Saturday, August 18, 2018

#12 A Summer's Reading

#12 A Summer's Reading

One of the great rewards of retirement is plenty of time for reading, especially when and where one wants to read. It's been kind of toasty this June through August in northern Colorado so the afternoons are a great place, after morning chores and 2 hours of  racquetball to settle in for some serious reading. This is the pattern which sets up well for a half-hour-no more, no less-resting of the eyes, nap. So what's been good?

In non-fiction, seriously read upstairs in the living room, I've enjoyed Ali: A Life, a mammoth recording of Muhammed Ali/ Cassius Marcellus Clay, jr.'s life from his ancestors to birth in 1942,  through schooling in Louisville KY to the 1960 Rome Olympics, and professional career that should have ended in 1971 but went for 61 professional fights until a 1981 loss and a 1984 diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease and death in 2016. Eig researched Ali thoroughly talking to over 400 people around the Champion, and his book reads very smoothly covering the years and events of the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam war, Black Power movement and Elijah Muhammed and the Nation of Islam in Chicago,etc. But Ali was tough on women, his wives and many hangers on. That was a part of him that was less than successful.

Two books by Simon Winchester, a Brit now living in the US, were also very entertaining and challenging. The Surgeon of Crowthorne (also published as The Professor and the Madman) is the story of  Dr. W C Minor, a surgeon in the US Army during the Civil War, who after leaving service a broken man, travels to London and murders a man, is sentenced to an insane asylum neighboring Windsor Castle and the Queen for life. End of story? No, his story in England crosses that of an Oxford professor who was instrumental in the creation of the multi-volume, multi-year project, the collection, verification and publishing of the Oxford English Dictionary. Their lives crossed as Minor contributed the largest collection of words and sources to the dictionary and he and Professor Murray became friends.

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, his latest book, presents the fascinating tale of how life has been impacted by accuracy and precision. Beginning with the early years of the Industrial Revolution in 1776, Winchester introduces the leaky steam boiler and driven piston of Watts steam engine as being hopelessly inefficient. Another Englishman, Henry Wilkinson, modified his cannon-boring equipment to drill the first precision piston engine that really began the revolution. Winchester follows with the parallel histories of the establishment of the Rolls Royce Silver Phantom and Ford Model T as two sides of precision engineering and manufacturing diverging as to cost and comfort.Winchester also explores the development of GPS, smart phones, jet engine blades, the Hubble Space Telescope, the LIGO gravity wave apparatus and the future to humanity of Precision. This is very interesting stuff.