Elentarri's Book Blog

Book reviews and other interesting goodies.

A Short History of Drunkenness by Mark Forsyth

A Short History of Drunkenness - Mark Forsyth

TITLE:   A Short History of Drunkenness

 

AUTHOR:  Mark Forsyth

 

DATE PUBLISHED: 2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9780241297681

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DESCRIPTION:

" Almost every culture on earth has drink, and where there's drink there's drunkenness. But in every age and in every place drunkenness is a little bit different. It can be religious, it can be sexual, it can be the duty of kings or the relief of peasants. It can be an offering to the ancestors, or a way of marking the end of a day's work. It can send you to sleep, or send you into battle.

A Short History of Drunkenness traces humankind's love affair with booze from our primate ancestors through to Prohibition, answering every possible question along the way: What did people drink? How much? Who did the drinking? Of the many possible reasons, why? On the way, learn about the Neolithic Shamans, who drank to communicate with the spirit world (no pun intended), marvel at how Greeks got giddy and Romans got rat-arsed, and find out how bars in the Wild West were never quite like in the movies.

This is a history of the world at its inebriated best.
"

 

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REVIEW:

 

This is a very short, completely irreverant, highly entertaining, "spot" history of people getting drunk.  The writing is witty and the book amusing, but rather shallow in terms of substance.

 

Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl

Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity - Jamie Frederic Metzl

TITLE:   Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity

 

AUTHOR:  Jamie Metzl

 

EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE:  23 April 2019

 

FORMAT:  PDF ARC

 

ISBN-13:  9781492670094

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DESCRIPTION:

" After 3.8 billion years humankind is about to start evolving by new rules...

From leading geopolitical expert and technology futurist Jamie Metzl comes a groundbreaking exploration of the many ways genetic-engineering is shaking the core foundations of our lives -- sex, war, love, and death.

At the dawn of the genetics revolution, our DNA is becoming as readable, writable, and hackable as our information technology. But as humanity starts retooling our own genetic code, the choices we make today will be the difference between realizing breathtaking advances in human well-being and descending into a dangerous and potentially deadly genetic arms race.

Enter the laboratories where scientists are turning science fiction into reality. Look towards a future where our deepest beliefs, morals, religions, and politics are challenged like never before and the very essence of what it means to be human is at play. When we can engineer our future children, massively extend our lifespans, build life from scratch, and recreate the plant and animal world, should we?

Passionate, provocative, and highly illuminating, Hacking Darwin is the must read book about the future of our species for fans of Homo Deus and The Gene.
"

 

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REVIEW:

 

Hacking Darwin takes a look at the current status of genetic engineering, as well as the possible and probable future uses of these tools, ethics, and the future of humanity.  Metzl has written an engaging, fascinating and thought-provoking book that focuses on the fast approaching and inevitable (and exiting) genetic revolution, with clear explanations of the tools involved and the consequences of their use.  The writing is clear, explanations accurate and not too technical for the general interested reader.

This book covers a vast array of topics that fall under the genetic engineering umbrella.  He starts off with the history of genetic research, IVF, genetic screening; and continues with the relationship between genetics, diseases, traits, the environment; AI tools to process complex genetic patters; the pros and cons of the genetic engineering tools; "designer babies"; stem-cell research; mitochondrial disease; multiple donar babies; gene-editing tools such as CRISPR;  gene-therapy; safety issues and challenges to the current technology; chimeras; organ transplants; synthetic biology; aging; the ethics and responsibility of using genetic engineering tool; our relationship with nature; GMOs; the arms race of the human race; and finaly, the furture of humanity.

Metzl states that his intent is to inform the public about the genetic revolution so that we can "make the smartest collective decisions about our war forward... to understand what is happening and what's at stake."  Genetic entineering is a tool.  The genetic revolution has the potential to improve lives or do great harm.  The future of humanity depends on how we use it. 

 

Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant

Kingdom of Needle and Bone - Mira Grant

DESCRIPTION:

 

"We live in an age of wonders.

Modern medicine has conquered or contained many of the diseases that used to carry children away before their time, reducing mortality and improving health. Vaccination and treatment are widely available, not held in reserve for the chosen few. There are still monsters left to fight, but the old ones, the simple ones, trouble us no more.

Or so we thought. For with the reduction in danger comes the erosion of memory, as pandemics fade from memory into story into fairy tale. Those old diseases can’t have been so bad, people say, or we wouldn’t be here to talk about them. They don’t matter. They’re never coming back.

How wrong we could be.

It begins with a fever. By the time the spots appear, it’s too late: Morris’s disease is loose on the world, and the bodies of the dead begin to pile high in the streets. When its terrible side consequences for the survivors become clear, something must be done, or the dying will never stop. For Dr. Isabella Gauley, whose niece was the first confirmed victim, the route forward is neither clear nor strictly ethical, but it may be the only way to save a world already in crisis. It may be the only way to atone for her part in everything that’s happened.

She will never be forgiven, not by herself, and not by anyone else. But she can, perhaps, do the right thing.

We live in an age of monsters."

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This is something of a apocalypse/post-apocalyse short story, with an interesting twist at the end.  However, the writing style was a bit flat (not to mention repetitative and preachy) and the characters were rather one-dimensional.  The concept was interesting, if not entirely new, but the author can do better in terms of execution.  The end result would probably have been better if the author had written a more lengthy novel.  In any event, I did enjoy the story.

 

NOTE:  I suspect this is a prequal.  I'm beginning to intensley dislike this publishing habit of splitting up one novel into 3 short stories or following lack-lustre short stories with proper novels.

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops - Jen Campbell Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops - Jen Campbell

Short, cute and entertaining, though it did make me wonder about people...

Hidden Folk: Strange Stories by C.M. Muller

Hidden Folk: Strange Stories - Marcia Muller

This is a collection of strange and creepy stories, some better than others.  Interesting and entertaining.

MURDERBOT SHORT STORY by Martha Wells

Just to let anyone interested know:  There is a short Murderbot prequal short (really short) story out for free viewing.

 

Future of Work by Martha Wells

SPOILER ALERT!

Zero Limit by Jeremy K. Brown

Zero Limit - Jeremy Brown

DESCRIPTION:

 "For war hero Caitlin Taggart, mining work on the Moon is dirty, low pay, and high risk. But no risk seems too extreme if it helps her return to Earth and the daughter she loves more than life itself. Offered a dangerous, long-shot chance to realize that dream, Caitlin will gamble with more than just her life.

 

By leading a ragtag crew of miners on a perilous assignment to harvest an asteroid, Caitlin could earn a small fortune. More importantly, it would give her clearance to return to Earth.  But when an unexpected disaster strikes the mission, Caitlin is plunged into a race to save not only herself, but every human being on Earth."

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REVIEW:

 

Zero Limit is an entertaining, though not particularly original, space-disaster story.  The beginning starts slowly and contains too much info-dumping, the secondary characters came across as flat and things just worked out too conveniently.  But if you just want to be entertained then you might like this book.

Still Waters by Curt Stager

Still Waters: The Secret World of Lakes - Curt Stager

TITLE:  Still Waters:  The Secret World of Lakes

 

AUTHOR:  Curt Stager

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2018

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9780393292169

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DESCRIPTION:

More than a century and a half have passed since Walden was first published, and the world is now a very different place. Lakes are changing rapidly, not because we are separate from nature but because we are so much a part of it. While many of our effects on the natural world today are new, from climate change to nuclear fallout, our connections to it are ancient, as core samples from lake beds reveal. In Still Waters, Curt Stager introduces us to the secret worlds hidden beneath the surfaces of our most remarkable lakes, leading us on a journey from the pristine waters of the Adirondack Mountains to the wilds of Siberia, from Thoreau’s cherished pond to the Sea of Galilee.

Through decades of firsthand investigations, Stager examines the significance of our impacts on some of the world’s most iconic inland waters. Along the way he discovers the stories these lakes contain about us, including our loftiest philosophical ambitions and our deepest myths. For him, lakes are not only mirrors reflecting our place in the natural world but also windows into our history, culture, and the primal connections we share with all life.

Beautifully observed and eloquently written, Stager’s narrative is filled with strange and enchanting details about these submerged worlds—diving insects chirping underwater like crickets, African crater lakes that explode, and the growing threats to some of our most precious bodies of water. Modern science has demonstrated that humanity is an integral part of nature on this planet, so intertwined with it that we have also become an increasingly powerful force of nature in our own right. Still Waters reminds us how beautiful, complex, and vulnerable our lakes are, and how, more than ever, it is essential to protect them.
"

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In "Still Waters:  The Secret World of Lakes", the world of lakes still remains a secret while the authors field trips to various lakes does not.  There were simply too many biographical anecdotes and too little information on lakes in general.  The author focuses on a handful of lakes to discuss various concepts in the most rudimentary manner.  The language is beautiful but I wanted to know more about lakes and less about Stager.

 

 

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Unsheltered - Barbara Kingsolver

Unsheltered is the story of two families, separated by two centuries, living in the same neighbourhood, during turbulent times.  Each family's story is told in alternating chapters. The style of writing is decent enough, but the main character (Willa) tends to whine a geat deal, the main characters are uninteresting (not to mention shallow and stereotypical), the plot is rather vague, and the author has a fondness for monotonously preaching her socio-political agenda in vast quantities.  Also the comparison between the 1870s socio-political climate with the current USA socio-political climate just fell flat with me. 

 

Plight of the Living Dead by Matt Simon

Plight of the Living Dead What Real-Life Zombies Reveal About Our World - and Ourselves - Matt Simon

TITLE:  Plight of the Living Dead:  What Real-Life Zombies Reveal about Our World --And Ourselves.

 

AUTHOR:  Matt Simon

 

DATE PUBLISHED: 2018

 

FORMAT: paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9780143131410

 

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DESCRIPTION:

"A brain-bending exploration of real-life zombies and mind controllers, and what they reveal to us about nature--and ourselves.

Zombieism isn't just the stuff of movies and TV shows like The Walking Dead. It's real, and it's happening in the world around us, from wasps and worms to dogs and moose--and even humans.

In Plight of the Living Dead, science journalist Matt Simon documents his journey through the bizarre evolutionary history of mind control. Along the way, he visits a lab where scientists infect ants with zombifying fungi, joins the search for kamikaze crickets in the hills of New Mexico, and travels to Israel to meet the wasp that stings cockroaches in the brain before leading them to their doom.

Nothing Hollywood dreams up can match the brilliant, horrific zombies that natural selection has produced time and time again. Plight of the Living Dead is a surreal dive into a world that would be totally unbelievable if very smart scientists didn't happen to be proving it's real, and most troublingly--or maybe intriguingly--of all: how even we humans are affected."

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An entertaining and fascinating pop-science book that takes a look at a variety of parasites that take over or otherwise "zombify" their hosts.  This book has more meat than the author's previous book (The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar), but it did miss the opportunity to add colour photographs of some of the more visual parasitic phenomena. 

SPOILER ALERT!

Remainder of Steampunk Red Riding Hood Series by Melanie Karsak

Alphas and Airships: A Steampunk Fairy Tale (Steampunk Red Riding Hood Book 2) - Melanie Karsak Bitches and Brawlers: A Steampunk Fairy Tale (Steampunk Red Riding Hood Book 4) - Melanie Karsak Howls and Hallows: A Steampunk Fairy Tale (Steampunk Red Riding Hood Book 5) - Melanie Karsak

The continuing adventures of "Little Red" in Melanie Karsak's steampunk fairytale world.  These stories are entertaining and fun to read, the characters are delightful and the world building imaginative.  And there are non-sparkling warewolves and other critters.

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Steampunk Red Riding Hood Series by Melanie Karsak

1.  Wolves and Daggers
2.  Alphas and Airships
3.  Peppermint and Pentacles
4.  Bitches and Brawlers
5.  Howls and Hallows.

Wolves and Daggers by Melanie Karsak

Wolves and Daggers: A Steampunk Fairy Tale  - Melanie Karsak

Wolves and Daggers is a beautifully retold, short steampunk retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.  I love the author's steampunk fairytale world and her characters. 

Chasing the Star Garden by Melanie Karsak

Chasing the Star Garden - Melanie Karsak

A beautifully written story set in Karsak's steampunk fairytale universe - fast paced and action packed. I love how the character develops though I'm surprised she hasn't managed to catch some funky disease yet.

Putting the Science in Fiction by Can Koboldt (ed)

Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres - Dan Koboldt

An interesting and useful look at what authors get wrong and how to fix it in terms of the science bits they include in their books.

The World in a Grain by Vince Beiser

The World in a Grain , The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization - Vince Beiser

TITLE:  The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization

 

AUTHOR:  Vince Beiser 

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2018

 

FORMAT: ebook

 

ISBN-13:  9780399576423

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DESCRIPTION:

"The gripping story of the most important overlooked commodity in the world--sand--and the crucial role it plays in our lives.

After water and air, sand is the natural resource that we consume more than any other--even more than oil. Every concrete building and paved road on Earth, every computer screen and silicon chip, is made from sand. From Egypt's pyramids to the Hubble telescope, from the world's tallest skyscraper to the sidewalk below it, from Chartres' stained-glass windows to your iPhone, sand shelters us, empowers us, engages us, and inspires us. It's the ingredient that makes possible our cities, our science, our lives--and our future.

And, incredibly, we're running out of it.

The World in a Grain is the compelling true story of the hugely important and diminishing natural resource that grows more essential every day, and of the people who mine it, sell it, build with it--and sometimes, even kill for it. It's also a provocative examination of the serious human and environmental costs incurred by our dependence on sand, which has received little public attention. Not all sand is created equal: Some of the easiest sand to get to is the least useful. Award-winning journalist Vince Beiser delves deep into this world, taking readers on a journey across the globe, from the United States to remote corners of India, China, and Dubai to explain why sand is so crucial to modern life. Along the way, readers encounter world-changing innovators, island-building entrepreneurs, desert fighters, and murderous sand pirates. The result is an entertaining and eye-opening work, one that is both unexpected and involving, rippling with fascinating detail and filled with surprising characters.
"

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This book provides an interesting overview of how sand transformed civilization, especially the 20th and 21st centuries. This book consists of various mostly self-contained chapters that deals with a specific aspects and uses of sand: from sand mining (legal and illegal);  concrete and cement development; the construction of roads, skyscrapers, artificial islands, land reclamation, glass bottles and lense developmet.  I found this book to be interesting with many fascinating nuggets of information, with an informal writing style.  However, I would have like more detailed information.

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OTHER BOOKS:

 

Concrete Planet:  The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World's Most Common Man-Made Material by Robert Couland

 

Graphene: The Superstrong, Superthin, and Superversatile Material That Will Revolutionize the World by Les Johnson & Joseph E. Meany

 

Salt by Mark Kurlansky

 

 

Seriously Curious by Tom Standage (Ed.)

Seriously Curious: 109 facts and figures to turn your world upside down - Tom Standage

TITLE:    Seriously Curious: The Facts and Figures that Turn Our World Upside Down

 

AUTHOR:  Tom Standage (Ed.)

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2018

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13: 9781610399937

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DESCRIPTION:

 

"Smart, savvy answers to universal questions, from the highly popular The Economist Explains and Daily Chart blogs-a treat for the knowing, the uninitiated, and the downright curious.

Seriously Curious: The Facts and Figures that Turn Our World Upside Down brings together the very best explainers and charts, written and created by top journalists to help us understand such brain-bending conundrums as why Swedes overpay their taxes, why America still allows child marriage, and what the link is between avocados and crime. Subjects both topical and timeless, profound and peculiar, are explained with The Economist's trademark wit and verve.

The Economist Explains and its online sister, the Daily Chart, are the two most popular blogs on The Economist's website. Together, these online giants provide answers to the kinds of questions, quirky and serious, that may be puzzling anyone interested in the world around them. Want to know why exorcisms are on the rise in France or how porn consumption changed during a false alarm missile strike warning in Hawaii? We have the answers They are sometimes surprising, often intriguing, and always enlightening.
"

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This book is a collection of very short, but (sometimes) interesting chapters on a hodge-podge of different subjects.  Good for filling in a few minutes here and there, but not particularly spectacular.

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