Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Year's Resolution: Part Deux

Back in January I made a commitment to myself to 1-2 books a month with the ultimate goal of reading 20 books this year.  I wish I could pledge  read more, but life gets in the way.  So far I've finished 15 books, though I don't know if I have the concentration to finish another five books this year, though I will give it my all.

Undaunted Courage:  Following my completion of the biography on Theodore Roosevelt, I grabbed Stephen E. Ambrose's memoir on one of the greatest American explorers in U.S. history: Meriwether Lewis.  The book chronicles his entire life, though it understandably spends its main focus on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Reading through the book, it was hard to wrap my mind around that fact that these men were the first westerners to see so much of the western United States.  They saw it unadulterated, a state that changed in just a few short years as news of their discoveries fueled migrations west.  They knew almost nothing about the territories they traveled to.  Lewis and Clark were some of the last people to explore a truly unknown area while being completely out of contact with home.  They were truly some of the greatest explorers.

Reading Undaunted Courage gave me a greater appreciation for the early pioneers.  It's given me a desire to traverse the Lewis and Clark trail myself.  It also induced me to pick up some more salt pork.  Healthy?  Of course not.  Tasty?  You bet.1qq

Daniel Boone:  This was a smaller book and admittedly written to a younger audience.  I nearly put the book down once I realized the teenage audience in mind, but I decided to deal with it, a decision that I was reward for.  While the writing style is simplistic the information is gives regarding one of early America's greatest pioneers is in-depth.

It gave me a new viewpoint on pre-Revolutionary life in America as it told the story of a young Daniel Boone growing up amongst all the pre-war tensions.  Even as a child, Daniel Boone was constantly forging ahead to new frontiers and as soon as he got the chance he crossed the Appalachian Mountains and led a group of settlers.  This is where he spent much of his time during the Revolutionary War, at times defending the settlement against attacks from the British or their Amerindian allies.

Despite its short length and younger target audience, the book was packed full of information on one of America's greatest frontiersmen.  Daniel Boone was a man who lived more by the time he reached adulthood than most people today live in their entire lifetime.

Anatomy of Violence:  This has been one of the most eye opening books I've ever read.  I like to recommend books to people when I can, so occasionally one book may be drowned out by another.  Don't let that happen here.  I believe everyone should read this book.

Without getting too much into the science behind it all, the conclusion that the author draws is the the problem of violence has no single cause.  Environment does not solely influence an individual to become a violent criminal.  But neither is biochemistry.  Instead it's a complex web between your early life experiences such as abuse, nutrition, and head trauma mixed with a wide variety of genetic factors.  Even when all of these environmental, social, neurological and biochemical factors mix to create the perfect storm, that doesn't automatically mean that an individual will become a violent offender, but it does mean that such a person should seek help to help insulate against it.

I believe that every parent, every voter, everybody who has the ability to read and comprehend words on a page should read this book.  The sociological implications this presents is something that I believe everyone should be aware of.

Physics of the Future:  This is a very insightful piece by one of the leading physicists of our day, Michio Kaku.  He explores the future of several branches of science (and how they affect our lives) for the next hundred years, breaking a timeline down into thirty year chunks and examining what is likely to happen during each period.

He focuses on computers, artificial intelligence, medicine, nanotechnology, space travel, energy, wealth, and planetary civilization.  His predictions are very thought provoking.  He acknowledges that they are merely predictions, but as a physicist himself who conducted dozens if not hundreds of interviews with leading scientists in their respective fields, I think it's safe to say that there are some pretty good ideas in the book.

This is definitely one I'll read a few times throughout my life.  Not just to see how accurate Dr. Kaku's predictions are, but to look forward to the future myself and help make educated guesses as to which new technologies to adopt and which to ignore.  Physics of the Future was fun and fascinating, giving me a glimpse of the world that I will grow old in.

Hyperspace:  Another book by Michio Kaku, Hyperspace explores the quest for a unified theory of everything.  He begins the book by chronicling the past few centuries of mathematics and physics and outlining some of the major theories.  Presenting a brief timeline of physics, he shows how one generation of physicists builds upon the theories of the last, using what works and trashing what doesn't, which eventually leads us to Superstring Theory.  It was a fascinating look at higher level physics and a good summary for the lay reader.

How We Got The Bible: This is not the first time I've read Neil R. Lightfoot's informative history of how the Bible gained its current form.  I was inspired to reread it after a conversation in a class on the New Testament that I used to teach.

I'll admit the book is a little dry (which takes a lot coming from me) but it is jammed full of details chronicling the preservation of the Holy Scriptures starting from ancient times and leading up to the rediscovery of ancient Greek manuscripts and a brief history of English translations of the Bible.  Again, the book is a little dry yet it is very riveting.  I think every Christian should read it so they have an understanding of how the Holy Scriptures came to be.

Born To Run:  This book was a blast.  Writer and amateur runner Christopher McDougall went to the doctor to find out why he was in pain.  This began a journey that led him to the deserts of Mexico and the elusive Tarahumara--an Indian tribe of super runners.

Throughout it all, McDougall traces the history of running injuries which are suspiciously almost non-existent until the advent of the modern running shoe.  All of the supposed support that these offer weaken some of our key muscles and we leave ourselves open to serious injury.

The Tarahumara run for fun.  They run with simple sandals and spend their entire lives running.  And they are almost free from injuries.  I'm not a runner nor will I ever be, but I do like walking and hiking.  It makes me stop and think that not all of the innovations of the modern world are really helpful for the way our bodies have been designed.  Simplicity certainly has its benefits.

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