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This page last updated on 04/17/2017.

Copyright й 2001-2017 by Russ Meyer

 
ллллл   Ya gotta read this thing!
лллл   A great book.  Definitely worth reading, if you get the time.
ллл   It's OK.  Interesting, but nothing to get too excited about.
лл   Kind of painful to read; you could skip it and not miss much.
л   Oh sheezh...run away!

"Ocean Flying," Louise Sacchi ллл
2/2007 -

"The Language of God," Francis S. Collins лл+
2/2007 -

"Jungle," Yossi Ghinsberg  ллл+
1/2007 - An autobiographical account of an Israeli hiker touring South America in the early '80s.  He and two hiker buddies hired a guide to take them through the Peruvian jungles.  The five week expedition went awry when tensions between the four men resulted in confrontation.  The band split into two groups, each finding its own way back to civilization.  Yossi and friend attempted to raft down a river and met with disaster.  In an unfortunate encounter with whitewater, the raft was destroyed and the men became separated.  Yossi had almost nothing but the clothes on his back and was stranded alone in the Peruvian jungle, two weeks walk from the nearest settlement.  He wandered in the jungle almost six weeks before being rescued.  When found, he was almost dead.  His rafting buddy made it out alive, but the other two men were never seen again.  It's an exciting topic told in a rather mild tone.  I just couldn't quite give it four stars.

"Coming Back Alive," Spike Walker  лл
1/2007 - The tagline for this book is, "The true story of the most harrowing search and rescue mission ever attempted on Alaska's high seas."  Hmmmm, sounds exciting, eh?  The only problem is, the first 134 pages of this 267 page book is filler dribble; that's 50% of the book!  The first half is a rambling, disconnected, dreamy-eyed description of the natural beauty of Alaska.  Oh, the rescue mission is in there alright; it's the second half of the book but has little to do with the first half.  It's like the guy came up with the rescue story and the publisher said, "This is only 130 pages, the book is too short to sell at a good price.  Fluff it up to about 250 pages and we'll publish it."  So off to the typewriter goes Spike.  Between the Acknowledgements, Preface, Prolog, meaningless fluff, and blank inter-chapter pages, he manages to meet the publisher's demands.  What little of the book devoted to to the rescue is mildly exciting, but not colorfully written.  The rescue, as presented, just seems grueling and repetitive.  Copious fluff, great topic, and uninspired writing garners this one two stars.

"Chariots for Apollo," Charles R. Pellegrino ллл
1/2007 - The trials and tribulations of the Grumman engineering team in designing, assembling, and launching the Lunar Module (LM) for Apollo.  A collection of personal accounts by the engineers and managers that made the LM.  Organized into a chronological story covering 1961 through 1972, it provides an insight into the epic struggle to produce the "perfect" lunar lander.  It's almost impossible to fully appreciate the unbelievable sacrifice and hard work contributed by hundreds of people - all to make a total of 15 vehicles.  People were literally dying on the Grumman assembly floor; the work was that intense.  Apollo was one of the toughest things this country has ever done.  Just look at what it took to produce the lunar lander...one little piece of the whole program.  Incredible.  It's so sad to see how far we made it with Apollo and the degree to which the country has allowed the space program to languish.  We had a 40 year lead on the entire world in space technology in 1972.  Now, China and even India have almost caught up.  What a waste!

"Wahoo," Richard H. O'Kane ллл
1/2007 - The story of the world war 2 submarine Wahoo and it's actions against the Japanese as told by its former Executive Officer.  An interesting book describing the evolution of submarine warfare tactics.  Initially, they employed tactics ironed out by academics at the naval academy.  These proved unproductive and impractical in actual combat.  O'Kane and his commanding officer Capt. Dudley Morton followed their instincts and forged novel tactics through field experience.  These proved very successful and Wahoo went on to be one of the most famous American submarines of the war.  O'Kane left Wahoo to become captain of the submarine Tang.  After his departure, while on patrol in the Sea of Japan, Wahoo was critically damaged by one of her own torpedoes.  After launch, torpedo guidance became erratic; it circled around and impacted Wahoo in the forward torpedo room.  Wahoo survived the initial disaster, but, while limping back to safe waters, she was detected and pounced upon by Japanese forces.  She was sunk with the loss of all hands.  The book is just a bit boring with a repetitive litany of approaches to attack position, descriptions of the ships sunk, etc.  Overall a little flat.  The book "Clear the Bridge!," also by O'Kane, is vastly superior.  If you only have time to read one, read "Clear the Bridge!"  You won't regret it.

"Flight of Passage," Rinker Buck лллл
3/2006 - The true story of two brothers, Rink and Kern Buck, and their dream of flying a Piper Cub from New York to Los Angeles in 1966.  A marvelous story of the coming of age of these two teenage boys.  The story is as much about their former barn storming father, Tom Buck, as it is about their flying adventure.  Tom Buck was a flamboyant, buckaroo of a man; larger than life, overbearing, colorful, explosive.  The family dynamics between Rink, Kern and Tom are simultaneously hilarious and agonizing.  An immensely engaging book centered around flying adventure, comic family entanglements, understanding their father, and learning to appreciate each other.

"The Greatest Flying Stories Ever Told," edited by Lamar Underwood ллл
2/2006 - Nineteen tales excerpted from various aviation books.  A few are fiction, but most are non-fiction.  Everything from Charles Lindbergh's narration of crossing of the Atlantic to Sandy Purl's survival of the Southern Airways, DC-9, crash in 1977.  My favorite was a chapter from the book "Flight of Passage."  Here Rinker Buck describes a cross-America flight with his brother in a J-3 Cub.  They accomplished the flight when they were in their early teens.  A fabulous tale of airmanship, adventure, his relationship with his brother and Dad.  I liked it so much, I've ordered the book.

"Pilots of the Line," Sky Masterson ллл
12/2005 - A collection of miscellaneous stories, apparently autobiographical, and mostly involving his career as an airline pilot.  Nothing particularly unique or profound, however, it does a good job of communicating what the day-to-day grind is like for an airline pilot.  He seems to possess a cynical contempt for the unwashed masses he transports.  On several occasions he rambles excessively about how various people annoy him.  A bit of a caustic, self-centered personality.  The writing is pretty good and even sporadically excellent.  Some stories have a bit of depth, but overall the circumstances surrounding the stories are kind of flat and colorless.

"Air Vagabonds," Anthony Vallone лллл
10/2005 - Anthony describes his experiences as a transoceanic ferry pilot for Globe Aero in the 1970s.  He and his compatriots flew single engine light planes overseas to places like Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Manila, Khartoum, etc.  Many stories of horrific weather, Byzantine customs paperwork, getting stranded in the Sudan, nail-biting blind ocean navigation, getting jailed as a South African spy in Angola, and dodging angry officials with a mixture of bribery and moxie.  Exciting adventure reading, and it's all true.  If it weren't for a slight lack of depth, it would have earned five stars.

"Heart of the Storm," Edward Fleming лллл
9/2005 - An autobiography of Ed's experiences as a helicopter rescue pilot from 1970 to 1999.  Many harrowing tales of daring rescues and close calls.  He started his career flying rescue for the Air force in the Philippines and ended it in the New York Air Guard organizing the rescue of Jerri Neilsen, a doctor at the Amundsen-Scott Station in the middle of a South Pole winter.  Many notable accomplishments and interesting experiences; nothing really profound, just exciting reading.

"Flyboys," James Bradley ллл
6/2005 - A biography of six Navy fliers from World War II.  Each of them was involved in bombing campaigns against Japanese held Chichi Jima in the Pacific.  They were all shot down, captured, tortured, and killed.  The book is kind of a hodgepodge of historical context, the events leading up to WW2 from the Japanese perspective, the Japanese psyche during WW2, specifics about the life and brief internment of these Navy fliers, and the concluding days of the war.  After the war, there was an investigation into what happened to these missing pilots.  Many disturbing facts were uncovered, including the brutal treatment of the prisoners, their savage killings (which included some being beaten to death and the beheading of others), and finally the dissection and cannibalism of the pilot's bodies.  It's rather horrific.  I suppose that is the perverse mass appeal of the book.  It was a national best-seller for a while.

"Tuva or Bust!," Ralph Leighton ллл
2/2005 - An odd, true story of Ralph Leighton and Richard Feynman's eleven year quest to visit the country of Tannu Tuva.  (You may have heard of Richard Feynman, he's a famous Nobel winning physicist and subject of books such as "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman.")  They became obsessed with the thought of visiting Tuva when they found it's capitol was named Kyzyl.  Tuva is situated on the Siberian steppes on the border between Russia and Mongolia.  It is the geographic center of Asia and was/is populated by Nomadic tribes.  Curiously, their language is derived from ancient Turkish, a vestige of the Silk Road days.  It was annexed by the USSR in the late 1940s (like Poland and Czechoslovakia).  During the time of Ralph and Richard's visit, it was still controlled by the USSR.  Today it is quasi-independent.  The book details the extraordinary lengths the guys went to in order to gain permission to visit from the Soviet government.  It's also a touching testimony of the great friendship shared by Ralph and Richard.  Unfortunately, Richard died of cancer four months before their scheduled trip.  Ralph kept at it as a memorial for his late friend, and finally made it to Tuva in June of 1988.  Ralph founded "Friends of Tuva," which is still going strong.

"Marcus Aurelius - Meditations," translated by Gregory Hays лллл
1/2005 - Marcus Aurelius was Emperor of Rome from 121 to 180 AD.  He was a philosopher at heart and this book is a compendium of various philosophical notes he made to himself throughout his life.  There is a lot of timeless wisdom contained in the pages of this book.  It's interesting, because although the book was originally penned almost 2000 years ago, the observations and comments about living life are just as applicable to modern Man.  Although technology, specific conditions, etc. may change, the character of Man is little altered from ancient times.  The book is too deep, too complex, and too varied to really do it descriptive justice here.  Some scholars scoff at the book, but I found it quite thought provoking...even profound.  Reading it actually changed my view of the world and how I relate to it.  Any book that can do that seems significant to me.  Only a few books I've read have had that effect on me.  Here are a few snippets from the book, but these don't really do it justice:

  • "Time is a river, a violent current of events, glimpsed once and already carried past us, and another follows and is gone."
  • "It's silly to try to escape other people's faults.  They are inescapable.  Just try to escape your own."
  • "(I should try) To speak to the Senate...or anyone...in the right tone, without being overbearing.  To choose the right words."
  • "Today I escaped from anxiety.  Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions...not outside."
  • "They flatter one another out of contempt, and their desire to rule one another makes them bow and scrape."
  • "It's time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.  What's in my thoughts at this moment?  Fear?  Jealousy?  Desire?  Feelings like that?"

"Project Orion," George Dyson ллл
A book about the development of Orion class, nuclear powered spacecraft from the late 1950s through the mid 1960s.  The book describes how the design evolved as the project confronted physics and technology issues.  It's also somewhat a biography of the author's father, Freeman Dyson...a physicist who worked on the project.  Orion used low yield nuclear bombs detonated in series to provide propulsion.  It sounds whacky, but the resulting pulse detonation propulsion system was efficient and effective.  A flying model, propelled by high explosives, was built to prove the concept.  (Click here to see a movie of one of the flight tests.)  On the drawing board were manned 4000 ton vehicles capable of making round trips to Saturn in three years.  The atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty effectively shelved the project, but it still gets attention from NASA.  As late as 1994, NASA had been looking the technology as a means of getting to Mars.  With an Orion class ship, you could transport hundreds of tons of people and material to Mars with transit times of a couple of months.  It is the only propulsion technology ever developed actually capable of establishing and supporting colonies on another planet...like Mars.

"Eagle With a Badge," Paul Creech & Jack Lawler ллл
An autobiographical account of Paul Creech's experiences as a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter pilot.  Paul served in the DPS for 40 years; 30 of those years in helicopters.  Paul tells many tales of participating in man-hunts, rescuing people in distress, chasing drug runners, searching for marijuana patches and stolen cars, etc.  He had many harrowing encounters, including being shot at by fleeing suspects.  The book accurately captures Paul's personality; he's just a regular guy doing a job...a tough job.  I actually met Paul at an EAA fly-in at New Braunfels, Texas in May of 2004.  I spent some time talking to him; he's a really great, down-to-Earth guy.  Although he has retired from the DPS, he still flies helicopters for Channel 4 news in Dallas.  He invited me to meet him at the airport sometime for a bit of flying.  I think I'll take him up on that!

"Run Silent, Run Deep," Edward L. Beach лллл
A story about a submarine captain's experiences during World War 2.  The book is fiction but is loosely based on a number of real situations faced by American submarines in the Pacific.  The book is good and is considered a classic of Naval literature.  Personally, I feel the book "Clear the Bridge!" by Richard O'Kane is far better and is entirely non-fiction to boot.

"Wreck of the Medusa," Alexander McKee ллл
An account of the wreck of the French frigate Medusa, while transporting 240 colonists and soldiers to Senegal in 1816.  The Medusa ran aground on a sandbar 40 miles off the coast.  There were not enough boats for all the passengers, so a raft was constructed and loaded with 150 people.  The raft could barely support the load and people were up to their hips in water.  The boats began towing the raft to shore, but through a suspicious set of events cast the raft adrift on the very first day.  In subsequent weeks, there was murder, sabotage, and cannibalism on the raft as people competed for survival.  In the end, only 15 survived to be rescued by the ship Argus.  An interesting but morbid and depressing true story of the worst shipwreck of the 19th century.

"Logging Flight Time," William Kershner лл
William recounts various tales from his 50 years in aviation.  It's a potpourri of short stories about washing airplanes as a kid, his first solo, his association with Bill Piper of Piper aircraft, flying missions in the Navy, etc.  The stories are mildly interesting, but not especially well written.  He seems to possess a crusty, cynical outlook on life that deflates the reader a bit...at least it did me.  You could skip the book and not miss much.

"Wake of the Wahoo," Forest J. Sterling ллл
The story of the WWII submarine Wahoo and its actions against the Japanese.  Sterling served as Yeoman on the Wahoo for 5 of its 7 patrols.  A good counterpart to the book "Clear the Bridge!" (see below).  It provides an enlisted man's view of submarine service, whereas "Clear the Bridge!" describes the officer's perspective.  Curiously, the author of "Clear the Bridge!," Richard O'Kane, served as the Executive Officer on the first 6 patrols of the Wahoo.

"The Microbiology of the Cell" лллл
A very technical text on the inner workings of the cell.  It's actually a college textbook.  Very heavy going on organic chemistry and the like.  The first 3 chapters are the best part of the book and are fortunately the easiest ones to read.  These describe the origin of cellular life, various classifications of single celled organisms, and basic metabolic pathways.  This book was a revelation to me.  I had no idea the inner workings of a cell were so complex.  Almost like a microscopic organic computer/chemical factory.  I was just speechless after reading it.  I never heard anything like this in all the stupid, lame-o biology courses I took in high school and college.  If man could harness this complexity and develop a malleable technology around it, the world would be a much different place.

"Clear the Bridge!," Richard O'Kane ллллл
An account of the World War 2 submarine "Tang" and its actions against the Japanese as told by its Captain.  A fabulously engaging book, definitely worth reading.  The best part was seeing how O'Kane developed and employed various strategies and tactics.  It is such an interesting book on so many levels.  Just read it!

"Exploring the Monster," Robert F. Whelan ллл
The history of the USAF sponsored Sierra Wave project of 1951-1955.  The project used sailplanes to explore and characterize mountain lee waves.  Project pilots eventually reached about 44,000 feet in the wave.  The world sailplane altitude record is 49,009 feet set in the Sierra Madre wave by Bob Harris on February 17th, 1986, in an unpressurized single place Grob 102 Standard Astir III.  Amazing for an unpowered craft!

"Song of the Sirens," Earnest K. Gann лллл
An account of the various sailing vessels Earnest owned and what they meant to him.  Most of the book is about the 117 ton brigantine "Albatros" which Earnest bought in Europe and sailed to San Francisco.  There he retrofit it with square sail and voyaged the Pacific.  He eventually sold the Albatros to Christopher Sheldon who adapted it for use as a youth training vessel.  The Albatros met its demise when Sheldon was caught by a vicious storm in the Gulf of Mexico.  The Albatros sank in minutes taking most of the people on board with it.  That incident was the basis of the movie "White Squall."

"Two-Man Stick," Bud Filler ллл
An autobiographical account of his experiences as a Forest Service smoke jumper in Idaho from '52-'56.  A fairly interesting book, if for no other reason than I've never read anything quite like it before.

"The Seven Pillars of Wisdom," T. E. Lawrence лллл
A very interesting autobiography of his experiences fighting the Turks in Arabia during WW1.  It's interesting to see how he developed guerrilla tactics through trial and error.  The real story only bears a slight resemblance to the Hollywood version, "Lawrence of Arabia."

"Makers of Rome," Plutarch лллл
I got this book in college and didn't read it much at the time.  Finally picked it up after many years, and found it quite engaging.  It's a collection of biographies of great historical Roman figures written by the Greek historian Plutarch around A.D. 110.  Of the personalities described in the book, I appreciate Fabius Maximus most of all.

"Wind, Sand, and Stars," Antoine de Saint-Exupery лл
A autobiographical account of Saint-Exupery's experiences as a French mail pilot from 1926 through about 1936.  Saint-Exupery is semi-famous in aviation literature circles, and a lot of people praise his work.  I think this book is simply a collection of boring stories told in a bizarre stylized manner by a self-important, wannabe artist.  I've got a number of his books, and they're all like this.  In my opinion, they're typical French literature, and not worth wasting time on.

"Lost Islands," Henry Stommel ллл
Kind of an interesting book on the history of charting obscure or remote islands.  It's really more about the deficiencies of navigation techniques in the 19th century than strange disappearing islands, although there were (and still are) some of those.

"Volcano Weather," Henry Stommel лл
A mildly interesting book correlating the eruption of Mount Tambora in April of 1815 and the dramatic cooling of the world climate during the summer of 1816.

"117 Days Adrift," Maurice & Maralyn Bailey ллл
An autobiographical account of Maurice and Maralyn's survival at sea after their sailboat was rammed by a whale and sunk off the Galapagos islands in March of 1973.

"Adrift," Steven Callahan лллл
An autobiographical account of his survival at sea in a rubber raft for 76 days.  His sailboat sank in February '81 in the mid-Atlantic, 700 miles Southwest of the Canary Islands.  It either struck a submerged object or was rammed by a whale.  I think "Adrift" is the best book of this genre.

"Alone Against the Atlantic," Gerry Spiess лллл
An autobiographical account of how he designed and built his own 8 foot sailboat, then sailed it solo across the Atlantic.  Very cool.  I really respect a guy like that.

"Fate is the Hunter," Earnest K. Gann ллллл+
One of the best books I have ever read.  Truly an aviation classic.  The autobiography of an airline pilot from the mid-1930s though about 1950.  An incredible series of experiences and what he learned about life and death along the way.  I've read this at least a half dozen times and it never gets old.

"The Cannibal Queen," Stephen Coonts ллл
An account of his tour of America in a Stearman biplane in 1991.  He has a few interesting experiences and meets even more interesting people.  It's entertaining, but not very thought provoking.

"What If the Moon Didn't Exist?," Neil F. Comins лл
Neil performs some thought experiments with the Earth to see how the development of life might have been impacted.  Scenarios like what if the moon were closer, what if the Earth had less mass, what if a star exploded nearby, what if a star passed near the solar system, etc.  I thought this would make fascinating reading, especially since Neil is an accomplished astronomer.  Alas, his conclusions seem mostly whimsical, not necessarily based on hard science.  Kind of a disappointment.

"Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!," Richard Feynman ллллл
A very engaging collection of personal stories as told by this Nobel prize winning physicist.  I really admire his curiosity and continuous attempts to push the envelop to experience more of life.  I strive to emulate his "explorer" attitude.

"What Do You Care What Other People Think?," Richard Feynman лл
Richard's account of his participation in the investigation of the Challenger space shuttle disaster.  Kind of dry and excessively detailed.  I read it two or three times, and warmed up to it eventually.  You could skip it and not miss much.

"Seven Miles Down," Jacques Piccard and Robert Dietz лллл
How the bathyscaph Trieste was developed with accounts of some of its more memorable dives.  Some of these dives were rather tense and kind of scary.  The Trieste really pushed the limits of technology at the time.  It was the first submersible to descend 35,800 feet into the Challenger Deep on January 23rd, 1960.  An incredible feat!  No manned submersible constructed since that time can dive as deep.  People have been to the very bottom of the ocean only once in all of history.

"A View of the Sea," Henry Stommel л
A scientific analysis of ocean circulation described in a dry and painfully bizarre way through a fictitious dialog with the Chief Engineer of a research vessel.  I've tried twice to force myself to read this thing.  On the first attempt I made it half-way through chapter 2.  The second time I made it all the way through chapter 5.  Although I am very interested in the topic, I just can't seem to overcome the painfully dry way it is told...and the bizarre dialog with the Chief Engineer is just surreal.  Still, I warmed up to the book a little on the second attempt...maybe I should just find another book on the topic!  Although I'd like to give it two stars, I just can't.  Do yourself a favor friend...run away!

"Nautilus 90 North," William Anderson ллл
An account of the early voyages of the first atomic powered submarine as told by its captain.  Includes the first ever voyage of a submarine under the North Pole icepack.  One of the cooler adventures of the 20th century told in an excessively dry manner.  How can someone take something like that and make it sound so dull...sheezh!  Cool topic + neat experiences + told dryly = mediocre book.