The System of the World by Neal Stephenson; the third and final volume of the huge Baroque Cycle.
The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick. Subtitled: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society and the birth of the modern world. This is popular history of science, and not bad, but not that good, either. Dolnick sort of jumps around the history of science, going back to Pythagoras and forward to Einstein et al., while concentrating on Newton and his contemporaries. He oversimplifies a lot, but if this is your introduction to this sort of material, that might be a good thing. But if you know this period, then this book may irritate you more than it enlightens you. NOTE: I didn’t really finish this, I gave up on it. It wasn’t worth it to me.
The Burning Wire by Jeffrey Deaver. A thriller in the Lincoln Rhyme series, set in contemporary New York. Rhyme is a fascinating character – the best crime scene analyst in New York City, maybe the world, he was, years ago, injured on the job, and is now a C4 quadriplegic, able to move his head and shoulders and the fingers of one hand. He’s wonderfully acerbic; I get the sense Deaver may know a quadriplegic person
In this novel, someone is killing people using the electric grid – basically electrocuting them. Rhyme and his associates have very few clues, and are in a race to stop him (or her) before more people die. More twists than a corkscrew.
Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases ed. by Kahneman, Slovic and Tversky. A collection of now classic works on how people reason under uncertainty.
Washington: A life which I am reading on my new Kindle 2 (my old Kindle broke). So far, it’s living up to the hugely favorable reviews, although the beginning was a bit repetitive about some aspects of Washington’s personality. I’ve now been reading this again, and am impressed. It’s still a bit repetitive (how many times do we need to read how big, tall, erect and strong Washington was?) but good. Chernow doesn’t skip over the negative stuff, in particular how Washington dealt with slavery.
Charming Proofs. A book of beautiful (or charming) proofs in mathematics, nearly all of which require no advanced math.
Daybreak Zero by John Barnes. It’s 2025. About 9 months ago, there was an apocalyptic event, involving both nanowar and electomagnetic pulse, wiping out pretty much everything that had been invented in the 20th century. The country formerly known as the United States is struggling to recover. Very well written; the worst of the apocalypse is over, so we don’t read of horrors but recovery. But recovery is slow.
Jacquard’s web: How a hand-loom led to the birth of the information age by James Essinger.
At the beginning of the 19th century, in France and in particular in Lyons, silk making was a big industry, but it was incredibly labor intensive to weave designs into silk, because silk is so fine. Then Jacquard figured out a way to use punched cards to (essentially) program looms to make patterns. This led to a 24-fold increase in speed – roughly the difference between car travel and air travel.
This is everything a book like this should be. If you are interested in the history of computing, you should read this.
The House of Wisdom: How Arabic science saved ancient knowledge and gave us the renaissance by Jim Al Kallili. If you think of “science” as a western thing, or even if you think of the Arabs as simply sort of copyists of the Greeks who transmitted stuff to the west, you are in for a surprise. 1000 years ago, if you wanted to study science, you wouldn’t want to live in Europe at all. And this period lasted a long while.
The author, an Iraqi living in the west, is a scientist and historian of science, and gives a panoramic view of what he calls (for want of a better term) “Arab science” although he notes that it’s really more like “science that was practiced by Arabs, Persians and others, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, in the area dominated by Arabs” but you can’t really use that phrase too often!
Sixkill by the late, great Robert Parker. This is (I am pretty sure) the last Spenser novel. It’s not top of the line Parker, but it’s still pretty darn good. One interesting thing: Hawk is not in this novel (he’s living in Asia), and Spenser takes on Zebulon Sixkill, a huge Cree Indian who he finds working as a bodyguard for “Jumbo” Nelson, an offensive jackass who happens to be a Hollywood star and also may (or may not) be guilty of murder. Fun stuff.