Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe

You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe
You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe by Christopher Potter

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I swear that I wrote the bulk of this review prior to completing the book. I read most of this book while traveling and wrote my initial thoughts on a sheet of paper from a notepad printed with the name of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where I was staying in Las Vegas. I state this because I wrote the part about Wikipedia before I got to the end of book where in a note at the end of the bibliography, the author states that he, in fact, frequently consulted Wikipedia as part of his research while writing the book. Perhaps that is why the book reads like several Wikipedia articles strung together.

I am somewhat biased I am afraid because I have read several book of the popular-science type and particularly ones covering the beginning of the universe and the development of life. I have read A Short History of Nearly Everything, The Science Class You Wish You Had, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, and of course, Carl Sagan's Cosmos and Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. I feel that any of those authors could have written this book in just a few days using nothing but Wikipedia as a reference.

The universe is immense. The universe is old. The universe is complex. That is all. Carry on. So goes the first meaningful chapter which is a straightforward comparison of size starting at one meter and proceeding ever larger until arriving at the size of the visible universe. In similar fashion, subsequent chapters cover the history of science including the development of the scientific method and measuring devices. A chapter midway through the book mirrors the earlier chapter by starting at 100 centimeters and going down to subatomic particles. Other chapters start at the Big Bang and the birth of the universe and proceed through the development of galaxies including our own Milky Way, then the Solar System and our home planet, and then the development of life on Earth and eventually arriving at the evolution of our own species. The information presented is easily gathered from Wikipedia and is arranged in a basically straightforward manner.

I would like to think that I can appreciate a well-written popular science book. I just do not think this is an example of one.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: Manhattan Is My Beat

Manhattan Is My Beat
Manhattan Is My Beat by Jeffery Deaver

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Before buying and reading this book, I only knew the title, the author, and that it had a sequel, Death Of A Blue Movie Star, which I had previously bought but have not yet read. Based primarily on the title, this book was definitely not what I was expecting. With a title like Manhattan Is My Beat, I was expecting a film noir-style detective novel in the spirit of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. As a bit of an aside, I have only been reading novels and stories by Jeffery Deaver for a couple of years now. I started around the time he released his James Bond novel. Expecting a spy master in the vein of Ian Fleming, I instead got an excellent detective novelist. Being only halfway through Fleming's Bond novels, I have bought but not yet read Carte Blanche. However, I have no doubt that Deaver did a great job with Bond. I also have no doubt that he could pull off classic hard-boiled detective novels with ease. This particular novel is just not one.

So far, I have read four of Deaver's novels featuring his most famous character, Lincoln Rhyme, plus two of his short story collections, Twisted and More Twisted. I have enjoyed them all. Getting back to this novel, I do not think this work is on par with the other works of his that I have read. This one was first published in 1988 which seems to make it Deaver's first published novel, so perhaps I am grading it on an unfair curve.

The main character in this work goes by the adopted name of Rune and is basically the complete opposite of Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme. While Rhyme has an impressive intellect, is extremely well-educated, and an acknowledged expert in his chosen field of forensics, Rune is naive and mostly uneducated except for a vast knowledge of cinema. From his wheelchair, Rhyme manages to be in control of situations. He manipulates his opponents as well as his allies, and is therefore able to affect the outcome of the plot. Conversely, Rune is the one being manipulated as she bumbles her way through the story, and the outcome turns out to be completely out of her control.

This novel definitely reads like a Deaver novel. It has sections narrated by unknown antagonists, the plot is driven along at rocket speed, and of course, there are a myriad of plot twists with characters being exposed as not being what they originally seemed to be. In the case of this work however, it all seems vastly overdone. The plot feels like it has too many unexpected turns, and seemingly every character is covering a secret or pretending to be somebody else. The result is more like a rough parody of a Deaver novel than the more polished works that readers have come to expect from this author.

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