Today we’re departing a bit from a full book review because not all books are suited specifically to a review. Some of them are just fun, or informational. They provide little direction to evaluate and communicate.
We’re going to look at a bunch of books I’ve read in the last year that I’ve enjoyed for various reasons. Some are fiction, some are historical.
The Fish that Ate the Whale
This is the story of the banana industry from the 1930’s to the 1950’s and the story of the guy that changed it in so many ways, Samuel Zemurray. During this time the United States grew from a small power to the juggernaught we know today.
Zemurray, or Sam the Banana Man as some called him, rose from humble origins into a rich and powerful man. A rise that was punctuated by revolutionary thinking and hustle. A rise that was also due to his willingness to engage in some of the less than savoury parts of an industry.
The end of this rise is also marked by corruption on the level of overthrowing South American governments. Tactics like purchasing a retired US warship and then “selling” it to a regional guerilla group so that Zemurray didn’t violate US law dealing with helping in the overthrow governments by US nationals. Of course Zemurray clandestinely was funding the guerilla’s anyway because if they won he’d get the land concessions he needed to keep banana’s profitable.
Looking back, there are so many things that Zemurray did that are terrible, but there is also a spark of genius and brashness that is amazing. When he is not allowed to build a bridge due to the government being influenced by his competition, he builds two really long piers. Of course he can quickly throw up a floating section of the piers so that he has a bridge. It’s not actually a bridge though so he’s in the clear.
All in all, it was an interesting read and look at a volatile time in America’s history that I wasn’t familiar with at all.
Baracoon is the name of the structure where they’d hold future slaves in Africa. This book was written in 1927, but only recently released. It was delayed so long for many reasons.
At times it was viewed as a book that wouldn’t help the equality movements because of how it showed the black on black violence in Africa. See the person being interviewed is Cudjo Lewis and he remembers being attacked by another tribe and then taken into slavery.
This tribe seems to have mostly existed during this time to find offence from another tribe and then capture them for the slave trade.
At other times it was viewed as a poor book to publish because of the dialect that Cudjo speaks. It’s heavily accented English. I didn’t find it that hard to understand, but I certainly did have to slow down to read it. The author, Zora Neale Hurston, refused to change the manner in which Lewis speaks so it didn’t get published.
Baracoon, is the story of the last slave ship to sail from Africa to America. It sailed long after the slave trade was illegal in America. You could own a slave, but you couldn’t purchase new slaves brought in from Africa.
It follows how the men that put the ship together got to know each other. How they worked to conceal the shipment by doing so much work at night and then scuttling the ship. It also relates much of the anguish that the people brought from Africa felt when they realized they’d never have enough money to get back to their home.
Baracoon is an excellent read to gain a better understanding of what slavery looked like.
The Expanse series is the amalgamation of two authors. Both Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck write this series together. It’s a space series with some mysterious biological matter acting as a catalyst for a few factions of humans.
Earth and Mars are the main powers in the solar system. They have a peace, but it’s got some tension. Then we have the rest of humanity that mostly serves to get resources back to the big powers.
Later novels end up with our mysterious biological matter infesting Venus, creating pathways to travel across space in an instant, and lots of space battles. This is excellent science fiction.
The Day of the Triffids
I first read this book in high school and it was one of the books that cemented my love of science fiction. So there are these really tall plants that among their many medical benefits, can walk around and have fairly huge stingers they can whip out at you.
Our protagonist has been tending them for years in the great farms that are walled off. When he was young, and they weren’t sure what Triffids were, he was stung by a young one. That means he’s got some of the best immunity to their stings.
As an adult, he gets stung and ends up in the hospital with his head all wrapped up as he waits for his vision to come back. During this time there is some weapon discharged into the sky which burns out all the retina of the people that view the spectacular light show.
This leaves the majority of the population of Britain, and presumably earth, without sight and Triffids are free to roam. They don’t have eyes and effectively become the dominant predator on earth where humans must build out compounds to stay safe and have some type of barely there existence.
The book explores how our main character survives in this world.
Another space drama which is amazing. Ryk Brown builds a great universe. Earth was a power, but then there was a bio-digital plague that knocked us back generations. Humans had already colonized many parts of space, so not everyone was affected equally.
We meet Earth as it tests out a super secret new jump drive that will allow ships to jump from one point to the next in an instant. Well there is a traitor, an attack, a malfunction and our ship is cast so so much further than it expected. It’s sent right in to the battle in another solar system.
We get to watch the pilot become a capable captain. Our crew become accustomed to working with a bare skeleton of a skeleton of people. They make deals with foreign powers and overthrow authoritarian governments with their jump drive.
Then they get back to earth and …. you should read the book I’ll keep the spoilers where they are for now.
I went to a local author book reading and found this first time author’s book and it was pretty dang good. We meet our protagonist Akairya in her town just before an attack. She runs and finds a hidden dragon egg.
The egg hatches and she bonds with the dragon. She gets taken to the king and then has to learn how to battle with her dragon because she is the saviour.
The book ending surprised me and made me cry a bit. It has me waiting for the second book which I know is out to her test readers since my local barista is her friend and told me.
It did feel a bit rushed. I’d love to see her go deeper in to the relationships and the world next time. But it’s not just a good “first” book, it’s a good book.
Into the Lions Mouth
Have you ever wondered where the idea for James Bond came from? Well look no further than the true story of Dusko Popov.
Popov was a spy, and patriot that willingly risked his live during World War II in some crazy situations. He gambled with the “bad guys” and won. He knew he was likely caught in his deception and willingly went back in to the lion’s den only to talk himself out.
He likely did some killing, though that was never spoken of. A few people just seemed to disappear. Yes the author of James Bond knew him and worked with him at times.
While James Bond is fantasy, you’re going to see some famous James Bond scene’s played out for real in Popov’s life. If you’re like me, you’ll be a bit astonished that he’d head back in knowing the likelihood of death unless he had a very, very lucky day.
While I do read a lot of business and self-help books, there is so much out there that’s good for your brain. I didn’t even highlight all the amazing stuff I’ve been reading this year. Don’t just stick to “self-improvement” titles. Read further wider and you’ll be better for it.
Photo by: salty_soul