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Ralph D. Hermansen RSS Feed (Lake Isabella, CA United States)

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The Finisher
The Finisher
by David Baldacci
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.26
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful fast-paced adventure, April 6, 2014
This review is from: The Finisher (Hardcover)
The book is "The Finisher" and the author is David Baldacci. If someone had told me what this book was about, I wouldn't have bought it and that would have been my loss. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Once I was pulled into the story, I couldn't put it down.

I picked up "The Finisher" solely for one reason; David Baldacci wrote it and his recent novels had been enjoyable. However, as I started reading it, I thought to myself, "This is not a typical Baldacci thriller, it is science fantasy. " It was a narrative story told by a young female Wug, Vega Jane, living in the town of Wormwood. Magical things happen in the story and Vega Jane's life becomes increasingly difficult. We readers witness her growth as she struggles with the challenges she faces.

There is a philosophical depth to the story besides the obvious fact that it gives the reader an escape from the realities of everyday life to a magical place. There is a theme of good versus evil that is strongly present throughout the story. There is the mysteries of our origins. There is the growing self-confidence of Vega Jane as she rallies against adversity. There is a dungeons and dragons feeling to the story. Her power grows as she wins battles and finds things which enhance her abilities. I would love to hear a group of intellectuals analyze this book. There is more complexity here than her simple story of adventure.

This book is so skillfully written that I would recommend it to young authors to read as a superlative example of how to write a page-turner. It is imaginative, it is compelling, and it is beautiful. It is so suspenseful that I only put it down when my eyes got too tired to continue. Have yourself a delightful reading adventure and read "The Finisher". You will thank me for suggesting it.

Ralph Hermansen, April 6, 2014

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism
by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.60
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5.0 out of 5 stars Doris Knocks it Out of the Park, February 12, 2014
The book being reviewed is "The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and The Golden Age of Journalism" authored by presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin (DKG). It took me several weeks to read this 750 page masterpiece, but each reading session was delightful. I had heard her mention on a talk show many months previously, that Teddy Roosevelt was the man in her life of late. I had been anticipating the release of her new book ever since. Teddy Roosevelt (TR) is clearly my favorite president and I am convinced that his rich life story could not possibly be told in a single book. I have previously read one book devoted to his admirable and heroic conservationist record, another devoted to our country's less admirable occupation of the Philippines during his presidency, and a third book about his nearly fatal exploration of an Amazon river. He also played a small, but pivotal role in a book that I read about the Panama Canal Project. DKG has written the perfect book to fill the biggest gap in my knowledge of this national hero.

The other books mentioned in passing that TR broke up the monopolies and fought successfully to improve the lives of average working Americans. I accept that what they were writing must be historically true, but still it seemed improbable for a Republican to be motivated to bust up corporations, and considering that hands-off capitalism was at its zenith, it sounded impossible for one man to accomplish its reform. DKG explained it all for me in a way that seems just brilliant. She added William Howard Taft (WHT) to the story and also the reformist press of the day.

Adding WHT to the book was a brilliant writer's decision because these two men were contemporaries, united in their sense of fair play, lifelong friends except for a period of rivalry, yet very different in their personalities. TR was hawkish, decisive, hyper-energetic, sure of himself, intellectual, and he loved the spotlight. WHT was more reclusive, more deliberative, more tactful, wanted to be liked by everyone, and was really suited best for the judicial, not the administrative branch of government. DKG skillfully contrasts the two men throughout the book, and by that process, makes the book much more compelling. When you finish this book, you will know each man intimately and be invested in them. This historical novel has the emotional power of any fictional novel and you will find yourself at times in an exciting page-turner.

Adding the reformist press to the story was essential to our understanding of how TR was able to do what he did. He was up against an entrenched enemy. The Republican party was owned and controlled by the corporations. When he was Governor of New York, he was stymied by his own party. Even this early in his career, he began using the reformist press to keep him informed and as a tool to appeal directly to the voters. His trusted reporters had equal access to him as president. This is one of the differences between TR and WHT. Taft never capitalized on this powerful asset. Despite TR's reputation for decisive confrontation action, I learned that he was smart enough to use subtler, more patient strategies against an enemy as powerful as the monopolies and their congressional minions. He did not underestimate his opponents.

DKG also added flesh and blood to the period when TR lost his bid for nomination to replace HWT as Republican presidential candidate. In the other books, the whole period was disposed of in a paragraph or two. DKG tells the story in intimate detail. It is a story of political intrigue most compelling. Passion born of noble intentions led TR into splitting the Republicans and starting a new party. TR claimed that he was strong as a bull moose and that image stuck to the new, but ill-fated party. That same passion had temporarily destroyed the bond of friendship between TR and WHT. Time heals all wounds, they say. When that time for healing had done its job, the two old friends patched up their differences and became friends again. As DKG tells it, Taft learned that TR was in the lobby of his hotel one day. He quickly went down into the lobby and approached him with the greeting, "Hello Theodore!". TR rose and embraced his old friend. The onlookers on in the lobby, elated at their reunion turned toward them and applauded.

As you have guessed by now, I strongly endorse this wonderful book. The events in this book happened a little over one hundred years ago. Yet the similarity to the political climate of today is astounding. As Santayana once wrote," Those who refuse to learn for history, are doomed to repeat it".
Ralph D. Hermansen February 12. 2014

by Donald C. Johanson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.35
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lucy Revisited, February 3, 2014
This is a review of "Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind" by Don Johanson and Maitland Edgy. The first time I read it was in 2005 and I just reread it because I wanted compare their findings with some other paleoanthropology findings. I remember during the 2005 read, that it was a very satisfying experience. However after finishing it a second time, I thought "Wow, this is superb!" Many people are missing out on the experience because they probably don't even know the book exists.

When you complete this book, you will be more knowledgeable on several levels while being entertained the whole time. For one, you will come away knowing a great deal about the historical progress in this branch of science. "Paleo" means early and anthropology is the study of man. So, paleoanthropology is the study of early man. Neanderthal man was discovered in Germany during the time that Charles Darwin was postulating an African origin for early man. Geology was in its infancy then and most people thought the Earth was only a few thousand years old. The authors recount how the pioneers in finding proof of early man steadily broadened man's knowledge of the past. It is a story of controversy, clashes of egos, and roiling emotions. This is the process by which science is advanced. One generation builds upon the progress of the previous. Science is not really a dull topic, the battle of competing ideas can be as vicious as any war.

Next, we are seeing the world through the eyes of Don Johanson. He is working on his Doctor's thesis, which is research on the teeth of chimpanzees. He visits Europe to examine their collection, and on to Africa to personally examine the teeth of Australopithecus africanus, the man-ape fossils found in South Africa. The tour took him to Nairobi, where he rubs shoulders with the Leakey family, world famous paleoanthropologists. He is selected to head up the American half of an American/French team exploring for fossils in Ethiopia. This project becomes so successful that he returns year after year to continue the research. The reader vicariously shares the joys and frustrations of these treks. Johanson finds "Lucy", the most complete skeleton of such antiquity ever found. When the geological dating process is finally completed after years of retesting, Lucy is found to be between 3.0 and 3.5 million years old.

It seems Johanson's luck is without bounds. When a National Geographic's photographer visits their remote site at Hadar, The team discovers a family of fossil-men the next day. For the first time ever, the excavation of pre-human fossils are actually recorded on film. Thirteen different individuals, including men, women and children, are uncovered at now famous Site 333. Johanson was lucky, but none of these accomplishments were easy. Maneuvering the bureaucracy of the Ethiopian government was a nightmare that became ever more odious. A state of war developed in Ethiopia that imperiled the project constantly. Moreover, the site was far from civilization, uncomfortably hot, and very primitive. Goat meat was on their daily diet.

Back in his laboratory in Cleveland with all the specimens laid out on a table, Johanson feels the heavy responsibility of analyzing the samples and naming the species. He makes a wise decision to invite the supercritical Tim White to help him work through the data. The reader is a fly on the wall watching this process. You will think like a real anthropologist as you observe how anatomy, dating techniques, knowledge drawn from ancient animal fossils, and many other considerations come into play. After exhaustive analysis and debate, they decide on a name for the new species: "Australopithecus afarensis". The latter term selected after the Afar Triangle in the Great Rift Valley, where the fossils were found.

A storm of controversy followed, especially from the Leakeys. They believed the analysis undermined some of their favorite theories of how different species are connected in time. Johanson and White regret the attack from their friends and colleagues, but are glad they did their extensive analysis. They are sure they are correct.

I highly recommend this book to you. if you only read one book on paleoanthropology in your life, you couldn't do better than this one.

Ralph Hermansen, February 3. 2014

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.97
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science for the Non-Scientist, November 24, 2013
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The book being reviewed is "The Magic of Reality". It is authored by Richard Dawkins and illustrated by Dave McKean. I wish I had begun to read it sooner. I had put this book aside for months after buying it because the description on the back cover said it was recommended for young readers. I had thought to myself, " Oh! I accidently bought a children's book. I guess that I will set it aside until I find a suitable child to give it to." Now that I have read it cover-to-cover, I think this book is equally suitable for adults. I would even go so far to say that many adults would benefit more substantially from this book than young people would. The school system is designed to cover science with increasing rigor as the student progresses grade-to-grade. Thus, most children will learn what this book has to teach if they stay in school. On the other hand, polls have told us over and over again about the shameful level of scientific ignorance in our country. There is no system in place to reeducate the adults long out of school. I strongly suspect that Dawkins wrote this book was in an effort to help combat the pervasive scientific ignorance.

Curious and intelligent youngsters will no doubt benefit too. Admittedly, there are colorful pictures adorning nearly every page and that is an attraction for youngsters. Sometimes the pictures help make the text more understandable. Other times, the pictures merely are an adornment to attract readers, who shy away from text-only books. Even so, when I read what Richard Dawkins was explaining in the text, I thought of many adults, who have a weak understanding of science and could benefit from this book immensely. Many people only want a simple and understandable explanation of the science involved in some area. They want to be spared excessive elaboration and new technical jargon. Dawkins wrote this book for such readers.

Now, Richard Dawkins is a zoologist by education and a prolific author of books, which teach different aspects of evolutionary theory to a popular audience. He has a flair for making his books both educational and fun to read. In this book, Dawkins has boldly reached out beyond his usual scientific domain and attempted to explain phenomena from many scientific disciplines. He ventures into cosmology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, geology, and many other fields. In my opinion, he did it both very accurately and very skillfully. The late Isaac Asimov was another prolific author, who had a flair for decoding science for a popular readership. This was a half century ago, and though he did a brilliant job of covering many scientific fields, I can never forget one blunder that he made. Plate tectonics theory was in its infancy back then and Asimov declared it was ridiculous to believe that continents could actually move. I couldn't help recalling that blunder as I enjoyed the exquisite job that Dawkins did in teaching us about continental drift and plate tectonics.

Dawkins arranged the book so that a chapter began with a question. For example, What is an earthquake? He then may touch on some familiar examples and historic examples to show what he is talking about. Then he reaches around the world for examples of myths that have been used to explain earthquakes to fearful people looking to understand. In the case of earthquakes, he provided two examples: 1) from Japan, land floated on the back of a gigantic catfish. When it flipped its tail, the land would shake. 2) from New Zealand, Mother Earth was pregnant with her child, the God Ru. When the baby kicked or stretched in the womb, the Earth would shake. Next, Dawkins would explain earthquakes as understood by scientists today. He used this pattern of Question-Myth-Reality often in the book.

Dawkins also developed the theme of healthy skepticism. If you are presented with three possible explanations for an event, he suggests that you rate and compare each of them in terms of believability. Is "A" more probable than "B", but less probable than "C"? He guides the reader through several examples and explains why he thought one explanation was the most believable out of the provided list. What he was actually doing in my opinion, was teaching the reader to think more like a scientist. In one of my first jobs, I reported to a physicist, who was a practicing agnostic in the general sense of the word. The job was at Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago and it involved the design and construction of a powerful atom smasher. My boss was taken aback by my brash overconfidence in my judgments and proceeded to teach me the kind of thinking that Dawkins is advocating. My boss felt there were no absolutes and that everything was to be placed on a scale of believability. I am grateful for that mentoring so long ago, and now feel that his method is the key to thinking like a scientist. It is also a system for distinguishing between reality and fantasy. You can operate on solider ground.

Do I recommend that you read ""The Magic of Reality"? I definitely do! Even if you believe that you already know all the science covered in the book, it is worthwhile to review what you know. If your science knowledge is incomplete, you will greatly benefit from this book. Moreover, it will be fun. Dawkins has a skill in presenting material in a delightful manner and for me at least, the pages flew by. The myths are a beautiful contrast to the scientific explanations. They are enjoyable to read and illustrate how far man has advanced. After you have read it, pass it on for others to enjoy. We sorely need rational thinking voters in this complex world.

Ralph D. Hermansen, November 24, 2013
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An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist
An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.04
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Early Memoirs from Darwin's Advocate Dawkins, November 15, 2013
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The book being reviewed is, "An Appetite for Wonder" and the author is Richard Dawkins. I was recently watching the Bill Maher Show on TV, and Richard Dawkins came on as a guest. Apparently, he was making the rounds of the TV talk shows, promoting his new book. If I could magically talk to the individuals behind my TV screen, I might have held up my copy for him to see and have said, " Hey Richard, Look! I've already started it." Dawkins is one of my favorite authors and his ability to explain evolutionary theory, while making it fun to read, makes him one of my science heroes.

There are two ways to appraise an author's memoirs: One is to think of the book as a written version of what the author thinks is important in his life. If someone, that you admired, wanted to relate to you some story of his life, chances are that you would only interrupt him to clarify a point that you do not follow. Otherwise, you would let him tell his story in his own way. However, the other way of appraising one's memoirs is to determine whether the reading experience was worthwhile and whether the book either held your rapt attention or caused your mind to wander at times. In the case of "An Appetite for Wonder", I felt the dual sensations of being a polite and patient listener, but also forming criticisms as the story unfolded. I have been a long time fan and reader of Richard Dawkin's books, and certainly wanted to hear his personal story. On the other hand, many of you, now reading my review, may not know of Richard Dawkins or his previous writings and may merely want to know if it is worth their time to read 'An Appetite for Wonder" and if so, why do I think so.

I have so enjoyed the previous books written by this author, that it pains me to say that I thought the first half of the book was rather tedious. Why so? Unless we are talking about a child protégée and Dawkins admits that he was not one, what could be so interesting about a tot, child or pre-teen's daily life? What makes the adult Richard Dawkins so fascinating is his unique scientific thought processes and his special skill at explaining them to a general audience in an interesting manner. These abilities appear to be yet undeveloped in his childhood, as one might expect. Consequently, I thought the book would have been more compelling , if those pages describing the early years were condensed to perhaps one-tenth the current number of pages and that space used to go into more detail in the years from say, his starting the university to where the book ends, with the publication of his first book, "The Selfish Gene". By the way, the author mentioned that he plans to pick up his autobiography, at where this one ended, in a future book. There is a lot yet to tell us about his very productive life.

To my delight, the book became a lot more interesting to me in its second half. Dawkins was drawn towards Zoology as a major field of study. Consequently, Dawkin's vast knowledge of animal behavior has made several of his previous books delightful to read. With Darwinian evolution as the central theme, which connects most of his books, Dawkins attacks a particular aspect of evolution and proceeds to educate the reader as to how that aspect works by drawing from animal behavior science. He has the skill to explain complex issues by breaking them down into simpler concepts and using numerous examples from the animal kingdom to illustrate his arguments. He is the most capable of the writers, who strive to undo the fallacious arguments of the Creationists ( a.k.a. Intelligent Design Advocates)and this often is the motivation for many of his writings.

Young Richard Dawkins became fascinated with computer programming. Mathematics was being used more and more in the study of animal behavior and Dawkins rubbed shoulders with some of the pioneers in this new field. I can personally relate to what Dawkins was experiencing at this point in his career. Whereas Dawkins applied computer power to biological problems, I was applying computer power to my field of polymers and formulation development. We both were intrigued by the new power at our fingertips and each made it into a personal hobby as well as a tool to enhance our area of livelihood. Now, I had already learned that Dawkins had this programming interest from reading several of his books where he introduced the fruits of his labor. For example, using only three variables he generated hundreds of different seashells and snail shapes. In addition, by reading "An Appetite for Wonder", I learned that he had mastered assembly language, which gave him the foundation to write his own new languages and generate graphical displays. My programming path was in the opposite direction. I was more intrigued by higher level languages (i.e., Pascal) and structured programming. Dawkins remarked that the process of computer programming, forces one to be precise. It is a mental discipline that carries over to other activities in one's life. I know that it is also true for me. Taking math courses or playing chess have a comparable effect.

This book starts with the birth of Richard Dawkins and ends with his publication of his first book, namely: "The Selfish Gene". Dawkins felt that many evolutionary biologist's had it wrong to assign evolution's work as the preservation of individual species. Instead, he argued that evolution's work is to preserve and propagate living genes. The fact that plants and animals are born, reach their reproductive years, become parents, and eventually die, are just mechanisms to preserve these genes. Living things are born and soon die, whereas genes tend towards immortality. Simplistically stated, a plant or animal's genes determine what it looks like, how it nourishes itself, how it reproduces, and how it survives. As conditions in the organism's environment change, so the genes adapt to optimize its survival and reproductive chances. The book stirred up the scientific community and determined young Dawkin's writing career.

Over a ten year period, I have been engaged in extensive reading on the science of our origins. One observation I have made is that several scientists have second guessed Charles Darwin over the years. Richard Dawkins has often come to Darwin's rescue and explained where the skeptic went wrong. So, in my mind, Dawkins is the like the reincarnation of Charles Darwin for our era. It seems that Dawkins understands the mechanism of natural selection better than most. Of course, Darwin didn't know about the role of genes, chromosomes, and DNA in the reproductive process. The merging of this technology into Darwin's theory of evolution is the Modern Synthesis and Dawkins has written much about it. In his final chapter of "An Appetite for Wonder", Dawkins tells us that Darwin is his greatest scientific hero and discusses the link that he feels with this great scientist.

Do I recommend "An Appetite for Wonder" to you? Let me put it this way, If Dawkins eventually releases its sequel as he hopes to, I will order it immediately without further consideration. I have read the vast majority of his books with delight and welcome reading about the inside story of their inspiration and development. While it is true, that the childhood years covered in "An Appetite for Wonder " seemed dragged out to me, another reader might find them interesting. I did enjoy the last half of the book a lot.

Ralph D. Hermansen November 15,2013

Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago
Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago
by Douglas H. Erwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.51
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4.0 out of 5 stars Reading the Earth's History From the Rocks, November 4, 2013
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The title of the book is "Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago" and the author is Douglas H. Erwin. Our planet has a sometimes very violent history, which is recorded in its rock strata. How do we decipher it? Geology is one major discipline with the tools, whereas paleontology is another. Strata record a chronology of the Earth based on the premise that older strata lie beneath younger strata. Scientists have compared strata from around the world and matched up similar time periods (i.e.; identical strata). Multi-cell plants and animals have left their fossils in the last half billion years of the Earth's history. Three major divisions (eras) became evident to scientists: the Paleozoic Era, the Mesozoic Era, and the Cenozoic Era. The first era contains the story of primitive multi-cell animals, first fishes, first amphibians, and first reptiles. Then the mother of all global extinctions occurred and wiped out 95% of all species. The next era (Mesozoic) was the age of the dinosaurs and it lasted well over 120 million years. Again, a global extinction wiped out the dinosaurs and several other species. Since that mass extinction event 65 million years ago, new kinds of animals have repopulated the Earth, namely mammals and birds. This book focuses on that major extinction at the end of the Paleozoic and teaches what science can deduce about it.

That end-Paleozoic transition is named the Permo-Triassic extinction. The name comes from the last period in the Paleozoic (the Permian) and the first period in the Mesozoic (the Triassic). We are talking about an event that happened one quarter of a billion years ago. The task is extremely challenging because the surface of the Earth is remodeled continuously by erosion, mountain building, subduction of ocean sea floor plates, and other geological processes. The author has done a thorough job of providing the reader with an understanding of the tools available to attack the problem. These tools include radioisotope dating techniques, paleontology considerations, the carbon cycle, which can be used to evaluate conditions in the distant past by measuring the relative amounts of C12 and C13. The author liberally gives credit to the many individual scientists each working on a aspect of the bigger problem. He also examines the different hypotheses that have attempted to explain what caused the mass extinction.

Professionals, such as geologists and paleontologists, would be likely to buy this book because they will acquire a powerful reference tool. Moreover, they would make the purchase, knowing in advance, that they can understand the vernicular of the extinction scientist. For others less specialized, the jargon could be an obstacle to understanding the book's contents. Dr. Erwin does attempt to explain the technology to the novice readers and does a good job of it. However, sometimes he forgets that this audience exists and seems to be communicating with his peers alone. The book has photos, charts, graphs and other visual aids which help clarify the textual messages. The extinction was a global event, but there are only a few places on the Earth where evidence still exists. Consequently, the author takes us to China, South Africa, the Rocky Mountains, and other places where he can support his narrative with evidence and examples.

The author presents arguments for the several different hypotheses explaining the great extinction, but does not lock on to any particular one as the best hypothesis. He gives an unbiased voice to each of them, with cautionary comments to the readers about obvious flaws in the reasoning or new evidence which negates previous scientific beliefs. Thus, the book is an unbiased account of what science has been able to learn about the Permo-Triassic extinction. I felt that I learned a lot about mass extinctions in general and this extinction in particular. I know that I should reread it at some future time to better lock in my understanding of the book's contents. Hopefully, you can decide from my review whether or not you would want to learn what this book has to teach you.

Ralph D. Hermansen, November 4, 2013

Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir
Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir
by Linda Ronstadt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.32
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovable Linda Tells Her Life Story, October 20, 2013
The title of the book is "Simple Dreams" and the author is Linda Ronstadt. If you react in any way like I did to this book, you are going to really love it. Yet even before starting this book, I have been a long time admirer of this energetic, talented, adventurous woman. In the 60's and 70's, she seemed to be everywhere music was being played. Little Linda was there with her curly dark mop and large bright innocent eyes, enjoying being part of the musical scene. She was a trail blazer of country rock, but wasn't content to stop there. She showed that she could conquer any musical goal that she put her mind to. She went back to her Tucson roots and produced a Spanish language album that went platinum worldwide. She did an operetta, and sang classics from the 40's.

As I turned the pages, I had this continuous feeling of elation. I think part of it was the upbeat way she told her story. Yet another part of it, was the intimacy. It as though Linda Ronstadt and I were alone and she was telling me about her incredible life. I was amazed at how fast the pages flew by. I never learned to play an instrument, but I have had a life-long love affair with music. Yet when I read Linda's descriptions and musical interpretations, I realize that she is at a level that I can't even imagine. She is music. She listens to a singer and can tell you who influenced that singer. She strives for perfection, never 100% happy with anything she has done.

I have heard that successful people know what they want to do with their lives at an early age. Linda grew up in a musical family and knew she would be a singer as a small child. She had the courage to strike out on her own while still in school. When her parents failed to talk her out of it, her father gave her his most treasured guitar and thirty dollars. Years of struggling financially followed, but she was doing what she wanted to do. This is a story that most young people could relate to. I think she is so inspirational. Even as success and recognition came to her, she shunned the comfortable and safe paths and boldly followed her dreams. She sang until in her sixties, an ongoing illness stole her singing voice. Linda has included numerous photos of herself and friends from her life time at the end of the narrative.

I haven't enjoyed a book as much as this one in a long time. It was a delightful surprise. I recommend it without reservation.
Ralph D. Hermansen October 20, 2013

The Second World War
The Second World War
by Antony Beevor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.66
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5.0 out of 5 stars Completing the Jigsaw Puzzle, September 18, 2013
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)
The book is "The Second World War" and the author is Anthony Beevor. First of all, I have to tell you it was one hell of a read. I have had a long-running fascination with the World War II era. Watching the TV series "Victory at Sea" with my dad when I was a teenager, inspired me to join the U.S. Navy in 1955. From that time forward, I have read several autobiographies of war heroes on both sides, read history books on this era, and read fictional thrillers based on WWII. Also there is no end to excellent movies set in that era. "Patton" is one I never tire of watching. If a writer develops writer's block, he/she can easily solve their problem by using the untold stories of this very special time.

It was called World War II for a good reason, the entire world was affected by it, either directly or indirectly. The total scope of the WWII is mind-boggling. It seems that no author was crazy enough to attempt telling the complete story of this epic period. No author, that is, until Anthony Beevor came along. As he tells it, what he knew of the era seemed like a huge unfinished jigsaw puzzle. He was challenged to fill in the missing pieces and make it whole. He completed this epic work in slightly under 800 pages of text. In the book, he walks the reader ever forward through time as he geographically moves the reader from battle ground to battle ground repeatedly circling the globe.

You may be thinking now that these battle scenes must be highly compressed to all fit within 800 pages, perhaps to the point where the reading becomes dull. You would be correct that the author has condensed the material economically, but not that it is ever dull. He provides detailed descriptions of the opposing armies, navies, air support, and often provides maps of the battles. But more than that, he makes each event a three- dimensional experience for the reader. We become acquainted with the commanders in the field, and their relationships with their superiors. Indeed, these relationships extend all the way to the top, where presidents, prime ministers, and dictators play at global chess. We learn how superior weapons determine outcomes. We see how failure to think ahead contributes to defeat. We see the blood and gore, hear the booming artillery, smell the rotting corpses, ache for a bite of food, or dream of an overdue bath to get rid of lice and filth. In other words, Beevor puts you in the middle of each battle as it actually was. If you have any romantic notions about warfare, this book may give you a new perspective.

I would like to tell you that the pages fly by as you read this book. Sometimes that is true, but usually I felt tasked to absorb all that what is going on. The author did a marvelous job in making the episodes accurate, colorful, personal and realistic. Yet, these were complex events. The reader has to make an effort to process all the information being received. Thus, I found myself doing research with my Ipad to better understand the geography, personalities and action being described. I would read a few pages with my 2-3 cups of morning coffee each day. Weeks went by before I completed the book, yet I always looked forward to each new reading session. I think I learned a lot from reading the book. I am still amazed that Beevor knew so much about this worldwide period of conflict. It read as though he had been at every event himself. By now, you have probably decided whether you want to read Beevor's book. If you do, i hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Ralph D. Hermansen, September 18.2013

Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA
Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA
by Daniel J. Fairbanks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.45
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5.0 out of 5 stars DNA: Gateway to Our Origins, August 25, 2013
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The book is "Relics of Eden" and the author is Daniel J. Fairbanks. The theme of the book is DNA technology and in particular, how it proves that evolution is real. Specifically, the book focuses on human evolution and our nearest relatives. At this point, many of you are thinking that this is not a book topic that you would select. Understood, but I am asking you to withhold judgment until you learn a little more. Anyone reading this review, already knows a little bit about DNA from watching TV Crime shows and medical shows. You know that your DNA is a unique fingerprint and that your DNA is linked by birth to your mother and father's DNA. In other words, DNA can be used to trace your ancestry. You may have heard of the Human Genome Project, an ambitious project to decode human DNA. President Clinton announced its success during his term. Finally, you should appreciate that you live in an extraordinary time. Monumental progress in DNA science has been going on. What started as a snowball rolling down a snow-covered hill has grown to a ball the size of a house and is rolling downhill faster and faster, while it gets bigger and bigger. Hopefully, you have the curiosity to learn more about this earth-shaking development.

"Look", you say, " I really struggled with science in school". And I tell you that this is that rare chance to learn about DNA from someone who thoroughly knows his topic, but more importantly, has skillfully boiled it down to where almost anyone can understand it. DNA is a biochemistry subject, but professor Fairbanks has presented the topic without ever mentioning chemistry in the main body of the book. There are three appendices to the book, which delve deeper into the science and are optional reading. In Appendix 3, which is a historical review of genetic science from Gregor Mendel's time forward to the present, he did touch lightly on the chemistry underlying the scientific advances. If you are a person, already steeped in DNA knowledge, You may want to read the book just to learn from a master how to explain it to a non-scientist.

The third barrier to you reading the book may be of a religious nature. There has been a massive and very successful propaganda war waged by religious zealots to prevent the scientific story of our origins from being told. Some of you may feel that intimidation now. The author talks about this ongoing battle in his book. He also shows with statistics that people with religious convictions are not dissuaded from them by knowing scientific truths about our origins. In fact, they come away with a deeper appreciation of the wonder of it all. DNA techniques can determine how closely related two different species are and at what point in the past they had a common ancestor. Looking at all life forms, whether plant, animal, fungus, bacteria, etc., the data strongly suggests that all life forms trace back to a single original ancestor.

Personally, I enjoyed reading "Relics of Eden". I learned some new terms and was impressed with the evidence presented to prove his different theses. The author wrote in two different modes: technically, when showing evidential proof, and in a narrative voice when discussing the rivalry between science and religion and when relating the scientific progress chronologically from Mendel's time forward. I recommend the book highly.

Ralph D. Hermansen. August 25, 2013

Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945
Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945
by Andrew Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.48
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Arguing, Bickering, Bullying, and Manipulation, August 1, 2013
The book being reviewed is "Masters and Commanders', written by Andrew Roberts. The subtitle is "How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945". The subtitle is a far better descriptor for the book than the title. The four titans, who were selected by the author, are: Winston Churchill, General Alan Brooke, Franklin Roosevelt, and General George Marshall. One of the main reasons for the selection of these particular four men was the author's access to diaries from these and other individuals, which allowed him to reconstruct strategic planning events of WWII and to show the behind-the-scenes thinking of those concerned. Obviously, the other main reason for choosing these four was that Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain, Roosevelt was President of the United States, Brooke was the top military strategist reporting to Churchill, and Marshall was the top military strategist reporting to Roosevelt.

This 584 page book focuses on the European theatre of WWII, and avoids getting very deep into the other battle zones around the globe. The author is British and sees WWII history from the British perspective. Remember that Hitler's bombing, air battles, and submarine warfare took a heavy toll. Britain needed help and needed it fast in those desperate days. The British colonies and former colonies did what they could to provide relief. The USA was the country with the potential to really help Britain, but an isolationist, antiwar attitude pervaded our land. Many did not want to get involved yet again in European wars after the experiences of WWI with its grisly, bloody toll. Roosevelt used the bully pulpit, as well as his persuasive skills to change attitudes, to rearm the USA and to make it into the arsenal for democracy. American readers of this book might chafe at the missing Pacific War stories. After all, it was Japan that secretly attacked us and many Americans wanted immediate revenge. In reading the book, I felt that something was missing. Indeed there was, because WWII was a truly global event.

The concept of "Germany First" was agreed to between Churchill and Roosevelt, which meant that the Pacific War would be put on a slow track and the European war on a fast track. About three times as many American men and weapons went to Europe than to the Pacific. During many of the strategic planning sessions between the allies, this topic of "Germany First" was of paramount importance. Churchill knew how vitally important the USA was to Britain's survival and wooed Roosevelt and his agents skillfully. Yet, the British military strategists had little respect for the American's military know-how and tried to manipulate them accordingly. Perhaps, the most contentious, continuous conflict was over the American plan to invade the European mainland by crossing the sea from Great Britain. The plan had various code-names, but Overlord was the final name for it. The British said the right words in support of it, but privately despised and feared the plan. Consequently, they undermined it relentlessly. The author thinks that it would have been a disaster of immense proportions if Overlord had been implemented before 1944 as the Americans fruitlessly insisted upon. At first, it was reassuring for the Brits to have tens of thousands of American troops on their soil as a deterrent to a Nazi invasion. However, the pretense for their positioning, Overlord, was delayed and delayed by the British side of the alliance. Roosevelt knew that he had to demonstrate to the American public that we were actually fighting Nazis as idle months ticked by. Consequently, he conceded to the British plan to retake Northern Africa from the Nazis and move on to invade Italy. The author belabors the stressful conferences, where these strategic battles were fought tooth and nail by American and British attendees. That is why I think the book could be also be titled, " 600 Pages of Arguing, Bickering, Bullying, and Manipulation".

The author admits that his famous foursome were really not the most influential leaders of WWII. Both Hitler and Stalin had vastly more influence. Tens of millions of Russians lost their lives in this war and four out of five German deaths occurred in the Eastern Front. When the Russians mounted their counteroffensive, they gobbled up country after country in the process. At Yalta, they had overwhelming military presence, which gave them a mighty negotiating position as the world was carved up.

Finally, we come to the question as whether I recommend that you read this book. I would say that if you are already a WWII scholar, and want to see the inside story of these four leaders in great detail, then yes. On the other hand, if you know little about WWII and want a book which gives you a knowledge of key battles, comparative weaponry, personalities, and a global perspective on WWII, then this is not the book for you.

Ralph D. Hermansen, August 1, 2013

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