August 17, 2015

Recent Reads

95. The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
I'm a fan of the author, but this slow travelogue is not working for me at the moment. About 20% done, I find myself reluctant to pick it back up, so I'll shelf it on my DNF pile, fully expecting that I'll revisit it some day in the future when I'm more in the mood for a meditative reflection of life in Japan. Rating: 1 star.

96. Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science
I'm a fan of science writing, and with a sub-title like this one, how could I resist? I listened to the audiobook, which was well narrated by James Lurie.

The first thing to know about this collection of essays it that they were all previously published in The New Yorker, and in creating this book the author added to those original essays. And that is the biggest complaint I have about this collection - it needs tighter editing. I've no doubt that I'd have given the original essays a five star rating. This collection had some rambling sections, but I was entertained and educated and for that I'm rounding up my 3.5 rating to 4.

1. The Mountains of Pi. 
This is an interesting account of eccentric genius brothers Gregroy and David Chudnovsky, who built a supercomputer from mail order parts in Gregory's apartment. The brothers are interesting for sure, but after this essay, I have a renewed respect for the fascinating number that is Pi.

2. A Death in the Forest.
When I think of extinction, I do not often think in terms of trees. This is an informative essay about the decimation of hemlocks by an insect, and some of the efforts by people trying to save the trees.

3. The Search for Ebola.
There might be a scarier way to die, but while learning about the 1994 outbreak in Kikwit, I could not think of one.

4. The Human Kabbalah.
The Human Genome Project is fascinating, and while I loved the science, I was bored by the long discourse on the political/scientific turf wars.

5. The Lost Unicorn.
The history of seven tapestries and the art and science of how they were cleaned and photographed was interesting. The brothers Chudnovsky play a role in this one too.

6. The Self-Cannibals.
This essay had me running to Google. How is it that I'd never heard of this genetic disorder before? Lesch-Nyhan affects about 1 in 400,000 births, and the symptoms are horrifying.

Rating: 4 stars.

96. Brimstone (Pendergast #5)
This is the fifth book in the Pendergast series, and the first in the Diogenes Trilogy, but since Diogenes does not make an appearance (yes there is a letter), I'm not sure why this is labeled as such.

At this point you are either already a fan of FBI agent Pendergast and his cool Southern ways, or you are not. In this book he reunites with D'Agosta and Hayward, two New York cops he has worked with on earlier books. 

This story involves gruesome crimes, the stench of brimstone, Faustian pacts with the devil, and End-of-Days drama, as we move from luxurious Hamptons estates, penthouses of New York City, Florence, and Italian castles. Spontaneous Human Combustion and Pendergast? Color me happy. A fun and quick summer read. Rating: 3 stars.

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