What I Read (July 21)

I read. I don't often get to talk about what I do read. Here are some brief thoughts on books I read recently. 

Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Svetlana Alexievich)

The Internet overuses and misuses "oral history." Alexievich deploys it for its intended purpose here, with jarring stories from the Chernobyl disaster and its aftermath. In the West it was an event and a date. In former Soviet countries, it's ongoing, in a very real sense the next generation's World War II. Survivors discuss losing spouses, inadvertently contaminating children, and building mass grave for pets. It's hard to read. It's hard to put down. 

Zero K (Don DeLillo)

I entered this book as a DeLillo virgin. The experience was interesting, but I'm not sure how pleasant it was. His sentences can arrest you. He's a perceptive observer of the modern condition. He gets closer to addressing the question about what human existence means than most. But, I found it chilly and metaphysical. The plot feels superfluous. The characters felt like cyphers to express ideas. In a book about life and humanity, there was little of it. I was left with more questions than answers, which I suppose was the point. 

Cosmosapiens: Human Evolution From The Origin of the Universe (John Hands)

Hands surveys the course of human development from the universe's formation through the flowering of modern civilization and thought. He holds the entirety of modern science to a simple standard: what has been empirically proven. Spoiler for physics and biology: far less than one would think. Science as a human endeavor, as blinkered and political as anything else. That's a valuable perspective. But, like most polemics, it's better at pointing out flaws than offering a compelling alternative. 

The Last Lion 3: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (William Manchester, Paul Reid)

My wife's grandmother bought me this for Christmas a few years ago. This, of course, inspired me to buy the first two volumes and read those, before finally getting to this one. The first two are classics. William Manchester died before completing the third volume. Reid does an adequate job completing the narrative. Though, there's a richness missing. It struggles balancing biography with general history (admittedly hard to do with a semifinal figure like Churchill). It often feels like a wrote retelling of the chronology based on the same memoirs.