What does Eugenia Cheng have in common with Thomas Jefferson and Descartes? Well they all believe in first principals, truths held to be self-evident. Yet Cheng is much more fun to read (or listen to) when she drifts away into cooking or engaging friends over a cocktail. Of course, she is dead serious when she uses the rules of logic to go from those first principals to a conclusion that also must be true. She sees math as an adventure, like cooking and she awakens the reader’s curiosity to new concepts like category theory. New ideas are just fine if they don’t cause a contradiction or an upset stomach.
Throughout How to Bake Pi, she helps the reader gain understanding of concepts like abstractions, generalizations, and axioms, particularly as they relate to math (or cooking). I found Cheng’s book both enlightening and a pleasure to read. And check out The New York Times review.
These two Anne Perry novels feature the Monk family – William, his wife Hester, adopted son Scuff, and street urchin Worm – all working together to solve the current crime.
In Blood on the Water, Commander William Monk of the River Police is on patrol when the Princess Mary explodes, sending nearly 200 passengers to their death. Soon after Monk begins his investigation, the case is transferred to the Metropolitan Police due to its “international implications.” But Monk and his family cannot leave the case alone: Hester attends the trial of the captured suspect, son Scuff (who spent his young years on the waterfront as an orphan) questions waterfront denizens like Worm to get first-hand information, and Monk continues to follow the case. After a rapid trial and conviction, Monk raises questions of guilt and the river police is reassigned the case. Motive, access, and high level involvement are unclear as the Monk family pursues the truth.
In Corridors of the Night, Nurse Hester Monk becomes the protector of two small children who are being used to supply blood to a very ill man undergoing an experimental treatment. The scientist conducting the treatment has little regard for the children or Hester such that Monk and Scuff need to rescue her from what is a near kidnapping.
To Ove, everything was black or white and controlled by routine, but Sonja gave color to his life. Now he just wants to be with her again. In the first few chapters, the reader sees Ove’s grumpy nature and then his sadness as he tries to deal with this great change that has occurred. Ove’s efforts are continuously interrupted by neighbors who want help, backing a trailer or regulating the radiators in their homes. Most of the time Ove is annoyed by their requests and shows it but he seems to have a good heart and always helps. Soon the young girls next door brings him cookies and call him Grandpa. With a little persuasion, even the neighborhood stray cat takes up with Ove.
Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove is a sad but funny short novel that can be a delight to both young and old. And now you can also enjoy another novel by Backman: Britt-Marie Was Here was released in May.
In his acknowledgments, Erik Larson reveals his own enjoyment in researching and writing the account of this final voyage. In Dead Wake, the reader is allowed to share by introduction to this great ship, some of the passengers and crew, and then reading along with them about this 1915 Atlantic crossing. Even though there has been reports of German submarine activity, Captain Turner is reassuring as he speaks of the ship’s great size and speed. No one seems afraid but the reader knows what to expect. Sometimes the narrative departs the ship to see how President Wilson is doing after his wife’s death, how the British secret service is using information gained from breaking the German code, or what Churchill might do to bring America into the war.
The reader sees both sides as he rides along with Kptlt (Captain) Schwieger of the German submarine service on entering British waters looking for targets but avoiding British warships. Although deadly, these early submarines are slow and most incommodious for the crew as compared to surface vessels. Back on the Lusitania, lifeboats are uncovered as it enters Irish waters. And then nearly 100 years later, scuba diving archaeologists voice respect for the lost souls down below.
Sister Jane Arnold, Master of Foxhounds with the Jefferson Hunt, would never return with a fox tail flying from her horse’s mane, but rather puts out treats (some with embedded worm medicine) to keep her clever red-furred friends in fine form for the next chase. These two novels give an engaging overview of the Virginia foxhunting scene as well as good murder mysteries, literally dug up after decades under the earth.
On occasion, author Rita Mae Brown allows the foxes, horses, and foxhounds to tell parts of the story from their own viewpoints to better help the reader understand the finer points of the hunt. Thus the reader can gently learn of foxhunting traditions while following the unfolding mysteries of both Let Sleeping Dogs Lie and Hotspur.
Five hundred years after Machiavelli wrote The Prince, Vito Bruschini appropriately named his novel the same. One might regard this later The Prince as a prequel to Puzo’s Godfather but the characters are not the same. Bruscini gives us Prince Ferdinando Licata, a respected land owner in 1920-1930s Sicily who does not hesitate to use charm and strong strategies to control the peasantry.
With the advent of Mussolini, he has conflicts with local fascists and flees to New York to escape a possible murder charge. In New York, Licata, helped by a few others from his home area of Sicily, becomes powerful and a man to be feared. When other powerful leaders seek his removal, he joins with U.S. intelligence (OSS) in planning the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. Thus he is able to avenge some of the wrongs he received from the fascists and begin building a new basis for power in his area of Sicily. This book shows how violence, terror, and revenge was used to gain a position of power.
David Brooks uses the case method to illustrate how character is achieved, but helps the reader in prologue by contrasting resume from eulogy values as well as citing Genesis for the two characters of Adam flowing from the creation. A wide variety of individuals from Frances Perkins to Dwight Eisenhower and St. Augustine to Dorothy Day are examined to show how their characters grew over the course of their days. The Road to Character shows how one may choose virtues such as honesty, loyalty, courage, and faithfulness over wealth, fame, pride, and status.
Check out a Sunday Book Review from The New York Times.
Are men what their mothers make them? C. J. Box’s Endangered may make you think so. Here is a family living remotely, but none would want them as neighbors. Except Joe Pickett’s daughter, April, takes up with Dallas, the rodeo star son of the family, until she is found badly beaten and unconscious in a road-side ditch. Joe (local game warden) is determined to see that justice is done even if it must be western style. Joe’s friend, Nate, has just been released from prison on a deal with the feds about catching a bad guy of great importance. It’s not clear why Nate was in prison, but he does say, “I never did kill anyone who didn’t need killing.” Brenda, mother of Dallas and two other sons, goes all out to make sure her son is cleared of any suspicion involving April. Brenda’s sons say “she covers all the bases.” The ending is a surprise and somewhat incredible, but Joe is satisfied that justice is done.
Although blind from a very young age and without any formal legal training, Chen Guangcheng became known as the “barefoot lawyer” from his persistent assertion of legal rights for ordinary Chinese citizens. Chen was a thorn in the side of local authorities when first he insisted on free public transportation and tax exemptions for the disabled, obtained a grant for a deep water well from British funding, and then opposed what he believed to be excessive enforcement of China’s one child policy.
Local Chinese authorities seem to ignore published law when subjected to party pressure, but Chen persisted in favor of those he wants to help. When a rally against the one child policy disrupts traffic and property is damaged, Chen is arrested and sentenced to four years in prison. After his release, he and his family are kept under house arrest from 2010 to 2012 when he makes a daring escape and with the help of friends seeks refuge in the U. S. embassy in Beijing. After some stressful negotiations and a stay in a Beijing hospital, Chen is accepted as a visiting scholar in the U.S where he remains and has written this memoir The Barefoot Lawyer. With the U.S. presidential election on the horizon, will political bloggers take interest in the actions of the U.S. State Department towards Chen?
Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest (Vol II) indeed is dark and is best understood if The Three-Body Problem (Vol I) is read first. This sequel allows the reader to look at the strategies and attitudes of earth inhabitants when astronomers confirm aliens from Trisolaris are in route and will arrive in a few hundred years. Nations work together for the defense of earth, some with great confidence, but some groups believe all hope is lost (defeatists) and others that a remnant must escape (escapists) into space.
As was seen in Vol. I, the Trisolarians somehow have access to most human technology (sophons?), but lately it was discovered secrets could be hidden in the human mind. In some early and infrequent communications, the Trisolarians expressed confusion that humans needed different words for thought and speech because with them all thought was public and a principal means of communication. Could this be important for earth defense or in negotiations?
Towards the end of this volume, an advance probe from the Trisolarian fleet enters our solar system and is found to be of beautiful raindrop shape and mirror-like exterior. In a most stressful attempt to capture and examine the probe, one described it as a tear from the Mother of God and all approached it with much apprehension.