they will be one of the first things I purchase. In general, a map of his journey would have been quite helpful in picturing exactly where he was going/what he was doing.The way he talked about how much history Britain had, and how it was a non-event. People lived in houses from the 17th century, how lax the laws on protecting those houses...WOW. I think that was really the only part of the book where I kept turning pages pretty quickly (all three of them for that section).

Still, it wasn’t a bad book. It would be more one to read when I decide to travel to Britain, and that would really be one of the only cases where I would recommend it. That said, I love Bryson. His book, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ is one of my all-time favorite books EVER. Read that one, not this.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book 1: The Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes, and Why

The Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes, and Why 
By Amanda Ripley

This book sits happily in my favorite genre of books; emergency and disaster planning. I have more than a few of these books and sincerely appreciate when a new one gives me some ideas or tips I hadn’t heard before. This book did just that.

First things first. I love quotes like this: 
A few recent studies have found that people who are unrealistically confident tent to fare spectacularly well in disaster….These are people who think more highly of themselves than other people thing of them…” 
because quotes like this affirm that I will be pretty amazing in a disaster scenario.(See what I did just there?! Demonstrated arrogant confidence and the whole point of that quote!) Indeed, give me half a chance to make some decisions and I start barking out orders like a drill sergeant on speed.Doesn't always get friends, but it does usually get results.

The book goes over some great information that, if you’ve never read a preparedness book before, may come off as surprising. Information such as, people don’t tend to panic and overreact in a disaster situation, they tend to under-react and do nothing.  You as an individual will need to overcome the somewhat overwhelming desire to not look like an idiot and get your butt in gear if you’re going to act quickly and survive. It goes through why we have those responses and covers the phases of denial, deliberation and deciding that people go through when reacting to disasters. It talks about the dangers and advantages of groupthink. There are plenty of anecdotes to make the reading not only interesting, but keep it permanently lodged in your brain. 

In that, there was some information in there that I hadn’t read before. This was the first book that covered the dynamics of crowd crush, which was fascinating. I had always assumed people were trampled as the leading cause of death. Not true! It’s the actual pressure of the crowd that causes asphyxiation and death, and that pressure can be applied by a surprisingly few amount of people to kill you. 

Additionally, it covered what causes paralysis in disaster situations, which previously I had only seen covered in regards to wild animal attacks. We, as mammals, tend to freeze and ‘play dead’ in this instance which is not surprising when considering a bear attack. It IS surprising when considering a plane crash. It covered the somewhat rare responses of panic and what causes it, and the even rarer responses of heroism and some of the complications that ‘playing the hero’ can cause disaster workers. 

The biggest take away from the book was something I had underestimated, and which we are now enacting in our household fire disaster response. We have  fire alarms which tend to go off in the wee hours of the morning, for no particular reason, sending Greg and I scurrying around the house trying to figure out if it’s a false alarm or not. When it goes off, we immediately sit up, get out of bed, and start rushing around. This is not a good response at all. In fact, in the event of an actual hot house fire, it would kill us before we could save our kids. 

The correct response to a fire alarm is to ROLL out of bed onto the floor and THEN assess the situation BEFORE standing up. 

One breath of hot smoke and you’ve seared your lungs and died. A hot house fire gives you exactly zero chances to inhale smoke, and that one breath is how a lot of people have lost their lives. So now, Greg and I will be retraining our brains (also covered in the book) to respond automatically to a night fire-alarm by rolling onto the floor. The chances are very slim that we would have a fire that hot without knowing it. However, if we did, there are no second chances.

This is why I love this kind of reading. I imagine myself as Anthony Hopkins in ‘The Edge’* finding a situation where I can apply all this learning in a disaster scenario. I’m not sure if it will ever happen, but I do know that I’ll be fairly prepared. 

I especially loved the profile of Rick Rescorla, the Morgan Stanley Head of Security in the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11. It was a well-placed, excellent profile which showed how even if others think you’re being paranoid and crazy…all that training just may well pay off and save not only your life, but others. 

Definitely read the book. It’s quick and easy and won’t take you long. Then assess your home life and make sure that in the unlikely scenario of a high-impact disaster event, you and your family will be prepared enough to respond effectively and get out, get up, get better, or get back.  

See you next week!


*A relevant follow up: one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies. ‘The Edge’
Charles: You know, I once read an interesting book which said that most people lost in the wilds, they die of shame.
Steve: What?
Charles: Yeah, see, they die of shame. "What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?" And so they sit there and they... die. Because they didn't do the one thing that would save their lives.
Bob:  And what is that, Charles?
Charles: Think.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Project

I wanted to start a new blog simply about the books I've read. I am an avid reader and was given a Kindle over Christmas as well as a multiple gift cards and thought that perhaps I should put all this reading to good use. I'll be posting one book review a week on this site starting this Sunday (1/16) . There will have to be a couple extra ones in there as I'm behind about two weeks and the site for '52booksayear' was already taken.

Talk to you soon!