Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nevermore: Alan Turing, Ralph Peer, Worst Case Scenario, and Malaria

Reported by Jeanne

As often happens with Nevermore, a particular book will prove so intriguing that several different members will read it. Such is the case with Alan Turing:  The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.  This was the basis for the recent movie The Imitation Game. Our current reader says that while the book isn’t a thrilling page turner, it is a compelling book which is enjoying.  He finds it interesting to contrast the view of mathematics as almost a philosophical construct rather than being something practical.  In fact, it seemed those who were looking for practical applications were seen as “sell-outs” in some quarters.  He appreciates that while math is discussed, the book is NOT a dry collection of formulas. The book is a biography, after all, and while mathematics played a major role in Turning’s life there were indeed other considerations.  One part he’s found particularly interesting so far is a section in which a young Turing wonders about the morality of codes and secrets.  Another member pointed out that a U.S. Secretary of State had once shut down the entire cryptographic department in 1929 because “Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen’s mail.” How things have changed! 

The Malaria Project by Karen M. Masterson describes how the U.S. government undertook to create a malaria vaccine.  After half a million soldiers were infected with the disease, researchers were diligently searching for something to prevent further infection.  Experiments were done using animals and then humans.  Not all the humans were able to give consent:  mental patients were a part of the testing as well as prisoners. In fact,  Nathan Leopold of Leopold and Loeb, one of the two wealthy young men who murdered a boy in a sensational case, was one of the prisoners.  Our reviewer thought this was a thorough examination of an important topic.  

The next book up was Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music by Barry Mazor.  While many Bristolians think of Peer simply as “that guy who was here in 1927,” this book shows what a wide ranging effect Peer had on popular music.  He began his career selling records around the country which gave him great insight as to what kinds of music people wanted to hear, something that would serve him well when he became the person seeking out new talent.  The innovations in technology which allowed for better recording helped spur Peer’s success.  Our reviewer was impressed with both the book and with Peer.  He noted that readers who are country and folk music fans will be astonished at the number of careers Peer influenced, but those less well versed may get lost in some of the names.

The Ultimate Worst Case Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven is just the thing to pack the next time you think you may be caught up in an elephant stampede.  Need to perform the Heimlich maneuver? Instructions include human, dog, and cat.  If you’re in your car and end up in the water, this book will tell you how to escape.  The new edition even prepares you for the new danger du jour:  zombie attacks.  Our reviewer had been listening to the audio version of this book and found it to be a delightful blend of useful facts and humor.  She says it was the perfect thing to listen to while working around the house because of the brief sections.  She also advises that we keep a shovel on hand for those zombies, because it’s a dual function weapon.  You can whack and hack with it!

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