Monthly Archives: August 2014

Review: This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go

This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go
This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go by H.P. Newquist
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you’ve ever wondered precisely how a drug overdose or a leap off the Golden Gate bridge would kill you, this is the book that can answer your questions. However, it’s definitely written for the lad-mag-reading layperson.

Mildly interesting, but ultimately superficial. Some of the jokey illustrations work better than others.

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Review: The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco

The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco by Marilyn Chase
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s a good bet that even folks who live in San Francisco may not know of the outbreak of bubonic plague the city suffered at the early part of the 20th century. Borne by infected fleas that feasted on the blood of the harbor city’s large rat population, the plague claimed many victims initially in the Chinatown area, then slowly spread to other parts of the city.

This presented the city with not only a public health problem, but also a public relations one: San Francisco’s wealthy merchants were wary of scaring away business. Because of this, the plague claimed many more victims than it would have if it had been fought aggressively at first. The Barbary Plague tells of two men of science and their attempts to curb the infection: one, Joseph Kinyoun, was not the diplomat the times required and was quickly replaced. The other, Rupert Blue, persevered and eventually overcame the reluctance of the city and state government to fight the plague; unfortunately, he wasn’t able to do as much as he wanted to stem the tide of the plague, and as a consequence, it still claims the occasional human victim in the American Southwest thanks to infected squirrels.

At times, the author’s attempts at witty turn of phrase rankle a bit, but she has obtained access to some excellent primary sources, including the city’s Chinese newspapers and the archive of one of Blue’s plague fighters. Overall, The Barbary Plague is an enjoyable enough read, and recommended for those interested in public health.

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Review: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Hercule Poirot's Christmas
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is interrupted by news of a gruesome killing. Retired multimillionaire Simeon Lee, infamous for his foul temper and his ability to hold a grudge, has been murdered in a locked room in his stately home, where his estranged sons and their wives are gathered for the holiday. Colonel Johnson, who figured in Murder in Three Acts, brings Poirot in on the baffling case.

Along the way, some surprising facts about the murdered man and his family come to light. Poirot faces a challenge compounded by the fact that nearly all of the family members and servants had a motive to kill.

Poirot’s personality is a bit tempered in this case, but the complicated situation makes up for it in what turns out to be an ingenious, and unexpected, solution.

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Review: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How would you feel if you couldn’t take a walk in the sun, watch TV, drive to the Starbucks, or have sex for a year? How about five? How about for the rest of your life? How would you feel about being stuck in a room with two other people for two weeks or more without a shower?

Questions like these are asked by NASA scientists as they choose astronauts, design spacesuits, and put food into sealed pouches for space missions. Things we take for granted, like eating, washing, and, yes, going to the bathroom, are a lot more complicated in space, and if humans are going to colonize other worlds, we have to figure some of that stuff out.

I love Mary Roach’s writing, and Packing for Mars does not disappoint. Facts and whimsy in a pretty even proportion fill this book that expresses hope for humanity’s future among the stars.

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