Book Reviews: Road trip to the Moon

RoadTrip America Arizona & New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips
As the title tells ya, here’s side trips off what can be boring landscapes along the main throughways, in a vehicle the author named the Dirty Queen. Sounds like an oxymoron, but okay.
The first part features side trips off Interstate 10, which is a great idea, as long stretches of this road can lull you to sleep, especially when driving.
Some highlights:
Carlsbad Caverns is an oldie but goodie.
For Roswell there’s a green alien dressed as a mariachi playing a trumpet. That’s an image I’ll never get out of my head, thanks a lot.
I feel an urge to go see the world’s largest pistachio. . . right now!
The thing about the spelling of “chile” and Texas was hilarious.
Spaceport is cool, but not for four hours, as I recall. I’d rather spend that time at the cliff dwellings.
The Coronado Scenic Trail byway looks like just the thing to make me throw up, but if you like roller coasters, this one’s free.
Given a choice between photographing hoodoos and the Shootout at the OK Corral. . . well, I think the choice is obvious. I do find it hilarious that the Tombstone newspaper is called “The Epitaph.”
I need to go see Oak Creek Canyon NOW!
I’ve traveled extensively through both states, and this book told me about places I haven’t seen, and now want to visit. For that alone this book is worth the money.

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon
There are some really long bios on the astronauts, which start interesting but drag far too long. Makes it feel like a standard bio, but I suppose the title should have warned me. Everything that happened to bring the astronauts’ lives to the launch is important, but it’s still at about the halfway point of the book, when the massive rocket actually takes them into space, that things really get interesting. . . just like in real life, I suppose.
I do like that there’s so much here about the wives in the time up to and including the launch, even more so than the astronauts themselves, with their macho “I’m not scared” attitude.
At this point it turns from biography to something more akin to a very technical science fiction novel.
In the middle of the flight the author pauses for a chapter on how the year 1968 had gone, musically as well as politically and socially. I guess it resonated with me because it’s the year I was born, though of course I don’t remember it. RFK was assassinated only a month before my birth, not far from where my parents lived, and as someone who enjoys counterfactuals—what ifs—it’s easy to speculate what might have happened: no Nixon presidency. On the other hand, there’s no way to gauge how far civil rights would have gone if MLK hadn’t been shot. The chapter mentions the Beatles and Stones, but at the end there’s Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower, and put in this perspective, the lyrics hit home like never before.
It’s a tough road, but if you make it through the first half there’s plenty of reward. Definitely think said first half could have been shorter.
Such a poignant way to end it. . .

Eric Stanton & the History of the Bizarre Underground
I enjoy finding out about new artists, and here’s one I had no idea existed.
Right off I can say there’s lots of bondage drawings and comic strips amongst biographic text. Bettie Page shows up, as kinda expected. Exactly halfway through Spiderman gets makes an appearance.
To be honest, it feels like this artist is being celebrated more for longevity than any special artistry. This book is kinda fringe, good for the people interested in the subject. I wasn’t as much as I thought I would be, so I didn’t find it that entertaining in the end.

The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes: Essays on Victorian England, Volume Two
This book basically takes one small item from a Holmes story and makes a small lecture out of it, but doesn’t really have anything to do with Sherlock. Each small entry feels like something out of the Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia (which I proudly own) or wiki; in fact, according to the notes at the end of each chapter, some of the information down here is indeed gathered from Wikipedia.
Three of the first five essays cover sports.
While not putting down the research work that went into making each article, much more info could be found by a simple internet search. One can imagine the author never running out of topics in which to write these very short treatises, as only a mention in a Holmes story is required for inclusion.

National Parks of the USA
This book is geared for kids, but has plenty of info for the adult as well, starting with a brief history of how the park system came about.
After a map showing the locations in the east, each park gets a few pages, the first a stylized poster-like painting, followed by stats and facts. The same scenario is then played out with the central, southwest, Rocky Mountains, and West, although the Virgin Islands seems to be misplaced. At the end is an A-Z of animals and an index, as well as a plea to help protect the parks.
It’s pretty to look at, and the information is nicely presented. I’m not happy with the font, which looks kinda like italics but tougher to read, but everything else was well done.


Book Reviews: No Fiction At All

“Where are we going?”
“Vasquez Rocks.”
“Yeah, he DOES!” she woohooed, then looked perplexed. “Who’s Vasquez? And where are we GOING?”

Nonflict: The Art of Everyday Peacemaking
The title tells it like it is, or how it wishes it was.
Most of this book features examples, stories told by people close to the authors. Some of them pretty good, and are the best part of this book. The rest of it is not nearly as coherent as it claims to be.
There’s some good stuff here, but because its points deal with optimism, the expectations are too high; hard to believe they would work in real life.

Countdown to Pearl Harbor
The start is all bios, which had me yawning. It wasn’t till the author did a good job of humanizing Yamamoto that things picked up, so that the Stark and Kimmel bios felt much better.
There are two main points that run throughout the book, and occasionally come together:
1. “For the first time in history, there existed a carrier force comprising enough aircraft to do strategically meaningful things on the battlefield.”
2. American complacency, if not outright racism.
“Japan’s fortuitous realization could never have produced such success if not for American complacency, anchored in a belief that its Asian adversary lacked the military deftness and technological proficiency to pull off something so daring and so complicated, and a belief that Japan knew and accepted how futile it would be to go to war with a nation as powerful as the United States of America. Assumption fathered defeat.”
When discussing his methodology in the intro, the author doesn’t pull any punches: “When conflicts (in the stories) arose, it seemed logical to weigh the evidence based on whose reputation had the most to gain or lose, and to rely on recollections given soon after the attack, rather than those from several years later.” He even brings the funny occasionally. “‘There was no training for intelligence officers in those days,’ an intelligence officer in those days said.” Did not expect to find genuine snark in a book like this: “‘He might have asked me for a clarification,’ said Stark, who might have provided one on his own.”
The epilogue describes what the “characters” did during and after the war. Acknowledgements and notes take up a solid quarter of the book, along with the 5% that is the bibliography at end.
All in all, this tome was more matter of fact on the subject than most I’ve read, going out of its way to avoid conjecture.

Many years ago on a radio show Harlan Ellison was interviewing Robert Silverberg about his new book. When asked if it was a human book, that old rascal Silverberg replied, “It’s more than human.” And while I could almost hear Ellison’s eyes rolling, it stuck with me enough that I thought about it as I read this book by former astronaut Dr. Mike Massimino.
“Mass” is more famous for making fun of Howard on The Big Bang Theory than his actual exploits in space. (He acknowledges this in the book.) He comes across as a bit of a bully there, so perhaps he wrote this in order to correct that reputation. And indeed throughout it he comes across as a nice guy, though of course since this is an autobiography you’d hardly expect him to make himself look bad.
The prologue is a shuttle launch; it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The story of his father’s illness, and what he learned about being an astronaut from it, is the best, closely followed by the hesitant Hubble handrail.
This turned out to be a surprisingly easy smooth read. Highly recommended even if you’re not a space buff.

60 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds (or More)
The people who put out these books assume you will not take the time to count if there are actually 60 ways listed here.
The first part is all about diseases made worse by being overweight; not what this book claims to be about. Later it tells about ways to lose weight that the doctor himself doesn’t recommend, like surgeries and pills. But it’s the talk about surgery, especially bariatric, that takes up the biggest section; wonder why. It’s all very technical and boring. And lastly there are long articles on binge eating, anorexia, and bulimia. At least these are important, but still, where’s the title?
At different points he mentions reductions in carbohydrates and calorie intake, as well as vitamin D supplements. So there’s three out of 60. Yippee.
This same author has written 60 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure, 60 Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol, and so on. Yep, he’s got it bad for that number, but I’ll bet those were lies too.
So this was almost exclusively what not to do to prevent gaining weight, and very little on how to lose weight, which is what the title describes. Almost comes across as fraud. . .