Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
Tried by War : Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James McPherson
Recalling one of the classic works on Honest Abe, T. Harry Williams' Lincoln and His Generals (1952), McPherson's fluid narrative renders balanced judgments of Lincoln's performance as a war president. As with the law, Lincoln was a self-taught strategist whose political acumen, McPherson illustrates in instance after instance, was vital to his conduct of the Union cause. Lincoln's political skills factored into several levels at which a commander in chief functions, specified as the setting of policy, national strategy, military strategy, military operations, and, occasionally, military tactics. Though it has assumed the look of lore in Civil War literature, Lincoln's dealings with generals become exceptionally vibrant in McPherson's prose, rewarding even buffs who've seen it all about McClellan or Grant. Suggesting Lincoln stuck too long with McClellan, McPherson shows how unsatisfactory alternatives, as well as the Young Napoléon's political strength, compelled Lincoln to go once more to the well with McClellan. Equally effectively, McPherson depicts the North's shifting political moods toward the war's cost and length and toward emancipation as crucial to the environment in which Lincoln made his decisions. No surprise coming from the immensely popular McPherson, this is first-rate reading for the Civil War audience.
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Kidder, a master documentarian, has primarily practiced his art on his home turf, Massachusetts, proving that one small place abounds in amazing stories. Now, in his most compelling chronicle to date, this Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner investigates a far harsher world in the company of Paul Farmer, a radical public health reformer devoted to providing medical care to the poor, mainly in Haiti. A Harvard-educated medical anthropologist, TB expert, and MacArthur genius gifted with an unshakable moral imperative, an ardent imagination, and limitless energy, compassion, and chutzpah, Farmer created Partners in Health, a renegade yet hugely influential organization. A powerful presence, this uncompromising visionary is too spectacularly impressive not to be disconcerting, and Kidder shares his puzzlement over and occasional discomfort with this charismatic and tirelessly giving man who eschews personal comfort to care for the underdogs of the underdogs. As Kidder accompanies Farmer on his exhausting and risky daily routines and epic travels, he parses the cruel realities of deep poverty and the maddening politics of international health care. Most importantly, Kidder portrays a genuinely inspired and heroic individual, whose quest for justice will make every reader examine her or his life in a new light.
Tenth Muse : My Life in Food by Judith Jones
In her entertaining, wondrously informative remembrance of her rich life, written with not a paragraph or even a word of pretension or boastfulness, cookbook editor Jones recounts experiences that food and book lovers will admire and envy and, when the book is finished, wish took up twice as many pages. Jones reaches back into her childhood for clear memories of signs and indications that food and its preparation would always be a source of delight. Clearly woven into her remembrances, like a bright thread, is her abiding interest in things French; in fact, after college, she journeyed there and took up long-term residence, meeting the man who would become her husband and absorbing the Gallic delight in scents and sauces. Once back living in New York, she worked as an editor at Knopf, sort of falling into editing cookbooks. Her crowning achievement was the acquisition of the manuscript to what would be called Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by the unknown Julia Child. Other important cookbook acquisitions followed, reflecting America's growing sophistication in the kitchen, and the last 100 pages of the book contain many of Jones' favorite recipes.
Girls Like Us : Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon--and the journey of a generation by Sheila Weller
The epic story of three generational icons, this triple biography from author and Glamour senior editor Weller (Dancing at Ciro's) examines the careers of singer-songwriters Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, whose success reflected, enervated and shaped the feminist movement that grew up with them. After short sketches of their early years, Weller begins in earnest with the 1960s, switching off among the women as their public lives begin. A time of extremes, the '60s found folk music and feminist cultures just beginning to define themselves, while the buttoned-down mainstream was still treating unwed pregnant women, in Mitchell's terms, "like you murdered somebody" (thus the big, traditional wedding thrown for King, pregnant by songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, in 1959). Pioneering success in the music business led inevitably to similar roles in women's movement, but Weller doesn't overlook the content of their songs and the effect they have on a generation of women facing "a lot more choice," but with no one to guide them. Taking readers in-depth through the late '80s, Weller brings the story up to date with a short but satisfying roundup. A must-read for any fan of these artists, this bio will prove an absorbing, eye-opening tour of rock (and American) history for anyone who's appreciated a female musician in the past thirty years. B&w photos. (Apr.)
American Bloomsbury : Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau : their lives, their loves, their works by Susan Cheever
A request to write a new introduction to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, writes novelist and memoirist Cheever, inspired her to explore the literary atmosphere of Alcott's childhood. A daughter of one of the free spirits intellectually supported and financially subsidized by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa intermittently lived in Concord, Massachusetts, where Cheever sets her intimate narratives. She explores the interpersonal relationships linking the prospectively famous writers Emerson drew in. In the transcendentalist florescence of the 1840s and 1850s, the aspirant writers tried out their ideas and idealism in conversation at Emerson's house, alongside Concord's roads, or afloat on its creeks. Moving among descriptions of such haunts, Cheever constructs a many-layered contemplation of this distinctive collection of American literary icons in their formative periods, and encompasses day-to-day events and the character of their attractions, as between a married Emerson and Margaret Fuller, whom Emerson lodged in his house. Emotionally warm and critically engaged, Cheever's hBy far the largest number of examples New Yorker 0 staff writer and Harvard physician Groopman adduces to show how doctors think shows them thinking well for the good of their patients. In the initial example, one doctor seen by a woman with a long-standing weight-loss condition concedes being stumped and sends her to a specialist who finds the cause of her woes and, most probably, saves her from an early death. Both physicians are praiseworthy, the second more than the first only because he believed a patient whom others had come to pooh-pooh as a complainer and then thought of examining for something that the others had missed. The lesson? A doctor has to think with the patient, not despite or against her or from an assumption of superior knowledge. Subsequent chapters show doctors thinking in resistance to economic pressure by hospitals and insurers, in thorough solidarity with parents about their children's care, against a host of professional assumptions and in resistance to pestering by drug companies--all to help patients achieve their own goals as far as possible. An epilogue suggests a few questions patients should ask to help their doctors think clearly and, as the last chapter's title puts it, "In Service of the Soul." A book to restore faith in an often-resented profession, well enough written to warrant its quarter-million-copy first printing.
How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
By far the largest number of examples New Yorker 0 staff writer and Harvard physician Groopman adduces to show how doctors think shows them thinking well for the good of their patients. In the initial example, one doctor seen by a woman with a long-standing weight-loss condition concedes being stumped and sends her to a specialist who finds the cause of her woes and, most probably, saves her from an early death. Both physicians are praiseworthy, the second more than the first only because he believed a patient whom others had come to pooh-pooh as a complainer and then thought of examining for something that the others had missed. The lesson? A doctor has to think with the patient, not despite or against her or from an assumption of superior knowledge. Subsequent chapters show doctors thinking in resistance to economic pressure by hospitals and insurers, in thorough solidarity with parents about their children's care, against a host of professional assumptions and in resistance to pestering by drug companies--all to help patients achieve their own goals as far as possible. An epilogue suggests a few questions patients should ask to help their doctors think clearly and, as the last chapter's title puts it, "In Service of the Soul." A book to restore faith in an often-resented profession, well enough written to warrant its quarter-million-copy first printing.
Journey from the Land of No : A girlhood caught in revolutionary Iran by Roya Hakakian
Poet and documentary filmmaker Hakakian presents a lyrically poignant account of her coming-of-age years in revolution-beset Iran. The daughter of an accomplished poet, she and her exuberant extended family were members of Tehran's once vibrant Jewish community. After the shah was ousted and Ayatollah Khomeini returned from a 15-year exile in 1979, life as she and her family knew it unraveled rapidly. Reflecting on growing up both Jewish and female in an increasingly restrictive environment, she is able to offer a unique perspective on the search for spiritual sustenance in a rapidly constricting society. It is both a joy and a privilege to bear witness to one young girl's remarkable emotional and artistic metamorphosis within a stunningly repressive culture.
DB - 12/22/08
Seinfeld and Melville Dewey Produce Perfect Storms
OK so State Sen. Ronda Storms (FL) has a problem with Dewey. Hey, she has a point. The classification system that public libraries use isn't always intuitive and sometimes it's downright frustrating. I mean, should Recycling at Home (363.7282) really be that close to Cannibal Killers (364.1523) or Discovering the Vernacular Landscape sharing a shelf with Reluctant Metrosexual? People are always picking on poor Melville, but really, LITTLE OLD LIBRARIANS?
Monday, December 15, 2008
Coming Movie/Book Tie-ins
Yes Man (Dec.19, with Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel)--Book by Danny Wallace
Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dec. 25, with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett)--Short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Marley and Me (Dec.25, with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston)--Book by John Grogan
The Spirit (Dec. 25, with Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johanssen)--Graphic novel series by Will Eisner
Tale of Despereaux (Dec. 25, animated, with voices of Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick, Kevin Kline and others)--Book by Kate DiCamillo
Revolutionary Road (Dec. 26, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet)--Book by Richard Yates
The Reader (Jan.9, with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes)--Book by Bernard Schlink
The holidays got you down and you want to get away. Why not escape for a while with a travel memoir. The following are the most popular memoirs in the last six months. Where would you like to go?
Eat, pray, love: one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia
by Elizabeth Gilbert
This beautifully written, heartfelt memoir touched a nerve amoung both readers and reviewers. Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life.
Down the Nile: alone in a fisherman’s skiff
by Rosemary Mahoney
This is travel writing at its most enjoyable: the reader is taken on a great trip with an erudite travel companion soaking up scads of history, culture and literary knowledge, along with the scenery.
Shadow of the Silk Road
by Colin Thubron
Thubron, a gifted writer with over a dozen books to his name, has written a vivid account of his journey, often under intimidatingly iffy circumstances, across the full length of the ancient Silk Road, from China to the Mediterranean.
River of doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s darkest journey
by Candice Millard
The River of Doubt—it is a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. Indians armed with poison-tipped arrows haunt its shadows; piranhas glide through its waters; boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a roiling cauldron. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.
The geography of bliss: one grump’s search for the happiest places in the world
by Eric Weiner
Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, The Geography of Bliss takes the reader from America to Iceland to India in search of happiness, or, in the crabby author's case, moments of "un-unhappiness."
Ghost train to the Eastern star: on the tracks of the great railway bazaar
by Paul Theroux
Theroux's odyssey takes him from Eastern Europe, still hung-over from communism, through tense but thriving Turkey into the Caucasus, where Georgia limps back toward feudalism while its neighbor Azerbaijan revels in oil-fueled capitalism. No one is better able to capture the texture, sights, smells, and sounds of that changing landscape than Theroux.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Here they come! Best book lists for the year are arriving daily. This is your opportunity to check your list to make sure you have not missed the titles that have risen to the top for 2008. Today's featured list is from Business Week. You may also find the lists from the Financial Times, BNET, and the Editors of Amazon useful. Titles found on more than one of these lists are The Snowball by Schroeder (all 4 lists), Outliers by Gladwell (3 lists), Sense of Urgency by Kotter (3 lists), When Markets Collide by El-Erian (2 lists), Nudge by Thaler & Sunstein (2 lists)
The Trillion Dollar Meltdown. Charles R. Morris
The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. Alice Schroeder
The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs. Charles D. Ellis
Hell's Cartel: I.G. Farben and the Making of Hitler's War Machine. Diarmuid Jeffreys
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Dan Ariely. (MIT)
The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives. Michael Heller (
The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation. A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan.
Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing
Outliers: The Story of Success. Malcolm Gladwell.Posted by SH
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Looking for something to do while doing your homework, working on a sales report or suffering from insomnia? Try this Google search: "top 10" 2008. (Best of all, this is one Google search where page 87 is just as useful as page 1!)
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
How's that for a catchy title?
Librarian in Black (Nov.17 entry) notes a free program that maximizes paper use when printing documents. Among other things, it eliminates those extra pages which just have a logo or banner ad or ID of some sort. The program, Greenprint, also includes a PDF writer. Check out the web site to see how many pages, trees and pounds of CO2 have been saved so far.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
National Public Radio has put together a list of recommended gift books for the holiday season. The Big Pictures: Best Gift Books 2008 gives a nice little book talk for around 20 titles with lots of nice pictures. Included are The Oxford Project (in which the author photographs everyone in his town and then again 20 years later) and Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing on Set--taking the reader backstage in the production of some classic films. As a special bonus, the NPR site includes a little phot gallery with some of the books. (Note that this list is part of a Best Books of 2008 series which includes Best Foreign Fiction and 10 Best Cookbooks.