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review 2018-06-20 18:31
Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission
Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission - Don Thomas

From the beginning of the 20th-Century the state of Ohio has seemingly been on the forefront of manned flight from the Wright Brothers to Neil Armstrong to the flight of an “All-Ohio” crew of STS-70 aboard the shuttle Discovery.  Don Thomas in Orbit of Discovery relates the entire history of the mission from his assignment to the crew to the post-mission events as well as the event that is it best known for, the woodpecker attack that delayed the launch.

 

Thomas begins his book with the sudden halt in his pre-flight routine when a love sick woodpecker drilled holes in the foam of the external tank forcing weeks of delays that put him and the other four members of the crew spinning their wheels.  This pause allows Thomas to give an account about how he personally got to this point through his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to his course of study in school to achieve that dream then his three time failures to join the program until finally succeeding on this fourth try.  He then goes into his time in the program before his flight on the shuttle Columbia and quick turn assignment to Discovery soon after his return.  Thomas then related the year long process of training and preparation for the mission until the sudden halt in the process when a woodpecker used the external tank to attract a mate.  After NASA was able to repair the foam, the mission returns to normal save for the humor inclusions of Woody Woodpecker throughout the flight in space and the numerous post-mission events that Thomas relates in detail.

 

The uniqueness of the mission’s delay as well as the fact that the crew was entirely made up of astronauts from one state—well one was given honorable citizenship—made for a good hook for any general reader who might have an interest in the space program.  Thomas with the assistance of Mike Bartell gives a very reader friendly look into what it was like to be an astronaut and the course of shuttle missions from assignment to post-flight events without becoming bogged down in technobabble.  At the end of the book is included an appendix for profiles for all the astronauts that came from Ohio which is in the spirit of the book and adds a nice bit of history for those interested.

 

Overall, Orbit of Discovery is a well-written and easy to read book that gives a first-hand account of everything that went into a space shuttle flight.  Don Thomas’ own story of his journey to finally getting to the program adds to the account in allowing the read to see how much dedication goes into becoming an astronaut.  For those interested in any way in the space program, this is a highly recommended book.

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review 2018-05-25 19:43
Women of Our Time: Golda Meir
Golda Meir: A Strong, Determined Leader - David A. Adler

When I was a child we had a cat which my mom christened Golda My Ear (he was a yellow tabby) which was a clever play on words that went completely over my head. Therefore, when I came across a book while shelving entitled Golda Meir: A Strong, Determined Leader it felt like fate was telling me to take it home and read it. (It's so short that I finished it on my first train home.) David A. Adler decided to write about Golda for the "Women of Our Time" biography series which covers a wide array of spectacularly talented, intelligent, and strong women. Prior to reading this book, I had no knowledge of who Golda Meir was which is pretty shocking seeing as how she was Israel's Prime Minister. She grew up in Russia but her family moved to Milwaukee when she was a young girl in the hopes that they could improve their quality of life with the opportunities that America promised were available to all within its borders. Much like her sister, Golda was homesick and longed to be a part of the larger Jewish nation and to build it in Israel. That determination never left her and she made it a reality after she married and moved to Palestine to be an active participant in the political party that wanted to build the Jewish nation. It covers not only her childhood and her move to Palestine but also her political career as Prime Minister and her meetings with Nixon (as well as her secret missions to the enemy's camps). Lest you picture her as a pacifist, she was not against using weapons to protect her people against the encroaching Arabs, Egyptians, and Syrians which threatened daily to drive them out of the space they had carved for themselves. Overall rating from me is 8/10 because I wanted a little more depth to the narrative.

 

As this is written with a younger audience in mind the chapters are very short and not exactly chock full of details. If you want the bare facts (or want to teach them to your child) then this is a great resource. I think this book and the rest of the books in the series would be a great resource in a classroom or home library as the women discussed come from different parts of the world and worked in various fields/capacities. It can never hurt to teach children about powerful women who paved the way!

 

Source: Penguin Random House

 

What's Up Next: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The Outsider by Stephen King

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review 2018-05-24 01:56
Agricola and Germany
Agricola and Germany (Oxford World's Classics) - Anthony Richard Birley,Tacitus

Every one of Roman’s greatest historians began their writing career with some piece, for one such man it was a biography of his father-in-law and an ethnographic work about Germanic tribes.  Agricola and Germany are the first written works by Cornelius Tacitus, which are both the shortest and the only complete pieces that he wrote.

 

Tacitus’ first work was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who was the governor of Britain and the man who completed the conquest of the rest of the island before it was abandoned by the emperor Domitian after he recalled Agricola and most likely poisoned him.  The biography not only covered the life of Agricola but also was a history of the Roman conquest of Britain climaxed by the life of the piece’s hero.  While Agricola focused mostly one man’s career, Tacitus did give brief ethnographic descriptions of the tribes of Britain which was just a small precursor of his Germany.  This short work focused on all the Germanic tribes from the east bank of the Rhine to the shores of the North and Baltic Seas in the north to the Danube to the south and as far as rumor took them to the east.  Building upon the work of others and using some of the information he gathered while stationed near the border, Tacitus draws an image of various tribes comparing them to the Romans in unique turn of phrases that shows their barbarianism to Roman civilization but greater freedom compared to Tacitus’ imperial audience.

 

Though there are some issues with Tacitus’ writing, most of the issues I had with this book is with the decisions made in putting this Oxford World’s Classics edition together.  Namely it was the decision to put the Notes section after both pieces of writing.  Because of this, one had to have a figure or bookmark in either Agricola or Germany and another in the Notes section.  It became tiresome to go back and forth, which made keeping things straight hard to do and the main reason why I rate this book as low as I did.

 

Before the Annals and the Histories were written, Tacitus began his writing with a biography of his father-in-law and Roman’s northern barbarian neighbors.  These early works show the style that Tacitus would perfect for his history of the first century Caesars that dramatically changed the culture of Roman.

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review 2018-05-23 18:35
Fierce (Raisman)
Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything - Aly Raisman

I truly believe that if this autobiographical piece by now 23-year-old gymnast Aly Raisman had been lived, written and published a generation earlier, it would have had the same cookie-cutter content as every other seize-the-Olympic-moment biographical publication: I had a supportive family, I had goals from early on, here is who coached me, I competed at this and placed second, I competed at this and placed first, I competed at this, placed sixth and was devastated, I got injured, I worked towards my comeback, here are my (blandly edited) feelings about my principal competition, etc. etc.

Frankly, this is still the majority of the book's contents, and what else could you expect in the biography of someone still so young, and who still has so much future income that could be drastically affected by misplaced public statements revealing too-deep or too-bitter feelings about some matter or another.  Actual personality, warts and all, is the privilege of the private and the elderly.

But this is the age of #metoo and of holding to account, and Raisman, at the tender age of 15, was by her own account initiated into the far too numerous club of the victims of sexual predator Larry Nassar.  Like too many others, probably, I admit that I read this not because I am a fan of her career (I am only a lukewarm follower of gymnastics, unlike figure skating), but because I genuinely wanted to see what she would choose to write about that. And, let's be clear, I would have been much happier if she hadn't had anything to write about in the first place.

I think she has exercised good judgment (and/or been well advised) in what she has written and left out.  She describes, but only briefly, and not repetitively, Nassar's grooming tactics and how he took advantage of the highly demanding (some might say abusive) competitive atmosphere of Marta Karolyi's isolated training camps - or similarly isolated-in-plain-sight situations when far abroad at competitions - to gain the girls' trust with gifts and sympathy. She draws her line in the sand at the details of what he did behind closed doors, to her and others. Those would, in any case, come out in the press at the time of his public trials, where she would speak out at more length, and I honour her courage and that of all her peers in doing so at that time when it would make the most difference. But clearly she is well aware that in this ghastly world, there are too many who would read such details with avid and prurient attention.  Instead, the most extended treatment of the Nasser subject comes in two specific chapters, one in which she describes how an investigator hired by the Gymnastics Association came to speak with her, and she was unable to provide details or confirmation because she still had so much self-doubt and so much faith in the authorities that she could not yet fully conceive that she had been abused and not been protected. (Her account of her subsequent call to the US Gymnastics Federation, where she was more or less told to shut up, is even more dismaying, and is no doubt part of the grounds of the lawsuit I'm given to understand she has filed against them).  The subject of the emotional effects of abuse, where she tries her best to give support and courage to readers who are being victimized (and passes on some practical information about support organizations), forms her final chapter.

If you are a fan of gymnastics, there are some solid details and some amusing stories about the competitions here (as well as some nice colour pictures). Her descriptions of her various high-level routines (which, like many Olympians, she remembers right down to each wobble) are clear and fun to read alongside the video we are now so privileged to have at our fingertips.  If you are an outsider to that obsessed athletic culture, as I am, you cannot help raising eyebrows at the still-admiring tone in which Raisman describes the culture of discipline in which extreme fatigue and injury are largely dismissed and the battles over weight and proper nutrition are constant.  If you are a decent human being, you will be left with a feeling of terrible dismay that somehow nearly all of these happy, chummy, resilient, talented young women were also dealing with periodic sexual assault from an adult whom all of the authority figures in their lives had told them they could and should trust.

It makes one look back at all those bland, "I competed here and placed second; I held true to my goals and won the Olympics"-style sports biographies from earlier generations with a wary and jaundiced eye.  Is there a flood of revelatory volume 2s forthcoming? For the athletes' sake, I hope there is no need.

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review 2018-05-09 02:20
Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)
Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) - Jenny Lawson

Sometimes you want to forget very embarrassing things that happen in your life and a few of those times you’ll ask your friends to pretend it didn’t happen, now think about that being the majority of your life.  Jenny Lawson, aka “The Bloggess”, recounts her life from childhood through school, romance, marriage, and motherhood in her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir.

 

Lawson starts off the book by throwing the reader into the deep end of her humor and really doesn’t let them resurface until after finishing the book.  Beginning with her childhood in Wall, Texas, Lawson goes through her quirky life from one embarrassing moment to another especially since her own father was a quirky taxidermist whose business was in the backyard AND that was before she even started school.  Misadventures in high school—mainly dealing with a cow—and college follow, and it is in the latter where she meets her husband in which the most hilarious moments of her life begin.  And through her marriage with Victor, the birth of their daughter, and move out into Texas countryside the misadventures only continue with predictably hilarious, yet embarrassing results.

 

It’s hard to really evaluate a humorous memoir, except grading it on the content of its own humor.  Honestly, given how much I looked forward to reading this book each day and the fact I had to stop reading out of either laughing or just being embarrassed at the author’s own embarrassing situations means it succeeded.  Yet on top of that is Lawson’s faux notes from her editor(s) just add to the overall experience of the book.  And the added bonus chapter of the paperback of notes from her promotional tour is a cherry on top of everything.

 

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is a hilarious memoir of a woman who owns up to her embarrassing moments, cherishes them, and knows they made her who she is.  Though this wasn’t the first book by Jenny Lawson that I’ve read, yet now I can see why it became a bestseller and has led to a few more books by Lawson.

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