Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

by Yuval Noah Harari, 2017, Harper Collins Books

I looked forward to reading this book as I thought it would provide me with some ideas as to how we will progress in the future.  Sadly, I was disappointed as it didn’t give me a believable scenario.

The first part of the book attempts to give a brief history regarding how we got to be what we currently are.  Unfortunately, it veered off with some unsubstantiated pronouncements.  Harari implies that we had already solved the major issues of mankind: famine, disease and war.  During the same time I was reading this book, I read an article that suggested we may not have the means to feed everybody when by the year 2050 there will be an estimated 10 billion humans inhabiting the earth.  Another article stated that 750,000 people are dying each year from antibiotic resistant bacteria, a number which may reach ten million by the year 2050 based on current trends.  Finally, the book was written prior to the current tensions between North Korea and the U.S., a situation, unless it is diffused, certainly raises the possibility of nuclear war.  All in all, his assessment of the current state of affairs gave me doubts as to whether he has the ability to predict the future of humans.

After giving the reader his views on where we currently are, the author states that, since we have solved the major issues facing us currently, humans can now turn to the quest for “divinity.”  He basically defines “divinity” as achieving immortality.  We should be able to reach immortality through additional advances in medicine and technology.

My reaction to this premise was that it was flawed.  I was thinking that most scientists and doctors are primarily focused on relieving our suffering from the maladies that inflict us as we age.  Through attempting to cure cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc., they can increase the average life span of humans, but our bodies would eventually wear out and that we would die anyway.  The focus, therefore, isn’t to defer death, but to make our normal lives more comfortable and enjoyable.

While I initially thought that the idea that mankind is in the process of seeking immortality was invalid, I also came across some accounts that seem to back up his premise.  The revelation that we may be fairly close to being able to clone humans is one possibility that supports the idea.  While some may feel that this possibility is morally repugnant, there are probably some individuals in this world who may not share that view and will probably proceed with experiments to do it just because they can. Another development that may support the quest for immortality is the possibility of doing head transplants.  We are very close to being able to perform this operation from a technical standpoint.  If we are able to do it, somebody will probably try it. Finally, there is the possibility of creating a new individual from preserved DNA.  Another article I read described the efforts of one person who is trying to bring back woolly mastodons from strands of frozen DNA in the Arctic.  Any one of these developments has the possibility of providing a human with immortality.

Another premise that Harari puts forth is that Religion is no longer alive.  It has been replaced by Humanism.  He provides no data to support this premise.  If this is true, why are some religions apparently growing?  Why are some basic tenants of some religions which seem to be based on myth (such as the creation story), still so strongly held by so many individuals, despite scientific evidence to the contrary?  I haven’t read his prior book, Sapiens, where he might have made the case much more strongly, but the premise as it is stated in this book seems to be unsupported.

Despite some severe doubts about the assumptions Harari makes in the first part of this book, he does raise some interesting ideas about our future.  What do we do with all these people if the average life span is increased substantially?  Will all individuals have a role in determining their future, or only a small elite group of individuals?  These are interesting questions to contemplate and he does provide some food for thought.  While they are interesting, however, they don’t seem to be all that original.  The book would probably have had more impact for me if his original assumptions were more believable.  Another possibility for improvement would have been to eliminate the first half of the book which covered the history of yesterday and today, and just get down to contemplating tomorrow. 2 1/2 stars

‘E’ is for Evidence

by Sue Grafton, 1988, Henry Holt & Company, Inc., New York

This is the first book by Sue Grafton that I have read.  It was in a pile of books that we inherited from my mother-in-law and I picked it up for enjoyment.  By coincidence, Ms. Grafton passed away the week I was reading it and I found out that she was well-regarded as a mystery writer.

The primary character, Kinsey Milhone, is very down to earth and is interesting to follow.  I’m not sure I would like to read multiple novels with her as the main protagonist, but this one was fun.  The other characters were interesting as well and the plot was okay.

All-in-all, an enjoyable book to read as my first experience with a Sue Grafton novel.  I’m not sure I would make a steady diet of her books, however.  3 stars

Deep Blue

by Randy Wayne White, 2016, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York

This is probably the worst Doc Ford book I have read.  It is very disjointed and hard to follow.  There seems to be no transitions to give the reader the sense of what is going on.  White tries to fill in some of the context after he gets into a new scene, but, for the most part,  leaves the reader to fill in the blanks as to how he got there.

Much of the old Doc Ford persona. the one that depicts him as a biologist with a complex background and interests,  has pretty much disappeared in favor of the ex-CIA hitman who appears to be a clone of Mitch Rap of the Vince Flynn novels.  As such, the complexity that made him so interesting in other novels, is gone in favor of a one-dimensional action man.

His free-thinking buddy, Tomlinson, is no longer as funny as he used to be and often seems out of place at various times in the book.

The rest of the Dinkin’s Bay crowd are there, but they seem to be in the shadows, somehow, and they don’t seem to add much to the book.

The plot of the book which involves the villains is murky at best.  I’m not sure I really understand what was going on, even after finishing the book.

Finally, the passages that, in previous Doc Ford novels, provide enlightenment regarding the history and environment of Florida are totally missing from this book.

I wonder if someone else really wrote this one and White attached his name to it?

Boo! Hiss!1 stars

Red Sparrow: A Novel

by Jason Matthews, 2013, Scribner

This novel was enjoyable to read and provided a great deal of insight into the various spycraft used by the agents such as the routines used to tail a target which were particularly interesting.  There was also a revelation regarding a school that the Russians used to train young girls in sexual techniques to obtain information.  The techniques themselves were disgusting but the descriptions the author provided had a ring of truth.  Jason Matthews is a former CIA employee and his experience made the novel very realistic.

The characters were well developed but one of the primary characters, Nate Nash, seems to fade into the background toward the end of the book.  It is evident, however, that this is the first book of a trilogy, and I suspect that Nate will re-emerge in the later novels.

The book eventually led to a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence which I looked forward to seeing.  Unfortunately, it got horrible reviews and bombed at the box office.  They must have really messed it up because this book had all the ingredients that should have made for a great movie.  I recommend reading the book but maybe skipping the movie. Too bad.

South of Broad

by Pat Conroy, 2009, Random House, New York

This is an interesting book about a person growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, and his relationships with other individuals in his life.  It is well-written and provides a sense of living in Charleston.  Some of the passages in the book are actually quite beautiful.

The plot provides a measure of suspense as there is an individual who is intent on killing the main character and all of his friends.

The characters in the novel are interesting, but, with the exception of the main character, tend to be a bit one-dimensional.  The depression, verging on insanity at times, gives the main character some added depth which doesn’t seem to be present in some the others.  The story is told in first-person which allows the reader to become much closer to him.

I enjoyed reading this book very much, and, while it may not be an all-time great literary accomplishment, this enjoyment allowed my to rate the book quite high. 4 stars

To Capture What We Cannot Keep

by Beatrice Colin, 2016, Flatiron Books, New York

This book is a story about the primary architect of the Eiffel Tower and the building of the tower is the backdrop of the novel.  It is, however, primarily a romance and it keeps a lot of the technical details of the design and construction in the background.

The story is interesting but it sometimes seems to move with glacial speed.2 1/2 stars

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis

by J. D. Vance, 2016, Harper (Kindle Edition)

This book is very pertinent to what is occurring in the United States today.  Individuals are angry and upset, don’t trust the government, don’t trust the media, and are prone to false news and conspiracy theories.  Vance’s book sheds a lot of light on how the “hillbilly culture” affects how many in the rust belt and Appalachia are affected by this culture.

Vance’s memoir of his life growing up in a dysfunctional hillbilly family with a mother who was untrustworthy, an alcoholic and drug user, and an abuser, illustrates the impacts of this kind of culture.  He was extremely fortunate to have grandparents who provided him with enough stability and belief in him to enable him to escape from his roots.  Unfortunately, the situation he experienced and the subsequent opportunities that opened up are fairly rare.  He is definitely an exception.

My only criticism of the book is that I think Vance suggests that the dysfunction is unique to the hillbilly culture.  I believe that there are similar forces present in many of the other cultures (Black, Hispanic, and even wealthy white families) that are creating similar behaviors.

The book is well-written and easy to follow.  I would recommend this book.3 1/2 stars

The Convivial Codfish

by Charlotte MacLeod, 1984, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York

This book is a short murder mystery that takes place in the Boston area.  It has quite a bit of humor and the characters are interesting (albeit somewhat hard to keep track of).  I enjoyed the book but it got a bit bogged down in the middle as the detective interviews all of his suspects. 3 stars

The Association of Small Bombs, a Novel

by Karen Mahajan, 2016, Penguin Books, New York

This book is about a terrorist bombing in Delhi, India, where two young boys were killed and how it affected the victims, the perpetrator, and their families.

I had a hard time getting into this book as the plot seemed to meander a lot (although it did come together somewhat in the end).  I think I may have lost it with all the Indian place names but I also didn’t connect very well with the characters.  The portrayal of the characters seemed very flat.  It was an interesting subject but I wish the delivery could have been better. 2 1/2 stars

Winter of the World: The Century Trilogy, Book 2

by Ken Follett, Audiobook narrated by John Lee, 2012, Penguin Audio

I have continued on my quest to listen to all three books in this trilogy.  I am again giving this book a three-star rating although I think it’s a bit better than the first book of the trilogy, World Without End.  This book was about World War II and various families who were impacted by the war whereas the prior book was primarily about World War I.  Perhaps the immediacy of the subject made it a bit better than the first.

I often think of Herman Wouk’s Winds of War and War and Remembrance when I read these books as they are written with the same basic formula: the war, the families, and how they survived through the war.  Wouk’s works are definitely a better effort as they dealt with the internment in concentration camps of some of the family members.  I could feel the stress and impending doom much more in his books than Follett’s.  Follett also throws in a few sex scenes to titillate his readers while Wouk’s were a bit more prudish.

While I can’t really rave about these, they aren’t bad listening, and, I as mentioned, they do refresh the history for me. 3 stars