“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

Wright Brothers
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When you think of the Wright Brothers you think of the guys who flew the first plane and were the key pioneers in the development of flight. You may also get an image in your mind of that particular biplane depicted on the cover of David McCullough’s new book, The Wright Brothers.

It was on a winter’s day in North Carolina that the two brothers, Orville and Wilbur, successfully completed the first manned flight and created history. But what were the events that led up to this historic moment? David McCullough is a skilled historian when it comes to covering renowned people, and in this relatively short 336-page book — for McCullough — he does an excellent job of covering the Wrights’ story from birth to death.

He begins with the family moving to Dayton and how the brothers, in addition to spending most of their time together, were workaholics who worked Monday to Saturday, and then after church on Sunday, spent their time working around the house. When they were together, no problem could go unsolved with them putting their minds together. One of their early businesses was a bicycle company, with the growing popularity of this mode of transportation, which became extremely successful and profitable with the sale of bikes, as well as repairing.

As their obsession with flight grew and developed, they would spend summers in Kittyhawk, working on their planes, subsidized by the profits from their bicycle business, which they would run during the rest of the year. Their sister, Katharine, soon joined the team and became an inseparable member until the later years of their lives, traveling with them around the world and helping with the administrative side of the business.

McCullough does a fantastic job of pulling from multiple primary sources to shape the story of this unique family, with diary entries, letters, articles and numerous photos. He doesn’t just tell the story of flight, but shows the full lives of the Wrights; how they interacted with each other and lived their daily lives. McCullough makes the Wrights feel like real people, making their achievements all the more incredible. The key point the author makes repeatedly is that the Wright brothers were the ultimate American entrepreneurs, with no training or experience, but simply taught themselves, using a process of trial and error, until they made a contraption that could lift off from the ground and fly through the air for an extended amount of time, making the crucial foundation for flight that has led to the magnificent jet engines crossing the skies today.

Originally written on July 10, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

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

“Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles” by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins, 2015)


The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most documented events in history; it’s also one of those times in history that’s very close to Bernard Cornwell’s heart. The bestselling author is known for his medieval historical fiction and is definitely a master of the genre, but now, for the first time, Cornwell has created a work of nonfiction in Waterloo.

The subtitle encapsulates the book: the history of four days, three armies, and three battles. The book is divided into relatively short but riveting chapters, each ending with a selection of photos and artwork – in color where available – making Waterloo a wonderfully illustrated edition for any history buff. Cornwell spends little time with the first two battles, Ligny and Quatre-Bras, providing a detailed step-by-step report of the battles in Cornwell’s talented way, and using detailed formation maps to make things clear for the reader.

The last third of the book is dedicated to the battle of Waterloo and perhaps what makes the book so fascinating is how much Cornwell uses from letters and diaries and other primary sources that give the book life, taking the reader back to the historic time.

Originally written on June 4, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

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

“Future Arctic: Field Notes From a World on the Edge” by Edward Struzik (Island Press, 2015)

Future Arctic

“Just the tip of the iceberg” is a painfully apropos metaphor for the state of climate change and how the Arctic and Antarctic zones of the planet serve as a sort of scrying stone for what the future may hold. While some evidence may be hard to come by for the current state of the world, what is happening in the Arctic is undeniable fact melting before our very eyes.

Edward Struzik is a hardcore explorer and journalist who has traveled across the limits of the Arctic and in Future Arctic paints a very moving picture about where it is headed. Along with plenty of research about the state of things, Struzik also provides lots of anecdotal evidence from the native peoples of the region recounting how their world has changed. The author even travels far into the past to a time when the region was warmer and how its flora and fauna fared.

Future Arctic is certainly bleak at points, but also enlightening as Struzik analyzes various possibilities about how the Arctic will appear transformed by climate change and what it means for the rest of the growingly fragile planet.

Originally written on March 18, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Future Arctic from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Infections” by David Quammen (Norton, 2012)


Spillover is one of those books that everyone should really read, even if it’s really scary and after completing it, you’d have problems doing anything without wondering what viruses might be waiting to attach themselves to your skin. Bestselling author David Quammen looks to perhaps scare you with Spillover, but ultimately educate on both the history of these viruses and what the current status is of them today.

The book is divided into parts and features a thorough coverage of viruses like Ebola, SARS, Hendra and AIDS to name a few, as well as infections like hepatitis and malaria. Each part features an interesting history of the particular virus or disease, how it was first discovered and the devastation it has caused throughout the world, and then a look into its current situation and what it might bode for the future. Quammen is quick to point out in the Ebola chapter of how one being infected by the virus is more likely to show symptoms and the less bloody stages one goes through to death, as opposed to the sensationalist portrayal of someone dying of Ebola in Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone. The AIDS chapter is perhaps the most fascinating in covering the detailed history of the virus and how it is one that is still killing many and while there are medications that help, it is still one that shouldn’t be easily forgotten about.

After finishing Spillover, in addition to being somewhat terrified, readers will also feel as if they’ve ingested an important volume of knowledge and will feel educated now on most of the world’s known diseases and ready to face the next pandemic when it comes . . . or at the least be a little more hygienic in their daily lives and wash their hands more often.

Originally written on February 17, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

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

“God’s Facebook” by Najmus Saquib (Innovation and Integration Inc., 2012)

God's Facebook

While Najmus Saquib earned his Ph D. in engineering, he is a philosopher at heart, with deep interests in literature, social dynamics and comparative religion.  In God’s Facebook, Saquib sets out to show the evolution of God through the history of humanity, starting in early primitive times, and continuing up through the present and into the possible future.  He does this partly with his own words, but also with quotes from many different sources, be they sacred texts, personal biographies, or even works of fiction.  His goal is to show that with the many similarities in all religions, with how god is seen at the center, that people will see and understand this and feel that humanity is all one.

The book is divided up into chapters by time period, such as Chapter 3 – God is Born (250,000 to 2000 BC) or Chapter 4 – God Gives Us Religions (2000 to 1000 BC).  In each chapter he covers that period in time with a short history of the religion and beliefs of the time, and what was changing.  In every chapter there are numerous quotations from a variety of texts and people linked to the particular subject of that chapter.  To break up the quotes, there are also “Coffee Breaks” and “Like” sections.

Saquib even addresses atheism in some chapters, though it doesn’t make much sense with the rest of the book, as the quotes are added in there as awkward pieces that don’t the puzzle of God’s Facebook.  What feels missing from the book is a clear message.  If Saquib is hoping to link humanity with just the quotes alone, that is not enough.  It does show some of the numerous similarities with many religions, but as is true with many people of faith, they need guidance, and there seems little of it in God’s Facebook.

Originally written on February 13, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of God’s Facebook from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Round About the Earth” by Joyce E. Chaplin (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Round About the Earth

There have been many books written about the notorious explorers from history, like Columbus, Magellan, Cook and even Darwin.  There are also now a fair number of people who can make the claim that they have circumnavigated this globe.  Joyce E. Chaplin presents readers with the first full history on those who have traveled around the world and told their story.

Divided into sections, Chaplin presents the series of historical tales starting with Magellan, giving the ups and downs of the journey.  She points out that it wasn’t until the twentieth century that these round-the-world trips actually returned to their starting point with most of the crew still alive.  All the greats make it into this book, such as Francis Drake, William Dampier, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, and James Cook.  When sea travel became safer, people like Charles Darwin made the journey, as well as some notable women like Lady Brassey.

With the advent of encompassing railroad travel and exotic cruise ships, round the world journeys became much more achievable and common for a lot of people.  And with the advent of the space race, a new concept of circumnavigating the globe came into play, with an elite few achieving it.  Chaplin has fun exploring these many journeys and why people seem driven to accomplish it.  While her writing can get a little dry and long-winded at points, Round About the Earth still represents an interesting foray into this unique group of travelers.

Originally written on February 11, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Round About the Earth from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The World Until Yesterday: What We Can Learn From Traditional Societies” by Jared Diamond (Viking Press, 2013)

The World Until Yesterday

After the bestsellerdom of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs and Steel and the popular Collapse, the talented anthropologist Jared Diamond returns with his long-awaited next book, The World Until Yesterday.  But things have to be long-awaited for Diamond, as he doesn’t just keep churning out non-fiction books, but decides on what message he wants to tell and teach to his readers. He also spends a lot of his time lecturing, giving talks, and traveling around the world, as well as most importantly, to New Guinea where he does his research and has been visiting since the 1960s.

In The World Until Yesterday, Diamond goes into detail about what a number of traditional societies from around the world do and how they act and react when it comes to things like raising a child, religion, conflict resolution, treatment of the elderly and many other important subjects we all have to deal with in our lives. The traditional groups Diamond focuses on are: New Guinean tribes, Australian tribes, Eurasian tribes, African tribes, North American tribes, and South American tribes.

As with his other books, Diamond is not looking to tell the reader what to think or believe, but merely to illustrate what these traditional societies have done for many centuries, and what they continue to do, and what we can possibly learn from this. This includes the subject of child rearing and always keeping the child close in a skin to skin contact in the early years of birth, instead of putting the child in a stroller and away from the parent; or treating the elderly in a more respected manner, than putting them away in elderly care home; or having a detailed system to deal with conflict situations so parties that have suffered harm can be correctly compensated. Again, Diamond is not saying that the first world should adopt all these measures to better their society, but to learn from these and perhaps apply some of the techniques to help improve their lives.

As with any Diamond book, The World Until Yesterday is not an easy read, and takes some long focus and concentration to read through, but at the end of it the reader is filled with a new understanding about the world and how many traditional societies live and breathe in their own lifetimes. Diamond uses a poignant framing device of his boarding a plane in Los Angeles to New Guinea and talks about the world he is about to leave, and the one he is about to enter; and then does the opposite at the end of the book, leaving this traditional society he has become a part of for some time, and returning to the modern one in California. As with any Diamond book, it is an enlightening and fascinating story that is well worth the read.

Originally written on June 12, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The World Until Yesterday from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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