Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: Brave Genius

Title: Brave Genius
Author: Sean B Carroll
Format: Hardback
Reading Dates: Aug 12, 2013 - Sep 24, 2013
Rating: *****

Wow! What a fascinating book!

This is a dual biography of Albert Camus and Jacques Monod, both Nobel prizewinners--Camus for literature and Monod for physiology--but it's much more than a simple biography. It's a history book, a philosophy book, a science book just to name some of its constituent parts.

Author Sean B Carroll does a terrific job in each of those areas. We've all read WWII history, but the special emphasis in Brave Genius on occupied France was especially enlightening for this late baby boomer. I was reminded of Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise as I read the account of the Germans taking Paris. But whereas Nemirovsky takes you out into the French countryside when the Germans arrive, Carroll describes what happens when most people trickled back into Paris and had to figure out how to live with their new reality. Camus and Monod decided to become active members of the French resistance while still pursuing their occupations of writing and researching. They were both unbelievably brave and incredibly resourceful during the entire affair.

Carroll does a splendid job not just with describing their lives, but explaining the philosophy behind Camus' works and the science behind Monod's experiments, making both equally accessible to the layperson. The science reminded me of a little of Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Emperor of All Maladies," and truth be told Mukherjee's analogies were probably a little easier to follow, nevertheless, I found myself routing for Monod and his labmates as they untangled the web of how genes work.

Oh, and did I mention the story about Monod's spiriting scientists out of Hungary after the Uprising or how Camus handled the French-Algerian Crisis? Yeah, all that's in there, too.

It takes a skillful author to be able to weave all these threads into a coherent whole, but Carroll is more than up to the task.

Great book! Highly recommended!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mama's Birthday Present

Last week was my mom's birthday. She is the best mom ever. 

My mom on the day she was inducted into the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame
When I was a kid, she proudly displayed the stuff that I made all around the house. Like my quilling. And my needlework. And even my paint by number of a red rose on a yellow background.

And you know what? Even if though I am a crotchety old middle-aged lady, even today if you go to my mom's house, you will see my quilling. And my needlework. And even my paint by number of a red rose on a yellow background.

And lots of pictures of my kids on the refrigerator, because they are the best thing I ever made.

Anyway, I wanted to  make her something special for her birthday because this was a special birthday for her.

So I made her this.

It may look familiar because I've made these butterflies before, but this time I used lots and lots of RED!

Red is my mom's favorite color. Her house is red. Her car is red.

Her lips are always covered in bright red lipstick and if you're lucky she will cover your cheeks with bright red Katy kisses. 

Lucky for her, there are always a lot of red pictures in RDCBs that can be transformed into all kinds of flowers. See that little butterfly taking a big whiff? (Or maybe he's just enjoying that cork!)

And this big butterfly flitting among the flower?

This is one of those pieces of art that's hard to photograph. In real life you have to walk back and forth in front of it to take it all in.

You'll have to take my word for it. Or you could just go see it at my mom's house. It's on the shelf in her living room. Right next to the quilling. And the needlework. And the paint by number red rose on the yellow background.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Where the Waving Wheat...

Exactly 120 years ago today, they all showed up. Where the night before there had been nobody, on this day they were everywhere. They came from every corner ...

from Germany...

...and Illinois

...and Indiana, just to name a few. They came to a land of few trees and big skies and put down roots.

They lived and they loved...

...and they raised big families

And for generation...

...after generation...

...after generation... thing seemed to define them. 


Wheat fields surrounded everything.

Their homes.
Their towns.

Roads from farm to market ran through corridors of wheat.

Combines and wheat trucks shared space with cars and pickups in the driveway.

And so because September 16 always seems to make me a little wistful and nostalgic, here is my latest. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

King Oil

This is one of my favorite books.

(And for those of you who just said, "Oklahoma has culture? Who knew?", I smite thee.)

I like this book so much that I have colored many of its pages with a highlighter.

I like it so much that I have used several highlighters and a pen to mark up some pages.

And sticky tabs.
I like it because when I found it at age 29, this book explained why I was as I was with pithy bits like this:
Oil came closer to being a miracle cure for impecuniousness than did agriculture. It set the equation land equals wealth ever more firmly in the Oklahoma mind. 
From these peculiar circumstances--a frenzied claiming of land, the failure of much farmland to sustain sustenance, and the spread of oil and gas production--comes a basic Oklahoma attitude, a strong faith that land provides for those who are fortunate enough to have drawn a favorable lot...This fatalistic view, drawn from experience, emphasizes winning or losing, the luck of the draw. It is deeply embedded in the Oklahoma psyche.
Whoa! This guy just described me, my family, and everyone else I grew up with, too. That's why this is one of my favorite books. Because I thought someone might have been hiding in my head when he wrote it.

My family's luck has always been sort of middle of the road. Our farms were good enough to sustain sustenance but we hadn't drawn that really favorable lot, the one with lots of oil gurgling up from the ground...

...until the end of my senior year of college. Finally, it looked like our luck was about to change. They were drilling on our land.

My parents bought me this gold nugget to celebrate.

That was the summer--the one right after graduation--that I met Captain America. And let me tell you about the power of oil.

In our early courtship Captain America--well, he was Lieutenant America then--tried to impress me by buying me a gold chain for my nugget. It worked. The guy I was dating right before him made me pay for everything so jewelry was definitely a step in the right direction.

As the courtship flourished, so did the oil well. Each week the news was better than the last. 
They had hit paydirt.
Our stake was going to be $3,000 a week.
$5,000 a week.
$10,000 a week.

About a week after that last announcement I got another piece of jewelry from Captain America--a fancy-dancy diamond ring with a big proposal attached.

That's the power of oil, my friends. The land provides!

And then about a month after that we got the news that the well had collapsed and we would be lucky to get $3,000 ever.

And the land taketh away. Welcome to the luck of the draw, Captain America. You are officially an Oklahoman! :)

This is a long and windy post all to get to this punchline. Awhile back I found this history of the oil industry volume with a fabulous front cover decorated in gold. Now it says:

Oil could still be the cure for my impecuniousness. Somebody needs to buy this book.