Required Reading

Here is a list of books which should be of special interest to those who concern themselves with world affairs, not to mention being excellent, thought-provoking reading in the old fashioned sense.

 The Making Of The Atomic Bomb

Richard Rhodes
ISBN 0-671-44133-7
Simon & Schuster - 1986

 This work traces the origins of atomic energy from the first vague perceptions of the nature of matter through the long and often frustrating process of learning what the atom really is to the final application of atomic physics in the wartime development of the bomb. It goes into fascinating detail about how the scientific process works, how new scientists are educated, and how the modern science of nuclear physics evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also gives a revealing look at the open exchange of knowledge which is the basis of the scientific community, and how that openness came into conflict with national security in the mid 20th century when science could finally deliver knowledge which could destroy us all.


 When The Earth Almost Died

Press - 1900

 The Permean Extinction, some 250 million years ago, almost rendered the earth sterile and wiped out over 90% of all species which existed at the time. This huge and sometimes ponderous book traces the scientific inquery into the event from the first dim perception of the concept of extinction through the exhaustive research and theorizing to the present understanding of the event. The results show us that our world is not nearly as permanent as we think, and that natural forces can combine and build on each other with catastrophic effect. This should be especially interesting to those concerned about the environment since we are now in a Great Extinction event of our own.


 The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich

Wm L. Shirer
ISBN 0-671-72868-7
Simon & Schuster - 1981 (1959)

 One of the big questions to come out of World War 2 is 'what the heck got into the Germans?' This ancient culture, as civilized as any in Europe at the time, suddenly descended into madness so dire that it almost wrecked western civilization. William L Shirer, already a respected international journalist, followed the descent of post-Great War Germany into political and economic chaos, and watched the rise of Hitler and the Nazis from a handful of malcontents to a force able to seize power from a duly elected majority too paralysed by fear and doubt to resist them. This is a sobering look at what a ruthless, amoral minority can accomplish, and it answers that question most compellingly: the Nazi Party became a mechanism for enabling the sociopaths found in every society. This is a dire warning for those concerned about the rising tide of fanaticism in our own time, and our seeming inability to resist them.


 The Collapse Of The Third Republic

Wm L. Shirer
ISBN 0-671-78509-5
Simon & Schuster - 1969

 In 1940, France - which had the largest and most respected army in the world - was crushed and swiftly overrun by the newly revived, under-equipped, and still poorly trained German army in one of the most stunning debacles of modern times. William L Shirer witnessed the disaster from both sides, and later went on to do exhaustive research into the archives and interview witnesses in several countries to put together the incredible story. What he discovered was amazing: outdated strategy, lack of planning, disloyalty and defeatism in the military leadership, and petty political intrigue - including two politician's mistresses whose feuding crippled the leadership's will. This makes stark, fascinating reading, and is a stern warning about the perils of social polarization in these troubled times.


 Lighter Than A Feather

David Westheimer
Addenda by John R. Skates
Little, Brown - 1971

 This is a graphic docu-drama about what the invasion of Japan would have been like had we not developed the atom bomb. While it is a work of fiction, the setting and situation are based on extensive documentary research, and the narrative is a compelling look at what total war can become. Those who condemn our use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki might want to ponder this one with particular care. In any event, it is an outstanding and thought provoking read. Interestingly, the Staff of the Japanese Self Defense Forces have adopted this as part of their official library - about the best book recommendation one can imagine.


 Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors

Dr. Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan
ISBN 0-345-38472-5
Ballantine - 1992

 Doctor Sagan is famous for popularizing the sometimes archane details of advanced science, and this is perhaps his most ambitious work. This book covers a vast array of interests from the Big Bang and the origin of matter, through the origin of life and how DNA works, to why we think and behave as we do, The style is light and readable, the explanations easy to follow, and the scientific background fascinating. As a comprehensive general reader reference on just about every fascet of current scientific study, this one is hard to beat.


 The Worst Hard Time

Timothy Egan
ISBN 978-0-618-77347-3
Houghton Miflin - 2006

 This is a powerful documentary about the people who stayed through the Dust Bowl of the 1920s while most of the population of the High Plains - known to history as the 'Okies' - fled for greener pastures. This well researched work traces the abysmal public policy origins of the greatest man-made ecological disaster in history, and how the ordinary people caught up in it endured in a world gone mad. Whole chapters of this book could be transferred en-mass to become a graphic, all but uninhabitable alien world; yet thousands dug in and endured years of dreadful hardship. Many of them didn't survive. The most frightening part of all this is how our present policies are setting us up for a repeat. A must read for anyone concerned about the environment.



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