Author: Simon Winchester
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, 195 Broadway, NY, NY
Copyright: 2015, ISBN: 0062315410
Cover: Gregg Kulick, Getty Images
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, July 24, 2016
Summary: Extraordinary little book (492 pages) that is not what is expected. An innovative approach to exploring the history of East and Southeast Asia. Focus on the sixty four million square miles of water, forty-six percent of water covering the earth.
We read books to learn something new. Knowing what we don’t already know is an attitude, not a condition.
The enjoyment of reading and weaving through the labyrinth of old and new vistas of thought is when a novel idea pops up unexpectedly. PACIFIC is one of those reads. You discover the Pacific Ocean. You discover the people who ushered the Pacific Ocean into the commercial and political considerations of Europe and America. Since Magellan the Pacific region has been on a steady upward spiral in its importance to the 18th century industrial revolution. The region is reaching a zenith in the era of the electronic digital revolution. Comparative to the twelfth century monasteries of Ireland, the populations of Asia are a potential culture changing force in the world. To boot, it is also an enormous market place. This is the backdrop for the history Winchester presents in PACIFIC.
Author: Marc Goodman
Publisher: Doubleday, Random House LLC, NY, NY
Copyright: 2015, ISBN: 0385539012
Cover: Pet Garceau, PixelEmbargo (copyright)
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, January 15, 2016
Summary: Security on the internet is doomed, all internet transactions are doomed, we are all doomed. In the immortal words of CEO Parker Posey in the 2001 movie, Josie and the Pussycats, when all is doomed, “let’s have ice cream”.
Imagine you are living in single story house. Your front door is facing New York’s Times Square. On New Year’s eve you leave the house, leaving the front door open, to shop, visit family and friends, to work. You leave your front door open because you do not have a front door. The folks who built the house did not build the house with doors. This, essentially, is author Marc Goodman’s take on the internet. Expectations of privacy and security are a delightful delusion promulgated by profound ignorance.
Goodman’s approach in FUTURE CRIMES to address the sea of blissful, wide-eye acceptance of our growing technological dependence is to go over the current bad players and the opportunities for bad players in the future.
Author: John Sandford and Ctein
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Random House LLC
Copyright: 2015, ISBN: 0399176951
Cover: Tal Goretsky, (Planet) Da-Kuk
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, January 6, 2016
Summary: Space race between a futuristic United States and China to find out what a mysterious object was doing among the moons of Saturn. Modern day Shakespearian tragedy at its best.
Someone once said that science fiction is the improbably made possible. Or something like that. In any event, vampires and zombies are not in the least related to science fiction. Shoot-em up galactic adventures are more wild-west fantasy than science fiction. Science fiction requires the thoughtfulness of a Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov or Andy Weir or a host of other deep thinkers, including the authors of SATURN RUN. It is an incredible work of old, cemented-in-logic science fiction.
The story of this novel flows so smoothly that you overlook the improbabilities and simply follow the logic. The first hurdle is getting past the second chapter. It has a taste of THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams. The character we meet in chapter two, Fletcher, only becomes interesting after he receives a visit from Mr. Crow, another interesting character. The story then unfolds into a plethora of complex characters who would simply be mundane characters doing their jobs if the circumstances were mundane. Of course the circumstances are not mundane. There is a mysterious craft seen leaving the orbit of Saturn.
Once upon a time it may have required only a Jules Verne imagination and Mark Twain writing skill to put together a good science fiction tale. Those days are over. Science fiction like SATURN RUN and Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN are science fiction at its best–informative and entertaining.
Author: Dean Koontz
Publisher: Bantam Books Mass Market, Random House, Inc
Copyright: 1994, ISBN: 0345533036
Type: Fiction, paperback
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, January 6, 2016
Summary: A mystery with multiple layers ending in an expected place. The journey to get there however is one of the best of Koontz’s narratives.
Being an armchair historian, one of the reasons I read fiction is to see how much “real life” intrudes into fictional narratives. Sometimes, vice-versus–but rarely. Koontz’s DARK RIVERS OF THE HEART, published in 2004, is amazing in how much it captures the social and political sentiments of our current times.
Author: Gavin Menzies
Publisher: William Morrow HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 10 East 53rd Street, NY, NY 10022
Cover: Richard L. Aquan, Burstein Collection/CORBIS
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, January 7, 2016
Summary: An information filled, fun journey through fifteenth century maybe world history focusing on a two year period in China. An extraordinarily good book that balances facts with speculation.
In reading the title of this book you might well ask who didn’t discover America. After reading Gavin Menzies’ 553 page, 1421, you realize that discovery is not the issue. After all, there were countless native Indian tribes who discovered America every day for thousands of years before Europeans ever set foot on the place. If nothing else, Menzies’ book conclusively demonstrates that much of what passes as common-knowledge history is so full of gapping holes that you can drive an alien spacecraft through it with very little fear of hitting a fact. Eric Von Daniken and like minded “history researchers” have been doing just that.
Author: Evan Thomas
Publisher: Random House, www.randomhousebooks.com
Copyright: 2015 ISBN: 0812995367
Cover: Victoria Wong
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, December 31, 2015
Summary: A portrait history of Richard Milhous Nixon expertly done. It focuses on the man and not the issues of his time which leads to a feeling of not getting the entire story. But the Nixon story itself is so intricate and involved that this book is well worth the journey. It is laser focused on its subject.
Before there was Barrack Hussein Obama and pick-your-pseudo-scandal; before there was George W. Bush and weapons of mass destruction; before there was William Jefferson Clinton and the dress; before there was George H. Bush and read-my-lips; before there was Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra; before there was Jimmy Carter and a certain “crisis of confidence” taken as a malaise in the body politic; before there was Gerald R. Ford and the pardon, there was Richard Milhous Nixon. The country has never been the same since. Maybe never will.
Author: Marion Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Copyright: 2002, ISBN: 0312985029
Cover: Rex USA/New York Post
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, November 1, 2015
Summary: Reads like gossip but is fact-filled and fascinating in what it reveals about the breath of human delusion–self and otherwise. Multimillionaire Robert Durst oozes through suspicion of mischief and murder to eventually be arrested on suspicion of malfeasance in the execution style murder of a close friend.
After jumping bail in Galveston, Texas, in flight from a September 2001 charge of murder with discovery of the dismembered body of Morris Black, Robert Durst was arrested in Bath, Pennsylvania for shoplifting. The arrest occured in November of that year. Reporting information gleamed from Detective Gary Hammer of the Colonial Regional Police, author Marion Collins quotes him as saying, “‘Less than an hour after he’d [Durst] been taken into custody, we [the police department] got calls from three lawyers.’” This was before the arrest of Durst burst into the public domain and before the obligatory one phone call of the accused.
Author: Kathryn Casey
Publisher: Avon Books, HarperCollins Publishers, www.avonbooks.com
Copyright: 2005, ISBN: 0060567643
Cover: Greg Hursley, Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, July 20, 2015
Summary: Narcissistic personalities are in the news lately. Generally they are fodder for humor and satire. Celeste Beard is a classic narcissist and she would be Momma Dearest funny were it not for the insanity of her crimes. Her life and deeds tacks on another layer of questions about insanity, responsibility and the death penalty.
The story of Celeste Beard Johnson has been told several times. Katheryn Casey’s version remains the best.
Celeste Beard was convicted in March 2003 of killing Steve Beard, her husband. She orchestrated her the murder by convincing her lesbian lover to shoot him in the gut with a shotgun. Wife kills husband. Abuse, jealousy, insurance money, pure evil; the usual excuses for one spouse killing another. Underlying any murder is a profound ignorance; an inability to see vistas beyond the immediate now, beyond the current roiling emotions. Any human who kills another is mentally unbalanced to some degree. There is some deficit in the character makeup or brain chemistry or acquired life-coping skills of murders. Usually of course both ignorance and skewed mental outlook are the mosaic of a killer s life.
Author: Erik Larson
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group, Division of Random House LLC
Copyright: 2015, ISBN: 0307408860
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, May 28, 2015
Summary: The unusual circumstances surrounding the sinking of the British passenger liner, Lusitania in 1915, or everything you thought you did not know about the sinking of the Lusitania and the entrance of America into World War I.
Read enough history and history really does seem cyclical. A sobering and somewhat discouraging thought. Even more discouraging and disheartening is the realization that the mistakes, missed opportunities, and sheer ignorance are as repetitive as the deaths and births giving rise to the perception of change.
Fifty or sixty years from the deed, will some historian look at September 11, 2001 and say, “Yes, it could have been prevented”. More than three thousand people lost their lives on American soil because the country was attacked by a known enemy. Such an assault was unthinkable on September 10th. Not that the event was a complete surprise. There were portents. Terror was in the atmosphere. Was there a government official or some government group like the NSA, CIA or FBI who could have prevented or mitigated the devastation? Fifty or so years after Pearl Harbor similar questions were raised about that event. It is too “early” for clear answers for both events—too many possible embarrassments.
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Broadway Book, Random House, LLC
Copyright: 2011, 2014, ISBN: 
Cover: Erick White, Elizabeth Rendfleisch, NASA
Summary: Fiction, science, mystery. Delightful surprise.
If you are the type reader who starts reading a book from the copyright or title page to the end, THE MARTIAN offers everything a reader could possibly want, including a few Old English basic words the Normans thought they had expunged from the language. When we meet Astronaut Mark Watney on page one of the book we are pretty sure he is doomed—he employs some of that Old English to describe the situation. More than just take his word for it, we have the fact that he is keeping a log or diary. We subconsciously equate logs and diaries with doomed, as in death.
Inadvertently abandoned and left alone by fellow crew members, stranded with no way to get home and initially no way to call home, we read with the expectation of a noble death, a miracle, or—please, no hoots—alien contact. By the time we figure out where this novel is going—part of the reason for reading good fiction—we are amazed and enthralled by where Watney has been and where he is most likely going. We realize that not only have we sold the stranded astronaut short, we have sold ourselves short with our and limited circumspect expectations.
THE MARTIAN is one of those books that will survive a couple of generations with obscure references popping up in unexpected times and unexpected contexts.