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Reading: Staff Recommendations
           
More Staff Reviews:    Fiction     Non-Fiction     Children/YA     Current Reviews

Non-Fiction

 

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August, 2005, leaving destruction in its wake. The larger disaster, however, was the breaching of the levees, sending fifteen feet of water through a vulnerable and still-reeling area. Uncoordinated rescue attempts, lack of clean water and electricity, inadequate shelter, and irresponsibility of political and business leaders all led to a very human catastrophe.

Emergencies can lead us to make some strange and terrible decisions, especially when it comes to who can live and who will die. Sheri Fink's book examines some of these decisions at Memorial Hospital where a doctor made the ultimate decision: to kill by lethal injection those deemed "unsaveable." How did she reach this conclusion about certain patients, and who helped her along the way? What happened in those five days? To help answer these questions, Fink thoroughly researched the history of the area and the hospital, the staff and management involved, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and her devastating legacy.

Five Days at Memorial is more than a history of a storm and one doctor's questionable actions. In some ways, it is a philosophical exploration of how we view life and death in this country. Fink brings up a host of questions we should be answering, and weaknesses in policy and infrastructure we should be addressing before the next disaster. But these questions and weaknesses start with an examination of our values, our biases, our opinions on death. This is a hard book and an important one, a book that can have a profound impact on your own philosophies. It did on mine.
Katherine
's Review

A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird
Isabella Bird was a remarkable person. She was in her early 40's in 1873, when she decided to travel alone through the rough, barely settled country of the Rockies. This book is a first-hand account of her travels, composed entirely of letters she wrote to her sister. It is a kind of love letter to the Colorado mountain landscape. The descriptions of the sunsets alone are worth reading the entire book. I read it while traveling near Estes Park - in the bus on the way to a rafting excursion, on the deck of the lodge, in the YMCA cabin while everybody was sleeping - and it was the perfect book for the trip. Reading about the hazards of frontier life was completely engrossing. Disease spread by flies, snakes found under a pregnant woman's pillow, waking up covered by a fine snow that had found its way in through the chinks in the cabin walls...traveling as a woman alone during that time seems incredibly brave. What I loved most, though, was Isabella Bird's practical approach. She could wax on about the beauty of a morning but her accounts tougher times, like falling through the ice on her horse and traveling for miles to shelter, were very brief. She was not one to belabor times of strife, which is probably one reason she fared so well under the circumstances. I admire that strength of mind - and this book served as a good reminder to focus on the beautiful and not waste energy complaining. A truly inspiring read!
Cinnamon's Review

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo and David Malki
A machine has been developed that predicts, based on a blood sample, how a person will die. It is never wrong, although it can be ambiguous in its pronouncements. For example, if your cause of death is "drowning," it could mean a boating accident, a bathtub mishap, or pneumonia. "Old age" might ensure a long life, or you may be run over in the parking lot by a senior citizen. What impact would this have on a person's psyche, and society at large?
The contributors to this anthology explore these questions skillfully and from a variety of angles. Insurance, government mandates, medical care, traditional rites of passage, euthanasia, corporate structure and rebellion all play a part. One of my favorite stories in this book is a gentle one, about a young woman and her grandfather, both of whom have drawn a slip from the machine of death that is utterly blank. Their conversation is touching and memorable.
I enjoy short story anthologies very much as they lead me to investigate authors I might not have read before. This collection drew me in more for the ethical and emotional questions it raises, and encouraged me to think deeply about my feelings about death...and therefore life itself.
Katherine's Review
 

Aftermath, Inc.: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home by Gil Reavill
If the idea of watching "CSI" or "Law and Order" on television makes you feel like lying down or taking a bath, this may not be the book for you. Leave it on the shelf and no one will blame you. On the other hand, if these programs perk you up and have you wondering what really happens next, read Aftermath, Inc.
Aftermath, Inc. is the name of a company that cleans up after unattended deaths, be they natural or decidedly unnatural. Gil Reavill worked with them and writes about what distinguishes one death from another, the biohazard precautions workers take and the equipment they use, and the kind of person who's actually able to do this important job. In the past, custodians or even family members had to do the cleaning after a suicide or murder. Reavill introduces us to the new world of bioremediation in an intelligent and sensitive way.
In the process of writing and researching this book, Reavill learns a great deal about himself and his thoughts on mortality, relationships, and spiritual strength. Not just chills and thrills, this is a fascinating read and tackles a subject most of us know nothing about.
Katherine
's Review
 

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Barbara Ehrenreich is what anthropologists might call a participant-observer. She writes about what she experiences, as in Nickel and Dimed, where she takes a series of minimum wage jobs to see if one could actually survive and thrive on that income. Bright-Sided begins with her diagnosis of cancer and the culture of positive thinking to which she was exposed as a consequence.

Ehrenreich argues that positive thinking is not in itself a bad thing, but that it is used as a technique to keep people complacent and unquestioning. Downsized workers are told they can find new and better jobs if they have a better attitude. It is insinuated to cancer patients that happy people are healthy people. Evangelists preach that prosperity comes to those with a positive mindset. Millions of books recordings are sold saying exactly the same thing. We're discouraged from asking the questions: Why am I sick and where is my health care? Who benefits from my downsizing? Why is wealth so important, and what are the circumstances preventing my upward mobility? Instead, a relentless emphasis on positive thinking encourages blaming the victim, a sense of shame. It's your fault you're sick, poor, and jobless. If you just thought positively, your problems would disappear.

Barbara Ehrenreich is always a fascinating read, a very incisive and thought-provoking writer, who does her homework and is passionate about her subjects.
Katherine's Review
 

When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone
As sometimes happens, it was the title that originally drew me to this book. How could the feminist in me resist it? But what I found beyond the provocative title was a well-researched, well-written text on a subject that is as important today as it was millennia ago. Beyond a simple survey of ancient, long-dead religious practices, this book examines the implications for women of a female-centered, Goddess-worshiping culture versus a patriarchal Judeo-Christian culture. Through meticulous archaeological documentation, the author shows the decrease in women's status when deities became male instead of female. Whereas under a goddess women bought and sold property and inheritance was passed from mother to daughter, under a god women themselves became little more than property. The author further details how this happened: by the rewriting of myth and dogma, the Goddess went from a wise creator and the one source of universal order to a wanton, depraved figure. The very readable text is accented with a plethora of maps, date charts, a bibliography, and an index. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in ancient cultures and religions, history and archaeology, and particularly women's and gender studies.
Liz's Review
 

Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews
This autobiography provides an interesting and deeply personal look into the early life of Musical Theatre legend, Julie Andrews. She recounts the joys and trials of her childhood growing up outside London in the village of Walton-on-Thames in Surrey. The book shows what life was life for Julie, who began performing at quite an early age. It follows her life up until 1963, just before she became a movie star with her role in "Mary Poppins". Her narrative is charming and easy to follow, and the book is full of amusing anecdotes of her life on the stage. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an entertaining biography. You certainly won't need "a spoonful of sugar" to enjoy this book!
Rebekka's Review

 

The Big Book of Death by Bronwyn Carlton
This book is a must for those who like their graphic and comic art with a big dose of fun facts. 67 comic artists illustrate articles about all different aspects of death, including the art of war, suicide, provisions for the afterlife, and historic cemeteries. The artwork is fascinating and the writing is informative and humorous. Morbid but entertaining, this is perfect bedtime reading, or for waiting at the bus stop.

The imprint Factoid Books publishes other Big Books about freaks, little criminals, conspiracies, and urban legends. They're all worth checking out if you enjoy The Big Book of Death!
Katherine's Review
 

Children's Handkerchiefs: A Two Hundred Year History by J. J. Murphy
From the moment I first laid eyes on this book at A Novel Idea Bookstore, I wanted it. I resisted buying it for quite some time, on the premise that 'I didn't need it.' But as sometimes happens with books, want soon overcame 'need.' While I don't collect children's handkerchiefs, this book made me want to start. In addition to the absolutely beautiful color photographs (over 350), this book contains a fascinating 200-year history of children's handkerchiefs. The designs were at first instructional, religious, and moralistic, reflecting a Puritan influence; later changing to themes of sports, games, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales; and finally culminating in the familiar commercial images of cartoons and television characters in the mid-twentieth century. This book is a perfect example of why a used bookstore is so amazing: the unique, one-of-a-kind books that can be found are beyond imagination. I never dreamed I would need or want a book like this, but I can not describe how happy it made me to find it.
Liz's Review
 

Naked by David Sedaris
I've always enjoyed Sedaris' work, and I'm glad I recently decided to add Naked to my list. This book, as its title implies, strips naked many parts of family life. I never thought I'd laugh at the blatant fun-making of someone with a mental disorder, but as Sedaris teases about his own OCD, from his mother choosing to interpret his head jerks as nods to her requests, to his college roommate confusing his rocking back and forth in bed as a more dubious activity, I couldn't stop laughing. Hitchhiking is prominent in this book, and as Sedaris catches rides from complete strangers, we see a cavalcade of strange folks, ranging from hilarious to hilariously terrifying. Dynamics between people are explored, always with a good amount of humor; be it Sedaris' mother and father enjoying the predictability of the things they hate about each other or the one-sided banter between a devout(?) Christian and God. Naked is cleverly written, brutal and bitter at times, but always in a way that you can't help but find amusing. If I haven't got you hooked already, the last essay in this book goes furthest of all when Sedaris decides to live in a nudist community for a week. It's mortifying, of course, but also riotously funny and surprisingly revealing (pun intended--it's a nudist colony; I had to).
Allan's Review
 

Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara
In this year of 2012, we don't like to think that the buying and selling of human beings continues to take place, particularly for the purpose of sex. In fact, sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives around the world, including in the United States. Siddharth Kara shows us the dimensions of this problem and suggests steps we can take to curtail the slavery industry.

Kara is a trained economist and uses this to describe sex trafficking as a modern business, including how globalization has made this business so much easier and more profitable. Sex trafficking flourishes with political and economic instability and has a higher profit margin than trafficking in weapons or drugs. These products are only used a few times, while sex slaves can be used hundreds or thousands of times before being discarded.

Sex Trafficking is an extremely upsetting read, to be sure. Yet, Siddharth Kara uses his economic model not just for outlining the horrors of sexual slavery but also for providing ways to combat and hopefully eliminate sex trafficking. This book is for those who want to learn about this global problem and get fired up on behalf of the victims. We can make a difference, and Kara shows us how.
Katherine's Review
 

The Poem That Changed America: "Howl" Fifty Years Later edited by Jason Shinder
I came across this book at A Novel Idea recently and knew I had to have it. Not only does the book include Photostats of a 1956 mimeographed copy of Howl, it also comes with a CD of the first known recording of Allen Ginsberg reading the poem, at the Town Hall Theater in Berkeley, California. I of course rushed home and listened to the CD, and if reading the poem is amazing, hearing the author read his own words is astounding. Once I calmed down from that, I started to read the essays by distinguished writers such as Frank Bidart, Andrei Codrescu, Vivian Gornick, and Robert Pinsky. The twenty-five plus essays each have a different take on the poem, its inspirations, its effects on its own time, and how it continues to effect America to this day. But I think some of my favorite parts of the book are the three very small sections titled Talking Howl. These sections contain excerpts from letters to Ginsberg, reviews of Howl, introductions to editions of Howl, testimony and judgments from court cases, and even something from the diary of Anais Nin. If you are a fan of Howl, pick this book up; it will give you an enhanced understanding of, and appreciation for, this iconic poem.
Liz's Review

 

Grave Matters: A Journey Through The Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by Mark Harris
I discovered this book on the shelves at A Novel Idea recently and knew I had to read it. I have long been interested in alternatives to the modern way of dealing with death (embalming the body, dressing-up and making-up the deceased, and final interment in an expensive coffin that will be on display for a few hours only to be buried underground) and I was very interested to learn about the options that others have chosen for themselves or their loved ones. This book discusses the history of burial in America, the process of embalming (and the environmental aftermath), and the various 'green' alternatives. A few of the methods detailed are cremation, burial at sea, and (my personal preference) the memorial reef. Death is something we all must face someday, but I find it comforting to think that even in death we can give back to the planet and those we leave behind on it. I recommend this book to all who care about the environment and wish to do what they can for it, even after they are gone.
Liz's Review
 

Flattened Fauna: A Field Guide to Common Animals of Roads, Streets, and Highways by Roger M. Knutson
As biologist and teacher Roger Knutson states in his book's first paragraph, this is a field guide to "animals in which even flies have lost interest." Many folks see as many dead animals motoring along our nation's highways as they see live ones, and this field guide provides clues to their identification - even at 60 mph. Knutson discusses where and how to study road fauna (being careful not to become road fauna oneself); the variety of animals one may expect to see (wild animals only, not domestic); and the history of the flattened fauna field itself (including a 1951 Nebraska highway study!)

Especially helpful in this guide are the illustrated examples to scale of what a particular animal might look like, having been flattened into a patty by traffic, as well as the reasons why it may be there in the first place. Knutson shares information about the habits of roadside animals both before and after their remarkable transformation from three dimensions to two.

Anyone who has had to entertain children on an endless road trip, or who simply enjoys Roadkill Bingo, will greatly appreciate Flattened Fauna. I know I'll have my copy along on my next trip to Colorado!
Katherine's Review

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
As a journalist, Jon Ronson specializes in what folks might call the "fringe" element in society. In The Men Who Stare At Goats, Ronson investigates some of the crazier projects the United States government and military have indulged in. Them details excursions among paramilitary groups, alien abductees, and end-of-the-worlders. Ronson has often maintained a distance between himself and his subjects (with good reason), affecting a "look at the crazy people" mentality. The Psychopath Test is the book in which his distance narrows considerably.

The Psychopath Test discusses our definitions of madness and how arbitrary they might be. Who decides who is crazy, mad, a psychopath? Using what criteria? Can madness be an adaptive response to crazy situations, or an adaptive trait that crazy situations reward? Is the field of psychology actually a science? An art? What does a diagnosis of madness really mean?

As in his other books, Jon Ronson writes about the odd people he gets to know in the course of his investigations. His writing is always touched with a broad sense of humor about these individuals and the state of their worlds, as well as the world at large. In The Psychopath Test, however, Ronson comes much closer to identifying himself as one of these odd people. He turns his sharp perception inward and shows how short a distance it actually is from "normal" to "mad."

Anyone who likes to read about quirky people and the societies they create within a larger one will appreciate any of Ronson's writing, but I recommend The Psychopath Test most of all. It feels like his most revealing and honest book yet, and I'm looking forward to see what he does in the future.
Katherine's Review

Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics by Heather Busch and Burton Silver
Why Cats Paint reads like most art primers with one notable difference: all of the artists are cats. Lavishly photographed, this book follows the life and work of these feline painters, exploring their motifs and painting styles from spontaneous reductionism to trans-expressionism. Included is a bibliography for further reading on feline aesthetics with such noteworthy titles as "Pawnography" and "Why Dogs Don't Paint."

This book is hilarious. One of my favorite parts is the study of litter box relief patterns: which ones show a beginner's primitive attempt at art and the ones that demonstrate a sophisticated talent at work. And who's to say that this is completely a farce? Photographically proven feline artwork can command thousands of dollars at auction. That's no joke. Anyone who enjoys cats (and art criticism) would love this book. Perhaps it will inspire your own budding artist!
Katherine's Review

The Art & Architecture of First Plymouth Church by (Numerous Contributers)
First Plymouth Church is a gorgeous building - one of the treasures of Lincoln's historic Near South Neighborhood. Its tower is a Lincoln landmark and its courtyards are enjoyed by the congregation, neighbors & visitors. The organs and bell carillion are famous. However, beyond these obvious attributes, First Plymouth offers countless beauties everywhere you look - statues, sculpture, stained glass, fine spun lead, mosaic, topiary, painting and more. This book, published in September 2011, is profusely illustrated with photographs that capture the inspirational art and architecture that makes First Plymouth such a wonder. Aside from being a book that's pretty to look at, it's beautifully written and serves as a guide to some of the most important Christian symbols. A collaborative project by many authors and photographers, it is a book that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages. Whatever your beliefs, this book is informative & lovely. I'm giving copies to three people on my Christmas list!
Cinnamon's Review

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer
When Pat Tillman left a successful and lucrative career in professional football to serve his country, he was called a patriot by the United States government. When he was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan, once again he was lauded by the Bush Administration as a hero. What Jon Krakauer reveals in his biography of Pat Tillman is that the truth is always more complex than what appears on the surface.

I had first heard about Pat Tillman when he enlisted, as the media made much of this news. The next I heard of him was when he died in Afghanistan: a true hero, it was said. Tillman became a poster boy, a rallying point for a two-front war that was losing popularity and steam. Is it irony that he was killed by friendly fire and that the military tried desperately to cover this up?

Krakauer does an excellent job in describing Tillman's life and death with both nuance and clarity. He shows Tillman to be his own hero with all of a hero's strengths and flaws, feats and doubts: not a simple cardboard cut-out to be used for political gain. In fact, one of the best parts of this book is the inclusion of Tillman's journal entries, entries that detail how deeply he felt and thought. As ever, Krakauer weaves a tapestry illustrating not just a life and a death, but why this life and death should change us.

I keep thinking of Yoda (I know, I know) when he said, "A great warrior? Wars do not make one great..."
Katherine's Review

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham
"The human ancestral environment was full of uniform problems: how to get fuel, how to regulate feeding competition, how to organize society around fire... We must find ways to make our ancient dependence on cooked food healthier." Richard Wrangham, a well-known primatologist and author, has laid out a multi-part hypothesis to explain the complex evolution of cooking behaviors. Humans spend more time preparing food than actually consuming it. Is it possible that cooked food led to our big brains? Wrangham touches on the benefits of a raw food diet, but also discusses the importance of eating meat in the human evolutionary past. Other chapters are devoted to the social changes that may have evolved due to cooking. Language, community and even the beginnings of religion could be traced back to a time/energy trade-off: the increased nutritive value of cooked food enabled early humans to spend less time eating and more time doing other things, such as inventing new tools. Anyone interested in modern dietary choices or the evolution of the human body, brain and social structures will love reading this book!
Katie's Review

Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families by Bill McKibben
In this book Bill McKibben puts forth a compelling argument for single-child families. Dividing the book into four sections (Family, Species, Nation, and Self) he shows how the child, humanity, America, and the parents all benefit from a single child family. In "Family," he disproves the stereotypes of only children as spoiled, selfish, and antisocial. "Species" argues the benefits to humanity and the planet from smaller families. "Nation" examines how everything from schools to Social Security would be affected by single-child families. In "Self," McKibben discusses the decisions parents face when deciding to limit the size of their family. Throughout the book McKibben utilizes scientific research and studies to back up his claims.
While Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families is definitely a pro-single-child book, it never comes across as preachy or dogmatic. McKibben isn't arguing that everyone ought to have only one child, but that everyone ought to give conscious thought to their family size and not rely on stereotypes and myths about only children. I recommend this book to anyone who is contemplating whether to have one child or more.
Liz's Review

The Ghost Map by Stephen Johnson
I've always been interested in epidemiological studies, or disease mapping. The biology of the disease is an interesting topic all on its own, but I especially enjoy reading about the context: the history and geography of the area, the population inhabiting it, the political and societal circumstances that fuel or depress an epidemic. In The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson shows us the Victorian London cholera outbreak of 1854 with both a bird's eye view and a "man on the street" approach, which is very thoughtful and thought-provoking. Johnson is a great synthesizer of information and his writing is engaging and accessible. Perhaps his strongest suit in this book is his ability to make his subject relevant to our modern lives and suggest ways of thinking about how diseases "break out" that could help prevent future epidemics. The Ghost Map should interest any fan of popular history, especially those who favor both the microcosm and the big picture, for both are well represented here. It might even make you read Charles Dickens again in a whole new light!
Katherine's Review

The Manitous: The Supernatural World of the Ojibwayby Basil Johnston
Translated simply, "Manitou" means "mystery" in the Ojibway language. I picked this book out of our Native American literature section initially because I wanted to study another culture through the lens of its mythology. However, I learned much more about the vital nature of respect within the Ojibway culture: respect for the mysteries observed within the natural world, the mysteries within our human selves that we can begin to know through introspection, and the mysteries within all other beings encountered in day-to-day life. The text itself is enjoyable - as Johnston states in the introduction, the syntax of the Ojibway oral tradition is both highly symbolic and carefully chosen. He has compiled a collection of the stories that guide and define the Ojibway connection to spirit. Each chapter of the book is devoted to a single supernatural entity, from the selfless creation of the world by Kitchi-Manitou ("Most Immense Mystery"), to the four brothers who together represent all that is light and dark in human behavior, to the ghoulish forest beings that would steal disobedient children from their villages. I delighted in each story, though I could only read a chapter or two at a time. The Manitous is the perfect book for anyone wanting to learn about Ojibway culture, the place of traditional storytelling within society, or for those seeking a refreshing depiction of the world and its value.
Katie's Review
 

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
I first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in college, and it's one of those books that I always have in my library and re-read fairly frequently. I'm not usually a fan of the biography/memoir genre, so I was surprised at how quickly I was hooked on this book. While it would be easy to give all the credit to Alex Haley - I have reviewed his books before, and am a big fan of his - the real draw is Malcolm X himself. His life is at once fascinating, infuriating, uplifting, and tragic. But to my eyes the main theme of the book is redemption - and again, anyone who has read my reviews will know that is a favorite theme of mine. However, this is much more than a story of personal redemption, it is a blueprint for forgiveness and how to find peace - both with yourself and with those who would hate you and harm you. If you are in the mood for an extremely compelling (true-life) story with a message of overcoming obstacles and making yourself a better person than anyone thought you could be, this is the book for you.
Liz's Review

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet
There is great difficulty in describing such a complex book, especially in the light of its knee-jerk and provocative subtitle. Typically, it seems inadvisable to allow oneself to get sucked in to these pseudo-conspiracy theories.  Though it is well researched and written in an accessible manner, more than once I found myself wondering how much was exaggerated for effect or if certain parts of the true narrative had been left out.  Doesn't sound like high praise?  The book is downright freaky.  One wants to believe this leans more into 'Loch Ness Monster' territory than 'a small group of people is trying to manipulate the theology of a religion and ideas of a nation in order to gain power'.  Jeff Sharlet pulls into his book personal stories of the members, a comprehensive history of the organization, and an eerie vision into the future of this movement. 

 It should be made clear, this book is not some left-wing, atheist, fascist commentary on religion and government.  Though sometimes the cynic, Sharlet treads carefully in order to be faithfully present a group of like-minded individuals whose religion and politics are tightly fused together.  And like any other group of people, they've had their struggles and triumphs.  Mr. Sharlet does an excellent job of reminding the reader that this isn't just a group; these are people who succeed and fail.  Who, for better or for worse, are passionate and driven.  It is a book that is difficult to describe, challenging to stomach, and above all else, hard to put down.
Matthew's Review

Ingredients by Loukie Werle & Jill Cox
The stock market refers to "pork bellies" as a tradable commodity, but what does a pork belly actually look like? And what on this green earth is a "salak"? Ingredients will answer these questions and many more for you. Designed for both the cooking amateur and the serious foodie, this book provides ample color photographs and brief descriptions of a dazzling variety of foodstuffs worldwide. Fruits and vegetables, meats, oils and fats, grains, flavorings: they're all here, along with geographical origins and common preparations and usages. There are even short sections on coffee and other beverages, and Australian bush food. Oh, yum! Ingredients makes me feel like a much more savvy food shopper and cookbook reader, and gives me wonderful ideas for my own recipes. (By the way, a "salak" is also called "snake fruit", is related to the coconut, and tastes sharp and nutty.)
Katherine's Review

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Rebecca Skloot has written a book of both science and family history, weaving the two threads together seamlessly.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of a young black woman who died in 1951 of an extremely aggressive form of cervical cancer.  Her cancer cells were removed without her permission and cultured to form the HeLa cell line, an important tool in medicinal research.  Skloot examines the medical ethics surrounding this action while looking at Henrietta Lacks and her family, suffering from extreme poverty while scientists made money and their careers from Henrietta's tissue.
I think Rebecca Skloot does a fantastic job placing the science in context of the cultural and racial history of the 1950's and she deals very honestly and sympathetically with both the scientists and the Lacks family. All in all, this is a book that's hard to put down - I simply raced through it!
Katherine's Review

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918                                                                 
b
y G.J. Meyer
Popular history books often suffer from either being too technical or too "fluffy".  This intimate account by G.J. Meyer perfectly achieves a balance between educating the reader and relating the story of World War I in a compelling narrative. Meyer is able to wrap together the major and peripheral events without inundating his audience with superfluous paragraphs or long-winded tangents. The writing is clear and intelligent. This a perfect tome for the non-historian interested in the origins of the Great War.   
Matthew's Review

Bonk:The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach I want to live next door to Mary Roach. I want to have tea with her, be at her elbow at dinners and cocktail parties, trade furtive notes during academic lectures. She may not be a "scientist" or a "sociologist". She could, however, be a "socioscientist". Oooh, rare to find one still out in the wild and able to publish! Mary Roach's most recent book is titled Bonk:The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex , in which she describes how the scientific community has dealt with sex. And wow, is it difficult to write about that without puns! Roach doesn't bother avoiding the humor as she documents the scientific research inflicted on humans and animals in attempts to understand this "simple" biological function. All of Mary Roach's books have made me think deeply and laugh right out loud at the same time. This book is no exception. I wonder if next time she'll tackle the idea of what laughter is and what function it serves...   
Katherine's Review


Uncle John's Bathroom Reader by The Bathroom Readers' Hysterical Society The Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series is perfect reading for when you're just in the mood to graze. Each book is full of historical tidbits, essays, and short history lessons, and is ideal for a factoid/trivia junkie like myself. I love traveling with these books as you can dip in and out without losing track of the narrative, and many of the entries are oh-my-gosh funny. Check these books out (there are lots of titles) next time you go on vacation, are waiting for a bus, or just having a quiet, private sit-down.   
Katherine's Review
  

100 Things You're Not Supposed to Know by Russ Kick
I just love books like this. The books with little bits of information that is interesting, rare, unusual, or - best of all - forbidden. If you've never read a book like this, Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series is perfect reading for when you're just in the mood to graze. Each book is full of historical tidbits, essays, and short history lessons, and is ideal for a factoid/trivia junkie like myself. I love traveling with these books as you can dip in and out without losing track of the narrative, and many of the entries are oh-my-gosh funny. Check these books out (there are lots of titles) next time you go on vacation, are waiting for a bus, or just having a quiet, private sit-down.    100 Things You're Not Supposed to Know is a good introduction to the genre. As the title implies it contains 100 pieces of information that many would consider secret, controversial, or shameful. Each item is approximately two to three pages in length, so it's a perfect book for when you only have small amounts of time. I read it on my bus rides to and from work, but it would also be good reading for your lunch hour or break times. Some of my favorites from this book are The Ten Commandments We Always See Aren't the Ten Commandments; Adolph Hitler's Blood Relatives Are Alive and Well in New York State; Electric Cars Have Been Around Since the 1880's; Juries Are Allowed to Judge the Law, Not Just the Facts; George Washington Embezzled Government Funds; and Gandhi Refused to Let His Dying Wife Take Penicillin Yet Took Quinine to Save Himself. And the author doesn't make these claims with no proof; the book is well written and researched, with a sixteen-page reference section at the end. If you like learning new and interesting facts or if you're just a fan of conspiracy theories, this book is for you. For other books like this, check out our Reference section.
Liz's Review

 

We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
In 1994, the Rwandan government urged the Hutu majority to kill everyone in the Tutsi minority. In three months, 800,000 Tutsis (men, women & children) were hacked to death by their Hutu neighbors. Philip Gourevitch goes to Rwanda in the aftermath to interview victims and aggressors, government officials and common people.  The book doesn't limit itself to bearing witness but also delves into the complexities of social hierarchy, politics and history that led to the genocide. (Colonization by Belgium plays a huge part.) It explores the concepts of national interest and global responsibility - and the psychology of "duty". The mathematics of this atrocity boggle me. 9,000 people killed with machetes each day in a country whose total area is a little more than 10,000 square miles. Killed with machetes. I am stunned by the frenzy of physical exertion and concerted effort involved in the murders, much less the organization involved: the orders for machetes, the incessant propaganda... This book is intelligent, sensitive, well-written and extremely compelling. I read it night after night last summer. Jon managed to convince me to leave it at home when we went to Omaha for a weekend. It wasn't exactly a "honey, put the book down and slowly back away..." but he did speak kindly when he said that reading about genocide was not going to make for a relaxing, romantic weekend. True. It's a harrowing, sickening, haunting book. So why should you read it? Because it's important, thoughtful, and probes the issue that genocide, in this case and others like it, is preventable. It will open your eyes and expand your thinking. Published in 1998, it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction.   
Cinnamon's Review
 

This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff
This little gem came in our store last week and I have been devouring it every free moment I have. While the idea of reading economic history may not get your engines going, trust me - if you enjoy history, mathematics, and humor this is going to be a must read.  (I only enjoy the former two and still liked this book!) The basic premise is we tend to delude ourselves into thinking "this time is different"; surely we have learned from our mistakes, surely this situation is unique to our time and place, surely we know what to do now. We haven't, it isn't, and we don't (and don't call me Shirley). Although depressing that we have been here before, there is hope things will get better. This tome can prove there is hope with numbers and tables and charts and graphs!
What makes this book unique is the passion and the wit emanating from each paragraph. It is fun to read. You can tell the authors are so enthusiastic about the material presented, and it becomes infectious. Be aware though, this is not Economics or History 101. The authors write clearly and articulately, but do assume some level of familiarity with the two subjects. Definitely an enlightening and delightful read.   
Matthew's Review
 

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss
A good friend of mine recommended this book to me and I am so glad she did. I was very skeptical at first; I thought the title sounded a little too "get-rich-quick" scheme-like for me. But as we all know, much like covers, titles can be deceiving. This is a very well-written and well-researched book. Even if you don't want to be an entrepreneur or retire at age 35, this book is packed with great ideas and tips for time-management, efficiency and efficacy (the difference is explained), and finding and living your dream life style. Among my favorite tips: turn off your email's "auto-alert" and only check it twice a day - once at noon and once at four in the afternoon. I know, I know - "But what if I miss something important?" Ferriss gives step-by-step instructions on how to make it work. In fact that is one of this books strong suits: a step-by-step, detail-oriented style that walks you through all your doubts and fears until you get to the other side and find the life you've always wanted. And while I don't know if I'll ever join the "New Rich," I think I'll have fun trying out some of his ideas and seeing where they lead me! I recommended this book to anyone who wants to cut some of the tedium and unpleasantness from their life and add more time, happiness, and adventure to it.  
Liz's Review

Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Many books have been published recently that have to do with extraordinary pets. We've read about Marley, the irretrievable retriever; Dewey, the library cat; Oscar, who helps folks transition into death. I've read most of these books and the best one, by far, is Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper. Homer, a cat blinded since the age of two weeks old, is an amazing guy. Not only has he thoroughly adapted to his "disability", he shows a joie de vivre that is instructive to those of us who can feel weighed down by circumstance. Gwen Cooper shows how Homer taught her how to live life joyfully and openly, how to be ready to embrace new experiences without fear, how to love unfailingly and without judgment. I know it might shock many people, but I have been described as a "cat person". Heck, it might even be true. Regardless, I think anyone would enjoy this book and could take something important away with them after reading it. I'm thinking that my next undertaking might have to be a reread of The Odyssey, by the blind poet Homer. I'll bet he was a "cat person" too!   
Katherine's Review
 

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins
Unlike most business books this isn't a flash in the pan, get rich quick, become a visionary leader type of thing. And obviously it isn't a "literary" work by any stretch of the imagination. However, it should be considered a classic. The authors present a well-researched, well written, and well organized book. It is one of the few books that talk about what a company is . The philosophies, the heart, the people involved in creating companies that have lasted for half a century or more. The conclusions reached are surprising and often unconventional. If you have any interest in the history of some of the biggest companies, the philosophies of their founders, or the thoughts of the people who brought it all together, this is a perfect place to start.
Matthew's Review
 

The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees, Edited by Donald Justice
About 6 years ago, A Novel Idea (along with the Sheldon Art Gallery, the UNL libraries and music departments, and the Journal Star) took a week to celebrate one of Nebraska's lesser known artists. As one looks through Mr. Kees's life, you find he inspired a generation of successful, well known poets, musicians, authors, and artists. His poetry is described as depressing, sarcastic, satirical, and complex. If you like poetry with lots of layers (even more layers when you learn about the man and his life), you would do yourself a favor to pick up this collection. Each poem begs for another reading. There are many gems like this short poem:

"Small Prayer" By Weldon Kees


Change, move, dead clock, that this fresh day
May break with dazzling light to these sick eyes.
Burn, glare, old sun, so long unseen,
That time may find its sound again, and cleanse
Whatever it is that a wound remembers
After the healing ends.

The last 10 years has seen a surge of interest in Weldon Kees and his work; this collection presents you with 180 pages of reasons why.   
Matthew's Review


The Truth Book by Joy Castro

I 've picked up and put down many memoirs after reading only the first chapter. I might have found the story itself compelling, but I needed the language to match it, to wrestle vibrantly with the subject. When I first picked up The Truth Book by Joy Castro, I didn't put it down until Chapter 8 - and that was only because my cat had just knocked over a full glass of tea.
Joy Castro was adopted into a Jehovah's Witness family that became increasingly abusive over time, and she describes how this abuse was implicitly and explicitly sanctioned by the church. The title itself comes from a Jehovah's Witness text which teaches that one must always tell the truth for Jehovah doesn't lie. Yet as a child, Castro shows that her many efforts at truth-telling end in punishment, a Catch-22. Now Castro has written her own Truth Book and testament, which is as elegiac as any religious tract.
Emily Dickinson wrote, " Tell all the Truth/But Tell it Slant. " Joy Castro tells her tale as one would weave a tapestry, with strong bold slashes and haunting subtleties. She pulls together the many-colored threads of her history and memories into The Truth Book , beautifully and lovingly, because she's found her own truth, one that she's willing to share. I'm looking forward to reading this book again as I would re-read an intricate novel or poem, to seek more truth.   
Katherine's Review
 

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
In this book, Elizabeth Gilbert is in her mid-30's with a broken marriage behind her and an uncertain future. She decides to spend 4 months each in Italy, India & Indonesia - and pitches the idea of writing a book about her experiences to her publisher, who goes for it. (Makes you want to be a writer.) She spends her time in each country piecing herself together and caring for herself through the comforts of food in Italy, the discipline of prayer in India, and finally allowing herself to love again in Indonesia. I don't typically recommend this book to men - but for women, it's a "Calgon, take me away!" kind of book. It's a treat...like a pedicure or a relaxing bath or a massage or a glass of wine...It's a great "armchair travel" experience and I loved reading about each country's food, customs & people. I have not seen the movie - but it's hard to imagine how a film could capture the essence of the book, which contains so much of Gilbert's inner thoughts. This is a delicious read - indulge!   
Cinnamon's Review
 

Who Moved My Cheese? An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
It was one of my oldest and dearest friends who first introduced me to Who Moved My Cheese? When she first suggested I read the book I didn't think it was for me. In fact I was acting very much like "Hem", one of the main characters in the story. Fortunately for me, I finally decided to be more like "Haw" and take a chance on this book. I'm so glad I did. At its heart this is a book about overcoming fear. Haw writes on the walls of his maze my two favorite quotes from the book: "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" and "When You Move Beyond Your Fear, You Feel Free." While the style of writing and the story itself might seem simple, they in fact belie the very real truths and wisdom that this book contains. Whether it's in the past and overcome or something you are dealing with right now, I would recommend this book for anyone who has ever been afraid of or startled by change.    
Liz's Review
 

The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community by Mary Pipher
It was a UNL History professor who first introduced me to the works of Mary Pipher when he assigned The Middle of Everywhere to our class. I was instantly entranced. Her intimate and relatable writing style make you feel like you are having a conversation with an old friend. This non-fiction story about refugees from many nations coming to Lincoln, Nebraska emphasizes the need for all of us to be "cultural brokers" - aiding the newest Americans in navigating their new homeland. And Pipher gives us a roadmap to do so, as she relates her own personal experiences with the refugees and gives concrete examples of what each of us can do to help. In our increasingly multi-cultural society I would recommend this book to anyone with a mind and heart to help their fellow human being.   
Liz's Review

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dunbar

Sitting in Economics class four years ago was really what killed any and all interest I had in the subject...until I picked up Freakonomics, and found myself fascinated from page 1. Before reading this book, I would have been the first to say that, well to be blunt, that economics is BORING. However, this is not a textbook. Levitt uses the tools of economics to answer questions that flip "conventional wisdom" on its ear. His ideas may even seem down-right crazy at first, until he presents his argument, and presents his argument in a way that actually makes sense. I was flipped from disdainful about the very idea of economics to in awe of its nearly magical tools which, when wielded by the hand of Levitt, turn economics into Freakonomics.   
Chris's Review

Evil Obsession: The Annie Cook Story by Nellie Snyder Yost

I' ve been on a history binge recently, so it seemed only natural to read Evil Obsession: The Annie Cook Story by Nellie Snyder Yost, a book combining true crime with Nebraska history. Annie Cook was a nasty piece of work who lived in North Platte during the first half of the 20th century and made plenty of folks there miserable even after her life ended. Among her many offenses, she enslaved and beat her sister and foster son, killed her daughter, ran a "poor farm" like a gulag, and manipulated her friends and neighbors ruthlessly for her own gain. After she died, her estate was tied up in court for years and yielded very little to her survivors. I was fascinated by this book not just for the menace Annie Cook embodied, but for the view of rural Nebraska a century ago, the small-town politics and concerns that occupied the citizens and allowed a person like Annie Cook to flourish. It reminds one that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Katherine's Review

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
Ahhh... Bartlett's Familiar Quotations . I collect books of quotations like some people collect knickknacks or buttons. But my first and most loved of all my quote books is the tried and true Bartlett's. I can open to any page and find beautiful phrasings or intriguing thoughts, and have often tracked down and read the original sources. This book is a constant inspiration. In addition, one can learn who originated a thought or phrase and trace how it has changed over time to become the phrase we are most familiar with. Anyone interested in "phrase-ology" and the influence of words over time (or those like me who geek out over pretty language) should leaf through Bartlett's .    
Katherine's Review
 

Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison
If there is one book on this planet I would encourage anyone to read regarding suicide, whether they be dealing with depression, an academic, a counselor, or someone who has been affected by it, this is the book. Never have I read something so intelligent, so compassionate, or so heart-wrenching. Dr. Jamison has worked with this subject professionally for most of her adult life as a clinical psychiatrist and personally dealing with her own manic-depressive illness and suicidal thoughts. Expertly, she weaves in facts and figures in one chapter, detailing trends, statistics, and studies; the next chapter she inserts accounts from those who have attempted or commited suicide and those who were left with its devestating effects. This back and forth throughout the book gives you time to breathe and contemplate before diving back into the real life implications. It is an intense and eye-opening ride. A definite must for anyone who has interest in this subject personally or professionally.   
Matthew's Review
 

War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign To Create a Master Race by Edwin Black
This is one sick book. And not sick as in 'cool'. Edwin Black weaves together a dark story about our own eugenics history; well researched and well told... but one that will make you angry, sad, and disgusted. Mr. Black's approachable writing styles and sensitivity to such a horrible part of American history makes this a solid read. He leaves his judgment confined to the beginning and end of the book and presents you with a guts-bared view of human history. Science, money, power, sex, and the major movers and shakers of world history all seem to have had a finger in eugenics programs. I burned through half of this book sitting in Aromas in Omaha, NE and the following day finished the other half at Lincoln's own Coffee House. Absolutely compelling and scary reading.  
Matthew's Review

 
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

The new book by Harvard University president and History professor, Drew Gilpin Faust, is a masterpiece. It describes in riveting detail the astounding death toll of the American Civil War and how the citizens of this country dealt with the trauma. Faust develops her history using references as diverse as church pamphlets, military records and letters, eyewitness accounts, poetry, and personal ads in newspapers of the time. Her writing skills are matched with an impressive ability to analyze and synthesize an almost overwhelming amount of data. The Civil War challenged our Victorian ideals of a "good death". It disrupted family and community rituals of death occurring close to home and closely supervised. Traumatized soldier and civilian alike were affected and everyone suffered. This is a book I'm going to read again, and very soon. It gave me another lens through which to view this vital period of American history, and anyone seeking to understand more about the complexity and lessons of the American Civil War will find this book of immeasurable value.
Katherine's Review
 

Fun Food by Stephanie Rosenbaum
This book is changing my life. It was a gift from Santa to my kids, Isabel (8) & Aidan (7). Hands down, this is the best cookbook for children I've seen. It has a section at the beginning on basics, so kids have a chance to practice technique - measuring, chopping, stove safety, etc. The rest of the book is filled with great recipes for delicious, healthy food. The list of ingredients is not overly long - and most recipes are basic but teach ways to make substitutions so you can do things like turn your lemon-shrimp pasta dish into a sundried tomato & salami pasta dish. It is well-illustrated with photographs that detail step-by-step instructions, which really helped my kids' confidence.
They first tried the smoothies. Blueberry-banana-grape juice, strawberry-banana-orange juice...once they got the hang of the blender, they were making them on their own. It was a happy day when they brought a smoothie (garnished with a fresh strawberry!) to me while I was working on bills in my office. Then Isabel made her first dinner: bowtie pasta with ham & peas in a parmesan cream sauce with fresh oregano. She only needed help draining the pasta and was thrilled to have made a meal for the family.
We've tried other cookbooks geared for children - but either the list of ingredients was overwhelming or the layout wasn't so inviting. Fun Food is a book that draws you in and shows you how simple and fun it is to create great meals. Even though it's designed for kids, this is a fantastic book for any beginning cook!   
Cinnamon's Review 
 

Dueling Chefs: A Vegetarian & A Meat Lover Debate the Plate by Maggie Pleskac and Sean Carmichael
This is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. Maggie & Sean have been friends for years. She is the Chef-Owner of Maggie's Vegetarian Cafe & he is the Executive Chef at Chez Hay. This book offers friendly competition for your taste buds as both try to outdo the other with sumptuous, tempting recipes. Aside from mouth-watering dishes that will inspire you in the kitchen, the witty repartee between the two chefs makes for hilariously entertaining reading. Even if you DON'T like to cook, you'll enjoy reading this book. (Brownville has been honored to host the chef-authors for events like the "Pairing Food & Wine" program during the annual Wine, Writers & Song Festival. They're a hoot. If you have a chance to see them, go!)   
Cinnamon's Review

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
There are graphic novels, and there are memoirs. A growing trend in book publishing is the graphic novel memoir, as illustrated (no pun intended) by Art Spiegelman's Maus and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. I highly recommend Alison Bechdel's Fun Home as a superlative example of this genre. Bechdel explores her relationship with her father, a volatile and closeted gay man, through memories, photographs, and newspaper articles; she discovers herself by translating her father. Bechdel's artwork is evocative and her writing is excellent, with references to Homer and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I've already read it twice and have plans to read it again!
Katherine's Review  

My Alexandria by Mark Doty
Years ago Cinnamon recommended this collection of poems to me; I have gone back to it again and again. Mark Doty has a keen eye for detail, however isn't heavy handed about it. He starts off with a punch with the poem "Demolition" and sails through a poems that are forgiving, redemptive, and powerful. If you are in the mood for a good, tight collection of poems, this should be on your shelf.   
Matthew's Review

Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman

I can't help but think of Chuck Klosterman as a genius. You ever happen upon an author's (or band's, politician's[!]...) work and find yourself loving/agreeing with every single idea they've ever conceived? Well that pretty much sums up my reaction to this dude's body of work. So as you can imagine it's maybe a little difficult to settle on just one of his books to review here but I'm going with Fargo Rock City partly because that's the one I blindly picked out of the hat but mostly because it is my fave.

This book is an account of the 80's heavy metal/glam metal music scene going on on the Sunset Strip as experienced by the author whilst growing up in rural North Dakota. Metal was his life. However, I am in no way or have ever been a metal fan (though I did like a few bands he writes about) but that did not stop me from enjoying this book. It was still very hilarious and wildly entertaining to the point where I find myself rereading whole passages multiple times just because its so good. And really, each chapter is more like an essay on whichever topic he is writing about (in more or less chronological order) such as his favorite �essential� metal records from the era to a whole chapter on everyone's favorite all female band, Poison. This works out so well that when you go back to reread it you (like me, oh about once a year...) you don't necessarily need to read each chapter in order. I just like to open the book and read from whichever random page I land on. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes music and not just to fans of this type of music.   
Kevin's Review
 

Princess by Jean Sasson
You'll read this in a whirlwind, it's so compelling. It's the true story of Sultana, a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family, who gives a first hand account of how women are treated in that part of the world. Although Sultana lives a  life of privilege, it is within the confines of a male-dominated society in which women are denied education, forced into marriages at young ages, and suffer horribly if they cross the lines of strict Saudi Arabian custom. Sultana's story is interwoven with true accounts of other women, some relatively wealthy, some not. Some of them manage to survive. One is drowned by her father in the family pool for "shaming her family". Another is forced into isolation for the rest of her life for falling in love. Throughout the book, Sasson reminds us that these abuses are not the hallmark of Islam and that it is a misinterpretation of the Koran that leads to this kind of oppression. This is an eye-opening read...for everyone, not just the Women's Studies major.  
Cinnamon's Review

 
The Devil's Teeth by Susan Casey

Thirty miles west of San Francisco in the Pacific Ocean lie the Farallon Islands, also known as The Devil's Teeth. Coincidentally, it is one of the best places in the world to view great white sharks up close in the wild, as Susan Casey relates in her book, The Devil's Teeth. The title is apt as it describes both the habitat and the underwater denizens. Although great white sharks were her main interest in visiting the Farallones, Casey does a remarkable job with the other inhabitants: sea lions, killer whales, cassin auklets, cormorants, and the few humans that brave living there for research or sea urchins. In fact, the Farallon Islands themselves play a key role in this cast of characters. Casey outlines the history of human interaction with the Islands, in which the humans tend to lose.
I think I expected a single-issue book about sharks. What I got was an ecosystem that was fascinating and rich with context. Silly me: I should remember that nothing in nature is simple, and that nothing exists in a vacuum. This book was a very rewarding reminder.   
Katherine's Review

 
Out of Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World
by Lawrence Goldstone and Nancy Goldstone

I was drawn to Out of Flames by two words: heresy and book. I was elated to find that it met my expectations. Unlike The Devil in the White City, which I enjoyed but sometimes felt bogged down by its too many historical references, Out of Flames surprised and delighted me on every page. Telling a 16th century story of the early roots of the Unitarian Church, we learn about Michael Servetus, a heretic. Unlike other heretics, he not only challenged the Catholic Church but also John Calvin and he discovered how blood circulates in the human body. The story is not simple, weaving Church history, early science experiments, and politics, but the book is knowledgeable and the story remarkable. Of Servetus� original writings, only three books remain�powerful books that preserved early scientific discoveries and contributions to church reformation. An engaging, historical read. 
Carolyn's Review
 

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Cadavers lead a very active life. When else can you be in three or more places at one time? You think your body would just by lying about, doing nothing, but there are so many processes and stages going about, and Mary Roach tackled this precarious subject with a good balance of respect, candor, objectivism, and humor. She interviews anatomy students, practicing plastic surgery techniques on cadaver heads, on how they cope with working on a person's decapitated corpse. Roach relates how ancient and Victorian medical practitioners used human remains as medicinal remedies...sometimes the cures were worse than the maladies. She also discusses the new, "eco" ways of disposing of our remains when we pass away. When the question is put to Roach of what will become of her remains, she has come to the conclusion that it is for the surviving to decide, as they are the ones that will have to live with the decision. This is an entertaining, if sometimes morbid book, spiced throughout with just the right amount of humor.
Julie's Review
 

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
If you enjoy books like Krakauer's Into the Wild, consider picking up this work of non-fiction. It tells the tale of the  Gloucester fishermen who died aboard the Andrea Gail, which was lost at sea during the 1991 Storm of the Century. Originally published in much-abbreviated form in "Outside" magazine, it retains a journalistic feel. Overall, I like this book for the sense of culture and place that it provides, which is far different than what I know as a land-locked Nebraskan. In my largely indoor life, it can be easy to forget what a beautiful and sometimes terrifying force weather can be. Clearly, in the fishing village of Gloucester, sea-changes have real meaning. This is a great "stay-cation" book. Get into it and go someplace completely different.
Cinnamon's Review
 

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis chronicles the experience of a young girl in Iran in the wake of the Islamic Revolution.  In this autobiography that takes the form of a graphic novel (storyboarded like a comic strip), we see how Marjane's world of relative freedom shrinks under the restrictions of the new regime that requires women and girls to wear the veil.  It's a fantastic book, reminiscent of Art Spiegelman's Maus (graphic novel about the holocaust) but wholly its own in terms of how it portrays the frustrations of a teenager forbidden by law to express teenage angst in the usual ways.  Marjane offers tragedy but also humor - as well as a historical view of Iran from someone who lived it.  If you liked Reading Lolita in Tehran, you'll devour this book in a single night.  (Also appropriate for mid-late teens.)
Cinnamon's Review


The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot, by Russell Kirk

While all of us may have had our fill of politics lately, I promise this is not one of *those* books.  Mr. Kirk does a great job of bringing the reader through the evolution of conservatism, the paradigms ingrained within, and offers a rational look at how this political philosophy has gone askew in modern times.  This is an excellent, enlightening and educational read; a must-read for anyone (conservative, liberal, progressive, etc) interested in continuing to expand their philosophical, political and intellectual experience.
Matthew's Review

Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, by  Charles Wheelan
I can hear the groans erupting when you read the title.  Economics, especially now, is not a popular subject.  However, Mr. Wheelen does a wonderful job of addressing common Economic concepts in a light-hearted and entertaining way. 

From the lay person to the expert I can guarantee you will find this tome an enjoyable read and useful resource.  Interest rates to inflation, supply to demand, Naked Economics tackles this ideas in a thoroughly academic and accessible way.  It is the only Economics text that has caused me to laugh out loud while reading.
Matthew's Review

The Long Death, by Ralph K Andrist
In The Long Death, Ralph K. Andrist chronicles the demise of the Plains Indians as a result of western expansion through the United States. Andrist focuses on the decades between 1840 and 1900 when the Native tribes were systematically dislocated and decimated by Eastern settlers as they sought new territory. Using specific details of events, Andrist illustrates larger themes of imperialism and, indeed, a cultural genocide. This is a cogent and very engaging narrative by a well-respected journalist, and it compares favorably with Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, who wrote the introduction to the Bison Books edition of The Long Death.         
Katherine's Review

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson
One day in 1993, high up in the world's most inhospitable mountains, Greg Mortenson wandered lost and alone, broken in body and spirit, after a failed attempt to climb K2, the world's deadliest peak. When the people of an impoverished village in Pakistan's Karakoram Himalaya took him in and nursed him back to health, Mortenson made an impulsive promise: He would return one day and build them a school. Although he was a homeless "climbing bum" living out of his aging Buick in Berkeley, California, Mortenson sold what few possessions he had to launch one of the most remarkable humanitarian campaigns of our time. Three Cups of Tea traces Mortenson's decade-long odyssey to build schools, especially for girls, throughout the region that gave birth to the Taliban and sanctuary to Al Qaeda. While he wages war with the root causes of terrorism-- poverty and ignorance-- by providing both girls and boys with a balanced, nonextremist education, Mortenson must survive a kidnapping, fatwas issued by enraged mullahs, death threats from Americans who consider him a traitor, and wrenching separations from his family. Today, as the director of the Central Asia Institute, Mortenson has built fifty-five schools serving Pakistan and Afghanistan's poorest communities. And as this real-life Indiana Jones from Montana crisscrosses the Himalaya and the Hindu Kush fighting to keep these schools functioning, he provides not only hope to tens of thousands of children, but living proof that one passionately dedicated person truly can change the world.
 

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary , by Simon Winchester
This book was suggested to me by one of my librarian friends.  The OED is often spoken about in tones of awe and extreme reverence by those who know of it.  Currently, there are several editions of the OED.  The two-volume set, which I had the opportunity of seeing once, is printed on the finest paper, and comes with its own magnifying glass!  Winchester is a wonderful writer, blending the bazaar story of one of the OED�s contributors with the background story of the creation and production of the OED.  I warn you though � unless you are an erudite sesquipedalian, have a dictionary handy while reading.  The book is almost justification to go out and buy a version of the OED yourself; so many words that are not used in everyday language are sprinkled throughout.  It�s a very enjoyable read, and I suggest it to anyone that wants to perhaps feel a little smarter as they read a bit of non-fiction.
Julie's Review

  The Coming Plague, by Laurie Garret

Although written in 1991, The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett remains pertinent in this day of the West Nile virus, bird flu, and antibacterial "fever." Garrett takes on plague in all of its ugly varieties, drawing together factors affecting its genesis and spread including global economics, nationalism and war, biological (and political) science, and culture. She succeeds in bringing a dizzying array of variables into a cohesive whole. This is a large and ambitious study, but don't be intimidated by its size: it is an immensely (no pun intended) readable book.         
Katherine's Review  
 

A Gathering of Zion, by Wallace Stegner
The history of the Mormon faith is entwined with the history of westward expansion in this country, as Wallace Stegner asserts in A Gathering of Zion. Stegner chronicles the development of Mormonism from Joseph Smith in the eastern United States across the Mormon trail and on to Brigham Young and the founding of the state of Utah. Along the way he elaborates on shifting church doctrines and the trials of the faithful. I found Stegner's writing informative yet informal, making this a page-turner even for those of us who have found history dull in the past. In fact, this book led me to other Mormon and western histories, and I have read other Stegner titles which I found delightful.         
Katherine's Review
 

Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer
Mount Everest continues to fascinate climbers and armchair travelers alike, especially after the 1993 disaster when a number of people lost their lives trying to reach the summit. Several books have been written about this event, but my favorite remains Into Thin Air by John Krakauer. As both a participant (a climber) and an observer (a journalist covering the ascent), Krakauer was in a unique position to relate the event and its aftermath. A veteran explorer and writer, Krakauer not only reports the details of the disaster and introduces us to the people involved, but brings up the question: Why do we feel compelled to conquer the unconquerable? Katherine's Review
 

If I Had To Live My Life Over Again... I Would Wear More Purple (Martz ed.)
Taking its theme from the Jenny Joseph poem ( which also influenced the Red Hat Society), the women in this anthology combine artwork and poetry to explore their own and others' aging. It's a beautiful book and a perfect gift for the special woman in your life who is concerned about aging or who is celebrating her own process and progress.         
Katherine's Review
 

And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, by Randy Shilts
The AIDS epidemic is older than I am. I was -3 when the tall ships sailed into New York Harbor in 1976, and by the time I started listening to what was on the news, Ryan White was getting kicked out of school. I tell my mother that this twisted time is one of the reasons that I find such offensiveness as South Park so funny... but as sick as my sense of humor may be, nothing about this book is even remotely amusing. Beginning with the first diagnosed human cases of HIV and tracking the rise of the epidemic into the 1980's, Randy Shilts' masterpiece presents a jarringly scientific and thoroughly alarming study of the biggest embarrassment of my lifetime. Very few things have ever inspired as much anger in my heart as reading of America's complete refusal to protect its own from what it selfishly declared to be a threat only to those for which it could care less. What chain of events led to innocent children and cultural icons, people far from the dregs of society, dying of AIDS? Check this out: "By the time President Reagan had delivered his first speech on the epidemic of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with the disease; 20,849 had died." And that was in 1987, four years after Isaac Asimov contracted HIV from a blood transfusion, more than ten years after the virus landed in the US. Now, read the whole book - there are things in here that we all ought to know, as appalling as they may be.           
Kirsten's Review
 

Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission, by Hampton Sides
Okay: I have to say, I really did only read this because I've seen Back to Bataan like, 24 times*. And it had been sitting on my father's desk for a couple of weeks, which is usually a good sign. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the ABSOLUTE HORROR contained within its pages. That's pleasantly surprised by the way the author tells the story, not pleasantly surprised that this horror itself was actually visited upon actual people. That would be cruel of me. Frankly, it totally blows my mind that this actually happened to people. Over 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers began the Bataan Death March, which makes up the background of Sides' story, and 10,000 of them had died by the time 160 kilometers had been covered. Not only did they have dysentery, dehydration, malnutrition, and really really mean Japanese soldiers to deal with, these fellows even managed to be shelled by the remaining Allied forces defending Corrigedor. It's like they were utterly cursed from the get-go. I mean, what do you do when your enemy finally surrenders, and you end up with an island full of starving prisoners who outnumber you? Well, torture them, apparently. By the time the Rangers liberated the prison camp at Cabanatuan, the focal point of Ghost Soldiers, only 500 survivors of the march remained. This is a scary lil' bit of history, frighteningly relevant in the age of Gitmo.          
Kirsten's Review
 

Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
The next time you're at a family dinner and you get slightly uncomfortable when your little brother, while spending about two hours on the toilet suddenly asks your father where babies come from, take comfort in the fact that there is no way in the universe that anyone's family can be nearly as weird, unconventional, or screwed up as the Finch family. In this striking memoir, young Augusten Burroughs' psychotic mother gives him up to be raised by her psychiatrist. "Raised" is too loose a term, however, as there is a complete lack of structure in Dr. Finch's household of squalor. Hilarious, tragic, and above all shocking, this book is a definite page turner; it will grab hold of your most morbid curiosity and not let go until every microscopic cell of your body is grateful that you were never obligated to gather around the toilet to look at your father's bowel movement as a way of determining when financial prosperity would next fall upon the family.           Molly's Review
 

A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman
A good non-fiction read, Diane Ackerman takes her skills as a poet to write a very lyrical scientific and historic account of the body's five senses. It is quite challenging to use writing to describe things as abstract and individualized as scent or sight, yet Ackerman manages this, and the result is a very pleasant synesthesia filled with personal and historical anecdotes.           
Molly's Review
 

The Liars Club, by Mary Karr
This is a delightful, often poignant memoir of a girl who grows up in a dysfunctional family living in the eastern part of Texas, a place which we can deduce, by Karr's careful description, is more or less Hell on earth. Karr tells her story in a way which shows how rampant alcoholism, seven different step-fathers, and maternal psychotic rages were all just a normal part of growing up. However, Karr stresses that there was a lot of love in her family. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to recommend it.          
Molly's Review
 

  Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson
I love Bill Bryson, but it's best not to read him in a public place lest you want people to look at you in fear while you laugh your brains out. Seriously, Bryson doesn't always let you see the humor coming. Having forewarned you, Notes from a Small Island details Bryson's final trip around the United Kingdom before moving his family to the United States. He resided in the UK for some twenty years, and fills this travel-log with all the hilarious quirks he encounters from the natives. From formidable B&B hostesses to place names like "Pinhead", Anglophiles will get the most out of Notes, but I have a notion anyone who likes to laugh will enjoy it.          
 Molly's Review
 

Stasiland:  True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, by Anna Funder
This is perhaps the best nonfiction book I have ever read. Stasiland is a collection of interviews from both the spies (Stasi) and the victims of the German Democratic Republic, where it seems every citizen was under surveillance. It reads remarkably like a novel, almost postmodern at times. The author, a native Australian who spends several years in the former GDR, shows a remarkable amount of knowledge and compassion for her subject material. Showcasing triumphs and failures of communist Eastern Germany, this book should appeal to anyone, history buff or not. It is beautifully written.          
Molly's Review
 

Greek Science, by Benjamin Farrington
Those Greek dudes, they were pretty smart, you know? It's really pretty cool to see just how much these ancient guys were able to come up with without any of the modern technology and research that we so take for granted these days. Benjamin Farrington has put together a great selection of writings with commentary from brilliant classical thinkers like Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Hippocrates, Empedocles and so on, covering a huge range of ancient science concerning medicine, physics, mathematics and just about everything under the sun. It's a great bit of mind food that should be an awesome starting point for anyone interested in science before the modern era. It's quick and easy to read and chock full of goodies.           James' Review
 

Apocalypse Pretty Soon, by Alex Heard
The sky is falling! The sky is falling! At least, that's what a wide range of Americans living today are saying, either in public or simply muttering it to themselves. Alex Heard is on the job, trekking across the nation and giving us the 411 on the numerous religious, secular, and just plain strange groups of folks that are dead certain that the end times (or at least a completely unorthodox social upheaval) are just over the horizon. Fascinating, hilarious and terrifying (for entirely the wrong reasons); If you though Scientology was a wacky, you've not seen anything yet! Pretty Soon can be taken in bits at a time, with each chapter focusing on an entirely different phenomena or group from that which preceded it. It's got UFOs, secret militants, die hard conspirators, futurists, new-agers, everything you can think of at the absolute fringes of Americana.          
James' Review
 

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan
Pardon if I'm a bit opinionated, but Carl Sagan's Cosmos is probably the coolest television series ever to come along. Even though it was a bit before my time (thank the Gods for Google Video!), the information presented is still just as relevant and riveting today as it was in 1980. Much like the recent "Planet Earth" documentary, Sagan tackles almost every facet of astronomy in this printed recap/companion to the show. Cosmos is filled with full color illustrations and offers a crash course in basically the entire history of the universe; the physics of bodies in space, how and when we will travel to other worlds, how space has contributed to evolution of life on Earth, the list is almost endless.          
James' Review
 

Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
I first read this book during a course examining cultural literacy and its importance: Reading Lolita in Tehran is the account of Iranian professor Azar Nafisi during her time teaching English in the nation's capital, particularly the private lectures she gave to her best, female students concerning banned western novels. As they discuss Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Reading Lolita shows not only the student's reactions to the texts but also delves into their personal lives and Nafisi's own reflections concerning the political and cultural climate in Iran. This is a phenomenal book to read if you're interested in textual criticism or simply the power of books, and it also sheds a great deal of light on the world Iranian's have lived in since the rise of the Ayatollah.          
James' Review
 

  A Short History of Nearly Everything , by Bill Bryson
Much like Sagan's book mentioned earlier, Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything tackles much of the same issues. Like Cosmos Bryson serves up damned near every nook and cranny of scientific interest, but instead focuses not so much on the hows and whys of these discoveries but rather the whens and wheres. Bryson, in his typical sense of humor serves up in a very light text just how mankind came to realize the inner-workings of the universe. I find it is a great companion to Cosmos, in that it shares the same exuberance for the scientific realm as well and also offers a much broader range of topics. If you A) like to laugh and B) find science even remotely interesting, you owe it to yourself to track this one down.           
James' Review
 

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hoftstadter
Oh man, this one's a doozy of a book. If you've been keeping up with this page you probably have an idea that I'm a sucker for dense, sprawling, "crush-a-small-animal-if-dropped" tomes of literature: this is no exception. This is an absolutely brilliant book but it certainly takes some work to complete. Hoftstadter's thesis on mathematics and philosophy blends the ideas of the three namesake figures with his own prose, wit and conclusions. You'll solve puzzles, catch hints, smile at a few jokes, learn a thing or two about mathematics and in the end, regardless of what background you come from, you'll feel like a pretty smart cookie.          
James' Review
 

Hyperspace, by Michio Kaku
Michio Kaku is probably the coolest theoretical physicist in the world right now. As one of the leading supporters for superstring theory, it should make sense that he would be the person to go to in order to learn about this strange new concept. Hyperspace is an amazingly easy read, using simple analogies like fish underwater and purely layman's vocabulary to explain complicated ideas. Kaku has a bright sense of humor and deep love & fascination for the material at hand, and has the ability to teach any reader a thing or two.          
James' Review
 

America: The Book, by Jon Stewart
America (The Book) is almost too funny. Structured so as to mimic a high school textbook (it even has the "issued to student x" stamp on the inside cover), the book is fully-illustrated and packed with activities. I've never seen a book packed thicker with belly-laughs in all my time. You'll find something to laugh out loud about on every page no matter if you're a liberal, conservative or communist. The best part is, you might actually even learn a thing or two about American Government that you may have forgotten or even glossed over back in High School. Funny *and* informative!          
James' Review    
 

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