I generally agree with Mark Twain when it comes to the new year:
Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.
However, I have made one reading resolution that I will do my best to stick with and that’s to read more non-fiction. For years, my reading proclivity strongly favored non-fiction works, probably by a margin of 2:1. Last year that ratio was reversed. Not a bad thing necessarily, but I’d like to balance it out a bit more this year. In that spirit, here are three mini-reviews of some non-fiction books I’ve read in the past few weeks.
This was a fascinating account of some of the most powerful and unpredictable forces on the planet. The book really tells two parallel stories: the first being a scientific and historic account of waves and the second being about those surfers who risk life and limb – literally – to hunt down and ride the biggest waves they can find. The surfer dude stories I could have done without, although some of the anecdotes were harrowing. The scientific and historic segments, however, were truly amazing and mind-boggling in scope. Imagine a 120 foot wave washing over a boat. Happens much more frequently than you might imagine and, with the climate system under flux, is bound to happen more and more often. Now imagine a 1720-foot wave. Turns out they don’t just happen in Roland Emerich movies and during asteroid strikes. A particular bay in Alaska in prone to gargantuan waves, the 1720 footer having happened in the early 1900’s. Amazing stuff and a wonderful read.
Christopher Hitchens is a smart guy. He knows it, and he certainly wants everyone else to know it as well. There’s no denying that his anti-religion screed is clever, well-written, and engaging. It just really isn’t all that convincing. Hitchens relies on the boilerplate athiest arguments: the universe is cruel and religious people do bad things, therefore God cannot exist. He makes many valid points – the universe is not as ordered or benevolent as many fundamentalists would like to believe and much evil has been done in the name of religion. I’m just not convinced that these facts justifies the conclusion that any belief in a higher power is an evil self-delusion. For the staunch non-believers, this book would be a welcome justification and reinforcement of their views – preaching to the choir, so to speak. But I doubt it will change many minds one way or the other.
Being the political junkie that I am, I had been dying to read this book for close to a year, I just had a hard time getting my hands on a copy. Buying an e-reader solved that problem and I ripped through it in a day. Ever since studying the US political system in college, I’ve been fascinated with the personalities of major political characters and how those personalities shape government and policy. While this certainly isn’t the most academic or enlightening volume on the subject, it’s one of the most fun to read. All the major players from the 2008 elections – Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, John Edwards, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney – are featured at their best and, more often, at their worst. Seeing these figures lapse into moody funks, bouts of angry profanity, and outright tantrums is not only fun, but drives home the reality that, despite being world-famous statesmen (and women), they’re still just ordinary people, foibles and all, trying to do their jobs.
What other non-fiction have you been reading lately?