By Norris Burkes Sep 1 2019


I’ll begin my annual book review column with a random question: Can you guess what the biggest natural disaster was to ever hit California? If you said the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, you’d be wrong.

If you’ll read “The Big One: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us and What We Can Do About Them,” veteran seismologist Lucy Jones will tell you that California’s biggest disaster was the 43-day nightmare floods of 1862.

I most appreciated the book for its spiritual insight. Jones begins by examining man’s need to eliminate randomness from life. She says we abhor unpredictability because we are left feeling vulnerable to unforeseen events.

To combat our distaste for randomness, man developed some toxic religious beliefs that associated natural disaster to sin and equated salvation to moral purity.

The book recounts the lessons learned from the world’s most disruptive natural disasters and is a call to action for the reader to think in new ways about the big ones to come.

“Educated,” by Tara Westover, is the memoir of a woman raised by Mormon survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, where her mother mixes herbs for healing as her father salvages things from the junkyard.

One of six children, Westover grows up isolated by parents who forbid healthcare and formal education. Nevertheless, she teaches herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University and eventually Harvard and Cambridge.

Throughout her incredibly odd ordeal, Westover is abused by an older sibling, but manages to come out of it all fiercely loyal to family.

I loved the book because it portrays a woman who finds a way to overcome toxic religious teaching and still salvage a sense of faith.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History” by NPR and Boston Globe reporter, Keith O’Brien. The book interweaves the story of five women, Amelia Earhart and her four lesser-known contemporaries, Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Ruth Nichols and Louise Thaden.

A few of them will fly and die as they compete against men in the extremely dangerous national air races of the 1920s and 1930s.

The book follows the women as they are praised, but mostly ridiculed for their “silly efforts” to compete in a man’s world. This cadre of women fly their way through the glass ceiling and shatter the prejudice that schemed to keep them grounded.

I loved the book because these tenacious, trail-blazing women show what female flyers faced not so long ago. Moreover, the book will likely leave you wondering if the aviator boys club is really a thing of the past.

Finally, for the love of books, I want to give you all a free digital copy of my books.

No strings. Really free. The books are available to ANYONE who goes to during this Labor Day 3-day weekend and downloads them in the Kindle format.

You can download “Heroes Highway about my deployment to the Air Force Field Hospital in Iraq or “Thriving Beyond Surviving,” a compilation of my columns. My book, “No Small Miracles” is also in digital format but is only available for purchase.

If you prefer a signed paperback version, you’ll need to email me or send $15 to the address below.

Finally, if you really love books, you probably love libraries. We need five more volunteers to join us March 8-15, 2020 in Honduras where we will help Chispa project establish children’s libraries. Write to me or sign up at

If you can’t go, but you can contribute (or if you have already contributed) $100 toward our $5,000 goal to fund a library, please contact me and I’ll send one of my books to you for no charge.

Email me at or write me at Norris Burkes 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602. Make contribution checks payable to “Chispa Project.” OR leave a voicemail at (843) 608-9715‬. I will return your call.

Bless all of you for loving books and helping make the Chispa Project such a great success!