Stars and gift book ideas

I have not much time to write tonight as Jenny discovered as she left school that "astronomy club", postponed from the night before because of cloud, was "on" tonight. She arrived home in a quandary as to what to do. I happened to be working from home today, so I drove her back to school through the rush hour traffic, meaning that a half-hour journey took an hour. She and her friend then went up to the "astronomy tower" as I call it (mini observatory on the roof). They looked at the moon through a telescope, aided by two girls from the sixth form.

By chance, Cathy was playing in a hockey match after school tonight also, so after a bit of mobiling we all met up and I drove them home. Malcolm had just returned from his experiments in Chicago. So we are reunited.

And it is late — not much time for thinking so I thought I’d just mention a few books I’ve seen reviewed or mentioned recently  that look like good ideas for gifts, as the holiday season is coming up.

Naturally, I am putting Brian Sibley’s biography of Peter Jackson on my own personal Christmas gift list after he so kindly commented on this very blog. I am most honoured, thank you Brian — you have one extra sale out of that generous deed.

Another book I definitely want either for myself or for one of my daughters is Heroines by Jessica Ruston. I was alerted to it by this post at The Good Library blog, and one very nice thing about it is that it is published by Long Barn books (Susan Hill) and you can buy it direct from her using her impressive e-commerce system. One up for the small publisher.

Any 8-11 year old children of my acquaintance will be receiving Into the Woods by my lovely friend and neighbour Lyn Gardner.

And anyone slightly older might well be getting Lisey’s Story (or maybe I should read it) — see this post at Big A little a. That’s Stephen King’s latest, by the way.

I’m not sure about Christine Falls, by John Banville writing as Benjamin Black. Some have slated it, some have loved it, others are on the fence (eg the Guardian, linked to here). I can’t work out whether all these reviewers are mesmerised by the "proper author writes crime fiction" hook or whether the book really is a bit of a curate’s egg. I suppose I’ll just have to read the darn thing.

For crime fiction fans, Crime Scraps has a post of the best of the year..so far which I imagine is a pretty safe bet or three. International Noir Fiction and Crime Scraps are known fans of a 60s/70s series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahoo — I haven’t read any but based on this Crime Scraps post I clearly must. Can I ask for all 10 books in the series, I wonder (or at least the ones that are in print)? Adding to this selection anything published by the excellent Bitter Lemon press would set a reader up well for the year ahead.

But…..there’s always another…. Echo Park by Michael Connelly is obviously a must — but since I have kicked my book-club addiction (?) I shall have to wait until late next year and the paperback. (By the way, I read on the Rap Sheet that Harry Bosch is half brother to Mickey Haller, central character of the Lincoln Lawyer. Is this correct? My memory is so poor that I may have read this and missed it. Can anyone confirm or deny? I asked Rap Sheet in a comment but have had no reply.)

For bloggers who have moved beyond the "how to" style of book, here is a link to four reviews of blogging book The Mirror and the Veil  by Viviane Serafty — plus an "author response". All seems a bit academic to me, but the world is a bit short of decent books on blogging (try An Army of Davids by Glenn Reynolds, though — or at least the first half), so I might give Serafty a go, hoping it isn’t all sociology-speak.

Finally, for now, reading this post at Random Jottings made me want to re-read the magnificent Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. Tremendous, whatever one may think of the TV series (I think I may have seen some of the first but certainly have not seen the second). I had forgotten that Galsworthy won the Nobel prize for literature — ah, those were the days!

Autumn books: battlefield between the ears

The third book in my Nature Autumn book series is "Mind Wars: Brain research and national defense" by Jonathan D. Moreno. Nature‘s reviewer is Charles Jennings, an ex-colleague and former executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, now a consultant. Here’s an extract from his review. As ever, if you would like to know how to obtain the full text of the review (available by site-licence or subscription here), please drop a note in the comments.

"On an evening in October 2002, a group of armed Chechen separatists overran a Moscow theatre, taking the audience hostage and rigging the building with explosives. After a short stand-off, Russian special forces flooded the building with an aerosol based on the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl and then stormed it. The narcotic was effective in incapacitating the hostage-takers, many of whom were executed on the spot. In the ensuing chaos, however, 117 hostages also died from fentanyl poisoning. They were victims not only of terrorism but also of poor planning: if the opioid antagonist naloxone had been available to rescuers, many of these deaths could have been avoided.

Welcome to the world of Mind Wars and the military application of neuroscience, which is the subject of this fascinating and sometimes unsettling book. As the author Jonathan Moreno reveals, the US military has a longstanding interest in brain research and, as scientific understanding continues to advance, so does its appeal to the national security establishment. The Department of Defense conducts much of its research in secret, and some of it would probably fare poorly in open peer review — for example, the military continued to fund psychic research until 1995 — but with an annual research and development budget of at least $68 billion, it can presumably afford to leave no stone unturned. Partly because its activities are more visible, Moreno focuses especially on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which supports unclassified academic research with potential military applications. DARPA has a distinguished record of supporting innovation, including the Internet, so its involvement in brain research must be taken seriously."