The Big Ones

The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them) by Dr. Lucy Jones

Seismologist Lucy Jones describes a wide variety of natural disasters and ways communities can prepare for the future. I started reading this book after the recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake in eastern California, the day after a 6.4 magnitude quake, both of which she discussed at news conferences and at multiple television stations. As well as being a noted scientist, Dr. Jones is also an excellent storyteller, making the science behind volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and floods accessible to readers.

Two points she made repeatedly stand out for me: humans dislike randomness, look for patterns, and sometimes demand prediction even though many natural disasters are very hard to predict. In addition, we tend to forget events that happened more than three generations ago, even major natural disasters. Many Japanese coastal villages have stone tsunami markers, which saved some villages in 2011 but went unheeded in others. I had never heard about the megafloods in California and other western states in the winter of 1861-2. Huge lakes covered telegraph poles over an area larger than the state of Connecticut. Villages and farms were wiped out, and cities like Sacramento were completely regraded on a higher level. But a similar flood today would be even more devastating.

Jones writes about Pompeii, modern Italy, Lisbon, Iceland, Hurricanes Katrina and Maria, and much more. She also talks about working with Los Angeles to make the city more resilient to a future quake, and stresses the importance of planning for events that are very likely to happen, even though we don’t know exactly when or where. Suggested for readers interested in science, history, or natural disasters.
Brenda

Eight Flavors

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman

Food historian Sarah Lohman teaches, recreates historical meals, and researches American food. She covers eight flavors that highlight the history of American cuisine, omitting the too-popular coffee and chocolate. While I would have been more enthusiastic about a chapter on chocolate than one on MSG, the chapters on each flavor are interesting reading. Foodies and American history buffs are sure to enjoy reading about black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate, sriracha and current food trends. Each chapter has a personal anecdote, most cover a historical figure, a few recipes and descriptions of her travels to restaurants, food trucks, festivals, museums, archives, plantations, farms, or factories to learn more about the flavor. Immigrants played significant roles in the introduction and widespread use of various ingredients, such as soy sauce, garlic, and sriracha sauce. This book was published in December, 2016, so I was interested to read the chapter on current food trends. The predictions that pumpkin spice and matcha or green tea flavoring would be popular are pretty accurate, although other recent trends might have surprised her, such as chocolate hummus.
Happy reading, and let me know if you try any of the recipes, such as black pepper-chocolate ganache or carrot cake with garlic.

Brenda

The Perfectionists

The Perfectionists : How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester

I enjoyed this combination of history, technology and biography which describes the advances in precision engineering that keep our technology running smoothly, at least most of the time. Chapters on clocks, lenses, guns, jet engines, and computer chips are introduced with anecdotes and short biographical sketches of inventors and engineers. The importance of precision is highlighted by a near catastrophic jet engine failure and the blurry images of the new Hubble Space Telescope. Highlights include the contrast between luxurious Rolls Royce automobiles and the assembly line turning out Ford Model Ts, along with the discovery that in Japan, Seiko still makes some watches by hand. While not a fast read, this book will please the author’s many fans. Simon Winchester, a geologist and journalist, has written about the Oxford English Dictionary, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, weather, and the Yangtze River.

Brenda

 

Northland

Northland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border by Porter Fox

Porter Fox spent three years exploring the northern border of the lower forty-eight states with Canada. Raised in Maine, he begins in the waters off the coast of Maine and travels the 4,000 mile border by canoe, freighter, car, and on foot. Along the way to the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington, he describes the scenery and history of the border region, and talks with many of the border residents, border patrol agents, and visits the Standing Rock pipeline protestors in North Dakota. Some border residents have been used to commuting across the border for work, school, or shopping and are finding the border harder to cross in recent years. Some of the most interesting chapters were a freighter voyage across four of the Great Lakes and canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters. I found this book to be a good mix of history, scenery, and armchair travel.
Brenda

The Shipwreck Hunter

The Shipwreck Hunter by David Mearns

A fascinating real life adventure, sure to appeal to fans of The Pirate Hunters. Mearns describes the research, fundraising, and dramatic searches needed to find historical shipwrecks. His teams have searched for a 15th century ship connected to Vasco de Gama, an Australian World War II hospital ship, and the freighter Lucona, which sank in the Indian Ocean in 1977 after an explosion in the cargo hold. This book is quite the page turner; I wanted to see if his team could find yet another long missing ship, and possibly discover why it sank. Equipment failures, conflicting eyewitness accounts, and rough weather make searches even more challenging.

Brenda

Rocket Men

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson

A compelling, engaging read of the amazing challenge NASA accepted in the summer of 1968 to send astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders to orbit the Moon in late December on Apollo 8. While the stories of Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 are well known, the less familiar story of Apollo 8 makes for fascinating reading. Even though I knew that Apollo 8 was successful, Kurson still makes the mission suspenseful. The author met and interviewed Borman, Lovell, Anders and their families for this book, and his portrayal of the men and their wives turn them from remote historical figures into real, approachable people. Readers learn how and why the men became astronauts, and how their families coped with their dangerous jobs as test pilots and astronauts. Until NASA learned that the Soviet Union planned a flyby of the moon in 1968, they weren’t planning to send astronauts to the moon until Apollo 9 in 1969. In four months, they planned their boldest mission, which was vital in preparing for the moon landing of Apollo 11 and best remembered for photographs of the Earth and the live television broadcast on Christmas Eve. After a very turbulent and violent year, Borman, Lovell, and Anders helped end 1968 on a hopeful, triumphant note. Apollo 8, by Jeffrey Kruger is another recent book about the mission. For more from Robert Kurson, read Shadow Divers, Crashing Through, or Pirate Hunters, which will be discussed here on July 17.

Brenda

 

The Great Quake

The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North American Changed Our Understanding of the Planet by Henry Fountain

I found this book about the Great Alaskan Quake of 1964 to be both informative and very readable, without being overly dramatic. Young teacher Kris Madsen was above her hilltop schoolhouse collecting water for an evening movie on Friday, March 27, when she felt the quake. From southern California, she wasn’t worried until the trees kept swaying and the water disappeared from the harbor of the tiny village of Chenega. Only the schoolhouse was unaffected by the tidal waves, and the surviving villagers climbed the hill and camped above the schoolhouse. The next day, three scientists including geologist George Plafker were already flying over Alaska to survey the damage. The only working seismograph in Alaska was overwhelmed by the quake and initial estimates were between 8.4 and 8.6 on the Richter scale. Later estimates put the quake at 9.2. You may not have heard much about the quake before, because the earthquake zone was sparsely populated. Most of the deaths were from tidal waves, now called tsunamis, which struck as far away as Oregon and California. The town of Valdez on Prince William Sound was also hit hard, along with parts of Anchorage. Working for the U.S. Geological Survey, Plafker and others studied the quake area, measuring the uplift and subsidence of land, surprised by the lack of a huge visible fault. The observations and analysis of geologists, especially George Pflafker, helped change scientific opinion to accept the theory of plate tectonics. I enjoyed reading about Plafker’s life, education, and career, and appreciated that the author, a writer and editor with the New York Times, only shared the backstories of Plafker and teacher Kris Madsen. I was also interested to learn  what happened to the villages of Valdez and Chenega after they were damaged so badly by the quake.

Brenda