13 Things That Don't Make Sense

13 Things That Don't Make Sense is a scientific book, concerning the 'most baffling scientific mysteries of our time', things such as cold fusion, the placebo effect, dark energy and homeopathy. I chose to listen to it as an audiobook rather than read it as topics like this can sometimes be a bit rough on the eyes and the brain. However, Michael Brooks does an admiral job of not boring me to tears with his explanation of each mystery. It also helps that the book was read by James Adams, not someone that I have heard of before but he has a very nice tone.

As with all audiobooks, it is difficult to note anything more than an overall view given the nature of the medium, and also the fact that I listened to this on and off over a space of two months. Not that it bored me, but I saved it for train journeys mostly and I didn't make very many! I would however recommend this as you don't need to be a scientist to enjoy it and it really is full of interesting things. I learnt about a turtle that doesn't age and alien hands syndrome for instance. It will be interesting to see if during my lifetime, some of these things do end up being explained - it is certainly worth listening back to some time in the future.

The War Of The Worlds

Grim. That's the tone of this book, as mankind sets about getting annihilated by superior invaders from Mars. You really sense the urgency of the nightmarish situation through the eyes of the narrator, as the Martians exert their dominance to the South-West of London. Reading through it, trying to imagine what it would be like if I were caught up in such a situation was quite terrible. Imagine a world where man was treated just as we treat animals and vegetables. How horrid!

I found this to be infinitely better than Wells' first work that I read (The Time Traveller). You can see his writing skill progressing with each story, and I would say that this one does deserve the mantle of 'classic'. It's astounding the imagination that Wells possessed - it would be interesting to harness it today with all our modern inventions and see what he could dream up.

But this book wasn't all grim for me. That's because I am biased to finding rare mentions of my town and even district in print, especially so when I am living on another continent. So it was very pleasing for me to read briefly about Southend, and I will include the mentions below as testament to the glory of Southend-on-Sea.

For after the sailors could no longer come up the Thames, they came onto the Essex coast, to Harwich and Walton and Clacton, and afterwards to Foulness and Shoebury.

Some of the passengers were of the opinion that this firing came from Shoeburyness.

...and the low Essex coast was growing blue and hazy, when a Martian appeared, small and faint in the remote distance, advancing along the muddy coast from the direction of Foulness.

I also enjoyed how Wells would illustrate local accents, the best of which was a man from the East-End asking "This'll tike us rahnd Edgware?"

The Lost World

I recently went to North Carolina to stay with some friends, and whilst there my friend Omayra took me to a wonderful shop that sold books for as little as 10 cents each. This little beauty cost me 50 cents, but that was still very good value for money.

I have already read one novel called The Lost World, the Michael Crichton sequel to Jurassic Park. I think, on the whole, I prefer this. I had never heard of Professor Challenge before, so I was a little skeptical of the print on the back advertising him as second to only Sherlock Holmes in creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But after reading this, I shall be eventually be seeking out more adventures of the professor.

At the risk of banging the same drum until it breaks, this really is what Twenty Thousand Leagues... should have been. Clocking in at under half the size, The Lost World packs twists and turns and adventures galore, whereas Verne had a bit of adventure, a long twist and then nothing much. Drama and tension and excitement abound in The Lost World and I really enjoyed it, reading most of it on the flight back from Raleigh to New York. It doesn't just focus upon dinosaurs either. I shan't ruin it for anyone, but there's more than you'd expect and it goes to show that Conan Doyle was a master storyteller. That's not to say that this story is perfect, as the last few chapters before the ending seemed a little rushed and vague, but I would recommend this tale as you probably would enjoy it.

Notable quotes that tickled my fancy:
  • Better be a repulsed lover than an accepted brother.
  • "That's done it! Stool of penance! said he. To my amazement he stooped, picked her up, and placed her sitting upon a pedestal of black marble in the angle of the hall. It was at least seven feet high, and so thin that she could hardly balance upon it.
  • Last night, Challenger said he never cared to walk on the Thames Embankment and look up the river, as it was always sad to see one's own eventual goal. He is convinced, of course, that he is destined for Westminster Abbey. Summerlee retorted, however, with a sour smile, by saying that he understood that Millbank Prison has been pulled down.
  • It was that foolish, irresitable Latin impulse to be dramatic which brought his own downfall.

Pirates and Piracy

This is one of the most glorious books I have ever read. Originally published in 1914, this is a faithful reproduction, complete with prints and distinctly politically incorrect language. So you know it is entertaining. It also deals with piracy through the ages, only spending a little time to dwell upon the Caribbean and instead tells the tales of the North African corsairs, pirates dwelling in European waters and some from Arab waters. It also has interesting stories not often told, like John Rawlins, an enslaved Englishman who led a contingent of fellow enslaved Europeans to freedom, and Lieutenant Hall, who captured an Arab fortress singlehandedly one night. The combination of not the normal pirate stories + inspiring prints (the best of which are below) + random racism and old school words makes this an excellent read.

And now for some of the quotes:

  • ...became for the next three centuries a scourge of the Mediterranean, a terror to ships and men, inflicted all the cruelties which the fanaticism of the Moslem race is capable of.
  • He is like the gypsy or the vagrant: he has in him an overwhelming longing for wandering and adventure.
  • Even today, in this highly civilised century, if you were to be becalmed off the coast of North Africa in a sailing yacht, you would find some of the descendants of these Barbarian corsairs coming out with their historical tendency to kill you and pillage your ship.
  • "You shall finde it such, that any wise man would rather live amongst wilde beasts than pirates."
  • But being English and a gallant crew, they decided to fight.
  • Simultaneously the English poured out from their guns a hotter fire than ever, and the Turks fell like ninepins.
  • He found that these Tunis pirates were obstinate and wilful: they were unprepared to listen to any reason. Intractable and insolent, it was impossible to treat with them: force was the only word to which they could be made to hearken.
  • But Tunis was invulnerable, so it was a most difficult undertaking.
  • For these inhuman Moslems, these vipers of Africa, these monsters of the sea, having caught a Christian in their net would next set about trying to make him change his Christianity for Mohammedanism.
  • ...or thrashing him without mercy till he would consent to become a Moslem.
  • These Moslems never went to sea without their Hoshea or wizard, and this person would, by his charlatanism, persuade these incapable mariners what to do and how to act. Every second or third night, after arriving at the open sea, this wizard would go through various ceremonies, consult his book of wizardry, and from this he would advise the captain as to what sails ought to be taken in, or what sails to be set. The whole idea was thoroughly ludicrous to the rude, common-sense Devonshire seamen, who marvelled that these infidels could be so foolish.
  • But one of the other Turks was on deck, and at this incident, he broke out into a great rage. This was but short-lived, for an Englishman stepped up to him, dashed out his brains and threw his body overboard.
  • The Spaniards were becoming more and more aggressive towards the English in the West Indies, and it was essential that they should be given a severe lesson before worse events occurred.
  • The Persian Gulf is to this day not quite the peaceful corner of the globe that undoubtedly some day it will become. [Note: This optimism tickled me pink]
  • He, however, like the sneaking cur that was so characteristic of this Dago crew...
  • The weather got from bad to worse and the night was as black as a nigger's head. [Note: Although the author has used terms like Dago etc, I was surprised to see this statement unedited in the book, particularly as the author himself described the slave-trade as "abhorrent". I suppose it was just different times]
  • One of the chief characteristics of these Dyaks was their passion for collecting human heads. It is difficult for a civilised person to understand this propensity, but head-hunting was not merely a sport, but the accumulation of heads was looked upon as the essential possessions of manhood.
  • Our losses were nil and only a few men wounded in trying to prevent these men sinking with sword and shield still in their wicked hands.
  • But when the nooses of rope were put over the head of each the effect was magical. So soon as the rope touched their yellow skin their manner was altered and their memories suddenly awoke from their untruthful stupor.

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