Prometheans in the Lab: Chemistry and the Making of the Modern World
by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne
(McGraw-Hill, 2001, 243 pages)
This is a well-researched and well written book about nine great scientists and their contributions that changed our lives and defined our modern society.
The chapters all follow the same outline of a brief biographical sketch, the scientist’s brilliant discovery and how it improved our lives. I had a good time reading about the scientists, their lives and adventures. I find their scientific journeys to be just as exciting as the end results. What gives the book more depth is that the author doesn’t shy away from issues and consequences that were brought on by these discoveries. Thomas Midgley’s leaded gasoline and Freon refrigerants made our lives healthier and happier. But they came at the cost of thousands of poisoned factory workers who worked with high levels of lead. American biologist Rachael Carson’s best seller Silent Spring was discussed in chapter 8 which covered Swiss chemist Paul Muller. Muller’s discovery of DDT and its use in the control of vector diseases won him the 1948 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. His discovery saved millions of civilians and soldiers from insect-borne typhus and malaria during World War II. Carson’s book expressed environmental concerns of the use of DDT as pesticides. Carson and her work also inspired the environmental movement, the establishment of the EPA, and the rest is history.
Norbert Rillieux is another name you must remember if you have a sweet tooth 🙂 According to the author, “Rillieux was a straight-talking, free African American in slave-holding Louisiana and a cousin of the French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas. Norbert Rillieux’s triple-effect evaporator helped fill the world’s sweet tooth with cakes and candies” (30). American Chemical Society’s web site has this to say about the great chemist:
Norbert Rillieux (1806-1894), widely considered to be one of the earliest chemical engineers, revolutionized sugar processing with the invention of the multiple effect evaporator under vacuum. Rillieux’s great scientific achievement was his recognition that at reduced pressure the repeated use of latent heat would result in the production of better quality sugar at lower cost. One of the great early innovations in chemical engineering, Rillieux’s invention is widely recognized as the best method for lowering the temperature of all industrial evaporation and for saving large quantities of fuel.
I found the book to be informative, engaging, and even thrilling at times. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of science and/or biographies.
The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah
by Marc Maron
(Broadway Books, 2001, 192 pages)
Marc Maron hosts a popular podcast where he interviews comedians, actors, directors, musicians, and writers. Before he was doing that, he was performing a one man show (which became this book) in which he obsessed over an inexplicable sense that he was unique, chosen, destined to…well he doesn’t know quite what. Sometimes this sense of calling was drug induced, sometimes not. Maron draws out the pseudo-religious qualities of his hallucinations (drug induced and otherwise), his inexplicable brand loyalties, and his fascination with his Jewish heritage. The story culminates with a trip to Jerusalem, where he is sure that this bizarre sense of calling will find some kind of fulfillment.
The book covers Maron’s childhood, his college years, his early days in stand-up (including his tumultuous relationship with the boisterous comedian Sam Kinison), and his disappointing years as a road comic. Since he has written this book, Maron has found his niche as an interviewer and thoughtful – though still angry – comedian. I enjoyed this one an awful lot, though it was a bit anti-climactic. While Maron’s rants are usually hilarious and insightful, it seemed that he was trying to get to some sort of grand revelation or epiphany that never quite manifested itself. It’s not clear to me how he comes to terms with his messianic delusions, his Jerusalem Syndrome, but by the end he seems to feel that it has been exorcised. Despite these structural flaws, anyone with an interest in Maron’s podcast or stand-up comedy should enjoy this one.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
(Scribner, 1964, 1037 pages)
Scarlett O’Hara’s mother raised her to be a Southern lady and the belle of the county. Scarlett has multiple beaus and has properly refused proposals from many suitors while she waits for Ashley, her true love, to propose. But when she hears that Ashley is about to announce his engagement to Melanie, Scarlett hatches a plan to turn everything around for her. As the Civil War and Scarlett’s jealousy rages on, she must continue to make adjustments in her life to not only survive but continue to be close to Ashley and to put up with the constant irritations from Rhett Butler. Although her mother’s teachings on how to be a lady seem to be forgotten, Scarlett promises that once she has enough money and Ashley by her side, she can return to her position as a lady.
What a beast of a book to read. There is so much scandal, war, new life, and death that I don’t think there was a stretch of time where I was bored despite the 1,000 pages. The drive that Scarlett has to get what she wants and the sacrifices that she makes whether they hurt herself or those close to her are truly remarkable. The difference between how smart and successful Scarlet is in her business ventures and how poorly she interacts and upholds her social bearings is incredibly frustrating because Scarlett really could have everything she ever wanted if she just opened her eyes a little bit more. I would recommend this read to anyone and don’t be scared off by the high page count, it is truly worth it.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Press, 2012, 328 pages)
Eleanor is new in school and is unlike anyone else there. She wears weird clothes, has bright red hair, and just generally doesn’t seem like she fits in with anyone. Until she meets Park. Park has been going to the same school his whole life and although he is different than everyone else, everyone accepts him. Park and Eleanor start their relationship from their love of music, comic books, and a shared seat on the school bus. But the struggles they face between the bullying Eleanor faces at school, her horrible home situation, and Park’s reluctant acceptance of their relationship in front of others is what really bonds them.
This is the first book I’ve read of Rowell’s and I really enjoyed it. I liked the combination of everyday teen struggles such as Park being hesitant of his feelings because of what his peers will think and unthinkable circumstances such as what Eleanor faces every day at home. The slow buildup of Park and Eleanor’s relationship really pays off when Park becomes so sincere about his feelings for her and Eleanor gets more fearful about the relationship being pulled apart. This was a great read for both young adults and adults to breeze through.
You can also read Julia’s review of this title.
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
(Pamela Dorman Books, 2014, 384 pages)
Jess has been running on empty for a while now. Her husband left a few years ago because he couldn’t deal with the stress of their lives leaving Jess with their young math genius daughter and his teenage son who seems to attract the neighborhood bullies. When Jess discovers that her daughter has the opportunity to go to a prestigious school based on her math abilities, she needs to come up with some quick cash. Their last hope lays in getting to a Math Olympiad for a chance to compete and win the cash prize.
Ed is a millionaire in the tech industry who is being investigated because of some insider trading claims. He is isolated after being suspended from his own company and is forbidden to talk to any of his friends or coworkers. With lots of time on his hands and a chance encounter with Jess and her struggling family, Ed gets pulled in to help the family get to the Math Olympiad while trying to forget about his own very big problems.
Moyes definitely didn’t disappoint me with another great read from her. Her characters are always so interesting and completely different book to book that I never know what to expect. I also love that she pulls two characters together that are seem to be totally opposite and in extremely different life situations than one another. The plot line reminded me a lot of the movie Little Miss Sunshine but I loved the quirky feel to it and the traveling ensemble, including their giant dog Norman.
You can also check out Julia’s review of this title.
The Golden Hour by Todd Moss
(Putnam Adult, 2014, 336 pages)
The Golden Hour is the debut international spy and diplomacy thriller by Todd Moss. Director of the State Dept. Crisis Reaction Unit for the United States, Judd Ryker, has a political theory that he calls “the golden hour.” Normally, “the golden hour” is used in medicine to refer to the principle of rapid intervention in trauma cases. The treatment done in the first hour can optimize the chance of survival and lessen the chance of permanent damage. Ryker’s “golden hour” theory says that in international politics the first 100 hours after a coup is the best chance for diplomacy and reversing the results of the coup. Ryker gets to test his theory when there is a coup in Mali. The United States supported the overthrown President of Mali and wants him to be reinstated. Ryker must use his theory and his diplomatic contacts to try to restore the deposed President to power.
The author, Todd Moss, served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs in 2007-2008. Moss knows the inner workings of United States politics and diplomacy. Moss brings that knowledge to his novel to create an interesting portrait of a United States response to a coup. The Golden Hour was a quick read with short chapters. Fortunately each chapter is labelled with a location, day, and time to keep the reader from being too confused about what’s happening and where. If you have an interest in United States politics, this novel might be of interest to you.
Ray of Light (The Days of Redemption #2) by Shelley Shepard Gray
(HarperCollins, 2013, 288 pages)
This story gives the reader a little insight into Amish life, which is not very different from anyone else’s life. While vacationing in Florida, Roman develops a fondness for his neighbor, Amanda, and her daughter, Regina. Roman has led a simple, conservative life. He is a farmer who bears a lot of responsibility for the family farm back in Ohio. Roman’s family harbors many secrets that unfold as the story develops. Amanda is a recent widower who moved to Florida just after marriage and works and lives with her in-laws. Amanda overcomes the guilt of thinking about love and decides that Roman is worth the move across the country where she and Regina can start a new life.