This page last updated on
Copyright й 2001-2021 by Russ Meyer
|| Ya gotta read this thing!
|| A great book. Definitely worth reading, if you get the time.
|| It's OK. Interesting, but nothing to get too excited
|| Kind of painful to read; you could skip it and not miss much.
|| Oh sheezh...run away!
"Ocean Flying," Louise Sacchi
"The Language of God," Francis S. Collins
"Jungle," Yossi Ghinsberg
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
"Coming Back Alive," Spike Walker
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 a story and the publisher said, "This is only 130 pages,
short to sell at a good price. Fluff it up to about 250 pages and we'll
publish it." 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 the rescue is mildly interesting, but not colorfully written.
The rescue, as presented, just seems grueling and repetitive. Copious
fluff, great topic, and uninspired writing garners this two stars.
"Chariots for Apollo," Charles R. Pellegrino
The trials and tribulations of the
Grumman engineering team in designing, assembling, and launching the Lunar
Excursion Module (LEM) for Apollo. A collection of personal accounts by the engineers
and managers that made the LEM. 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 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
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
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
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.
"Pilots of the Line," Sky Masterson ллл
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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 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
"Clear the Bridge!," Richard O'Kane
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
"Exploring the Monster," Robert F. Whelan
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
Standard Astir III. Amazing for an unpowered craft!
"Song of the Sirens," Earnest K. Gann
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"What Do You Care What Other People Think?," Richard Feynman
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
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! Only one other manned submersible constructed since
that time dove as deep. People have been to the very bottom of the ocean only
in all of history.
"A View of the Sea," Henry Stommel
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
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.