Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Phony Marine

Jim Lehrer
Random House
ISBN-10: 1-4000-6486-4
ISBN-13: 978-1-4000-6486-1

The premise of this 18th book by the host of PBS' "News Hour" is that a fifty year old men's clothing salesman buys a Vietnam era Marine's Silver Star medal on eBay and is transformed, by wearing the accompanying lapel pin, into a heroic figure. Haunted by the knowledge that the respect he is given by those who recognize the pin is undeserved, he attempts to become the Marine that he is assumed to be. The Phony Marine studies the Marine Corps, learns to swear, diets, exercises and shaves his head in order to play the part.

Accident, or deus ex Microsoft, places him in a couple of confrontations where he has to act the hero, he is made much of in the local, Washington DC news and is awarded another medal by the city of Washington. He tries to get himself transferred to

another store in Dallas, so that he can escape his past associations and his ex-wife, the better to be the new him, but is met there by a store employee who is a real Marine and decorated hero. Eventually the salesman confesses his masquerade to the people that he has fooled and throws the medal and it's ribbons and pin into the Potomac, but is accepted as a hero anyway, by some of them, because of his heroic actions at the beginning of this paragraph.

Lehrer, by the way was an infantry officer in the Marines in the 1950s. I guess he can get away with making this Jiminy Cricket, you are what you think you are, transformation in his character, where I wouldn't have dared. My nose would have grown far too long.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Driving Mr. Albert

A Trip Across America With Einstein's Brain
Michael Paterniti
The Dial Press
ISBN: 0-385-3300-5

If there is a greater waste of time than taking Einstein's brain, in two Tupperware containers, on a cross country road trip, it could only be removing that brain during an autopsy in order to discover the source of Einstein's genius. Thomas Harvey, defrocked pathologist, did both of these things. He dedicated his life to them, in fact. Paterniti became his enabler, by going to interview Harvey and offering to drive the 85 year old retiree from his home in Princeton New Jersey to San Jose California in order to show the brain to Einstein's granddaughter, who really didn't want to see it.

It did provide Paterniti with a hook that he could hang a book proposal on, get him published and keep him from a lifetime of housepainting. It is a very readable book, a memoir of an uncomfortable cross country trip with an elderly stranger and has some funny incidents in which Paterniti confesses to strangers that they are transporting Einstein's brain in the trunk of their car. Harvey did fly back to New Jersey, presumable with the brain in his carry-on luggage, so there never was a need to actually drive the whole way, except to write a book about it.

Harvey's lifetime of research, with the help of various scientists with whom he has shared parts of the brain, is inconclusive. Einstein may have had more glial cells than average. The part of the brain associated with math, I didn't know there was such an organ, may have been somewhat larger that usual. Not much for 50 years of study. There is speculation in the book about cloning the brain. After half a century in formaldehyde there's no chance of that. That fact is kind of glossed over for the science fiction effect.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

J. K. Rowling
Arteur A. Levine Books
ISBN-13: 978-0-545-01022-4
ISBN-10: 0-545-01022-5

Yes I read it. Yes I read them all, just like millions of other muggles, wishing that we had received letters from Professor Dumbledore accepting our non existent applications to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry so that we could escape our mundane lives and go practice magic for a living.

Thank God it's finally over! Oh by the way, if you haven't read this one yet - the good guys win. I know that's a load off your mind. I won't spoil the read for you by telling you what all the horcruxes are or what actually happened to Dumbledore or which side Snape is really on or whether Harry lives. Well, I will say that the ending smacks a bit of the Return of the Jedi and the Ewoks celebration with the jolly ghosts of Obi Wan and Vader. No help for that I'm afraid. Lots of people do get killed off, though. The book has a body count reminiscent of a Shakespeare tragedy.