Elon Musk’s Favorite Book

Tesla

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. How do we know this? A copy exists onboard the Tesla now traveling to Mars. It’s in the glovebox! A sign on dash reads “Don’t Panic!” That’s also from the book. 

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor. Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox—the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years. Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!

SpaceX

How to Debunk Bad Science, Conspiracy, and Fake News

Star trek

Fake News, “alternative facts,” and bogus science is more viral now than ever. Over 100,000 videos on Youtube tell us the Earth is flat. Our President denies basic science, and thanked InfoWars (a conspiracy site) for help in his election. The “History” Channel suggests the pyramids were built by Ancient Aliens, relying on ancient writings and drawings as “evidence.” Throughout history, mankind has struggled to understand life’s mysteries, from the mundane to the seemingly miraculous. Static societies endured for ages, without progress, because creativity was suppressed. Challenges to dogma were met with death. In THE BEGINNING OF INFINITY, David Deutsch, an award-winning pioneer in the field of quantum computation, shows why man’s ego colors his faulty interpretations of events and observations. The human eye, he argues, is the least important tool of science, and the most easily fooled. Things are rarely what they seem, and no justification or authority is needed to arrive at truth. What is needed is to recognize flaws of logic, which have plagued mankind for thousands of years. Static thinking, mired in superstition and error, is our past, but need not be our future. Listening to this 20 hour audiobook is like getting a college degree in physics, biology, math, and geology. You will no longer be victim to those who would manipulate your beliefs for profit. Called one of the most profound science books ever written by the NY Times, it shows why explanations have a fundamental place in the universe. They have unlimited scope and power to cause change, and the quest to improve them is the basic regulating principle not only of science but of all successful human endeavor. This stream of ever improving explanations has infinite reach. Optimistic in outlook, the book shows how we are subject only to the laws of physics, but they impose no upper boundary to what we can eventually understand, control, and achieve. A most relevant Must Read or Hear. http://TowerReview.com

work it

Sports Flu

sports

From Walter Witty: “Is everything a sport? iThink so. Politics, culture, business, you name it. In sports, you have two sides, rarely three. This is why there’s no third party or team on the killing fields. (Gridirons.) What did George Orwell say? “Sports is war minus the shooting.” Spock: “Fascinating.” That’s Dr. Spock too. (Sex and babies is a sport too, alias. I mean alas.) Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451 (about burning books) has one of the firemen (who find books inside hollowed out TVs, and burn them) say: “More sports for everyone.” Videos on Youtube talking about becoming rich say things like, “If you’re not a player or ball club owner, or gambling on games, stop watching sports on TV. It’s a waste of time, and health. Like junk food.” Tasty, though! Alas, diabetes and obesity (and health care costs) are epidemic, to say nothing of concussions. Do we love sports like football because it’s a proxy for going to war, for feeling like winners? iThink so. Alias, the players and owners will change cities in a heartbeat for better parking and free booze (if not pills) elsewhere. It is a vicarious thrill, cheering, imagining it is us out there! (Or in the case of the Olympics, U.S.) More than just a game? Yup. A religion. There are fistfights in bars over games, cars overturned after games, riots and stampedes over the “score.” Everyone wants to “score,” even the President. He’s a wrestling fan, and former game show host. He and Kim Jong un are in a game, too. “It’s not a game!” people shout, but it IS. Everything is a game. But what exactly do we “win?” A bigger button? A trophy? Who even reads the record books, except overpaid sports commentators in Trivial Pursuit? What about FICA scores and exam scores and…and no doubt you’re angry now. Oh yes. You want to throw junk food at me at high velocity…send me to Gitmo for waterboarding with high fructose corn syrup. But consider: One satire book out of 10,000 about sports, and ESPN can’t bring themselves to mention it, even though the narrator of the audiobook version writes for ESPN?”

gaming

From The New York Times: “To say that Texans love football would be an understatement. Texans love football the way Johnny loved June. Texans love football the way Donald Trump loves his hair. Texans love football the way Kanye West loves Kanye West. The religious-like attendance at high school football games all across Texas is a testament to our devotion to the sport. The passion can get even more intense the further you get from the city. When traveling through small-town Texas on a Friday night in the Fall, it’s liable to seem like a ghost town unless you happen to pass the stadium, and the only stations you’ll get out in the boonies will be gospel, country, and broadcasts of high school football games.”

The Quest for the Deepest Place on Earth

Caving

Don Leslie reads BLIND DESCENT by James M. Tabor, a fascinating true story about a team of adventurers who race to find the deepest place on Earth, in a cave in the Republic of Georgia. The expedition took weeks and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the author.  Tabor is author of FOREVER ON THE MOUNTAIN, narrated by Scott Brick, and also FROZEN SOLID. Here’s my interview with him:

Tower Review)  After being an Army brat and having so many unusual jobs, before and after grad school at Johns Hopkins, what brought you to writing about caving?

James M. Tabor)  I had visited touristic caves, such as Luray Caverns, in Virginia as a very young child.  My parents liked caves and my father grew up down there.  Some about them grabbed me hard right off the bat.  I’m still not sure how that capture happens, but I’ve heard many serious cavers say the same thing: first time they went into a cave, bam, they were hooked. After Hopkins, I ended up writing nonfiction features for a number of national magazines such as TIME, Smithsonian, Outside, and Readers Digest on a wide variety of subjects. When one gave me an assignment to profile an internationally famous caver, I jumped at it.  Then a subsequent assignment took me on an extreme cave expedition. I did it actively for awhile but, to do anything like that at a high level is expensive, dangerous, and time consuming.  Starting a second family eased me out of active caving.  I never lost the fascination with caves, though, and ended up co-creating and executive-producing a History Channel Special about caving—the one you saw.  During the production, I learned about Bill Stone and Alexander Klimchouk and their race to find the deepest cave, and that produced Blind Descent.

Q)   There are quite a few touristy caves like Carlsbad, Mammoth, and Colossal.  Kartchner Caverns in southern Arizona is oppressively paranoid about preservation, which makes visiting it an ordeal, like having a nanny hold your hand.   What caving experience was most fun for you, and how accessible are the wild caves for teams like those you wrote about?

A)  The most fun I had was accompanying a team into a wild cave in TAG–Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia–called Run To The Mill.  RTTM is now closed because of its hazards.  It had all the challenges that make caving exciting: exhalation squeezes, chin-deep sumps, 250-foot vertical drops, and a tunnel, called a borehole because it was bored by an underground watercourse, a mile long, 65 feet wide, and 35 feet high.  You could have driven two freight trains side by side down that borehole.  The purpose of this particular penetration was to put a diver into a sump at the cave’s then-terminus, to extend the cave’s length.  I was basically a Sherpa, hauling gear to support the dive.  It was grueling work, but the cave was ample reward.  Accessibility of wild caves varies, well, wildly.  Many are on privately owned land, and access is entirely dependent on owners’ good will.  A great challenge for all cavers is creating and maintaining positive relationships with landowners.  Access to caves on public land–in national parks and forests–also varies, but at least the entry requirements are standardized, whereas every cave on private land presents a unique challenge.

Q)  What most surprised you in research for this book?

A)  Unquestionably the scale of supercave expeditions. As a climber, I was very familiar with the immense logistics of big Himalayan expeditions.  But supercave expeditions dwarfed even those. I learned that they involved scores of people who remain on-site in base camps for months.  They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the most extreme teams can stay underground, working on dangerous, technical terrain, for three weeks and more.

Q)  What is the most beautiful cave in the world, the deepest, and the most dangerous?

A)  The deepest cave on earth is Krubera, located in Abkhazia in the Republic of Georgia.  Roughly 7,200 feet.  I didn’t do in-depth research on the great European supercaves in my book, but I think that, all things considered, Krubera would also qualify as the most dangerous.  That’s a highly subjective judgment, of course, but here are some number.  The cave is easily the deepest on earth, and 90% of its terrain is vertical. Air temperature in summer varies from 35-40F.  Water temperature is just above freezing, around 32F so that frigid water, plus the air that’s always moving through caves, makes lethal hypothermia a constant threat.  After a point, judging beauty of supercaves is like trying to figure out whether Sophia Loren or Elizabeth Taylor was more beautiful.  Each one is fantastically beautiful in its own ways.  So that’s the best sidestep I can do on that one!

Q)  You produced a History channel special, which I just saw on video.  What surprised me is hearing that drill bits melt at a certain depth due to heat.  The frozen methane pocket that the Deepwater Horizon supposedly met…can oil drilling accidents really be prevented with current technology?

A)  Honestly, I’m not an expert on oil drilling but I will say this. Several decades ago, an engineer named Charles Perrow wrote a book, which has since become a classic, called NORMAL ACCIDENTS: Living with High Risk Technologies.  Its central thesis is that once any technology achieves a certain degree of complexity, accidents become not less likely but more so—inevitable, in fact.  He supports that theory convincingly by examining in great detail Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the Bhopal Chemical Plant accident, and the Challenger space shuttle explosion.  The Deepwater Horizon debacle is only the most recent example.  So I think the answer, from my perspective, is that accidents like that will never be entirely preventable.  The question then becomes what level of frequency we are willing to accept and live with.

Q)   Do you listen to audiobooks?

A)  Constantly!  Where I live in Vermont, it’s a good long drive to get anywhere.  I love NPR, but one needs variety, and audiobooks save my sanity on long trips.  I’ve just finished listening to Simon Winchester’s book on Krakatoa, The Day the World Exploded.  Charles Frazier’s Civil War novel, Cold Mountain, is next in the player.  I’ve listened to it once already, but Frazier’s writing is so miraculous that I’ll probably listen five or six times.

Q)  What’s next for you?

A)  I was originally trained as a fiction writer in the MFA program at Johns Hopkins.  My first published short story won an O. Henry Award.  I quickly learned that it was much easier to make a living writing nonfiction, however, so did that for along time, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I decided to go back to fiction after Blind Descent.  The Deep Zone was published in early 2012.  You probably aren’t surprised to learn that a supercave figures prominently in the action.  A follow-up novel featuring the same heroine, Hallie Leland, was called Frozen Solid.  It takes place at the South Pole, an environment equally fascinating for its many extremities. 

Year One by Nora Roberts (w/ Interview)

Year One

It began on New Year’s Eve. The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed and more than half of the world’s population was decimated. Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river or in the ones you know and love the most. Narrated on audio by Julia Whelan. Nora Roberts is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than two hundred novels. She is also the author of a bestselling futuristic suspense series written under the pen name J. D. Robb, her other pseudonyms being Jill March and Sarah Hardesty. She was the first author inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. There are more than 400 million copies of her books in print. 

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Tower Review: After IRISH THOROUGHBRED you wrote IRISH ROSE and IRISH REBEL. Are you Irish yourself?
 
NORA ROBERTS: Yes. I’m Irish on both sides of my family, with some Scot thrown in. I’ve always had a strong connection to Ireland. When I was able to go to Ireland the first time years ago, it felt like going home.
 
TR: How surprised were you at your success? How difficult was it to establish your name?
 
NR: It was a gradual process. Selling the first book was like a miracle. I had, until that point, sought some avenue for creativity in every craft known to man. Ceramics, embroidery, sewing. I even put little flies in overalls I made my sons. How sick is that? Canning, macrame, needlepoint, baking. I had a distressing craft addiction. Fortunately writing cured me of it, and Silhouette opened a marvelous door for me.
 
TR: Do you have many male readers?
 
NR: Yes, I do. A varied and interesting base which has expanded since the Robb books were published. I got a letter from a guy who drives a rig, and habitually listens to my audios when he’s on the road. He assured me he was a real guy, but that parts of JEWELS OF THE SUN had him in stitches at the truck stop. I love that. I’ve also seen father-daughter readers at signings. I’ve always had mother-daughter readers, and I love knowing my books are a bond between generations.
 
TR: How did you decide to mix the SF and romance genres in the Robb titles?
 
NR: I write quickly. That’s just my natural pace. As a result, both of my publishers had considerable inventory. For some reason they refuse to publish only my books. Go figure. My agent and editors suggested I write under another name. I dragged my feet on the idea until my agent said, “Nora, there’s Pepsi, there’s Diet Pepsi, there’s Caffeine Free Pepsi.” And the light went on in my head. I could be two popular brands! So I agreed to try it if I could do something a little different. I’d had the germ of the idea for Eve Dallas years before. Tough, haunted, driven murder cop of the future. I really enjoy writing romantic suspense, and was intrigued by the idea of adding just a whiff of SF. Nothing too fanciful. Fun tech toys, societal changes, but keeping the basic human element. And I wanted to do it as a series, with continuing characters so I could develop relationships, and the romance between the man characters, over a number of books. Then Roarke walked onto the page, and the rest is history.
 
TR: What about female readers for Roarke?
 
NR: I have a lot of female readers who seem to enjoy the In Death books as much or more than the books I write under my own name. Roarke has a lot to do with that. After all, he is Roarke. And Eve seems to appeal to both men and women because she’s strong, just a little dark, courageous and sexy. They’re grittier, more violent books in many ways. So I’ve found there’s considerable overlap.
 
TR: What about films, like SANCTUARY with Melissa Gilbert. Did you visit sets?
 
NR: Yes, I was able to spend a couple days–nights really–on the set in Toronto, to meet Melissa and Costas Mendaylor, the marvelous and gorgeous actor who plays Nathan. The cast and crew were wonderfully welcoming, and I had the opportunity to watch them make a hurricane. It was freezing! Cold, dark, rain machines, wind machines, lightning machines, mud. And our actors out there in shirt sleeves as this was supposed to be summer on an island off the coast of Georgia. I felt the script stayed very true to the book, to the characters and the emotions. But filmmaking convinced me to keep my job where I can stay inside and stay warm.
 
TR: Where did you find the time and determination to do what you have done?
 
NR: You don’t find time. You make time. I have a fast pace–that’s just the luck of the draw, like eye color. But I also have a great deal of discipline, a gift from the nuns who educated me for the first nine years of my schooling. Nobody instills the habit of discipline and the shadow of guilt like a nun. I write six to eight hours a day, occasionally on weekends as well.
 
TR: So you do overtime, and you’re a prodigy writer to boot! How many drafts?
 
NR: I do a first draft fairly quickly. Just get the story down and don’t worry about fixing or fiddling. Straight through, no looking back. Once I have that initial draft, I know my characters more intimately, know the plot more cohesively, so I can go back to page one and go through it all again, fleshing out, fixing little problems, finding where I went wrong and adjusting it, or where I went right and expanding that. Adding texture, sharpening the prose. Then I go back to page one again, for a third draft, polishing, making sure I hit the right notes.
 
TR: The hard part is in the rewrites, so true, and the initial draft is a voyage of discovery. More fun. So you have an instinct when it’s ready?
 
NR: No book is perfect. I try to send in the best book I can write at the time. And I trust my editor to tell me if it can be made better.
 
TR: Now tell us about the phrase “a day without fries is like a day without an orgasm.”
 
NR: (laughs) Actually, that was one of those on-line message board conversations. Just silliness. There was some discussion on one of the AOL boards about dieting and cutting out beloved yet fattening foods. Fries came up, and I happen to have a deep emotional attachment to fries, so this was my response. Some of my readers caught it, so when they established a reader web page for me, they named it ADWOFF–A Day Without French Fries. A delightful and fun site. 
Secrets in Death

Brad Thor for President?

Fox News

Brad Thor appeared on Glenn Beck last year disparaging Trump, declaring that he was running himself as a third party candidate. He then withdrew his candidacy, but has since said he is “not a fan” of Trump, and called his first 100 days “a failure.” Should he try pushing a third party again? His new book is USE OF FORCE.

TOWER REVIEW: Your Last Patriot novel was part covert ops political thriller and part DaVinci Code mystery. How did it click for you to combine the two?
BRAD THOR: My thrillers have always centered around covert/black ops and the domestic political landscape. They are subjects I love to write about. Through my writing, I have gotten to know lots of the players in these two arenas. The more time I spend shadowing them and seeing what their lives are like, the more I fall in love with this subject matter and the more I want to write about it.
Q: Do you have any fears of becoming the next exiled Salman Rushdie for postulating such a volatile story line?
A: What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I have spent the last 20 years of my life learning about Islam. It is a fascinating subject, especially in how it promotes violence. What’s also fascinating is that whenever early copies of the Quran are discovered in Muslim nations, they are quickly secreted away. Researchers who have attempted to study them have wound up dying in very mysterious accidents. Now I have come out with a thriller that suggests the Quran is missing a very key text and I am being threatened with death. My book is fiction, but it is based on a handful of fascinating facts and the death threats only seem to support my theory that Islam is hiding a very big secret. Am I afraid of becoming the next Salman Rushdie? Honestly, I don’t relish the idea. Rushdie at one point had a $5 million bounty on his head and supposedly hundreds of Muslim assassins had traveled to London to kill him. Will I change what I have written or somehow recant and beg forgiveness for what is contained within The Last Patriot? Absolutely not. In fact, I find the hypocrisy here fascinating: Islam is a religion of peace and if you say that it isn’t, we’ll kill you.
Q: What kind of research was involved in writing The Last Patriot?
A: The idea for this novel was born in part from an Atlantic Monthly cover article by Toby Lester entitled What is the Koran? I had discovered the piece, several years after its January 1999 publication, while doing research on another novel and had tucked it away for future use. Then I came across an article written by Gerard W. Gawalt, formerly of the Library of Congress, entitled America and the Barbary Pirates: An International Battle Against an Unconventional Foe. I started wondering if there was a way I could combine the historical relevance of the Quran and Thomas Jefferson’s experience with the Barbary pirates to create a thriller that would be relevant today.
Q: Jefferson and Islam. There’s a connection?
A: Yes. Thomas Jefferson was the first American president to go to war against radical Islam. The problems Jefferson and America faced over two hundred years ago are incredibly similar to what we as a nation face today and there is much to be learned from them.
Q: I wrote a short story whose fictional premise was that someone in the Bush administration suggested bombing Mecca. An absurd and wild idea for a story, I thought.  Then I learned that someone actually had suggested it. Have you had any surprises in your research that affected plotting?
A: I have surprises like this happen to me all the time. There are certain suggestions and possibilities that just make sense. The key is in beating other writers to it. As I wrapped up the first draft of my manuscript, I received a call from my editor. She had just read a story in The Wall Street Journal about a mysterious archive of ancient Quranic texts in Germany that was believed to have been destroyed in 1944. It contained 450 rolls of films that supposedly chronicled the evolution of the Quran, the Muslim holy book which all Muslims believe was revealed complete, perfect, and inviolate to Islam’s founder Mohammed in the 7th century. The archive, and its subsequent study, had only been handled by three men. The first died in a strange climbing accident in 1933. The second died in a mysterious plane crash in 1941. The third man, wanting to be rid of the entire collection, pretended it had been destroyed and never spoke of it for over sixty years. He died recently at age 93. It seems there is much here worth investigating, and for which men are still willing, even in the case of The Last Patriot, to kill to keep secret.

Thor Ragnarok

Best Audio Books of the Year

Furman

The following are chosen by Tower Review as the Best Audio Books of the Year. They are also available at up to 75% off as audiobooks from Audiobooks Today and TR during Cyber Monday week, which began with Black Friday. Ebook versions also available.  

Hillbilly Elegy written and read by J.D. Vance

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, read by Anne Marie Lee, Will Patton, and Danny Campbell

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, narrated by Alfred Molina

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells, read by the author

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, read by Michael Sheen

Things That Can and Cannot Be Said by Arundhati Roy and John Cusack, read by Sneha Mathan and Jim Meskimen

The Best of Richard Matheson, edited by Victor LaValle, read by a full cast 

The Lost Get-Back Boogie by James Lee Burke, read by Will Patton

Dear World by Bana Alabed, read by the author

Popular by Mitch Prinstein, read by the author

reading

Was privileged to be one of the judges in the VoiceArts awards this year in the Science Fiction category, held in New York City at Lincoln Center. All areas of voiceover are judged, but a few of the winners related to books this year include: Scott Brick in Crime & Thriller and Fiction categories for Dead City and The Last Tribe, respectively. Sneha Mathan and Jeff Wilburn for Classics, The God of Small Things and Moonlight, respectively. Simon Vance for Fantasy, The Wolf of the North. Lisa Flanagan for Mystery, The Unseen World. John Malone for Science Fiction, Dredging Up Memories. Ed Asner and cast for Storytelling, Powder Burns. Adam Verner for Teens, York: The Shadow Cipher. Neil deGrasse Tyson for Author Performance, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Andi Arndt & Zachary Webber for Romance, The Hot One. Brian Blessed for Inspirational, The Cat of Bubastes. R.C. Bray for Short Story Anthology, Diary of an Asscan. January LaVoy for Non-Fiction, Bette & Joan: The Devine Feud. Nicholas Guy Smith for Biography, Notes on Blindness. Malcolm Hillgartner for History, Dunkirk: The Complete Story of the First Step in the Defeat of Hitler. Zak George for Self Help, Dog Training Revolution. Will Damron, Metaphysical, Satan’s Harvest. Joe Barrett, Humor, A Really Big Lunch.   

VoiceArts awards