Thursday, October 29, 2015

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Science of the Magical

Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers

Matt Kaplan

From a noted science journalist, this engaging scientific inquiry provides a definitive look into the elements of mystical places and magical objects, from the philosopher's stone, to love potions, to the oracles, from ancient history, mythology, and contemporary culture. 

Can migrations of birds foretell our future? Do phases of the moon hold sway over our lives? Are there sacred springs that cure the ill? What is the best way to brew a love potion? How do we create mutant humans who regenerate like Wolverine? 

Matt Kaplan plumbs the rich, lively, and surprising history of the magical objects, places, and rituals that infuse ancient and contemporary myth. Ranging across cultures and time periods, Kaplan points out that there is often much more to these enduring magical narratives than mere fantasy.

Informative and entertaining, Science of the Magical explores our world through the compelling scope of natural and human history and cutting-edge science.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Secret of Our Success

The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter

by Joseph Henrich 

Humans are a puzzling species. On the one hand, we struggle to survive on our own in the wild, often failing to overcome even basic challenges, like obtaining food, building shelters, or avoiding predators. 

On the other hand, human groups have produced ingenious technologies, sophisticated languages, and complex institutions that have permitted us to successfully expand into a vast range of diverse environments. What has enabled us to dominate the globe, more than any other species, while remaining virtually helpless as lone individuals?

 This book shows that the secret of our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in our collective brains, on the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from one another over generations. Drawing insights from lost European explorers, clever chimpanzees, mobile hunter-gatherers, neuro-scientific findings, ancient bones, and the human genome, Joseph Henrich demonstrates how our collective brains have propelled our species' genetic evolution and shaped our biology.

Henrich shows how our genetics and biology are inextricably interwoven with cultural evolution, and how culture-gene interactions launched our species on an extraordinary evolutionary trajectory. 


Friday, October 16, 2015

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Witches: Salem 1692

The Witches: Salem 1692

by Stacy Schiff

The Pulitzer Prize winning author of Cleopatra, unpacks the mystery of the Salem Witch Trials. 

It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death. 

The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. 

In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic. As psychologically thrilling as it is historically seminal, The Witches is Stacy Schiff's account of this fantastical story. The first great American mystery unveiled fully for the first time by one of our most acclaimed historians. A fascinating narrative of one of the most infamous trials in American history.


       Stacy Schiff Interview 

What's New in Mystery and Fiction for October

Wondering what's coming out in mystery and fiction for October?  Here are a few titles:

Woman Who Walked in Sunshine:  No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

Friday, October 9, 2015


History's People: Personalities and the Past

by Margaret MacMillan
In History's People internationally acclaimed historian Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919, gives her own personal selection of figures of the past. 

She selects the women and men, some famous and some little-known, who stand out for her. Some have changed the course of history and even directed the currents of their times. Others are memorable for being risk-takers, adventurers, or observers. 

She looks at the concept of leadership through Bismarck and the unification of Germany; William Lyon MacKenzie King and the preservation of the Canadian Federation; Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the bringing of a unified United States into the Second World War. 

She also notes how leaders can make huge and often destructive mistakes, as in the cases of Hitler, Stalin, and Thatcher. Richard Nixon and Samuel de Champlain are examples of daring risk-takers who stubbornly went their own ways, often in defiance of their own societies. 

Then there are the dreamers, explorers, and adventurers, individuals like Fanny Parkes and Elizabeth Simcoe who manage to defy or ignore the constraints of their own societies. 

Finally, there are the observers, such as Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India, and Victor Klemperer, a Holocaust survivor, who kept the notes and diaries that bring the past to life.


Friday, October 2, 2015


Black Flags: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Islamic State
by Joby Warrick

In a thrilling dramatic narrative, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Joby Warrick traces how the strain of militant Islam behind ISIS first arose in a remote Jordanian prison and spread with the unwitting aid of two American presidents.

When the government of Jordan granted amnesty to a group of political prisoners in 1999, it little realized that among them was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist mastermind and soon the architect of an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East. Joby Warrick shows how the zeal of this one man and the strategic mistakes of Presidents Bush and Obama led to the banner of ISIS being raised over huge swaths of Syria and Iraq. 

Zarqawi began by directing terror attacks from a base in northern Iraq, but it was the American invasion in 2003 that catapulted him to the head of a vast insurgency. By falsely identifying him as the link between Saddam and bin Laden, U.S. officials inadvertently spurred like-minded radicals to rally to his cause. Their wave of brutal beheadings and suicide bombings persisted until American and Jordanian intelligence discovered clues that led to a lethal airstrike on Zarqawi's hideout in 2006. 

His movement, however, endured. First calling themselves al-Qaeda in Iraq, then Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, his followers sought refuge in unstable, ungoverned pockets on the Iraq-Syria border. When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, and as the U.S. largely stood by, ISIS seized its chance to pursue Zarqawi's dream of an ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate. 

Drawing on unique high-level access to CIA and Jordanian sources, Warrick weaves gripping, moment-by-moment operational details with the perspectives of diplomats and spies, generals and heads of state, many of whom foresaw a menace worse than al Qaeda and tried desperately to stop it. Black Flags is a brilliant and definitive history that reveals the long arc of today's most dangerous extremist threat. 


Joby Warrick on MSNBC