New Year -- New Resources

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reprint more e-Books

You don't have to read industry publications to realize eBooks are booming, but Publisher's Weekly has a timely story today (see below) that makes it obvious that publishers should release as many new and backlist books as eBooks as possible -- just as trade paperback reprints exploded in the 1980s.

Although there are high upfront costs to making eBooks from books older than 10-15 years (because the original printing was from film and must be converted to digital files not just to a Kindle or Nook format), it is penny wise and pound foolish not to reissue eBooks, especially of authors who have new books just out, whether they are popular novelists or important scholars. 

Where necessary eBook prices could be higher than the average for the initial releases, and Foundations should subsidize academic eBook reissues from non-profits, especially University Presses.  If Apple is serious about reaching out to the education market, they should also make it as easy as possible for non-profits to put their books into the iBookstore, regardless of commercial "agency" model issues.  Reader on the iPad and iPod Touch will be more than a cool trend ONLY if the iBookstore increases it's inventory. Likewise, Kindle and Nook should discount university press conversions, so that every eBook can be bought from any online eBook retailer that sells the printed book, whether B&N or Amazon.

Readers need a choice of formats and, yes, they don't want to wait a long time for the eBook in order to be "forced" to buy an exclusive hardcover.  That's a way to lose readers not gain profits in today's fast moving eBook world.

link to PW here

E-book Sales Jump 172% in August
While sales in the print trade segments shrank in August, e-book sales had another strong month, jumping 172.4%, to $39 million, according to the 14 publishers that report sales to the AAP's monthly sales estimates. For the year-to-date, e-book sales were up 192.9%, to $263 million. AAP said that of the approximately 19 publishers that report trade sales, revenue in the January to August period was $2.91 billion, making the $263 million e-book sales 9.0% of trade sales. At the end of 2009, e-book sales comprised 3.3% of trade sales. The mass market segment, where sales were down 14.3% in the first eight months of 2009, represented 15.1% of trade sales through August. more...  link to PW here

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Remembering The Blitz in fiction

As you may remember, last Spring I had highly recommended Connie Willis' BLACKOUT, about 21st-century time travelers stuck in London during The Blitz; the sequel, ALL CLEAR, is due out from Bantam in October.

Also just published and highly praised is Jessica Francis Kane's novel,  THE REPORT (Graywolf), which alternates between interviews for a 1972 documentary and flashbacks about the worst civilian disaster in war-time, when a London Tube air raid shelter panic led to 170+ deaths in seconds, just like the crowds crushed in at the German music festival this year.

If you are interested in more about the "home front" aspect of WW II, in England and America, you will want to read 109 EAST PALACE:  Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos by Jennet Conant, The author, whose grandfather ran the Manhattan Project in Chicago, describes the tremendous effort required to create from scratch the town that housed the scientists who invented the atomic bomb, largely through the memoirs of a Santa Fe widow, Dorothy McKibbin, who single-handedly made the place liveable for researchers and their wives and children alike. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's the software, the page on the screen that matters


Since I have been reading on my iPad, I am very happy with the hardware, but the software makes me want better, better page design, better search and note talking options

As a reader, I want more choices, more mixed media, and more cross-indexing. I want to be able to have list of all my eBooks in one file; I want to be able to sort titles on the "shelf" by subject or keywords. Searching as list is not the same as browsing book jackets. At least until the printed book dies, I want that metaphor on my iPad in all the ways it can really replicate a library.

I love reading on my iPad. Even with the glare from too close reading lamps or outside sunshine is a small inconvenience. With an eBook reader I could only buy from one bookstore, and I couldn't compare page layouts. The iPad also gives me gorgeous black-and-white photographs in any reader,and great color in the iBookstore, although there are few books with any color that aren't Apps.

The true interactive, mixed-media potential of the iPad, the chance to combine audio, animation, video, and web links with text, exists in even fewer Apps than those with color. THE ELEMENTS remains the most imaginative book available, because it has 3D photography (and the Tom Leher song), but the scientific calculations exist only through links to the developer's web site, which, of course, you can access without an iPad.

That said, if I were reading only on a Kindle or a Nook, I would have no option for color or video. Likewise, if I bought only from the iBookstore, I would have a much smaller library of titles to choose from, since several major publishers and most small ones have not yet agreed to Apple's sales' model which is a consignment model unlike the way normal print books are paid for at wholesale prices. The iPad works for me only because it doesn't tie me to one retailer. I can buy from the store with the best inventory. I can also decide which software I like best for reading, which page layout, search function, highlighting and not taking is most convenient.

This software -- not the hardware -- I am convinced, is what readers should focus on now that we have choices, at different price points and with different inventories of books to buy and read electronically

Next blog: the words on the page are what we read.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

After the world as we know it ends in new ficiton

I’ve discovered two recent apocalyptic novels which I highly recommend:  FAR NORTH by Marcel Theroux and THE GONE AWAY WORLD by Nick Harkaway.  These are not dark, dystopic fantasies; they are more like Margaret Atwood’s books than Mad Max.

Theroux’s novel is very much like Russell Hoban’s RIDLEY WALKER, in that it is a first person account by a survivor who is focused on staying alive, yet who still wonders if it is safe to hope for more.  This novel is set in a near-future Siberian Arctic desert where only one woman, Makepeace, still lives in the small town her Quaker parents had founded when they migrated from Alaska to avoid the world’s drought-baked famine.  Her English is conventional (unlike Ridley’s phonetic, pidgin voice in Hoban’s superb novel), her trials and tribulations tough but surmountable, and I felt I traveled back and forth along the Tundra in a world that was all too easy to imagine could be real in a few decades.

Harkaway (a screenwriter and the youngest son of John Le Carre) is a very original story teller.  His protagonist knows exactly what Armageddon was like and how lucky he is to have survived.  Along the way, there are intricate layers of lyrical descriptions of the horrors which technology has wrought and Taoist mysteries which survive to fight them. The plot often doubles back on itself with confusing (and fantastical) digressions, but in the end, Harkaway makes believable that human beings can reinvent themselves as much more than predator and prey. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Transitioning ebook discussions to new blog

Please watch this space for a new blog which will be devoted solely to eBooks and digital publishing issues.  READ TO SURVIVE will remain my book review blog, and I will be trying to introduce indexing for the books discussed in archive posts.


AMeckeCo website

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Michael Pertschuk, a writer for optimistic liberals

A coalition builder's lesson for progressives
By Katrina vanden Heuvel;
Read today’s Washington Post recommending

Michael Pertschuk’s new book:
 (Vanderbilt University Press, paperback)

Mike has been a friend since I worked with him on REVOLT AGAINST REGULATION, which he wrote while standing firm as Liberal on Regan’s FTC.

He has been a life-long anti-smoking advocate, someone dedicated more to improving public health and saving lives rather than scoring ideological points, but he has no illusions about the obstacles to common sense changes that progressives continue to face.

You cannot learn from a better consumer advocate who walks the walk as well as talking the talk, and one of his heroes is Maryland’s Vincent DeMarco.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The best book news in Ages

In the NYT today a great story about how Google eBooks will help independent bookstores compete with the Chains:

Now one element of Google Editions is coming into sharper focus. Google is on the verge of completing a deal with the American Booksellers Association, the trade group for independent bookstores, to make Google Editions the primary source of e-books on the Web sites of hundreds of independent booksellers around the country, according to representatives of Google and the association.

The partnership could help beloved bookstores like Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore.; Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, Calif.; and St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York. To court the growing audience of people who prefer reading on screens rather than paper, these small stores have until now been forced to compete against the likes of Amazon, Apple and Sony.

Monday, June 28, 2010

iPad books I've bought

I thought I should make a list of the eBooks I’ve bought and read, excluding gratis classics, since I got my iPad at the beginning of April 2010. 

I think I am probably reading at twice my usual rate.   I also own more books now, since I don’t have to worry about investing in more bookshelves.  (I can’t yet download my public library eBooks onto the iPad; so I can’t test if I’d borrow rather than won a percentage of these books.)

Most eBooks are ones I would own.  I purchased several heavily illustrated books not available in eBooks during this time.  I downloaded Paul Harding’s novel, TINKER as soon as the eBook was released after it won the Pulitzer, and bought a paperback as a gift.

iPad Apps
Alpha Wolfram, App Developer and Thomas Gray, photographer, THE ELEMENTS -- The most innovative, authoritative and interactive iBook on the iPad. It makes me wish I'd been awake in Chemistry class!

Bill Clark, ACADIA: The Story Behind the Scenery (Just screen shots of pages with text and color, but good for planning a trip.)

Benjamin Vu, Michael Kingerly, Stephanie Olesh, TRUCKS! (If they add spelling the letters of the word on each page to the drawings of single trucks -- audio is really good for "Monster Truck" -- I'd pay for the upgrade for my great-nephew the kindergartner.)

I have, of course, also bought print editions during this time at my normal rate. 

Many of these eBooks are ones I probably would have postponed purchasing in print, since I do not have a bookstore within 15 miles of my house, and it is easy to browse through “sampling” on the bookstore Apps, easier than the Amazon online store.  I also find it easier to read books on related subjects simultaneously (such as Wood and Rakov, who each write about early American politics).

Kindle, B&N, iBookstore, and Kobo eBooks

Fyodor Dostoevsky, THE DOUBLE AND THE GAMBLER, Translated by Richard Pavear and Larissa Volkhonskey
Kathryn Schultz, BEING WRONG
Laura Skandera Twombley, MARK TWAIN’S OTHER WOMEN
Stefanie Pintoff, THE SHADOW OF GOTHAM
Virginia Woolf, MRS. DALLOWAY
Otto Penzler, Ed., THE LINEUP
Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, THE PHYSICS OF NASCAR
Stephen Prothero, GOD IS NOT ONE
Paul Harding, TINKERS
Connie Willis, FIRE WATCH


Friday, June 25, 2010

There's a book for that!

Quote of the day, from Nina Ayoub's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education

Authors should ask themselves: "What do you want to happen after the reader has finished your book?" Bill Germano, Dean and Professor of English, Cooper Union College.

Not the metrics, not the pixels, not the typeface only. It's the words that matter.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Who lives long enough to retire later?

Check this article out at, Web site of the Columbia Journalism Review:

Whose Longer Life? In a recent CNBC Squawk Box segment about Social Security and the possibility of raising the retirement age, Alice Rivlin tossed out the assertion that "people are living longer" so such a hike wouldn't hurt terribly. But who, exactly, is living longer? The wealthy, points out CJR's Trudy Lieberman, and the press should question the blithe assertion that everyone is.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The mobile office Redeux

This is a blog entry that began almost a week ago, when I was taking Amtrak’s Acela to DC from New Haven, Connecticut.

I boarded the train with a suitcase I knew I didn’t have to open, and my iPad carried lightly in my purse. I was equally pleased with my carbon footprint (despite the hour drive to the nearest station) and the efficiency with which I was prepared to read manuscripts, send email, and maybe even download a new book to read in the 4 hours it would take to arrive in Washington, where I was looking forward to a visit with my oldest friend and a conference which I always find invigorating.

For those of you outside the Northeast, Acela is the business-class train from Boston to our nation's capital. It is more expensive, depending on the time of day. All cars have free WiFi. That's why I was looking forward to being online even though my iPad has no 3G, and I don’t try to type on my Blackberry.

What Acela doesn’t have is any better track bed than the regular Amtrak trains, which is why it is not what any European or Japanese would call a “fast” train, and it only saves you time (30 minutes from New York to DC) because of fewer stops.

The first hour and a half of my trip I was a very happy camper.

I browsed the NY Times, efficiently read and sorted email, mostly newsletters that early in the morning, and enjoyed being in “The Quiet Car.” The Times had a great review of a new book that sounded very interesting, and I opened the iBookstore App, where, not surprisingly, the book wasn't on sale, since only about 20 percent of eBooks are so far. Barnes and Noble didn't have the eBook yet either, but the Kindle edition was already online. Seconds later the book was on my iPad and I was glad to find it as interesting as the review predicted.

Feeling happy as a Nerd in Bits, I proceeded to start writing a blog entry about my digital success. Not wanting to bother cutting and pasting, through my iPad Pages program, I went online opened my Google blog and began writing.

I was in the middle of waxing eloquent, when the Acela WiFi connection broke. And, of course, my draft disappeared, and I cursed my stupidity for not writing off line. My bad. We had just pulled into New York's Penn Station. I thought going underground might be the problem, and I bravely vowed to rewrite from scratch and post when we had passed through Newark.

Unfortunately, for the next three and a half my iPad network recognized and let me connect to the Acela WiFi -- only to drop me anytime I wanted to download or refresh an App. I was so preoccupied with trying again and again to get the WiFi working, I didn’t spend time recreating my enthusiastic endorsement of the new mobile office.
I didn't want to hassle the conductors for tech advice, because the car was crowded. I could read, and because of the iPad, I could choose from over 25 books I had downloaded since April, some of them well worth rereading already.

Of course, I had to reward my one success with WiFi by opening the new book. The best part of train travel for me is enough time to read (unlike planes) and no highway motion sickness. I was dozing comfortably in minutes. When I woke around Baltimore, I thought I would just plug in headphones and wait until later in the day to go back online.

Then I remembered that my host had said she only had email at work. Suddenly I knew my poet friend probably would not have WiFi. To add to my consternation, I had not done a new synch with my Blackberry with all the DC contact info I needed; I had not researched the DC WiFi hotspots or downloaded a Metro transit map or street guide. I have often been a tourist and business traveler in DC, but not often enough to avoid getting lost while I try to adjust to a city unlike the easy grid of Manhattan and. Subway system with variable fares and lines with no obvious way to tell “uptown” from “downtown.”

I had to resort tom calling home so my spouse could read me the right phone number off my left-behind-because-too-heavy laptop.

Who failed whom? Do I regret depending on the iPad? Not at all. Do I think I know how to use the electronics I have already bought? No way.

Do I wish that Amtrak trains got to DC faster than they did 40 years ago when I took the first “Metroliner” on a High School trip?

You betcha!

To be continued

Friday, June 11, 2010

Reading and writing on Train

First, I thought it would be really cool to blog about using the Acela amtrak (thank you VP BIden) wifi network to read the NY
Times online, see a book review, and download the ebook -- which I just 30 minutes ago.

But I forgot to hit "save" before there was a bug in the server as we entered Penn Station and so I have to start all over again. More after I save this.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

iPad cover for book lovers

There is a great article about iPad covers on ZDNet, recommending this aggregator site for a lot of independent designs:

I found the most appealing to be:, which is bound like a book in faux leather and bamboo, and doubles as a stand.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Still reading books

I was kind of relieved that I enjoyed reading a print book again so much last night. I had ordered Paul Harding’s TINKER, the Pulitzer Prize winning-novel, which is published by a small press. I wasn’t surprised that the ebook had not been released when the Pulitzer was announced a few weeks ago, but it has been now.

I guess I was afraid that the convenience and the “gadget” appeal of my iPad might have ruined books for me. Silly me; a printed page is a beautiful thing to touch and read, although I have to tell you a perfect bound, small format paperback like this, which is stiff and hard to hold open with one hand, has it’s limitations for reading in bed too. I saw a note in our local library newsletter and volunteered to show the librarian my iPad. I’ll be interested to hear what she thinks the client demand for ebooks will be in our bookstore-less town.

I still find few of the books which I look for in ebook format in the iBookstore, which surprises me only because I know a lot of ebook distributors who convert and transmit books for smaller publishers as a middleman are working out deals with Apple. So far only 5 large commercial houses (minus Random House) have direct deals with the iBookstore. Clearly the agency model* demand of Apple is slowing things down, but that isn’t really affecting consumers yet because Amazon or Kobo can pick up the slack. (When will B&N release their iPad App? The iPhone version is unreadable in the 2x format!)

Meanwhile, from non-fiction to novels, I am happy to have my current reading list instantly at my fingertips without having all my side-tables covered with stacked books. It hasn’t stopped me wanting to run my hands over my library shelves.

And I don’t want to mislead you that I only read books on the iPad. I read news (easier on the eyes than my lap top), manuscripts, but I also watch YouTube, Netflix, listen to new music, and test out a few games.

The instant Video is distracting but I have yet to see “enhanced” ebooks that are truly multi-media. Even the fabulous Elements App is so far above my science and math head that I can’t figure out how to do much more than watch the enhancements! A glossary (probably aimed at middle-schoolers) would save me going back and forth to Safari to find out what a quadratic equation is. I’m still working on that – and what relevance it has to a chemical compound.

*for more about the new business model, which is arcane, check out Publishers Weekly on line.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

iPad jokes and Web research tools

It is harder than I thought it would be to keep up with notes on the iPad and ebook readers, but meanwhile, here is a very funny piece from the New Yorker:

FYI, I do find the page turning more satisfactory in the iBook reader than the Kindle App, but I am still finding fewer books in the iBookstore.

If you find yourself overwhelmed when researching on Google or even within Google Books or Scholars, check out this new subscription service from Oxford University Press, as reviewed in Ars Technica:

The OBO tool is essentially a straightforward, hyperlinked collection of professionally-produced, peer-reviewed bibliographies in different subject areas—sort of a giant, interactive syllabus put together by OUP and teams of scholars in different disciplines. Users can drill down to a specific bibliographic entry, which contains some descriptive text and a list of references that link to either Google Books or to a subscribing library's own catalog entries, by either browsing or searching. Each entry is written by a scholar working in the relevant field and vetted by a peer review process. The idea is to alleviate the twin problems of Google-induced data overload, on the one hand, and Wikipedia-driven GIGO (garbage in, garbage out), on the other.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nook wifi only versions to come

If you don't need the iPad video or color display, and you're intrigued ebook readers, keep an eye out for some "lite" versions of existing black-and-white ebook readers. This Wi Fi only Nook from Barnes and Noble may cost only $200. Keep watching for more such less expensive competition to be released by other vendors, including, we hope, Amazon Kindle.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ever wonder if anyone else is "out there" in the Universe?

I’m reading a wonderful new science book on my iPad (via the Kindle App), Paul Davies’ THE EERIE SILENCE. He’s a long-time SETI researcher (looking for signals of life on other planets), a Templeton prize-winner (an award for reconciling science and faith ecumenically).

The book explains the basic physics, biology, chemistry, and geology needed to even evaluate the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. The review I read mentioned that Davies is arguing for a much broader kind of search for radio transmissions than SETI has used so far, but the book is much less technical and policy oriented than it might seem from such a goal.

If you need to be reminded about why life needs water and why amino acids are not sufficient alone to create life, this book will help you ease yourself back into memoires of your younger self, when wondering about and testing hypotheses were equally fun.

A practical note: This ebook was not yet in the iBookstore, and even if it had been, there would have been little difference in the reading experience whether I had bought the Apple vs. the Amazon format. It is all text. Furthermore, the iBookstore has very little information about the books (although the sampling feature is helpful.) You can get a lot of detail from the Amazon pages for the printed book. Making a decision about a book you’ve only read one review of is much easier on Amazon.

It’s not likely that iTunes will start adding a lot of retail promotional copy to their offerings, but I do hope books get a little more attention as books, since they are bought and sold very differently, I think than music or TV shows. Being able to zero in on Pulitzer or Booker Prize winners, NY Times and USA Today bestsellers, for example, would be nice, but that will have to wait until more of them are released as ebooks. Of course by showing publishers that people are looking for books they can’t find in the iBookstore, Apple would have leverage to get more companies to want to stock their books everywhere.

Friday, April 9, 2010

New book review site on law and justice

Publishers Weekly makes note of a new site for book reviews, excerpts and author interviews about law and justice, from the NYT Law School’s Brennan Center. This is a welcome supplement to dwindling mass media book reviews:

On the site, *Just Books is described as “a new, first-of-its-kind book site about justice, books and ideas. The inaugural posts include contributions from David Remnick, Garry Wills, Eric Alterman, Gretchen Rubin, Dahlia Lithwick, Jeff Shesol, Hon. Mickey Edwards, Theodore Marmor, suggested reading from Michael Mukasey, Robert M. Morgenthau, Bill Clinton and more.”


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

iPad is great for books, dowloaded movies

I'm still getting a few kinks worked out in using my iPad (mostly involving problems with my Windows lap top and syncing through iTunes, which is probably my HP hardware problem.)

Nevertheless, the Amazon Kindle App is a great reader, and it was easy to bring my Kindle books over.

I haven't ordered new books through on Kindle yet, because of having to go through the bowser. The iBook store has the "one click" advantage here, but is not as good a shopping experience -- they really send you to the few, top books in every category, and as I said before, they don't have much metadata as a real bookstore does.

I will be glad to try the B&N reader too, since I've liked that very much on my PC. I'm finishing War and Peace on Kindle and started Moby Dick (free version) on iBook. You do really have to watch your budget when you don't even see your order total unless you look for it.

I wish I could search across my several different ebook reader libraries. I can go back, of course, to Google Books to build a single list, which gives me a reason to explore Google's Library feature.

The Netflix App is fantastic for watching videos on-line. The small screen is perfect for watching in bed (bluetooth headphones will make it even better). I'm not sure if I would ever use iTunes for videos, even "rent to own," and I don't know how my 16g memory will feel if I do. Flying or a long train trip, where I won't be in a WiFi spot, is the only reason I would need to keep the video I think.

Did you see that game?

I'm a person who only watches a few sports games on TV, usually championships, more often a sport I grew up playing (tennis, baseball), but I don't think I've ever seen a more exciting basketball game than last nights Duke Butler contest.

It's more fun than watching NBA players (almost all of whom seem 7 feet these days) dunk and hang on the basket.

Although Butler lost, the game was awesome, and I love reading how likely another great 2011 season will be. It may change March Madness forever for me.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I have had my iPad for two days now. As an ebook reader it's
Wonderful. The iBook store is simple is simple to use, but very short on meta data about the books. Sampling is much more limited than Amazon print info which is so easily accessible from The Kindle store. You need to know the book you want.

But reading is wonderful in iBook formats. More to come soon on Kobo, Kindle, and barnes and Noble apps.

As you can see, still getting used to keypad.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mass Media and Science writing

If you are interested in how science is reported in the media, I can recommend two books I've just read:

PHYSICS FOR FUTURE PRESIDENTS: The Science behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller (Norton paperback)

AM I MAKING MYSELF CLEAR? A Scientist's Guide to talking to the Public by Cornelia Dean (Harvard University Press)

The first is based on the author's UC Berkeley class, and it explores what's the media and the public usually get wrong about the risks and benefits of science and technology.

The second is by a former NYT columnist and argues that scientists must reach out more to journalists and must learn to describe their work in accessible language themselves.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tea Baggers verbally assault John Lewis, Barney Frank

I don't understand why The Kansas City Star and Fox News are the only US news sites which have reported this story about racial slurs directed at Black Congressmen, including John Lewis, by Tea Baggers yesterday (and gay slurs against Frank).

Update: The Washington Post has just put up an article.

Other US sources on Google are only blogs. The International papers are picking it up.

Fox News is also the only one to report any repudiation by Republicans, in their case Michael Steele.

As disturbing is the comment on the NYT blog which argues that this is justifiable anger against liberals who don't listen to their constiuents.

Congressmen are abused by protesters at DC demonstration against health care bill
Kansas City Star - William Douglas - ‎11 hours ago‎
W ASHINGTON | Demonstrators outside the US Capitol, angry over the proposed health care bill, shouted obscenities at members of the ...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Re-reading history


You'll want to reread Homer after reading this, but you'll also probably find yourself reading first-hand accounts of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan too.


I been listening to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because this history of the way English developed is strongest in it's explanation of how the "word hoard" grew and the changes in pronunciation are as interesting as the way English conquered by constantly changing.

BATTLE OF WITS: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II
by Stephen Budiansky

Ever since I worked on William Stephenson's book about the secret history of Enigma and Ultra in WWII when the Official Secrets Act was first lifted, I have been fascinated by books on the subject. Every decade brings new revelations, and this book (unfortunately out of print but available used) is a marvelous overview of both American and British, Japanese and German codebreaking.

The math is complex (frankly, I skim these parts, since I only understand how hard the problem is, not how it is solved), but the individuals profiled are even more interesting.The section about the pre-war efforts of Poles to break Nazi codes and Enigma machines is far more heroic -- and vital to winning the war -- as told here than any I have read before.

The complete story of events on both sides of the Atlantic is simply amazing. It required an extraordinary combination of ingenuity, courage, innovation, physical and mental endurance, patriotism, and sheer luck in the face of a formidable military enemy and the usual bureacratic resistance to change.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The false promise of "Big Idea" education reform

In the LA Times today Diane Ravitch has a good companion piece to Bill Maher in my previous post.,0,2024751.story

Ravitch warns:

Once again, I find myself sounding the alarm that the latest vision of education reform is deeply flawed. But this time my warning carries a personal rebuke. For much of the last two decades, I was among those who jumped aboard the choice and accountability bandwagon. Choice and accountability, I believed, would offer a chance for poor children to escape failing schools. Testing and accountability, I thought, would cast sunshine on low-performing schools and lead to improvement. It all seemed to make sense, even if there was little empirical evidence, just promise and hope.

Today there is empirical evidence, and it shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working. But with confidence bordering on recklessness, the Obama administration is plunging ahead, pushing an aggressive program of school reform -- codified in its signature Race to the Top program -- that relies on the power of incentives and competition. This approach may well make schools worse, not better.

No child left behind at home

I often find Bill Maher's liberal libertarian impulses too smug, but I think he really nails it with a new HuffingtonPost piece on education when he says:
The number one predictor of a child's academic success is parental involvement...It's also been proven that just having books in the house makes a huge difference in a child's development.

He also points out that typical American animosity toward teachers has its roots in very personal revenge fantasies, not in sound educational theory:

Yes, America has found its new boogeyman to blame for our crumbling educational system. It's just too easy to blame the teachers, what with their cushy teachers' lounges, their fat-cat salaries, and their absolute authority in deciding who gets a hall pass. We all remember high school - canning the entire faculty is a nationwide revenge fantasy. Take that, Mrs. Crabtree! And guess what? We're chewing gum and no, we didn't bring enough for everybody

It is very upsetting to me that President Obama seems to add punishment for not meeting higher standards to No Child Left Behind without adding any Federal help for teachers or parents. Given his mother's early morning tutoring, surely he must know that learning doesn't take place only in school or without "homework helpers."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tibet, Homer and heroes

I recently got added TIVO to my cable TV set up, and I have found the instant downloads from Netflix delightful, especially for documentaries. I strongly recommend Blindsight, a film about a school for the blind in Lhasa Tibet which was founded by two Germans, and an expedition trekking in the Himalayas led by an American man who was the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest. You can see more about the sponsoring group at the web site for Braille without Borders. Not the least interesting part of the story is how these foreigners were allowed to build a school within Communist Tibet, where the culture still treats the blind as lepers, people who have been punished for the bad karma of their previous lives.

My other new gadget is an iPod Nano. I downloaded several new non-fiction audiobooks, including The War that Killed Achilles, which provides a fascinating new perspective on the anti-war themes in Homer’s reworking of the classic “heroic” epic, including evidence from new excavations at Troy and new scholarship about the Indo-European roots of early Greek mythology. The author, Caroline Alexander, has written before about Ernest Shackleton and the story of how Captain Bligh survived the mutiny on the Bounty.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Novel of the WWII London Blitz

One of my favorite writers, Connie Willis, has just published a new novel, BLACKOUT, and if you like WWII stories, historical fiction, science fiction (rather than fantastic) time-travel, and social comedy, you can't do better than drop everything and read this next. I listened to the audiobook which was particularly mesmerizing.

Michael Dirda has a wonderful review in today's Washington Post, which does more justice than I can. (I can fault him only for not mentioning my all time favorite Connie Wills story, the novela Bellweather).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reading through the ages at Harvard

Thanks to Library Journal magazine, I just learned about a fabulous new site which features Harvard's historical library collections about the science of reading and textbooks teaching reading. Check it out:

Hiroshima book sources discredited

The publisher has cancelled their contract with Charles Pellegrino for THE LAST TRAIN FROM HIROSHIMA because one of his sources has been proved to have lied and others are uncertain.

In today's paper:

Iffy sourcing brings down 'Hiroshima'
Henry Holt is dropping publication of "The Last Train From Hiroshima" after the author, Charles Pellegrino, failed to adequately answer questions about a source in the book and the revocation of his PhD more than 25 years ago.
(By Steven Levingston, The Washington Post)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Garrison Keillor goes for Gold

Keillor's Op Ed piece in today's NYT is brilliant satire, especially the part about conservatives being like people who drive a car into a swamp and then start throwing mud balls at the tow truck.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Stupid is as Stupid does

If America's the "best country in the world" why are so many Americans so angry that they think it's "understandable" to fly a plane into a building to protest taxes?

Why do Tea Baggers think that if a family can't afford to pay 20% of their income for private health insurance, they should just go bankrupt if someone gets cancer, but if you don't pay your taxes so you can own a Cessna you have a right to feel homicidal?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Isaac Newton's detective work

I have just caught up with the new book from Tom Levenson NEWTON AND THE COUNTERFEITER (Houghton/Harcourt). The premise alone is very intriguing, and I love Tom's approach to history.

I worked with Tom, who runs the MIT Masters Program in science writing, when he published EINSTEIN IN BERLIN, and he is one of the very best history of science writers around. He also has a background as a NOVA producer.

I'm experimenting with listening on audio and reading the Kindle version on my laptop (you can do that with the free KindleforPC software on Amazon). More to come on how that works for me.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New book on Hiroshima and Nagsaki

Recommended reading:

Charles Pellegrinos' The Last Train from Hiroshima

reveiwed by Joseph Kanon, in The Washington Post 2-6-2010

Having worked on both scholarly and fictional books about the history of the Atom Bomb, I have always thought the moral tragedy was not in having dropped the Bomb to avoid an invasion, but in the way Americans did nothing to provide any information about radiation to the Japanese either between Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The accounts of those on the ground about casualties who survived the explosion are far sadder than the death totals. We already knew the full danger of radiation because many of the scientists who had worked on the Bomb had already died from exposure.

Whether or not US could have forced surrender with minimal loss of life in any way than dropping this terrible new weapon on Hiroshima (and there is a lot of evidence that they could not have done so), our refusal to help the Japanese understand -- and be able to treat -- the "collateral" damage of this new weapon increased the human suffering without saving lives of combatants.

It would decades before Norman Cousins orchestrated aid for those still suffering from injuries and dying from cancer without the benefit of medical research treatments which were readily available but didn't share with the world. Not only the Japanese suffered, since many Americans were deceived about the health dangers of their exposure during the period of above-ground testing.

This new book out by Charles Pellegrino focuses on what happened to the people at ground zero gets a wonderful review in the Washington Post today. The reviewer, Joseph Kanon, has also written a very powerful novel about Los Alamos. Pellegrino pulls no punches about the suicidal intransigence of the Japanese military and government; but it doesn't let Americans off the hook for refusing to acknowledge the extend that the Bomb was not just another weapon, but the dawn of a new age in which, ever since, civilian radiation casualties from Hiroshima to Chernobyl have been mistreated and ignored.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Salinger continued

There have been many interesting essays and discussions about Salinger, but among the best on his work is Louis Menard's essay on the 50th anniversary of CATCHER IN THE RYE, which you can find on the New Yorker site:

The New Yorker’s website has Louis Menand’s 2001 essay “Holden at Fifty.” They’re also offering links to thirteen stories by Salinger (subscription required).

Tom Ashbrook's radio show "On Point" (WNPR) also had an interesting discussion with two scholars and links, including the above.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP JD Salinger

Catcher in the Rye was my mother's favorite book. It came out the year I was born, and whenever she was feeling blue, she would take a long bath and reread an often soggy paperback. I don't remember when I first read it myself, and that may be because I thought I had inherited it imbedded in my memory since birth, rather than having acquired it like other books.

The book of his that became my solace, in college, was Franny and Zooey. I treasured every sentence of Nine Stories; I was moved by the finality of Seymour, An Introduction, but above all I loved -- and still do -- Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters, probably because its about a Manhattan much like the post-war city in which my parents had met. Adding to that patina of false nostolgia, I learned for the first time from his obituaries today, that Salinger had landed on Utah Beach at D-Day, where my mother's only brother had come ashore in the first wave. I always knew that I probably wouldn't have known Uncle Frank if it had been Omaha instead. Now I imagine (with a mind's eye totally saturated by "Saving Private Ryan") the Captain and the Sergeant passing like ships in the night on the battlefield.

What is also ironic -- but not surprising -- is what I just read in the NYT today about how Harcourt (the company where I first worked in publishing) rejected Catcher in the Rye. For proof of "the more things change the more they remain the same," check out the David Itzkoff's blog:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lots of e-book reader hardware to come

You will be reading more and more hype about e-books this month, in part because of the Consumer Electronics Show and the Apple Tablet, but keep in mind a very interesting (and possible cheaper than Apple) solution: new dual black and white and color screens, such as The Alex Reader, from Spring Designs.

The advantage of a dual-screen reader over the Nook or Kindle is that you can browse the internet or follow URL links at the same time you are reading in black-and-white, which is better for text. You can also have imbedded links to color illustrations, which is essential for professional books.