Book Review – What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black by Gregory E. Pence

when we talk about clone club - book coverUsually I read a book before watching a film or television adaptation but every once in a while there’s a great book written about a movie or television series. As a fan of Orphan Black, I’m still in mild denial that the show is going to be starting its fifth and final season in a few short months. A provocative series about the lives of a series of clones, Orphan Black gives its fans plenty to talk about. Gregory E. Pence, a professor at UAB and an expert in cloning and bioethics, has compiled quite a few talking points in his book What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black. Delving into the science and history of cloning, he uses Orphan Black, its plots, and characters to help illustrate concepts and bring debates to life in ways that make it easier for readers (and viewers) to relate to and understand.

Pence begins the book by looking at the ways clones have been depicted in science fiction and literature, searching for the root of many of society’s assumptions about human cloning and the dangers it poses. He examines the origins of a variety of medical advancements that preceded the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep and the reactions from various sectors to those advancements. Using the science behind cloning and similar technologies, Pence critiques the plot and execution of Orphan Black in its depiction of clones. Some of the debates examined, such as nature versus nurture, will be more familiar to readers than others. Finally, Pence ends the book by throwing out a few areas of interest that the show and its writers could explore in the future.

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Book Review – Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

pirate hunters - book coverMy fascination with all things oceanic began at a very young age and pirates have captivated me along with millions of others. I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately and the college course I took on piracy in the Atlantic is one of those classes I’ve been thinking of revisiting so it only made sense to add Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship to my reading list.

John Chatterton and John Mattera are two men who had vast experience with diving and exploring shipwrecks that many didn’t dare attempt. They had been planning on searching for and salvaging a significant Spanish galleon in pursuit of claiming the fortune that sank with her and had already invested large portions of their time and money in the project when they got a call and an offer from one of the most respected and well known treasure hunters around––Tracy Bowden. Bowden had been on the trail of a pirate ship, the Golden Fleece stolen and captained by Joseph Bannister during the Golden Age of piracy in the Atlantic. Certain he knew where it was and being in possession of the salvage lease to that area of the Dominican Republic, he sought to bring Chatterton and Mattera in to definitively locate and claim the wreck. When Chatterton and Mattera go looking where Bowden proposes the wreck to be, they find nothing and must search more than just the waters off the coast of Cayo Levantado to piece together the story of Captain Bannister and the fight with the British Royal Navy that sunk the Golden Fleece.

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Book Review – Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

thunderstruck - book coverHaving read and enjoyed so many of Erik Larson’s books in the past, I eagerly took up Thunderstruck though I had no real knowledge of the underlying subject matter—the development of trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy and the 1910 Cellar Murder in London. Given his skill at weaving together seemingly disparate narratives elsewhere, I was eager to see how he managed to connect these two historical threads and while he managed to do so, it wasn’t as compelling as I would have hoped though it is a remarkable and effective juxtaposition.

Guglielmo Marconi took a concept that British scientist Oliver Lodge had lectured about and spent decades experimenting with it and developing a system of wireless telegraphy from it. With no formal scientific education—and little true understanding or interest in the science behind it—he becomes the epitome of “trial and error” invention. After he moved from Italy to England with the idea of patenting, marketing, and expanding his invention that he started clashing with the British scientists and their established way of doing things—in large part because he was rather socially obtuse. The politics of science, invention, and underlying copyrights helped drive his obsessive need to demonstrate his superiority and relevance, culminating in his determination to transmit wireless messages across the Atlantic ocean.

Juxtaposed against this biographical look at Marconi’s development of wireless telegraphy, Larson lays out the history of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen and his second wife, Cara. Though his medical background stemmed from early homeopathy, he spent most of his professional life making and selling pharmaceuticals in the industry’s formative (and unregulated) years. His wife longed for the attention and glamor of the stage and was a domineering personality where he struck most who met him as submissive and kind. Living in London for some time, his wife’s friends became concerned when she apparently up and left for the United States only for her husband to later tell them he’d had word of her death overseas. Unconvinced, his wife’s friends brought their concerns to Scotland Yard and trigger an investigation that yields disturbing answers. Continue reading

Recommendations for the less fictitious narrative

“There is no longer any such thing as fiction or nonfiction; there’s only narrative.” – E. L. Doctorow

I’ve been reading more non-fiction lately and, though I prefer the flow most fiction, there are some that I have found really interesting.

After 9/11: America’s War on Terror (2001-) by Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colon: Focusing on how a war that we started in Afghanistan wound up in Iraq, Jacobson and Colon chose to present their work in a graphic novel style that is easy to follow and eerily echoes the press conferences and sound bites that concealed much of the truth of what was happening.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss: Punctuation is important and everyone should know how it works, but it isn’t easy to make learning about it fun. Truss manages to do just that with this humorous look at the dangers of punctuation errors. There’s even a section where the differences between some religious sects is explained as being the result of punctuation interpretation.

Escaping Salem: The Other Witch Hunt of 1692 by Richard Godbeer: I had to read this short book for a class and it was easily my favorite book of the semester. It only lightly touches upon the more well known aspects of the witch hunts, spending most of the narrative focused on why the Salem trials went so far while others were conducted in a more reasonable manner.

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright: In the years since 9/11 there have been many books about Afghanistan, the Taliban, and the rise of Al Qaeda. Many of them can be difficult to follow but I found that The Looming Tower did a good job of keeping all the major players straight for the reader.

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr: A Caravaggio painting appeared in history records but the painting itself was lost to the viewing public. Harr’s book follows how a few art historians and an art restorer tracked down the lost painting. Click here for a complete review of Harr’s book.

The Pirate Wars by Peter Earle: Giving the history of piracy, primarily in the Atlantic, from Captain Henry Morgan (yes, the one the rum is named after) through Blackbeard, Avery, and Kidd. Earle’s book is thoroughly engaging and a must for anyone who is interested in piracy.

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges: This look at the wars of the twentieth century examines the trends that made war possible and the psychology behind why it worked so well. This is one of those books that I think everyone should read.