While we were in Hawaii, I had the opportunity to make a dent in my reading list and finished off three very good books.
The first was The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. This is the story the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and is centered around two men -- the chief editor and one of the primary contributors (who happens to be in an insane asylum.) This book was of particular interest to me since I worked on Microsoft Bookshelf (rest in peace) and the Encarta World English Dictionary. Aside from the interesting tale of the two men, it was interesting to me to see how we still fundamentally use the same techniques to create dictionaries today (albeit with much more technological assistance). Of course, it took the editors of the OED seventy years to create their first edition and less than five to create ours (admittedly the OED is a bit more comprehensive.)
The second was Cod by Mark Kurlansky. This is the same author who brought us Salt. It's a great read describing the key role of cod in history and how it helped drive exploration, trade, and ultimately history. It's also a very sobering story of the devestation man has caused. I'm hugely concerned about the virtual extinction of entire fisheries including cod, so despite the tantalizing cod recipes from throughout history scattered throughout the book, I'll have to pass on eating cod or salt cod. (Note, I think Salt was the more interesting book, although both are definitely worth reading.)
Finally, I read Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks. I didn't know much about Captain Kidd beyond the legends and Hollywood versions. Zacks paints a very different picture, one of a man who tried to do right and was left to hang (literally) by some of the richest men in American and England including the King of England. Aside from the compelling biography of Kidd, the book does a great job describing life in the 17th/18th centuries on board ships, in the seedier parts of town, in war, and in prisons (I'm very glad to be living in the 21st century.)
More than anything I was glad to get a chance to read something besides email and web pages for a while. I love reading and will try to keep reading for fun on top of my other commitments.