Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

Professor Mark Miodownik is passionate about materials and his enthusiasm for the subject shines through in Stuff Matters. All the “stuff” we’re surrounded by, including the ones that grace the cover of his entertaining treatise, are special and to the author’s immense credit, the book emerges as a fun romp through the history and science of some of the world’s most intriguing materials. Using a simple photograph as the anchor for each chapter, Miodownik succeeds in driving home the point that “materials are a reflection of who we are, a multi-scale expression of our human needs and desires.” Highly recommended.

Friday, April 18, 2014

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon

The fallout from Chernobyl was devastating and searing of course but Darragh McKeon’s piercing debut shows us that lingering clouds of disaffection loomed large over all of Russia affecting its citizens in complex ways. Yevgeni, a struggling piano student coming of age in Moscow’s ghettos; his principled aunt Maria; and her ex-husband, Grigory, a doctor summoned to the “battlefront” -- this is a small subset of characters whose lives are irrevocably changed by the accident. But the moving novel shows that the disaster only made clear the writing that was already on the wall: Twilight was descending on the empire.

Friday, April 11, 2014

In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman

Debut novelist Zia Haider Rahman is quite the polymath and it shows. Touching on a dizzying range of topics from salamanders to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, Rahman sometimes seems too caught up in emphasizing his own brilliance at the expense of story. He is at his best when shining light on the nuances of race, class and the dangerousness of the best intentions gone awry in Afghanistan. As that limited field of vision on the cover effectively demonstrates, frame of reference matters especially since winning hearts and minds is never an easy task. An impressive debut from a writer worth watching.