Saturday, June 29, 2019

Einstein's War (Matthew Stanley)

In Einstein’s War, author Matthew Stanley covers the backdrop of proving Einstein’s theory of relativity amid the increasing hostility in Europe during that time. The world changed markedly during the 1910’s, with nationalism taking root and entrenching itself. Einstein’s personal world was also flipped upside down due to a failing marriage. There were exceptions to these trials and tribulations, as Stanley points out in this stirring account of how science won over fierce tribalism.

Relativity deals with gravity and its relation to other forces of nature, with Einstein’s theory augmenting long-standing conventions that dated back to Isaac Newton.

Stanley talks about the development of Einstein’s theory, his communication with supporters of his theory and the struggles in getting the theory proved. Scientists seeking to confirm Einstein’s ideas were harassed or arrested as spies. During World War I, colleagues of his died in the trenches. His ally was separated by those trenches, a naval blockade, and U-boats - residing in England and fighting his own battle against being conscripted. His ally ultimately was able to prove Einstein’s theory correct, leading an expedition to observe a solar eclipse to verify Einstein’s theory.

Einstein's War is a great read if you love science and history. It’s fun, educational, and a reminder that in a time of trial and lots of evil that good can ultimately triumph through people working together.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Home for the Summer (Holly Chamberlin)

Holly Chamberlin's Home for the Summer begins with an unfathomable tragedy while a family is on vacation. The rest of the book is about how to go on in the wake of an event like this, ending with breakthroughs and hope.

Frieda and Aaron Braithwaite and their two daughters, Bella and Ariel, are having the time of their lives in Jamaica. When a car crash claims the lives of Aaron and Ariel, Frieda and Bella escape to Yorktide, Maine. They stay with Frieda's mother, where they have had happy memories in the past, but of course, they are still profoundly grieving. As they begin to pick up the pieces of their lives, they come to realize that they are not over. Both of them can have happiness and love again.

While the story itself is very moving, there are a few issues with Home for the Summer. The first is that almost every single interaction is long, lengthy, and introspective. This comes across as unnatural. So if you are looking for a book with lots of action, this probably isn't the one for you. It's extremely character driven.

All of the dialogue makes the book seem very long. There are no surprises at the end, so it probably could have been cut by a few chapters and it wouldn't have made a difference. However, all of this doesn't mean that Home for the Summer isn't a worthwhile read. Just know what you're getting into before you start it.


Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Limits of Tolerance (Denis Lacorne)

Denis Lacorne's The Limits of Tolerance was originally intended for a French audience. This version discussed the evolving definition and boundary of tolerance over time, first from a religious perspective and then widening to a view of general “free speech” in the 20th century. An updated and translated version for English audiences takes that one step further and discusses the limits of tolerance in modern free speech and religious expression in the West.

Lacorne does a good job of showing the gradual widening of tolerant expression in thought and behavior - first, by showing how religious freedom in some colonies helped produce a more robust economy, which led to the adoption of free expression of religion throughout the early American republic. The concept of tolerance was not unique to America. The Ottoman Empire’s millet system provided a relatively tolerant approach to allowing those who were not Muslim to practice their religions and live within the legal framework of the Ottoman Turks without high levels of repression for a few centuries before rising nationalism and centralization of its empire led to a reduction in civil liberty.

Lacorne revised his edition with information on recent challenges to tolerance in both Europe and America - more from a political view within America, less from a religious one. Given the decrease in religious ties in America, it would have been interesting to see Lacorne tackle the corresponding increase in political fervor and how that is tying into challenges to tolerant speech and expression of thought. Outside of that, this book provides a firm grasp in understanding that tolerance is a struggle that never quite ends as the boundaries of the subject are ever-changing.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)

I'm certainly late to the game reviewing Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove. For some reason, I never picked it up until now. But after finishing it last night, I can't believe it's taken this long for me to read about this lovable curmudgeon.

Let's just say that Ove is...particular...about how he wants things done (I identify!). He lives his life by rules, routine and tradition, and doesn't understand people who want to change things or move into the technological age. The first few pages will have you rolling on the floor as Ove tries to buy a computer. But the beauty of Ove is that after you laugh, you will cry, and then you will laugh again, and then you will sob. Backman takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions as Ove thinks that maybe this is a world he doesn't want to live in anymore.

The writing in A Man Called Ove is just beautiful. From the beginning, readers know that the ultimate goal is to get Ove to realize that life is worth living after all. It's the question of how (or if) he will eventually reach that point that makes A Man Called Ove such a rewarding read.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng)

Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere is one of those phenomenon books that spread by word of mouth. It was on the bestseller list for a long time, and for good reason. Each character is as intriguing as the next, all with multiple layers and secrets with major repercussions.

Shaker Heights is a planned suburb of Cleveland. The residents there take pride in the rules and structure of their community, especially Elena Richardson, journalist, wife, and the mother of three children. The book begins with the the Richardson house burning to the ground, and the youngest daughter, Izzy, nowhere to be found.

Ng wisely begins with this shocker, and then presents us with what led up to it. So many plot points are in play here, from Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl, moving into the neighborhood, to the custody battle for a Chinese-American baby. Little Fires Everywhere is one giant puzzle, and the reader waits with bated breath until the final puzzle piece is ready to go in.

I reviewed Ng's Everything I Never Told You just a few weeks ago, but I found this so much better. While Everything felt dull and confusing during the last quarter, this one stays interesting and layered until the very end, just like a puzzle. I loved it.