The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli – a Review

The Order of TimeThe Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me begin this review by saying a couple things…

Firstly, I’ve been interested in Physics since I was a wee lad in the ’60s. My neighbor, who was also my godfather, had a Ph.D. in Physics. He was also a career teacher. He was always spinning yarns about Einstein, Newton and the amazing current events going on in Physics and Cosmology back then. He gave me a copy of Sagan’s Cosmos when I was about 17 years old. He had also given me a few other books on stars, planets, etc. when I was a child. This spurred my lifelong interest in Physics and related sciences.

That being said, throughout my studies of Physics all these years, there is one thing that has always astounded and amazed me; that is the concept of time. I’ve read many books and papers on past and current theories purporting to explain the phenomenon of time; none were definitive, all were very interesting, though.

On the back of the edition that I’m reading there are some remarks from reviewers here and there. One that really is accurate is this one:

Some physicists, mind you, not many of them, are physicists-poets. They see the world or, more adequately, physical reality, as a lyrical narrative written in some hidden code that the human mind can decipher. Carlo Rovelli, the Italian physicist and author, is one of them. –NPR’s 13.7: Cosmos & Culture

I could not agree more with this statement. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Even if it had been about horse racing or organic farming, I believe I would have enjoyed it because of Rovelli’s manner of writing. He may be a physicist, but he could easily have made a living, probably a better one, as an artist, writer, performer, etc.

This is a small book, but it has a lot to say. It will definitely make you think… or rethink your ideas about time. Rovelli briefly explains the current status of Physics’ views on time and then, in the second part of the book, he gently explains his view. The book is not a jumble of calculus and geometry. He writes for the everyday man/woman in this one. If you have a modicum of reading abilities and a little basis in high school science, you will be able to follow along just fine.

When I closed the back cover on this book, I was a bit surprise to experience the same regret (that it had ended) and joy that I often experience with the closing of the back cover on a really good novel. I think you’ll enjoy reading this book. If you have the slightest interest in the mystery of time on our plane of existence, I believe you will listen intently to what this man has to say. The 5-star rating I gave this one is as much a result of the quality of the writing as it is of the content.

I hope you’ll give this one a go.

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Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places by Andrew Blackwell – a brief review

Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted PlacesVisit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places by Andrew Blackwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read. The author’s rather wry sense of humor also added to the reading experience. As a “tourist” in some of the most polluted, destroyed, and/or radiated places on the planet, Blackwell still manages to see a bit of good in the humanity still inhabiting or working in these places.

This book is a bit of science, a bit of humor, and a good dollop of philosophy on life, human behavior, love, beauty, and feces. Read it. You’ll probably get a kick out of it. I’d actually like to meet this fellow Blackwell and sit down for a dinner and a few drinks with him. I’m pretty sure the conversation would be quite interesting.

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Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson – a review

Einstein: His Life and UniverseEinstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a remarkably well-written and well-researched biography of a truly remarkable man. I thought I knew Einstein pretty well from all the mini-bios in Physics books that I’ve read over the last 45 years or so, but no. There’s much, much more to the man behind E=MC2.

Isaacson will tell you an amazing story of this man’s life, loves, accomplishments, failures and foibles. Everyone knows who Einstein is; reading this book will let you peak into his world in a very intimate fashion. He was truly one-of-a-kind. It may be two or three more centuries before we see someone like him again.

Stephen Hawking, another remarkable man, edited a compendium called On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy. While Einstein did utilize these shoulders in his search for answers to the mysteries of the Universe, he reached a point where his view was unobstructed by fellow climbers on those shoulders. Einstein is now one of those Giants whose shoulders younger Physicists are scaling.

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Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age – a Review

Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear AgeFallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age by Fred Pearce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over the decades, I’ve read and studied much on the topic of nuclear weapons, nuclear power generation, and all the foibles and mishaps that have come with it. And yet, it STILL amazes me the absolute insanity and stupidity displayed by supposed intelligent human beings in governments, military organizations, and the sciences with regards to these things. It crosses all boundaries and borders; this tiresome tendency for humanity to either destroy itself or make a damned profit off something.

Read this book. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll be amazed. You’ll be shocked. You be disheartened.

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Atomic Accidents by James Mahaffey – a review

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to FukushimaAtomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima by James Mahaffey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a surprisingly excellent read!

The author, while obviously extremely knowledgeable about nuclear Physics, also has a wry, satirical sense of humor that made me laugh out loud numerous times while reading this not-so-funny compendium of some of humanity’s greatest fuck-ups.

If you have any interest in these kind of events and the stories from the “nuclear age”, I cannot more strongly recommend this book. The science is worth the read alone, actually. I learned quite a bit more about nuclear power generation and weaponry than I previously knew. The author simplifies these highly technical aspects very well.

This is also a scary book; scary due to the possibilities. The ramifications of human error can often be a serious bitch to deal with. When you learn about the errors committed in these stories and realize that all this is still going on pretty much everywhere these days, it’s disconcerting. I’m not sure humans have learned their lessons yet.

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Stalin As Revolutionary/Stalin In Power – by Robt. C. Tucker, a review (2 books)

Stalin as Revolutionary, 1879 1929; A Study in History and PersonalityStalin as Revolutionary, 1879 1929; A Study in History and Personality by Robert C. Tucker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a very well researched and written history of Stalin’s initial years and involvement in the Revolution led by Lenin. If you have any interest in Stalin and the Marxist/Leninist movement of the early 20th century, this is a book you’ll want to read.

Sadly, the author planned a three volume series, but did not live long enough to publish the third volume.

Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941 by Robert C. Tucker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone over 40 years old has probably heard of ol’ Joe Stalin, but do you really know him? Do you really know what kind of a man he was? For many years after WWII, no one outside of the U.S.S.R. really knew the true Stalin. And sadly, the majority within the U.S.S.R. didn’t know him either, really.

This book and its predecessor will lead you down the rabbit hole and into the surreal labyrinth of Stalin’s mind. It will show you how this man thought of himself and what motivated him to be one of history’s greatest monsters; rivaling, if not surpassing Hitler in his vile and vengeful narcissistic exploits.

We all know “Uncle Joe” was not the mellow, pipe-smoking benevolent Socialist leader that photographs often show. He was a psychopath of the 1st Order. Robt. C. Tucker will enlighten you with regards to Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. You will see a true monster come to life in these pages.

Some of Stalin’s “accomplishments”:

– He managed to totally upend Lenin’s interpretation of Engels’ and Marx’ philosophy regarding Socialism and usurp it to his own ends as perceived by his twisted mind.

– In the process, he, through fear and intimidation (not directly, but through his minions) managed to gain total autocratic power in the U.S.S.R by the 1930s.

– Having attained unquestioned supremacy, he then went about seeking vengeance against any and all who had ever in any way offended his sterling heroic sense of self.

– In The Great Purge (AKA Stalin’s Reign of Terror) of the 1930s (peaking in ’39), Stalin managed to eliminate millions of Soviet citizens; mostly old Bolshevik cohorts, top government officials, top military officials, and countless friends, family members, co-workers, and acquaintances of the aforementioned.

– While the purging went on, Stalin even managed to remain blameless. The lower classes (peasants, laborers, etc.) still thought of him as Lenin’s disciple and the man who brought Russia and the other Soviets together in one harmonious socialist dream world.

– In later years, Stalin made sure, often by writing/editing them himself, that all the histories and his biographies of the Revolution, Russia, and Stalin were exactly as he saw them in his own mind. He influenced education, literature, dramatic arts, movie making, and general culture of the U.S.S.R. to reflect his vision… his dream… his twisted version of history and his part in it.

It’s truly difficult to understand how Stalin managed to do this. Fear is a very, very serious motivator. I’m not talking fear of a spider or fear of catching the flu. I’m talking about absolute dread; the ultimate fear for your life and the lives of all those you love. This is what motivated many, many prisoners in Stalin’s NKVD headquarters to confess to outrageous crimes against the State. This is what motivated these same prisoners to denounce friends and coworkers by the millions as being conspirators in these crimes. It’s truly mind blowing how this all occurred.

If you have any interest in history and understand George Santayana’s oft-quoted warning, you should read these books by Tucker. I assure you that you will learn a thing or two and scratch your head quite often in wonder. You might even see parallels in our current world.

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Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg – a Review

This was previously published on GoodReads…

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon PapersSecrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As many of you know from reading my reviews, I have an affinity for historical books from the Vietnam War era. This is because this was “my” war. This was the terrifying event that was happening on the evening news when I was a kid. This is because of the fear my parents had regarding my draft-age brother in 1969. It was these and many other things that make it “my” war; including the excellent music from that era. Rock & Roll had something to say. It said it LOUDLY! What it was saying was that this war SUCKED. It was WRONG. I agreed then and I still do.

As I’ve aged and gained that experience and wisdom that you usually don’t manage to get till you’re too old to use it, I’ve learned just how wrong and insanely stupid this war really was. I’ve also learned how government run amok can get a country into a wasted effort such as this and continue to maintain that country’s presence on the battlefields along with all the useless death that entails.

The man who wrote this book I’m reviewing here is nothing less than a National Hero. I hope history is kind to him and convinces everyone that what I state is true. This man decided that he had to stop this inane war even if it caused harm to his family, friends, future job prospects; even if it put him behind bars for life. He realized just how wrong this war was and how terribly wrong those in the government were for using all means legal or not to continue the useless killing of U.S. soldiers, airmen, marines, sailors, etc.; how wrong it was to continue the killing of many innocent civilians in South and North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

If you’re the least bit curious how government works behind closed doors, or the least bit curious how Donald Trump’s White House may be handling foreign affairs and even domestic ones, then you should read this book. Ellsberg was a deep insider for many years as a consultant with the Rand Corp. and as an actual government employee at times. He knows how government works; particularly how the Executive Branch of this government (the U.S.) lies, manipulates, threatens, and sucks up in order to get its agenda pushed through to fruition.

You’ll learn about how the Eisenhower administration did it. You see how the Kennedy administration continued down the same paths. You’ll see how Johnson was just a further continuation of the previous two administrations. You’ll see how an opposing president (Nixon – Republican) did everything in what he assumed was his vast kingly powers to continue down the same road the three previous Democratic administrations had trod. You’ll be amazed at all these administrations’ lack of compassion or regrets regarding all the dead, wounded, and maimed (physically and mentally) that they created by pursuing their goals in this unbelievably complex war in a small Southeast Asian country.

Ellsberg did not feel that presidents should have unlimited powers to engage a country in wars such as this without the knowledge of that country’s own elected officials (Congress) or, more importantly, it’s own citizens. Yet, this is exactly what happened during that era; through four separate administrations. The deceit and secretiveness of those pursuing these goals was criminal. And sadly, I believe this still goes on today, 50 years later.

Read this book. It’s as pertinent to current times as it was for the Vietnam War era. It will make you think. This is its purpose. It may also make you think about others who’ve tried to raise the alarm in recent years… WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. I believe their day of vindication is coming.

The U.S. Constitution starts by saying,

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Notice first three words in bold type. It does NOT say we the Executive Branch or we the Congress or we the Justice Department. It says We the People. The insidious creeping that has robbed the People of their government and country should be reversed and forever erased. Only We the People can make this happen. Wake up!

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The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman – a Review

This was previously published on GoodReads…

The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous LegacyThe Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mankind’s eons-long pursuit of more efficient ways to kill fellow human beings never ceases to amaze and awe. However, the 20th Century seemed to reach a zenith in that endeavor. WWI with trench warfare and the use of deadly gases to kill and maim was just the beginning.

In Hoffman’s well-documented treatise, he takes you on a journey through the post-WWII era of the “Cold War“; forever known as “cold” due the fact that it did not turn HOT, and HOT would have been very, very bad for all life on this rock had it occurred. He goes on to track the insanity into current times.

This is a history book, folks. For some, that’s an immediate turn off. That’s a shame because through the study of history, one can achieve two things…

  • learn what NOT to do in the future

and

  • be completely astounded by the behaviors and beliefs of those who came before you.

The nuclear arms race was, in some respects, quite logical in how it came about. On the other hand, though, as you study it, you begin to understand and see the absolute total insanity that was rampant in the thoughts of men during that time. We can see it as insanity while being viewed through the rear-view mirror of history, of course, but those involved intimately with these events really, in many cases, thought that they were resolving issues.

I cannot easily put myself in the shoes of post-WWII era Soviet leaders. I cannot easily understand their horrendously paranoid delusions regarding attacks from outside their realm. I don’t know if it’s the result of their insular closed societies or what. What I do know is that these delusions led them to build up the deadliest stockpile of agents of death ever seen on this planet; from multiple warhead thermonuclear devices to microscopic plague spores… and everything you can dream of (or have nightmares about) in between.

I’m not saying the U.S. or any other countries weren’t also participating in this global insanity; they definitely were. I’m just saying the the Soviets’ entire existence seemed to revolve around this steep downward slide to Armageddon. I would like to hope things are a bit different these days, but that hope is countered by a cynical view of current events and dangerous personalities on the world stage at the moment.

Carl Von Clausewitz is credited with saying, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” A better quote would be from William Tecumseh Sherman who during the American Civil War is noted for saying, “War is Hell.” This is a deep truth here. We, as a species, desperately need to modify our behaviors in how we interact with one another. We have enough problems these days. We need to stop slaughtering one another over inane disagreements caused by trivial differences in our beliefs or goals.

Read this book. It is a history of man’s descent into the abyss of Hell. It will depress you. It may also teach you a few things about humanity; things not taught in church Sunday schools or high school history classes.

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Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by Serhii Plokhy – a Review

This review was originally posted on GoodReads…

Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear CatastropheChernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by Serhii Plokhy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very deeply researched and well-written book regarding the events leading up to and as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant near meltdown. I, of course, remember the event on the news back in ’86, but my real interest in pursuing the history behind this event occurred shortly after buying a new video game for my PC back in 2006 or so.

That game was S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadow of Chernobyl. It was an FPS (first-person shooter) strategy and survival game which took place within the Exclusion Zone around the failed power plant. It was a unique mixture of truth and fantasy. Thanks to this game, I was inspired to study Chernobyl and have been quite amazed and astounded by what I learned regarding this event.

If you have an interest in this event, or nuclear accidents of any sort, I definitely recommend you read this newest of many books on Chernobyl. It’s also probably the best researched of all of them. Written by an historian, it approaches the subject from the scientific, political, historical, and human viewpoints. Well worth a read.

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The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – a Review

This review was originally posted on Goodreads…

The God DelusionThe God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is Dawkins. Does it really need a review?

Here I am again giving a 5-star review to a book after just recently saying in reviews elsewhere here that I rarely do this. I’ve been on a roll lately in picking winners off the library shelves, I suppose.

What’s this book about? Well, it’s about truth. It’s about science. It’s about philosophy. What it really is though, is Dawkins’ one volume book on deprogramming that which has been programmed into your brain from birth – the beliefs of religion; fairy-tale beings on higher planes of existence who made you and supposedly watch over you as you live your life.

If you are a faithful believer in a god (any god) and the requisite conditions, edicts of behavior, methods of worship, etc. that entail a religion of any type, then do NOT read this book. It will be anathema to you. It will present to you facts and figures and anecdotes relating to the histories of religions and faiths. It will teach you that which you will NEVER be taught in Sunday schools. So avoid this book. Keep your faith.

On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who feels that you’ve been inculcated into a sect-like belief system by parents or teachers or preachers/priests, and if you believe yourself to be a logical thinking life form capable of comprehending the written word and contemplating its meaning, then this book should be required reading for you. It will teach you truth, not fairy-tales, not scary stories of vengeful gods, etc. It will also teach you to think.

I spent ten years or so in my teens and early adulthood researching the histories of most of the major religions. I spent 11 years in Catholic schools being force-fed their versions of “reality”. My research and studies, which I was able to do because of my excellent Catholic school education (I’m grateful to them for that, anyway), ultimately led me to the truth.

I could have written this book. There were no surprises in its pages for me. However, this is Dawkins. This is a man who is a superlative thinker with peerless skills and a talent for passing along knowledge to others in a way that is both extremely educational and entertaining. If you are seeking truth in your life and your existence, read this book.

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