Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Nevermore: Thinking Machines, George Washington, Tea Girl, Poldark, Alienist

Thinking Machines by Luke Dormehl was the first book discussed in Nevermore this time around.  The book describes the history of artificial intelligence, something once thought to be impossible—or coming soon to a machine near you.  Sophisticated algorithms may allow a computer to develop strategies not programmed by humans, for example, and even if machines don’t realize consciousness, they may be replacing human workers at an accelerated rate in the near future.  Our reviewer thought the book was interesting but not a page turner, spending more time on the history than on the future possibilities of AI.

George Washington:  The Wonder of the Age by John Rhodehamel was deemed an “instant classic” by our next reviewer who praised the book for being well-written and thoroughly considered.  It is less about the individual battles he fought but more about the evolution of his character and beliefs.  He developed a deep sense of honor and responsibility.  “Service when needed” became his code.  The reader believes anyone with an interest in American history would enjoy this book—it should be required reading.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane tells the story of Li-yan, a member of a minority group in China.  She lives in a rural village in the hill country where her family has earned a living by growing tea.  When she gives birth to a daughter, she leaves the child in the city along with a teacake as a clue to her heritage.  Her daughter is adopted by a white couple, given the name Haley, and raised in Los Angeles but she longs to know about her biological mother.   The book had been a hit with an earlier reader who enjoyed the story, but our current reader felt there was “too much about tea” in the book. 

The next book was Demelza by Winston Graham, which is the second book in the Poldark series.  Our reviewer had been watching the PBS version and decided to read one of the books. The series begins when Ross Poldark returns from America where he has served with the British Army, only to discover that the woman he loved has married his cousin. Both book and TV series are recommended!

Finally, a member was reading The Alienist by Caleb Carr and watching the TV version.  The book is set in the early 1900s in New York City where Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt has asked Dr. Laszlo Kreizler to quietly help him investigate some horrific murders which appear to be the work of a single individual.  Kreizler is an alienist, an early term for someone who studies those exhibiting abnormal behaviors and both book and show explore how mental diseases were viewed in the era.  The book also had vivid descriptions of life in the city at that time.  Our reader wasn’t finished, and so declined to render a verdict on the book.

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