All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr (Scribner, 2014)
I read this current New York Times bestseller during my rather rainy vacation in Vermont. The novel has a very European flavor, taking place in France and Germany during World War II. It offers the unique perspective of adolescents, one on each side of the war. Marie-Laure, who happens to be blind, is French, and has to leave Paris with her father when the German occupy it and move to a town on the coast (which is also eventually occupied). Werner is a German orphan who is very good with electrical equipment (particularly radios). He is drafted into the Hitler Youth and then into the German army. Their separate stories run parallel until near the end of the book, when they meet. Overall it is a rather sad novel, with a lot of cruelty, death and destruction, but that’s how wars are. Anthony Doerr narrates the story of Marie-Laure and Werner in such an evocative way that you feel it represents the stories of many thousands of young adults during that terrible war.
The Coast: A Journey Down the Atlantic Shore by Joseph J. Thorndike (St. Martin’s Press, 1993).
The book jacket says Joseph Thorndike is the Co-Founder and Editorial Director of the American Heritage Publishing Company. I picture a retired gentleman traveling from Maine to Florida at a leisurely pace, keeping a journal. In each chapter Thorndike includes a hand-drawn map of the section of the coast he is covering, which is very helpful for the reader. He’s not a wide-eyed tourist though; he sees the shore from an environmentally aware perspective. He understands all that is lost with shoreline development, especially habitat loss, and rejoices where sections of the coast are open for public use. For the benefit of those who might want to visit the same places, he indicates what the laws of each state are concerning property ownership and public access to the shoreline. Although this book was written in 1993, Thorndike does discuss the issues of coastal erosion due to storms and climate-induced sea level rise, and why it’s a mistake to let people rebuild. He also highlights the national and state parks, and the work of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps of Engineers.
Go To: the story of the math majors, bridge players, engineers, chess wizards, maverick scientists and iconoclasts – the programmers who created the software revolution by Steve Lohr (Basic Books, 2001).
As the title indicates, this history of programming languages by Steve Lohr, a technology editor for The New York Times, focuses on the people who created the languages. The term “software” was first used in 1958, so this book really tells the entire story of software from the late 1940s up to 2001. In most cases there were one or two main creators, often working for research labs in companies or universities, and a few assistants. The story is told chronologically, so readers can see the context in which each language developed and how they built on each other. Covering all the major and minor programming languages, from COBOL and FORTRAN to BASIC and Pascal to C++ and Java, Lohr provides valuable documentation of recent history that might otherwise be lost. It is also a very interesting book about some fascinating personalities, many business successes and some failures, and the story behind our software-dominated present.