black-levin

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space
by Janna Levin
Knopf

“We see evidence of black holes destroying neighboring stars. We see evidence of super black holes in centers of galaxies… But we have never really seen a black hole, which only adds to the thrill of the prospect of hearing them.”

Astronauts returning on the space shuttle once told this former satellite designer and space program physicist: “You have no idea how much gravity is pulling down on all of us.” Home from the sheer joy of weightlessness in space, the dynamics of gravity were suddenly made real, pulling their shoulders and compressing their spines closer to Earth. It was a reminder of one of the universe’s illusive mysteries—gravity. We can measure and explain it, but we cannot see or hear it… yet. Physicist and writer Janna Levin takes us on the journey to detect, listen for, gravitational waves as the byproduct of a gigantic collision between black holes.

In simple terms, black holes form an incredibly dense mass. For scientists, this is where the fun begins. Since mass is an essential component of gravity, the extreme density of black holes will crush atoms and even bend light under its own weight. Yes, light has weight, and therefore one cannot really see a black hole, because light becomes trapped inside of it. Decades ago, the movie Black Hole depicted a spacecraft passing through a black hole. This is science-fantasy. Anything with mass in close proximity to a black hole will not pass through it. Instead, the atoms of the spacecraft and the crew inside will become so densely packed that the result will no longer be visible to the naked eye, not to mention eliminating the viability of the spacecraft and its occupants. A black hole generates pressure of astronomical proportions. In a world of unnecessary hyperbole, it’s literally appropriate to apply the description “astronomical proportions” to a black hole.

For the purposes of Levin’s book, as two of these monster black holes draw near, anomalies in gravity will create waves that ring through space, but by the time they reach the Earth, they will be so slight that they will not be felt or heard by even the knowing. So what device will be needed to detect this phenomenon? By the mid-twentieth century, planning for and construction of full scale gravitational wave listening devices began on several international fronts. The devices needed to be big. The largest, called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), is run by Caltech and spans four square kilometers at two separate locations. Within its vacuum environment, LIGO waits for disturbances in a reflected laser beam as a means of sensing and measuring the dragon itself—gravity in the form of waves. It’s an enormous undertaking of scope, time, and funding.

With crisp storytelling, Levin tracks the creators of LIGO as it moves from thought to reality. Decades in the making, the success of this device is yet to be seen and, as some might say, hardly the point. It is another step in unlocking the mysteries of the universe. The geniuses of science will continue to tweak their experiments, conjure new frontiers to explore, and draw us closer to understanding. The field of scientists pursuing gravitational wave detection come from all corners of the world, and they are uplifted and hindered by their personalities. Humanity is the factor in the equation that’s impossible to measure. Beyond anticipated brilliance, we find professional paranoia, backbiting, and of course politics. However, the work proceeds with the relentless dedication of a monk, the ambition of a CEO, and at times the ruthlessness of a pirate.

Levin sketches the story with impressive color, while providing Polaroid-like narratives of the people and places along this scientific frontier. She is the type of science writer who can explain complex topics in understandable terms. In relating the beloved wizards and weirdos of the laboratories, she has brought the high-minded down to earth. That feat is as rare as hearing gravity, and it reveals the genuine process of discovery. History often documents invention as brilliant strokes of insight wrought to fruition, but Levin shows its plodding pace that spans decades, as well as its inevitable wrong turns into blind alleys and heartbreaking miscues that destroy careers. No doubt, her students at Barnard love to sit in on each lecture—scientists and laymen alike. If we had a device that measured passion, Levin would ring the meters and sound the alarms.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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Gaining Eric Hoffer Book Award Success

In 2007, The US Review of Books began publishing the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award. While the US Review is blind to the actual judging process, recently the Hoffer Award opened a window in The Authority of Book Awards. Years earlier, its chairman talked about the popular award’s humble beginnings in The Eric Hoffer Award: Righting the Wrongs.

While The US Review of Books boasts over 15,000 monthly subscribers, tens of thousands of additional readers visit its on-line publication to view the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award each spring. Let’s take a look at how the excitement and the Hoffer Award in general has enhanced the success of the authors and publishers who registered their books with one of the most popular international competitions for small, academic, and independent books.

“The Hoffer win confirmed for me that my book was what I’d hoped it would be.” Bill Mesce, A Cold and Distant Place

“I no longer need to try to attract the attention of traditional publishers. Ever since I received this award my book has received a lot more attention. In addition, my book sales have increased greatly. Thank you very much for the big boost. My Eric Hoffer Award success has been very rewarding.” Anthony Aquan-Assee, Second Life, Second Chance

“Our Eric Hoffer Book Award success in numbers: 9,100 Sold; 18 Reviews, 6,487,523 Reach; 120 Interviews, 305,476,330 Reach; 306 Mentions/Quotes, 440,303,385 Reach; 714 Op-Eds or Articles, 2,783,659,959 Reach; 1,575 Placements, 3,696,556,397 Reach.” – The Independent Institute discussing John C. Goodman, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis

“Being an Eric Hoffer Finalist has helped me get invited to do more readings, receive honoraria, also sell books.” Joan Seliger Sidney, Body of Diminishing Motion

“The Eric Hoffer Award has added visibility, validation and ultimately readership. An immeasurable measure of pride accompanies the award.” Karen Krett, The Dark Side of Hope

These success stories form the core reason why the Eric Award was created. The US Review of Books to be a sponsor of the Eric Hoffer Book Award.

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More Eric Hoffer Book Award Success Stories

In 2007, The US Review of Books began publishing the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award. While the US Review is blind to the actual judging process, recently the Hoffer Award opened a window in The Authority of Book Awards. Years earlier, its chairman talked about the popular award’s humble beginnings in The Eric Hoffer Award: Righting the Wrongs.

While The US Review of Books boasts over 15,000 monthly subscribers, tens of thousands of additional readers visit its on-line publication to view the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award each spring. Let’s take a look at how the excitement and the Hoffer Award in general has enhanced the success of the authors and publishers who registered their books with one of the most popular international competitions for small, academic, and independent books.

“The award brought recognition locally and nationally, increasing interest and distribution that continues even after ten years since publishing.” Carolyn Singer, The Seasoned Gardener

“For one thing, I’m a college professor, and doing so well in the Eric Hoffer Award earned me a bigger than usual raise. For another, it boosted book sales.” Andy Solomon, The Fourth Demand

“Winning an honorable mention in the self-help category boosted my book sales. It also helped with credibility in requesting book interviews and book signings. The reward is highly respected in the literary field.” Michele Sfakianos, RN, BSN, Ace You Life

“Winning this award kicked sales of Mr. Touchdown up significantly and gained the book recognition in both bookstore and school sales. Even now, 10 years after winning the award, my book still sells a few dozen copies a quarter, more in the first quarter when it is picked up for Black History Month. I have passed 2,000 total sales, with very little promotion and am moving toward 2,500.” Lyda Phillips, Mr. Touchdown

“Once I included [my Hoffer Award honor] on my links, sales increased by 25%. I’m Finalist as well on the Royal Palm Literary Award through the Florida Writers Association, but fewer readers are aware of this award. Obviously Eric Hoffer continues to make an impact, and I believe I’m getting some good miles from his legacy. Thank you!” Vanessa Russell, Four of a Kind

These success stories form the core reason why the Eric Award was created. The US Review of Books to be a sponsor of the Eric Hoffer Book Award.

Gold-Seal-Composite

Eric Hoffer Book Award Success Stories

In 2007, The US Review of Books began publishing the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award. While the US Review is blind to the actual judging process, recently the Hoffer Award opened a window in The Authority of Book Awards. Years earlier, its chairman talked about the popular award’s humble beginnings in The Eric Hoffer Award: Righting the Wrongs.

While The US Review of Books boasts over 15,000 monthly subscribers, tens of thousands of additional readers visit its on-line publication to view the results of the Eric Hoffer Book Award each spring. Let’s take a look at how the excitement and the Hoffer Award in general has enhanced the success of the authors and publishers who registered their books with one of the most popular international competitions for small, academic, and independent books.

“Educators look for credibility, professionalism, and quality when choosing a novel to use in their classrooms, and they’ve been known to balk at choosing self-published titles. But that bright gold Montaigne Award sticker tells the world that my book is a well-written, compelling story middle-grade readers will never forget. As a result, my sales to school systems have sky-rocketed, and my calendar is chock full of classroom visits. Entering my book in the Eric Hoffer Awards was one of the best marketing decisions I could have made.” Holly Moulder, A Time to Be Brave

“In 2009, Barnes and Noble chose my debut historical novel to feature on its New Hardbacks shelves in stores nationwide. This was rare for an indie-published author at that time, and continues to be. It went on to win several more awards, and the Eric Hoffer Book Award committee’s belief in the book was instrumental in its success. Since receiving the Eric Hoffer recognition, I have published four more honored books… I’m very grateful to the Eric Hoffer Award committee for helping me to launch my publishing career.” Glen Craney, The Fire and the Light

“Recognition like the Hoffer award is a strong credibility builder when customers are searching through what has become a blizzard of information. The recognition was much appreciated.” Christine Kent, RN, Save Your Hips

“We’ve seen a 28% increase in sales since the Eric Hoffer Book Award announced the award. My publisher displays the Eric Hoffer Award gold seal on the third edition of my book. When I speak at writer’s seminars, many participants are familiar with the award and that helps sales.” Jamie Dodson, Flying Boats & Spies, A Nick Grant Adventure

“After my book’s Eric Hoffer Award I received more reviews on Amazon and GoodReads.” João Cerqueira, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro

These success stories form the core reason why the Eric Award was created. The US Review of Books to be a sponsor of the Eric Hoffer Book Award.

armageddon-morris-mcgann

Armageddon by Dick Morris & Eileen McGann

Armageddon: How Trump Can Beat Hillary
by Dick Morris & Eileen McGann
Humanix Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“She is accustomed to getting her talking points from Bill or some other key advisor and going out there and fighting for them.”

While some books are requested for review, others arrive on their own. Armageddon is one of the latter, and it sat in our in-box for months before the growing election season piqued our curiosity. Inside, writer Eileen McGann speaks for Dick Morris who is a well-known political commentator and former Clinton advisor. He knew the Clintons well, until his unceremonious dismissal after being discovered that he let a prostitute overhear a phone conversation with the President (i.e. Bill Clinton). It suffices to say that no one in this book is an angel. This is not a debate about Clinton in the classical sense, and there is no rebuttal from the Clinton point of view.

The book begins by outlining twelve reasons why Mrs. Clinton should not be president, ranging from her legendary temper to her right-up-to-the-chalk-line behavior with the law. Most of this information has circulated during the election year. He paints the picture of a candidate who is virtually unable to address controversy in a straight-line manner and therefore must constantly reformulate her truths in order to survive.

Beyond the general deceits that we anticipate from any politician—only the frequency and severity varies—Morris points out two troubling factors. First, since leaving her husband’s oval office, Clinton has become much more hawkish on war. During her period as Secretary of State, the Middle East destabilized, an American embassy was attacked under suspicious circumstances, and a general mood of international chaos has risen with more encouragement than mitigation. Second, Clinton is not charismatic like her husband. Nor is she a creative thinker. This brings up perhaps the only new insight in the book. According to Morris, Clinton relies heavily upon idea men who Morris calls gurus. Morris identifies himself as one such guru from 1995 to 1996. He claims that she becomes transfixed by her gurus, following their advice word for word, instead of incorporating it into her own ideas like Kennedy or Reagan. This behavior has even led at times to campaign staff rebellions, but more importantly, it poses the question: Who will be Clinton’s guru as President? In other words, who will be influencing her direction of the country?

In 1787 as Dr. James McHenry of Maryland exited the last day of the Constitutional Convention, he stopped one of America’s true originals and freethinkers, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, to pose a simple question, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Today our government behaves more like a bananas republic than that which is stewarded by its people. This transformation did not happen overnight, and we are all to blame for tolerating its creeping decline and the men and women who populate its halls. Morris and McGann could have posed the most important question: Which candidate can halt or even reverse our slippery road to perdition? And while we are at that task, if we are of the mind, it would be almost impossible not to raise the level of civil discourse given its current residence in the gutter.

No candidate is perfect or the best fit for the job, while some are better suited for the times. A case could easily be made that Clinton would deliver more of the expected in government, while Trump is a product of the times, the wildcard that occasionally appears in history. Not every wildcard is successful. In fact most are not. They are more influential than ultimate leaders. Ironically, Bill Clinton was one such wildcard who surprisingly won the presidency in 1992. Today, Morris presents the case that Hillary Clinton would further current causes, while deepening existing flaws in government, such as its propensity for questionable military action and the reckless course of the national debt. Morris is not necessarily interested in Trump. He wants to defeat Mrs. Clinton. One also has to temper his commentary with the fact that he has been forced to watch the Clintons from the outside for two decades.

Armageddon borders on the sensational, and its veering into Chelsea Clinton’s dealings should have been avoided. It would’ve been effective to see Trump vs. Clinton, point for point, making it the easiest for people to see the contrast and decide on their own. Still, the book does not claim to be a fair and balanced presentation—a phrase employed often by Morris’ former employers at Fox News. The book is of two parts: first, Morris’ personal assessment of Hillary Clinton, which should be sprinkled liberally with salt, and second, his strategy for exposing the weaknesses in her campaign rhetoric. Mostly, it’s a passionate plea to take a look at the woman behind the campaign slogans.

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Three Things to Consider When Purchasing a Book Review

With hundreds of thousands of books published annually, marketing your book can be a daunting task. One of your choices will inevitably come down to whether or not to purchase a book review. Here are three major factors to consider:

Professional Writing – A number of aspects go into a professionally written review. First, is the staff populated by professionals? This seems obvious, but many review sites are writer mills, allowing virtually anyone who is interested to pen a review. Other review sites barely compose a staff. These are mom and pop shops that tend to hang an Internet shingle for business, purport authority, and write reviews on their own. These are not professionals at work, no matter how slick or jazzy their websites appear. Look at the publication’s staff page, if it even has one. Are there more than a handful of writers? Be suspicious of a publication that refuses to reveal its reviewers’ names. The byline credit is a basic courtesy given to a professional freelancer, and virtually none would work without obtaining a byline for their portfolio. Second, is the review publication consistent across the masthead? A professional review publication has guidelines and an editor who keeps its staff and articles in line. Each review should have consistency, generating both authority and confidence in the publication. Third, does the reviewer address both the book content and the writing? Any sixth-grader can write a book summary, but a professional will critique a book through informed commentary that also addresses the writing itself. If the review narratives appear summary-driven, conversational, or employ a first-person tense, these are not professional writers at work.

Authentic Readership – Are there dedicated subscribers, visitors, and followers of the review publication? A professional review means nothing if no one reads the publication. Weekly, monthly, and annual visitors are metrics that can be easily measured (and provided to the author). Does the publication have a subscriber base? If not (or if it’s insignificant), the publication cannot assert relevance for its work. And if the publication merely dumps its reviews on an on-line aggregator (that next to no one reads), it will not be of any service to the author. Next, validate the publication’s social media following with one of the free analytical tools, such as TwitterAudit for Twitter followers and LikeAnalyzer for Facebook likes. Here’s a dirty little secret about the industry: Many review publications are purchasing Twitter and Facebook followers to create the illusion of having a large audience, when in fact it is only a fraction of what it appears to be. This is useless to the author, as well as unethical on the part of the publication. See our article on this subject: Fake Social Media: More Common Than You Think.

Cost-Effectiveness – Most authors’ budgets are limited, and spending hundreds of dollars for a book review is not acceptable. Often these reviews are no better than that which you can obtain from a free book review site like The Midwest Book Review, which ranges from good, semi-professional coverage to amateur reviews. A professional book review can be obtained for less than one hundred dollars, but be certain to closely examine the publication’s writing and readership in advance.

Warning: If the publication or its editors are up-selling manuscript editing services or the like, you have to ask: What business are they really in? Are they a review publication, or are they a money-milking operation? The work of an editor and the work of a reviewer should never cross paths. An editor ensures quality, and a reviewer measures it. When the reviewer and editor become one entity, integrity flies out the window. (Hmmm… let us review the wonderful manuscript we just helped you edit… hmmm… not very trustworthy.)

Deciding to purchase a book review can be an effective tool when marketing a book. It can provide pull-quotes for marketing and stock materials for a media kit and press releases. It can even seed eventual sales. Remember, a book review is only the beginning of the conversation about the book. Read this article on creating a feedback loop to help kick-start your marketing efforts.

The US Review of Books is a professional review publication sent to more than 15,000 monthly subscribers, including thousands of additional followers on GoodReads, Facebook, and Twitter. The US Review is staffed by professionals and is highly praised by authors.

Seeing-Shain

Seeing the Real You at Last: Life and Love on the Road with Bob Dylan

Seeing the Real You at Last: Life and Love on the Road with Bob Dylan
by Britta Lee Shain
Jawbone Press

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“How could he embarrass his children this way? How could he embarrass himself?”

Shain’s tale of her brief affair with Bob Dylan takes us from her college days, through early trials and successes, and the struggle to find love and relevance as an artist. It eventually peaks at her star-crossed intersection with Bob Dylan. Along the way, we get glimpses of a Dylan at work and play, as well as the infamous number of masks that guard him from the public. When Shain ultimately unveils him, we discover the portrait of an atypical artist trapped inside an ordinary drunk and womanizer.

The travelogue aspects of this book really shine, especially during a mid-80s tour through Europe when Shain and Dylan finally hook-up. Dylan’s album releases form signposts throughout the story, where the author draws life parallels if only at times a loose association. Even prior to meeting Dylan, Shain makes personal connections to his lyrics and interjects them throughout the book. You never have to have met Dylan to graft to his lyrics. His art is truly brilliant in that way.

The book takes a while to get started. It is intent on mapping every nuance of the heart, and its narrative arc runs long, delivering tedious personal details and a fair amount of name-dropping. It takes two hundred pages for Shain and Dylan to consummate their relationship. Within that run-up, there are on balance only moderate appearances by and little unique insight to the famous songwriter. However, there is a larger tale of life, which builds within the context of the entire story. For in tragedy, this story becomes real.

Shain grew up the child of alcoholic/mentally ill parents who may or may not have been drinking to self-medicate. The legacy of an alcoholic’s child is that of an adult searcher who desires to fill the missing spaces of the past. Often the result, or at least one stop in the journey, is to find another drinker in the hope of resolving childhood pain. Dylan fills this role with gusto for Shain. He is charming, smart, and willing to focus his considerable attention on her, and he can drink a lake of booze and remain on his feet. While Shain is a searcher, Dylan is a hunter, perhaps using women to improvise love inside the bubble of fame. The past will not be repaired for her at this stop. When Dylan’s wife learns of their affair, it becomes a threat to Dylan’s comfort level, and Shain is banned from his inner circle, debasing their genuine physical and emotional intimacy. She is heartbroken and must become realistic about her expectations and the aftermath of what she’s done.

This is a tale that has been scripted by the privileged throughout the centuries, and in another time, Shain might have been cast on the roadside to die. An alcoholic does not consider his sins, unless sober when his conscience can become so weighty that he quickly returns to the drink to erase the guilt. Dylan, for all his unique and transcending artistic abilities, lives a cliché life. Polished up to glittering effect by celebrity, he appears to be surrounded by adoring enablers who allow him to outrun the consequences of his actions for as long as he can. He gets what he wants and moves on, and Shain ends up being just another of the musician’s dalliances—many of whom will never be known. It would have been interesting if Shain had unearthed Dylan’s motivation for living this way, but that’s a different nut to crack. If his latter music is any indication, he has since given up the bottle and at the very least reinvigorated his art if not his life.

Shain will undoubtedly receive a backlash from Dylan fans for this betrayal of the secretive songwriter’s confidence, and she will be cast as a groupie with gossip. An honest assessment says, that she was a casual friend who leapt starry-eyed into his self-destructive path. Furthermore, she is an unpublished novelist, and her book with Dylan’s name attached will likely form her best attempt at literary relevance. However, it’s enough that Shain has unwittingly given voice to the many women Dylan has left in his wake, more specifically his lesser known conquests who apparently include many backup singers and female acquaintances. Shain does not lay blame, and there is nary a trace of bitterness. She takes responsibility for her part in the affair and reflects inwardly upon the damage to herself, his wife, and his children. She admits that her ideal image of Dylan ran headlong into a very human Dylan, and while she’ll forever be charmed by him, she has pulled herself together and moved along her search to better places.

Dylan could write a song about their meeting, but he will likely never glance at this book. Instead, his behavior is repeated by thousands of others each day across the globe. Like many iconic figures, Dylan has always taken advantage of the fact that what he does in his personal life just doesn’t matter to the public. We only want the songs, while we fantasize about the songwriter. Shain reminds us that our notion of the songwriter is just that—a complete fantasy.