Category Archives: Nonfiction

“The Wright Brothers”

David McCullough

David McCullough’s books are always a pleasure to read and this was no exception. It’s a good biography of the Wrights which doesn’t ignore the role of their sister Katherine and which details the time they spent in Europe, neither of which I knew much about. Wilbur died in 1912 but Orville lived another 36 years. The book doesn’t have much to say about those decades, and I would have appreciated it had there been more about Orville’s life after Wilbur’s death.

While checking dates for this post in Wikipedia, I came across this (Orville’s last flight as pilot was in 1918):

On April 19, 1944, the second production Lockheed Constellation, piloted by Howard Hughes and TWA president Jack Frye, flew from Burbank, California, to Washington, D.C. in 6 hours and 57 minutes (2300 mi – 330.9 mph). On the return trip, the airliner stopped at Wright Field to give Orville Wright his last airplane flight, more than 40 years after his historic first flight.[153] He may even have briefly handled the controls. He commented that the wingspan of the Constellation was longer than the distance of his first flight.

By the way, this is not the first time the Wrights have appeared in this blog.

“Replay: The History of Video Games”

Tristan Donovan

“Replay” does for video games (which included arcade, console, and computer games) what “Playing at the World did for wargaming and role playing. It’s a serious book covers the well-selected set of landmark games in depth. I only wish there was an updated edition: a lot has happened in the world of games since this book came out in 2010.

“The Future Was Here”

Jimmy Maher

This book, part of the MIT “Platform Studies” series, is an in-depth look at the design of the Amiga computer, the factors that went into that design, and how the design determined what programmers could do with it. I enjoyed it even though I never owned an Amiga.

(Jimmy Maher is the author of the excellent “Digital Antiquarian” blog.)

“All Kinds of Magic: A Quest for Meaning in a Material World”

Piers Moore Ede

I might not have discovered this had I not read Ede’s “Kaleidoscope City“, but I’m glad I did. It’s the story of Englishman Ede’s search for “something”. He went — and takes reader — to India, Turkey and to an ayahuasca ceremony. I enjoyed the book, but as I read it I kept wanting to yell at him, “why are you ignoring the spiritual traditions of your own culture!?”.

“Gray Day: My Undercover Mission to Expose America’s First Cyber Spy”

Eric O’Neill

The FBI knew that Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent near retirement, was working for the Russians. However, to prove it in court they needed to use evidence not gathered from covert sources they wanted to protect. They assigned Eric O’Neill, who had been working with the FBI group tasked with following people, to Hanssen and put them both in a unit whose real and only reason for being was to give O’Neill the chance to spy on his boss.

“Gray Day” is a tense book that, to use a cliche, “reads like a novel”. Given O’Neill’s low, albeit critical, role, it isn’t the full story of Hanssen’s betrayal, but it is a very good read.

“Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious”

Seth Kugel

This is an interesting travel book that suggests that the traveller might have a better time by paying less attention to the Internet and its endless ratings when choosing destinations, lodging, and restaurants.

I enjoyed the book not least because Kugel frames his argument as friendly advice rather than hard-and-fast rules. One thing I will try to remember in my travels: when asking “a local” (a vaguely condescending term that I don’t care for) what to see or where to eat, Kugel suggests not asking him or her not where they think you should go, but where they and their family go.