Book Reviews



Two Tours de Force of Physics and Man

Updated on Wednesday, June 4, 2008 by Registered CommenterR.A. DiDio

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The Ultimate Force

Gravity - Creator of Worlds
By Louis Girifalco
Oxford, 320 pp. $39.95


Faust in Copenhagen

A Strugle for the Soul of Physics

By Gino Segrè
Viking. 384 pp. $29.95

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Philadelphia Inquirer - Monday, Dec 31, 2007

You think you can hear it, but you can't. A jumble of solid matter and hot gases, infused with cosmic radiation, swirls around the sun. With no atmosphere to carry sound, there is only a silent whoosh as the debris that forms the building blocks of the solar system accretes into wispy proto-planets, which soon collapse under their own weight into solid chunks of elliptically orbiting ice and rock.

Gravity, the force that is always with us, tugging our bones whenever we take a step, is the silent choreographer of this dance. What this all-powerful force can assemble, however, can just as easily be obliterated by the forces of personality and history.

In a unique publishing feat, two physicists from the University of Pennsylvania have written equally remarkable stories of physics and physicists in which all of those forces play starring roles. Both The Universal Force: Gravity - Creator of Worlds, by Louis Girifalco, and Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics, by Gino Segrè, combine science, history and culture in rich narratives of the very human quest to understand the nature of the physical world.

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Memoir of menial tasks, free living

Along his riotous 12-year journey, he even explores the history of his trade and honors those who cleaned before.




One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States

By Pete Jordan
Harper Perennial 384 pp. $13.95

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Philadelphia Inquirer - Sunday, October 7, 2007

The award for the dirtiest blues tune ever written (literal and figurative category) goes to John Newton for "Too Many Dirty Dishes . . ."

I cleaned your dirty dishes
How much more am I supposed to take?
When I left I had fruit loops for breakfast
Now there's a bone from a T-bone steak, y'all

I say there's too many dirty dishes,
Baby, in the sink for just us two
Well you got me wonderin', baby,
Who's makin' dirty dishes with you

For Pete Jordan, author of the hilarious Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States, there are never enough dirty dishes as he travels around the United States in search of fleeting jobs, cheap lodging, and free leftovers from the Bus Tub Buffet.

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On the trail of objects taken from Second Temple

Sean Kingsley has pursued the artifacts to the point he believes he knows where to find them.



God's Gold

A Quest for the Lost Temple Treasures of Jerusalem

By Sean Kingsley
HarperCollins. 336 pp. $26.95

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Philadelphia Inquirer - Sunday, September 16, 2007

The boundary between quest and obsession is not defined until it is crossed. By then it is too late - and extremely perilous. This is inevitable when the search is for some of the most precious and potentially explosive objects in the world: religious icons that, if found, will further agitate the roiling cauldron that is the Middle East.

In God's Gold: A Quest for the Lost Temple Treasures of Jerusalem, archaeologist Sean Kingsley provides a dramatic account of his personal journey in search of the golden menorah, silver trumpets, and jewel-covered Table of Divine Presence taken from the Second Temple of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. These iconic artifacts were spirited away by the Roman emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus, during the razing of Jerusalem that followed the First Jewish Revolt. Back in Rome, the treasures became the centerpiece of a massive victory parade, the report of which can still be read 2,000 years later as intricate carvings on the Arch of Titus.

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On Einstein's genius, fame, love and lust

Two biographies, with two unique approaches, chronicle the humanness and historical context of his remarkable life.


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His Life and Universe
By Walter Isaacson
Simon & Schuster. 704 pp. $32



A Biography

By Jürgen Neffe
Translated by Shelley Frisch
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 480 pp. $30

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Philadelphia Inquirer - Sunday, May 20, 2007

Just two years ago, the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein's annus mirabilis. For many learning his story for the first time, the image that emerged was of a saintly savant whose physics grand slam was announced on a flickering newsreel . . .

Bern, Switzerland, 1905. At age 26, Albert Einstein, junior patent clerk, has published four breakthrough papers in less than a year, each of breathtaking originality, each potentially Nobel Prize-worthy. Einstein's results help verify the existence of atoms, explain the quantum nature of light, and supplant Newton's dynamics with the Special Theory of Relativity.

The incredible story of 1905 should only whet one's appetite for more about Einstein, whose celebrity and world influence justifiably made him Time magazine's Person of the Century. His life was marked with unimaginable successes and disappointing failures in many areas besides science - including, as frankly portrayed in two important new biographies, matters of love and lust.

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A quirky, provocative catalog of 'sublime' creators




From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney

By Paul Johnson
Harper Collins 286 pp. $25

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Philadelphia Inquirer - Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006

Complete the following analogy: Ronald Reagan is to Mark Twain as Bill Clinton is to ... Jane Austen? A trick question on a college entrance exam? No, just one of the odd couplings presented by British historian, journalist, poet, novelist and artist Paul Johnson in his latest analysis of the main movers of history and culture.

Replete with arcane facts, personal reminiscences and trenchant observations, Johnson's Creators: From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney is a highly informative, provocative, and maddening look at some of the most creative figures in history. It is also a logical companion piece to his 1998 best-seller Intellectuals. Along with a planned third volume to be titled Heroes, Johnson's long-term project of illuminating the path of modern civilization through individual achievement is well under way.

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Collectively written novel is a fine, sprawling epic




By Wu Ming
Translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside
Harcourt 560 pp. $25

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Philadelphia Inquirer - Sunday, October 29, 2006

McGuffin: noun; a plot device, often used in films, that motivates characters and advances the story, but has little other relevance to the story itself; Alfred Hitchcock's term, describing a mysterious package in a story set on a Scottish train.

About the only thing you won't find in 54 - the highly entertaining and imaginative Italian best-seller by Wu Ming - is a Scottish train. But you will find a spaghetti-jumble of interconnected stories in settings that range from Italy to Yugoslavia to Hollywood, and with a very unusual group of characters - Cary Grant, Marshal Tito, Grace Kelly, Lucky Luciano, Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai, and - Alfred Hitchcock.

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Real-life tale of the theft, dramatic recovery of 'The Scream'

Updated on Sunday, December 31, 2006 by Registered CommenterR.A. DiDio



The Rescue Artist

A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece

By Edward Dolnick
HarperCollins. 288 pp. $25.95

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Philadelphia Inquirer - Thursday, Oct. 13, 2005

A screaming came across the sky ...

Wait - check that. Unlike Pynchon's V2 rocket, The Scream was wrenched rudely from the museum wall, unceremoniously lifted through a second-story window, and allowed to clatter down an aluminum ladder into the frigid stillness of a Norwegian night.

Coming on the eve of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Oslo, the theft of Edvard Munch's iconic painting from the Norwegian Gallery was audacious in its intent and simple in its execution. Playing out in grainy slapstick, a videotape showed two thieves wedging the painting into the back seat of a small car, and then speeding off. They even had time to leave a note mocking the out-to-Munch museum security and Norwegian police.

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Memories are made of this: Reading is the magic in Eco's new novel



The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

By Umberto Eco
Translated by Geoffrey Brock
Harcourt $27

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Sunday, July 31, 2005

Well, tickle my pylorus with a mysterious flame -- Umberto Eco is at it again.

In his warm, challenging, dizzying and ultimately rewarding new novel, Eco violates Aldous Huxley's maxim that "every man's memory is his private literature." Instead, this latest novel from the scholar and best-selling author demonstrates the power of literature to constitute memory and, with it, the soul.

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Confidante writes of the Jimi she knew



Jimi Hendrix

The Man - The Magic - The Truth

By Sharon Lawrence
HarperCollins. 352 pp. $24.95

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Philadelphia Inquirer - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

'Here I come baby ... I'm comin' to get ya ... Oooh Foxy lady ..."

Where were you when you first became experienced?

I was totally unsuspecting when classmates made me listen to the Jimi Hendrix Experience right after my first day of high school. We played "Are You Experienced?" for hours, shouting expletives at every guitar note as Hendrix psychedelically accelerated us from pre-puberty to wisdom, to a place where our lives were forever defined by the music of that summer.

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'Intellectual Morons' a guide flawed by personal invective



Intellectual Morons

How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas

By Daniel J. Flynn
Crown Forum. 304 pp. $25.95

Reviewed by Richard Di Dio
Philadelphia Inquirer - Monday, December 13, 2004

Screed is good.

And labels are even better. There is nothing more exhilarating than creating a fresh taunt that distills an ideological foe into a puddle of impotent, self-defensive goo. So forget "tax-and-spend liberal" and try out "intellectual moron." But before you do, take this pop quiz to measure your own Intellectual Moron Quotient: What do the following names have in common?

Herbert Marcuse, Alfred Kinsey, Noam Chomsky, Paul Ehrlich, Peter Singer, Rigoberta Menchu, Howard Zinn, Leo Strauss, Margaret Sanger, Ayn Rand, Jacques Derrida, Betty Friedan, W.E.B. DuBois, Alger Hiss, and Gore Vidal.

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