The Day Kennedy Was Shot, by Jim Bishop
The downloadable book The Day Kennedy Was Shot by Jim Bishop is a unique book. It chronicles all the events in Dallas and Washington on the day the 35th President was assassinated. Bishop did a great job describing all the key players, and retracing Lee Harvey Oswald's moves on that fateful day. I believe he captured the mood of the nation, which was traumatized by the violent event. The evidence is laid out against Oswald. Bishop also examines Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald before Oswald could be tried for the murder. He describes Oswald's strained relationship with his mother and Russian wife. Interactions and conflicts between the Dallas Police, Secret Service and FBI are described. Bishop details how the Kennedy family distrusted Lyndon Johnson, and wanted to maintain control of all funeral arrangements. Kennedy administration members were asked to stay on to make a smooth transition. Some agreed, some didn't.
This is a long book, but there's a lot of interesting information, which will appeal to conspiracy theorists and historians alike. Bishop intertwines events in both cities skillfully. Sometimes it's tricky to try and skip from one situation to another, but if you stick with it, you'll be rewarded. I think this is one of the better books on the Kennedy assassination.
Recently in Non-Fiction Category
The Day Kennedy Was Shot, by Jim Bishop
Johnny Carson, by Henry Bushkin
When I was growing up, I used to hear everyone talking about The Tonight Show with host Johnny Carson. He seemed to be larger than life. I usually didn't stay up that late to watch him, so I didn't really know that much about him. Recently, I spotted a downloadable book by Henry Bushkin titled (what else) Johnny Carson. I've always been curious about the rich and famous, and since Carson was so popular in the 1960s, I thought I'd do a little research.
The book picks up as Carson is firmly entrenched as the host of The Tonight Show. Henry Bushkin becomes Carson's attorney, as well as adviser, confidant and friend. Bushkin determines Carson's previous advisers were not looking after his best interests, but were worried about lining their own pockets. In fact, Carson was signed to a surprisingly large number of unprofitable deals. Despite making tons of money for NBC, he had little to show for it. Bushkin turned this all around, and helped make Carson the most successful star in TV history. The book describes a lot of the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes.
Despite all this success, Carson was a very insecure and unhappy person. He grew up in Nebraska. His mother was uncompassionate, unappreciative and very cold. Not what you'd call very loving. In a case of "the nut not falling far from the tree", Carson became estranged from his 3 children, the result of 3 failed marriages. The fact that he was a heavy drinker and womanizer didn't help matters any. Bushkin devoted a lot of time to his demanding boss, and started emulating his womanizing ways - resulting in his failed marriage. When Carson announces he wants to leave the "Tonight Show" because he is burned out, this sets into motion a series of events which has an interesting end. Sometimes, despite all the celebrity, someone can be struggling with life. Johnny Carson was a prime example.
This book presents a very balanced look at the great entertainer. Bushkin is in a unique position to describe Carson's personal and professional life firsthand. It's well-written and easy to follow. Every time I picked it up to read, I had a hard time putting it down. You should give it a try.
Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, by Wendy Lower
The history of the role some German women played in serving the Nazi government and its murderous objectives during World War II can be, as Wendy Lower shows in the above-titled book, very disturbing and gruesome reading. Lower, a professor of history at Claremont McKenna College and a consultant for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, follows several German women from the war's beginning to the aftermath of the German defeat. Their--at times very enthusiastic--participation in the Nazi extermination of Jewish people often occurred as they worked their jobs serving the Nazi war machine.
In particular, the German drive eastward into Poland and the Ukraine during the first years of the war provided job opportunities for many German women. They took positions as nurses, teachers and administrative staff as the German Reich expanded tight control over these areas. As Lower shows, many women took these jobs for financial reasons as well as a great opportunity to travel and see the areas that Germany had newly conquered. And, many of these women ended up taking active roles in the German extermination of Jews. Lower also points out that wives of German officers often accompanied their husbands as they served the German Reich in the East and they too could become active in carrying out German atrocities. Lower's notes are extensive as she cites scholarly works, trial testimony, diaries and interviews to detail this historical chapter.
Hitler's Furies is a fascinating study of a facet of the German society during World War II. Possible answers are given as to why and how these women became swept up in supporting the German war effort in such a deadly way. This book is highly recommended and especially for World War II enthusiasts.
An Invisible Thread, by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski
This is a true story that takes place in Manhattan. As the story opens up, a young boy is on the street begging passersby for spare change because he is hungry. Laura passes him by as he is asking her for change. She hears him begging but doesn't really hear him. His voice mixes in with the sounds of traffic and other city noises that New Yorkers learn to tune out. Yet for some unknown reason she then stops about several yards down the street and then turns back to look at him. She is now looking at him, really looking at him for the first time and sees a poorly, slovenly dressed child, a tiny fellow with sticks for arms and legs with dirty fingernails but his eyes are bright and there is something about him that draws her back to him. She sees his sweetness. He tells Laura he is hungry but instead of giving him money she takes him to McDonald's and they proceed to have their first meal together. Many such other meals will occur in the ensuing months and years to come.
An Invisible Thread draws you in and then you climb aboard for the ride. This book is beautifully and simply written. The story shows its readers that there exists an invisible thread that connects one human being to another and these connections can activate at any given time throughout our lives. You will enjoy this quick read about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and tragedy. Commitment, friendship, integrity, trust, protection, fortitude and much more can be found within An Invisible Thread.
Life, by Keith Richards, with James Fox
Even if you're not a Rolling Stones fan, you should still read Life by Keith Richards with James Fox (2010). I'd read Mick Jagger by Philip Norman (2012) earlier, and wanted to compare the two. So I downloaded the e-Book onto my iPad and away I went!
The Richards book is about twice as long, but provides an in-depth look at what has been called "the greatest rock and roll band of all times." Richards describes his early childhood. He grew up in a lower class family, and was the victim of bullying. He explains how his grandfather intentionally left a guitar hanging around so Keith would get interested in music. Surprisingly, he was a Patrol Leader in a Boy Scout Troop, but was summarily dismissed due to his tough disciplinary tactics! He was also part of a glee club until he was replaced.
Keith explains how he met Mick Jagger, who came from a more middle class family, while taking the train to school. They soon discovered they had the same interest in American rhythm and blues. Years later they would put together a band and travel all over England to perform - many times for very little or no money. Eventually they hired a manager who promoted them. Unfortunately, as happened with so many early (especially Black) rock groups, their manager got greedy and pilfered their money. Fortunately, Mick was very sharp financially, and he found a new manager who was very fair.
I like this book because it has so many levels. It talks about the relationship between the band-mates, guitar techniques developed and used by Richards (great for you musicians) and the celebrities they ran into. It wasn't all fun and games as Richards, in particular, developed a strong drug habit and had to go "cold turkey" repeatedly. Also, the authorities were constantly hassling them, arresting them in the middle of the night and even planting drugs on them. They became the "bad boys" to the Beatles' "good boys". Ironically, they became the darlings of the Monarchy, and Mick was knighted for his contribution to music!
I'd always thought Keith Richards was a burned-out drug addict; but after reading this book, I realize he's very intelligent, and a gifted story teller! I'm serious. If you don't believe me, give it a try. Just pick it up and browse it. I guarantee you'll be hooked!
The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South, by Bruce Levine
The American Civil War remains a subject about which volumes of books continue to be published. As the historian Bruce Levine argues in his latest book, The Fall of the House of Dixie, "nearly every major study of the Civil War...continues to take the military story as its organizing principle and narrative spine." Departing from this pattern, Levine has written a fascinating study about the society of the Confederacy and the revolutionary shift it experienced due to the war. In 1861, the American South was dominated by an extremely wealthy and powerful white population that was determined to maintain its position, even by breaking away from the United States of America. Slavery was the Southern institution that fueled the economy for the landowners. While the war was embraced by the vast majority of whites at its beginning, cracks in this support increased as the war continued in its bloody destruction. Levine draws upon a wide range of diaries, speeches and articles written during the war by a wide-range of members of Confederate society to vividly show how the Confederates began to become disillusioned with the waging of war against the Union forces. Eventually, "the House of Dixie" did fall and its demise, as recounted by Levine, is a fascinating historical study. The Fall of the House of Dixie is very readable, interesting, well written and highly recommended.
100 Things Patriots Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, by Donald Hubbard
In preparation for the NFL preseason, I picked up and read the book 100 Things Patriots Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. It's a combination of trivia, restaurant reviews and football sight-seeing guide. I thought I knew a lot about the Patriots, but now realize I have plenty more to learn. For instance, I didn't know that Tom Brady was a star catcher in college and was once scouted by a professional baseball team! The book chronicles the many owners of the team, and the numerous playing venues. At one time, the team was the laughing stock of the NFL as a parade of motley crew coaches came and went from Boston and Foxboro. This book will give you a better understanding of the Patriots' past, present and future. It's a must read for the football purist, who likes the sport regardless of his or her allegiance.
Mick Jagger, by Philip Norman
If you think you know all there is to know about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Then you'd better read Philip Norman's book titled Mick Jagger.
The Rolling Stones have always been considered the "Bad Boys" of rock, while the Beatles have been considered the "Good Boys". Truth be told, their bad boy image was a creation of an early manager to boost interest (and sales of records). This is not to imply that they weren't into "sex, drugs and rock and roll". Like many rock and rollers, they started out as normal boys, only to be changed by their celebrity.
Jagger grew up in a middle-class British family. Mick attended a prestigious school and studied finance. This would prove to be quite valuable in the future as he had to take over management of the band's finances from an unscrupulous manager. He was very respectful of his parents, and believed strongly in physical fitness. Surprisingly, at first he was very attentive and thoughtful of his girlfriends. He had normal romances with many women including Marianne Faithfull, Bianca Perez-Mora Macias (Jagger), Marsha Hunt and Jerry Hall. He fathered nine offspring with these women. Incredibly, they all get along well together! He was also extremely loyal to his band mates, even to the point of taking the fall for others during much-publicized drug busts. Jagger was not as deeply into drugs as other band members.
As the band became more famous, Jagger seemed to change. Besides romancing Marianne Faithfull, he started to have sexual liaisons with "groupies" of all ages. I suspect part of it may have been a way of fulfilling his bad boy image. Norman calls Jagger the "perpetual teenager", who continued to bed women of all ages into his forties and fifties. He also became a miser, who directed most of the band's proceeds to himself, and refused to pay alimony, despite promising to support his exes and children. Jagger and his band mates moved around to various countries for a good part of the year to avoid paying taxes to the British government.
Norman didn't go into a great detail about the untimely death of band member Brian Jones. Jones' death was ruled an accident. The author hints at a cover up, but provides no details.
The Rolling Stones are still considered the greatest rock and roll band of all time. They seem to be timeless. Jagger and company still go on tour. The Stones have overcome petty in-fighting, and seem to be able to keep it together to delight new generations of rock and rollers.
No Easy Day, by Mark Owen
Prior to last year's Presidential election, I remember hearing about a Navy SEAL who was publishing a book about the covert operation to apprehend terror chief Osama Bin Laden. It was listed on the New York Times bestseller list. I put my name on the reserve (HOLD) list, and received a copy within a few weeks. No Easy Day was written by Navy SEAL Mark Owen in 2012. It chronicles Owen's enlistment and ultimate selection as a Navy SEAL. He applies for a special unit assignment, which leads to covert operations in the Middle East over a ten-year period. When Bin Laden is finally located in Pakistan, Mark finds himself in the right place at the right time. Owen describes how the team trains in Virginia for "clearing" suspected terrorist houses. Then, he relates how his team is transported to Afghanistan, where they await the green light from Washington to enter Pakistan. Finally, permission is granted, and the teams travel by helicopter and cargo plane to Abbottabad. The SEAL does an excellent job of describing the step-by-step search to apprehend their target. He also expresses frustration at the inability of the government officials to keep a lid on mission information. Owen has no regrets because he knew Bin Laden had to be eliminated. I feel this book is well-written and accurate. I suggest you read this book to dispel much of the rumor and misinformation about the mission.
Francona: The Red Sox Years, by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy
As a long-time (suffering) Red Sox fan, I was shocked by the historic collapse of the team at the end of the 2011 season. After the All-Star break, they seemed to be steamrolling their way to The World Series; but they didn't even make the playoffs - even with a sizable lead at the start of September. I'd heard that ex-Manager Terry Francona was writing a book with Boston sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, so I put a Hold (reserved) on the book online when I saw it in our catalog.
Francona: The Red Sox Years starts by explaining how Terry grew up around ballparks since his father was a struggling player in the minors. He attended Arizona State, where he played baseball, then played on several major league teams. A knee injury ended his career. He was able to work his way up the management chain until he landed a job in Boston. Francona managed the team for 8-years, during which time the team won two World Series. He would be the first to tell you they should have won a third; but a combination of factors derailed that trip!
Francona states that the ownership (John Henry, Tom Werner) and CEO Larry Lucchino were more focused on marketing the team than building for the future. A rift developed between the pitchers and other players, and the "team spirit" suffered. A trust issue developed between the Manager and management. This situation was further aggravated when Francona's personal information was leaked to the Boston press. He left Boston feeling unappreciated and angry.
I thought this book might be one-sided and vengeful; but I believe Francona was fair and honest in his assessment of the situation. This book should be read by anyone interested in baseball - regardless of affiliation.
Paris has been a fountain of inspiration for generations of authors for centuries. This magnificent city can stimulate writers to create great works as well as served as a terrifically engaging setting for their stories. These three staff picks, one non-fiction and the other two fiction, are great examples of how the magic of Paris can enlighten an author's work.
Mission to Paris, by Alan Furst
Mission to Paris, the most recent book by the increasingly popular espionage-fiction writer Alan Furst, continues Furst's pattern of setting his stories in European cities during the years immediately prior to World War II. The intriguing main character Fredric Stahl has developed a very successful career as a leading actor of romantic roles in Hollywood during the 1930's. Arriving in Paris in the fall of 1938, he is there solely to make a movie. However, he becomes, quite unwittingly, a pawn between the pro-Germany propaganda machine gaining strength in France and other sections of Europe and the anti-Nazi camp led by the American and British. At first, Stahl has no interest in joining either of these political factions. But, as he gains a clearer realization of the evils of Nazism, he is drawn into the conflicts of that time in Paris. Paris, described so well by Furst, is the perfect setting for this intrigue. The cobbled streets, grand hotels, and so many other Parisian sights all become vivid backdrops for Stahl's adventures. Mission to Paris is fun, enjoyable reading with the attractions of Paris in the prewar years adding great charm to the story. Also, this is a great introduction to Furst's series of historical spy novels for those who have not read his books and want to explore more of his writing.
The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
Of all the great writers associated with Paris, Ernest Hemingway certainly is one of the most noted. Paula McClain's wildly successful novel The Paris Wife is a fictionalized retelling of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's first wife, and her life with the author, most of which was spent in Paris as he was trying to establish himself as a writer. Born in St. Louis, Hadley lived a somewhat sheltered life until she met the charmingly charismatic Ernest Hemingway on a trip to Chicago. The young Hemingway had already determined that a career as a writer was his true goal. They courted, married and the set out to establish a life for themselves in Paris in the 1920's. Not too long after their arrival, Hadley and Ernest has integrated themselves into the fabled world of Parisian writers that included Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and many others.
McLain skillfully transports her readers into wonderful Parisian scenes: cafes filled with aspiring writers, cozy restaurants featuring wonderful Parisian cuisine, endless walks around charmingly beautiful Paris and trips into the French countryside. Life with the temperamental Hemingway was so often a challenge for Hadley. Their marriage eventually developed many stresses and strains. Finally, Hadley realizes she cannot live with such difficulties in her and their child's life and she separates from Hemingway as the way to ensure her own survival.
The Paris Wife is a terrifically readable, interesting and well-written story. McLain makes the Parisian world inhabited by Hadley and Ernest Hemingway come vividly alive. In an afterword, McLain tells the reader about the motivation and research techniques she used to write this fiction-stylized version of Hadley's life. This can enrich the enjoyment of reading The Paris Wife.
Paris: A Love Story, by Kati Marton
For so many, Paris is a magical location for its sightseeing, cuisine, historical importance and romance. Katie Marton captures the romantic Paris wonderfully in her touching memoir Paris: A Love Story. As a young television reporter stationed in various locales within Europe beginning in the late 1970's, she covered many big stories, ie. the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran from France in 1979. In this position, she met and had, at times, a tempestuous romance with the noted television news anchor Peter Jennings, much of which took place in Paris. They eventually married and had two children. Marton details this relationship, which at times was challenged by their work schedules and professional egos. Eventually they divorced and Marton went on to marry Richard Holbrooke, who carved out a very successful career for himself as an American diplomat, who tried to solve many challenging international situations. Among his assignments, Holbrooke was involved in trying to achieve a peace in the Balkan fighting of the 1990's and the Afghanistan crisis in the early 21st Century. Again, Paris was the city in which Marton and Holbrooke's courtship and marriage was centered.
After Holbrooke's death in 2010, Marton again returns to Paris, the scene of so much love and happiness in her life, and tries to renew her ability to live a contented life. Marton is quite moving as she tells the readers how Paris gave her the comfort to achieve this goal so she could move on and become adjusted to her personal loss. Paris: A Love Story is very well written and is highly recommended.
Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander
Anyone who doesn't believe in NDEs (Near Death Experiences) should read "Proof of Heaven" by Eben Alexander, MD. Dr. Alexander is a highly skilled neurosurgeon with years of experience. As a scientist, he was always skeptical about NDEs reported by his patients. He didn't believe in God or the spiritual world. Physiology could explain all these "hallucinations". Chemical reactions in the brain were the likely cause.
In 2008, Dr. Alexander contracted a very serious, and usually fatal, strain of meningitis, which shut down part of his brain and thrust him into a coma. In a deep level of consciousness, he traveled through the Underworld, which he nicknamed "The Realm of the Earthworm's-Eye View" because it was dark, murky and blood vessel-like. Then he flew up to a "Gateway" - a light at the end of a tunnel. Finally, he entered "The Core", which appears to be what we call Heaven.
Dr. Alexander was accompanied by an Angel, and they flew on the wings of a butterfly! He communicated telepathically, and received immediate answers to his questions. Alexander had knowledge of everything! He learned that we are loved unconditionally, and that death is just a transition to the spiritual world - nothing to be feared.
Miraculously, Dr. Alexander awoke from his coma. He decided to share his experience by writing this book. The most interesting part is his analysis of NDEs from a scientific perspective. No wonder it was number one on the New York Times bestseller list. This book is a fascinating read - well worth your time!
The Fifties, by David Halberstam
When I was in college in the 1960s, I remember reading an article for a history class on how adolescents were rebelling against society since their predecessors had been forced to work in factories under terrible conditions, and they didn't want to perpetuate the "war cycle". When I saw David Halberstam's The Fifties, I thought this might give me further insight into the roots of the social unrest which marked the 1960s. So I downloaded this e-book to my iPad.
The book explains how the Depression and World War II impacted society. America started developing a social conscience. After the war, soldiers came home and the "Baby Generation" was born (literally and figuratively). Our standard of living improved as new technology - generated from war research - impacted the average American home. The advent of television provided a window on the world. We could see what was actually happening all over. Segregation, Senator McCarthy's red-baiting, Masters and Johnson's study on sex, the space race. Young people began questioning the status quo. The United States would never be the same.
This book is interesting as well as entertaining. It brings back a lot of great memories for those who grew up in this decade, and provides insight for those attempting to understand this chapter in our history. What's more, it chronicles an intellectual and social renaissance in America.
Not Quite What I Was Planning, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith
If you'd like to read something really different, then I suggest you take a look at Not Quite What I Was Planning. Famous and obscure writers were challenged to write a six-word memoir by Smith Magazine. Amateur and professional writers combined their work. As I began reading this book, I discovered some of the memoirs were self-explanatory, some required a bit of work to understand, and some were just plain weird! You could classify some of them as autobiographical, escapism or fantasy. Some address social issues. Many express human emotions: love, frustration, hope, disappointment. Be warned: you may find some to be risqué, explicit or profane. This is one way the writer communicates her / his emotions. The thing I like about this book the most is that it makes you think and use your imagination. I'm sure there will be subsequent books published on six-word memoirs. You should get in on the "ground floor"!
Tales from the New England Patriots Sideline, by Mike Felger
It practically jumped off the shelf into my hands! I've been a New England Patriots fan ever since their inception in 1960. When I saw Tales from the New England Patriots Sideline, I just knew I had to read it. I wasn't disappointed! It covers team history from the days when it had no home, to its recent Super Bowl victories in Gillette Stadium. Not only were its players a cast of characters, but the owners, GMs, and coaches also had their quirks. There are also some interesting side stories, like the "Great Flush", which the Town of Foxboro required to make sure the sewage system could handle the extra waste on game days! I gained some insight into why Bill Parcells left the Stadium right after Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 without saying goodbye to the team! There are many other anecdotes that will give you a good understanding of how the team has evolved. This book is a great read for everyone from the novice to the diehard fan. You'll probably want to read it as this season winds down in preparation for the Super Bowl.
Thanks to all of for helping to make the this year a great one for the Library and all who work here. We appreciate all the kind words and support we've heard throughout the year.
The fine staff of the Children's room starts things off with their favorite children's and young adult titles of the year.
Bear has a story to tell, by Philip C. Stead ; illustrated by Erin E. Stead
A beautiful, sweet book by the 2011 Caldecott Winners of A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Bear has a story to share with his friends mole, duck, mouse and frog who are busy getting ready for winter's arrival. Preschool-Grade 2
Big Mean Mike, by Michelle Knudsen ; illustrations by Scott Magoon
Fluffy, white, adorable bunnies are hard to resist. This humorous book is about the toughest dog in town with the meanest, noisiest car. Big Mean Mike finds one fluffy bunny after another in his cool car and tries to find ways to get rid of them before they ruin his reputation. Preschool-Grade 2
Cindy Moo, by Lori Mortensen ; illustrated by Jeff Mack
When Cindy Loo hears the line in the nursery rhyme, "And the cow jumped over the moon", she sets out to do just that, even when the other cows laugh at her.
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson ; illustrated by E.B. Lewis
The watercolor illustrations and thought provoking story will start many discussion in classrooms and at home. After her teacher gives a lesson on kindness, Chloe realizes that she and her friends have not treated a classmate very well and she longs for a chance to make it right. Grades 2-5
Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett ; illustrated by Jon Klassen
I read this picture book aloud to many students during class visits to the library. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is magical. Annabelle finds a box filled with colorful yarn and her knitting transforms her cold, dark town. Annabelle knits for her friends, neighbors and animals and it seems her box contains an endless supply of yarn. Students love to share their thoughts about Annabelle's mysterious yarn box, and what they would want an endless supply of in their own magical box. Grades K-3.
Happy, by Mies van Hout
An almost wordless book for one-on-one sharing or a small group. The author uses fish with different facial expressions and postures to portray 20 different emotions. A great book for interaction and discussion about feelings with pre-school children.
Penny and her song, by Kevin Henkes
This is the first entry in a new beginning reader series by the Caldecott Medal-winning author. Henkes introduces sweet and curious little mouse Penny, who longs to share a new counting song she has learned at school but is stopped by her parents who fear she will wake the babies. Penny's dilemma is resolved when the whole family gathers for her solo performance, singing a catching tune from one to ten and putting the siblings to sleep in the process.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
Children's Services loves this story and "wondered" whether it would resonate as much with children. It does. Children come in to request it, to rave about the book, and to ask for stories similar to it. Wonder tells the story of Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and is entering fifth grade at a private middle school after years of homeschooling. Told from multiple points of view, including Auggie, his sister, and several friends. School Library Journal notes that "everyone grows and develops as the story progresses, especially the middle school students. This is a fast read and would be a great discussion starter about love, support, and judging people on their appearance. A well-written, thought-provoking book." Recommended for grades 4-7.
Cinder: a Lunar chronicles novel , by Marissa Meyer
Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi
And here are a few more young adult titles from our teen committee:
The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Book 1 : This dark endeavor, by Kenneth Oppel
Fifteen year old Victor Frankenstein struggles with feelings of inferiority towards his identical twin brother Konrad. While exploring the family home in Geneva with friends Elizabeth and Henry, the twins find a secret library filled with books on the occult. When Konrad becomes gravely ill, Victor becomes obsessed with alchemy and with creating the Elixer of Life to save his brother. During his search for the necessary ingredients, Victor's belief in the powers of the elixer take hold of him, changing the course of their lives forever.
The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
A book about childhood cancer; it doesn't sound appealing at first glance, but it is filled with immensely appealing characters. This book follows the stories of several teenage cancer patients who meet in a support group. Augustus, Hazel and Isaac look at their lives and their illness with the frankness and irony common to teenagers. They have hobbies, dreams and relationship problems, but they live with the reality that their lives will not be long. Somehow John Green, without pity or sentimentality, manages to provide a peek into a world that most people fortunately never glimpse. Readers should push aside their reluctance to read this book for fear it will be depressing. I recommend this title to young adults and their parents. This book is written by an acclaimed author of young adult fiction and is on the 2012 list of Teens' Top Ten, a list chosen by young adult readers. Please watch this video of the author John Green reading the first chapter.
Dodger, by Terry Pratchett
Batman: Earth one , written by, Geoff Johns ; pencils by, Gary Frank ; inks by Jonathan Sibal ; color by Brad Anderson ; lettered by Rob Leigh
Code name Verity , by Elizabeth Wein
The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
And here's what the rest of our staff has to say:
Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs
In Atlantic City a casino heist goes bad and "Jack" (our eponymous Ghostman) is called in to clean up the mess and find the money. It's not a job he actually wants to do, but he has a debt to pay for a job he botched years ago and the ruthless crime lord he owes isn't the type to forgive and forget. Jack must work against the clock and use all of his skills and cunning to outmaneuver the Feds and a rival crime lord before all $1.2 million of the casino take goes up in flames. I got the opportunity to read an advance copy of Ghostman and Roger Hobbs has written a taut, fast-paced crime thriller that will be hard to put down. This is an impressive debut novel from an author who, by my estimation, has a bright writing career ahead of him.
The Balkan Project, by Cavatina Duo
The recording I seem to be returning to most often recently is Balkan Project by the Cavatina Duo. The Library catalog describes this CD accurately enough as "Arrangements of traditional Balkan songs and dances for flute and guitar". What this phrase doesn't capture however is the virtuosity of both flautist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic and their almost telepathic interplay in service of lovely melodies, many of which are in odd-numbered time signatures. Much of this music doesn't sound particularly Balkan in origin -- more Pan-Southern European. Regardless, the often poignant lyricism of the material speaks directly to the emotions.
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
Walter re-imagines the lives of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor beginning at the time of the filming of Cleopatra in Rome. He has inserted a cast of memorable fictional characters into their lives to create an entertaining tale. In addition to Rome the narrative is set in a sleepy fictional hamlet on the Italian coast and in L. A. It weaves the threads of several story lines through nearly fifty years in amusing and occasionally tragic ways.
We Sinners, by Hanna Pylväinen
This slim first novel draws on the author's own life experiences. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the nine children and the parents in a large Midwestern family. Their lives are circumscribed by the beliefs and practices of the strict fundamentalist Finnish Lutheran church to which they belong. Each individual relates how he or she struggles to find his or her place in their family and in the world. Pylvainen who grew up near Detroit as a Laestadian Lutheran has written a sensitive portrait of family members wrestling with forbidden desires and trying to maintain their love for one another.
The Garner Files: a memoir , by James Garner
Out of the eleven books I reviewed this year, I'd have to say The Garner Files was my favorite! I read this book last March on the train when I went to visit my daughter in Charlotte. James Garner is one of my favorite actors, and I was very curious about his background. It was nothing like I expected! His mother died when he was young, his father was an absentee parent always on the road, and he and his brother were brought up by relatives. He never finished school, and never had any formal training in acting. Garner got into acting because a friend kept on prodding him. And he was a natural! This book relates his dealings with unscrupulous Hollywood managers, temperamental actors and humorous situations. He worked with some of the greatest actors of all times. As I mentioned in my earlier Staff Pick, I came away with a greater appreciation for the man James Garner. You should read it. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!
The Cherry Thing, by Neneh Cherry & the Thing
A collaboration between vocalist Neneh Cherry and Scandinavian instrumental jazz trio The Thing. Over the course of this lurching and powerful record they cover songs by the like of Suicide, The Stooges and Ornette Coleman, among others. They manage to put their own stamp on these songs. The band, made up of bass, drums and saxophone build walls of tension behind Cherry's vocals creating a singular sound.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, by The Flaming Lips
Only Wayne Coyne and his band could actually pull off this idea, a double album featuring different "guests" on each track without things turning into a crazy jumbled mess. As it turns out, almost whoever they threw into this stew manages to hold their own and add to the band's heavy and discomforting sound. This CD version pales a bit in comparison to the now out of print double vinyl version by adding a few unnecessary touches but still, it's confounding how it all comes together.
Swing lo Magellan , by Dirty Projectors
The sheer joy on display here from the band manages to overcome their many pretensions. Plus, this features the year's best guitar riff...easily.
Pulphead: essays, by John Jeremiah Sullivan
John Jeremiah Sullivan makes essay writing seem so easy. With an easy charm and a quiet confidence,he immediately puts the reader at ease. His quirky choices of subjects doesn't hurt either; my favorite essay leads the book off. In it he visits a christian rock festival. He was ready to make fun of these folks and, he still does but also gains a grudging admiration for them. But really, anywhere you open this book you're bound to find a charmer. Currently, Mr . Sullivan is writing frequently for the New York Times Magazine, where he most recently told us about his "Multiday Massage-a-thon."
(the critics were WRONG!)
When Horror came to Shochiku
Four classic Japanese horror films from the 60s finally available from Criterion.
Blunderbuss, by Jack White
Bish Bosch, by Scott Walker
Tempest, by Bob Dylan
Lady, go die!: a Mike Hammer mystery, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Redshirts, by John Scalzi
Leviathan Wakes: an Expanse novel, by James S.A. Corey
The Big Book of Ghost Stories , edited by Otto Penzler
Lots of classic horror tales by a very diverse collection of writers from H.P. Lovecraft to Joyce Carol Oates.
Shadow show : an anthology of original short fiction by 26 authors, each of whom was inspired by the legendary work of Ray Bradbury, edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle
The Voice is All: the lonely victory of Jack Kerouac , by Joyce Johnson
Marvel Comics: the untold story , by Sean Howe
Jack Kerouac: collected poems, edited by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell
Assassins Creed 3, by Ubisoft
Ever wondered what downtown Boston and New York looked like during the revolutionary war? Well the designers at Ubisoft have accurately recreated both cities as your playground (in fact a good portion of the eastern seaboard can be explored). This game offers a historical fiction plot line with a serious sci-fi twist. Whether on missions or moving around in free play, this game is sure to become your next great time suck! As an Assassin, your job is to stop the evil Templars (who are responsible for the death of your mother). I highly recommend this to anyone who has an extra 100 hrs at their disposal! My favorite parts are participating in the Boston Tea Party and befriending Samuel Adams. Who said learning wasn't fun!
Jerusalem: chronicles from the Holy City, by Guy Delisle; coloured by Lucie Firoud & Guy Delisle; translated by Helge Dascher
Cartoonist Guy Delisle has made a career of combining his NGO work with graphic novel travelogues. With Jerusalem he has reached a pinnacle of sorts, by masterly weaving together his day to day struggles living within the city and highlighting it's historical relevance and cultural diversity. Though they are covered, the political realities of the city rarely take center stage here, as Delisle is careful not to overshadow his narrative with the ongoing conflict. By doing so, Delisle succeeds in giving us a report from the frontlines that is remarkably humane.
The Turin Horse, directed by Bela Tarr
Hungarian director Béla Tarr has claimed that this will be his last film and it is indeed a masterwork. Shot in 30 long takes, the film's slow pace, somber repetitiveness and bleak outlook will turn away most audiences; but if you are in the mood for a Nietzchean reflection on the endtimes, this is the film for you. I found it incredibly moving, the kind of film that sticks with you for an eternity. Words truly do not do this film justice, each viewer should be left to interpret it on their own.
Black is Beautiful, by Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland
Under the moniker Hype Williams, Blunt and Copeland have released a plethora of material on mixtapes and blogs over the past few years. In the process they have built up a rabid cult following within the online underground music community. With Black is Beautiful, the UK duo have lived up to this praise and continued their prolific streak with a very non-traditional release. Every track on the disc feels like a work in progress, yet they all flow together as if premeditated. Throwing together disparate strains of free jazz, hip hop and reggae the duo take the trip hop sound laid down by artists like Tricky and Portishead over a decade ago, disassemble it and reconfigure for an uncertain future.
Lucifer, by Peaking Lights
Lucifer is a joyous celebration of low-fidelity musical mysticism. Peaking Lights combination of dance music refuse, dub and lo-fi/indie rock tropes is hypnotically dizzying in its scope. Unlike other acts mining similar territory, they approach their sound without an ounce of irony or self-awareness and this makes all the difference- as their sincerity shines through.
Rose: my life in service to Lady Astor, by Rosina Harrison
This is an engaging memoir by a woman, Rosina Harrisson, who made a career of being a lady's maid in the early to mid 20th century. During her life in service to famous and sometimes infamous Nancy Astor, she achieved her life dream of travel and adventure. It is interesting to compare her version of life upstairs and downstairs with the popular Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. It is also an excellent read in preparation for the new biography of Nancy Astor by Adrian Fort to be published in the US in January 2013. Nancy was an American southern belle divorcee who made a brilliant marriage to Waldorf Astor and became among many things, the first woman elected to the House of Commons where she stayed for 25 years.And Rose was with her the whole time keeping her clothes and diamonds in order as well as her renowned temper. This was no mean accomplishment for, a Yorkshire country girl. Enjoy!
Picks from our Cos Cob staff
Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian
The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin
Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail , by Cheryl Strayed
Before the Poison, by Peter Robinson
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
Where'd you go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond, by Hans Holzer
Like just about everyone, I've been fascinated by stories of ghost sightings since I was a young child. When I saw the downloadable e-book titled Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond, I knew I had to download it to my iPad! The author, Hans Holzer, is a world famous paranormal expert. He has studied paranormal incidents for over 30 years. Holzer can tell the difference between a manufactured story and the real deal. He begins by discussing some pretty incredible near death experiences to prove the existence of a spirit world. Then he proceeds to cite over 200 cases, which support the concept of ghost sightings. According to Holzer, ghosts are the result of dead people being stuck between the living and spiritual world, who have unfinished business. They can only pass on to that spirit world with the help of living people, who help them resolve their problems. He claims to have made contact with such famous people as Aaron Burr and John Wilkes Booth in séances through mediums. There is also audio and photographic evidence! I was a little skeptical at first, but now consider myself a true believer! This e-book is well-worth your time.
Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them, by Frank Langella
Frank Langella has written a totally engaging and delightful memoir of his interesting and productive career as a working actor for the approximately past 50 years. Dividing this book into chapters named for the various actors, politicians and other memorable characters he has known in his life, he writes concisely and vividly about these famous folks. For example, while working as a young actor in a summer theater on Cape Cod, he ends up at a luncheon with President Kennedy, his wife and Noel Coward among others. Though this happened many years ago, his writing makes this event, as well as the others he describes in subsequent chapters, so fresh and fun to read. Some other notables he socialized with are Yul Brynner and Rex Harrison. Both appear to be have been driven by huge egos and were very difficult men. Jacqueline Kennedy appears and then reappears in his life. Langella shows great skill as a writer as these diverse and very often immensely interesting folks come alive in his book. Dropped Names is highly recommended.
My Mother Was Nuts, by Penny Marshall
I listened to this book read by the author on the drive to and from work. At times the narration was laugh-out-loud funny and I wondered what people who glanced in my car were thinking about me. Penny talks about her childhood and taking dance at her mother's dance school. The title refers to her mother and Penny states that her daughter Tracy could probably say the same thing about her.
She tells us about her first marriage and her early acting career. Her television series Laverne and Shirley is discussed at length, including the last season and the departure of Cindy Williams. Famous names are sprinkled throughout the book. Penny and Carrie Fisher had a combined birthday celebration for more than twenty years. She and Art Garfunkel motor biked through France.
What I found most intriguing was the movies that she directed. She had only directed a few Laverne and Shirley episodes prior to her first movie Jumping Jack Flash with Whoopie Goldberg. She also directed Big, Awakenings, A League Of Their Own, Renaissance Man, The Preacher's Wife and Riding in Cars with Boys. Penny has also directed several television shows and made-for-TV movies.
She discusses her obsession with sport, particularly basketball. Penny is a New Yorker at heart and speaks about the resilience of New Yorkers after 9/11. Penny has lived by her own simple rules: "try hard, help your friends, don't get too crazy, and have fun."
This book was a great listen due to the fact that the author narrated it. If you get the print version there are photographs.
Bob Dylan: Writings 1968-2010, by Greil Marcus
I've always admired Bob Dylan (whose real name is Robert Zimmerman). I consider him more of a poet-lyricist than a singer. His work has been covered by such great artists as The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash. No one can deny that he has had a great influence on a wide range of musical genres. So when I saw the e-Book Bob Dylan: Writings 1968-2010 by Greil Marcus, I just knew I had to download it. The author is a columnist, and began writing for the Village Voice in 1968. He covered the music scene in Greenwich Village, where Dylan and other great musicians started. Over the years, he wrote about Dylan in his columns for the Gazette, Rolling Stone and Artforum. I feel a kind of kinship with Marcus because he feels that Dylan does not have a particularly great voice, but the message in his lyrics is what gets people. The author writes that he tries to get close to the music to understand Dylan. Marcus calls it Dylan's "conversation" with people. This work is a collection of writings on Dylan's recordings, performances, books and movies. It's a good way to get the whole picture of one of America's greatest cultural icons.
House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East, by Anthony Shadid
Family has always been a powerful and multidimensional concept that authors have continually used to build their stories. Such is the case with Anthony Shadid's new book, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and A Lost Middle East. Shadid, a reporter for the New York Times when he died at the young age of 43 covering the Syrian crisis in February, 2012, was of Lebanese descent. His book recounts his experiences when he went to Marjayoun, Lebanon to rebuild his great-grandfather's home that had been ruined from years of neglect and shelling during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. While Shadid admits some thought he was crazy to attempt such a project, he did move there and did the restoration as well as he could.
His story has two tracts. One is his interaction with local craftsmen and construction laborers as he struggles to restore his family's house to its former condition. The stories of the residents of Marjayoun he befriends and deals with are often touching as so many have lost so much during years of fighting and strife in Lebanon. In the other tract, Shadid traces his family's migration from Lebanon beginning in the early Twentieth Century to Oklahoma. They encountered numerous setbacks as they struggled to make a new life for themselves.
House of Stone is particularly recommended for those readers who are interested in learning about how the issues of the decades-long wars and fighting in Lebanon have effected numerous families, both in their daily lives and their long-term living in a war-torn country. Shadid did win two Pulitzers for his reporting of the Middle East conflicts and his writing is so clear. He makes the Lebanese countryside and assorted characters he met while redoing the house come alive. Equally, the story of his family's migration to America makes for very engaging reading. Once again, a reader can marvel at the huge challenges immigrants faced and overcame after arrival in America. After reading House of Stone, this reviewer wants to explore other books by Anthony Shadid.
Football for Dummies, by Howie Long with John Czarnecki
I thought I knew everything there is to know about football; but when I started reading Football for Dummies I realized there's a lot that I don't know! The basics of the game are presented. Offensive and defensive formations are discussed in detail. It breaks down the running and passing games. It covers many of the rules and penalties. The Super Bowl and BCS playoff systems are explained. There's a very useful appendix covering football terminology. The Parts of Ten Lists - which are a standard feature of all "Dummies" books - cover the greatest offensive players, greatest coaches, best teams, and greatest College rivalries. This book by ex-NFL player and Fox commentator Howie Long and sports analyst John Czarnecki is well-written, very entertaining and informative. Whether you know the game inside out or not, you can learn a lot that will help you enjoy the sport even more!
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick
An extremely stark photograph at the beginning of Nothing to Envy illustrates so much about the North Korea Barbara Demick describes in her fascinating study of this country. Taken at night of the Korean peninsula, this photograph shows South Korea ablaze with lights while North Korea is just dark, seemingly devoid of life. Demick, who covers Asia for the Los Angeles Times, is one of the few Western reporters granted permission to travel within North Korea, albeit heavily supervised by North Korean watch dogs.
In her quest to write about North Korea, Demick interviewed several North Koreans who fled that dismal nation to South Korea. Through their stories, an exceedingly bleak picture of North Korea emerges. Perhaps the strongest characteristic of North Korea is the total and complete control that the government exerts over its citizens in every segment of their lives. Under the previous dictator, Kim Jung-il, father of the current leader Kim Jung-un, all North Korean citizens were totally indoctrinated into the belief that their "Dear Leader" (Kim Jung-il) was solely responsible for all aspects of their lives. Perhaps the most gripping part of Nothing to Envy covers the horrendous famine in the late 1990's that caused the gruesome deaths of thousands in North Korea.
Demick's writing in this book gives the reader a compellingly vivid inside look of this mysterious country, which has totally isolated itself from the rest of the world. Nothing to Envy is strongly recommended.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
Honest memoir of an 1100 mile solo hike with twists and turns along the way. Get out your hiking boots!
Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian
Fictional account of the Armenian genocide of 1915-16. A riveting story of love and war.
Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose
Enthralling World War II account of the Screaming Eagles, the Easy Company of the 101st Airborne who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, then were used as infantrymen. The worst was perhaps the Battle of Bastogne where, besides being badly outnumbered by the German army, they lacked warm clothes or blankets, enough food or ammunition. As one of their leaders said, "In combat your reward for a good job done is that you get the next tough mission"; and "The result of sharing all that stress through training and combat has created a bond between the men of E company that will last forever." By the end of the war, 48 E company members had given their lives for their nation; over 100 had been wounded.
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
When I was in high school, I read many classics, but I never read "The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank. I saw it under Downloadable Books on the Greenwich Library website so I downloaded it to my Kindle Fire. Somewhere along the way I'd heard it was the story of a young Jewish girl and her family hiding from the Nazis in World War II. It's more than just a story about victims of the Holocaust. It's also the story of a young girl coming of age with the backdrop of war. She has to go through adolescence without the benefit of freedom enjoyed by the average teenager. Yet, she is a typical young woman exploring her feelings, adjusting to changes in her body and trying to exercise her independence. The problem is that she has to live in close quarters hiding from the Germans over an extended period of time. Food becomes scarce as well as the other comforts of life. She dreams of becoming a journalist after the war. Her relationship with her parents is strained, and she gravitates toward a boy several years older than herself for comfort and affection. Meanwhile, they hear rumors about the progress of the war and who's winning. They're on a roller coaster ride of emotions as they wait for an Allied victory. It's easy to see why this book is considered a classic.
Unorthodox: the Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots , by Deborah Feldman
Deborah Feldman, in her first book Unorthodox: the Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots, gives a fascinating and very personal account of her childhood and adolescent life as a member of the extremely Orthodox Jewish Hasidic Satmar sect of Brooklyn, New York. Her very early life was shaken by both her mother and father's leaving her. Her father was mentally unable to deal with parenthood and her mother chose to leave the Satmar sect. Thus, Feldman was raised by her paternal grandparents, who both adhered to the strict Hasidic creed of living as a truly-religious person. Yet, early on, Feldman escaped the intellectual and social confines of the Satmar community and found refuge in a local library, where she became a voracious reader of any books she could find. The detail of the life she led in her early years gives the reader an extremely interesting insight into the rigors and total-control exerted by this community over its members. Her deeply-felt feelings of being totally dominated and isolated by the rules of life in the Satmar community as a younger person are strikingly recounted. Feldman marries and 17 and experiences many problems adjusting to married life within her community at such a young age. Eventually, she builds the strength to leave the Satmar community with a determination to live a productive and stimulating life totally separate from the Hasidic world. Her story is an endlessly fascinating tale of not only life within a confining world totally absorbed with living according to Hasidic principles, but also how one person, at a very young age, grew determined to leave it by relying on her belief she could live life freely without the binding dictates of religion. Unorthodox is highly recommended.
100 Simple Things You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer's and Age-related Memory Loss, by Jean Carper
I'd been talking with a patron one day about age and memory loss. She returned to the desk a short time later with Jean Carper's book 100 Simple Things You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer's and Age-related Memory Loss. I decided to take a look. The book explains how this disease ravages the brain. The good news is there are things we can do to prevent, or at least ward off, the onset. Exercise and diet are key to preventing the plaques from building up in the brain and interfering with memory. There are also supplemental drugs you can take to turn the tables in your favor. You can use certain brain exercises to keep your brain healthy. Internet searching has also been credited with helping since it involves quick, frequent decision making. People who develop Alzheimer's carry a certain gene. This doesn't mean they'll get Alzheimer's - only that they are more prone. As the author states, the more you know about the disease and ways to prevent it, the better are your chances of avoiding it. Everyone should read this book to protect their health and quality of life.
Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939 - 1945, by Neill Lochery
While the role of Portugal in World War II might be considered minor by many, Neill Lochery, in his new book Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939 - 1945, has written an interesting account about how Portugal did manage to remain neutral during that conflict. The Portuguese government faced many issues threatening that avoidance of war involvement : mainly the possible invasion from Spain or Germany into its territory. Portugal has a great natural resource with its wolfram (tungsten) supply, which was a much-needed element in the manufacturing of armaments. Leading the Portuguese government was Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. He began as Portugal's finance minister and then became Prime Minister from 1932 until 1968. Salazar ruled as virtual dictator and guided Portugal through the tricky diplomatic waters of maintaining its neutrality during the war years. Salazar played both the Axis and the Allies against each other with its wolfram trade as well as other political issues.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the war years in Portugal was the collection of refugees and personalities that sought safety there. For many escaping the Germans, Lisbon was the port from which they left for foreign shores. Even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor found temporary refuge there after leaving Nazi-occupied France. Another notable character floating around Lisbon, as an intelligence office for the British government, was Ian Fleming, who gained widespread fame as the writer of the James Bond books after the war. Thus, especially for those who are interested in lesser-known aspects of the World War II years in Europe, Lisbon is a very enjoyable read.
My Brother, the Pope, by Georg Ratzinger
Georg Ratzinger's recollections of his family's life, and especially that of his brother Joseph (Pope Benedict XVI) form the basis of this book, starting with memories such as Joseph as a small boy regularly visiting a stuffed bear in the local shop and being heart-broken when it disappeared. His memories are interspersed with sections by the interviewer that help provide context and background. As a student, Joseph was a natural scholar, not only doing assigned work, but always reading additional books to explore ideas more fully. The Ratzingers were a close knit and devout family whose hatred of National Socialism made the war years especially difficult. Both boys always expected to be priests. However, Joseph never sought nor wanted important positions of prominence, but would have been happy spending his life as a teacher/priest/scholar. Being selected Pope came as "a thunderbolt", but, as always, he put himself at the disposal of the Holy Spirit and did/does the best he can.
City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley
Venice has remained an extraordinarily dazzling city set on a series of islands in a lagoon off the northern coast of Italy. While it has gathered many romantic and fanciful nicknames over the years, perhaps the most appropriate is Stato da Mar or State across the Sea. And, the trading across the sea was the source of the riches that made Venice into a great empire for centuries. Roger Crowley's latest book, City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, is a terrifically readable and fascinating history of the rise of the Venetian Empire. With his clear and concise writing style, he relates how the commercially-driven city of Venice grew into a strong, wealthy and colonizing force in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Venetians became extremely efficient in establishing seaside cities as their exclusive trading zones. And, the profit to Venice was huge. Crowley uses primary sources with ease and the descriptions give the reader a first-hand glimpse into the Venetian world of commerce. Equally, the growth of Venice as military power is described. Perhaps the most vivid is the participation of Venice in the Fourth Crusade. That was a horrendously destructive expedition designed to re-establish Christian power over the Holy Land. Venice played a key role in conquering and pillaging Constantinople. However, that control only lasted several decades during the Thirteen Century. In all, City of Fortune is a highly recommended historical account of the rise and fall of the Venetian Empire.
The Garner Files, by James Garner
My wife, Linda, brought home a book to me titled The Garner Files. This is an autobiography of actor James Garner written in collaboration with Jon Winokur. I was a big fan of the Rockford Files and particularly James Garner, who played the lead. His delivery was so smooth and he was so natural. The book covers his early life in Oklahoma. His mother died when he was young, and his father was always on the road. Jim and his brothers ended up living with relatives. He was a rebel-rouser when he was young, and made money at odd jobs. The book relates how he never finished school, was wounded in the Korean War and fell into acting by accident. There are many anecdotes about his interactions with fellow actors. He imparts his philosophy of acting, which is based on reacting to what other people say. This book is well-written and easy to read. If you're like me, you'll develop a new-found respect for James Garner.
City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas , by Roger Crowley
Venice has remained an extraordinarily dazzling city set on a series of islands in a lagoon off the northern coast of Italy. While it has gathered many romantic and fanciful nicknames over the years, perhaps the most appropriate is Stato da Mar or State across the Sea. And, the trading across the sea was the source of the riches that made Venice into a great empire for centuries. Roger Crowley's latest book, City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, is a terrifically readable and fascinating history of the rise of the Venetian Empire. With his clear and concise writing style, he relates how the commercially-driven city of Venice grew into a strong, wealthy and colonizing force in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Venetians became extremely efficient in establishing seaside cities as their exclusive trading zones. And, the profit to Venice was huge. Crowley uses primary sources with ease and the descriptions give the reader a first-hand glimpse into the Venetian world of commerce. Equally, the growth of Venice as military power is described. Perhaps the most vivid is the participation of Venice in the Fourth Crusade. That was a horrendously destructive expedition designed to re-establish Christian power over the Holy Land. Venice played a key role in conquering and pillaging Constantinople. However, that control only lasted several decades during the Thirteen Century. In all, City of Fortune is a highly recommended historical account of the rise and fall of the Venetian Empire.
Heaven is for Real, by Todd Burpo
Several years ago, I turned on the television and happened to catch an interview on Good Morning, America with a couple who claimed their son visited heaven during a critical medical emergency. Recently, I spotted a book on the story titled Heaven is for Real. It's the story of the Burpo family from Nebraska. The father, Todd, is a part-time pastor at a church, and has 3 children. His middle son, Colton, suffered a ruptured appendix and almost died in the hospital. Several months after his recovery, Colton began telling his parents about who he had seen in Heaven and what Heaven was like. He also talked about meeting his great-grandfather, as well as a sister who had died in childbirth. Colton also told his parents some other details which amazed them. Although religion is a big part of this book, it's still an interesting story from a scientific point of view. I was so intrigued by it, that I read it in two days! In a way, I felt uplifted and energized by it. You will, too!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
Extensively praised since its publication in 2010, Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, combines a recounting of both an incredible medical development involving research on the cells taken from one human being with the effect of the use of those cells for scientific purposes on the family of the person whose cells were taken from her for this research. At the center of this incredibly fascinating book, is Henrietta Lacks, who was born in Roanoke, Virginia in 1920. In her late 20's, she developed an extremely destructive form of cervical cancer. Prior to her death in 1951, human cells were removed from her body to be used for research purposes by a doctor at Johns Hopkins without her knowledge or permission. Those cells became known as HeLa cells; so named by using the first two letters of Henrietta's first and last name. The HeLa cells became unique for they could be grown in cultures and used to study various diseases and other areas of scientific research.
It was as a young student that Skloot became aware of the existence of these cells and she was to become enthralled by their history and use within the scientific community. At the early stages of her writing career, she began to meticulously research the story of these cells. Concerned with discovering all she could about the person whose cells became the center of the HeLa research, she tracked down the former husbands, children, grandchildren and assorted family members of Henrietta Lacks. The legacy of the Hela cells on Henrietta's family was a source of great mystery, frustration, resentment and pride within that family.
The HeLa cell story itself at times might make readers question if they are reading fact or fiction. Yet, thanks to Skloot's clear and very well documented writing, the HeLa cell story, as well as Skloot's telling of the Lacks's family involvement with that story, both come vividly alive and make for very readable and extremely interesting reading. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is highly recommended, especially for those readers who have an interest in the biological sciences and the remarkable achievements in research the scientific community has made in the past decades using the HeLa cells.
Last Flight, by Amelia Earhart; arranged by George Palmer Putnam; foreword by Walter J. Boyne
Like everyone else, I've always been curious about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart on her 'round the world flight. Rumors abound about her being shot down by the Japanese, being captured by cannibals, etc. So I decided to download Last Flight to my iPad. It was put together using dispatches, letters, diary entries and charts used along the way. Amelia represented the new, independent woman long before women's liberation hit the scene. She was a record setter, being the first to fly from Hawaii to California, California to Mexico and twice across the Atlantic (1928 and 1932 - once as a passenger and once as pilot). Descriptions of the tight quarters, scenery and different cultures are very entertaining. She really had a positive and unique way of looking at things. And she knew how to enjoy life. Her flights were not only courageous, but they also demonstrated how convenient air travel could be. There is no doubt she was an important pioneer in aviation history. Sometimes I think the mystery is better left unsolved.
Unbroken: A World War II Airman's Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand
For a harrowing, true-life story of human experience in the Pacific theater of World War II, few books can top the unbelievably grueling account of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken: A World War II Airman's Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. Her thorough and very well-documented research into Zamperini's life has resulted in a compellingly readable book. After a chaotic childhood, Zamperini gained fame as a world-class runner and even competed in the Berlin Olympics of 1936. After the war began, he ended up in Hawaii serving in the Army Air Corps. His misfortune in his war experience began when the aircraft on which he was serving crashed in the Pacific Ocean. He and two other members of his crew miraculously survived - only to end up floating on a raft for 47 days. Their conditions while on their raft were extreme as they fought off shark attacks, barely had any food at all to eat, and had endless struggles in finding even small amounts of water to drink. Eventually, one airman died and then the Japanese captured them. Then, their odyssey through the Japanese prison camps began. That is a tale filled with horrid conditions, true torture at times gleefully administered by their Japanese captors and other depravities. Once the atom bombs were dropped, Zamperini and his fellow prisoners of war eventually were released.
His return to civilian life was marked by numerous troubles with alcoholism and marriage difficulties. However, Zamperini eventually pulled his life together and served as a great inspiration to many. Louis Zamperini's life is remarkable and Laura Hillenbrand has written a terrific book about a man who survived many terrifically difficult years of service during World War II. Unbroken is highly recommended.
Man Overboard: Inside The Honeymoon Cruise Murder, by Joan Lownds
In the early 1990s, as supervisor at the Cos Cob Post Office, I met George Smith III and his son, George IV. They ran a local store, and were very friendly people. In 2005, I was shocked to find out George IV had gone missing from a Mediterranean cruise during his honeymoon. Recently, I received a reference copy of Man Overboard: Inside The Honeymoon Cruise Murder. I just had to read it to find out what happened to him.
George IV married Jennifer Hagel, and they were celebrating on the cruise when he disappeared. Several other passengers reported hearing loud noises and sounds coming from the couple's cabin. George and Jennifer had befriended some dark characters, who were the last known people to see George alive. The cruise ship personnel cleaned up the crime scene before any investigation could be conducted. This angered relatives, who started an investigation which revealed startling information: such occurrences on cruise ships were more prevalent than one would think. It also revealed a deliberate cover-up by company officials.
The Smith's took on "the system" and have worked to get legislation to make the cruise lines more accountable. They joined forces with families of victims, and went to Washington. This book took little time to read. It answered some questions, but not all. It also raised other questions. Once you read this book, you'll never think about cruises the same way.
The Casserole Queen's Cookbook, by Crystal Cook
Recently while channel surfing, I landed on a "Throwdown" episode with Bobby Flay challenging two women from Austin Texas that were famous for their chicken pot pies. I was curious to find out more about these women, and was thrilled to find out they have released a book called The Casserole Queens Cookbook. Authors Crystal Cook and Sandy Pullock put the "kitch" in kitchen by presenting mouth-watering one dish made from scratch meals that give a nostalgic nod to the 50's and 60's.
With the authors on the cover dressed in vintage clothing, this book has over 100 one-dish recipes that are sure to satisfy even the pickiest eater. The chapter named "Fun for the Whole Family" includes recipes for Meatball Casserole, Royal Cottage Pie, and their signature "World's Greatest Chicken Pot Pie". The "Savory Gourmet" chapter includes "Osso Bucco Fit For A Queen", Coq au Vin, Beef Burgundy, and "Pimpin' Paella". There are even breakfast casseroles such as Bed and Breakfast Casserole, Smokin' Strata, and Blueberry Coffee Cake. There are lots of tips and helpful hints so that you can stock up your freezer with these go-to meals. I truly enjoyed this cookbook and have tried many of the recipes. The meals have been met with rave reviews by my family, and have also resurrected many happy memories of meals from another era.
Townie: A Memoir, by Andre Dubus III
Andre Dubus wrote the much-praised and popular House of Sand and Fog in 2000. His latest book, Townie: A Memoir has also received great acclaim for its direct, candid and, at times, brutal recounting of Dubus's growing up in a series of dilapidated Massachusetts mill towns that have experienced far better days in the past. His family life was often chaotic. One of four children, Dubus's father was an English college professor and aspiring writer troubled by alcohol addiction. After Dubus's parents divorced, his father basically became an absent father and his mother struggled to provide Dubus and his three siblings a stable home life with infrequent success. Financial issues were constantly challenging his family. Often their refrigerator and kitchen shelves were nearly empty of food.
This is a bleak story of a childhood filled with constant upheavals and family struggles. Eventually though, Dubus does achieve a relationship of sorts with his father and his family does come together, in their way, as a unit. Dubus's writing style powerfully recreates his youth, adolescence and early adulthood very vividly. He writes in a crisp, direct manner which makes for engrossing reading. For those readers who enjoyed House of Sand and Fog, Townie is an excellent book to show the talented development of Andres Dubus III as a terrific writer.
Blue Nights, by Joan Didion
Two of the most life-challenging situations an individual can experience, the death of a child and the aging process, are very movingly and eloquently written about in Joan Didion's newest book, Blue Nights. Blue Nights could be considered a sequel to Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, which detailed her life in the aftermath of the death of her husband, the writer John Dunne and the beginning of her daughter, and only child, Quintana's terminal illness. Didion randomly reflects on various aspects of Quintana's life, including her adoption, upbringing, and their mother/daughter relationship. As she has turned 75 while writing the book, Didion also writes about various illnesses and physical complications which begin to plague her and truly demonstrate in real terms to her that she is indeed aging. Though this may sound like elements of a depressing book, Blue Nights is so well constructed and beautifully written that it becomes an affirmation of the human ability to handle the most emotionally daunting situations. Blues Nights might be best enjoyed after reading Year of Magical Thinking, a title also held by the Greenwich Library. Blue Nights is highly recommended!
The Rough Guide to Cult Movies, by Paul Simpson
If you're a real movie buff, then you should take a look at The Rough Guide to Cult Movies by Paul Simpson. It's a wonderful reference for some obscure, and not so obscure, movies. There are over 427 movie titles in all. They're organized under some unusual categories such as "Actor's lapses", "Bollywood" and "Weepies". Each movie description provides the name of the director, actors and plot summary. There is also quite a bit of background trivia available. If you're looking for something different, you should browse this guide and view some of the movies listed inside. Personally, I used Downloadable Library on the Greenwich Library webpage to load it to my Kindle Fire. You might want to purchase a copy to keep on your movie shelf, or download to your e-reader. It's worth the investment!
West With The Night, by Beryl Markham
The remarkable story of a young woman who went from horse trainer to pioneering pilot during her life in Africa where she grew up on her father's farm. Autobiographical, but not an autobiography, she relates compelling stories of various key incidents in her life, from surviving a lion's attack to her attempt to be the first to fly solo from England to the United States. She is a philosopher who writes poetically in prose.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, by Mark Adams
This title should be on the "must read" list of anyone who has experienced first-hand the mysterious wonders of Machu Picchu as well as those who have always been fascinated by the endlessly intriguing Inca ruins in the Peruvian Andes. Adams, a writer specializing in travel/adventure articles, has written a most informative and entertaining personal account of his own travels to Machu Picchu. Included in this account is the history of this fourteenth century Inca settlement that shows so well the glories of the Inca civilization. Adams also details the twentieth century story of Machu Picchu by tracing the life and exploits of Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor, who has been credited with the supposed "rediscovery" of Machu Picchu in 1911. Recent writing in National Geographic has suggested that perhaps other adventurers beat Bingham to Machu Picchu and, therefore, he does not deserve full credit for this accomplishment.
Bingham's story, as told by Adams, includes a fun explanation of how he very well may have served as the model for the title character in the Indiana Jones movies. In all, Turn Right at Machu Picchu is highly recommended!
A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child, by Jennet Conant
This staff pick is really aimed for those who read My Life in France by Julia Child, which is her charmingly entertaining autobiography. A Covert Affair by Jennet Conant details the World War II years of Julia, her husband Paul and their widely-diverse group of friends when they worked in the Office of Strategic Services. Several of these friends of Julia's were mentioned, though not in great detail, in My Life in France.
Julia and Paul Child are the most interesting people in Conant's book. Julia's wartime service to the American government in several parts of the globe certainly is a total contrast to her later triumphs in promoting proper food preparation of French cuisine and other styles of cooking. An example of her assignments during the war was when Julia worked in Ceylon on a project associated with Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. While A Covert Affair may not be the equal to My Life in France in terms of a great reading experience, it is recommended for those who have already read her autobiography and want to know more about Julia and Paul Child.
As you might expect, the Greenwich Library staff are an erudite bunch; opinionated too. Here are some of their favorite things from the past year.
My Favorite Design Books
Design Sponge at Home, by Grace Bonney
This is an amazing book by the creator of the popular design blog Design*Sponge. The book features beautiful photos and illustrations with home tours, realistic DIY projects with helpful step-by-step tutorials, and before and after makeovers. If you're looking to personalize your home on a budget, and need to know how to do it all yourself, this is the perfect place to start.
Black & White (and a bit in between), by Celerie Kemble
Black and white is my absolute favorite color combination. It is striking, dramatic and glamorous but can also be soothing and understated. In addition to her own, designer Celerie Kemble includes rooms by other well known designers, so you experience many points of view along the common theme of black and white. Kemble also covers adding neutrals and pops of color to accentuate your space. Great for inspiration.
Some 2011 highlights
Beginners, directed by Mike Mills
This deft and charming film focuses on sad guy Oliver Fields, played by Ewan McGregor, as he comes to terms with the death of his father and his attempt, after many failures, at a meaningful relationship. The story, told in flashbacks as well as the present (well, 2003 but, close enough,) allows us to see the baggage that Oliver is carrying around in his adult life. We learn that after his mother dies his father, which much aplomb, comes out of the closet. And, in a way, it's the story of Oliver coming out of his own closet of sadness and self-doubt. He begins a romance with the lovely Anna (played by the super cute Melanie Laurent))after they meet at a costume party. It's the scenes of their sometimes awkward courtship that are intermixed with the back story of Oliver's life. Neither of them is very good at relationships and, thanks to Mills excellent script, we learn why Oliver is reticent but we are offered just brief clues as to what lies in Anna's past.Despite the fact that they are in their late 30's, they are still beginners.
Christopher Plummer nearly steals the show as Oliver's dad and, even despite the presence of a cute little dog, things never get too precious.
Our Lives are Shaped by What We love: Motown's Mowest Story 1971-1973, by various artists
Who knew that, in the early '70's, Motown records founder Berry Gordy, Jr. ran a left coast version of his legendary Detroit record label. It was called Mowest and was dedicated to the grooving sounds of the west coast, with a sharp eye on the top of the charts. (Those were the days when top ten records really mattered.) Even though the label released over forty singles and close to a dozen albums the hits never happened and the imprint called it a day in 1973. But...that doesn't mean the music wasn't worthwhile because, in retrospect there were scores of great songs that were released during that time. Forty plus years later the best of those have been collected on this beautiful re-issue. Nearly every track is a winner and what's most striking is the wide variety of styles found on the collection. There's quite a bit of top shelf R&B, of course, by the like of such unknowns as Syreeta, G.C. Cameron and Sister Love but there's some nice Topanga Canyonesque rock from Lodi and some straight up hippie sounds from Odyssey. And after listening to this record I guarantee you that you'll never think about Frankie Valli & the Four seasons. They show up twice here, once offering up a fierce Meters like funk workout with a killer horn break called "Sun Country." The real highlight is a sneaky number by Syreeta called "I Love Everything Little Thing About You" that captures the breezy west coast sound Gordy was after with Mowest. It features an unmistakable Stevie Wonder on keyboards (he also produced her record for Mowest) and brings a synthesizer inflected funk sound to the track. I'd love to hear the whole record someday. This one was a super nice surprise.
Jernigan & Preston Falls, by David Gates
If all this Holiday cheer has you down I can recommend the writing of David Gates. While they aren't necessarily new (they were published in 1991 and 1998) these novels they're new to me. The men In these books, Peter Jernigan and Doug Willis, manage to wreck nearly everything and everyone they come in contact with. Jernigan is a self-centered drunk who is trying to come to terms with the death of his wife, who apparently was a bigger drunk than him. His dubious method of doing so is to drink even more than he used to and by losing his job. And, just when you think he can't sink any lower he moves in with the mother of his son's girlfriend. It's a creepy arrangement but it works...for a little while. It's a grim story but Gates makes it compulsively readable by creating characters that are entirely believable. He also adds a healthy dose of gallows humor to the book. Expanding on the same ground that Raymond Carver covered, Gates offers up a glimpse of a life that's spinning out of control. It's unclear if Jernigan actually wants to get well (at times he seems perfectly content to be a wretched drunk.) He doesn't do a whole lot of soul searching but, despite his shortcomings, he is still saved from his certain demise by his sadly neglected son. It's a powerful book that, in the wrong hands could have been too much. But Gates knows the territory well and cushions the blow with a strong dose of humanity.
In Preston Falls, Doug Willis isn't much better but at least he has a job. He's also smack in the middle of a mid-life crisis. To combat that, he decides to take a sabbatical from his corporate job and head to his summer house in Vermont with the intention of fixing it up. He leaves his wife and kids to fend for themselves. But a series of poor decisions ends turning his vacation into a nightmare. Throughout the book Gates drops hints that Willis's marriage has been on the rocks from quite some time. His wife is resentful that he's left but, in a way she seems thankful as well. His absence is one less hardship for her to deal with. Soon after his arrival in Preston Falls Willis falls in with some disreputable townies and before you know it, things are spinning out of control. He handles it about as poorly as a person could and ends penniless and on the run. And once again it's his wife, friend and family that do their best to get things squared away. Even though things are rough for a good portion of the novel, Gates leaves us with a little glimmer of hope.
Gates has scarcely been heard from since the publication of Preston Falls. Besides a short story collection there has been nothing. I can't help but suspect that some of the issues that surround his male characters come from direct experience. I also get the feeling that writing these books was a very difficult process. One that he may still be recovering from.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
Helen Simonson has written a real charmer of a book with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Whether one is a avid or infrequent reader, this book can be a thoroughly entertaining and rewarding reading experience. The Major Pettigrew of the title is a retired, widowed British military officer recovering from the death of his brother. A chance encounter with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shop keeper, is the starting point of a friendship based, at first, on a mutual love of literature. Set in a seemingly tranquil English small town, the balance of this very well-crafted story follows the events in Pettigrew's life as he rediscovers the fact that joy can return to his life. While Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is Helen Simonson's first novel, this reviewer is hopeful that she will continue to write books as enjoyable as this one. The bonus of reading the Random House Reader's Circle edition available at the Greenwich Library is an interview with Simonson as well as a readers discussion section. This would be a great selection for a book club.
Briefly, if this reviewer were to pick the best books read in 2011, the fiction winner would be Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson and for nonfiction, it would be Founding Gardeners : The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf. That book is reviewed in the Staff Picks column.
Chamber Music, Vols 1-3, by Rodolfo Halffter
My musical discovery of the year is the Spanish/Mexican composer Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987). The Library owns a series of three CDs (COMP DISC 785.1 HALFF) devoted to his chamber music and I was particularly impressed with the third installment. The distinctive mix of neo-classicism and accessible atonalism on this recording has led me to more repeat listenings than any other recent release. All three discs can also be auditioned via Naxos Music Library on the Digital Music Page of the Library's website.
Complete Music for Piano, by Joaquin Rodrigo
Joaquin Rodrigo isn't particularly well known for his compositions for piano. However, I discovered his Complete Music for Piano a few months ago via the Library's subscription to Naxos Music Library and continue to revisit this uniformly charming release regularly. Magisterially played by Gregory Allen, the two disc set is also available on CD (COMP DISC 786.2 RODRI) at the Main Library.
All the Devils are Here: the Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, by Bethany McLean & Joe Nocera
If you are still looking to read a single book that will explain the cause of the continuing recession, All the Devils Are Here is the right one to read. One of the authors, Bethany McLean, is also the author of the highly readable Enron expose, The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Joe Nocera is a business columnist for The New York Times. They two have woven together the history of the mortgage industry, the historical role of the U.S. government in promoting home ownership, backgrounds of the many financial institutions that devised financial instruments to trade mortgages and the human failures at all levels. They show that there is plenty of blame to go around.
Germinal, by Emile Zola
"Out on the open plain, on a starless, ink-dark night, a lone man was following the highway from Marchiennes to Montsou,1 ten kilometres of paved road that cut directly across the fields of beet." That first sentence and Nicholas Kristoff's recommendation in the NYT last summer led me to tackle a major novel of the 19th century. This work describes coal miners in France during a strike in the 1860s. The miners are not just the simple poor, but complex men and women living an impossibly bleak life. The mine owners and managers are multifaceted characters also buffeted by the changes of the Industrial Revolution. This book resonates long after a rousing group discussion. Read this novel and you will understand the labor movement as never before. I can't recommend Germinal highly enough
Narrow Dog to Carcassone & Narrow Dog to Indian River, by Terry Darlington
These are among the funniest books I've read. "We could bore ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death, or have a bit of an adventure..." Retired Welsh couple Terry and Monica Darlington and their whippet Jim, take a couple of journeys on their narrowboat (a canal boat), first down the Rhone River to the south of France, and then down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. It quickly becomes clear why no narrowboat has been seen in the Eastern U.S. These two books are comic, poignant, dangerous and joyful. If you love the witty observations of Bill Bryson, and if you love Mark Twain, these two books will be right up your alley!
Games of the Year
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, developed and published by Bethesda Softworks
Bethesda's fifth entry in its popular Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, is pure fun. Explore a massive and beautifully detailed world as just about any kind of character you want to be with a multitude of things to do. Just make sure you wear some knee armor!
Just Dance 3, developed and published by Ubi Soft.
Just Dance 3: Wow. As an early adopter of the Wii version of Dance Dance Revolution, I was sure I was going to like this game. But I had no way of knowing how ridiculously fun it would be to dance by myself in my living room. Do I look like a complete idiot? Most definitely! Am I having an amazing time and learning ridiculous dance moves that will certainly be displayed at the next wedding I attend? Yes! I've never been to a wedding where a good representation of the Robot is not appreciated. I also had the opportunity of playing multiplayer. It's like being in a music video and if I can convince someone to memorize some of these dance moves with me, I will have a full on performance planned in the near future. And for anyone looking for some physical activity, look no further. This game will get your heart pumping . The basics are simple. Pick your song (literally any genre) and follow the choreographed dance moves of the character. Your movements are judged on how closely they mimic the character and points are awarded accordingly.
** I should note that all dogs, people and furniture that you don't want impaled by flailing limbs should be moved as far away as possible as you will dance like you have never danced before.
L.A. Noire, developed and published by Rockstar Games
I love crime shows. And playing this video game was like taking control of a crime show set in LA in 1947. Rock Star Games, who also created the Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Redemption, is responsible for this epic tale of murder, drugs, and corruption. So the synopsis of the game is as follows. You're an ex soldier who returned from the war to become a police officer in LA in 1947. As you solve crimes you are slowly promoted. Solving crimes involve all of our favorite things Rock Star Games has offered us over the years: shooting, fighting and driving fast. Unlike other Rock Star Games however, this one is slightly more structured and setup more like a level-up kind of game. Each case involves interrogations, clues, chases and or shoot-outs and not all conclude with a happy ending. I don't usually play a game for its graphics, but not mentioning them in this game would be doing this review a disservice. For anyone with an interest in old historical Hollywood, this game gives an unbelievably accurate representation. The sheer detail of the land makes you stop and look around. And the characters in the game look so real you actually can read their facial expressions. For any movie history buffs, this game will certainly excite you. The game is made to have that "Film Noire" look to it. It's dark, gritty and there's a crime of passion around every corner. It also references a lot of the emotions many men and women were going through post WWII (which for me, seems to be pretty deep for a video game). I highly suggested giving this game a shot, just be prepared to devote 60 hours of your next month!
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 , by Warner Home Video
As a fan of the Lego series games I am rarely disappointed by the release of another Lego game. And Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 held up to my expectations. All the basic game play is the same as previous Lego games. You break blocks and build them, wizardry can be used to move items and potions help you change characters. They added a few helpful hints to help you complete the game at 100% (which I was certainly grateful for). Much like the books and movies this game takes a dark turn during the last 4 chapters. Things have gotten a lot more serious for Harry. However, the game still takes the liberty to make small jokes whenever possible (which I appreciate- Keep your eye out for the Monty Python reference). I am not as familiar with the Harry Potter story as I am with some of the other Lego franchises. However, I was still able to complete the game. After unlocking several characters you are able to return to Hogwarts and unlock the evil areas as Lord Voldemort or perform new spells on signing mandrakes. Each level has characters to unlock and crests to collect. Red bricks can be found throughout Hogwarts (unlocking these give you extra abilities) and there are a total of 200 gold bricks to collect! The one thing I noticed first when playing this game is how much of the base area they expanded since Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4. There is still Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, but they have also added some parts of London and the train stations. Seeing these areas in the movies was cool, but interacting with them in a video game is even cooler! In the end this game is not really that hard, but it is fun and lasts long enough so that you can really enjoy the game play.
Life Itself, by Roger Ebert
Having lost the ability to speak, eat and drink due to multiple surgeries for thyroid cancer, Roger Ebert has written an eloquent memoir. He recalls his early life in the Midwest, his career in journalism as a film critic, and stories about his colleagues, celebrity actors and movie directors. He writes lovingly about his relationship with his father and honestly about his own and his mother's struggles with alcoholism as well as their divergent views of the Catholic church. His vivid memories of meals he has savored are entertainingly recalled. The account of how in later life he met and married his supportive wife, Chaz and bonded with her large extended family is especially endearing. Edward Herrman's narration of the cd version of the text is perfect.
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, by Paul Theroux
When I thought back to the books I've read in 2011, the one that stood out in my mind was "The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia" by Paul Theroux.It reminded me of the great Agatha Christie novel "Murder On the Orient Express". Theroux decided to take a train trip to a warm, dry climate to shake off an illness brought on by the cold, damp British climate.He meets a motley crew of characters as he transfers from train to train. Train politics consists of bribing the conductor for an upgrade in accommodations. The trains seem to vary in their conformance to any kind of schedule. There are colorful descriptions of people and landscapes, as well as local customs. Sacred temples and sites are used differently from country to country. Perhaps the most striking aspect is the abject poverty visible across Eurasia. If you'd like to read a book with a touch of romanticism from an earlier time and space, and a stark look at other cultures, I suggest you download this e-book
Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People.
The only television program I watch with any regularity, Cartoon Network's Adventure Time, is a rollercoaster ride of fun and surrealism. An added bonus is having a show that I can enjoy on equal footing with my 9 year old son! Read more here.
Music for Merce, by Various Artists
The New World Records label has really outdone themselves with this 10 CD boxset. Chronicling over fifty years of music written/performed for Merce Cunningham's dance pieces, the names here are a who's who of modern music: John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, David Tudor, Morton Feldman, Gordon Mumma, and many more. The music is incredibly challenging, using primitive electronics and amplification processes to open up new avenues of composition. If you are a fan of experimental music, this boxset is simply manna from heaven.
The Viola Works, by Giacinto Scelsi
Italian composer Scelsi's work was relatively unknown during his lifetime, but his status as a true giant of 20th Century composition has been growing ever more prominent. These works for viola demonstrate his transcendent aesthetic perfectly. Touching upon elements of minimalism, non-western musical idioms and atonality; his compositions enter a realm of somber beauty all their own.
Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show 1, by Adam Hines
Hines' ambitious 400 page graphic novel may initially appear daunting, but upon reading the first few chapters the reader is transfixed. Detailing a world where animals can speak, their varying relationships with and treatment by humans are explored in depth. Hines' paints a realistic world that uses a dizzying array of layouts to form a visual narrative that never ceases to amaze. The story itself is a philosophical landmine, provoking the reader to question his/her relationship to nature and the world around them. Duncan may well be one of the smartest graphic novels I have ever read and will stay with you long after you read it.
We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, by John Maus
Maus has refined his craft as a member of Ariel Pink's collective over the years and his newest disc shows him to be at the pinnacle of his craft. Each track on this album feels like it was culled together from my own memories of the synthpop/postpunk tracks of my youth. This is further exemplified with the album's hazy, dreamlike production, leaving one with a disc that feels oddly familiar yet whose emotions are startlingly relevant.
Someone Gave Me Religion, by Arnaud Rebotini
Rebotini has always come across a vintage synthesizer fetishist, going so far as to list each piece of equipment used on past recordings. But with his newest release he finally gets his cherished gear to sing. From the opening 13-minute cosmic ambient track onwards, Rebotini references everything from minimal techno to ebm to Chicago house with giddy aplomb.
White Material, by Claire Denis
Claire Denis latest film to explore her youth in Africa is a stunning portrait of a stubborn French woman's quest to retain her family's coffee plantation amidst the violent collapse of African imperialism. Isabelle Huppert plays the woman with stoic intensity, trying her best to go about life ignorant of the chaos around her. She unwittingly becomes the savior of a wounded rebel army leader as warring factions within the country run rampant. The film's portrayal of Africa is both haunting and beautiful and carries an intense sense of foreboding till it's bitter ending. The rest of the cast are also superb including Christophe Lambert (Highlander!)and Isaach de Bankolé.
Human Centipede: The First Sequence, by Directed by Tom Six
A real guilty pleasure with this one, a horror movie that manages to disgust and humor simultaneously. Not for the faint of heart.
From the Cos Cob Branch Staff
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Highly enjoyable with several coming of age stories. It's set in a small college community in Wisconsin with a background of baseball as a metaphor for life.
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
A moving story of a young woman whose gift for understand the meaning of flowers helps her overcome her past and learn how to love. A very powerful, beautiful work.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
I felt transported by this book to the jungles of the Amazon. Fascinating and unpredictable and a unique read.
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
A young doctor in a small Balkan country find secrets abound after the war. A mix of myth and reality. It's a beautifully written tale with several stories unfolding.
This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement, by Sarah Van Gelder, editor, Yes! Magazine
Like many others, I've been very curious about the Occupy Wall Street movement. When I saw This Changes Everything in the Overdrive downloadable library, I knew I had to read it. I was surprised that there was already a book out on the subject since the movement had just started in August. The book outlines the driving philosophy of the group: 1% of society controls the wealth; politicians protect their interest; the rest of society (the 99%) have seen their jobs outsourced, homes foreclosed, medical bills skyrocket. The 99% have bailed out financial institutions which brought us to the precipice, yet corporations continue to reward their executives with obscene bonuses. Occupy movements have sprung up in New York, Seattle, Boston, etc. They are composed of a wide cross-section of society who are fed up with "business as usual". Instead of a traditional hierarchy, the movement utilizes a horizontal structure as well as consensus to make decisions. The book clearly states its "list of demands". Rather than demand a total redistribution of wealth, it simply asks the rich to pay their fair share of taxes, which will help shave the deficit. They are also asked to create jobs since the rich have the money and resources to do so. The movement represents democracy in action, and does not plan on going anywhere any time soon.
Days of Hope and Dreams, by Frank Stefanko
If you're a Bruce Springsteen fan, or just like Rock and Roll, you might want to take a look at Days of Hope and Dreams: An Intimate Portrait of Bruce Springsteen by Frank Stefanko. Singer Patti Smith suggested Bruce contact Stefanko to have photos taken, some which ended up on album covers. The book is primarily a collection of photos taken of Bruce in New Jersey and Manhattan. Stefanko tried to capture the many moods of the artist. During this process, he learned a lot about Springsteen's creative process and his philosophy. He also got to see Bruce interact with members of the E-Street Band. It gave me a somewhat different view of celebrity and fame. I came away feeling like Bruce Springsteen is now a close friend! There is very little text, but the strength of the book lies in the illustrations. I finished it in a weekend, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Then again, I'm a big Springsteen fan!
The Wampanoag Tribe of Martha's Vineyard, by Thomas Dresser
My grandmother (my mother's mother) used to always say that we were related to a Civil War hero named Major Bailey, who married a Wampanoag Indian. When my wife saw The Wampanoag Tribe of Martha's Vineyard, she brought it home for me. This book has a lot to offer, not just for descendants, but for anyone interested in understanding Native American history and culture.
The Wampanoags believe in a legendary ancestor named Moshup, who lived on the western end of Martha's Vineyard. He cut down all the wood over time for his cooking fire. That's why this area lacks trees. He would smoke his pipe, which causes the morning fog. When the White man came to colonize Martha's Vineyard, Moshup hid in the woods. The Wampanoags believe they are custodians of the environment. They don't believe they actually own the land. When white colonists came, their main focus was on converting the Native-Americans to embrace Christianity. The colonists also managed to get land from the Wampanoags, who probably didn't understand the transaction. Fortunately, the United States government finally recognized the tribe and reinstated their land.
The Wampanoags have embraced their heritage and customs. They are a proud people, as they should be. On a small scale, this book addresses the plight of the Native -American. Fortunately, it also chronicles the "rebound" of the culture. Many prominent Wampanoags have made great contributions to Martha's Vineyard in a variety of ways. The future looks very promising for these natives.
Arguably Essays, by Christopher Hitchens
As a regular reader of Vanity Fair magazine, I was thrilled when writer and contributing editor Christopher Hitchens (Vanity Fair, Slate, and The Atlantic) came out with a book of some of his controversial and thought-provoking essays. Topics range from history, culture and politics; from yesterday as well as today. Notable figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln are presented in almost a surreal way, far from the historical references we all learned about in school. Don't assume that this book is just loathsome rantings from a somewhat bitter man that is in the last stages of his life. There are also observations about things that happen in everyday life, to humorous essays such as "Why Women Aren't Funny". The book is a large one, with 749 pages, but will hold your interest throughout, as the reader will crave what the next essay holds.
What Caesar Did for My Salad: The Curious Stories Behind Our Favorite Foods, by Albert Jack
This is a wonderful collection of stories about the world's most loved dishes, their origins, and their creators. The book spotlights how some of the most popular recipes were invented due to mistakes, missing ingredients, or meals that were created on-the-fly. The book is divided into different categories such as Breakfast, Lunchbox, the Dessert Course, the Cheese Course, etc. and each chapter contains anecdotes and historical references related to each recipe. While reading the chapter called "The Name's Benedict, Eggs Benedict", several different people claimed to have invented the dish. I thought one of the names sounded a bit familiar, and lo and behold one of Greenwich's prominent residents from the past; Commodore E.C. Benedict, yachtsman and banker, was being credited with inventing the original recipe. The books is not a cookbook, but rather a group of stories woven together such as "The Surreal History of Breakfast Cereal", "Did a Satanist Really Invent the Sandwich?", and "Worcestershire Sauce: Who were Mr. Lea and Perrins?". Any foodie or trivia lover will enjoy this book.
Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation, by Andrea Wulf
A fascinating way for one to be re-introduced to four of the great minds and personalities who contributed to the initial building of the American government is Andrea Wulf's new book Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation. The title captures so much as Wulf does indeed study George Washington, John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson both in terms of their passion for gardens, trees and plants as well as their very significant roles in the creation of the American government after the Americans defeated the British in the Revolutionary War.
Wulf is an exceedingly skillful writer as these great men come alive in her book. Their worries about which types of planting to grow in and the designing of their respective gardens frames her recounting of the momentous events each participated in while the American government was being formed. With her expert use of primary documents, the thoughts and actions of these men are authenticated. One particularly interesting event took place during heated debates among the representatives at the Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia in 1787. Some of the arguing delegates ended up walking the exquisite gardens of John Bartham close to Philadelphia on a break from their deliberations. After this outing, there was a successful agreement on how to proceed with the formation of the American government. Wulf speculates that perhaps their stroll through these beautiful gardens helped to create an atmosphere in which a compromise could be achieve
Founding Gardeners is a terrifically interesting read and is very highly recommended.
Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War , by Hal Vaughan
Since her accession to iconic status in the fashion world, Coco Chanel has represented, with her name alone, a unique and enduring style equaled by very few other designers. Coco Chanel led a life incorporating a highly-driven work ethic, terrific creativity and a personal life associated with royalty, politicians and other mufti-faceted characters. Yet, Chanel's true activities living in Paris during the Nazi occupation has been shrouded in shadows. Hal Vaughan's Sleeping with the Enemy is an investigation into Chanel's relationship with the German occupiers in France and his findings show how she did indeed collaborate with the Nazis in spite of her denials after the war of doing so.
Vaughan covers her early years and rise to great success in Paris. Chanel enjoyed a string of lovers, many of whom were in positions of power. Perhaps her greatest success was the introduction of her perfume Chanel No. 5. She did partner with the Wertheimer Brothers to have her perfume manufactured and, while she did receive stock in their company, they retained both control of the product and a large percentage of the profits. She later regretted making this arrangement and wanted to gain more control of her perfume business.
When the Germans took Paris, Vaughan shows how Chanel began an enduring affair with Baron Hans Gunther Dincklage, a leading spy for the Nazi government. Using French, German and English archives, Vaughan details her collaboration with the Germans. Her main goal was to finally get control of the Wertheimer's company using the Nazi program of ridding the Jewish presence in French companies. Ultimately, she failed in her effort. After the war, she was interrogated by French authorities regarding her relationships with the Germans. During those proceedings, she cleverly hid the truth and was never convicted of treason to France, as so many of collaborators were.
Sleeping with the Enemy is very interesting reading; particularly for those interested in Chanel's life, how she did work with the Germans and escaped being labeled as a traitor to France. Vaughan is also skillful in writing about Paris and Parisian society both before and during the war. This book is recommended.
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, by Paul Theroux
When I saw this downloadable book in the selection stream, I just knew I had to read it! So I downloaded Paul Theroux's "The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia" to my iPad 2 and I'm glad I did. Theroux decided to travel from London across Eurasia to Japan by train. His health was declining and he wanted to travel to a dry climate. He bid his wife goodbye at Victoria Station, and thus begins his adventure aboard many different railway lines: The Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Arrow Mandalay Express and the Trans-Siberian. His descriptions of the landscape as it changes from country to country are brilliant. Most entertaining are his descriptions of the various characters he meets along the way. Some are comedic, some are dark and mysterious. He soon learns that he can get an upgrade in accommodations if he bribes the conductor! Many trains don't have a dining car, so he finds himself jumping off the train at some stops to buy food from vendors. This has to be done quickly so he doesn't miss getting back on the train before it leaves. In other cases, Theroux discovers that time is not important in terms of when his train leaves. He describes the many ethnic groups he sees. Poverty is wide- spread and conditions are anything but sanitary. (Theroux describes how the women are washing clothes in the green water in Temple fountains.) He feels adventurous as he tries to travel to a town which is supposed to be off-limits. Much to his surprise, he is forced to get off and take a train back to the originating station by someone much like a CIA agent. Although this book was written in the 1970s, it's a classic memoir which deserves your consideration. You won't regret it!
The Investment Answer, by Daniel C. Goldie and Gordon S. Murray
While The Investment Answer might be a short (77 pages) book, it can give the reader wide-spread and in-depth knowledge about the often confusing world of investing. As the authors write in the first pages, "our goal is to express [investment] concepts in a way any investor can understand". And, this book does this extremely well. Goldie and Murray begin with a suggested approach on how to think about one's money and then move on to selecting financial advisers, where to house one's money, explaining financial risk, and other investment-related subjects. The often misunderstood world of hedge funds is described quite clearly. Throughout this book, Goldie and Murray write in a concise and extremely understandable style. With The Investment Answer, the authors have given readers of all ages a terrific resource for educating themselves in finance and investing.
A History of the Greenwich Waterfront, by Karen Jewell
If you're interested in looking at Greenwich's history from a nautical viewpoint, you should read Karen Jewell's A History of the Greenwich Waterfront. The book starts by describing how the early settlers negotiated with the Native-Americans to buy the various harbor lands and inlets of the Greenwich shore. Both groups depended on the Sound for shellfish and fish. Oystering became an important industry. As residents found markets in New York and along the Long Island and Connecticut coasts for its agricultural goods (potatoes, apples, etc.), boat traffic grew to deliver these products. Greenwich became a flourishing seaport. The Upper and Lower Landings on the Mianus, Cos Cob Harbor and Rocky Neck Point became important shipping centers during the 1800s. It was bustling with boat traffic.
As more and more people started moving into Greenwich because of its natural beauty and its proximity to New York, recreational boating started to interest residents. Eventually boat or yacht clubs formed. Some of the better known clubs were The Riverside Yacht Club, Indian Harbor Yacht Club and Belle Haven Yacht Club. As the members became more skilled, they began participating in elite boat races. Some were very successful, bringing championship trophies back to Greenwich. Karen describes some of the better known sailors such as E.C. Benedict and Victor Borge.
An entire chapter is devoted to the 1938 Hurricane, which affected much of Long Island, the southern coast of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Other man-made and natural disasters are chronicled.
This book is important in terms of recapturing Greenwich during the time when people depended on the Sound for food, commerce and sport. Today, recreational boating far outdistances commerce. Shell fishing is no where as important as it used to be. The farms that produced staples for market have been replaced by magnificent mansions. There are barges plying the waters from time to time; but the age of nautical commerce, as residents knew it, has gone forever.
Karen Jewell will be at Greenwich Library on Monday, October 24th, to discuss her book.
Jackie as Editor: The literary life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, by Greg Lawrence
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis held a uniquely enduring position in American society during the last four decades of the Twentieth Century. Her mystique grew ever larger as she survived the assassination of her husband, widowhood, and a second marriage to Aristotle Onassis, followed by a second widowhood. Yet, in the later years of her life, she chose to develop a career as an editor of books for Viking Press and then Doubleday. Greg Lawrence's new book, Jackie as Editor: The literary life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis details her life as an editor and it is terrifically interesting.
Lawrence is a particularly fine author to write this book for he gained first-hand experience with Jacqueline Onassis when she edited three of his previously-published books. This book's bibliography and notes show the tremendous amount of research he did. Lawrence writes extremely well as he relates how Jacqueline Onassis first got her job at Viking Press in 1975 and then, with great style and grace, became an accepted member of the Viking Press staff. She began to develop ideas for books, many of which were published. After a tenuous situation developed at Viking, she switched to Doubleday.
The Jacqueline Onassis Lawrence shows the reader is an intelligent, dedicated, resourceful, compassionate, and, at many times, very witty editor. The range of the books she edited covered such diverse subjects as Russian art, segments of French art and history, Michael Jackson's life story, the world of ballet and so many more. The added bonus of this book is the insight one can get into the world of editing and publishing. Jackie as Editor: The literary life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is a fascinating read and Lawrence makes her world of ideas and books come vividly alive.
Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff
From the ancient times to the present, Cleopatra has been an historical figure who has attracted enduring attention from authors, playwrights, poets, rulers, movie directors and so many others. The Pulitzer Prize winning writer Stacy Schiff has contributed her account of Cleopatra with her highly-praised biography Cleopatra: A Life. Schiff admits on page 1 of her book, "if the name is indelible, the image is blurry." Further, she writes that "our most comprehensive sources never met Cleopatra." However, Schiff proves herself to be a great scholar of Cleopatra's life and the years in which she ruled Egypt. Her notes at the end of the book show she studied both ancient sources and modern works on Cleopatra. And, she succeeds in presenting an absorbing, interesting and very readable biography of this extraordinary ruler.
Cleopatra's Egypt was a true prize under her rule as it was a huge supplier of food, especially grains, for the Roman Empire. Alexandria was a developed and vital port. Cleopatra's fleets were impressively strong and well-built. As she dazzled both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, Egypt became a much-respected ally of the Roman Empire.
Her story, as Schiff tells it, is remarkable for she was a cunning, brilliant and admirable ruler. Even though murderous intrigues and continual plotting to retain her power were hallmarks of her reign, she did prevail until her disastrous last years. Perhaps the greatest attribute of Cleopatra: A Life is how clearly Cleopatra's life, the Egypt under her rule as well as the adjacent Mediterranean world of her time come vibrantly alive. Cleopatra: A Life is a great read and enthusiastically recommended.
Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown , by Michael Cunningham
I chose Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown by Michael Cunningham as the first downloadable book for my color Nook. The Nook is the Barnes and Noble eBook. I selected the title from the Greenwich Library Overdrive module, used Adobe Digital Editions to download it and drag it to my device. (It sounds complicated, but it really isn't!) I can download up to 10 titles - without cost! It's easier to carry one book-sized Nook than 10 separate books. The only drawback is that it is difficult to read outside in the sunlight.
When I was a child, my parents used to take us to Cape Cod for our summer vacation. There was something special about the place! We would travel all over the Cape. Hyannis, Chatham and Provincetown were favorite destinations. Over the years I've read Cape Cod by Thoreau and Cape Cod by Martin, as well as The Outermost House by Beston. When I read the description of Land's End, I just knew I had to read it.
Cunningham does a great job of describing the natural and social history of the area. On the one hand, he describes the very commercial center of town, which contrasts with the rustic outlying sand dunes. His descriptions of the geography and environment are almost poetic. Then he touches on the history of the beginning of the area by our Founding Fathers. Finally, he describes the rather Bohemian community of artists, writers, actors and other celebrities. The list of visitors reads like a Who's Who: Robert Motherwell, Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, Stanley Kunitz, Kevin Spacey, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn and Gene Rayburn. As you can imagine, in such a free-spirited community, sexual experimentation is the norm. A nice touch is the poetry by various writers, which he has inserted between chapters. This is a great read and a great way to familiarize yourself with downloadable books.
Salt Marsh Diary: A Year on the Connecticut Coast, by Mark Seth Lender
Mark Seth Lender's observations in Salt Marsh Diary: A Year on the Connecticut Coast could be considered poetic. His descriptions of the varied flora and fauna in his local salt marsh are also metaphoric; there is underlying subtext that ties nature to man. Lender points out that many birds are decreasing in number as man destroys the habitats in which they live. He describes the adverse effect man is having on the environment:
"The once-rich wintering and breeding grounds have largely been filled in or poisoned by a toxic brew."
Yet, the book is filled with beautiful descriptions and insightful analysis. It points out the inter-dependence of plants, animals and human beings. Much like Thoreau and Beston, Lender brings us closer to nature and reminds us that we need to take action to save this ecosystem. The salt marsh not only serves as an important breeding ground for a variety of birds and animals, but also serves to control flooding. What better way than to describe the (almost) invisible world of the salt marsh? This book is a must read for everyone.
Hollywood: A Third Memoir, by Larry McMurtry
I always knew that Larry McMurtry wrote western novels, but I didn't know he wrote screenplays for Hollywood! His book Hollywood: A Third Memoir- aptly titled - is the third and final installment of his memoir trilogy following Books: A Memoir and Literary Life: A Second Memoir. He was teaching world literature in a Texas college, when he was summoned to write a screenplay for one of his books. McMurtry never had any formal training, and books on screenwriting were just coming out. Yet, McMurtry kept getting called on to create treatments for his work. Eventually, The Last Picture Show, Hud and Brokeback Mountain were turned into successful movies. Even his Lonesome Dove series made it onto the television screen. One thing I learned was that a perfectly good script can be passed over if money can't be secured.
The most entertaining part of the book is his assessment of all the Hollywood types. As a novel writer, he was politely tolerated by the Producers and Directors. He met many big name actors such as Sybill Shepherd, Diane Keaton, George Clooney and others. The energy and the pace of life in Hollywood intoxicated him. By the end of the book - which spans many decades - he does not recognize his favorite town. Many of his friends have moved on or passed on. Change is inevitable.
This book is easy to read since the chapters are very short, a result of a stroke he had prior to writing this book. His sense of humor comes through as he is able to laugh at his own foibles. This book is entertaining and fun to read. It has a lot of insight into the business of Hollywood.
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century, by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger
In light of Elizabeth Taylor's recent passing, there has been renewed interest in her life and career. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century chronicles the celebrity marriage between these two larger-than-life movie stars that inspired media madness around the world. Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger were granted access by Elizabeth Taylor to private letters written by Richard Burton to her and this adds a human dimension, very warm and charming at times, to their story. Their professional and personal lives before they began their torrid romance while filming Cleopatra are covered. Once they became a couple, Taylor and Burton became modern gypsies as they traveled from one movie location to another with a band of family members, personal assistants, tutors and assorted others in tow. Furious Love is very well written and, quite surprisingly, a wonderfully interesting insight into the world of movie making. Taylor and Burton, perhaps Burton more so, were often lauded for their professional and endearingly wonderful acting techniques and the authors show why this praise is deserved. In the end, however, their personal demons of alcohol abuse and wildly dramatic swings in emotional behavior caused so much damage to their lives. This is a great read for anyone interested in these two powerhouse personalities as well as the era of movie making in the latter years of the twentieth century.
The Book of Murray, by David M. Bader
Forget everything you know about the Bible! The tongue-in-cheek tome The Book of Murray is a rather irreverent look at the Old Testament by self-proclaimed prophet Murray. He claims to have unearthed the Bible's missing book (much like the Dead Sea scrolls) in a sand trap at a golf course in Boca Raton. As the subtitle suggests, it contains "the life, teachings and kvetching of the lost prophet". Murray sets off with his disciple Lenny to spread the word. His life mirrors that of other prophets as he puts together psalms: "Thy fasting will not impress Him, neither will thy feasting, nor thy fasting then feasting then fasting, nor any other eating disorder". He is the recipient of The Ten (or so) Commandments: "Of the sandwiches, ye may eat of the cold cuts on rye with mustard or Russian dressing. But of the Potato-Chips-with-Miracle-Whip-on-Wonder Bread sandwich, ye shall not eat. For it is an abomination. And ye shall not eat it." I picked this book up to read it on the weekend, and finished it by Monday. I found it very entertaining and comical. No matter what your religious persuasion, you'll enjoy this book. I can hardly wait for the next one.
Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
With the huge earthquake disaster in Japan, the world is certainly watching the dramatic human tragedies unfold there. Many may be reminded of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 while following events in Japan. An excellent book on Katrina is Dave Eggers's Zeitoun, which was published in 2009. Eggers presents the fascinating, and at times heartbreaking, ordeal of Abdulrahman Zeitoun (always referred to as Zeitoun) as he is caught in the fury of Katrina and its aftermath. His saga gains increasing interest since his is an Arab-American born in Syria. His wife is American born and they were living a peaceful, hard-working and successful life in New Orleans before the storm hit. Not only must Zeitoun deal with the floods and related traumas after Katrina, but he gets caught in the frantic efforts by law enforcement officials to contain crimes, real or imagined. Eggers writes in a solid reporting style and Zeitoun becomes a truly engrossing saga of Zeitoun's life during the extremely difficult time for his family and himself. It is highly recommended.
Venice: Pure City, by Peter Ackroyd
Few cities in the world can rival the unquestioned uniqueness, imagery, and complex artistic, religious or political history than the Italian jewel of Venice. Peter Ackyrod succeeds brilliantly in making the multi-faceted glories, intrigues and oddities of Venice come alive in Venice: Pure City. Venice began with initial settlements on islands in a wide lagoon off of the northeastern coast of Italy. There were approximately 117 separate islands, many of which were physically joined together through great planning and labor. The growth of Venice into a world maritime power as well as a celebrated center of the arts is totally fascinating.
For those who have seen the sublime joys of Venice first-hand, this book will ignite wonderful memories of its glories. Even if one has never visited the city, Venice: Pure City, is an immensely enjoyable book about this wondrous city that has captured imaginations for centuries. Whether Ackroyd writes about the once great mercantile strength of Venice, the blend of Eastern and Western art and architecture found in Venice, Venetian culture and its food, the celebrated writers who have called Venice home or other aspects of Venice, he never fails to maintain the reader's interest. This book is highly recommended.
Incidentally, for those who want to continue reading books that are filled with the a truly modern Venetian atmosphere, the mystery series written by Donna Leon is perfect. Her character Commissario Guido Brunetti travels around Venice while solving murders and other crimes. Leon's writing brings the Venetian setting, particularly aspects of Venetian cuisine, alive and thus readers enjoy well-constructed mysteries as well as more insight into this fascinating locale. The Greenwich Library has Leon's collection of books.
Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia , by Michael Korda
The complex and hotly-debated topics related to the involvement of the United States in Middle Eastern affairs have been a fixture of American political discussions for years. Anyone who wants more knowledge and insight into the Middle East will gain greatly from reading Michael Korda's newest work, Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia. T. E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia as he is now known as, was one of the most terrifically charismatic figures who shaped early Twentieth Century Middle Eastern history. Lawrence's vital role in organizing and arming Arab armies against the Turkish Ottoman Empire during the First World War was key in defeating the Turks and promoting an Arab identity in the early years of the Twentieth Century. He continued to champion the cause of Middle Eastern countries remaining free of European involvement after the war at various peace conferences that were held by the victors of the war to determine the political future of the Middle East. Korda's skillful and engaging writing style makes his life of Lawrence vividly come alive. He has reconstructed the desert battles with obvious care and meticulous research. Certainly this subject is filled with complicated politics and figures both Middle Eastern and European. Yet, Korda's book is a clearly understandable and engaging reading experience. For those who have never seen, or wish to watch this classic again, the much-lauded movie Lawrence of Arabia is available at the Greenwich Library. Equally, Lawrence's own book about his war years, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, to which Korda frequently refers, is also in the Library's collection.
Must You Go: My Life with Harold Pinter, by Antonia Fraser
Antonia Fraser, known mainly for writing wonderfully detailed histories of British historical figures and events, has chronicled her life with the esteemed British playwright Harold Pinter with great poignancy, grace and romance in her newest book Must You Go: My Life with Harold Pinter. Fraser and Pinter had brief encounters in the London literary world before their fateful meeting at a dinner party in January, 1975. As Fraser was saying her farewells to Pinter, he turned to her and said "Must you go"? That was the beginning of their loving and dedicated personal relationship. Each was already married with children. But, their lives eventually came together and they had glorious times as a couple who were rarely separated. They appear to have complemented each other perfectly - two writers devoted to their craft. Fraser details their successes and their challenges as they wrote plays and books throughout their 33 year relationship. This is a marvelously charming book! Additionally, the Greenwich Library has much of Fraser's and Pinter's literary output to enjoy. Perhaps a good book to begin exploring Antonia Fraser's work is Mary, Queen of Scots, a terrifically interesting and majestic biography.
100 People Who Changed the World, (managing editor, Robert Sullivan)
Anyone who wants a quick review of historical figures should read Life magazine's 100 People Who Changed the World. It provides interesting information on why these people (men and women) were prominent. Not only is it organized chronologically, but it's also organized by profession so the reader can see how each person in the field contributed to his predecessor. Yet, not every contribution had a positive effect on the world. Adolf Hitler is cited because his Holocaust nearly eliminated a whole race. Osama Bin Laden is also cited, and there can be no doubt his actions have effected the world. Fortunately, there were also people like Madame Curie, Alexander Graham Bell, Florence Nightingale and Dr. Benjamin Spock who tilted the scales toward the good. This is a short book with one page devoted to the contributions of each figure. It is concise and well-written. I enjoyed it because it made me look at certain events and people from a different perspective. In some cases, it provided new background information.
Becoming Jimi Hendrix, by Steven Roby
I had the good fortune of living through the 1960s, which was probably one of the most critical decades in terms of music as well as social awareness. This is evident in the transition from simple "bubble gum" to classic rock. When I saw Becoming Jimi Hendrix by Steven Roby on our book shelf, I just knew I had to read it. Hendrix was chosen the greatest guitarist of all time by The Rolling Stone in 2003. His contemporary Eric Clapton once left the stage stunned when he saw Hendrix doing things he had never known were possible!
Things weren't always good for Jimi (nee Johnny Allen Hendrix). He was born in Seattle WA in 1942 to an absentee mother, who frequented bars, and a hard-working, but often unemployed father. To call them poor is an understatement. Jimi had to look after his brother, Leon, who joined him in stealing food from grocery stores. He developed his interest in music from listening to an aunt's rhythm and blues record collection. His father begrudgingly gave him a guitar he won in a card game. Jimi loved his guitar as illustrated by his sleeping with it and taking it to school. He never went anywhere without it. Unfortunately, through his life he would have to pawn it and either get another one or get someone to get it out of "hawk" so he could perform.
Hendrix started playing with bands in the Deep South, which was extremely prejudiced. He backed up The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, King Curtis. Jimi had a hard time holding onto a job because, ironically, he was light-years ahead of his contemporaries! This probably contributed to his being poor for so long; he wanted to go in one direction, while the rest of the band had something else in mind! Despite being quiet and shy, Jimi still exhibited anger from time to time. Yet, he was very popular with women. Although Hendrix used LSD and other drugs, he turned down selling them to make extra money. He extolled the mind-expanding ability of drugs. He claimed it opened up a whole new world of music creativity to him. Hendrix eventually travelled to New York and was part of the Greenwich Village scene along with the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
Jimi was finally discovered by Chas Chandler (one of The Animals), who talked him into recording in England. Hendrix moved to England and became a big hit in Europe. He met Eric Clapton, the Beatles, Mick Jagger and Eric Burdon. Unfortunately, he also ended up with an underhanded manager, who took a big cut out of Jimi's money. Whether Jimi was just naïve or just wanted to perform his music his way is not clear. Even Jimi's death from an overdose of drugs and wine, which was supposed to be suicide, was deemed to be the work of his manager.
Everyone who came in touch with Hendrix was in some way effected by Jimi's influence. There's no telling where he could have taken his musical talent. His Band of Gypsys , which included Billy Cox and Miles Davis, was supposed to lead him into the next musical revolution. Instead, his life was snuffed out at the young age of 27.
Berlin at War, by Roger Moorhouse
Devoted fans of the always-growing collection of non-fiction books dealing with World War II will rejoice with Roger Moorhouse's Berlin at War. An historian specializing in modern German history, Moorhouse begins with the April, 1939 Fuhrerweather, or the series of public celebrations of Adolph Hitler's birthday in Berlin. From that supposedly joyous event, the following months and years which saw the outbreak of war and the increasing destruction of Berlin is documented from various angles. Effectively using diaries, newspaper accounts, and many other primary sources, Moorhouse skillfully constructs life in Berlin under the Nazi regime. While the early days of war were seen by many Berliners as a time of continued powerful German victories, the tide of war began to turn as the relentless Allied bombing began the destruction of a city that many Berliners saw as a safe refuge against the enemy. Moorhouse covers many aspects of Berlin society : the resistance, as weak as it might have been, to the Nazis, the plight of the Jews of Berlin as the Nazis enforced their methodical extermination of them, how average Berliners survived the brutal bombings, and many other situations the city of Berlin endured during the war. Berlin at War is a wonderfully readable and extremely interesting account of life in the capital of The Third Reich during the tumultuous years of World War II.
People: Television Shows That Changed Our Lives
I recently read People: Television Shows That Changed Our Lives, and it just jumped out at me with its "thumbnail" pictures of my favorite characters. This book said more to me by what it didn't say than what the text revealed inside. There were no deep, startling revelations. It contained pictures and brief descriptions of past shows and characters. Yet, it was organized in such a way that made you think about the significance of television as a reflection of society. For instance, the shows were grouped as crowd pleasers, game changers, cult classics, fashion, guilty pleasures and moments. It made me think of the first time I saw Star Trek. We really believed it despite the meager set. All in the Family challenged our social conscience. And everyone anxiously awaited the answer to "who shot J.R.?" Unlike the early days of television, programs began to address all kinds of social issues such as segregation, women's rights, teen pregnancies and homosexuality. This is a very entertaining book. I enjoyed its nostalgic nature. It's a quick and easy read, and it makes you think.
Greenwich History: The Judge's Corner, selected and edited by Frank Nicholson
One of the best resources in Greenwich Library that complements the Local History Collection is Greenwich History: The Judge's Corner. It was the brain child of the late historian Frank Nicholson, who wanted to consolidate Frederick A. Hubbard's newspaper columns on Greenwich history into a handy source.
Frederick Hubbard was born in Hollis NH. When he was 8-years-old, he moved to Greenwich. He was educated in Greenwich public schools and Greenwich Academy. Hubbard was a judge of the Borough Court. Hubbard also wrote two important books on Greenwich history: Masonry in Greenwich (Gillespie; 1926) and Other Days in Greenwich (Tapley; 1913) From March 1928 to January 1933, he wrote historical columns for the Greenwich Press. He demonstrated a keen awareness and knowledge of local matters, and talked about prominent figures, historical events and other topics of interest. It provides some information not included in other sources. It's a great reference for students and adults. You can get caught up on some Greenwich history pretty fast by reading these re-printed articles. You will no doubt learn something you didn't know!
How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes, by Peter D. Schiff
Ever wonder why the U.S. economy is in such bad shape (despite government talking-head Pollyannas), why inflation never seems to end, and why we owe so much money to other countries? Maybe you also have a niggling feeling in the back of your mind that economics is often made out to be much more complex than it needs to be by the same TV pundits whose predictive track-records are (at best) about the same as a coin flip. Well, wonder no further! Peter Schiff's latest book, How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes explains all this and more. Written in simple, down-to-earth language, Schiff's book lays out the basics of capitalist economics using the fictitious nation of "Usonia" as a model by which to explain how our own U.S. economy started out on-track for success before eventually getting derailed.
Though the concepts discussed in Schiff's book start out fairly simple and progress in complexity, I never really found myself in over my head even with the more complex concepts; Schiff uses storytelling, humor, and helpful "takeaway" summaries to drive the various concepts home in fun and memorable ways. The book was a fast read (there are a few noticeable typos throughout, easily ignored), and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't particularly like the idea of another Great Depression.
Just a side note about Peter Schiff himself: though he is a Republican (he's even running for Senate, with economic reform as his platform), in his book he resists any partisan temptation to blame our economic woes solely on one party, instead attributing blame equally, cognizant as he is that fiscal irresponsibility has transcended party lines for decades. It is also relevant to note that he accurately predicted the recent real estate bubble and bust (do a YouTube search for "Peter Schiff was right" for evidence of this), rising gold prices, and has been predicting the eventual collapse of the U.S. dollar for some time now (on that subject, I would also highly recommend his book Crash Proof 2.0: How to Profit from the Economic Collapse).
Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found, by Joe Bonomo
I don't consider it to be well-written. I don't consider it to be well-organized. However, Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found by Joe Bonomo is a must-read for anyone interested in early Rock and Roll history. Unlike his contemporaries, Jerry Lee Lewis was not financially successful in the United States. He was ostracized for marrying his 13-year-old second cousin when he was 22 years old. Lewis ended up moving to Europe, where he became very popular. He also became addicted to alcohol and pain killers, which led to many health issues later in life. Jerry Lee started out as a Rock and Roll icon, took a detour to Country Western music, then morphed back to rock. Known for "chasing skirts", he was married and divorced several times. To his fans, he was known as "The Killer". Some call him the "Father of Rock and Roll". Everyone is familiar with his great hits "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", "Great Balls of Fire" and "Breathless". His style is unique and wild. The same could be said of his life. No one can deny that he had a great influence on the music of his day.
Daring Young Men, by Richard Reeves
The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949, saved West Berlin from Soviet control by flying in food and supplies enough to prevent starvation. Experiences (many hair-raising) of individual pilots are interwoven with the political moves of both sides and the lives of the Germans whose future was at stake. The airlift survived because President Truman rejected the recommendations of all his advisors to give it up, and the amazing organizational abilities of the man ultimately put in charge, plus the courage and determination of the mechanics who kept the old cargo planes going, and of course the pilots. A fascinating presentation of a complex and dangerous situation.
Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Greg Mortenson
Greg Mortenson's latest book, Stones into Schools, continues the story of Mortenson's campaign to extend education to thousands of children living in the remote, mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan by building schools that he so compellingly wrote of in his first book, Three Cups of Tea. Clearly, he is deserving of his widely-admired humanitarianism and dedication to his belief that, through education, the young people in these areas will be able to shed notions of violence as a part of their lives and become productive and positive members of their communities. Yet, the reader can gain so much more from Stones into Schools. Mortenson's descriptions of the varied tribal groups as well the mountainous geography he traveled in these areas provide first-hand information that serves as a valuable education for all on the complexities of these parts of the world. This book is strongly recommended.
Sh*t my Dad Says, by Justin Halpern
Sh*t my Dad Says, by Justin Halpern is a hilarious accounting of a son's relationship with his father that unfolds in an unorthodox way. When 28 year old Justin Halpern was dumped by his girlfriend, he found himself on his parent's doorstep, and at a crossroads in his life. He began to record all the ridiculous things his 73 year old father told him, and post it on Twitter. More than a million people are now following Mr. Halpern, who Justin states is "like Socrates, but angrier and with worse hair". Mr. Halpern is a Viet Nam vet, and spent his career doing cancer research as a doctor of nuclear medicine. Mix in a little Archie Bunker and Al Bundy, and you have Mr. Halpern! When I heard that a book was to be written based on the Twitter account, I couldn't imagine how it would come together, but I was pleasantly surprised with a touching all-American story about an offbeat relationship between father and son. In between the family stories are Halpern's quirky words of wisdom often laced with obscenities, but it will leave you laughing out loud. A quick and easy beach read.
Will Smith: A Biography, by Lisa A. Iannucci
I've always been a big fan of actor Will Smith, and now that I've read Lisa A. Iannucci's Will Smith: A Biography, I have even more respect for the artist. I also found out that some of my impressions of the actor are misconceptions. Although Will is indeed from West Philadelphia, he did not come from a broken home, although his parents did divorce after the children were gone. His parents were hard working middle-class people. He is a rapper, but his music does not promote domestic violence, crime or sex like some other artists. His father showed him how drugs can mess up someone's life, and, apparently, Will has avoided that pitfall that has haunted many celebrities. This book is uplifting in many respects. Will has been able to raise a fine family with second wife, Jada Pinkett, while pursuing his music and acting careers. He and his wife have given back to the community by sponsoring a public school. The many movies he has released around July 4th have become "blockbusters". Critics say Will is cordial and polite to everyone, and makes everyone feel like his friend. He works hard at his craft, trying to learn as much as he can about his characters. What impresses me most is that Will seems to be a loyal, loving family man who has not let success go to his head.
Theater, by David Mamet
Forget everything you ever heard about theater from the likes of Stanislavski, Adler or Strasburg! American playwright David Mamet presents a simpler acting system in Theater. Mamet admits his philosophy can be considered "heretical", but he believes all you need is a playwright and the actor(s) to engage the audience - which is the whole purpose of the play. He writes that the Director just gets in the way. Once the Director sets the blocking, he should let the actors perform using their own interpretation. Surprisingly, Mamet gets political, talking about Totalitarian Theater (State-sponsored Theater used to indoctrinate the public) versus Free-Market Theater, which he calls "true" theater. Since the State pays for theater in a Totalitarian regime, it uses the media to reinforce propaganda and exercise thought control. Free-market theater is paid for by the audience and is truly free speech. Mamet also warns about using a very ornate set that might draw the audience's attention from the play text. He feels that the Director does not need to interpret the script, or tell actors how to think and act. Good actors know the best way to perform the scene. He makes a strong case for no Director. I must admit, I was very skeptical at first, but Mamet makes a lot of sense. Whether you're an actor or part of the audience, I recommend this book highly because it will really open your eyes - whether you're an expert or not. It's sometimes technical, but it's well worth the effort.
Open: An Autobiography, by Andre Agassi
While usually praised as being a true giant in the world of professional tennis, Andre Agassi has emerged as a gifted and totally engaging writer with his book Open: An Autobiography. Driven by his tyrannical father to develop at an early age as a skillful and extremely competitive tennis player, Agassi did just that. Oddly enough, he keeps telling his readers how much he hated tennis. And, it is easy to understand that through Agassi's clarity and truthfulness in his writing. Turning pro at 16, he entered the world of professional tennis at full speed. Playing in tournament after tournament, he did more than fulfill his father's desires to become a nationally recognized tennis player. But, as Agassi relates, the price was high. His description of life in professional tennis is harrowing at times. His personal life is covered as well from his troubled first marriage to Brooke Shields to finding supreme happiness with Stephanie Graff. He ends his tennis career as a true champion and then goes on to create a remarkable school in Las Vegas for underprivileged children and adolescents, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. Open: An Autobiography is a terrifically interesting, well written and entertaining book!
Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle, by Michael Benson
Fantastic! That's the word to describe Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle by Michael Benson. Benson uses photos from the Hubble Space Telescope to look at stars and galaxies as they appeared millions of years ago. Since interstellar space is measured in light-years (the distance light travels in a year) and distances between objects in space are tremendous, we are actually viewing stars and galaxies as they appeared in the past. Each chapter includes a discussion of the objects, "plate pages" to index the photos, and full page photos. There is some historic analysis to give one a frame of reference. The author explains that the reader can start at the beginning and move back in time to the genesis of our solar system, or start at the end and move forward to today. The terminology is somewhat complicated, but can be overcome. The pictures of nebulae, molecular clouds, dust, remnant stars and well-defined galaxies are amazing! This is evidence of definite order in our universe. If you really want to put things in context, take a look at the photo of galaxy systems that interact with each other. Check it out and marvel at the Hubble Telescope photos.
Beginning Silverlight 3, by Robert Lair
Preamble: For those who are not yet aware, Silverlight is Microsoft's development platform for creating Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). It is also a direct competitor to Adobe's long-running Flash platform (first released in 1996), and while both platforms have their particular strengths, I'll leave the --often heated-- debate of such to the better-informed and more experienced proponents of each. It is worth mentioning however that while Silverlight is only a few years old (currently at version 3, with version 4 in beta) it's been making steady gains in terms of browser penetration and developer adoption, and it appears that it won't be too long before its installation base is on par with that of Flash. With that said, anyone looking to develop RIAs in Silverlight need not be put off by its currently-lower-than-Flash's market penetration stats; its user base is steadily gaining and the installation itself is at least as painless as Flash's with a small browser plug-in for users to download.
So, on to the review then.
If you are already familiar with C#, the .NET Framework and Visual Studio then you'll have an excellent leg up on learning Silverlight. But knowing how to use these technologies is not a prerequisite to learning Microsoft's new platform (though you will need to learn them later if you want to do anything truly meaningful with the technology); in Beginning Silverlight 3, Robert Lair will guide you through the basics of learning Silverlight on the presumption that you are indeed a rank beginner. Lair begins with an overview of what Silverlight is and its benefits as a development platform. He also gives a brief overview of the features new to Silverlight 3, as well as a rundown of the programs (all either free or with an ample trial period) that you will need to download in order to get started with the book and learning Silverlight. Subsequent chapters cover such topics as Visual Studio, Expression Blend (which makes creating Silverlight interfaces MUCH easier than using Visual Studio alone), XAML (the markup language used to build Silverlight application interfaces), the various controls, layout management, navigation and deep-linking, transformations and animation, data-access, -storage and -binding options available in Silverlight, as well as how to create your own custom controls and how to deploy your finished Silverlight applications. While Lair's coverage of the subject matter does feel adequate, one gets the impression (rightfully so) that there is much more potential to Silverlight than what is covered in this book, and Lair makes multiple references to the next book in the series, Pro Silverlight 3 in C#, for those who want to continue exploring the technology's possibilities.
I found Lair's book relatively easy to follow, with only a couple of exceptions. The chapters on Data Access and Custom Controls were a little complex for me, though admittedly I'm still learning C# and the .NET Framework and some of the more advanced programming concepts are currently over my head. I can't fault Lair's descriptions of the aforementioned programming code though I am sure a more experienced programmer would be able to follow along, but the chapters in question did seem slightly too advanced for a "beginner" book. Regardless, it was still helpful to have examples of the more advanced concepts presented even if only to be able to refer back to them again at a later time.
Lair's presentation is clear and concise. The diagrams he provides work well to illustrate the various concepts and examples covered. I did encounter the odd typo here and there that seemed like faulty "search and replace" attempts when updating the previous version of his book for Silverlight 3, but they didn't detract from the text. What I liked best, aside from the clear descriptions and explanations, were the "hands-on" examples where Lair guides the reader through the process of creating different Silverlight applications. As a relative beginner to programming I find that "learning by doing" works best for me, as opposed to only being given descriptions of programming theory and code snippets and expected to just "get it". I can't imagine a "beginner" book without the hands-on exercises, and apart from the clear writing and the comprehensive content, they are the other major reason why I recommend Beginning Silverlight 3 to anyone intending to learn Silverlight.
To Begin the World Over Again, by John C. Hulsman
The modern Middle East has certainly been a boiling cauldron of troubles for the United States for decades. Becoming familiar with the Twentieth Century personalities and politics of that region can be essential to understanding the current Middle Eastern situation in which this country finds itself. John C. Hulsman, in his book To Begin the World Over Again, has written a concise and highly readable biography of T. E. Lawrence, who was one of the major players in establishing the modern state of Iraq in the years after World War I. Stripping away the glorified myths of Lawrence created by David Lean's great movie Lawrence of Arabia (also available at The Greenwich Library), Hulsman details the exploits of Lawrence as a leader of the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I, the development of his passionate beliefs after the war that Britain and France should honor certain agreements those countries made to the Arabs in return for their support during the war against the German-allied Ottoman Empire, and his role in the creating the nation of Iraq. So much of what Lawrence's thinking on how to handle the complexities of the Middle East sheds valuable light on the Middle East situation of today. Hulsman has done a great job in giving the reader a clear history of a chapter in recent Middle Eastern history and To Begin the World Again highly recommended.
Then Belichick Said To Brady-- : The Best New England Patriots Stories Ever Told , by Jim Donaldson
I found this title to be somewhat deceiving. Then Belichick Said to Brady... is not just about the coach's relationship with his future Hall of Fame quarterback, but covers the entire history of the team to present day. They were a team without a home field, playing at Boston University field, Fenway Park and Harvard Stadium, before moving permanently to Foxboro. There were a number of unusual characters who played the game (Larry Eisenhauer, Bob Gladieux, etc.). The owners (Pat Sullivan, Victor Kiam and Robert Kraft) were also interesting characters! There is background information on the "Snow Game", the "Tuck Rule" and "Spygate". Added features include draft analysis and the hits, and busts, of Patriots' picks; a summary of the players in the Patriots' Hall of Fame; and recaps of their 3 Super Bowl wins. This is one of the best books I've read on my favorite team. It's written by Jim Donaldson, a sports writer for The Providence Journal, who has covered the Pats since 1979. Whether you're a Patriots fan or not, you'll enjoy the behind the scenes look at this successful NFL franchise.
The Quotable Actor: 1001 Pearls of Wisdom from Actors Talking About Acting, compiled by Damon DiMarco
Whether you're an aspiring actor or professional couch potato, you're bound to like The Quotable Actor: 1001 Pearls of Wisdom from Actors Talking About Acting. The title is misleading because there are quotes from famous directors (Stanislavski and Stella Adler), also. I think author Damon DiMarco did a wonderful job of assembling the quotations to cover a wide variety of aspects in the actor's life. He uses the actors' own words to explain why they act, how they conquer stage fright, how they audition, what an actor's life is like, etc. I have to admit, some quotes had more meaning for me than others. In fact, I still can't figure out what some were trying to say! Yet, I believe this book gives the reader a lot of insight into the craft and its very competitive environment. I appreciate actors more than I did before reading this book. And I think I understand how the pressure can adversely effect their lives. Some, however, seem fairly grounded as demonstrated by actor Gary Oldman:
"....I don't go to the premieres. I don't go to the parties. I don't covet the Oscar. I don't want any of that. I don't go out. I just have dinner at home every night with my kids. Being famous, that's a whole other career. And I haven't got the energy for it."
This book will help you re-examine your own life and decide what's really important to you. Deep down these people are no different than you or me. They define success not as having a blockbuster movie, but rather by being true to themselves. Acting is a job, and, as one actor stated, makes you understand yourself better. There are many pitfalls and it can be a hard life. It can also build character. AMEN.
Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit, by Andrew A. Rooney
I admit it! I've always been an Andy Rooney "groupie". I've always found his observations on 60 Minutes a little irreverent, but highly entertaining. Now, having read Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit, I have a better understanding of the man. He's not just an old curmudgeon who complains about everything. He puts a lot of thought and effort into the pieces he writes for television. The book starts off with a description of growing up in New York state, attending Colgate (where he was on the football team) and being drafted during World War II. He wrote for Stars and Stripes, writing first-hand accounts of war. At one point, he was arrested on an Army bus for sitting with African-American soldiers. Rooney wrote exceptional pieces on heroism. Once the war was over, he started out as a free-lance writer, but ended up writing for Arthur Godfrey and then Garry Moore. He began working at CBS with Harry Reasoner on a series of specials, which covered bridges, hotels and the English language. When CBS refused to air his Essay on War, he left CBS. PBS aired it, and Rooney ended up with a Writer's Guild Award. He eventually went back to CBS, then moved to ABC. In 1962, Three Minutes With Andy Rooney was aired as a summer fill-in for Point/CounterPoint and has remained ever since. In 1990 he was suspended for remarks he made about homosexuals. (Unfortunately, this wasn't discussed at length anywhere in the book.) I love the arrangement of the book. There is a timeline in the beginning; a summary of his early life; stories from his Stars and Stripes days; numerous essays on all sorts of subjects; and an appendix with lists of his opinions, his "truths" and foods you may like but shouldn't eat! What really attracts me is his ability to approach any subject from an angle I never saw coming. This is a different type of book, well worth your time.
Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
Reading Lolita in Tehran is an amazing read. It talks about topics that many do not dare talk about. Nafisi is an extraordinary woman who is knowledgeable of western culture and finds it hard to re-assimilate herself back to her original culture and country. She witnesses the radical changes of Iraq's government and the regimes that followed during and after her stay. She endures war, loss, and confusion. Nafisi starts out in her memoir as a fervent, and 'ready to teach' knowledgeable professor. She later finds herself banned from teaching works of literature she wants to teach, and not being able to be express individuality without the government enforced Hijab. Nafisi is forced to comply to the regimes' laws, rules, and demands until she resigns from the university and starts her own congregation/university with a handful of her most devoted female students/followers. Nafisi's home and personal space is then converted into a classroom where self expression is the norm and the Hijab is removed at each student's morality and desire. Nafisi introduces the reader to the lives of each student. We learn about all of their stories, trials, and triumphs. The students devour works of literature that Americans take for granted; the novels allow them to temporarily leave Tehran, the regime, and their familial duties and see the world in diverse perspectives. Not only is this book on the New York Times best sellers list, but it is also inspirational and a real documented act of valor.
Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, by Blake Bell
Perhaps best known to the public as the co-creator of "Spider-Man", artist Steve Ditko has produced a vast amount of work since the 1950s, yet remains a mystery to the general public. Starting out doing horror comics for obscure companies like Charlton, Ditko quickly became known for his moody, dark storytelling and offbeat depiction of characters. But it was his work for Marvel Comics in the early 1960s, where he co-created Spider-Man with writer/editor Stan Lee, that Ditko made his mark. Author Blake Bell details the progression of Ditko's storytelling processes, how he began to project the uncompromising "Objectivism" theories of Ayn Rand in his work, his departure from Marvel in 1966 due to artistic and financial differences, and his failure over the ensuing decades to recreate his earlier success. Bell also goes into how Ditko's Randian outlook alienated readers and publishers, with the result being his producing half-hearted work for Charlton, DC Comics, and (after 1979) Marvel, while saving his more artistic and personal work for self-publishing. Relegated to obscurity and near-poverty, Ditko, now in his 80s, recently resumed publishing his own work this year, his inflexible attitude resulting in his denying (or being denied) the proper financial rewards/royalties for his more famous and accessible work. Bell convincingly paints a picture of an artist refusing to abandon his principles and the unhappy results (lack of offered work; inability to work with other professionals who don't share his views) that happen when someone like Ditko limits himself to only one medium (comics) to promote his beliefs. Bell also provides a detailed history of Ditko's other work, including his lesser-known super hero stuff (fans of "Dr. Strange", "Captain Atom", "Blue Beetle" and "The Hawk and the Dove", among others, will be in heaven), his surprisingly good (from the 50s, before he discovered Rand) humor comics, and his innovative use of wash inks on his black and white work for horror magazines in the 60s like "Creepy" and "Eerie" as well as lots of cover and interior page reproductions. Despite the tragic aftermath of Ditko's professional life, Strange and Stranger is nevertheless a celebration of the best of Steve Ditko's still-influential contributions to the comics field.
10,000 Ways To Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western, by Alex Cox
Cult film director Alex Cox (Repo Man; Sid and Nancy; Walker) originally wrote this collection of reviews of specific Italian-made ("spaghetti") westerns of the 60s & 70s thirty years ago. But, after much revision, Cox finally got the book published this year. And it was worth the wait. In this informative and very opinionated tome, Cox critically dissects over fifty films produced in the spaghetti western genre from 1963 to 1977, pointing out their virtues and flaws as well as historical backstories. (The films were produced to pick up the slack in the domestic and overseas film market left by the declining Hercules film series and other musclemen warrior flicks of the time.) Yes, the more well known Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood collaborations (Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) are covered, with Cox snidely noting that nothing Eastwood's done since those films has been as artistically rewarding. (Cox is not a Eastwood fan.) But Cox also gives critical overviews on many other obscure entries in the genre, including writer/director Sergio Corbucci's Django, Navajo Joe and the downbeat The Big Silence, as well as other directors' efforts like The Big Gundown, Django Kill, Death Rides A Horse, Sabata and They Call Me Trinity. (If I ever find a copy, based on Cox's review, I gotta watch Tepepa with Tomas Milian and Orson Welles!) Not all of these films get a thumbs-up however; Cox sarcastically rips the dialogue scenes in Leone's Once Upon A Time in the West ("Who wrote this rubbish?") and figuratively shakes his head at the attempts of adapting Shakespeare's plays within the spaghetti western genre (1968's Johnny Hamlet, with a tacked-on happy ending!). And the questions he raises about Lee Van Cleef's character in For A Few Dollars More (it's in that film's flashback sequences) have me looking at that movie in a much different light. Cox covers the exciting beginnings of these westerns, which allowed once-big American stars like Van Heflin, Van Johnson, Jack Palance and Gilbert Roland a chance to become leading men (or just gainfully employed) again for a brief period, as well as making international stars out of Eastwood, Bronson and Van Cleef, and how it boosted not just Italy's studios but the whole European film industry. The films also made international stars, thanks to multinational co-production deals, out of such diverse European-based actors as George Hilton, Klaus Kinski, the aformentioned Tomas Milian (who was actually a Cuban-American expatriate), and Franco Nero. Cox also painfully notes the artistic slide into inoffensive comedy westerns such as the Trinity films with clownish mugging actors like Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, and a brief flitation with kung fu (To Kill or Die, AKA The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe), resulting in the genre's eventual demise. Altogether, a great and often entertainingly nasty collection of essays, with a small but welcome eight page section of film stills.
Growing Up bin Laden: Osama's Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World, by Jean Sasson, Najwa bin Ladin, and Omar bin Laden
This riveting book exposes carefully guarded secrets and revelations about the world's most wanted terrorist of our time. Osama bin Laden's first wife Najwa married Osama at age 15, and was mother to 7 sons and 4 daughters. Her fourth son Omar details what it was like to be raised in al-Qaeda camps, and sent into the desert by his father with no food or water in order to toughen him up. Living without modern conveniences such as electricity or medicine, Osama hoped to prepare his sons as soldiers for Islamic jihad. The book also chronicles Osama as an elusive, yet powerful figure whose noble demeanor inspired fierce loyalty, but also as an absolute authoritarian when it came to his many wives and children.
I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, by Guilia Melucci
This is a fast-paced, humorous book that is part love story, part memoir, and part cookbook. Halfway through the book I was calling my female friends and relatives to tell them to read this book! Guilia has a knack for always picking the wrong man. Through her ups and downs with failed relationships, she recognizes the need to move on with life and go with the flow, cooking and laughing all the way. The reader will find themselves laughing out loud, and spending more time in the kitchen while reading this book, as the author includes several tempting recipes throughout her chronicles.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln , by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Following the 2008 political campaign, Barak Obama was reputed to have read Team of Rivals and used it, somewhat, as a guide in choosing his cabinet. It is so easy for the layperson to understand why President Obama or any politician would read this great history of Lincoln's campaign for the Presidency and his subsequent years in office as a guide for being an inspirational success as a politician. Truly, Doris Kearns Goodwin has written a masterful and extremely readable study of Lincoln's presidency. The overwhelming theme of Team of Rivals is how Lincoln consistently strived to lead by building consensus within his cabinet and political advisors and how that process gave the Lincoln presidency the enduring glow of admiration it has enjoyed since Lincoln was in the White House. Goodwin's techniques as a historian and writer are superb as she uses speeches, letters, newspaper articles and other primary documents to bring this tale of Lincoln's political talents vividly to life. In the election of 1860, Lincoln was never expected to win the Republican nomination, but by using masterful political strategy he defeated his better-known rivals for the nomination. Goodwin covers his presidency in depth; with the horrors of and the consistently frustrating Civil War conflict the centerpiece of Lincoln's administration. Lincoln, along with so many other players in this history, come alive brilliantly. In particular, Mary Lincoln, so often portrayed in a negative manner, emerges as a complex woman who endured numerous personal tragedies and yet had lively and charming sparks of personality. Team of Rivals is highly and enthusiastically recommended for all, but obviously those readers of Lincoln lore, Civil War history and politics in American history will especially want to enjoy Doris Kearns Goodwin's wonderful book.
A Goomba's Guide to Life, by Stephen Schirripa
Every once in a while, I like to read something "completely different". That's why I read the very amusing, if not somewhat irreverent, book A Goomba's Guide to Life. Written by Stephen Schirripa - who played Bobby Bacala on The Sopranos - this book gives the reader an inside look at the Italian-American "goomba". Schirripa goes to great lengths to explain that a goomba is not a gangster and a gangster is not a goomba. He wears track suits and gold chains - everywhere. He is a dedicated family man - even if he has a woman on the side. He never goes to PTA meetings, opera, rodeos or sappy musicals. Goombas have a specific cultural profile and Schirripa is just the guy to explain it. I laughed and laughed when he described Sunday get-togethers, his mother's pet dog - who kept biting everyone (including his mother!) - and the fate of his pet rabbit. Even though it's a humorous look at New York Italian-Americans, I couldn't help but admire their dedication to family. This is a great book for everyone. You won't be able to put it down.
Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography, by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
If you like the music of the 50s and 60s, or just want a look at the inside of the music industry, then Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography is just the book for you. No two people could have been more diametrically opposed than lyricist Jerry Lieber and musician Mike Stoller. Yet, they clicked right from the beginning. This duo wrote many well-known songs performed by such artists as the Drifters, Peggy Lee, the Chiffons and even Elvis. Their titles include "Hound Dog", "Yakety Yak", "Is That All There Is?", "Kansas City", and "Ruby Baby". They hit it big when they were only in their twenties, and rubbed elbows with the likes of Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Frank Sinatra. Lieber and Stoller worked in the famous Brill Building in New York, home to such song writers as Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond and Bobby Darin, just to mention a few. It was not all wine and roses, as they got hooked up with some very shady characters, who tried to take advantage of them. They also got hooked up with the very strange Phil Spector, who managed to get sole credit for some of their work. Yet, in this very competitive industry, they were able to survive and flourish despite the setbacks. Interestingly enough, they state that they felt very lucky to be involved in the industry as the music changed and evolved. The composers felt they were in the right place at the right time. I contend that it wasn't luck, but their talent that changed the music. If you read this book, you'll see exactly what I mean. It's written in a very unusual format - in tandem. That is, Leiber speaks, then Stoller gives his version of the same incident. You won't want to put this book down!
I loved, I lost, I made Spaghetti,
by Giulia Melucci
Humor + Food = A Great Read
New books that debuted this summer include: I loved, I lost, I made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci. This short read is a memoir of a successful ex-VP of a publishing company, & a talented cook's failed love relationships. Although the heroine of the book; who is also the author, G. Melucci tells us about her "late start" in the dating scene at the age of 24 and embarking in a roller coaster ride of relationships and unexpected outcomes. Melucci endures several painful breakups until the last relationship she had in her early forties that ended in a startling style and set her off the edge as she evaluates what went wrong with all her past relationships. You can't help but keep rooting for Melucci and all her relationships in every chapter you read. Melucci prides herself in being a terrific cook and sharing that talent with the men she loves. In every chapter there are hilariously named recipes that she shares with her readers when she tells us about the special dinners & food creations she cooked for the men in her life. This novel is about hope, desolation, deception, humor, faith, social issues/societal norms, & most importantly, food. To conclude, this book has a little bit of everything enough to keep any reader interested. I wouldn't be surprised if this book will soon be turned into a television series akin to Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City. As said by the Kirkus Reviews in describing Melucci's book : "Giada De Laurentiis meets Candace Bushnell in this debut memoir from romantically challenged yet resilient Melucci . . . Frustrations whisked into a tasty treat of a story." And a tasty treat of a story it is.
Connecticut Baseball: The Best of the Nutmeg State,
by Don Harrison
If you enjoy semi-pro baseball, then you should read Don Harrison's Connecticut Baseball: The Best of the Nutmeg State. Harrison was a sports reporter for the Waterbury Republican-American, and covered local sports for 43 years. He has a vast knowledge of the teams that played in Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury, New Haven, New London and New Britain. The book contains interviews with 25 of the Nutmeg's state's best baseball players. These men grew up in Connecticut - some going on to play professional baseball and/or managing. These include: Bobby Valentine, Jimmy Piersall, Bobby Bonds , Charles Nagy and Mo Vaughn. It even includes an interview with John "Zeke" Bella from Cos Cob! The New Haven Ravens, a local team which Rick Langeloh and I used to go see at Yale in the late 1990s, is mentioned. I love the Appendix which contains: facsimiles of baseball cards of local players; records and award winners; a list of natives in the Baseball Hall of Fame; Connecticut-born managers; and World Series participants. This book is only 159 pages long, and is a quick, easy and fascinating read.
Remembering Yankee Stadium,
by Harvey Frommer
Harvey Frommer's Remembering Yankee Stadium is a wonderful chronicle of the greatest baseball stadium of all time. There are many interesting features in this book. The book contains many historical photos of the park and famous people who visited the stadium. A time line ties all the chapters together. Each chapter covers a decade starting in the1900s when the then Baltimore Orioles moved to New York City and became the Yankees. At the beginning of each chapter there is a chart which shows the team stats for the year, including final standings, won-lost record, Manager and attendance. Other special features include: a section on Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in the 1940s; the home run race between Maris and Mantle in the 1960s; and Reggie Jackson's 3 home runs in 3 consecutive swings in the 1970s. The book brings us right up to date with a discussion of the players' lockout and strike, the effect of September 11th on baseball, and the steroid controversy. The appendix contains charts on all-time attendance, honorees in Monument Park, broadcasters over the years, Stadium Firsts, No-hitters, etc. Anyone who loves the game will really enjoy this book.
House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street,
by William Cohan
Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street, by Kate Kelly
Two complementary books about the fall of the investment banking firm Bear Stearns--called the Rodney Dangerfield of Wall Street by some--are worth reading. William Cohan's House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street is the more comprehensive of the two. He offers a full history of the firm and its principals through its March 2008 demise, detailing how a combination of poor and inattentive governance, excessive risk, and many other factors lead to its fire sale to JP Morgan for less than the value of its headquarters. Whether you are a follower of Wall Street happenings or not, Cohan's journalist style makes this a page-turning read.
Equally engaging is Kate Kelly's much briefer account of just the last three days of the same events in Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street. It focuses, in even greater detail, on the last 72 hours that the firm, the Fed, the Treasury, and prospective buyers maneuvered to keep the collapse of Bear Stearns from causing greater damage to the financial markets. Both accounts offer an insider's view of the larger-than-life personalities that ran the firm and the free-wheeling, iconoclastic culture that led to its acquisition.
Bad Lands, by Tony Wheeler
What an interesting book for readers who enjoy tales of travel! Tony Wheeler certainly is a pro at traveling as he is the cofounder of Lonely Planet and has contributed to many titles in that travel series. In this book, Wheeler recounts his travels through 9 countries that have been labeled as "bad lands" in today's world : Afghanistan, Albania, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. For each country, he has written a brief history and the reasons why they have received this negative connotation. As Wheeler relates his travel experiences in these "less than popular" tourist destinations, great sketches of life in each country are given as well as very entertaining writing about his adventures in these "bad lands." In particular, his days in North Korea and Iraq are filled with great experiences. This book is highly recommended.
Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa,
by R.A. Scotti
Even if you're not an art expert, you'll find Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa (Knopf, 2009) interesting and suspenseful. Based on a true story, "Vanished Smile" recounts the theft of DaVinci's Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris on August 21, 1911. Since the museum was closed on Mondays, it took museum security 24 hours to realize it was missing. It was not uncommon for photographers to remove the paintings from their hangings and take them to a back room for shooting. There had also been some pranks which involved moving paintings to the wrong location in the museum. (Security back then was pretty lax.) So treasured was the Mona Lisa that some patrons even brought flowers and love letters, and laid them at her feet. The French police tried to keep the theft quiet. It was valued at $112.5 million, and was one of the most sought after works of art. Word finally leaked out, and authorities in France and America checked people coming in and out of the two countries, to no avail. Interestingly, Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, two artists trying to promote Cubism, were among the suspects. Many people tried to pass off reproductions of the original to collect a reward, but experts were able to identify the fakes. After two years, an Italian , Vincenzo Peruggia, turned up with the original painting. He wanted a monetary reward and credit for returning the national treasure, but instead he was tried and sent to prison for a year. Scotti provides some background history about the painting, and even several other theories about its theft. There has never been an adequate explanation as to what really happened. This book is very entertaining and well worth reading. I have no doubt it will become a best seller.
Seven Days in the Art World,
by Sarah Thornton
This book is a candid portrait of the art world at its most robust just before the recession hit. Insider Sarah Thornton asks the kind of questions most of us have wanted to but wouldn't dare for fear of appearing unsophisticated. The writing is discerning and engaging if no longer as relevant.
by Dave Cullen
Journalist Dave Cullen has been involved with reporting the story of the shootings at Columbine High School since it happened and has spent the last ten years investigating the long hard facts of this tragic event. The book dispels myths created by the media and is a chilling and absorbing study of the minds of the killers.
Everything I Know About Business I Learned at McDonald's,
by Paul Facella
Ever wonder why McDonald's remains so popular and prosperous despite economic hard times? Former CEO Paul Facella explains the phenomena in Everything I Know About Business I Learned at McDonald's (McGraw-Hill, 2009). Facella started at the bottom as a griller and worked his way up to a Regional Vice President. During his thirty-four year career, he has observed the corporation's management practices and work culture first hand. He cites seven different principles that drive business success. These include: honesty and integrity; relationships; standards; leading by example; courage; communications; and recognition. In other words, it's all in the way McDonald's treats its employees. Facella describes situations in the workplace to illustrate each point. It's a quick, easy and interesting read. Everyone who is, or aspires to be, a manager should read this book.
Sundays with Sullivan: How The Ed Sullivan Show Brought Elvis, The Beatles and Culture to America,
by Bernie Ilson
As a young boy, I remember sitting with my family around our large Philco television set with the small 12" screen to watch The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evenings. Ed was a New York entertainment gossip reporter, who provided national exposure to up-and-coming entertainers such as Buddy Holly, Elvis, Sammy Davis, Jr, Jackie Mason, The Rolling Stones, etc. On the other hand, if he didn't like you, or thought you were a Communist sympathizer, he did his best to derail your career. Known for his stone face and stiff deliveries, Ed Sullivan was an American icon. Sundays with Sullivan: How The Ed Sullivan Show Brought Elvis, The Beatles and Culture to America provides great behind the scenes anecdotes to entertain everyone. No other personality did more to shape the nature of television entertainment.
Paul Newman: People Tribute, the Life of a Legend,
Everyone will enjoy Paul Newman: People Tribute, the Life of a Legend. This book is laid out in a "faux" magazine format, with black and white or color photos combined with interesting text on the actor's work and life. It covers his early years, growing up in Ohio. Then it explains how he got into pictures, and moved to Westport, where he led a quiet and private life. The book also discusses how he was passionate about certain political and social issues. Newman developed a specialty line of foods (Newman's brand), and donated all the proceeds to his "Hole in the Wall Camps" for seriously ill children. He was passionate about two things in his life: his wife of fifty years, Joanne Woodward, and automobile racing. Despite his fame and fortune, he remained well-grounded, and was genuinely grateful for his fortunate life. This book summarizes his many films, and provides a treasure trove of candid and serious photographs. This book is a quick read, and a must-read for the movie buff.
Mrs. Astor Regrets,
by Meryl Gordon
For those who thrive on reading a well written true tale of family woes among extremely wealthy and notable New Yorkers, Mrs. Astor Regrets should be a top priority. This book is the story of Brooke Astor - her life and terrifically sad final days when her friends rescued her from her seemingly money-hungry son, who made continuous attempts to claim as much of her wealth for himself as possible. While Gordon recounts Brooke Astor's early years and first two marriages, she concentrates on Mrs. Astor's emergence after the death of her third husband, Vincent Astor, in New York society as a hugely determined philanthropist. She was a true lover of all things related to New York City and supported a wide range of social causes and institutions that have made New York City such a diverse and fascinating metropolitan area. However, her relationship with her son Tony Marshall, born during her first marriage, was strained and reached a disastrous point as she fell victim to Alzheimers disease and lost control of her affairs. This sensational story comes out of newspaper headlines and Gordon tells it well. Brooke Astor was an extremely interesting and generous person as she donated her personal fortune to help so many. But, in the end, she became a victim of family members who wanted so much more for themselves than they had. Mrs. Astor Regrets is a great, diverting and fun book to read!
by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson
A must read for all who thrive on true crime stories, Savage Grace is a stimulating and fascinating chronicle of how a wealthy family's saga ended in brutality and sadness. The Baekeland family is at the center of this story. Leo Baekeland created a form of plastic known as Bakelite in the early 20th century and the manufacture of that material became the source of his family's vast wealth. Savage Grace is the story of Leo's son Brooks, his wife Barbara and their son Tony. Even though Brooks never worked as an adult, he and his family led a luxurious life as they wandered from one American or European locale to another with their lifestyle financed by his inheritance. This gypsy life took its toll on Tony; his education was scattered and erratic, while his family life became wildly unorthodox. His troubled life created terrible consequences for the Baekeland family. Robins and Aronson do a masterful job of telling this sad and murderous tale through interviews with friends and family members of Brooks, Barbara and Tony Baekeland, diary entries of those involved, police records and many other sources. Savage Grace is a gripping chronicle of this family and the tragic events which they suffered.
Three Cups of Tea ,
by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Three Cups of Tea has gained world-wide interest in Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute he founded. With the help of journalist David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea is an inspirational and very well-written tale of how Mortenson became determined to help educate the young children who live in the wild, mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. An avid adventurer and mountaineer, Mortenson originally set out to climb the notoriously dangerous K2 in 1993. Failing to achieve his goal, Mortenson became totally lost in the Karakoram Mountains of northeastern Pakistan. Found and aided by local tribesmen, he ended up in the village of Korphe. While Mortenson was disappointed with not climbing K2 successfully, he became totally enamored with Korphe and its population. In particular, he noticed the lack of schools and availability of education for Korphe's children. He was became dedicated to the goal of building schools in this area as the way to combat the extreme, fundamentalist religious training that has contributed to the violence in the world. Following this goal, he organized the Central Asia Institute and through it, he has built numerous schools throughout the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Three Cups of Tea is a great reading experience and is highly recommended. For those readers who become interested in this story, it is suggested that they visit www.ikat.org to see great photographs of that area of the world and read more about Mortenson's mission.
The Dark Side : The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals,
by Jane Mayer
This is an extremely timely, readable and fascinating study of the Bush administration's response to the 9/11 attacks. The Dark Side has received much praise and it is so-well deserved! Mayer's book grew out of a series of articles she wrote for The New Yorker, for which she is a staff writer. The subtitle so aptly describes the book: "The inside story of how the war on terror turned into a war on American ideals." Indeed, as Mayer shows, much of the response was led by Vice President Dick Cheney as he and his staff created procedures to arrest anyone who was the suspected, in even the remotest way, of knowing anything about the attack. Habeas corpus was clearly disregarded as were any international treaties or agreements regarding the treatment of individuals suspected of international war crimes. Mayer documents these developments in detail; footnotes are provided as well as an extensive bibliography. Looming over her study is the question of the use of torture on those captured. The actual methods of torture used are described in detail. Additionally, the origin of the use of the Guantanamo Bay camp as a prison for those suspected terrorists is also documented. With these two topics so hotly debated in current politics, The Dark Side becomes an extremely important source of information. Mayer has written a remarkably important book and is highly recommended.
When Boston Still Had The Babe: The 1918 World Champion Red Sox,
edited by Bill Nowlin
Most baseball fans are familiar with the "Curse of the Bambino", which haunted the Boston Red Sox from 1918 to 2004. This is all laid out in When Boston Still Had The Babe: The 1918 World Champion Red Sox (2008, Bill Nowlin, editor). America's national pastime was greatly effected by World War I as players left to enlist in the military or work in war industries. Boston picked up Babe Ruth in 1914, which gave them a significant advantage. Then owner Harry Frazee sold the Babe to New York in 1920 to bankroll a play on Broadway, which his girlfriend was in. Some believe this changed the entire makeup of the Red Sox, and led to their great drought in baseball championships. The book is skillfully laid out with a brief history of 1917-1918, player stats and biographies, day- by- day game summaries and a recap of the World Series with the Chicago Cubs. This book is a great reference source for information on the 1918 Red Sox players. It's very entertaining and easy to read. As the baseball season winds down, die hard baseball fans should checkout this gem.
Gross National Happiness,
by Arthur C. Brooks
How happy are you and what makes you happy? How happy is our nation? Does it matter? Mr.Brooks answers the latter with a strong "yes", ..."happy citizens are better citizens. Better citizens are vital to making our nation healthy and strong." "...we have the right to pursue happiness. But we also have an ethical responsibility to exercise that right, and to guide our values, policies, and politics as a nation in a way that makes it possible for our fellow citizens and those around the world to pursue happiness as well." He analyses extensive data (in appendix) gathered by others' studies, and reaches sometimes unexpected conclusions about what makes us happy and why. He finally proposes 9 main lessons for 'a "happiness platform" for our nation.' A fascinating and enjoyable read.
One Minute to Midnight,
by Michael Dobbs
Michael Dobbs begins his terrifically readable One Minute to Midnight by stating that "few events in history have been as studied and analyzed as the Cuban missile crisis." While this may be the case, Dobbs, a reporter for The Washington Post, has written a compellingly interesting and gripping account of those days in October, 1962 when the United States and the Soviet Union came extremely close to nuclear confrontation. Once the United States became aware of the presence of Soviet nuclear warhead missiles in Cuba, the battle of wills began between President John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union. Added into that mix was the often widely anti-American voice of Fidel Castro. Dobbs documents the political trials of both Kennedy and Khrushchev in detail as they come close to launching a nuclear war and then retreat from that path when the horrors of that possibility become all too real. This is a highly recommended book!
Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care,
by Kathleen Parker
This is a wake-up call to the dangers affecting everyone in our society as the culture promulgates the belief that women are good and men are bad. The author concludes "As long as men feel marginalized by the women whose favors and approval they seek, as long as they are alienated from their children and treated as criminals by family courts, as long as they are disrespected by a culture that no longer values masculinity tied to honor, and as long as boys are bereft of strong fathers and our young men and women wage sexual war, then we risk cultural suicide".
Memories of Yankee Stadium,
by Scott Pitoniak
Since this is the last year for the original Yankee Stadium, I was naturally drawn to Memories of Yankee Stadium by Scott Pitoniak with a forward by Joe Torre. No matter what your baseball persuasion, you have to admit there is no greater shrine to baseball than the Cathedral in the Bronx. This book is a wonderful resource on the house that Ruth built. Did you know that 30 World Series have been played at Yankee Stadium, and that 26 were won by the Bronx Bombers? Or that Notre Dame played 24 football games there? There have also been numerous boxing matches, concerts and Papal visits. The book includes historic events as well as reminiscences of players, fans, members of the media and other athletes. Its an interesting memoir that is quick and easy to read. Reading this book is a great way to commemorate the greatest sporting venue of all time.
War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq,
by Richard Engel
This addition to the ever-growing number of books about the Iraq war provides the reader with a front row seat to the horrors of the war as it unfolded. Engel, the NBC News Middle East Bureau Chief, uses his keen reporter's eye to describe the military action as well as the human dramas that were created as the fighting spread across Iraq. One of his moving descriptions of the brutality of the fighting involves the heart-breaking scene of a gravely injured American soldier who sheds a tear as he accepts the reality of his injury. Fluent in Arabic, he interviewed the main Iraqi figures as well as the Americans who were leading the US forces. His conversation with President George W. Bush is very interesting reading. War Journal is highly, highly recommended for those readers who want to learn about the Iraq war from an extremely knowledgeable source and one who can write an enormously readable and moving book.
Bitter Winds: A Memoir Of My Years In China's Gulag,
by Harry Wu and Carolyn Wakeman
Harry was an outstanding student and athlete at Beijing's Geology Insitute in 1960 was labeled a counterrevolutionary rightist, which meant being an outcast permanently. In April he was denounced and expelled, and sentenced to reeducation through labor. Until 1979 he lived and worked in prison labor camps. He learned survival skills from other prisoners, peasants and minor criminals, and to be concerned only for himself. He was beaten, tortured, and, during the great famine when many other prisoners died, he nearly starved to death. At that point, he suddenly realized "Human life has no value here... It has no more importance than a cigarette ash flicked in the wind. But if a person's life has no value, then the society that shapes that life has no value either. If the people mean no more than dust, then the society is worthless and does not deserve to continue." A gripping story that is hard to stop reading.
War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq,
by Richard Engel
This addition to the ever-growing number of books about the Iraq war provides the reader with a front row seat to the horrors of the war as it unfolded. Engel, the NBC News Middle East Bureau Chief, uses his keen reporter's eye to describe the military action as well as the human dramas that were created as the fighting spread across Iraq. One of his moving descriptions of the brutality of the fighting involves the heart-breaking scene of a gravely injured American soldier who sheds a tear as he accepts the reality of his injury. Fluent in Arabic, he interviewed the main Iraqi figures as well as the Americans who were leading the US forces. His conversation with President George W. Bush is very interesting reading. War Journal is highly, highly recommended for those readers who want to learn about the Iraq war from an extremely knowledgeable source and one who can write an enormously readable and moving book.
Don't Fill up on the Antipasto,
by Tony Danza; with Marc Danza
Don't Fill up on the Antipasto is a father and son cookbook by actor Tony Danza and his son Marc. The book is filled with 50 of their favorite easy to prepare recipes, along with favorite quotes and warm memories of an Italian-American family growing up in NY. In the Danza family, the men do all of the cooking, and they do it with gusto. The recipes are authentic, and have been have handed down through the generations. Featured recipes are divided into First Courses, Salads, Soups, Pizzas, Pasta, Main Courses and Desserts. My personal favorite recipes from the book include the Sunday Sauce with meatballs, the Lasagna, and of course, the Holiday Antipasto. Several of these recipes will make their way into my personal recipe box!
My Boring Ass Life: The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith,
by Kevin Smith
I highly recommend this book on many levels. If you miss your potty mouthed five-year old or your sex obsessed teenager, you will be right at home. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to create a classic film Clerks your first time out of the gate or what it is like to be Silent Bob, Silent Bob Speaks, or what it is like to act in a feature film when you doubt your talent and are sensitive about your weight, Catch and Release, then this is the book for you. I came away from this diary with increasing admiration for Kevin's talent, determination, devotion to his fans and his kindness to friends and family. Reading this book word for word over several weeks gave me an insight into the work and the risk and sacrifice that goes into creating a little media empire of clerks, mallrats and superheroes from the films to the comics to the web site to the conventions and personal appearances. It was a revelation to watch Kevin reach out beyond his comfort zone with the film Jersey Girl, a movie I always thought unfairly tainted by the "Bennifer" effect. It is addicting to follow Kevin's askew world through his web site View Askew Productions and to never know where this surprising film-maker will take you.
Leisureville: Adventures in America's Retirement Utopias,
by Andrew Blechman
Leisureville is a golf cart seat view of life in the age restricted retirement community of "The Villages" in Florida. Blechman is invited by his former neighbors from New England to see first hand the utopia lifestyle they are now leading in their new bungalow at The Villages. Blechman is intrigued to see how his former neighbors, who were so active in their small northern town have adjusted to a life of leisure. The book is a mesmerizing look at the type of communities that are springing up all over the country to accomodate the wave of retirees looking to trade the problems of the world for days of sun, endless golf and restaurant hopping. This is a fascinating, engaging and humorous book that is fun to read.
The Complete Guitarist,
by Richard Chapman
Another great book for the guitar player is The Complete Guitarist by Richard Chapman. Guitar great Les Paul wrote the very insightful introduction. Although it is somewhat "old", it's so well written that its quality has helped it stand the test of time. It, too, discusses the history and styles of guitar. It complements other books of its kind because it expands on music theory and chord combinations. Advanced techniques and recording are also discussed. The beautiful color graphics alone are worth the perusal. It has a very useful glossary in the back. I liked the book so much, I bought a copy myself!
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing the Guitar,
by Frederick M. Goad
Don't take the title too seriously because The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing the Guitar by Frederick M. Goad is a great way to learn about the history of the guitar as well as how to play it. It covers everything from learning how to read music to performing simple maintenance. Regular music notation as well tablature is discussed, and chord diagrams are introduced. Different styles of music (Flamenco, Latin, Country, Blues and Rock and Roll) are covered. It's simply written and easy to follow. Graphics complement the text, and a special CD-ROM is included. This is a great book for the beginner or intermediate player. It should be included in every guitarist's book collection.
The Kitchen Readings... Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson,
by Michael Cleverly and Bob Braudis
Cleverly and Braudis have gathered a collection of wild tales and adventures of "Gonzo" journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson, as told by his closest friends. The title of the book refers to Hunter's creative writing process that took place at Owl Farm in Woody Creek, Colorado. His inner circle of friends would regularly gather in his kitchen and watch him come up with half-baked ideas and brilliant writings that were a large part of his appeal and mystique to his legion of fans. Even Hunter's untimely death was surrounded by mystery, with a bit of humor mixed into the memorial service.
A surprising look inside the complex life of one of America's most colorful characters.
The Best Game Ever: Giants Vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL,
by Mark Bowden
Nearly a play-by-play account of one of the most important games in NFL history. Profiles of key players and insights into their character and the way they interacted provide background for the game. The drama and tension of the game are gripping; even knowing the outcome it's exciting to relive it, on the field with the players and coaches. The game and the advent with it of TV coverage totally changed pro football and sports on TV. As the author points out, John Unitas earned $17,500 in leading the Colts to the championship. Five years later, Joe Namath signed with the NY Jets for $427,000, plus a $200,000 bonus.
The Chris Farley Show,
by Tom Farley, Jr. and Tanner Colby
The Chris Farley Show is a stirring biography of a kind, loyal and talented man from Madison, Wisconsin that wanted to share his gift of humor with the world. His Irish-Catholic family instilled a strong religious background to help guide Chris through life, but other baggage from his childhood affected his addictions. The book follows his career from childhood, to Saturday Night Live, and to the movies. Chris Farley seemed to have it all within his grasp. The only problem was that he was burning the candle at both ends, until his flame burned out too soon. There are stories told by family, friends, and celebrities alike whose love for the actor and comedian is still apparent in interview and oral biography format.
Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small,
by Ted Andrews
Have you ever felt like there's a bird or an animal that speaks to you? Do you watch the Discovery Channel and suddenly think "My god, those polar bears are incredible!" Then you should read "Animal Speak." In this comprehensive dictionary of animal totems, Ted Andrews, animal rehabilitator and instructor at the Bruckner Nature Center in Troy, Ohio, brings together thousands of years of Native American, Egyptian, Greek, Chinese, Siberian, African and other cultural symbolism of the animal, bird, reptile and insect kingdoms in one easy-to read volume. He begins the book with a description of totems and their functions in traditional cultures and offers a series of rituals designed to help the reader get in touch with their own individual totems. He then offers readers a comprehensive dictionary of the kingdom of fauna and the roles of various creatures in cultures throughout the world. Why do we resonate with a certain bird? Why do some of us impulsively collect certain stuffed animals? Why do we have recurring animal dreams? Why do we use the phrase, "I'm a cat person?" Perhaps it's because in traditional cultures we are believed to be born with guardian animal spirits that look after us and help guide us through our childhoods and adult lives. Andrews' book gives great insight into these and countless other questions, combining the serious with the playful (otters!) and bringing the reader back into a sense of belonging to and respecting the natural world. Reawaken your indigenous self and start to unravel those crazy dreams! Great for kids and adults alike.
by Joe McGinniss
McGinniss takes an in-depth look at how power, privilege, and justice affected the Kissel family. How could two brothers, Robert and Andrew Kissel, both destined for success, end up tragically murdered? The twisted tale of lust and greed spans across the world, from New York City, to Hong Kong, to Vermont, and backcountry Greenwich. The author focuses most of the book following the infamous &Milk Shake Murder& of Merrill Lynch executive Robert Kissel, and how he was poisoned by his own wife, Nancy. A short chapter at the end of the book focuses specifically on Andrew Kissel's murder in Greenwich. A fascinating look into the dark side of power, and the lengths some people go through to get what they want.
No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice,
by Judith Martin
Judith Martin, author of the "Miss Manners" writings, has written a totally winning and enjoyable book about the affliction many travelers, this reviewer being one of them, have developed over their years of wandering the world: a wild adoration and affection for the city of Venice. While Venice is unique for so many, Martin captures the myriad of reasons why this "Ventophiliia" has happened consistently to so many over the years. This list includes many who have become famous with Hemingway, Peggy Guggenheim, Titian, Turner, Whistler, Richard Wagner, Robert Browning being only a portion of the list. In her humorous, always-interesting, and historically-researched writing, Martin provides those fellow-addicts of Venice as well as those who have never been with very entertaining stories of this fabled and beloved city. This book, however, left this reader wishing Martin had included more details about many of the incidents and events she writes about in her book. However, Greenwich Library has a terrific collection of materials for those who wish to learn more about Venice. That said, No Vulgar Hotel is highly recommended.
Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth and Get Rich Trying,
by David Bach, with Hillary Rosner
Go Green, Live Rich provides the reader with fifty simple ways to become a more eco-friendly world citizen. He offers small money-saving tips that include unplugging unused appliances, switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, recycling wrapping paper, eating less meat and growing your own vegetables, to larger money-saving ideas that include using recyclable energy, trading in your current car for a more fuel-efficient model. In the "Finish Rich" section of the book, Bach details how "being green will make you green", by taking the money saved, and making it pay off for you by investing in eco-friendly businesses. To me, the most surprising point of the book is how taking even small steps can create a huge impact on the environment, and pay off in a global way.
Kirby: King of Comics,
by Mark Evainer
Mark Evainer's long-awaited Kirby: King of Comics (Abrams; 2008) is a loving and heartfelt appreciation of the comic book work of Jack Kirby (1917-1994), the artist/storyteller who created or co-created such enduring characters as Captain America, The Boy Commandos, Fighting American, the Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer, The New Gods, Mister Miracle, Kamandi ("The Last Boy on Earth"), The Eternals and Captain Victory, to name just a few. Evainer chronicles the life of Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) as he made his way up and out of New York City's "Hell's Kitchen", his attempts to break into the animation and newspaper comic strip fields (the latter including a brief stint on the original Blue Beetle in 1940)and his long association with writer/artist Joe Simon, which lasted from the late 30s to the mid 50s. With Simon, Kirby ran a small "shop" that packaged original stories and art for various publishers in the fledging comic book field of the 1940s. They developed characters and books for Timely (later Marvel Comics Group), for whom they created Captain America Comics; DC (Boy Commandos, revamped versions of Sandman and Manhunter), Fawcett (the very first issue of Captain Marvel Adventures) and Harvey (The Boy Explorers; Stuntman; Captain 3-D; Boys' Ranch ). The advent of Congressional crackdowns on the comics publishers in the mid-50s (when comics were blamed for kids committing crimes and standing up against parental and social authority) resulted in many comic companies shutting down. Simon and Kirby, now without clients or employers,ended their professional partnership (although they stayed friends) and Kirby, a child of the Depression who had a wife and family to feed (and feared being unable to provide for them), sought out work elsewhere. After briefly finding work at DC again (where he created Challengers of the Unknown and revamped Green Arrow), a horrible lawsuit over the Sky Masters comic strip with one of DC's editors led Kirby to be blackballed at the company in 1958. A brief reunion with Simon on Archie Comics' The Fly eventually led Kirby to Marvel Comics in the late 50s, where he toiled on the company's horror and western comics. But in 1961, with writer/editor Stan Lee, Kirby began a new era in comics: the larger-than-life superheroes who, like the readers, had problems that weren't always solved overnight. Beginning with the first issue of Fantastic Four (cover dated November, 1961), Lee and Kirby started a whole new line of characters that revolutionized the field. Comics suddently weren't for kids anymore, as readers young and old identified with the Marvel characters developed by Lee and Kirby (the books became especially popular on college campuses). Though the books became popular, Kirby felt ignored and marginalized by Marvel's owners and left the company in 1970 to work at DC (which lifted their "no-hire" policy toward him; by this time Kirby also wasn't happy with Stan Lee getting all the creative credit for their work together). As artist AND writer/editor, he developed the Fourth World series of interlocking titles (The Forever People; The New Gods; Mister Miracle), tying them in with regular DC continunity (via Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen - I kid you not!), but sales were low and the books were cancelled (except Olsen, which Kirby had already left). Five years later Kirby returns to Marvel, only to be crushed and denigrated by younger colleagues as "Jack the Hack" (in part due to deteriorating eyesight, though Kirby didn't dare tell anyone about that at the time). Despite the hostile atmosphere, Kirby does exciting (if short-lived) work on Captain America, The Black Panther and a new creation, The Eternals. An eventual switch to Saturday Morning Animation in 1978 (where Kirby actually got Health Benefits for the first time in 40 years from an employer!) and freelance work for DC and smaller publishers rounded out his professional life until his death. Overall, despite reading how horrible Kirby was treated by his various employers (DC, at least, tried and succeeded in getting Kirby some merchandising profits from toys and cartoons based on his New Gods characters in the mid-80s), Kirby: King of Comics is a Kirby lover's treasure trove. There's so much here (yes, there are reproductions of covers and original penciled art) that one reading alone isn't enough.
You: Staying Young,
by Mehmet C. Oz and Michael F. Roizen with Ted Spiker, Craig Wynett, Lisa Oz, and Mark A Rudberg
A book that caught my eye recently is You: Staying Young (2007) by Drs. Oz and Roizen. This book takes a close, if not hilarious look at the aging processes in your body. It likens the body to a city with highways, buildings, utilities, etc. Then it discusses the causes for breakdown of the various systems. Each breakdown, by itself, may not necessarily be dangerous; but if several breakdowns start occurring at once, conditions may be right to speed up aging and even cause death. Your immune system seems to be the key to the whole process since your body starts producing fewer antibodies as you grow older. That's because we experience a lot of infection at an early age, and build up immunity to many diseases, so our body produces fewer antibodies as we age. The doctors say it's never too late to slow down the aging process, and focus on diet, exercise and mental acuity to keep you young "internally", regardless of your true physical age. It's very easy to read since the authors avoid a lot of technical jargon. The diagrams are entertaining. There's a slight resemblance to the 'dummies' book format. You're never too young (or old) to learn about age reversal!
My Life in France,
by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme
What a terrifically entertaining book My Life in France is! Alex Prud'homme is Paul Child's (Julia's husband) great nephew and he collaborated with Julia to write her story of living in France and learning, as her first and greatly successful book was about, how to master the art of French cooking. Using letters written between Julia, Paul and other family members, the early days of their life in France during the 1950's are detailed when Paul worked as a member of the United States State Department delegation in Paris and Julia determined that her life's goal was to learn about French cooking and be able to teach those culinary techniques. Her ability to make food preparation so interesting is great, fun reading as are the many adventures Julia and Paul had while living in France. Anyone who is interested in food, particularly French food, France or reading a wonderful story about two vibrantly interesting people will enjoy My Life in France.
The Simple Feeling of Being: Embracing Your True Nature,
by Ken Wilber
For those of you unfamiliar with Wilber's Integral writings and theories, this compilation offers a perfect entry point. Wilber is a philosopher, theist, scholar, and practitioner of the mystical arts and one of the world's leading authorities on mystical religious traditions. His editors put together this book to offer people an introduction to one of the world's great spiritual minds. It takes the reader through his more essential insights and theses such as the heart and practice of non-dual awareness, integral thinking (the melding of eastern and western traditions into what is essential and common to both), and the genesis of the search for the Divine within ourselves. Wilber has deeply inquired into many of the world's mystical spiritual traditions and over the years published 19 books dealing with their essential commonalities and practices. Both intellectual and spiritual, his approach is passionate and available to everyone. Essentially, he's done the homework so you don't have to. Delve into this book and prepare to have your mind and heart opened.
How Can You Defend Those People?,
by Mickey Sherman
If you are looking for a funny and thought provoking read, try How Can You Defend Those People? by Mickey Sherman. Sherman is the famous local defense attorney who was Michael Skakel's attorney (one of his few losses). Sherman takes you into the world of law and makes you see just how he can defend some clients. From his days as the "class clown" in elementary school in Greenwich to his television career he is insightful and amusing. This book was a surprise read for me and I could not put it down.
Magic Moments Yankees,
by Phil Pepe
Since Yankee Stadium is being torn down at the end of this season, you might want to relive some of the great, and not so great, moments associated with "the house that Ruth built". In his book Magic Moments Yankees (2008), Phil Pepe recounts many of the famous events that took place in Yankee history. Even though I'm a big Red Sox fan, I enjoyed reliving Don Larsen's no-hitter, Reggie Jackson's 3 homeruns in game six of the 1977 World Series, and Bucky Dent's homerun in 1978, which knocked my beloved Red Sox out of the playoffs. There were also some not-so-great moments such as the death of Thurman Munson in a plane crash, and Billy Martin fight in the Copocabana. Yet, this book is still a tribute to the greatest baseball team in the 20th century. My only objection is that the photos were all black and white. I hope they have to publish a similar book for my Red Sox in the 21st century!
Beatific Souls: Jack Kerouac's On The Road
Beatific Souls is a meticulously researched and obvious labor of love from Isaac Gewirtz, who details the creative processes that Beat author Kerouac went through in the 40's and 50's to produce his literary masterpiece On The Road (1957). Dr. Gewirtz, curator of the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the NY Public Library, (and who recently oversaw an exhibition at the NYPL on Kerouac, which he previewed here at Greenwich Library in March, 2007) used previously unseen journal entries, first draft pages, photos and original art by Kerouac to give the reader a sense of what the author went through in constantly rewriting and revising his seminal work. Also included are insights into Kerouac's involvement with Buddhism, his attempt to meld the style and tone of Jazz music in his writing style, how art and literature were seen as connected to the creative force of the writer and artist, and much more. For an examination of an artist's creative odyssey, the roadblocks and frustrations encountered, and to fully appreciate the work that goes into producing any great literature or art, Beatific Soul makes a perfect vehicle for the audience.
What Can I Bring Cookbook,
by Anne Byrn
Looking for great-tasting, easy-to-make, easy-to-carry recipes for picnics and parties? Getting together with family and friends has never been easier with the What Can I Bring Cookbook by Anne Byrn. From casual picnics and barbecues, to sit down dinners and holiday meals, this book offers over 200 dishes, including 30 appetizers, 34 salads, hot and cold soups, sensational side dishes, main courses, desserts, all designed with ease of travel in mind. Helpful hints throughout the book include "Tote Notes" on how to bring homemade goodies to parties, along with recipe reminders, helpful hints, and sample menus. In addition to all of the great recipes, there is also a chapter on gifts from the kitchen. Great book for the busy cook!
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War,
by Drew Gilpin Faust
This Republic of Suffering is totally fascinating reading on many levels. For those Civil War devotees, this is a must read for it details the gristly horrors the Civil War brought to the United States with its astoundingly high death toll of 620,000 Americans killed in action. Drew Gilpin Faust also digs deeper below the statistics as she writes about how the soldiers felt about killing their enemies, who were their fellow citizens. The readers are placed alongside soldiers as they face death by injury, disease and possible wounding and worse in approaching battles as Faust quotes from dozens of letters written by the combatants. The huge emotional damage done to families and friends of those killed is brilliantly related by Faust's use of primary sources from the war years. Perhaps one of the most interesting sections of the book is concerned with the very-real task of identifying burying the dead before and after battles. This process took years in some cases and led to the rise of predominantly female organizations in the South dedicated to ensuring Confederate soldiers received a burial that was deemed proper for a fallen hero of the Confederacy. This is a wonderfully written and brilliantly researched book by a noted scholar of the Civil War. Reading this book is a very moving experience and made this reviewer want to read other books written by this wonderfully interesting author...
The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies,
by Bob McCabe
There are a number of Rough Guides to the movies. This one, devoted to comedy, features sections on a canon of fifty, comedy movie icons and comedy teamwork. The historical section in the beginning is divided into two: a short section on the period before the 30's and a longer one that takes comedy up to Sideways and Team America: World Politics (2004). The guides do not focus on the technical aspects of filmmaking, but instead on the acting, screenwriting and directing of comedy. The guides are a perfect balance of lists and text that make you want to rearrange your holds list or your Netflix queue. Best of all, you don't have to read from beginning to end but can dip in anywhere and you will find a film you want to see for the first or fiftieth time.
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself,
by Alan Alda
One of the best books I've read in a long time is Alan Alda's Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (2007). Best known as "Hawkeye" Pierce in the hit television series M*A*S*H, Alda has become a popular choice to speak at corporate, professional and academic events. In the process of writing speeches, he has been forced to analyze his philosophy on many subjects and on many levels. He admits that he is sometimes intimidated by his audience, and doesn't feel qualified to speak to the group; but he preservers and gets through it somehow. One of the best chapters titled "Love Your Art, Poor as It May Be" gives valuable insight into acting. He questions the meaning of "celebrity". The book also reveals some interesting anecdotes from his personal life. As you can imagine, Alan Alda is a very humorous, but sensitive, writer. It's a quick and easy read, and well worth your time.
The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court,
by Jeffrey Toobin
Jeffrey Toobin's newest book, The Nine, has received great reviews and is included on, among other lists, The New York Times Best Books of 2007. After reading The Nine, it is easy to understand why Toobin has garnered such acclaim. With his background as legal correspondent for CNN, Toobin analyzes the Rehnquist and Roberts Supreme Court with a clarity that makes complicated legal issues and procedures very understandable. Toobin's interpretation of the Supreme Court justices' personalities and legal philosophies at times literally bounce off the pages and make for very compelling reading. Perhaps the best knowledge one can learn from this great book is the unique position of power the President of the United States has in shaping for years the actions of the Supreme Court through the appointments made to the Court. This is a highly recommended book, especially in the coming year when the election to the Presidency is being hotly contested.
Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and me,
by Pattie Boyd
Wonderful Tonight, by Pattie Boyd, is a fascinating look inside the music world during the rock and roll revolution in the 60's and 70's. Pattie, a former fashion model and photographer, recalls the incredible journey of her life. She spent her childhood in Kenya, and several life changing events due to her mother's marriages helped prepare Pattie for her life ahead. She met her first husband George Harrison on the set of "A Hard Day's Night", and was an important part of the Beatles family during their fantastic journey through music history. Pattie's life then changed dramatically, when she was seduced away from her first marriage by guitar genius Eric Clapton, but the turbulent life of jet-setting rock superstars don't always end happily ever-after. Drinking, drugs, and personal problems took their toll on several important people in Pattie's life. Through it all, Pattie became the inspiration for several hit songs, and finally was able to be at peace with decisions she made during her unbelievable life. A very interesting look at Rock and Roll from someone who was on the scene!
The House That George Built,
by Wilfrid Sheed
The charm of this definitive biography and assessment of the careers of the great American popular composers is the ability of the author to evoke the eras in which they worked. Berlin laid the foundation, Gershwin built on it, and we know the names of those who followed suit. Mr. Sheed defines his subject as jazz songs or songs that swing. He enjoys showing the history the American song shares with the growth of Hollywood and the tension as composers worked both there and in the more public New York. A most wonderful read.
The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century,
by Alex Ross
This book has showed up on a lot of peoples' top ten lists for 2007--perhaps because it treats the subject of the great composers of the 20th Century in a manner that reads like an engrossing work of fiction. Of necessity a survey, depth is sacrificed for breadth, and the dialectics of 100 years in the evolution of the classical music tradition are rendered in fairly broad strokes. Not surprisingly, the dominant theme is the factional strife between musicians who continued to embrace tonality and the advocates of atonality/serialism. However, Ross provides enough detail concerning the lives of those profiled (Shostakovich's harrowing treatment at the hands of Stalin's repressive regime, Sibelius's anguished dipsomaniacal personality, the mutual respect alloyed with competitiveness between Mahler and Strauss) to transcend any tendencies toward the drily musicological
Jimi Hendrix: An illustrated Experience,
by Janie Hendrix & John McDermott
I highly recommend Jimi Hendrix: An Illustrated Experience by Janie Hendrix - Jimi's sister - and John McDermott (2007). The text outlines his early life in Seattle, where he was born Johnny Allen Hendrix to James "Al" Hendrix and Lucille Jeter on November 27, 1942. While Al was in the service, Lucille ran wild. She was very young and immature. Eventually she turned her son over to a stranger, who wrote to Johnny's father explaining that she was looking after the young boy. When Al returned, he changed his son's name to James Marshall Hendrix, and eventually divorced Lucille. James and his father moved around from place to place in Seattle. Despite the family turmoil resulting from the divorce, James led a rather normal life playing youth football, joining the Cub Scouts and drawing. As he got older, he got interested in music. His father eventually bought him a second hand guitar. James never had lessons, but learned how to play listening to records and the radio. He dropped out of school when he was seventeen, and joined the U.S. Army Airborne, where he met Billy Cox. They formed a band called the "King Kasuals", one of many bands James would play for. After the service, he performed along the "chitlin circuit". At one point he mentions he lived in a cardboard box. He eventually moved to Harlem, where he was befriended by Fayne Pridgeon, who started networking for him. He ended up playing backup to Joey Dee and the Starlighters, Wilson Pickett as well as the Isley Brothers. Eventually he was discovered by Chas Chandler of The Animals, who became his manager and who recommended he change his name to Jimi. Jimi formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, after four years of unparalleled success, Jimi died on September 17, 1970 after drinking wine, ingesting sleeping pills and choking on his own vomit. There is no question Hendrix had a profound influence on rhythm and blues. The book contains various ephemera (letter, postcards, handbills, etc) as well as a 70-minute CD with music, interviews and studio jams. Despite the rather small print, it is still a great read for music history buffs.
King, Kaiser, Tsar : Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War,
by Catrine Clay
George V of England, Wilhelm II of Germany and Nicholas II of Russia, royal cousins through their family relationships to Queen Victoria, are the focus of this ambitious and very well-written book by Catrine Clay. The author was allowed extensive use of unpublished letters and diaries in the collection of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain to create this wonderfully researched group biography of these three men who led their countries, some on opposite sides, into the dreadful years of World War I. In parts, this reads like a grand family drama, especially before the death of Queen Victoria. She not only paid detailed attention to her large and powerful extended family, but was not afraid to voice her opinion as to how other rulers, especially Wilhelm II, should perform their royal duties and reign in their respective countries. At times, the reader is given first person narrative about royal marriages, fabulous parties, and the shifting political landscape in the last years of the Nineteenth Century as well as the early years of the succeeding century. While this book might be directed more towards those with a keen interest in this historical time period, a general reader can be easily swept up in this very readable, interesting and enjoyable book.
Crescent City Cooking: unforgettable recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans,
by Susan Spicer, with Paula Disbrowe
For some reason, Bayona's is either the first restaurant I go to upon arrival in NOLA or the last before I reluctantly get on the plane. In the first sentence of the book, the author and chef mentions the magic of walking down Rue Dauphine in 1979 past the restaurant housed in a 200 year old Creole cottage. Today, it is like being at the home of a special friend who by the way is a fantastic cook. In the book, there is enough personal text to make me feel as if I'm in New Orleans and a wonderful collection of recipes that actually makes me want to get into my own kitchen. I am so grateful that Katrina left Bayona with its magical blend of tradition and surprise. Try the recipes and then make a reservation.
Summer at Tiffany,
by Marjorie Hart
Summer at Tiffany, by Marjorie Hart is a delectable account about how two girls from the University of Iowa find jobs as pages at Tiffany & Company. Set in 1945, the books chronicles how Marjorie Jacobson and her best friend, Marty Garrett became the first women ever to work on the sales floor of the world-famous landmark. Not only were they blinded by the magnificent jewels, they were also caught up in the celebrity clientele, World War II, and all of the excitement of what New York City had to offer. While all of their friends envied them, Marjorie and Marty had to scrape by on a monthly budget of $65 per month while surrounded by opulent wealth. The book is a sensational journey through a fairy-tale summer that provided two young women with many life lessons, and memories for a lifetime.
The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty,
by Robert Mondavi
With a lifetime's effort, Robert Mondavi put Napa Valley on center stage in the $22 billion dollar U.S. wine industry. In The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty Wall Street Journal writer Julia Flynn uncorks the tale of four decades of dynastic family and wine business drama. The feuding Mondavis have been gossip fodder for the region and the wine trade at least since the 60s when Robert was banished from, and then sued, the company founded by his father. He triumphed, and started his own house. I guzzled this book down. Fascinating subplots about the visionary, dynamic and disparate personalities, their clashes in wine making and marketing philosophies, marathon legal proceedings, boardroom intrigue, sibling and cousin rivalry, and cases and cases of betrayal. All on a grand scale. The story starts one hundred years ago as immigrant Cesare Mondavi arrived at Ellis Island, and ends as third generation heirs waged a corporate control war yet again. The Mondavis were no match for powerful outside forces and, predictably, Mondavi is now part of an international conglomerate. The House of Mondavi. Cheers.
Uncle Bubba's Savannah Seafood,
by Earl Hiers
Uncle Bubba's Savannah Seafood, the first cookbook by Earl "Bubba" Hiers showcases some serious southern recipes that will have your mouth watering from cover to cover. One thing is clear from the start... as a native of southern Georgia, and Baby Brother to Food Network Star Paula Deen, Bubba knows Southern food. His cookbook offers more than 100 down home Southern recipes that are served at Uncle Bubba's Oyster House in Savannah, Georgia, and recipes that he and his sister Paula grew up on.
The recipes contained in this book are perfect for a casual summer cookout with friends. While most of the recipes showcase seafood, there are also additional recipes such as bread, rolls, seasonings, sauces, salad, soups, sides, and desserts that are terrific accompaniment to seafood. The recipes are not exactly figure-friendly. Be prepared for fried food, mayonnaise, and lots of butter.
Bubba also provides personal stories and photographs throughout the book, so that by the time you reach the desserts you feel like Bubba is an old childhood friend.
Democracy and Populism,
by John Lukacs
As a dispassionate observer of western democracy who also cares very deeply about its future, Mr. Lukacs recounts the devolution of democracy into populism and the serious dangers to humanity that this poses and that can already be seen in many things. The creation of publicity-celebrity-propaganda as a substitute for real knowledge, and ideology for truth, have largely been responsible for this state of affairs. He quotes Lord Salisbury : '"There is the freedom that makes every man free; and there is the freedom, so-called, which makes every man the slave of the majority."' A warning that needs to be given serious consideration by all thoughtful people.
Mayflower: A story of Courage, Community and War,
by Nathaniel Philbrick
Mayflower received much praise after its publication and deservedly so. Listed as one of the best non-fiction books of 2006 by The New York Times Book Review, Philbrick has written a gripping and very well-researched book about the history of the Pilgrims. He begins by tracing their English roots and search for a haven from religious prosecution in England. After settling in Holland for years, the Pilgrim leaders decided to leave Europe and set off on their harrowing sail on the Mayflower to America. The early days of their settlement in America were bleak and filled with illness and death. But, their determination to survive, in spite of their terrible living conditions, carried the Pilgrims through those tough years. Most interesting for this reviewer was the detailed manner in which Philbrick writes of the relationship between the Pilgrims and the various Indian tribes with whom they were in contact. While the two groups did live with peace between them for some years, the relationship between the Indians and Pilgrims often involved bloody fighting, most notably with the outbreak of King Philip's War. Also of interest for those readers familiar with Massachusetts and Rhode Island is how so many of the modern names of cities and other locations are derived from the original Indian population of those areas. This book is highly recommended.
Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits,
by David Ortiz
Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits by David Ortiz as told to Tony Massarotti is a great read for any baseball fan - regardless of team loyalty. Ortiz relates his colorful baseball career, while giving great insight into the behind-the-scenes action of management. Born in the Dominican Republic, where baseball is more popular than even the United States, David excelled at baseball under the supervision of his father, Enrique (Leo), who was himself a promising pitcher at one point. Ortiz started in the minors and eventually played for the Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins and finally the Boston Red Sox. While the Twins tried to teach him to settle for base hits, the Red Sox wanted him to swing away. He helped the Sox win their first World Championship in 86 years through his great heroics. Surprisingly, he expresses a great deal of admiration and respect for his arch rivals, the New York Yankees. After all, he reasons, everyone is after the same thing - a World Championship. Players may end up on the same team over time with the most unlikely teammates, and teams play each other an average of 19 times a year so you do get to know a fair number of people. This book represents a down-to-earth view of life on a major league team. Despite glaring typographical and grammatical errors, this is just the right book to take to the beach while on vacation. Play ball!!
I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series,
by Marc Cushman and Linda J. LaRosa
Authors Marc Cushman and Linda J. LaRosa chart the production history of the popular 1965-68 NBC television series I Spy which starred Robert Culp and then-newcomer-to-dramatic-acting Bill Cosby as undercover American agents Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott in a fascinating way. Beginning with showing how the show originated (both Culp, also a writer, and producer Sheldon Leonard came up with a similar idea to do a series with a globetrotting hero filmed in actual foreign locations), the authors cover such items as the selection of Cosby, then best known for his comedy monologues on TV and record albums, the back-end deals Leonard made with the network and foreign governments to fund the series, creative conflicts between the stars and the producers (both Culp & Cosby liked to depart from the script during filming, especially when they didn't care for the writing), Culp's rocky personal life, his feud with Leonard, & his struggles to write for the series, and the never-before-revealed reason why I Spy was cancelled after three successful seasons. There are also amusing stories about working with guest stars like Martin Landau, Jim Brown, Boris Karloff, Nancy Wilson, Greg Morris, Godfrey Cambridge and Peter Lawford, on-set pranks, a hilarious tracking of the number of times the leads were always held in locked rooms in certain episodes, and the experiences of working in foreign lands & how unpredictable things could be. (While filming in Greece in April, 1967 for example, Culp, Cosby, Leonard & the production crew wound up in the middle of the Greek military's infamous overthrow of that country's government. For awhile, it seemed as though the stars might never be allowed to leave the country.) Actual locations where the show was filmed included Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Greece (just barely), and in the USA, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
But aside from being a belated, albeit well-written (with several rare photos and production stills), & researched history of the series with critical reviews of the show's individual episodes (of which Culp wrote seven, as well as directing one of them) included, the authors also point out the social and political significance of I Spy. It was the first hour-long dramatic series with an African-American actor as one of the leads. Cosby's Scott is an equal (and sometimes superior to) Culp's Robinson, with the two often acting more like brothers than partners. (None of that "opposites attract"-type stuff, where the leads childishly bicker with each other to Show They Really Care, made famous by the Lethal Weapon films, that's still a lazy storytelling device used to derive cheap laughs in movies & TV today, appears in I Spy.) Both men are depicted equally as quick-witted, resourceful and, most importantly, steadfastly loyal to each other, even under overwhelming odds. This was especially notable in the mid-60s when the Civil Rights Movement was beginning to make great strides for African-Americans and other minorities, and where the idea of equality for all, regardless of race, could be achieved. (In fact, several NBC stations, fearing backlash from bigoted viewers, actually refused to air the program in their markets.) Even more importantly, Bill Cosby, thanks to his genuine talent, professionalism & overall charisma, was able to become one of the biggest stars television helped develop, as well as helping provide opportunities for other minority performers in the medium. That might not have been possible if Sheldon Leonard and Robert Culp hadn't stood up for Cosby. (NBC was originally very skittish about airing the series, even going so far as pushing for Cosby's dismissal after the first episode was filmed, but thanks to Leonard & Culp's tenaciousness and Cosby's subsequent rising popularity, NBC backed down.)
As both a chronicle of a still-fondly remembered television series and as a document of the social & political period I Spy was created and produced in (yes, there's also good show-biz gossip) Cushman and LaRosa's I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series (with a foreword by Culp) is essential reading.
by Calvin Trillin
About Alice, by Calvin Trillin, the New Yorker staff writer and author, is an achingly beautiful portrait of his marriage to his late wife, Alice. Trillin wrote about the enigmatic Alice throughout his career with great humor and tenderness. A non-smoker, Alice was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 38, underwent extreme radiation treatment and had a portion of her lung removed in 1976. She died on September 11, 2001 from heart failure caused by the radiation. Trillin brings Alice to life in the pages of this book in ways that leave the reader laughing and crying. He writes of getting sympathy notes from people who felt that they knew Alice, including a young woman who sometimes looked at her boyfriend and thought, "But will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?" Beautiful, talented and giving, Alice was an accomplished wife and mother who, in the words of a friend "managed to navigate the tricky waters between living a life you could be proud of and still delighting in the many things there are to take pleasure in." Trillin said he never quit trying to impress Alice. His book dedication reads, "I wrote this for Alice. Actually I wrote everything for Alice." Calvin Trillin has created a beautiful gift for his readers and to the love of his life, Alice.
The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries,
by Marilyn Johnson
The subject is death, the content is lively. In Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, Marilyn Johnson explores the state of the art of obituary writing, detailing its maturation from stuffier times to today's often expansive print presentations and the internet's alt.obituaries newsgroup. Wittily, revealingly, touchingly she writes of the obituarists she's come to know (and of their obituaries) in addition to the fascinating life stories of their subjects--the universally celebrated and those who should be celebrated for their everyday feats. She's a regular at the annual Great Obituary Writers World Conference. In an old Las Vegas hotel in 2004, just as the meeting was adjourning, word spread about the demise of Ronald Reagan. Johnson described it as "the perfect eleventh hour death." The writers sprinted off in all directions. Johnson did prodigious research in the records of London's Times, Telegraph, Independent, and Guardian. After two of the four began featuring photos in their death features a few decades back, an "obituary renaissance" took hold. Fierce competition lifted standards across the U.S. as well. I read a critic's comment somewhere that mused it was a bit ironic that the status of the obituary is at an all-time high even as electronic media vultures circle our newspapers.
In An Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Understanding,
by Lee and Bob Woodruff
Ripped from the media headlines concerning the injuries of the distinguished journalist Bob Woodruff while he was covering the Iraqi war, this book gives the reader a deeply personal narrative not only the details of that event, but an inside view of the impact those injuries had on his family. Written, in alternating sections, by Lee Woodruff, Bob's wife, and Bob himself, In an Instant also is the story of Woodruff's working career and his path which led him to be appointed co-anchor of World News Tonight. Barely one month after he began this assignment for ABC News, he suffered extremely devastating injuries after a road-side bomb exploded while he was covering the war in Iraq for that program. One interesting aspect of this book is the exact description of the composition of these bombs that can inflict such terrible damage to humans. They can be particularly deadly since they contain stones and rocks. Those elements were driven into Woodruff's head by the impact of the bomb's explosion and created Woodruff's severe medical problems. Lee Woodard writes so eloquently and personally on the roles she had to assume not only as mother to their four children, but wife to a deeply-wounded husband, as well as, the advocate for the proper plans to embrace during her husband's medically-complex recovery period. Added bonuses to their story are Lee and Bob's most-interesting sections about how he changed careers with great determination from attorney to reporter. The Woodruffs' story is terrifically well-written and makes for absorbing and moving reading. In an Instant is highly recommended.
The Road to Calabria,
by Susan Bria
Does your family have roots in the Cos Cob/Riverside area Do you have any ancestors that made the long ocean crossing during the late 1800's from Italy to the United States? The Road to Calabria by Susan Bria is one woman's quest to learn more about her family history, and you just may learn something about your own family in the process.
Many of our ancestors left the beautiful rolling hills and quaint villages of Southern Italy in order to start a new life in the United States. Susan's travels to Calabria ignited a passion for her to learn more about her family's traditions and origins. She makes many trips to Rose, and to San Benedetto Ullano, meeting relatives and learning about family histories in the most surprising places. Her book seems like a travel journal with its familiar characters and picturesque landscapes.
If you are interested in tracing your family history, The Road to Calabria can provide you with a "roadmap" on how to plan your journey to Calabria, and what to expect while you are there. Susan offers many tips along the way, but the information in the book is like a biographical novel.
She has included some of her Family Trees that depict Italian settlers in the Greenwich area. As an extra bonus, Susan has provided the reader with several well-loved and time-tested favorite recipes that have been passed down through the generations. This was a thoroughly enjoyable book from cover to cover!
Hideki Matsui: Sportsmanship, Modesty and the Art of the Homerun,
by Shizuka Ijuin
Hideki Matsui: Sportsmanship, Modesty and the Art of the Homerun by award-winning author Shizuka Ijuin is entertaining and insightful. Mr. Ijuin describes how he and his wife followed Matsui's career from best hitter in the Japanese league to super star of the New York Yankees. Yet, Hideki Matsui is more than a talented and gifted athlete. He has been a crusader for human rights. In high school he spoke out against verbal abuse and bullying. Today he is a generous benefactor who has given money to earthquake and tsunami victims. Matsui stresses that respect is more important than scoring runs. This book provides a unique glimpse into the life of one of the greatest and dignified athletes of our time, as well as Japanese culture.
Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones,
by by Robert Greenfield
Chronicles the recording of the eponymous album at the Villa Nellcote in the South of France during the summer following the death of Rolling Stones' founding member Brian Jones. This very social scene is all sex, drugs and even some rock n roll. Foremost are the fascinating relationships between Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg. The author writes with the assumption that readers are intimate with the Stones' history and discography so much of the information may be arcane for most as it was for me. However, I was hooked into finding out more and gossiping with fans. If you like fast cars and steep cliffs, you will enjoy this ride.
The Year of Magical Thinking,
by Joan Didion
Her husband's death while their daughter was in the hospital in a coma started a year of disorientation for the author, who shares it with us in this enlightening and moving story. As a person accustomed to being able to manage all crises/problems, she found herself in a situation where "I had no answers. I had no prognosis. I did not know how this had happened." She gave away her husband's clothes, but saved a pair of shoes because he would need them when he came home. Later she realized that it took four months for her to move from grieving to mourning. "Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it." "Nor can we know ahead of the fact...the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself."
The Bookseller of Kabul,
by Asne Seierstad
This highly recommended book gives the reader great insight into the culture of Afghanistan both during and after the Taliban's rule. The central character is indeed a bookseller and is based on a real person who Seierstad, a Norwegian journalist, met while in Kabul in 2002. Given the name Sultan Khan by the author, the bookseller is not only a voracious reader, but dedicated to making books available for purchase in his country. His stubborn determination to survive as a bookseller under the stifling censorship of the Taliban fascinated Seierstad. Eventually Khan allowed Seierstad to live with his family and that experience becomes the subject of the book.
Participating in the daily life of Khan's family allowed Seierstad, and thus the reader, to experience Afghan life firsthand. Particular attention is given to the plight of women, both in Khan's family and in Afghan society. One example is when Seierstad dons a burka, stumbles around Kabul and vividly writes about the difficulties of navigating the streets under that covering.
The view of Afghan society presented in the books is multifaceted - the dictatorship of Khan, much like many other male heads of Afghani families, over his wife and children, the eventual introduction of Khan's second wife into his growing family structure and the emotional toll of having multi-wives in a family, and the increasingly growing pressures on the family as Afghanistan moves away from the controlling rule of the Taliban.
Seierstad's writing is clear, engrossing and compelling. Those readers who loved The Kite Runner will perhaps want to read this book. While that book had men as its main characters, women become central to The Bookseller of Kabul. By reading both books, one can get a more balanced view of Afghan society. Seierstad has written a great book, which is very readable, interesting and rewarding.
The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice,
by Philip Jenkins
The author, an Episcopalian, is worried about the unfairness and injustice of the anti-Catholicism that is rampant in America now; "it is virtually the only major institution with which such liberties are permitted." He clearly shows how "Catholics and Catholicism are at the receiving end of a great deal of startling vituperation in contemporary America, although generally, those responsible never think of themselves as bigots.." "Almost as troubling as the sheer abundance of anti-Catholic rhetoric is the failure to acknowledge it as a serious social problem. In the media, Catholicism is regarded as a perfectly legitimate target". He describes the history of anti-Catholicism in America and the forms it takes today, dealing with the current major and popular myths about Catholicism, and says "Demon figures are simply useful, if not essential." And he concludes "Anti-Catholic sentiment may simply be too deeply entrenched to eliminate in a decade or a lifetime, but this does not mean that it should simply be ignored. The greatest single achievement might be to acknowledge its existence and to treat is as a form of prejudice quite as pernicious as any other." An absorbing and disturbing book.
Shutting out the Sun: How Japan has created its own lost generation,
by Michael Zielenziger
It seems like only a few years ago Japan was on the cusp of becoming the new global superpower. The nation today is in disarray. Journalist Zielenziger, who lived for ten years in the country working as a Tokyo bureau chief for Knight Ridder newspapers, went inside this largely closed culture and wrote
Shutting out the Sun: How Japan has created its own lost generation. His troubling book examines the clash between the older, entrenched, and younger, floundering generations. Japan's rigid education and work systems and the the unhealthy interlocking alliance between government and industry, helped to give rise over the past several decades to a class of young people known as hikikomori, who literally shut themselves up in their rooms. Through interviews with several of these "lost generation" figures, Zielenziger reveals how the pressures on Japanese youths have caused many to give up and totally retreat from society. Young women, too, are rejecting traditional roles in large numbers, choosing careers with foreign companies over having families. Shutting out the Sun is a piercing, and yes, depressing look at how a society's refusal to embrace change has been so detrimental to its younger generation and a nation's health.
The Lost: A Search of Six of the Six Million,
by Daniel Mendelsohn
What a terrifically moving and enthralling book Daniel Mendelsohn has written! Mendelsohn, age 47, grew up in a Jewish family of Polish descent, most of whom had successfully fled Poland before the German invasion. However, his grandfather's brother Shmiel and his family were lost in the Holocaust. Shmiel's ghost hovers over the family, in part because no one ever knew exactly what happened to him. As a child, Mendelsohn became entranced with the mystery of Shmiel and this fascination grew as he aged. As he writes, "if you're a person who grew up listening to elaborately detailed stories, it won't satisfy your hunger for the particulars of what happened to your relatives."
Mendelsohn sets off to find out what did happen to this family members and takes the reader on an incredible journey to, among other places, Australia, Israel, Denmark and the now-Ukrainian hometown of his family all in a search to learn what did indeed happen to his relatives. His writing is so descriptive and fascinating. Chance encounters with older Holocaust survivors lead, quite surprisingly, to valuable information about the fate of his relatives. Gristly details of the Holocaust document once again the horrors of that event. Yet, the overwhelming spirit of this book remains that of a loving and determined descendent of Shmiel's effort to learn decisively the fate of his grandfather's brother. It is a profoundly intensive experience to read The Lost and be at Mendolsohn's side as he does indeed discover the truth of what did happen to his family members. Needless to say, this remains a highly, and enthusiastically, recommended book.
It's Okay To Miss The Bed On The First Jump,
by John O'Hurley
John O'Hurley, best known for his appearances on Seinfeld and Dancing With the Stars, has written a very insightful book on dog behavior and its relation to human nature titled "It's Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump". He explains how we can learn from dogs, who seem to enjoy simple things and have a very simple philosophy of life. O'Hurley also believes they have distinct personalities, and he goes to great lengths to describe the dogs in his life. Whether you are a dog lover or not, you will enjoy this entertaining book. This is a quick and easy read, which deserves your attention.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Book, by Deirdre Dolan
Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Book, (2006) by Deirdre Dolan is a must read for anyone who likes irreverent humor and would like to get "caught up" on the HBO series about the trials and tribulations of Larry David. (Larry David was the co-creator of Seinfeld). David is neurotic and believes everyone is out to get him. He gets himself caught in awkward situations which he only makes worse! The book recaps the entire 5 year series on HBO with episode summaries, some dialogue, cast lists, and interesting tidbits from fellow cast members. There are several interviews with Larry David, as well as family and friends. Dolan includes an interesting feature called "What they were thinking" to explain what the writers were trying to do with a certain scene. This book is unique and interesting - much like the series. I recommend it highly.
by Vikram Seth
Two Lives gives the reader a wonderful reading experience with Seth's dual biography of his uncle, Shanti Behari Seth (Shanti) and his aunt Helga Gerda Caro (Henny). And, what a seemingly oddly-match couple these two appear to be at first. He is Indian by birth and she is German born. Through letters written by each and Seth's interviewing Shanti, their life experiences come alive and are fascinating. Shanti migrated to Berlin in the 1930's, studied dentistry, and met Henny and her circle of friends in Berlin. Being Jewish, the growing anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany casts its ugly shadow over Henny's life. In a strange twist of fate, both end up in London prior to the outbreak of war. Shanti's career as a dentist takes a very unique and interesting turn due to his war experience. Shanti and Henny eventually marry and have a loving and dedicated partnership in marriage. Perhaps the most compelling section of the book deals with Henny's relationships with her German friends after the war as she tries to deal with those who subtly or otherwise embraced the Nazi cause. Seth's scored a major literary triumph with an earlier book, A Suitable Boy. This terrifically written book makes this reader want to read his other books.
Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything,
by Charles Pierce
Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything (by Charles Pierce) is not only a character study of one of the most successful athletes in history, but also provides a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes activities of professional football. The narrative mainly follows Tom from his early days of playing football in California, to his trying days at Michigan and his success with the New England Patriots. (He is the only quarterback to win 3 Superbowl championships before the age of 28). He is loved by his fellow teammates, and even agreed to a pay cut to allow room under the salary cap to attract quality players. The paparazzi calls him a "metrosexual" who is tough on the field, but soft and gentle off the field.
His biggest legacy has been his ability to win big games despite injuries and adversity.
Charles Pierce employs a very interesting writing style by mixing team history with player background against a backdrop of the 2005 season.
Pierce follows the progress of the team through owners Sullivan, Kiam and Kraft as well as coaches Parcells, Carroll and Belichick. (It wasn't until Kraft brought Belichick to New England that the team finally experienced its world championships).
Moving the Chains is not only a popular football term - the goal of making first downs with the ultimate goal of scoring a touchdown - but also serves as a metaphor of life. Despite all adversity and setbacks, the only thing that matters is moving forward. Tom Brady is a living example of this
philosophy. Football fans will enjoy the analysis of the game, while
others will enjoy the analysis of character and morals. An ideal book to read as this current football season approaches the playoffs.
Death by PowerPoint,
by Michael Flocker
Office politics got you down? Is your boss speaking in tongues? Not sure how you're going to make it through yet another meeting with your soul intact? Or maybe you just want to boink that cutie in the marketing department without the whole office finding out about it... Well then, have no fear: Michael Flocker has got you covered! In Death By PowerPoint, Flocker will teach you how to navigate the treacherous wastelands of office life while showing you where you can find those valuable and often hidden oases of humor and sanity to help keep you going. Broaden your knowledge of such topics as e-mail etiquette, pod culture, "fashionipulation", emotional intelligence, "mandatory fun", corporate lingo, office romance, and more. Written in a style that is humorous and accessible, Flocker does a capable job in what can be considered an excellent primer on how to survive--and even thrive--amidst the trials and tribulations of modern office life.
Time Steps: My Musical Comedy Life,
With the recent revival of Chorus Line receiving terrific reviews, this book might be of great interest for a fan of that show or of the musical theater in general. McKechnie won a Tony in 1976 for her role in Chorus Line as Cassie, whose story in the show was largely based on her life. She achieved early success on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and then went on to dance pivotal roles in Promises, Promises and Company. Seen as some as the muse for the choreographer Michael Bennett, she was one of the original dancers who, as a group, told their life stories to Bennett. He, in turn, created A Chorus Line from their experiences. The process through which A Chorus Line emerged as a milestone of Broadway musicals is the most interesting part of this book. While McKechnie also details other aspects of her life, it is her life as a dancer on Broadway which remains the high point of her book.
Summerall: On and Off the Air,
by Pat Summerall
Sports fans and non-sports fans alike will enjoy Summerall: On and Off the Air (Nelson, 2006). Pat Summerall started out life with a "clubfoot", which his parents and doctor decided to break and reset when he was baby. It's a good thing, too, because Pat ended up excelling in high school sports, and eventually played professional football with the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants. (On the off-season he decided to start a hog farm, which didn't pan out!) He met a lot of interesting and famous people along the way, and even shared a locker with Mickey Mantle at Yankee Stadium! As his football career was coming to a close, he encountered a bit of good fortune. A friend convinced him to audition for a radio announcer's job to broadcast football games. Even though he had no training in this area, he tried out and landed the job. This resulted in a very successful 30-year broadcasting career in football, baseball and golf. Unfortunately, years of alcohol abuse caught up with him and cost him his marriage and his health. Only through the generous donation of a liver donor was he able to survive. During this ordeal, he became a born-again Christian, and his religion has become a prime force in his life. He was able to return to the broadcast booth and resume a normal life. This is a very interesting character study as well as a narrative on professional football.
Ava Gardner: Love Is Nothing,
by Lee Server
Anyone who has an interest, passing or otherwise, in Ava Gardner or the Hollywood years between 1940 and 1970 will find this biography of her a pure delight. Server has done terrifically detailed research into her life and work. The result is, for this reviewer, a wonderful experience reading about one of the true "goddesses" of the screen. Recurring comments from various co-workers, friends and other observers of Gardner's life are the same: she was truly one of the most gorgeous women of all time. Her life in Hollywood was filled with true glitz and glamour and it is a fascinating look at that industry in its heyday. However, Server writes a balanced book as he details Gardner's wild exploits, many with unflattering actions of her part, through explosive romances. Very interesting parts of the book show how movies were made in those years under the firm control of the major studios. The great figures of those Hollywood years are a part of the story - Clark Gable, Howard Hughes, Bette Davis are just a few Server includes in the story. Even though Gardner had a dark, tormented side to her personality, so many spoke of her so fondly and with great admiration. This is highly recommended.
I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg,
by Bill Morgan
Writer Bill Morgan has put together a terrific, well-researched biography of Beat poet and social activist Allan Ginsberg. I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg is a dense yet breezy look at the life and work of the artist, who comes off as likable and very accommodating to friends and strangers alike while battling social injustices around the world. It's all here: The failed love affairs, working with Jack Kerouac to encourage William S. Burroughs to complete Naked Lunch, hanging out with Dylan & Satre, the protest marches and more. Likewise included is the story of how Ginsberg's seminal work Howl went through one censorship battle after another in the late 50s. (Mr. Morgan has edited a separate account of that period in the recently published Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression which is also recommended.) If you're interested in checking out Mr. Ginsberg's work, the mammoth Collected Poems: 1947-1997 , also just released, is a good place to start.
The Looming Tower - Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,
by Lawrence Wright
Named one of the best non-fiction books of 2006 by the New York Times, The Looming Tower is an excellent book about the growth of the al-Qaeda movement led by Osama bin Laden and his #2 man Ayman al-Zawahiri. Wright, a fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University's School of Law, traces events in the recent histories of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern and African countries that led bin Laden and al-Zawahiri to build their deadly terrorist organization. Though complex, Wright presents this information in a very readable and comprehensible manner. The American response to the rise of al-Qaeda is covered as well. In particular, that effort was spearheaded by the FBI's counterterrorism chief, John O'Neil. His efforts are detailed as well as those of the CIA. Unfortunately, that information was never pooled together and as the serious threat of al-Qaeda rose, the American government was unaware of the immediate gravity of that threat. Included in the book is a list of principal characters that is a great reference for the reader, especially since many of the names are Middle Eastern. The Looming Tower is highly recommended for all who wish to gain a clearer understanding of al-Qaeda and the current Middle Eastern situation.
by Tom Callahan
A loving account of a football legend, his teammates, and his era. Brief biographical information is the prelude to the real story - the great Baltimore Colts team and the man who was the key, Johnny Unitas. The major players are also introduced individually - who they were, how they fit into the team, amusing/interesting anecdotes about them. This was before the NFL became big-time. The players held regular jobs during the week, lived in regular houses, were regular members of the community, not rich celebrities as now. This was also the time when quarterbacks called the plays and really led the team. THE GAME - the 1958 championship against the Giants - is described in detail. It was the one that put the NFL on the map. Much of the success of the Colts was due to Unitas and his ability to work with other key team members, his toughness, his unbelievable football sense (one man said - many can throw the ball deep, but Unitas could PASS the ball deep.) A wonderful tribute to probably the greatest quarterback of all time.
I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors,
by Bernice Eisenstein
This is a different type of book, but one that is interesting and very insightful into the life of a child of parents who survived the Holocaust. Eisenstein is not only an author but an artist. Her book's narrative captures the torments her parents suffered during the Holocaust and how she, as a child, tried to understand this dark history in her parents lives. Her drawings in the book illustrate many of the torments and enduring effects of the Holocaust in her family's life. Yet, her story has a strong emotional pull as she writes very lovingly about not only her parents, but her extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. For those readers interested in this topic, this book is strongly recommended.
A Prayer for America,
by Dennis J. Kucinich
In the 2004 Presidential race, the man who I believe was the best person for the job went largely unreported on by the Corporate Media. This is not surprising, considering that Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich's stance on war, the environment, and worker's rights represented a challenge to the increasingly rightward-leaning Big Business "Centrism" promoted by the Democratic Leadership Council. I am happy to hear that Kucinich will be running again in 2008, and in the hopes of counteracting the dearth of coverage Dennis will likely receive again, I urge anyone who seriously cares about the direction in which our country is headed to read "A Prayer for America" by Dennis J. Kucinich. This book is a collection of essays and speeches that Dennis gave leading up to his decision to run in 2004.
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq,
by Thomas E. Ricks
Fiasco should be essential reading for anyone interested in the current debate of American involvement in Iraq. Clearly written with detailed and extensive research obvious throughout the book, Ricks masterfully builds his case that the United States is indeed involved in a true military fiasco in Iraq. Army reports, testimony of government officials and army officers and other sources consistently are quoted. Ricks also uses scholarly studies of other counterinsurgency conflicts effectively and gives the reader many historical parallels to the Iraqi conflict. The war that most resembles the current Iraqi situation was the French conflict in Algeria. This puts a wonderful and enlightening perspective on Iraq. This book is enthusiastically and urgently recommended.
Condor: to the brink and back-- the life and times of one giant bird,
by John Nielsen
Condor: to the brink and back-- the life and times of one giant bird by NPR environmental correspondent John Nielsen. This book chronicles the struggle to save the last of the California Condor, which is the largest flying land bird. This bird is unique in that it used to feed with the woolly mammoths, flies as high as 10,000 feet in the air, and has a 10 foot wingspan. In the 1970s, it was almost extinct as there were only 20 known birds in existence. The remaining Condors were taken to zoos for breeding, and today there are more than 200 of the species. However, a new threat is on the horizon as suburban sprawl threatens to eliminate the Condors' habitat. This book chronicles the behind-the-scenes activities to save the Condor. The black and white photos complement this well-written book.
by Timothy Treadwell
Among Grizzlies by Timothy Treadwell is the story of a down-and-out school dropout addicted to alcohol and drugs. A friend saves him from an overdose, and helps him get focused on what he wants to do with his life. Treadwell decides to travel to Alaska to get away from people and study bears. This is what he does for the next 13 summers. He learns to move among the bears without posing a threat, and develops affection for the misunderstood animals. Treadwell even assigns nicknames to his new friends. At one point, he wards off some poachers who seek bear body parts for Asiatic medicines. This book is a tribute to the bears, and Treadwell's attempt to educate people about the true nature of bears. It's a quick read with many interesting black and white photographs. This is a "must read" for those interested in wildlife.
The Year of Magical Thinking,
by Joan Didion
Didion received raves for this book when it was published in 2005 and more are added here. Several days after watching her daughter drift into septic shock, Joan Didion witnessed her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, collapse at their dinner table and die. This book is about the first year after these events and becomes a remembrance of their marriage and her attempt to deal emotionally with this doubly-tragic series of events. Her writing is flawless - clear, concise, descriptive, unsettling and never waivers in her attempt, as a professional writer, to capture her feelings truthfully and honestly. Didion shows it is never easy for anyone to deal with the grief and agony of personal loss, but she does give hope that one can survive. This book is a testimony to the human spirit and to the sheer brilliance of Didion's writing ability.
Piano: The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand,
by James Barron
Surprisingly interesting biography of a Steinway concert grand from raw lumber to its first appearances in a concert hall. The story of its creation over an 11-month period, much by old-fashioned manufacturing methods, is interspersed with a brief history of the piano, significant changes over the years, and stories about the Steinway employees who built this incredibly complex instrument, originally known as K0862 but changed to CD-60 when the decision was made to put it on the concert circuit instead of selling it. Its public debut was made by Jonathan Biss in the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo, MI. Currently it spends the concert season at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Met.
Wobblies!: a graphic history of the Industrial Workers of the World,
by edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman
This book was hard to resist, as it combines two of my keenest interests - Organized Labor and comic books. The importance of the labor movement, both historically and today, cannot be disregarded. There is a serious danger that the next generation of workers will enter the labor market with the misbegotten notion that the 5 day work week and paid sick days are natural occurrences of the capitalist system, and not social gains that those before us had to fight and die for. This book, with its graphic novel-style makes for a quick read of this too often overlooked part of America's history. Many different artists came together to tell the stories of the Industrial Workers of the World from 1905-2005, hitting all the highlights along the way.
The Ravaging Tide,
by Mike Tidwell
I first encountered Mike Tidwell in The New Yorker magazine with a piece that became his first book Bayou Farewell which described in horrifying detail the destruction of the Louisiana coast. That destruction along with the unconscionable neglect of the levees set the stage for Katrina. But Louisiana is not the only coastal area under the threat of rising seas and gigantic hurricanes. Much of Manhattan is just land fill. Mike's book is a wake up call for all of us to change the energy choices that we have made over the decades.
The Book Of Understanding: Creating Your Own Path To Freedom,
In The Book Of Understanding: Creating Your Own Path To Freedom, Osho explains how one can move beyond the superstition, intolerance and self-denial of organized religion and transcend to a new reality of self-awareness and self-empowerment. By learning to listen to ourselves instead of blindly following the baseless beliefs that most of us have been brainwashed from a young age to accept as "truth", we can discover and explore what it truly means to live a "spiritual" life. Osho's book has been assembled from his series of lectures, and the writing style is therefore very accessible and makes for fast reading. Explanation and description of the various concepts covered are thorough, and though at times it seems he may be belaboring some topics, he is in fact reinforcing important points in the reader's mind and making the effort to explain a given concept in different ways so that there can be little chance of misunderstanding. Perhaps the author's most interesting assertion is that one can change the world simply by changing one's self; everyone should read this book.
Strange Piece of Paradise: A Return to the American West to Investigate My Attempted Murder and Solve the Riddle of Myself,
by Terri Jentz
This is a mesmerizing story about a brutal attack, outside of Bend, Oregon, on Jentz and a friend of hers who were beginning a biking trip across the country in 1977. While both survived this near-deadly assault, no one was ever arrested for the crime against these two women. Fifteen years after this event, Jentz returned to Bend to seek closure for herself as well as trying to find the attacker. Her investigation is the basis of her book. Detail after detail piles up as she tries to gather information about her attacker. An unsettling picture of the Bend community becomes apparent as Jentz probes various leads and sectors of Bend. Her writing, clear and concise, weaves a consistently interesting and powerful story. It is one of Jentz's personal survival as well as her bravery in trying to seek personal and factual resolution to this crime. This book is highly and strongly recommended.
Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation,
by Robin Hahnel
Warning - Shameless Self-Plug: Ever feel like reading a book that's so obscure that it's probably NOT on the shelf of your local library? Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation by Robin Hahnel is just such a book. In it, economist Robin Hahnel takes on the unenviable task of imagining how a possible future post-capitalist society might organize itself, and laying out some guidelines for moving from the economics of competition and greed to the economics of equitable cooperation. I was able to check this book from Greenwich Library after the Interlibrary Loan Department borrowed it from an Academic Library in Massachusetts for me. It only cost me 50 cents for their trouble - what a bargain!
-Rick (Who is in charge of ILLs.)
Writings and Drawings,
by James Thurber
Thurber is one a the few writers who can make me laugh out loud frequently. He does this even while expressing the anxieties and sadness of the human condition; his worldview is completely modern and satisfyingly oldfashioned, all at the same time. Rejoice in the eccentric relatives (his grandmother, who lived in fear that electricity was leaking out of empty sockets), fictional characters (of course this anthology includes Walter Mitty, daydreamer extraordinary), fairy tales and parables (note the lemming who wonders why humans don't all rush into the sea), and animal stories, not to mention the wonderful drawings ("That's my first wife up there, and this is the present Mrs. Harris"). If you know Thurber, he's always worth revisiting; if you don't, you're in for a treat.
A New Republic: A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century,
by John Lukacs
Mr. Lukacs offers a descriptive summary of this period, then an analysis. Chapter headings illustrate his approach, e.g. "The Leap Across the Sea: The Development of an American Nation", "The Bourgeois Interlude: The Half Century When American Civilization Was Urban and Urbane"; "The Elective Monarchy: The Degeneration of Popular Democracy to a Publicity Contest". He is deeply disturbed by what he foresees as the possibly disastrous effect of the explosion of bureaucratization everywhere, of the inflation both of money (built-in now) and of ideas, and the erosion of the goal of becoming an "American". A serious, carefully constructetd, deeply intelligent examination of the United States past and present.
by Raymond Arroyo
Mother Angelica as a drum majorette? Yes, indeed, and a photo to prove it. A deprived childhood in a dysfunctional family where she became the psychological support of her mother, proved to be excellent training for this feisty nun in her struggles to create a Catholic TV network, radio network, new religious orders, and take the network worldwide. Despite strong opposition from the American Catholic hierarchy, the projects were enormously successful.A fascinating and inspiring read.
Lawrence of Arabia: The Life the Legend,
by Malcolm Brown
Published in association with the Imperial War Museum in London, this is a gorgeously assembled book. Filled with photographs of T. E. Lawrence, paintings of various people and Middle Eastern locales and narrative about Lawrence's life, it gives the reader a wonderful introduction to the life of this somewhat mythic man. His early life is briefly discussed and the beginning of his association with the Middle Eastern culture and society show how he became so enamored with the Arab cause during World War I. Lawrence became a leader of Arab troops fighting against the Ottomans during the War. Not only did this help the Allies, but also was a determined attempt by the Arabs to gather Western support for independence once the war was over. The terrific bonus of the book are the photographs which show many Arab leaders, life in the desert during the war campaigns as well as scenes from Lawrence's life. Highly recommended.
Chasing the Sea: Being a Narrative of a Journey Through Uzbekistan,
Including Descriptions of Life Therein, Culminating With an Arrival at the Aral
Sea, the World's Worst Man-Made Ecological Catastrophe in One Volume,
by Tom Bissell
This title says it all and this book becomes a wonderfully entertaining and informative reading experience. Prior to making the trip which became the basis of this book, Bissell had served in Uzbekistan as a volunteer in the Peace Corps. That experience was, as the reader learns, not a positive experience for Bissell. However, it did give him knowledge of the country and becomes a very interesting part of the book. As Bissell travels across Uzbekistan, he sprinkles this narrative with the history of Uzbekistan as well as detailing many facets of Uzbek culture. Bissell's writing style is totally engaging, whether he is writing about Stalin's affect on the country, its history or society. When he finally reaches the Aral Sea, his story becomes tragic as he describes the huge ecological disaster of that body of water. This is a terrific book for learning about a country most know nothing about, with the bonus of meeting an author who has an absolutely talented way to write and make this story so readable.
Old Time Baseball: America's Pastime in the Gilded Age,
by Harvey Frommer
Old Time Baseball: America's Pastime in the Gilded Age by Harvey Frommer is a "must read" for the avid baseball fan. It covers baseball from 1834 to the early 1900s. I love the format. In the beginning Frommer provides a timeline chock full of baseball trivia. Did you know that Alexander Cartwright, not Abner Doubleday, has been credited with inventing baseball? Did you know that on May 23, 1895, the Louisville Colonels lost to Brooklyn because they ran out of baseballs? Or that on Labor Day 1890 the Pittsburgh Alleghenys lost a triple-header to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms? He also includes a section on the evolution of the game including equipment. Early players used no gloves, and the first players to use them were criticized! There are also sections on great teams and great players. This would make a great book to take along to the beach.
Double Eagle: The Epic Story of the World's Most Valuable Coin,
by Alison Frankel
Legal writer Alison Frankel penned a page turner packed with high drama and it's a valentine to the beautiful twenty dollar gold piece. The coin, first minted in the mid 1800s, was known as the Liberty. Teddy Roosevelt commissioned world renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to execute a new design -- something that would reflect America's global might at the dawn of the 2oth century. Bully. It's new "name" would be Double Eagle. Thirty years on, amid the depression and attendant banking crises, FDR recalled all gold and ordered all the unissued 1933 Double Eagles to be melted down. Two numismatic specimens were to be spared. But quite a few more got away. Saint-Gaudens elegant work, a panoply of unscrupulous dealers finders and collectors, the missing coin retrieval missions, the highest of the high profile coins that made it into Egyptian King Farouk's cache. These are just a few of Double Eagle's dramaic parts. The tale continues with a Secret Service sting at the Waldorf-Astoria and Sotheby's $7,500,000 auction of the world's most valuable coin in 2002. This last might or might not have been the last chapter. Double Eagle. Great story, well told.
The Disposable American: Layoffs and their Consequences,
by Louis Uchitelle
The heart wrenching title captures the thread of the compelling human stories within the covers of this book. One can't even begin to calculate the costs of the throwaway society in which we live. The subject matter is so harrowing to those of us young enough to be a part of the global economy and old enough to remember a seemingly more stable era, that this should be a difficult read. Fortunately, Uchitelle is an excellent writer and his prose will give you hope.
Talk to the Hand,
by Lynn Truss
If you want to read or to hear some British English in action, read or listen to Talk to the Hand by Lynn Truss of Eats, Shoots and Leaves fame. As she tells you up front, there is absolutely no need for a book on manners, so she hasn't written one. She also adds that there may not be a need for a book on a world awash in rudeness, but she has written one. You will laugh out loud at her witty rants. So, once again Enjoy!
Divided by a Common Language: A Guide to British and American English,
by Christopher Davies
This is a must read for anyone who travels to the UK or watches way too much BBC. This book delves into the divergent paths that English has taken to describe such everyday things as electrical outlets and water closets. It gets one out of a mental rut to suddenly realize that there are millions of people who think it reasonable to call a "windshield" and "windscreen." And why couldn't we all use the same name for "mimosas"? We all know that sneakers are trainers, but who knew that snaps were "press-studs"? So enjoy! (Which by the way is a curious American English expression that waiters say after giving you your meal.)
Building Greenwich: architecture and design, 1640 to the present,
by Rachel Carley
Holy Granite on High Ground, by Ralph E. Ahlberg
Greenwich Library has added two new books to its collection, each offering a unique view of Greenwich history from a new perspective:
Building Greenwich: Architecture and Design, 1640 to Present (Konecky; 2005) by Rachel Carley, and commissioned by The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich, provides an analysis of architectural styles which changed as Greenwich changed. Significant historical events become important footnotes as prominent structures are described in great detail. Ms. Carley shows how Greenwich Avenue changed over time, and she takes great care to describe the modern architecture predominant in back country. Color photographs, postcards, sketches and artwork complement the informative text. This book helps to bring the local history of Greenwich up-to-date.
Holy Granite on High Ground (Greenwich Publishing; 2005) by Ralph E. Ahlberg was commissioned by the Second Congregational Church to commemorate its 300th anniversary. It documents how the church (and town) changed from its founding until today. Reverend Ahleberg describes key figures associated with the church, and provides a useful timeline. The book is beautifully illustrated with colorful photographs, sketches and artwork. It is not at all "preachy", but tells the story of the church and town in a surprisingly objective manner. This is another great resource for local history research.
Number Our Days,
by Barbara Meyerhoff
Anthropologists generally produce their insights by studying distant and exotic cultures. In Number Our Days, anthropologist Barbara Meyerhoff tells of her work studying a group closer, yet still distinct. She did this fieldwork during the 1970s in a Jewish senior community center in Southern California. Its members are "twice survivors", having first survived pogroms and the Holocaust by emigrating, and then survived most of their generation by outliving them. Meyerhoff discovers great vitality, variety, warmth, and courage. Her anthropological insights - and there are many - are overshadowed by the intense humanity of her experience. This is a heartwarming story. The title comes from the prayer, "Teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom."
Texas Hold 'Em,
by Kinky Friedman
Want to read a great book that will expand your mind with quirky information and useless trivia? Texas Hold 'Em, by Kinky Friedman does just that! This hilarious peek into the life of camp counselor, former country music star, and Texas Monthly columnist is quite a switch from your average read. Nicknamed the "High Priest of the Prairie", Kinky dispenses words of wisdom about the great State of Texas, Willie Nelson, and how a happy childhood is the worst possible preparation for real life. Kinky is actually able to rationalize how Texas Hold 'Em, like life, is more than just a card game; it's how to play a poor hand well. With chapters entitled "Tex my Ride", "You Know You're From Texas If...", or "If the 10 Commandments were written by a Texan" poke fun at the residents of the Lone Star State, and explain why Willy Nelson calls Kinky Friedman the "Mother Teresa of Literature". The personal stories that Kinky relates from his journey through life are riveting, with just the right dose of humor. Just when you think Kinky has done it all, he now has thrown his hat into the ring and is running for Governor of Texas. In a chapter called "See Kinky Run", you read about Kinky's campaign slogan (Why the Hell not!), and his fight to stop the "wussification" of Texas. Kinky sees himself as a phoenix that will rise and shine, and bring back the glory of Texas! An interesting book about a quirky individual!
What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love,
by Carole Radziwill
While some might consider this book overly melodramatic, this reviewer found it a touching and intimate recounting of the author's marriage to Anthony Radziwill. Growing up in Suffern, New York, Radziwill breaks into the news reporting business and eventually becomes associated with Emmy award-winning pieces. While working in broadcasting, she meets and marries Anthony Radziwill, nephew of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and cousin of John F. Kennedy, Jr. Unfortunately, after their marriage, he suffers a recurrence of cancer, which results in their life becoming consumed by the disease. Much of the book details his emotional and medical efforts to fight his cancer. Radziwill has a clear, concise "reporting" style of writing that makes this a sad, but compelling, reading experience.
The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations,
by James Surowiecki
Author James Surowieckiuses several real-life examples to explain how a wide sampling of individuals acting with their own interests at heart very often come to better decisions than even the smartest "experts" when addressing problems of cognition, coordination, and cooperation. Backed up with plenty of data, but written in plain English, this book shows just how important it is to promote diversity of opinion, and avoid the pitfalls of "groupthink" - where minority opinions are drowned out by a single strong opinion - an all too common phenomenon in our hierarchical business and political organizations.
Tony and Me,
by Jack Klugman
Whenever I watch re-runs of the Odd Couple on television, I am always struck by the chemistry between Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. They appear to be truly concerned for the welfare of the other. This was true of the two actors off the set. In Tony and Me, Klugman talks about how each got involved with acting, how they ended up working together, and how their unique relationship evolved. He relates anecdotes that help us to understand their real personalities. Klugman admits he never trusted anyone until Randall helped him with a personal crisis. Although it's a quick read, this book covers a lot of ground and is very entertaining.
Rip it Up and Start Again: Post-Punk 1978-84,
by Simon Reynolds
In the book's introduction Reynolds states "As I recall it now, I never bought any old records. Why would you? There were so many new records that you had to have that there was simply no earthly reason to investigate the past. There was too much happening right now."
That was exactly the way I felt during that time. My family was a drag, school sucked but... there was the music. I was 14 in 1978 and missed out on punk but eagerly devoured the new wave and post-punk music which followed.
Reynolds critiques, deconstructs and revels in the music he listened to in his formative music listening years. The coverage is incredibly broad, and the sheer fascination of the music really comes alive through his writing. This book is an almighty slab at over 500 pages but it never gets tired or repetitive although the chapters on British bands are stronger than those covering American bands. Maybe that's because those bands, for the most part, were far better than their American counterparts. But...reading this sent me back to my vinyl collection to rediscover the gems from that time. PIL's Metal Box, my Fall records, my Orange Juice records! There is one major problem with this book: I should have written it.
Return to Modesty,
by Wendy Shalit
An absorbing account of the difficulties of being a girl/young woman today in the face of the societal pressures to become sexually active by the age of 12-14, and the social stigma suffered by those who try to resist. The author argues that the ultimate result is many unhappy girls/young women and a less civilized society. "what women will and will not permit does have a profound way of influencing the behavior of an entire society". "our capacity to discriminate is what built civilization. Should it really come as such a surprise that when we began to tolerate everything, our society becomes less civilized".
Reading Lolita in Tehran,
by Azar Nafisis
While this may have been reviewed here before, this reviewer found this book to be fascinating, timely, very readable and encourages all those interested in reading and the Middle East to discover its many pleasures. The actual story concerns a reading group Nafisis organized in Tehran after the Islamic Revolution to discuss the works of many authors. While the first discussion is of Nabokov's Lolita, the books of Austen, James and others are included. She uses those works as the backdrop of exploring life, particularly for women, in the newly formed Islamic state of Iran. Yet the reader gets so much more - the turbulence of living through the revolution, life in Iran during the Iran - Iraq War, adapting to living in a totally religious state and how educated people deal with the traumatic change in their lives and country after this revolution. In addition, it made this reviewer want to read those authors Nafisis chose to write about.
The Lincolns in the White House,
by Jerrold Packard
I just finished The Lincolns in the White House by Jerrold Packard. I enjoy reading books about Lincoln but I found this book filled with many intesting facts about Mary Todd - her many tragedies in life - treatment to her by the women in the cabinet - her overspending - her temper tantums Now for Lincoln - - his depression - his poor health - his sadness with the war - his fight to abolish slavery - his secret trips to the battlefield - the loss of his sons The Civil War was going on and they still had lots of parties in the White House. Its a good read.
Just off Main Street: A Naturalist's Almanac,
by Steven Mulak
The Rural Life,
by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Cabin fevered, I've been relaxing with two recent nature books. Just off Main Street: A Naturalist's Almanac is Steven Mulak's year-long observations out his own backdoor. His new year dawns with the vernal equinox as he starts in spring and tracks the seasonal lives of animals, plants, farmers, the skies; all promise rebirth. His thoughts turn to fixing an old shovel with a branch of well chosen ash. He notes there was a time when homemade was the best way, and not only because it was the only way. Usually, he says, the maker carved his name and often the date is his work of craftsmanship. He spends a good deal of time studying the sky and its seasonal changes, noting that once everyone knew what the Milky Way was. It hung above Main Street as clearly as it does over Moosehead Lake where he camps each year. Verlyn Klinkenborg celebrates the rigors and wonders of nature in The Rural Life. The farm of his Iowa childhood, excursions out west, and the gratification he derives working his upstate New York farm fill his pages. His writing is poetic and almost magical. And you believe him when he says "it's tempting to think of winter as the negation of life, but life has too many sequences, too many rhythms, to be altogether quieted by snow and cold."
by Elizabeth Royte
Elizabeth Royte took the gripping subject of garbage to heart learning everything she could about where what we toss off goes. In Garbage Land, from her Brooklyn brownstone by the gowanus canal, once the area dumping, she tracked recyclables, trash, garbage, human waste, the works. Her trash trek led her from the waters off New York City to the California coast. It's hugely revealing. She found out in the end that nothing ever gets reduced to nothing, it just changes, occasionally for better, but mostly for worse. I loved this book. She spins her story with dramatic flair. It's full of colorful people, haulers, biologists, engineers, greens, scrap processors, and a cast of entrepreneurs, including those who have transformed sludge into gold. Her adventures in front stoop composting alone are worth the read. Waste is hazardous; despite plethoric regulations. We shouldn't be lulled by our domestic recycling efforts, they're a drop in the bucket-no pun intended-compared to industry's output. I will never think about the down and dirty subject in the same way again.
Chaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of The Tramp, the Writer and the Lost Screenplay,
by Jim Agee
A book I would like to recommend to movie buffs is Chaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of The Tramp, the Writer and the Lost Screenplay. Jim Agee was a movie critic who wrote for Time, Life and Nation magazines at one time or another. He was rebellious, unkempt and eventually descended into alcoholism, which greatly shortened his life. (He died at age 47). Yet, he was considered a genius who collaborated with John Huston on such screenplays as The African Queen. During the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, Agee was the only journalist to come to the defense of Charlie Chaplin, who was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. When Time assigned Agee to write a follow up to the bombing of Hiroshima, this greatly affected him, and he eventually decided to write a screenplay for Chaplin titled The Tramp's New World. It was a stream-of-consciousness work about a post-apocalyptic New York City that never reached the silver screen. The screenplay can be found at the end of the book. This work is not only an interesting study about a critic who befriended a star, but also provides some insight into the McCarthy era.
Books of Interviews by David Barsamian
Founder and director of the widely syndicated weekly show "Alternative Radio", David Barsamian is known for interviewing guests not normally given time in the corporate-owned media. Among these diverse voices of dissent are two of the greatest intellectuals of our time, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Barsamian has interviewed them both so often that he has compiled one book each out of their radio transcripts. Imperial Ambitions: Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World and The Future of History are both books that I highly recommend to anyone interested in political ideas. Readers who have never been exposed to Zinn or Chomsky will find these books short, well-organized introductions to the thoughts of the interviewees. I was especially impressed with Barsamian's ability to transfer Zinn's sense of humor from the airwaves to the written page.
Rimbaud Complete, by Arthur Rimbaud
"I became opera; I saw that all living things were doomed, to bliss: that's not living..." Rimbaud Complete is the most recent collection of poems, essays, uncollected writings & prose by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891). Translator/editor Wyatt Mason has done a terrific job capturing the "metrical & musical rigor unique to French poetry" that made Rimbaud's works stand out over the past century and a half. Many American poets such as William Carlos Williams, Lawrence Ferlinghetti & Charles Bukowski, not to mention songwriter Bob Dylan, have been influenced by Rimbaud's style. Read, and speak it, for yourself. (Recommended poems: "Young Coupledom", "The Drunken Boat")
Mindfield: new & selected poems, by Gregory Corso
"Budger of history Brake of time You Bomb" Gregory Corso (1930-2001) was one of the original "Beat Generation" figures alongside the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg & William S. Burroughs in the 1950s, when his jazz-accented works such as "Bomb", "Marriage" and "Greenwich Village Suicide" were published. Over the decades, owing to alcohol & drug addiction, Corso's subsequent output was erratic and he currently appears to be regarded as a footnote in American poetry. While fans like myself wait for Corso's status to improve in the field of letters, let me recommend the collection Mindfield: new & selected poems. Much of the author's best work appears here, as well as forewords by Ginsberg & Burroughs analyzing Corso's style. More recently, such writers as Patti Smith have begun openly acknowledging Corso's influence on their own works.
Them: A Memoir of Parents,
by Francine du Plessix Gray
Having enjoyed du Plessix Gray's biography of the real Madame Bovary, Louise Colet, I was really looking forward to reading the story of her parents. This book certainly does not disappoint. Her mother and stepfather were Russian emigrés whose friends and colleagues were some of the biggest names of the 20th century: Vladimir Mayakovsky, Conde Nast, and Jackson Pollack to name a few. Their life stories also run through some of the biggest events of the twentieth century including revolution and two world wars. While their lives were indeed interesting, and very glamorous, they were also quite shallow and sad. In the end I felt more sympathy for Francine than either of her parents, who treated her with appalling disregard.
Sermons in Stone,
by Susan Allport
New England and New York have well over 200,000 miles of historic stone walls, and this volume describes their history, technique, and historic significance. The drawings alone are a pleasure to browse. Reading this book will greatly enhance anyone's enjoyment of one of our region's great treasures, by showing them what to look for in the walls themselves, and in their surroundings. At the same time, many readers will gain new insights into our local history.
Seamanship: A Voyage along the Wild Coasts of the British Isles,
by Adam Nicolson
Another exciting adventure story in a nautical setting can be found in Adam Nicolson's Seamanship. An admitted sailing novice, Nicolson teams up with George Fairhurst, an experienced sailor who helps him select a 42-foot sailboat and then offers to pilot the boat along the notoriously wild west coast of Great Britain. Nicolson does a great job of describing the natural beauty of the islands, and narrating the excitement and danger of North Atlantic storms. He provides some comic relief through Herve Mahe, an eccentric Breton sailor who dislikes the French, but loves to cook! It's also a character study as Adam and George learn more about each other as difficult situations arise.
Nellie Taft: The Unconventional First Lady of the Ragtime Era,
by Carl Sferrazza Anthony
Nellie Taft was an early champion of women's rights and a precursor of such policy-driven first ladies as Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. She was strong, shrewd, drank, smoked and gambled and displayed an astonishing venom for her husband's opponents (especially Teddy Roosevelt) despite her otherwise Victorian sensibilities. Anthony has written other first lady biographies in the same vivid and absorbing style.
Everything Bad is Good for You,
by Steven Johnson
Learn how successful popular culture isn't about dumb and dumber and instant gratification, but all about making you smarter or at least raising your IQ. I believe this is the first full length explication of "The Sleeper Curve". If you are remembering the Woody Allen movie Sleeper, you aren't far off the mark. Anyway, this is the perfect book, because after all, it is a book, and secondly, it makes watching Seinfeld for the nth time seem perfectly reasonable. Go for it... check it out.
by Sarah Vowell
In this irreverent look at "historical tourism," our macabre itinerary includes the National Museum of Health and Medicine, where fragments of Lincoln's skull are on display and we learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln who was present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. The book jacket says it best: "A road trip like no other -- a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage."
All the Men in the Sea,
by Michael Krieger
All the Men in the Seaby Michael Krieger is the exciting true-life story of the 1995 rescue of more than 200 men from a work barge sinking in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Roxanne. Although it is technical in spots, it provides interesting accounts of the experiences of many of the survivors. Since the crew is behind schedule in completing the installation of an oil pipeline, company officials decide to have the barge "ride out" the storm instead of seeking safe harbor. The barge survives the first passing of Roxanne, but the hurricane does a u-turn, and the barge is pounded again by 40-foot waves. Massive leaks develop, the barge begins to list and the crew is ordered to abandon ship. Only the heroic efforts of the crews on 3 small tugboats (who risk their own lives) can save the men forced to jump into the angry seas.
The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life,
by Tom Reiss
This book was born of a magazine piece for the New Yorker. Reiss spent years trying to track down the mysterious author of the book Ali and Nino, a Muslim/Christian Romeo & Juliet type story from the 1920s. Claimants to the title included, amongst others, a German Baroness, but the real author was a Jewish born Baku native called Avram Nussimbaum... or Kurban Said ... or Essad Bey. Reiss follows his fascinating short life from its beginnings as the son of a rich Jewish oil baron and Russian revolutionary of noble lineage to its impoverished end in Italy at the age of 38. Reiss manages to bring early 20th century Europe to vivid life, from the Russian Revolution, through the rise of Nazism and World War II. He also offers a background on the rise of the Zionist movement, and the tradition of Jewish scholars in Muslim culture. There is so much detail in this book, that it is best savored in small bits. I learned more from this book about more things that I ever expected when I picked it up. It is definitely a worthwhile read.
Niv: The Authorized Biography of David Niven,
by Graham Lord
Highly, highly recommended for any fans of David Niven or of the golden age of Hollywood. Lord packs this book with many delightful and fun tales of Niven throughout his life as well the sadder aspects of his life. David Niven was a true member of the Hollywood elite in those years and a full picture of his adventures is given. An interesting aspect of his career is how much the studios did control the stars of that era. In all, a great and entertaining book.
Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big,
by Jose Canseco
This is Canseco's take on the use of steroids in the major leagues. Canseco admits to his taking of steroids and tells of other players who have used them. Canseco feels that if steroids are taken properly they can actually be a good thing for a person. Before reading this book I felt that Canseco had some other agenda in mind besides steroids and, in my opinion, his hidden agenda is racism in baseball against any player that is not white. Canseco spent a fair amount of time in pursuing this issue along with the issue of steroids.
This book is a very easy read, I finished it in one day of reading. I believe that you need to not have any preconceptions about the subject of steroid use in baseball and then make up your own mind after reading the book. I'm not really sure if Canseco proved that the players he named in his book used steroids but it does make you think it is possible that they did. I just don't know if there are enough facts to entirely back up his claims.
by Tony Hendra
Deeply felt and moving spiritual autobiography of a man who was a founding editor of "National Lampoon", this is also a love letter for a dearest friend, Father Joe, a Benedictine monk of Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. As a teen-ager Tony was taken to Father Joe for spiritual counseling by the husband who discovered his wife trying to seduce Tony. Tony becomes totally absorbed by Father Joe and the Benedictine way of life and vows to become a monk. An unwanted scholarship to Cambridge University where, in his second year, Tony sees "Beyond the Fringe", derails his plans. He decides to save the world through laughter instead. Years later, after one failed and one failing marriage, a writing career where blasphemy has largely become the order of the day, Tony feels despair, that his life has no meaning, that he himself is incapable of love. He re-establishes his close connection with Father Joe who has kept in touch all these years. Gradually Tony regains his faith and his marriage is revitalized. After Father Joe's death from cancer in 1998, Tony sums up what Father meant to him, "He was the living breathing proof that love will teach you everything you really need to know..."' and "Father Joe was the human incarnation of Blake's vision: you can find eternity in a grain of sand."
The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty,
by Kitty Kelly
Kelly herself did research for this book at Greenwich Library and she presents her version of the Bush family. The public seems to be either pro or con on this family and this book will probably not sway anyone into the opposite category. This reviewer found Kelly's recounting of Bush 41's term as vice president and president so interesting - how he got there and his years in office. The tensions between the Reagans and the Bushes was great according to Kelly and the reader is given her version of the dynamics between these two leaders. This is very interesting and she obviously did her research as the notes show at the end of the book. In all, this is a very interesting saga of an American family that, like the Adams family, has produced a father and son American president.
Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season,
by Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan
The Rivals: The Boston Red Sox vs The New York Yankees - An Inside History, by The New York Times and The Boston Globe
If you are a diehard Red Sox baseball fan, then Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season is a must read for you. Written by horror author Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan, this book not only recaps the amazing 2004 season, but also covers the history of the club "cursed" by the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees after the 1918 season. You should also look at The Rivals: The Boston Red Sox vs The New York Yankees - An Inside History. A collaboration between reporters from The New York Times and The Boston Globe, this book analyzes the sport's greatest rivalry, and highlights such key events as the Williams-DiMaggio rivalry; Bucky Dent's homerun in 1978 and the Aaron Boone's homerun in 2003, which ended the Sox playoff hopes. This is a great way to prepare for the upcoming baseball season!
The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them,
by Amy Goodman
Written by the host of the popular morning radio talk show "Democracy Now", this book seeks to inform the electorate by shining some much needed light on the powerful. As a journalist in East Timor in the 1990s, Goodman was witness to one of the massacres perpetrated with US weapons by the occupying Indonesian military on the indigenous people that occurred on regular basis in that country but went largely unreported by any of the corporate media outlets in the US. She learned first hand the human toll that a media silenced by their own economic interests can impose. Always enlightening, never dull, The Exception to the Rulers is a must read for anyone concerned about the direction politics and media have turned in this country.
by Jane Brox
In America, individual dreams have origins in farming. Cultivators of earth, Jefferson said, are the most valuable citizens, vigorous, independent, virtuous. Jane Brox, child of an immigrant family farm, agrees. Clearing Land is a poetic memoir and early farming history. She notes the style clashes between the fenced-in Pilgrims and the open space Indians. And how those non-agrarian immigrants were taught survival by means of the corn crop. Brox writes also of sheep pastures in pre-whaling Nantucket, where she spent solitary years honing her fine writing skills. Expanding on her life on a New England coastal apple farm, she explores the growth of land use, notably granite mining as the textile trade grew, and the ensuing landscape changes. There's a bit of bittersweet in her state-of-the-farm analysis. For a small farm to survive today, she says it must also be an "agrotourist destination." Stirring and elucidating.
The Book on the Bookshelf,
by Henry Petroski
An engrossing history of how books have been stored and organized over the centuries, starting from the time of handmade, handwritten books which were stored in locked chests or chained to the shelves, and moving up to the engineering and design of modern libraries (private and public). A fascinating appendix discusses 21 different ways of organizing books in a collection. Any booklover will find much to appreciate in this work by a bibliophilic engineer, the author of a previous book on the history of the pencil.
102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers,
by Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn
A riveting account by two New York Times reporters taken from interviews, transcripts & emails describing the situation inside the World Trade Center during the September 11 terrorist attacks. The authors really bring to life the confusion and fear present on that day, as well as the great acts of courage. I came away with deep admiration for the many civilians who put themselves in danger to save others, in addition to the firefighters and police. Perhaps most disheartening, though is the political infighting that contributed to many preventable deaths. After finishing it, I felt very similar to the way I felt on that day,in a daze from a mixture of awe and disbelief.
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar,
by Martin Walker
This might be a long biography, but Walker does an exellent job of creating the world of Joseph Stalin. His use of terror and murder during his reign is wonderfully documented as well as his obsession with his family. One interesting aspect of World War II is how ill-prepared the Russian army was for the attacks by the German army.
The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History,
by D.W. Meinig
Vol. 1 -- Atlantic America, 1492-1800 Vol. 2 -- Continental America, 1800-186. A wonderful history of how the continent's regions & cultures took shape, explaining the geographic, cultural, & economic forces that formed the modern North American scene. If you like information presented graphically, you'll love the many excellent maps and charts. This is a must-read for American history buffs!
Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market,
by Eric Schlosser
Want to know why we're losing the so-called "war on drugs"? Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market examines the social and political aspects and history of this nation's obsession with illegal narcotics on both sides of the legal arena. See how lousy economic conditions in the American heartland actually force people to enter this trade, and how ignorant lawmakers actually make things worse.
Millions of Monarchs, Bunches of Beetles: How Bugs Find Strength in Numbers,
by Gilbert Waldbauer
Essays on the different reasons insects sometimes gather in large numbers, exploring the strategies and outcomes of massing by our six-legged neighbors. From menacing locust swarms to the popular ladybugs, they're all here. Waldbauer has a knack for clear explanations and a good eye for fascinating details. This is popular science writing at its best. Readers will never again look the same way at groups of insects.
Michael Bloomfield: If You Love These Blues,
by Jan Mark Wolkin & Bill Keenom
This moving "Oral History" comprises reminiscences by friends and acquaintances of the late Chicago-born master of the blues guitar. Born into affluence, the adolescent Bloomfield disdained his straight-laced background and sought out the company of the elders of the Chicago Blues scene, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and big Joe Williams. Due to his guitar virtuosity and the emotional depth of his playing, he was accepted as a peer by the older black musicians. Bloomfield came to national prominence as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and the electric Flag, although his most popular recording was 1968's gold album, Supersession. He was supposed to play on the entire Supersession disc, but his chronic insomnia incapacitated him and his place was taken by Steven Stills for the LP's second side. This sleep disorder caused and/or exacerbated Bloomfield's growing chemical dependencies, which ultimately led to his overdose death in 1981 at the age of 37. Throughout the book, the love and admiration felt for this charismatic figure is apparent in the stories (sometimes harrowing) of those who came to know him; whether fellow musicians, friends or family members. Bloomfield himself is quoted in several extended passages. A striking black and white photograph of the guitarist cradling a Les Paul adorns the cover and numerous other photos judiciously supplement the text.
Lord of Misrule: The Autobiography of Christopher Lee,
by Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee has had a remarkable career spanning 56 years and has both delighted and terrified his fans, both young and old. From his upbringing as a proper English gentleman and his RAF stint, we follow Lee's career from Hammer Studios to Eisengard. The photos are excellent, especially one showing him with his friends Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine, all of whom, like Lee, are actors in a class all their own.
Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia,
by Carmen Bin Ladin
The book chronicles her marriage to Yeslam bin Ladin an older brother of Osama bin Ladin. She gives a pretty grim view of life in Saudia Arabia as it applies to women, discusses how revered Osama is because of his religious piety and the ruling monarchy's covert funding of terrorism. A quick and enlightening read.
Curious New England: The Unconventional Traveler's Guide to Eccentric Destinations,
by Joseph A. Citro and Diane E. Foulds
Attention ghost hunters and connoisseurs of the bizarre. This book is for you. Although there is no mention of Dudleytown in the Connecticut chapter, you will find Bara-Hack and Gungywamp. One wonders if the "ghost squirrels" of Shelton (who are actually albino mutations) should pack their bags and move to Old Lyme so as to inhabit the grounds of the Nut Museum, which houses the world's largest nut, weighing in at thirty-five pounds.
Autumn Glory: Baseball's First World Series,
by Louis P. Masur
As your favorite baseball team competes in the Fall Classic, why not read about the first World Series in Autumn Glory. Louis P. Masur presents a colorful picture of the 1903 postseason series between the Boston Americans and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System,
by Siva Vaidhyanathan
An excellent book in which the author breaks down what is sure to be one of the most crucial topics of our times: the struggle between anarchy and oligarchy, and how this debate has shifted to the forefront of modern life with the advent of the Internet. On one side of this struggle there are those who see information as a commodity to be bought, sold, and tightly controlled - distributed in a hierarchical top-down model. On the other side are those who see information as free; being the communal "property" of, and for the communal benefit of, all people - distributed peer-to-peer in more anarchistic, highly democratic models.
War Paint: Madame Helena Rubenstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden: Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry,
by Lindy Woodhead
A fascinating book that includes biography, chemistry, history, business and sociology all in one book. Bet you didn't expect that from a book about the cosmetics industry! This book not only includes all of the topics listed in the rather lengthy title, but also traces the social changes that took place from the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries, especially regarding women's lives. These two pioneers really opened the door for women to express themselves as well as become business leaders in their own right - though I wouldn't have wanted to work for either of them.
Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival,
by Dean King
If you like true survival stories this is the book for you it's Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King. What the human body can tolerate--dehydration, starvation,c ruelty, torture, sandstorms, murder, barbarism-----all as a result of shipwreck The ship called the "Commerce" from Connecticut on a trading voyage to Gibraltar got caught in strong currents and winds off the coast of Africa and then the nightmare begins......a riveting tale.
by W. Jackson Bate
This masterful biography by Johnson scholar Bate brings Samuel Johnson to life and explores his curiously modern mind. The reader learns to know Johnson in a more rounded way than the witty conversationalist presented in Boswell's portrait. Bate clarifies Johnson's amazing breadth of intellectual activities, his moral concerns, and his lifelong struggle with personal doubts and character flaws. The overall effect is inspiring, both intellectually and emotionally. Many readers will want, as I did, to start reading or re-reading Dr. Johnson himself.
Genealogy for the First Time: Research Your Family History,
by Laura Best
Genealogy for the First Time: Research Your Family History by Laura Best provides a systematic overview of genealogy research and resources. It shows the reader how to proceed step-by-step. The graphics are outstanding, and there are many useful charts and checklists.
Nine Parts of Desire,
by Geraldine Brooks
Even though this was written in the mid-90's, this book remains a very topical and important book for all to read. Brooks writes compellingly about the culture and religion of Islam. In particular, she explores the role of the veiled Muslim women in several Islamic nations. She also adds very interesting sections about Mohammed's relationship with his wives and other women in his life. Brooks has been a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and is not only a engagingly thorough reporter, but writes in a clear and concise style which adds to the book's readability and timeliness.
Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records,
by Patricia Law Hatcher
Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records, authored by Patricia Law Hatcher, explains how to use such documents as deeds, grants, mortgages, and wills to research genealogy and family history. It also provides tips on other resources available to the novice.
by Edward Conlon
A true account of the day to day life of a NY City cop, written by a NYPD detective. Don't pick this up expecting car chases, shootouts and other Hollywood style depictions of life as a cop. This focuses on the side of law enforcement that the public does not see, which includes the same drudgery and office politics that we all have. Fortunately, most of us don't need to avoid bricks aimed at us from the tops of high buildings! Informative, funny and touching. The chapters concerning 9-11 are something you won't soon forget. As someone who was never a big fan of the police, I learned to appreciate police officers and the sacrifices they make to keep us safe.
All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw,
by Theodore Rosengarten
The life of an Alabama sharecropper born in 1885, reconstructed from extensive interviews done by Rosengarten in the early 1970s. It's a long way from 21st-century Fairfield County (in several ways), yet this autobiographical work does more than depict the rural South as experienced by a spirited African-American farmer from 1885-1970. Shaw's life, while vivid and moving, conveys not just the particulars of his story, but also evokes the more universal struggles of many individuals in many times and places - a sure sign of top-rate historical writing.
Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can't Kick Militarism,
by Joel Andreas
The Sorrows of Empire : Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic,
by Chalmers Johnson
Although it is non-fiction, this book's low page count and graphic novel style format make it a brief yet enlightening foray into the nature of American Militarism. With no shortage of facts and historical quotations, the author illustrates just how prescient George Washington's farewell address was when the father of our country warned a budding nation of the dangers of keeping a standing army. Reader's whose appetite for the subject is whetted by this quick read will probably also enjoy The Sorrows of Empire : Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic by Chalmers Johnson. This book gives the subject a much more in depth view. The author brings to light many facts which most readers will be unaware of - the 725 Military bases which exist outside of our country, for example, all the while drawing startling parallels between the US in the 21st century and Imperial Rome. Anyone who has ever wondered how people in other countries can seem to have such a negative view of America should read this book. You'll probably be just as shocked as I was to hear how frequently we've covertly and overtly flexed our military muscle, often to the detriment or outright destruction of other nations' sovereignty.
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller
Fuller recounts her childhood growing up in Africa in Zimbabwe, Zambia and other locales in the 1970's and early 80's. She communicates so well her love of Africa as her parents worked on various farms. Those were perilous and violent times to be farming in remote areas of these countries. Hers was certainly a different childhood and her story is very sad and compelling at times.