Tag Archives: book review

Bizzaro Book Review: Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride

Let’s start with the obvious, okay? This is a book called Frank Sinatra in a Blender. I want you to let the pure wonder of that sink in for a second. I am a massive sucker for a catchy title. This probably has something to do with being raised on science fiction short stories with titles like “Mimsy Were the Borogroves” or “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. You don’t often get titles like that in novels, which right off the bat had me rooting for Frank Sinatra in a Blender to knock it clear on out of the stadium.

And from the outset things look very promising indeed. Matthew McBride commands a powerful and distinct voice, and his hard-boiled prose sucked me in immediately. There’s a kind of magic in this style of writing, a kind of siren song that calls out to the writer in me and says, “Maybe you should try to write like that.” By this point I know such forced emulation can only end in frustration and fakery, but this powerful and evocative style wielded so fearlessly still excites in me a certain awe and perhaps the slightest tinge of envy.

But then the other shoe drops. Actually that’s probably not the best metaphor to use here. For me the problems in this book became visible, not in a single flash of insight, but instead crept in like shadows cast by a slowly sinking sun, a sense that there was something off here. I tried to shake the feeling at first. By this point, I was more than a little invested; I was enthusiastic even, but something kept nagging at the back of my mind refusing to let me give myself over wholly to this story.

Why? Well, for a proper explanation it might do to examine what Frank Sinatra in a Blender actually is. Frank Sinatra in a Blender is crime fiction. And when I say crime fiction, I’m not talking about the kind of story where a crime is committed  and someone is trying to solve it (though there is some of that present in the narrative.) When I say crime fiction, I mean this is a story about criminals. Both protagonists and antagonists are decidedly bad guys.

Now let me be clear here: this kind of story can work. As a reader I am perfectly capable of rooting for someone on the wrong side of the law. Bad guys fighting against worse guys make for some great stories. Probably the best known example of this in popular culture would be Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction, which follows a couple of hit men and other assorted criminals through a twisted and unpredictable series of events. Very few of these characters are dudes you’d want to sit down and have tea with. And yet, Tarantino goes to great lengths to show us that these guys aren’t wholly defined by their work. He paints them as characters rather than criminals, giving them long tracts of meandering dialogue, prodding us to remember that these aren’t caricatures defined by their crimes, but real people with deep layers of personality. He helps you to connect with these bad guys.

This connection is what is missing in Frank Sinatra in a Blender. The protagonist is a coke-snorting, stripper-loving, corkscrew-crooked P.I. and all of his friends are worse. The lack of likability here is frankly staggering. The only attribute you might argue gives him a twinge of humanity is his relationship with his dog (who happens to be named Frank Sinatra, and —I don’t want to give too much away here, but— it turns out the title is functional as well as aesthetic.)

All of this means that by the time the novel was over, I wasn’t invested in what happened to anyone (except perhaps our eponymous canine cutey). Who will get the money from the bank heist? Who will take the rap for the turd on the mob boss’s pillow? Who will survive the ensuing carnage?

Who cares?

However. This complete failure of likability wasn’t enough to make me stop reading, which says a lot for McBride’s impeccable style and twisted plotting. But by the end my excitement about this book had waned considerably.

I’m not going to make a recommendation one way or another on this one. Obviously these kinds of opinions are highly subjective at the best of times; I’m fully prepared to consider the possibility that this story just wasn’t for me. After all, Charlie Sheen liked it. So if you’re looking for a fresh an interesting writer with a powerful voice, and you can stomach a despicable protagonist, then you could do worse than giving this one a look-see.

Bizzaro Book Review: Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Landsdale













Why are you still here? Did you not hear? Go. READ!

But no, of course that isn’t enough. You want more. “Why should I read this book, oh great and mighty reviewer?” you ask. “What is its premise? What are it’s strengths and weaknesses? Where were you on the night of April 19, 2011?” Oh, wait, probably not that last one.

But the thing is, I’m pretty sure I can’t do this book justice simply by reviewing it. It’s a bit like showing someone a picture of the Grand Canyon, and knowing that they’re going to look and nod their head and say, “Why yes, that does look rather impressive.” But they don’t really get it. Because some things can’t be summarized. Some things have to be experienced. But, for what it’s worth, here’s my puny three-by-five glossy overview of Joe R. Landsdale’s Edge of Dark Water.

This is a story of death, and ashes, and a raft floating down an endless river. This is a story of chance encounters, of people, good and bad, and often both at the same time.

This is a story about a girl. A girl who dreamed of going to Hollywood, of breaking free of her rural Texas life and living in a place where she could really be somebody. A girl of rare and cruel beauty. A girl who is dead, before our story even begins.

She is pulled up out of the dark waters of the river, her hands and feet bound, and weighted down with a sewing machine. There are few to mark her passing, no one who cares enough even to pry into the mystery of her murder. But there are three; three friends who know it isn’t right for a life so full of promise to end so unceremoniously. Three teenagers, two girls and a boy, who set out to make things right in the only way they know: by burning her body, and bringing her ashes to Hollywood.

This quest grows from its conception into a fully Odyssean  journey. It takes our heroes  on a chaotic, and sometimes, seemingly aimless journey of self-discovery and survival.

And through it all one simple idea echoes through the pages like a distant drum beat: people are more complicated than you think. The characters you want to hate twist and turn in the story, revealing deeper and more nuanced traits that force you to rethink your perspective. And the ones you start out cheering for, show themselves to carry deep flaws and fatal faults that challenge you to reassess your notions of what a “good person” really is.

And in the middle of all the dramatic tension, all the deep and nuanced characters, this book is frequently hilarious. I found myself stopping time after time as I was reading to say to my wife, “Okay, you’ve got to hear this.” I would have finished the book a week earlier if I hadn’t gotten bogged down going back and reading the funny bits to her.

If the book has one flaw it’s this: it seems to me that it wants to be To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a story with a young female narrator from the South told in a powerful and unique voice that addresses the issues of bigotry. Sound familiar? I only bring this up, because the similarities have been niggling at the back of my mind. And yet, if Edge of Dark Water is trying to emulate To Kill a Mockingbird, it does it really well.

In summary: READ. THIS. BOOK. Really. I don’t know what else I can do other than coming to your house and dragging you bodily to the library or bookstore. And I will do it. You’ll wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll be towering over your bed, a hulking shadow with wild eyes. And I’ll growl in a low and sinister voice that send chills down your spine, “You still haven’t read Joe R. Landsdale’s Edge of Dark Water.” Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon.

Bizzaro Book Review: Blackburn by Bradley Denton

There’s a moment. One day you look up and you see the days marching out in front of you, thousands upon thousands of them, stretching off into the distance and your heart breaks. Not because they’re bad days, but because they’re empty pointless things, copies of copies of copies. That’s the moment that you realize you’re going to get up, go to work, come home again, repeat ad infinitum, ad naseum until you die. In that moment you want to run, as far and as fast as you can. But you don’t. Because there are people depending on you. So you swallow the bile rising in your throat and you do it again.

But you need an escape, even it its only in your head and if you’re lucky you have Blackburn. Lets be clear right up front. Blackburn is not a “good” story. Not in the moral sense. But in a way, even though it’s fiction, its a true story. At least it is to me.

Maybe you’re not like this. Maybe there haven’t been times when you’ve been angry enough to wish someone dead, to visualize how it would happen in all of its gory satisfying violence. If so Blackburn is not the book for you.

Blackburn tells the tale of Johhny Blackburn a boy who becomes a man who decides he simply isn’t going to take it anymore. He breaks free from the cage society has constructed for him and lives a different kind of life, a life where injustices are righted quickly and messily, hopping from place to place, state to state, identity to identity without effort and without fear.

Blackburn is a killer, but he is more than that. He is a man who after being pushed to the edge by life jumped and found he could fly. And he is a lesson to those of us who might dream what it would be like to live such a life.

Because there is a moment. A moment when we realized that we are the thing we hate, that the cage we so wish to escape is one we have built for ourselves around the edges of our souls.

The final moral of Blackburn is that sooner or later we’re all hypocrites. Sooner or later we all become the thing we hate.

Should you read Blackburn? That depends. If your looking for a story with easy answers, a story where good triumphs over evil, a story where the truth is clear and understandable then the answer is no. But if you’ve come to that moment, the moment where you realize that life is a dark and cruel and disappointing place and there’s not a thing you can do about it. If you’ve given up looking for answers because you’ve realized you never really knew the questions to behind with: then perhaps Blackburn is the book for you.

Bizzaro Book Review: A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin

There is something wrong with me, apart from all the other things wrong with me, which is this: I’m kind of a voice snob.

When I pick up a book I ask myself these questions: Does the author’s voice grab me? Do the words do something more than simply convey information? Do they have a touch of poetry? That little something that reaches past the mind and touches the soul?

The problem with this approach is that great stories can be written in an unexceptional voice. Michael Connelly is a great example of this, an author with a voice so plodding and methodical that I never would have read him if not for the fact that I listened to an audio version of The Closers with my wife on our honeymoon.

But even though I know it’s foolish, when I’m looking for a book to read prose trumps plot most of the time.

And if there was ever a more shining example of prose trumping plot than A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines then I will cheerfully eat my hat.

It isn’t so much that the plot of this book is bad, as it is nonexistent. I’m not even sure how to describe this book to you. At some level it’s a biographical sketch encompassing the lives of Kurt Godel and Alan Turing, but it seems more interested in relating their souls than it does their stories.

Of course the high points are there. Turing creates the Turing Machine, Godel develops his incompleteness theorem, etc. But the facts you’ll find in this book are essentially the same as the ones you could find on the Wikipedia entries for these men’s lives.

But the true aim of this book is not to give us facts. Janna Levin’s goal is far more ambitious. With A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines she intends to poeticize science, to romanticize logic.

She spends long paragraphs pondering the consequences of determinism, working through her own doubts about the nature of fate through the minds of two of the twentieth centuries greatest thinkers.

And if you read between the lines you’ll see that this isn’t really a book about Kurt Godel and Alan Turing. Instead it is a book about Janna Levin, a woman of science trying to weave meaning into a cold and logical universe.

This is the true conflict of the book. Truth against beauty. Logic against love. Fate against choice.

The author is a scientist bound to the material and yet it is her spirit that speaks through these pages, bitterly trying to reconcile itself to the fact that it does not exist. And the conflict is made all the deeper, all the more tragic by the facts of the two men’s lives, with the realization that through all of their accomplishments, all of their staggering contributions to science, they were made no happier, that they ended their lives bitter and alone.

As always with my reviews, I’m certain that this book won’t appeal to everyone. But it spoke to me in ways I did not expect. Levin’s use of words is powerful, and though her paragraphs often stretch on and on, meandering into new heights of introspection with each passing sentence, somehow she never quite sounds overly verbose.

If that sounds like your cup of Earl Grey, then you should do yourself a favour and check this book out.

Bizzaro Book Review: One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

If you’re gonna call your book review the Bizzaro Book Review you’re pretty much obligated to mention the beautiful insanity that is Jasper Fforde at some point. And really, though I’m talking about his most recent book, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, to some extent this post will touch on his body of work as a whole.

Jasper Fforde makes his mark in fiction by being wholly and unashamedly weird. His flagship series, Thursday Next takes place in an alternate universe where people make their own pet dodos from from DNA kits, cheese is trafficked like a drug, and a woman named Thursday Next is able to travel into a world where books and their characters come to life.

It’s this last plot device that really drives the series out into the realm of the completely insane. Inside the Book World everything operates according to book logic. Scents are rare, (because almost no one ever uses scent in their descriptions), plot points such as ‘Just Then, a Shot Rang Out’ are bought and sold, and everything happens for a reason. Add in an ingenious and unflappable heroine and you’ve got a series that’s light years beyond anything else you might happen to be able to name in terms of sheer weirdness.

And though the weirdness of Jasper Fforde’s creations truly does speak to me, I think that occasionally he lets being weird get in the way of telling a great story. This at least was the case with his previous book Thursday Next: First Among Sequels which dragged on so slowly that I finally had to put it down after plowing through nearly eighty percent of the text.

And when the opening of One of Our Thursdays is Missing featured the complete remaking of Fforde’s iconic Book World for no discernible reason other than to be different I was afraid that this would be more of the same. Luckily this book got itself sorted out pretty quickly, and once the clockwork robot butler showed up, it was smooth sailing from then on.

As to the plot, it centers around the fictional Thursday Next, who is the Book World star of a series of books about the real Thursday Next whose exploits have garnered her some level fame. The fictional Thursday learns early on that the real Thursday has gone missing just before she was supposed to settle a nasty border dispute between the regions of Racy Novel and Women’s Lit.

Since the fictional Thursday looks and acts just like the real Thursday, she’s drawn into the search for the woman that inspired her character. And with the deadline looming and the real Thursday still very much in absence, the fictional Thursday begins to wonder if she might be unknowingly the real Thursday, a prospect that seems all the more tantalizing when she makes a trip out of the Book World and interacts with the real Thursday’s family.

You may need to take a break to scrape your brains off the wall at this point.

Bottom line, this book is wonderful, and in spite of all the weirdness in evidence, Jasper Fforde has really gotten back on track with compelling characters and a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat till the very end.

If you haven’t heard of the series before, you may want to go back and read some of the previous books first. I recommend starting with Lost in a Good Book since the first book, The Eyre Affair, was written while Fforde was still honing his style and doesn’t represent the strength of the rest of the series.

But really it doesn’t matter. Dig into Jasper Fforde’s bizarre world, and I promise you’ll never look at “normal” books the same way again.

Bizzaro Book Review: The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

There are some books that are good.  There are books that are bad.  But there are some books that…well, they’re bad too, but you really, really want them to somehow end up being good.  So you read on you keep waiting for the characters to coalesce and hoping the plot will start making sense, because somewhere deep inside your soul you know it has to get better eventually.  But it never does.

The book I’ll be talking about today, Jonathan Barnes’s The Somnambulist, is one of those books.

It starts out well enough.  In fact the opening lines are nothing short of genius.

Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.

See what I mean?  How could you not pick up a book that starts like that? Except when you read an opening like that, you expect it to be ironic. If you get to the end and find that the book really was a “lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters” you’re going to be a little peeved.

The story revolves around a Victorian era magician/detective named Edward Moon, a man cast vaguely in the mold of Sherlock Holmes. Moon is joined in his adventures by a hulking superhuman freak called the Somnambulist. I’d tell you more about his character, but there isn’t any more.

It’s as if the author said to himself, “I need a strange and bizarre character to make my story more interesting. Maybe he could be like this giant that is impervious to pain.  I could call him the Somnambulist.  That sounds like a cool name right?”

In fact, I think that’s what Jonathan Barnes said to himself about the whole book.  There are a number of completely fascinating characters who could easily have a fascinating story built around them alone that seem to be just thrown in for seasoning.

Meanwhile the plot is painfully thin.  Basically there’s a secret organization that’s trying to take over the world.  That’s all.  Oh, and they also have Zombie Samuel Coleridge on their side.

Actually, let me say that again. Zombie Samuel Coleridge.  This book has Zombie Samuel Coleridge in it.

But even the wonders of Zombie Samuel Coleridge (sorry, I just can’t get over how awesome that is) can’t pull this story out the funk of incomprehensibly that surrounds it like a cloud. On top of which, Moon, our protagonist detective remember) never solves anything.  He simply stumbles across answers when the plot says he needs them.  This is not how mysteries work.  “Mysteries” like this are the reason I stopped reading the Hardy Boys.  Back when I was ten.

And yet, somehow, in spite of all its shortcomings, I kept reading on.  And this is significant.  I am not above putting down a book if the author disappoints me. But there was something bizarrely compelling about the way that Barnes had assembled such a strange and amazing menagerie of characters and put them in a book with a plot whose thickness could be measured in microns.

Of course there’s the old and overused saw about watching a train wreck, but this book goes beyond that.  Reading this book was like watching the Taj Mahal collapse.  Beautiful and terrifying all in one moment.

And in the end, I have to say…I recommend it.  It isn’t a good book, at least not in the conventional sense.  I wouldn’t advise you to spend a lot of money on it, but if you can find it in your library or on the remaindered shelves of your bookstore go ahead and pick it up.  The writing itself isn’t bad, and there is some strange pleasure to be had in its failings.

And again, because I have to type it at least one more time, it has Zombie Samuel Coleridge in it.  That has to be worth something.

Get this book.  Read this book.  You will be disappointed.  And I mean that in a good way.

Bizzaro Book Review: When Graveyards Yawn by G. Well’s Taylor

What do clowns, zombies, detectives, and babies have to do with each other? Answer: in a sane man’s world, absolutely nothing.

Fortunately for weirdophiles like myself, the world portrayed in When Graveyards Yawn by G. Wells Taylor, is not a sane man’s world.  Rather the World of Change is a kind of Alice in Wonderland meets Night of the Living Dead meets Humphrey Bogart dystopian roller-coaster.

Our hero is Wildclown, a hard-drinking, hard living, hard boiled detective, that just so happens to be possessed by the amnesiac spirit of a dead man. Also, he dresses like a clown.

No, this book is not a comedy.

The setting of the World of Change is this: one day everyone stopped dying. All the dead woke up in their graves. And it started to rain.

And yet, in spite of the weirdness, and there is a lot of weirdness, it’s hard to overestimate how much When Graveyards Yawn has to owe to the old hard-boiled detective type of story that was popular when Humphrey Bogart was still on the big screen. This is a man story through and through. And it makes no apologies for it.

The plot simple enough. It starts out with Wildclowne being hired by a zombie to find his killer and subsequently getting into a gun battle with a gang of transgender bikers. I’m sorry, did I say simple? I meant to say insane.

And it only gets better from there. With the help of his zombie sidekick, Wildclown manages to get himself into all manner of scrapes as he gets pulled into the search for the Last Baby on Earth.

Bottom line, When Graveyards Yawn is a fun book. It builds a fantastic and compelling world and then fills it with wonderfully twisted characters, all the while keeping the plot tense and the stakes high.

If you’re still on the fence about this book…well first let me say that I feel deeply and truly sorry for you. But second, would it help if I pointed out that it’s available for free?

Get it. Read it.

And prepare to fall in love with a detective wearing clown makeup.

Bizzaro Book Review: The Psychopath Test by Jon Rohnson

I think we’ve all been there at some point or other. It happens like this: you pick up a book thinking, “Hey this looks like it might be-” and the next thing you know four hours have passed and somehow you’re at the end of that sucker.

But if you’re like me you probably don’t expect to have that happen with a book about then mental health industry. So imagine my surprise when I picked up copy of The Psychopath Test by Jon Rohnson and could not put it down.

Why? Well partly it was because someone had covered the book in superglue [Overused Joke Alert. Automatic Redaction.] But mostly the reasons I loved this book came down to the two basic reasons anyone falls in love with any book. The first is story.

It may seem counter-intuitive to say that all great books have great stories, especially when discussing non-fiction. Is there really a compelling narrative in Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages, or in Steven E. Landsburg’s More Sex is Safer Sex?

Probably the answer is yes, but only if we do some monkeying about with standard notions of story and narrative. But in The Psychopath Test we really are reading a story. To be specific, it’s Jon Rohnson’s story, a narrative that is part mystery, part travel adventure, part self-discovery.

The Psychopath Test doesn’t just give us the facts. It isn’t interested in simply downloading the  details about how our mental health industry came to be what it is. Rather the narrative follows Jon Ronhson himself from a very strange beginning involving the delivery of a mysterious book, through false starts and switchbacks, until, at long last, he reaches a fuller knowledge of the truth.

The second reason The Psychopath Test works so well is character. Because Jon Rohnson is not only the writer of the book, he is also its protagonist. He makes no attempt to shroud his words in the fog of objectivity. Rather he brings it all to the table, his fears and foibles, his missteps and misunderstandings, all of them working together to weave an intensely personal story about one man’s struggle, not only to understand the mental health industry, but to understand himself.

I highly recommend this book. It’s at times funny, serious and intriguing. I has a voice that is both unique and enthralling, and its message is one we could all stand to learn.

In the end this book is for anyone who’s ever looked at themselves in the mirror and asked, “If I was crazy…would I know it?”

The Viral View

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that most Friday’s I do a book review. Basically this review involves me talking about whatever I happen to have just finished reading at the time.

But lately I’ve been thinking about reviews a lot. Most people would look at a review of a book or a movie as a simple examination of the works strengths and weaknesses, a condensed rundown to give the reader some idea of whether or not they might like this particular book or movie.

But lately I’ve started to think of reviews as something else: viruses.

Okay, there’s no need to back away like that, and…whoa, where did that straight-jacket come from. Have you been carrying that with you the whole time?

I’m not crazy. Well, not with this anyway. Just hear me out.

Reviews are often tagged as being “spoiler free”. This means that the reviewer has not included any information that would “spoil” the readers enjoyment of the work being reviewed. But is any review, truly spoiler free?

Because I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I watch a movie or read a book after having read a review of that book I’m watching for the things the reviewer pointed out.

Weak third act structure? Yep.

Poorly developed characters? Check that one off the list.

Cunning use of white space? Got it.

Except those ideas aren’t my ideas. They’re not my opinions. I’ve been infected with the reviewer’s point of view.

It’s possible I might have made those same assesments on my own, but now I’ll never know for sure. Because I let myself be infected with the virus.

In truth this idea applies to far more than just movie reviews. We interact with others on a daily basis, taking recommendations, sharing opinions, transfering information. When you get right down to it none of the ideas in our heads belong to us. They’ve all come from somewhere external.

Immanuel Kant hypothesized that ideas like time and space existed “a priori” outside of external influence, because, he reasoned, thinking would be impossible without them. But with all due respect to Mr. Kant, he’s never lived in a universe without time. Simply because neither he nor any of us is capable of imagining how thought might occur in such place does not mean that such a thing is impossible.

In fact the idea for this very blog post, came from listening to someone else talking about how they tried to watch movies without any preconceptions and work out wether they liked it for themselves.

You might think that I’m leading up to saying that I’m going to discontinue the Bizzaro Book Review and let you all discover your own books without preconceptions.

But if you think that, then you obviously don’t know me that well. Because seriously? I have a chance to infect all of your brains with my ideas? Get me a ticket on that train.

Call up the CDC and tell them there’s a madman in Florida cooking up idea bugs in his garage. Make sure you scream as loudly as you can.

And don’t mind the men with the special jacket with the long sleeves. They’re only there to help.

Bizzaro Book Review: The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson

I almost didn’t write this review. I said to myself, “Albert you reviewed a non-fiction book two weeks ago. A biography of Joseph Priestley hardly fits under your “bizzaro” designation does it? Why not just give it up and write another film review? I know you’ve been itching to talk about Primer.”

And all of those are good arguments. But to be honest…I love this book.

Because even though at it’s heart it’s a biography of Joseph Priestly in reality The Invention of Air is a book that touches on topics as diverse as philosophy, science, religion, politics, and history.

The fundamental question of this book, and the thing that made it truly fascinating to me was, What is at the core of greatness? Is it personal genius? Some kind of intelectual zeitgeist? Socioeconomic factors? Or could it be that it is a combination of all these things?

Joseph Priestly was a scientist who flourished in the era leading up to the Revolutionary War. He discovered that plants produce oxygen, as well as discovering oxygen itself. But he was also much more than this. He was a dissenting minister who preached radical doctrines which brought the ire of the Church of England down on his head. He was a political activist who argued strongly for America’s right to be an independent nation, and eventually fled there when his radical views sparked outrage in England.

But as I said, this book goes beyond simply recounting the evens of Priestly’s life, and delves deep into the world that Priestly lived in. It goes to great lengths to help us understand the forces that helped to bring that world (and by extension, Priestly himself) to into being. Steven Johnson creates a fascinating framework for history stepping far back and envisioning world events as nothing more than the transfer of energy. The energy bound up in England’s shallow coal deposits, the energy of the Gulf stream bringing warmth to the British Isles, all of these and more conspiring together to create an environment where knowledge and intellectual passion could finally blossom in the age known as the Enlightenment. Reading this book, one comes to understand that the individuals we focus on in our historical texts are simply a small part of a much larger movement, shining examples of an entire world as it changes.

I was also fascinated by how studying Priestly’s life unveiled the deeper facts of America’s founding. From Franklin’s reluctance to go to war to the role that gunpowder from the French played in the American victory, viewing history through the lens of one man’s life brings out so many little details that seem to get lost in the overview historical accounts we’ve all learned in school.

And a deeper knowledge of history is invaluable to understanding the present. Priestly’s involvement with the Alien and Sedition Acts directly parallels the kinds of arguments Americans are still having today over detaining suspected terrorists indefinitely. Seeing similar events through the perspective of history helps to put political and constitutional debates today in better context. Despite the doomers and the gloomers the truth is that from the very beginning our republic has had to face upheaval and uncertainty, and despite many the many pitfalls and setbacks, we’ve managed to pull through.

And if for no other reason than to learn that lesson, The Invention of Air is well worth reading.


Aaaand I’m still shilling for my Old Yeller meets Night of the Living Dead novella called A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw. If you don’t have a Kindle there are now multiple formats including but not limited to EPUB PDF and TXT available at Smashwords. Do check it out if you haven’t already.