Best Books of 2021 – Chapter 4
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed several of Walter Isaacson’s previous books, I added this one to my Amazon Wishlist even though I could not recall having ever heard of Jennifer Doudna. Wow am I glad I did after reading it.
While analytical chemistry is the field of science that I enjoyed spending my career in, biochemistry is another area that fascinated me in college and graduate school. I recall it was so cool to learn that well known chemical reactions were occurring inside our body. This story makes a quantum leap beyond that.
Inspired by the landmark discovery of Watson and Crick, Doudna chose to pursue her education and training in the field of biochemistry. Studying DNA’s less known partner in life, RNA, she and her colleagues worked with a genetic engineering technique known as CRISPR that has already demonstrated huge potentials. In fact, it was just such technology that not only rapidly brought COVID-19 detection methods to fruition but led to the vaccines that have helped reduce the impact of the pandemic.
What a timely story and wonderful ending for a such an incredible researcher. Of personal interest in this story was Doudna’s competition with another scientist, Feng Zheng, who happened to also be studying physics at Harvard at the very same time that my future-son-in-law was. Also, Doudna took a position at UC Berkeley just a few years before my daughter and future son-in-law began pursuing their doctorates there. I may not have known Doudna before now, but thanks to Isaacson’s book, I will never forget her.
Several years ago, I wrote about an author I had never heard of, Robert Kurson, and the first book of his I read. Shadow Divers was a gift from my youngest son, and it told the story of two divers who discovered an unknown, lost German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey. I described it as a real-life Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt novel that actually occurred. So, when I ran across this new book by the same author, I quickly added it to my Amazon Wishlist.
This newest book tells the story of one of the same divers and a second diver who searched for one of the most famous lost pirate ships, the Golden Fleece. Once word got out that they were searching for it along with another famous diver, an international race was on to find it. The divers had to overcome tremendous challenges to beat their competition, and, in the end, I would have to say it was another enthralling true-life Dirk Pitt novel.
If you read Kurson’s earlier U-boat book and enjoyed it, you will not be disappointed in this one either.
If you have read my “Best of Books” posts before, you know I love reading books about things being built. Having previously read books about so many iconic structures such as the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and the Golden Gate Bridge, I didn’t know if I would run across anymore. But last year when my brother and I went to Seattle and visited the Space Needle as one of our weeklong activities, I thankfully came across this book in the giftshop written by Knute Berger and published on the 50th anniversary of the Space Needle in 2012.
You might have to be of my generation to recall the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle—Century 21—when this structure became the symbol of that fair. But no matter your age, if you have been to Seattle, you have in all likelihood seen it from so many different perspectives around Seattle.
This most enjoyable book tells the remarkable story of its conception, the miraculously short building timeline, the surprising knowledge of ownership, as well as how it has aged over the years since. It has been described by some as “America’s Eiffel Tower” and it has been imitated in many countries. Page after page includes text of this interesting story interspersed with many colorful photos and graphics of this iconic structure.
I have been up in the Needle only twice in my trips to Seattle but in each of the 10 times I have been there, I have sought it out on the skyline as I have driven Seattle’s roads. With the knowledge I gained from reading this book, I will have an even greater appreciation for this structure that truly is the symbol of Seattle.
If you have previously read my annual book blogs, you know that to make up for missing out on reading classics in high school, I read at least one classic novel each year (okay, I admit I only read one per year). And in every case, there is always a story behind the selection I chose. Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe is no exception for three reasons.
First, I recall my mom really enjoyed reading Thomas Wolfe and this was his first published book. Second, in my visits to Asheville, NC, a short distance from my favorite spot in the world—Montreat, NC—I have passed by the Thomas Wolfe home many times often thinking, “wow I have never read any of his books.” But the third and final reason that prompted me into action this year was reading in Denise Kiernan’s book, The Last Castle (her story of Biltmore, the Vanderbilt’s massive home in Asheville, NC), how this novel was a veiled autobiography of Wolfe as a young Eugene Gant living in fictionalized “Altamont” and how every high society person snapped up the book once published to find themselves in the story.
As I began this book and throughout it, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to visualize many of the scenes Wolfe described in Asheville, which I had seen myself on many of my visits there. I also relished some of his more beautiful prose. But at other times, I got lost in his story which often seemed to be disjointed. It wasn’t until after I had read half the book, that I felt like I had gotten into the story. Quite a commitment for a book that was almost 600 pages in original hardback print.
Not long before I finished the book, I googled the life of Thomas Wolfe and was amazed at how many true facts from his life had made it into the book, often with little veiling. This book really allows an intimate look at the young Wolfe coming of age at a time when multiple tragedies affected his life. The last tragedy of which, ironically in my reading of the real-life story over 100 years later, paralleled some of our own experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, in how the funeral in October 1918 was limited due to the raging pandemic.
Having read this novel, I feel satisfied that I have added another classic to my lifetime literary readings. I cannot say I enjoyed the entire book as mentioned above but with the final chapter, which seemed a bit odd to me, the ending really caused me some deep thought about its meaning which I can only envision must have prompted some lively debates and discussions in junior and senior high school English classes.
I hoped you enjoyed my book reviews this year. If you are interested in reading more reviews, you can also go back through my previous posts by searching on the “Books” category. And if I piqued your interest enough to read one of these books, then my efforts have been worthwhile. But if you read one and thoroughly enjoy it as much as I did, then I will have brought pleasure to both of us. Because there is nothing better than a great book!
David, I agree that nothing is better than a great book. You have described many worthwhile books to read, and I need to add at least one to my list. I also plan to refer back to your posts. I like to give books at Christmas, and reviewing your posts will help me to make some good selections I believe. My son, Michael, always loved to build things. Zachary, his twin, is currently in medical school. “Code Breaker” may be perfect for him. I have a couple others in mind for Robert Kurson’s books. I need to make notes so I don’t forget! Thanks for your post and the ideas.
Thanks, Betty. I am most pleased that you found my book posts helpful and I hope your gift recipients will enjoy these books as much as I did. I love to read a good book and then share it with someone so they too can enjoy it. I appreciate your comments as they serve as confirmation of the value of my annually publishing these posts. Happy reading!