SATURDAY JUNE 24, 2017
 
Blog IN PRINT
THREE READS
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AT THE FIGHTS: AMERICAN WRITERS ON BOXING
Edited by George Kimball & John Schulian
The Library of America
517 pages
$43.50

Whatever the reason, boxing attracts talented writers — producing as many great sentences as it does flattened noses. At The Fights, a sizable and entertaining book, features top writers like Gay Talese, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, Bud Schulberg, Joyce Carol Oates — not to mention former heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and his illuminating essay, “My Fights with Jack Dempsey.” There are two essays by the incomparable A.J. Liebling, both memorable, in particular “Ahab and Nemesis," his account of a 1955 bout between the stylish, cerebral, complex Archie Moore and force of nature Rocky Marciano. Liebling spins the tale as a clash between intellect and brawn, the conflict ending with Moore “counted out with his left arm hooked over the middle rope as he tried to rise. It was a crushing defeat for the higher faculties and a lesson in intellectual humility, but he had made a hell of a fight.” Editors Kimball and Schulian have assembled such a fine collection that it seems almost unfair to single out any one piece, but W.C. Heinz’s mesmerizing account of the life and tragic death of Bummy Davis (“Brownsville Bum”) is a standout, as are the many portraits of the iconic Muhammad Ali, from his early days (George Plimpton’s “Miami Notebook: Cassius Clay and Malcolm X”) to his life after boxing (Carlo Rotella’s “Champion at Twilight”). Highly recommended.

HereOnEarth.jpgHERE ON EARTH: A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE PLANET

Tim Flannery
HarperCollins
316 pages
$32.99

Unless you live with children, you probably don’t often grapple with questions like “Where do people come from?” or “Does the earth breathe, and can it die?” I do live with children and so face these queries daily. As a result, I’m constantly coming to grips with how much I simply do not know about the miraculousness of life here on Earth. Thankfully, answers to virtually everything — from the formation of our planet, to the evolutionary progress of human beings, to our complex interactions multi-dimensional relationships with every form of life imaginable (many now extinct) — is assessed in Tim Flannery’s fantastic new book, Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet. Flannery covers a lot of ground, touching on everything from the  importance of geo-pheromones (note: important!) to a contemplation of superorganisms (hint: that’s us) to lonely giants, backward-walking cats and politically-minded monkeys. Not only is this book fascinating, but better still it’s optimistic, balancing man’s destructive capabilities against the often overlooked fact that humans are also enormously resourceful, cooperative and inventive. Flannery makes a case — with compassion, common sense and uncommon wisdom — that if any species is capable of saving the planet from destruction, it’s us. Here on Earth is a must-read and available nationwide on April 16.
 

theinformation.jpgTHE INFORMATION

James Gleick
Pantheon Books
526 pages
$34

James Gleick’s new book, The Information, presents a history of how technology has allowed information to be copied, charted, analyzed and passed along through the ages. It’s an ambitious book and, for a reader with the requisite time and focus, it’s extremely rewarding. Gleick humanizes the story with accounts of colourful scientific figures like Lord Byron’s daughter, Augusta Ada Lovelace. Lovelace, a mathematical prodigy, was — incredibly enough — writing algorithms in the 19th century. In fact, she has been at times called the world’s first computer programmer. Gleick writes, “She devised a process, a set of rules, a sequence of operations. In another century this would be called an algorithm, later a computer program, but for now the concept demanded painstaking explanation. The trickiest point was that her algorithm was recursive. It ran in a loop.” Another fascinating character (and Lovelace’s mentor) is Charles Babbage, the man who created the Analytical Machine, a prototypical computer. It’s remarkable to think that Babbage invented the concept of the computer 100 years before either he or anyone else could be able to build such a thing. There are many such portraits in The Information, along with dense, at times humorous, and always digressive accounts of how, for instance, African talking drums led to the first semaphore telegraphs. On an even larger scale, the book suggests that information is actually the fundamental force behind everything — a unified theory, of sorts. Take biology: the body is, ultimately, the information contained in our genetic code. Some physicists concur, suggesting that the bit (a binary choice) is the ultimate fundamental principle behind everything. Not energy, not matter ... but information. A thought-provoking read.

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