Book Review: Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science by Susan Hughes

Hi all!

Science and kids. For me, they’re like chocolate and peanut butter – a perfect mix. Unfortunately, science sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of standardized testing these days. Thankfully my daughters are in a school that promotes learning science and the art of experimentation from an early age. Even as young as kindergarten, both of my girls have been introduced to scientific concepts and techniques and hopefully will gain some of that thirst for exploration and explanation as they get older.

Books like Case Closed? by author Susan Hughes and illustrator Michael Wandelmaier can help show kids in a fun way how science is used in the real world with applications of science in other fields as diverse as archaeology, reconstruction of historical sailing vessels, and finding locations long lost to the desert sands. With each case, Hughes offers facts on how science, history, and investigation were used to discover the answers of nine different mysteries.

As a huge Egypt nut myself, I was engaged by the story of the lost mummy of the Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut. She was a powerful pharaoh about 3500 years ago who dressed and acted like a king because women were not allowed to take the throne. Through it all she found ways to support the arts and Egypt was graced with years of prosperity under her reign. Unfortunately, when her successor Thutmose III assumed the throne, all traces of Hatshepsut’s reign were wiped clean from the archaeological record. Her body was moved from her sarcophagus and thought lost for the ages.

Thousands of years later, when Dr. Zahi Hawass, chief archaeologist of Egypt, found a mummy in an undecorated tomb, there were signs that it could actually be a royal mummy. Could it be the lost mummy of Hatshepsut? Hawass was able to use modern technology to get details about the body without disturbing it too much physically. Using a CAT scanner, the same scanner used on living people to see the internal organs and structures inside a body, scientists were able to identify that the body was missing a tooth. A tooth had been found in a box found in the same tomb and they discovered that it was a perfect match for the mummy’s missing one. And with additional DNA testing, they concluded that the mummy’s DNA matched that of Hatshepsut’s grandmother. Mystery solved!

Other mysteries detailed in the book include finding an ancient city consumed by the desert sand, determining whether a Russian princess managed to escape certain death, and discovering whether it was possible to cross the Pacific ocean on an ancient raft. Each of the nine mysteries offers a setup, a discussion of the tools used, and the conclusions experts arrived at after processing the evidence and data. It’s amazing how much technology continues to illuminate about discoveries and mysteries tens, hundreds, or thousands of years old.

Hughes does a great job of clearly laying out the facts and the processes in a kid-friendly way. And Wandelmaier’s illustrations offer a great amount of detail in a colorful way sure to keep a child’s attention. I hope this book will inspire many children to form their own hypotheses and explore the many realms science hopes to unlock.

If you have a child interested in science who wants to learn more about a variety of topics, I can’t encourage you enough to pick up a copy of Case Closed?. Science can be fun and the only way we keep moving forward is by encouraging future generations to follow the scientific method. Who knows what inspired kids will discover in the next few decades and centuries?

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this great science book for kids below!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Book Review: The Secret History of MI6: 1909-1949 by Keith Jeffery

Hi!

To most of the world, James Bond is the iconic British spy for nearly 60 years. Through the Cold War, the Drug War, and even into a post-9/11 world, he’s been reinvented multiple ways and times in books and movies and played by actors from George Lazenby to Daniel Craig. Ian Fleming‘s creation with a license to kill has dominated the popular impression of British Intelligence. But spies don’t really exist in popular media as they do in the real world.

I’m sure the British Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI-6) have had a few James Bond-like moments in their long and colorful history, but until now they’ve been hidden from public view. Keith Jeffery was granted unparalleled access to the MI-6 archives to piece together events from the agency’s beginnings to the start of the Cold War. Reading The Secret History of MI6, it was amazing just how much happened in those first 40 years starting in 1909. The real men and women who put their lives on the line to protect Britain from her enemies put James Bond’s antics to shame.

From the beginning, there was a conflict between the need for military intelligence, upon which wartime strategies could be formed, and foreign intelligence, upon which political and international policy decisions could be based. These interests were not always at odds, but the groups collecting the intelligence often sought to protect their sources at all costs, even from other agencies working on the same side. This reluctance to share actionable intelligence in a timely manner often hampered good decisions to be made by those in power. But Commander Mansfield Cumming hoped to change that culture of mistrust and offer a better solution.

Throughout the build up to the First World War, it was a matter of gaining the trust of the agencies depending on intelligence reports while building a network of field agents and informants that could reliably get a more complete picture of what was going on. Many of the same challenges of mistrust and information sharing existed for the next forty years as well. And always it was a balancing act between the need for information, the need for secrecy, and the safety of all assets involved.

The book provides a detailed accounting of many of the trials associated with developing the tools and techniques of spycraft – from learning how to record and transmit or transport reports from the field back to headquarters to finding cover identities and companies with which to hide assets in plain sight. Even the Import/Export business used by James Bond’s MI-6 was first used by the real MI-6 long before World War I!

Though the text does get dense and mired in detail at times, I honestly think Jefferey’s book should be required reading for any student of history or individual seeking to learn more about how MI-6 began. As events unfold through the years, I gained a new perspective on key events leading to World War I and II and the aftermath of each. The Secret History of MI6 is an incredible read. Perhaps in another fifty years or so we can read more about MI-6 history from 1950 to 9/11 and beyond!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great history books below!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Book Review: The Devil & Sherlock Holmes by David Grann

Hey!

It’s rare for me to find nonfiction as engaging as fiction. I live in a world of facts and figures and typically want to escape into fiction, usually fantasy or science fiction, when I have an opportunity to read. Yet somehow David Grann‘s journalistic style and storytelling ability managed to cut through that reluctance and capture my attention, just as he did with The Lost City of Z a year ago. However he’s gone about it in a slightly different way with The Devil & Sherlock Holmes.

Where The Lost City of Z was a longer narrative told across several chapters, The Devil & Sherlock Holmes takes a 60 Minutes approach. Diving deeper into several different stories, Gann focuses on “Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.” This book collects twelve articles from Gann’s work at The New Yorker, The Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, and The New Republic. The stories run the gamut from the mysterious death of an expert in all things Sherlock Holmes, to the search for a giant in the ocean deep, the possibly wrongful execution of a man accused of killing his family in a fire, and the bizarre criminal world of the Aryan Brotherhood.

My favorite of the articles focuses on the quest of New Zealand’s Steve O’Shea, marine biologist. Beyond the special effects of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Pirates of the Caribbean, I really didn’t know much about the mysteries of the giant squid, sometimes called the “kraken.” China Mieville‘s book Kraken recently took a Lovecraftian-influenced urban fantasy approach to the Architeuthis (scientific name for the giant squid), but beyond the fictional cult-like fascination for these secretive creatures I had no clue there was a real life counterpart.

Now I know bit more about the obsessive search by many people and groups around the globe all hoping to capture a live specimen for study. O’Shea is hardly alone as he and his assistant run out to sea in a little boat in the middle of the night seeking his elusive prey – minuscule baby squid that he takes back to a tank in his lab in the hopes that they will grow to giant size. Grann was a brave man to travel in the tiny boat off the coast of New Zealand as a storm blew in and they struggled to haul in hand-made traps to see what they’d caught. Like Captain Ahab searching for Moby Dick, O’Shea and his peers won’t be satisfied until they’ve found their prey…

Then I gained even more respect for Grann as he showed even more courage diving into the prison world of the Aryan Brotherhood. To not only enter some of the prisons with the most hardened criminals and worst reputations, but to speak in depth with several of them over many visits requires you to be dedicated, brave, and perhaps a little crazy. This is a totally different madness than seeking a giant squid in stormy seas riding in a dinghy. The criminals Grann spoke to are frightening people living in a frightening world and yet I read with rapt attention as I learned how the group began as white supremacists and spread into other criminal enterprises such as gambling and drug dealing bringing in millions of dollars a year within the prison system itself.

Whether you occasionally delve into nonfiction or read it regularly, David Grann puts a face and voice to some amazing stories sure to keep you engaged cover to cover. Be sure to check out The Devil & Sherlock Holmes at your favorite bookseller!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great books from Barnes & Noble below!

Enhanced by Zemanta