Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

Title: The Innovators:  How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Author: Walter Isaacson

Read by: Dennis Boutsikaris
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 17.5 hours (15 CDs)
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

The Innovators really only needs one word to describe such an intriguing book:  fascinating.   I loved listening to this audiobook as I traveled to work and back.  I couldn’t wait to hear what I would discover next.  Author Walter Isaacson has spun a wonderful tale of the invention of the computer and the internet.  His main thesis is that it was not just one person working alone in a garage that invented the computer or the internet, but collaborative teams that built off the ideas of others coming up with new and ingenuous ways to get the job done.  The book starts off with Ada Lovelace, the grandmother of computing and Lord Byron’s daughter.  He describes many fascinating individuals and teams including Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page, AT & T’s Bell Labs, Xerox Corporation, amongst others.

I loved learning about the individuals, the teams, and the ideas.  I am an engineer, not a computer scientist so a lot of this information was new and very interesting to me.  In truth, I want to learn more.  I really want to read Water Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.  I loved the discussion of math behind some of the ideas, especially in Ada Lovelace’s story. It brought back a lot of college to me, but it also made me sad that I didn’t learn more about computer programming in college.  I had a terrible teacher that only taught those that knew how to write programs, and not those that were just starting.  I really wish I could program.

I also loved the discussion of women in the world of computing. Ada Lovelace’s story is fascinating in itself, but I also loved the story of how in the WWII era, women were the people programming computers.  Although after the first functioning computer was built and shown to run, these same women were not invited to the party celebrating that fact after spending sleepless nights making sure it didn’t work.  I think the ramifications of this are still seen today in the lack of women in computer science.

I also loved Isaacson’s conclusion that humanities and math/science cannot exist without one another.  Most mathematical and computer geniuses also had a strong love of art and/or music.  Isaacson stated that both humanities and science/math should be considered important.  I’m paraphrasing here, but he stated that the same professor of humanities who would think someone was an idiot for not understanding Hamlet would shrug off not understanding a differential equation.  Both are difficult to understand and both are beautiful, but it someone acceptable in our society to laugh off math as “too hard” while expecting everyone to understand the equally hard concepts behind Hamlet.  I very much agree and thought this was an excellent point.

I listened to the audiobook version of The Innovators and it kept me fascinated on my drive.. I loved listening to each story of an individual or team, but also liked that it moved on to a new story to keep things interesting.  Dennis Boutsikaris was a great narrator.

Overall, The Innovators is an excellent book and audiobook.  I highly recommend it to anyone that is looking for a fascinating read about the technology that we take for granted today and the people behind its invention.

The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern (The Heartwarming Story that became the Christmas Classic It’s a Wonderful Life)

Title: The Greatest Gift
Author: Philip Van Doren Stern
Read by: Edward Herrmann
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 45 minutes (1 CD)
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

I LOVE It’s a Wonderful Life.  It is not only my favorite Christmas movie, but also one of my favorite movies of all time.  Or according to my son Kile’s review, it is “Good.”  I love the theme behind It’s a Wonderful Life that each one of our lives have value and affects so many others, even if we don’t know it.  I jumped at the chance to review The Greatest Gift, which is the short story that It’s a Wonderful Life is based upon.

I’ll admit that I loved The Greatest Gift so much that I listened to it not once, not twice, but three times.  The first half of the audiobook is the story of George Bailey.  A mysterious stranger shows up on Christmas Eve to help George to see what life would be like if he had never been born.  George realizes that each person has worth and that he does indeed have a wonderful life.  The second half of the audiobook is the amazing story of how Philip Van Doren Stern got the idea for the story, wrote it, and was unable to get it published.  He sent it as a Christmas card one year, and then received a phone call from Hollywood asking for the rights of the story to make a movie.  It also talks about the making of the movie and how it impacted Van Doren Stern’s family and the world.   I loved it.  

Edward Herrmann did a good job narrating the story.  I believe Van Doren Stern’s daughter narrated the afterward. I enjoyed how the story had many of the same elements as the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, but also had some different elements that were intriguing to me.   I really loved learning the background of the story and the movie.  I thought this was such a great CD that I went out and purchased it for a couple of Christmas gifts.  Although it’s such a great inspiring story, it doesn’t only need to be a gift for Christmas!  

Overall, this is a wonderful audiobook that I am going to love to listen to each year at the holidays.

Winner of Jesus Daily!

The lucky winner of Jesus Daily:  365 Interactive Daily Devotions by Aaron Tabor is Suko from Suko's Notebook.  Suko's blog is great and fun to read.  She was selected as a winner for this giveaway using  I have contacted her via email and she has one week to send me her address to forward to the publisher.

Thank-you to all who entered the giveaway, Hachette Book Group for allowing me to review the book and host the giveway, and to Aaron Tabor for writing such a wonderful devotional.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

One Step Too Far was a book that had me literally in tears at the end.  The tagline of this book is “No one has ever guessed Emily’s secret.  Will you?”  I did not, even with my best attempts.  One Step Too Far is a suspense novel that tells the story of Emily.  She decides one day to leave her husband and son and start a new life in London.  The novel skips back and forth between her growing up as the “good” twin with a tattered family life and meeting her husband Ben, to her new life in London.  In her new life, Emily now goes by her given maiden name, Catherine Brown, and starts down a risky path that is far from the normal life she left behind.  The question always lingers, why would Emily abandon her family?  What was the one step too far?  I don’t want to say too much more and ruin the story.  As a mother, I was very, very intrigued as I couldn’t imagine what would cause a mother to take this step.

The story started out a bit slow for me, which probably has more to do with my very busy work schedule than anything else.  Then the story soon gripped me and wouldn’t let me go.  I couldn’t stop reading it until I got to the end and was crying at night.  It was very good, with a great ending.  The tying up of all of the loose ends was a bit rushed, but overall, I can’t stop thinking about this book.  I definitely need to read more from this author.  My book club loved Gone Girl and Before I Go to Sleep, One Step Too Far is in the same league.

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow – Thanks!

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Winter Garden was the FLICKS Book and Movie Club selection for December.  Meredith and Nina Whitson have grown up with a cold and distant mother, Anya, and a loving father, Evan.  When their father is dying, he makes the girls promise to ask their mother for her full story.  Anya used to tell her daughters a fairy tale when they were children, but she never finished it.  As the girls struggle with their lives and getting to know their mother for the first time, they learn more and more about the fairy tale.  They soon learn that it is not a fairy tale, but a tale of vast hardship during Russia in the depression and World War II.  The story goes back and forth between the two time frames until the final conclusion.

I enjoyed this book, but I must admit that I was much more intrigued with the Russian story from the past then with the contemporary story.  The contemporary story wanted me to feel for Meredith and her marriage problems, but I never felt like I got to know her husband enough to care.  Their marriage problems, frankly, annoyed me.  The ending was also disappointing to me.  It seemed too much of a coincidence and also left out poor Evan.  One member of the book club said that the Russian story would have stood alone as an excellent short story or novella and I agree.

Overall, Winter Garden had excellent historical fiction sections and a middling contemporary story.  It was okay, but not my favorite Kristin Hannah novel.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library