A meticulous portrait of an unjustly neglected figure in the history of American science.

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Bossart

AMERICA'S FORGOTTEN ROCKET SCIENTIST

A debut biography examines a groundbreaking rocket scientist.

It’s nearly impossible to overestimate the geopolitical significance of the intercontinental ballistic missile, a weapon that could deliver a catastrophic payload from the other side of the globe. The U.S. military, considering the pursuit of the missile quixotic, had essentially given up, but its development became imperative in the 1950s once the Soviet Union achieved one of its own. Karel Jan “Charlie” Bossart, trained as an aeronautical engineer, became the principal architect of the pertinent technology, briefly winning him some scientific acclaim. Bossart was born in Belgium, and his early experiences were formed by the convulsion that was World War I, and the ensuing German occupation of his homeland. He attended college in Brussels, and at the behest of his father obtained a degree in mining engineering. But he took an extracurricular course in aeronautical science, inspiring him to chase a master’s in the subject at MIT in defiance of his father. His true education in plane technology came after, at the Service Technique de l’Aéronautique Belge, and he then turned down a comfortable teaching job at Ghent University for an adventure in the United States. There he scored a job at the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, headed by one of the field’s greatest luminaries. Bossart would eventually work on a series of experimental planes during World War II, and would finally start to become acquainted with rocket technology, which had long been neglected in favor of heavy artillery as a tool of war. He ultimately headed Project Atlas, the scientific collaboration that produced America’s first ICBM. Mitchell’s historical research is impeccable, and his mastery of the relevant science is equally impressive. Especially considering the brevity of the work, it is remarkable in its scope; the author manages to provide brief histories of rocket technology, aeronautics, World War I and II, and the Cold War. Bossart emerges as a thoughtful innovator interested in much more than military supremacy: “Forget about the military applications of rockets for a minute, and think of all the peaceful applications: shooting mail from coast to coast by rocket, manned travel to Mars, interplanetary communications, better weather forecasting, detailed aerial maps.” Some of the science described is formidably difficult to comprehend, but Mitchell succeeds in making it as accessible as anyone could reasonably expect.

A meticulous portrait of an unjustly neglected figure in the history of American science. 

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ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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