Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nevermore: Vonnegut, Victoria, Pioneers, Principles,Post-American, and Physics

Reported by Jeanne

Although Player Piano came out in 1952, our reader found this Kurt Vonnegut debut novel to be quite timely. The setting is sometime in the future, following a third world war, in which engineers have created a world so mechanized that there is little employment for the lower classes.  The result is a population without any purpose.  They spy on each other and are generally miserable.  The former working class people are seen as less than human.  The novel is a bit slow, but quite relevant with its message that people need meaningful work to do.

The next up was Queen Victoria, inspired by the PBS series.  One member brought in a copy of Victoria:  The Heart and Mind of a Young Queen by Helen Rappaport.  The book is billed as a companion to the TV series, including a look at Victoria’s letters and diaries to portray her personal life.  The book was deemed quite enjoyable and our reader is looking forward to the novel Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, who wrote the screenplay for the series.

Trials of the Earth by Mary Hamilton is the memoir of a female pioneer in the Mississippi Delta.  It was originally written in the 1930s but was only published in 2016.  Hamilton writes vividly of the hardships she endured: floods, tornados, bears, panthers, and fire.  Married to an Englishman who refused to talk about his past, Hamilton moved with her family from place to place as they tried to eke out a living.  There were boarding houses and lumber camps, births and deaths, all recorded in her diary.  Our reviewer found it both moving and “terribly true.”

Some books really make the rounds in Nevermore, inspiring much discussion.  The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom is one such book.  According to this week’s reader, the most important principle is power. Life is determined by a “pecking order,” be it chickens or humans, meaning that individuals strive for status inside the order.  Violence is part of the natural order in both humans and animals.  Our readers have been divided about the book, but all agree it is thought-provoking.

Another book several readers have recommended is The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria.  This isn’t a doom and gloom book about the demise of the United States, but an acknowledgement that other countries are gaining influence and power in the world.  Overall, it’s an optimistic view; Zakaria believes the U.S. can survive and even thrive, but only if the country can recognize that change is coming and respond accordingly. 

Finally, The Pope of Physics by Gino Segre is a biography of Enrico Fermi, one of the creators of the nuclear age. Fermi won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1938 at the age of 37 but instead of returning home to Italy after the ceremony in Stockholm, he and his family went to New York instead, thus escaping Mussolini’s regime.  Fermi’s wife was Jewish and he had already seen Jewish colleagues and students suffer under the new laws. Even so, the Italian scientist was regarded with a great deal of skepticism by the FBI who suspected him of fascist leanings.  Our reader said the book was very good, but it wasn’t a favorite.

1 comment:

  1. I will be curious to hear your reader's thoughts on Daisy Goodwin's "Victoria." I absolutely adored her previous two historicals, "The Fortune Hunter" and "The American Heiress," but found "Victoria" oddly thin. It read like a treatment for a TV show - which I guess it was! But less satisfying as a novel.