Ahoy there me mateys! For those of ye who are new to me log, a word: though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes. Occasionally I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were. So today I bring ye a muster of non-fiction reviews. What be a muster?
Well the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:
- assemble (troops) especially for inspection or for battle;
- collect or assemble (a number or amount); or
- a group of peacocks.
I have been reading a lot of non-fiction books and don’t have enough information to give full reviews because many of the facts fail to muster and fall out of me noggin. Yet they be enjoyable and so methinks it be good to spread the word. Here be three such recent reads.
Side note: the book covers come from Goodreads and ye can click on them to add the books to yer Goodreads’ Ports for Plunder List.
wesley the owl (Stacey O’ Brien)
This was recommended to me by Sara in response to me review of h is for hawk in me last muster. It is a memoir of Stacey O’ Brien about the two decades she lived with Wesley the Barn Owl. Stacey was a Caltech biologist when she adopted four day old Wesley. I listened to this audiobook in one sitting. It made me laugh out loud (a lot) and cry (a bit at the end). It made me heart happy. Ye get to learn fun animal facts, learn about the life of the author, and above all learn about the specific traits of Wesley. Who knew that barn owls could have such personality and leave such an impression. This was absolutely delightful and I am so grateful that Sarah brought this gem to me attention. I would certainly listen to this audio book again!
Wesley went everywhere with me from then on. I even wrapped him in baby blankets and held him in my arms while grocery shopping, to keep him warm during the first cold winter. Occasionally someone would ask to see “the baby,” and when I opened the blanket, would leap back shrieking, “What is that?! A dinosaur?” Apparently, the world is full of educated adults with mortgages and stock portfolios who think people are walking around grocery stores with dinosaurs in their arms.
Side note: For another wonderful memoir with fun biological facts check out the sound of a wild snail eating. I swear snails are fascinating!
the feather thief (Kirk W. Johnson)
This be one a true crime book about one of the greatest naturalist thefts of all time – of bird skins from the British Museum of Natural History. The reason – their feathers for use in fishing lures. Aye matey, ye did read that correctly. Fishing lures that aren’t even used to fish. Who would think that that would be a big business? Well this book looks into the theft of the birds by a 20 year old flutist studying in London. That part ended unsatisfactorily by me standards. But this is more than just about that crime. This also looks into the history of the feather trade – like how women’s fashion almost decimated song birds. It discusses the theory of evolution and how Darwin had a competitor in Alfred Russel Wallace, the bird collector of many of those stolen skins. It talks about the history of fly fishing – which is weirder beyond belief. Such historical forays were interesting. While the poor handling of the crime angered me beyond belief (through no fault of the author), the book kept me interested in topics that, before this book, I would have found boring.
As the twentieth century arrived, America’s manifest destiny had been fulfilled. The 1890 census found so many settlements as to declare the extinction of the frontier. Having reached the Pacific, our forebears looked back and saw a denuded landscape: mountains demolished and rivers fouled by the Gold Rush, and species vanishing as cities grew larger and their smokestacks taller. Between 1883 and 1898, bird populations in twenty-six states dropped by nearly half. In 1914, Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon on earth, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Four years later her cage hosted the death of Incas, the last of the Carolina Parakeets.
Back in the day, I read a book called Freaknomics which uses statistics to answer questions like “What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?” This book is the next generation’s dive into statistics. Some of the questions answered in this book include “What percentage of white voters didn’t vote for Barack Obama because he’s black?” and “Do violent films affect the crime rate?” and some not so serious ones. This book delves into “big data” like Google search engine queries to explore the bigger questions about “economics to ethics to sports to race to sex, gender and more.” I loved it! The audiobook was fantastic even if I can’t recall any facts from this off the top of me noggin. It was thought-provoking and I would certainly listen to it again
Frankly, the overwhelming majority of academics have ignored the data explosion caused by the digital age. The world’s most famous sex researchers stick with the tried and true. They ask a few hundred subjects about their desires; they don’t ask sites like PornHub for their data. The world’s most famous linguists analyze individual texts; they largely ignore the patterns revealed in billions of books. The methodologies taught to graduate students in psychology, political science, and sociology have been, for the most part, untouched by the digital revolution. The broad, mostly unexplored terrain opened by the data explosion has been left to a small number of forward-thinking professors, rebellious grad students, and hobbyists. That will change.”
So there ye have it. Three excellent non-fiction reads that I highly recommend. Arrrr!!