Currently Reading

A Conspiracy Of Paper

Suzanne is currently reading:

Craig is currently reading:

Posted in Current | Leave a comment

Playing To The Edge by Michael Hayden

Playing To The Edge

Playing To The Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror  can be a little dry and it’s loaded with acronyms, but I found it well worth reading. General Hayden gives his readers a good overview of the defensive and offensive capabilities of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was the former director of both and was deeply involved in the USA’s response to 9/11. Hayden also walked a fine line between being transparent to the citizens of the USA and keeping the secrets necessary to be effective against those who would do us harm.

It’s not a long book but it took me a long time to get through it. The acronyms and the complex organization of the US Intelligent agencies made the read difficult at times. Once I got through a couple chapters it went quicker, but the acronyms were still an issue. There is no reason his editor couldn’t have expanded them occasionally. At some point I figured if I couldn’t remember what they were they weren’t important.

I didn’t think the book was self-serving. Hayden explained his decision making pretty well and makes a strong case for the decisions made during the Bush (43) administration: whether it is rendition, interrogation, or transparency. You may not agree with the decisions but at least someone made them, and put some thought into them. I don’t have much sympathy for critics attacking to decisions, based on hindsight or unrealistic views of the world.

Is there another job in the US Government this important or as fraught with danger. And not just military, but legal, ethical, and financial. I doubt a USDA inspector, who makes the same money runs the risk of being murdered by terrorist, brought up on bogus war crime charges, accused of murder, and sued by do-gooders who have never risked anything. And then are accused of not working hard enough or smart enough to prevent the murder of their fellow citizens. It’s an insane job and they should be commented. I can sort of understand misguided critics making all sorts of crazy claims but it’s hard to fathom the flak the community got from Congress who should know better, and did know better, but would grandstand and lie for political gain.

It’s a good book and maybe we should force Congress to stand down from all their complaints about the US intelligence community until they’ve read it. Of course they would accuse General Hayden of torture: acronym torture.

451 pages

Continue reading

Posted in History, Memoir, Military, Technology | Leave a comment

Life Mask by Emma Donoghue

Life Mask

Life Mask is a novel set in 18th century London.  The main characters are members of the Beau Monde (aka The World), but times are changing.  Revolution is ravaging France, and people are taking sides in England, as party politics pits an aging, sometimes mad, King George against the irresponsible playboy Prince.

As a lover of historical fiction, I am a little torn with how to review to this book.  On the one hand, I enjoyed the writing and the “feel” of the book.  I could imagine this as an Andrew Davies BBC mini-series.  It felt cold and English, with subtle beauty and little depth.  A parallel narrative to the bigger political picture was the demand for change in women’s lives, as Donoghue featured main characters who struggle with society’s demands that they marry and submit to their husbands.  These women want to be free – even to the point of experimenting with homosexuality.  While the lesbian bit wasn’t overdone, I’d rather Donoghue had left it out.  It just seemed out of place here.

Normally I would have given a novel like this 4 stars, but it didn’t quite live up to it.  Perhaps it could have used more editing, or a sharper plot.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2005
650 pages

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Journeys On The Silk Road by Joyce Morgan

Journeys On The Silk Road

“When a Chinese monk broke into a hidden cave in 1900, he uncovered one of the world’s great literary secrets: a time capsule from the ancient Silk Road. Inside, scrolls were piled from floor to ceiling, undisturbed for a thousand years. The gem within was the Diamond Sutra of AD 868. This key Buddhist teaching, made 500 years before Gutenberg inked his press, is the world’s oldest printed book.”

The above excerpt is the promo piece from Goodreads, and if that definitely sparked my interest in this book.  During the early 20th century, treasure seekers were spanning the globe looking for antiquities of value.  Aurel Stein was an archeologist and scholar employed by the British Government, when he set of on the ancient Silk Road, in search of fame and treasure.  He found both when his investigations led him to this monk and the cave, which is part of the Mogao Caves (aka The Thousand Buddha Caves), and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I loved this book for so many reasons.  Morgan’s writing was both informative and entertaining.  There was a real sense of place and a real sense of adventure here. I felt like I was struggling through the barren desert right along with Stein, and I felt the thrill of discovery as well.  I took the time to Google the Mogao Caves and saw the photographs of this amazing religious site.  I can only imagine what Stein must have felt.  It  was a tremendous find.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
336 pages

Posted in Non-Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures

Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia surrounded by women, who like her, were educated women of color.  Her father worked for NASA and many of the older ladies in the neighborhood were also current or former NASA employees.  Shetterly describes the experience as something she always took for granted.  Black women as engineers and mathematicians was, however, something that wasn’t  the norm, as Shetterly later found out.  What she learned, was that the women in her neighborhood were breaking the color barrier long before desegregation, and while hidden within the folds of the Unites States Space Program, they were instrumental to the achievement of the technological advances that allowed NASA to put men in space and a man on the moon.

Shetterly was correct that this is a great story.  These women all came from families that valued education, and after receiving their college degrees, were typically held back in teaching jobs.  World War II, however, changed all that. Men were gone fighting overseas, and NACA (the precursor to NASA) recruited women as human computers and engineers. And color was no barrier because they needed all the help they could get.

Shetterly featured pioneers like Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, and their stories are fascinating.  But there are things about this book that could have been better.  I would have liked to see more narrative of these women, personal stories from them and from people who worked with them.  I realize that these women were very elderly or dead, but I was reminded of the great work about Alexander Dumas called The Black Count by Tom Reiss, which is a perfect example of a man of color who broke barriers and lived a most interesting life.  This book was filled with stories directly and indirectly related to  Dumas, and was obviously written long after his death. Shetterly also pads her writing quite a bit, filling it with verbage directly telling the reader how important these women were in breaking barriers for black  women.  The story does that itself, and Shetterly should have left the majority of that sentiment for her closing paragraph.

Also, this is a book about science and the space program.  It is understood that the average reader would not understand the finer details of their work, but I would have liked this be the main story.  It’s the work that’s important – and it’s their race and gender that elevate the story to the next level.  So Shetterly should have made the work and its story, primary, in my opinion.  Again, I was thinking about books relating to science that had a broad appeal, and I was reminded of the great physicist Richard P. Feynman’s memoir Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.  His humorous vignettes supporting the greater story of the race for the atomic bomb really stand out.  I may not have understood all the science he mentioned in his book, but it was very human, interesting and entertaining.

I am pleased that a movie has been made based on Hidden Figures and by the trailer, it looks like Hollywood has added that human and entertaining element missing from the book.  Still, I was glad to have the opportunity to read about these women and their remarkable story.  Hidden Figures will hit bookshelves December 29, 2016.  Many thanks to Harper Collins for the review copy!

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2016
346 pages

Posted in History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore


A team effort, Blindspot is a tale of 18th century Boston written by history professors Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore.  It’s quality historical fiction, well-researched, with an entertaining story about a portrait painter, Stewart Jameson, and a young woman who disguises herself as a boy, serving as his apprentice.  Fannie Easton’s story unfolds the world of young women in Boston society, the constraints, social mores and consequences of acts of rebellion.  Easton’s story is superbly paralleled with the background story of Boston just prior to the American Revolution.

What a wonderful novel!  The historical setting is perfect for the mystery and seduction that lay therein, and I commend the authors for their entertaining and enlightening work.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2008
529 pages

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A House of Stone by Anthony Shadid

House Of Stone

I actually ordered this book by mistake – I had intended to purchase another book by the same name, but different author.  This version of A House of Stone is a memoir about the author’s experiences in rebuilding his ancestral home in Southern Lebanon.  I enjoy books like these, so I wasn’t disappointed about the mix-up and decided to give it a try.

I enjoyed Shadid’s telling of the struggles of a building project in a third world country, and his amusing and interesting stories about his friends and workers on the house.  I found particularly compelling learning more about the culture and politics of the region, and it’s impact on the stability of the area.

Shadid also interspersed this memoir with stories about his ancestors, which I found to be very alien and dry.  Shadid was a beautiful writer, but somehow, he failed to connect with me.

About halfway through the book I was curious to find out more about the author – since he was a war correspondent and the civil war in Syria was sure to have had an effect on his life.  I was saddened to find out he died in Damascus, shortly after writing this memoir.  His wife wrote the epilogue, and it was very touching.  I can’t help but feel saddened that he never truly got to enjoy the home he spent so much time and money in restoring.  I also wonder if the house is even still standing after all the recent fighting in the area.  But we have Shadid’s story, and the story of his family who will always be a part of this land, even centuries later.  And that is something.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
315 pages

Posted in Fiction, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment