Sunday, June 20, 2004

I'm busy writing a column just now... But, for my fellow bibliophiles out there, here's what I've been reading lately.

Edison's Eve: A Magical History Of The Quest For Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood
Very interesting book about 18th and 19th C. explorations of robotics.

The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine, by Tom Standage
A specific history of one early robot, which played chess – and won – with humans. Unsurprisingly, it turns out there was actually a person hidden inside, directing the chess moves. Still, an absorbing account of how it was done, and how people of that time reacted to the machine.

The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale Of Battling Smallpox, by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Very interesting, if occasionally gross, description of smallpox, and the development of the vaccination for it, in the 18th C. I knew it was a deadly disease, but I had no idea it was so extremely disgusting and painful in it's manifestation. It would, indeed, be an effective bio-weapon in the hands of someone desperate enough to use such an uncontrollable tool.

Sharpe's Eagle: Richard Sharpe and the Talavera Campaign, by Richard Cornwell
One of the books in the excellent "Richard Sharpe" series - sort of the "Rambo" of the late 18th and early 19th C. wars. I wouldn't call them "lit-ra-choor", but it's great action/adventure reading - I'm working my way through the whole series chronologically and enjoying them a great deal.

By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions, by Richard Cohen
A broad overview of the history of the sword and of sword use, and the culture of the sword. Occasionally meandering, but with many spots of interest to a pop-history junkie like me.

The Distinctive Book of Redneck Baby Names , by Linda Barth
Just what is says – complete with smart-ass remarks about the probable characteristics that go along with each individual name. Extremely funny, especially to any who, like me, grew up in the South and has known many people who actually had names like Eldred, Chet, Carlene and Maybelle.

The Devil in White City: Murder, Magic and Madness At The Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson.
The true story about the architect, Daniel Burnham, who designed the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, and the serial killer, H.H. Homes, who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Not bad, but the part about Daniel Burnham bogged down sometimes, and the author was annoying coy about the details of the murders committed by Holmes.

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