A good book can make anything interesting

I’ve always considered myself someone who is innately curious about the world. I can’t get enough new information about cultures, critters, plants, rocks, history, geography, psychology, religion, literature, art — You name it, I want to read a book about it.

There are two subjects, however, that do not hold my interest whatsoever: physics and math.
That said, I occasionally stumble on a book that makes me realize what I’m missing. A few years ago it was Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris — a layman-friendly summary of advancements in our knowledge of the very very big and the very very small: the ends of the universe and the parts of the atom.
I’m reading a book now that is reminding me of the pleasures of learning about supernovas, quarks and other things that usually don’t interest me. It’s called A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson, who is known more as a travel writer than a science writer but takes his own innate curiosity about “nearly everything” and focuses it on the history of science — from astrophysics to plate tectonics to evolution.
If you’ve never understood Einstein, Darwin, chemistry or paleontology, give it a try. You might find that you misunderstand them a little less.
Here are a few more you might like:
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I like books about the end of the world, but I wasn’t looking forward to this one because it seemed too dark, even for me. I’ve also been disappointed by McCarthy’s books. He’s loved by critics, so I keep trying, but I’m always let down.
This one caught me right away, even though I was put off by the arty style. It’s an interesting post-apocalyptic world where pretty much everything is dead, so the remaining people are reduced to scavenging or cannibalism. The burned-out environment, which is never explained in the book, looks a lot like Bryson’s description of the earth struck by a comet or a meteor (which is suspected to have done in the dinosaurs).
Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer. Krakauer’s a favorite of mine, and I was really looking forward to his take on the story of Pat Tillman, the NFL star turned war hero who was killed by friendly fire and whose death was used for propaganda purposes by the military. It’s an interesting look at what a confusing mess war can be and how incompetence and deceit can make it even messier. If you want an on-the-ground look at the Afghanistan war, along with a biography of a truly interesting American hero, this is a good one.
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. I don’t often read war stories, but this was the second in succession this winter. Kathy Statz loaned it to me, and my interest was piqued because the main character, Louis Zamperini, was an Olympic runner. As a (decidedly non-Olympic) runner myself, I was curious, so I started in and was soon caught up in the story. Zamperini became a bombardier in WW2 and was shot down and spent 47 days on a life raft. He washed ashore on a Japanese island and spent the rest of the war being tortured as a POW. Great read by a great writer. Hillenbrand also wrote Seabiscuit, which was turned into a good movie, and it sounds like this one has also been picked up by Hollywood.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John LeCarre. I’ve been aware of this book since the 70s, when Alec Guiness starred in the BBC adaptation, but I had never read it. I picked it up because I wanted to see the new movie, but by the time I had finished, the movie was gone, so I’ll have to wait for the video.
It’s a old-fashioned spy story — not Tom Cruise clinging to a speeding train, or James Bond schussing through the Alps, but Oxford-educated Englishmen who wear tweed and carry umbrellas. Hardly a shot was fired, but it’s still suspenseful to follow the aging spy George Smiley as he attempts to unravel a complex web of international intrigue.

Send your book recommendations to news@millelacsmessenger.com. We can have a discussion on the web.Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.


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