Friday, October 27, 2006

Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs

by Ken Jennings

What a cool book! I confess to 1) not really watching Jeopardy 2) not following Ken Jenning's great wins 3) really enjoying Trivial Pursuit.

Happily points 1 & 2 didn't disqualify me from enjoying this engaging book. Written with a good sense of humor (and humility) Jennings tracks an interleaved pair of stories: his arc into and through the Jeopardy game, and the history and breadth of "trivia through the ages."

From the earliest days to the present, Jennings shows you all the ways that the enjoyment of trivia have captivated (and informed) people around the world. And he tells you a lot about Jeopardy, and how he managed to do so well (though never making you hate him).

PLUS, to the trivia buff, he makes a point of sprinkling loads of fun facts through the book - never telling you the answer IN the chapter, but in the pages following the chapter he reiterates the question with the answer.

Highly recommended.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Is God to Blame?: Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering
by Gregory A. Boyd

Short answer, no. Longer answer.... well, read the book.

Boyd presents and argues for what is called Open Theism,
which militates against what he calls "blueprint theology," which he considers crippling to believers who, faced with tragedy are expected to trust "God's plan," i.e. that God wanted this to happen.

"The ultimate criteria for deciding what is and is not from God is Jesus Christ. If the one who died on the cross wouldn't have done it, you have every reason to assume an event is not from God or part of his will." (p. 196)
This book won't win every one over, but it is thoughtful, and hopeful for those grappling with despair and sorrow. Worth considering.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science and the Human Brain

by David Shenk

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Chess has been called "the gymnasium of the mind" and "the divine obsession," but however one defines it, you must acknowledge this "game of games" has captivated people like no other. Journalist David Shenk's The Immortal Game surveys the long, fascinating history of chess, paying generous tribute to its influence on nearly every arena of human activity. Like a grandmaster, Shenk juggles strategies, offering a medley of biographical stories, historical gambits, and side forays in mathematics, military strategy, neuroscience, and the development of artificial intelligence. Perfectly played.
Good summary - and enjoyable book, and a nice interleaving of the historic "Immortal Game" with chapters about chess and chess players. Very enjoyable.

Crucible: McCoy: Provenance of Shadows (Star Trek Series)

by David R. George, Gene Roddenberry (Created by)

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"The City on the Edge of Forever," is the seminal Star Trek episode, and one that has spawned endless tie-in novels, and fan speculation. This latest entrant takes a novel and fresh approach: if McCoy's presence in Earth's past changed time - that means a separate timeline began with McCoy following a completely different history. This book tells that tale.

There are two interleaved narratives - one the McCoy we know, his career through time in Star Fleet, the other McCoy marooned in the early twentieth century USA, as his unwitting intervention delays the US entry into WWII and the horrors that follow. Both are well told, and moving stories.

I often think that McCoy is the unsung hero, except for the work of Diane Duane - in this novel, Mr. George helps to redress that lack. I look forward to his next two novels in this 40th anniversary tribute.