Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life” by Jim Al-Khalili (Picador, 2017)


We live in an incredible age. It’s seems like almost each week now new constellations of exoplanets are being found, while the number of Goldilocks-zone Earth-like planets grows in number. The possibilities of alien life existing in the universe seems more realistic than ever.

In Aliens, Jim Al-Khalili brings together a collection of articles from a wide range of authors with varied science backgrounds: NASA planetary scientists, cosmologists, geneticists, astrophysicists and many more, bringing the latest theories and scientific research on the subject of alien life and the many permutations relating to it. Beginning with the basics, the book explores the idea that if alien life exits, where is it most likely to be found, ranging from the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, to Alpha Centauri and other far-flung galaxies. What will space travel be like in the near future and the distant future? What are the technologies being currently worked on for space travel? With the blossoming subject matter of artificial intelligence, how useful and necessary will AI be in the future? And will it one day be possible for robots to take over humans?

For a short book, there’s a lot packed into this volume that opens the reader’s mind to so many possibilities on a variety of subjects all tying in with the belief that there may be little green men out there. With the article format, it’s a handy book to flip through, read on the go, or quickly gobble up from start to finish.

Originally written on July 23, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Aliens from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

 

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“Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann (Doubleday, 2017)


David Grann fans have been waiting for his next book – much as I have – impatiently for some time. After the both fascinating and adventurous Lost City of Z (with the movie coming close to release), and the entertaining and thrilling collection of articles, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, Grann turns to a new subject, the Osage murders and the birth of the FBI in Killers of the Flower Moon, a story that is both sobering and compelling. Few may be completely familiar with this unique story, but by the end of the book, will be unable to forget.

As a New York Times staff writer, David Grann is used to diving very deep into a story, and not coming up for air until he’s gleaned every detail and piece of evidence he can from it. In the 1920s, the people of the Osage Indian Nation of Oklahoma were among some of the richest on the planet because vast amounts of oil was found on their land. For the oil tycoons to get at that oil, the Osage had to be paid and paid well. And then, strangely, hauntingly, members of the Osage began to disappear one by one; bodies turned up, dead, mutilated, horribly murdered. And for those that chose to investigate, they often met an unexpected end; the local law enforcement were not required to do anything about it, choosing to turn a blind eye.

The fresh and new Federal Bureau of Investigation, run by a young director, J. Edgar Hoover, wanted to put a stop to this, to end these horrific killings, and make the bureau look like the shining beacon of law enforcement and protection that Hoover wanted it to be for the American people. Hoover tapped the shoulder of a former Texas Ranger, one Tom White, to try to get to the bottom of the mystery. What follows is the riveting story of how this was done, how the perpetrators were found, how the murderers were eventually, finally brought to justice, and how those of the Osage nation were able to find some peace in all this death.

Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon is one of those books that goes beyond a story, to something greater and more important. The reader is left wondering why we don’t all know this story, why it isn’t taught in history classes, why more hasn’t been done for those who have already suffered so much. One hopes Grann will receive some weighty awards for this moving book, as it will serve to get many others across the world to read it and learn of this incredible and tragic story.

Originally written on July 23, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Killers of the Flower Moon from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Not Dead Yet” by Phil Collins (Crown, 2016)


Phil Collins has been kind of quiet for the last five or so years. He said it’s because he wanted to semi-retire and actually spend time raising a family for once, having never had this experience with his previous three families during his multiple decade-spanning superstar career. He also spent it working on this autobiography. And he also spent it as an alcoholic and addicted to intense pain medications, a deadly cocktail that almost killed him multiple times. The last five years have been pretty busy for Phil, much like the previous four decades. Not Dead Yet is his story in his very own words from birth to the present.

Unlike the four founding members of Genesis, Philip David Charles Collins didn’t go to a fancy private school but lived in a poor household and had to earn everything in life from the very beginning. With a mother who loved and supported him greatly, and a father who was distant and indifferent and never seemed to believe in him, Phil knew from a young age he wanted to be a drummer. It was either that or an actor. But when his voice dropped and he had trouble getting roles that paid anything, he dedicated himself to drumming. A lesson or two was all he ever bothered with, and self-taught everything else. During the late sixties he went to every gig he could and got the chance to see acts like Eric Clapton with Cream and Led Zeppelin before they were Led Zeppelin. From a young age he had his heroes and knew where he wanted his life to go, fostered with a foundation in the growingly-popular Motown scene.

A succession of bands led to occasional gigs but nothing really stable and longterm, until he saw an ad for a drummer and went to an audition in front of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford. He got to cool off in the pool on the private estate while waiting his turn, and was able to hear the other drummers’ auditions and learn from their mistakes. It was 1971, and that was the start of his career with Genesis.

In 1975 Peter Gabriel left the band, but Genesis would keep going on. They recorded an album with Phil doing some vocals while auditioning over a hundred singers for the lead singing role. None of them fit and at the end with touring and commitments to be made, Phil said, “Well, why don’t I have a go?” and thus the new front man for Genesis was decided. In 1980 after his marriage fell apart, Phil spent some time alone recording and eventually the result was his first solo album, Face Value, with the iconic hit and opening track that will never leave him, “In the Air Tonight.”

From then on when he wasn’t recording a Genesis album, he was recording a solo album. If he wasn’t doing that he was producing albums for Eric Clapton or Robert Plant, or going on tour with them as their drummer, or performing at both Live Aids in London and Philadelphia with the aid of a Concord, or he was becoming very close with British royalty as an important member of the Prince’s Trust. And then there was his acting career. The man was everywhere, his music was on every radio station, and the awards started pouring in. But as Mr. Collins recounts in the book, he never asked to do all these once in lifetime opportunities, but when Eric Clapton or Robert Plant asks you to work with them, how can you say no?

Not Dead Yet is both a fascinating and sobering read. Phil Collins is a millionaire many times over, and readers see how with the insane workaholic he was for over thirty years, but at the same time there are those who have suffered, who have loss, mainly family, and Phil himself has had a lot of hardship and pain himself. But he makes no excuses, admitting to his faults and failings as a father and a husband, and goes into excruciating detail when he hit rock bottom as a drug addict in his late fifties and having to go into rehab.

Not Dead Yet is a very moving book, as readers enjoy the many highs of Phil’s life and career, as well as suffering through the many painful lows. If fans want to go that extra yard, they may want to listen to the audiobook as it is read by the great man himself, with his still very prevalent London accent.

Originally written on January 4 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Not Dead Yet from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Candid Creatures: How Camera Traps Reveal the Mysteries of Nature” by Roland Keys (John Hopkins University Press, 2016)


We’ve all seen those spectacular National Geographic covers of a leopard at night, or a bird of paradise in full plumage, or an elephant shrew deep beneath the ground doing whatever an elephant shrew does. But how did that photographer get that precise, beautiful shot? Sometimes, actually, often it involves sitting in one place with little movement for a long time until you see the animal you’re trying to photograph. Other times it involves a specially placed camera in a camera trap and when the animal goes by, the camera is activated and takes a number of shots, hopefully capturing that exact one you’ve been looking for.

Candid Creatures is a coffee table book bursting with photos of many different kinds of wildlife, all caught using these camera traps. The photos give a different, lesser seen side to viewing the animals in their natural habitat, where no human is involved. The book provides lots of information on camera traps and creating them, as well as on the different species. The only real lacking with the book is that while the photos are colorful and breathtaking, they are sadly small, and the book could’ve used lots more giant splash pages of these wondrous animals and less words on the page.

Originally written on May 11, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Candid Creatures from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Life in the Dark:Illuminating Biodiversity in the Shadowy Haunts of Planet Earth” by Dante Fenolio (John Hopkins University Press, 2016)


Ever since we saw our first shot of the great white shark from Jaws we’ve had some animosity about the oceans and the seas of our planet. When it comes to the deep dark depths of this world, that animosity blossoms into outright fear. Just thinking about those strange, alien creatures down there in the dark deeps where things like eyes aren’t even necessary causes one to shiver uncontrollably.

Thankfully, there’s a book called Life in the Dark where the deepnesses of the world can be experienced and enjoyed without dipping a toe in the water.

Life in the Dark is a coffee-table-sized hardcover that immediately entrances and sucks you in like an addictive thriller. The design features glossy black pages that help give a sense of the dark depths of the oceans of our planet. The pictures and photography is spectacular, with incredible detail and color. The book is also packed with information on different fish and watery wildlife from below, showing just how complicated and fascinating nature can get in an ecosystem of darkness with a pressure level that would squash an ordinary person as flat as a pancake.

Originally written on April 2, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Life in the Dark from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans of War” by Mary Roach (Norton, 2016)


Mary Roach has wowed her addictive readers with corpses (Stiff), sex (Bonk), and life in space (Packing for Mars). In Grunt she delves into a new arena with the world of the military and the science behind it that protects them in every way possible.

Roach begins with the military combat uniform and its development over time. The author does her job – as usual – as she delves back into America’s military past providing shocking and insightful tidbits, leading up to the current model. She dedicates entire chapters to combat medics, how the military and technology works with extreme heat, how to deal with excessive noise, military vehicles and how they are developed to protect the soldier in every conceivable situation.

The two chapters that are the most moving and poignant of the book are “Below the Belt” and “It Could Get Weird.” With the disturbing evolution of improvised explosive devices or IEDs, the number of men coming back from the front lines alive but often maimed and mutilated below the waist has increased significantly. Often IEDs go off beneath vehicles or from a low vantage point beneath the person causing the explosion to go upward and usually in the groin area. This had led to an astonishing and impressive development in penis reconstruction and genital transplants. Roach goes into fascinating detail with this line of medicine and surgery, as well as the slower development in therapy and helping these injured veterans in living their lives with their families again.

The book ends with a sobering chapter on the autopsies performed on the fallen men and women in action and how they are learning from this to help those soldiers fighting on the front lines.

With most of Mary Roach’s books there is a learning curve, but in Grunt the author learns and develops along with the reader as the military is one of those facets of our society that most of us are not brave enough to be a part of, and sometimes – perhaps often – take it for granted in the incredible daily job those women and men do, and know very little about. Grunt does a great job of educating us on this.

Originally written on July 12, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Grunt from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon” by Andres Ruzo (TED Books, 2016)


There is a Peruvian legend that Andres Ruzo once heard his father tell him, of a mysterious river deep within the Amazon jungle that consists of rushing boiling water so hot that anything living that falls into it is immediately boiled alive. It seems like little more than an entertaining folk tale that can’t possibly be true, but now a geoscientist, Andres Ruzo intends to find out whether there is any truth to this “boiling river” story.

Ruzo starts with the research, uncovering what stories he can about this unique river and reading what evidence there is. Through special grants and research trips each summer he travels to his native Peru in search of this river. He eventually is able to track the location within a sacred spaced watched over by local shamans and must gain permission before he can take his team there. When he finally sees the boiling river, through a cloud of steam, he cannot believe it. As he continues his research, he must consider what it means to preserve this sacred site from misuse and neglect.

The Boiling River is a fascinating story about one man’s discovery of this phenomenon that blends science with the Peruvian culture, as Ruzo provides plenty of photographic evidence to back up what he is documenting.

Originally written on March 3, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Boiling River from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.