Berty Reads Books

2008 Reading List

I Really Loved These

The Killer Angels

Michael Shaara

What a great way to start the reading year. A well-known book that pretty much everyone but me has read. If only all books about history could be like this. In the words of the author, “this is the story of the Battle of Gettsyburg, told from the viewpoints of Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet and some of the other men who fought there.” One reviewer wrote, “An approach so fresh it is stunning.” If you haven't read this book, just go to the library and check it out, or, better yet, go buy it from Amazon, or from whatever bookstore you frequent. Totally awesome.

It was dark all around him. There was one small gray area of the sky still aglow in the west; the rest was blackness, and flashes of lightning. At the moment a fine rain began to fall and he heard it come toward him, seeking him in a light patter up the slope. He had dust all over him, a fine pulverized powder from the shelling, dust in his hair and eyes and dust gritty in his teeth, and now he lifted his face to the rain and licked his lips and could taste the dirt on his face and knew that he would remember that too, the last moment at Gettysburg, the taste of raw earth in the cold and blowing dark, the touch of cold rain, the blaze of lightning.

I Liked These A Lot

Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine: The Historic Saga of the Round-the-world Zeppelin

Douglas Botting

I bought this book in the discount rack of Barnes & Noble for a buck and thought it would be worthless. It was great! It's a fabulous account of the Zeppelin airships, from the beginning with the flights that barely got off the ground, to the end with the tragic fire and crash of the Graf Hindenburg.

To prove that airship travel was feasible, Hugo Eckener executed a round the world flight carrying several dignitaries and newspaper reporters. This book describes that flight as well as most of all the other notable accomplishments of the Zeppelin airships.

The Graf Zeppelin's record of twenty-one days, five hours and thirty-five minutes total elapsed time round the world beat Magellan's first-ever circumnavigation time by 1103 days, eighteen hours and twenty-five minutes, and its flying time of twelve days and eleven minutes beat that of the US Army round-the-world planes of 1924 by three days, five hours, fifty-two minutes, and the 1928 circumnavigation record of Mears, Collyer and Tailwind by two days, twenty-one hours and forty-six minutes.

The voyage set other records, including the fastest flight across the Atlantic, the fastest flight from New York to Paris, the fastest flight from Berling to Tokyo, the longest non-stop flight ever made (Friedrichshafen to Tokyo, around seven thousand miles), the first non-stop flight across Siberia, the first non-stop crossing of the Pacific by air and the first aerial crossing of the Pacific by a woman.

The Fortunate Pilgrim

Mario Puzo

Originally published in 1964, The Fortunate Pilgrim has been described as “a brilliantly crafted novel about two decades of Italian immigrant life in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s” and considered by some critics to be Puzo's best written work. I wouldn't be able to say that. I've only read one book of his (right now my father-in-law just had a heart attack). I liked it! It's kind of like Angela's Ashes with Italians. Being exposed to relatives from “the old country,” I had to laugh at some of the descriptions of the widowed Italian ladies and how families interacted around the dinner table.

Lucia Santa outdid herself. On Sunday morning she broke a wooden spoon over Gino's head, parting enough skin to let in common sense, and convincing him it was wise not to go out in the street to play stickball. She then made sauce fit for a kind of Naples and rolled out wide macaroni from homemade dough. For the green salad she opened the bottle of almost sacred oil sent from Italy by her poor peasant sister—oil impossible to buy, first blood of the olive.

Revolution in the Head, The Beatles' Records and the Sixties

Ian MacDonald

This is the third edition of a book that attempts to provide background information and an assessment of every song in The Beatles catalogue. The author briefly describes what the social scene was like during the Beatles era of music, and then takes every song, in chronological order, and evaluates its structure, lists who wrote it/sang it/performed in it, provides some insight to why it was written, and hints at what a few of the lyrics might mean. There were some interesting facts that were revealed. For example, McCartney was hesitant about the song ‘Yesterday’ for several months, playing it to friends and asking them, ‘Is this by someone else or did I write it?’, unable to believe that it hadn't been around for at least a generation. One thing is for sure, Lennon dropped a hell of a lot of acid. And ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ is not about LSD.

One of Lennon's dreamier songs, LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS circles lazily on melodic eddies in an iridescent stream of sound. Taking its title from a pastel drawing by his four-year-old son Julian and its atmosphere from a hallucinatory chapter in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, it was naturally assumed to be a coded reference to LSD. In fact, no such code was intended and, though the lyric explicitly recreates the psychedelic experience, The Beatles were genuinely surprised when it was pointed out to them.

Read The Beatles: Classic and New Writings on The Beatles, Their Legacy, and Why They Still Matter

edited by June Skinner Sawyers

The back cover blurb claims that this book is “a comprehensive collection of journalism about the legendary band, together and apart.” That's a pretty good description. I felt like I was reading the history of the Beatles as they grew in popularity, became controversial, and then broke up. The book includes excerpts from popular biographies, copies of articles written about them during their time of fame, and interviews of the different members of the band. I liked it and would recommend it.

The Appeal

John Grisham

After reading two books that made me think too much I wanted something that would distract me from everything and spoonfeed me. Grisham's pretty good for that and I enjoyed this one. It's pretty typical for Grisham; big rich corporation with overpaid lawyers does a bad thing, small husband and wife law firm risks everything and fights them to protect the rights of an impovershed client who lost a husband and child due to their negligence. Except this book focuses not on the trial but the verdict and then the appeal, with an interesting journey into tampering with state supreme court elections. I'd recommend it.

They sat around the plywood table, sipping the same bad coffee they were now addicted to, and listened with smiles as Mary Grace did her recap. “There will be the usual post-trial motions,” she was saying. “Judge Harrison has scheduled a hearing in thirty days, but we expect no surprises.”

“Here's to Judge Harrison,” Sherman said, and they toasted him with their coffee.

It had become a very democratic firm. Everyone present felt like an equal. Anyone could speak whenever he or she felt like it. Only first names were used. Poverty is a great equalizer

Web Standards Creativity: Innovations in Web Design with XHTML, CSS, and DOM Scripting

Adams, Boulton, Clarke, Collison, Croft, Featherstone, Lloyd, Marcotte, Rubin, Weychert

Great stuff from a bunch of great geeks who like to share information about web design. The book is actually broken into three different sections; Layout Magic, Effective Print Techniques Applied to CSS Design, and DOM Scripting Gems.

There were a ton of great tips, with a bunch of code and markup examples. It's a good buy. Friends of Ed rocks.

There is nothing like learning from the masters, and this is where Web Standards Creativity comes in. This book picks up where my book [CSS Mastery - Andy Budd] left off, with a series of advanced case studies for you to dissect. Here, some of the best standards-based designers in the world will show you how they take a project from inception to completion (be it an entire web-site design or a cool technique or widget they've developed).

These Were Okay

The Overlook

Michael Connelly

I've loved all of Connelly's books until I read this one. It's still a good read, but when I picked it up and started reading it I thought something was missing. It even seemed shorter and smaller than most of his other books. After reading the “About the Author” section, I found out that he originally created this book as a sixteen-part series for the New York Times Magazine and then expanded it for the book version. If you want to read Connelly, pick up one of his other ones first.

The call came at midnight. Harry Bosch was awake and sitting in the living room in the dark. He liked to think that he was doing this because it allowed him to hear the saxophone better. By masking one of the senses he accentuated another. But deep down he knew the truth. He was waiting.


Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, John Higgins

It's been a while since I've read a graphic novel. The movie of this DC Comics series will hit the theaters in a few months and I wanted to read the book before I went and saw it. I thought the story was fantastic, but the art didn't totally wow me, and the ending was a little weak. This is a groundbreaking novel (view the editorial by Mark Thwaite on Amazon to get an idea) and totally different than your typical superhero comic book. In fact the main characters (other than Dr. Manhattan) don't really have any special powers. They are just vigilantes dressed up in costumes and figthing crime. It will be interesting to see how the movie turns out…I don't see how they are going to do it. The storyline is pretty complex and doesn't really lend itself to a movie format.

One of Time Magazine's 100 best novels.


“Watchmen is peerless” — Rolling Stone


The greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced. — Damon Lindelof


Remarkable…The would-be heroes of Watchmen have staggeringly complex psychological disorders. — New York Times Book Review


Brad Thor

I was tired of the computer books that I've been randomly skimming, and wanted a mindless read that was entertaining. So I picked up a paperback from the lounge at work (there are about 30 different used paperback books that people drop off after they're done reading them). The premise of the book? Former Navy Seal former White House secret service agent and current CIA operative/terrorist-hunter Scott Harvath must prevent a shadowy organization from using a deadly ancient weapon against the United States and the rest of the world. It's a book full of guns, knives, C4 explosive, babes, bad dudes, terrorists, sleazy politicians and really cheesy dialogue. It was a fun and entertaining read, but not one that I'd say to go out and buy.

After the flames dissipated, Harvath checked himself to make sure he hadn't been injured. Deciding everything was okay, he stood and noticed the rest of the team hadn't been so lucky. Based on the condition of the demo officer in front of him, he could see that they all had been riddled with shrapnel. Either someone had tossed a grenade into the stairwell or the Special Warfare unit had triggered some sort of antipersonnel device.

Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of Saint Francis

Kent Nerburn

Probably one of the most moving things I have read in a while was linked to by a popular blog. It was Kent Nerburn's The Cab Ride I'll Never Forget

I purchased this book after reading it, thinking every story would be as inspirational. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, but it wasn't a total loss.

Nerburn takes that Prayer of Saint Francis line by line and tries to provide a life story or lesson that exemplifies that section of the prayer. Though folks have said that some of the chapters come across as filler (they do), for the most part the book is a mildly inspiring read that may just change the way you look at things.

At the very least, do yourself a favor and grab a tissue or two and read Nerburn's Cab Ride.

“I wrote the book about a decade ago as a kind of spiritual meditation. I took each line of the prayer and tried to find some exemplification of it in my own or other peoples lives. My thinking was simple: St. Francis, of all the religious figures of the past, is perhaps the most universally beloved. He is beyond sectarianism, beyond doctrine. And though he was thoroughly Christian some would say, too Christian for the church of which he was a part something in his deep humanity has resonated down the centuries and transcended theological differences. I felt that I could do myself some spiritual good by engaging in an extended meditation on the prayer that may be the most universally beloved on the planet.”

The Faithful Spy

Alex Berenson

A CIA operative goes deep undercover, infiltrates al Qaeda, and finally returns home. The CIA scrambles to determine if he's on our side or their side, while al Qaeda plans a major assault on America. One critic said it is “one of the best espionage books of all time.” Uhhh, not sure about that. It was interesting and entertaining, but I wouldn't go that far.

The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film

J. W. Rinzler

Yes, I am totally a geek. This book could be a boat anchor…it weighs close to six pounds and is an oversize hardcover edition at roughly 12 x 11 x 2 inches. “Using his unprecedented access to the Lucasfilm Archives and its trove of never-before-published ‘lost’ interviews, photos, production notes, factoids, and anecdotes, Star Wars scholar J. W. Rinzler hurtles readers back in time for a one-of-a-kind behind-the-scenes look at the nearly decade-long quest of George Lucas and his key collaborators to make the ‘little’ movie that became a phenomenon.”

It has most of the stuff a Star Wars geek would want. Just don't plan on carrying it anywhere.

The Christmas Sweater

Glenn Beck

A book that has been compared to Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, this one makes you think about what Christmas is all about. Though it is uplifting, it's also a little bit of a downer. A good story that deals with more than just Christmas. Don't read it if you're depressed.

I was trying to trap him, hoping he would lash out at me. It would have been easier for us both if we'd just stopped talking, but Grandpa wasn't going to be played that easily. “Eddie, we can't control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. We are all meant to be happy. Even you, Eddie, as hard as it is for you to believe sometimes, you are meant to be happy. If you're not happy, it's not God's fault, it's not my fault, or anyone else's fault. It's your own.”

Visual Design for the Modern Web

Penny McIntire

“In Visual Design for the Modern Web, Penny McIntire shows novice web designers how to use their tools—including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—in conjunction with the principles of aesthetics and usability to become masters of their craft.” I really liked some chapters, especially the one on color theory, but otherwise thought the book was a little weak. I don't think a novice web designer will become master of his craft if he reads this. I haven't.

One stunning day a number of years ago, I was chatting with my boss, Rod Angotti, Chair of the Department of Computer Science at Northern Illinois University. I complained that some faculty member in our department, any faculty member, needed to create a web design course, because I really wanted to take it. I said, in a fit of pique, “Well, if someone doesn't develop a web design course soon, I'm going to be forced to do it myself!”

These Were Not My Thing

Many Worlds In One: The Search for Other Universes

Alex Vilenkin

I was duped. Wandering through the book store with no intention of buying anything, I came across this book on an end cap and read the following in the Prologue: “His sensational bestseller...describes a new cosmological theory that says that every possible chain of events, no matter how bizarre or improbable, has actually happened somewhere in the universe—and not only once, but an infinite number of times!...The most controversial aspect of the book is the claim that each of us has an infinite number of identical clones living on countless earths scattered throughout the universe.” Wow! An infinite number of identical Bertys living on countless earths. Tell me more! So I bought it and struggled through 205 pages of “...the number of ways in which a finite number of particles can be distributed into a finite number of cells is also finite. Hence, the material content of our O-region can only be in a finite number of distinct states...”

Now don't get me wrong. Vilenkin is an incredibly smart dude and did a great job of dumbing down the concepts of how the Universe may have been created and has a brilliant theory for an explanation of the big bang that started it all. He makes you think. Unfortunately, I'm not that great a thinker and was looking forward to something a little more like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, but with universes.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Jared Diamond

I don't know what the hell I was thinking. The book got great press, and it even won the Pulitzer Prize. Some parts were great, but others just bored the crap out of me. If you think it's great, it's probably because you like to read stuff like “Some farming populations make it even easier for their own fecal bacteria and worms to infect new victims, by gathering their feces and urine and spreading them as fertilizer on the fields where people work.”

Don't believe me? You don't think this book can be a little too in-depth. I will now conduct an experiment and choose one of the 471 pages at random, skip to the third paragraph and quote what it says: “Equally puzzling is the failure of people to domesticate flax in its wild range in Western Europe and North Africa, or einkorn wheat in its wild range in the southern Balkans.” There you have it. Another really boring sentence…unless you're into that kind of thing. Einkorn wheat and flax are not exactly my first topics of interest.

I now have a few new rules I will follow before buying a book. (1) Think twice about buying one that wins the Pulitzer Prize — that probably means it is way above my intelligence level. (2) Don't buy a book written by any type of professor. (3) Randomly open the book and read the third paragraph.