April 2004

Weightman, Gavin. The Frozen-Water Trade. New York: Hyperion, 2003. ISBN 0-7868-8640-4.
Those who scoff at the prospect of mining lunar Helium-3 as fuel for Earth-based fusion power plants might ponder the fact that, starting in 1833, British colonists in India beat the sweltering heat of the subcontinent with a steady, year-round supply of ice cut in the winter from ponds and rivers in Massachusetts and Maine and shipped in the holds of wooden sailing ships—a voyage of some 25,000 kilometres and 130 days. In 1870 alone, 17,000 tons of ice were imported by India in ships sailing from Boston. Frederic Tudor, who first conceived the idea of shipping winter ice, previously considered worthless, to the tropics, was essentially single-handedly responsible for ice and refrigeration becoming a fixture of daily life in Western communities around the world. Tudor found fortune and fame in creating an industry based on commodity which beforehand simply melted away every spring. No technological breakthrough was required or responsible—this is a classic case of creating a market by filling a need of which customers were previously unaware. In the process, Tudor suffered just about every adversity one can imagine and never gave up, an excellent illustration that the one essential ingredient of entrepreneurial success is the ability to “take a whacking and keep on hacking”.

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Olson, Walter K. The Rule of Lawyers. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003. ISBN 0-312-28085-8.
The author operates the valuable Overlawyered.com Web site. Those who've observed that individuals with a clue are under-represented on juries in the United States will be delighted to read on page 217 of the Copiah County, Mississippi jury which found for the plaintiff and awarded US$75 billion in damages. When asked why, jurors said they'd intended to award “only” US$75 million, but nobody knew how many zeroes to write down for a million, and they'd guessed nine.

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Walsh, Jill Paton and Dorothy L. Sayers. A Presumption of Death. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. ISBN 0-312-29100-0.
This is an entirely new Lord Peter Wimsey mystery written by Jill Paton Walsh, based upon the “Wimsey Papers”—mock wartime letters among members of the Wimsey family by Dorothy L. Sayers, published in the London Spectator in 1939 and 1940. Although the hardcover edition is 378 pages long, the type is so large that this is almost a novella in length, and the plot is less intricate, it seems to me, than the genuine article. Walsh, who was three years old at the period in which the story is set, did her research well: I thought I'd found half a dozen anachronisms, but on each occasion investigation revealed the error to be mine. But please, RAF pilots do not “bale” out of their Spitfires—they bail out!

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Muirden, James. A Rhyming History of Britain: 55 B.C.A.D. 1966. Illustrated by David Eccles. New York: Walker and Company, 2003. ISBN 0-8027-7680-9.

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Rucker, Rudy. Frek and the Elixir. New York: Tor, 2004. ISBN 0-765-31058-9.
Phrase comments in dialect of Unipusk aliens in novel. Congratulate author's hitting sweet spot combining Heinlein juvenile adventure, Rucker zany imagination, and Joseph Campbell hero myth. Assert suitable for all ages. Direct readers to extensive (145 page) working notes for the book, and book's Web site, with two original oil paintings illustrating scenes. Commend author for attention to detail: two precise dates in the years 3003 and 3004 appear in the story, and the days of the week are correct! Show esteemed author and humble self visiting Unipusk saucer base in July 2002.

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Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1918, 1922, 1932, 1959, 1961] 1991. ISBN 0-19-506634-0.
Only rarely do I read abridged editions. I chose this volume simply because it was the only readily-available English translation of the work. In retrospect, I don't think I could have handled much more Spengler, at least in one dose. Even in English, reading Spengler conjures up images of great mountain ranges of polysyllabic German philosophical prose. For example, chapter 21 begins with the following paragraph. “Technique is as old as free-moving life itself. The original relation between a waking-microcosm and its macrocosm—‘Nature’—consists in a mental sensation which rises from mere sense-impressions to sense-judgement, so that already it works critically (that is, separatingly) or, what comes to the same thing, causal-analytically”. In this abridged edition the reader need cope only with a mere 415 pages of such text. It is striking the extent to which today's postmodern nostrums of cultural relativism were anticipated by Spengler.

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Lileks, James. The Gallery of Regrettable Food. New York: Crown Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0-609-60782-0.
The author is a syndicated columnist and pioneer blogger. Much of the source material for this book and a wealth of other works in progress are available on the author's Web site.

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Verne, Jules. Voyage au centre de la terre. Paris: Gallimard, [1864] 1998. ISBN 2-07-051437-4.
A free electronic edition of this text is available from Project Gutenberg. This classic adventure is endlessly adaptable: you may prefer a translation in English, German, or Spanish. The 1959 movie with James Mason and Pat Boone is a fine flick but substantially departs from Verne's story in many ways: of the three principal characters in the novel, two are rather unsympathetic and the third taciturn in the extreme—while Verne was just having his usual fun with Teutonic and Nordic stereotypes, one can see that this wouldn't work for Hollywood. Rick Wakeman's musical edition is, however, remarkably faithful to the original.

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