The tagline reads, “be afraid, beautiful people.”
If you are ever wondering how to slap some killer paper, rock, scissors, or which secret combination(s) to join, how to build a laser beam, or be up on World Leaders Who Also Happen to Be Hot, then this is THE book for you. It's like Stephen Colbert wrote Schott's Miscellany and combined it with one of those hardware store Pocket Refs... for WoW* fans. Packed with info and ready to get your geek on.
Reviewed by Mike
* World of Warcraft
This is a definite read and recommend for me. Fascinating science combined with history, law, and the very human story of a family in turmoil struggling against a bureaucracy they are not equipped to fight. In the 1950s, an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks was treated for an extremely aggressive form of cervical cancer which soon took her life. She left a husband and five children, and a clump of cells that had been cut from her tumor during an examination. Without her or her family's knowledge or permission, those cells were cultured. They behaved radically differently than other cells had in culture, though; not only did they divide prolifically, they didn't ever die. This had enormous implications for the world of science. It gave researchers a source of human cells for experiments, and soon her cells, known as HeLa, made their way to labs all across the world. The resulting questions of individual rights versus the advance of science make for a multifaceted, fascinating discussion. Most touching to me was Lacks' family. Skloot spends a good portion of her book following their lives and examining the repurcussions of their mother's death on her children. She tries to untangle the irony of the billions of dollars people and organizations have made off those cells while Henrietta's children were unable to afford decent health care. If you think we've entirely transcended racism and its accompanying evils, you may be surprised by the Lacks' story.
Reviewed by Marilee
Pyongyan: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (951.9304 D3796)
Is anyone familiar with Guy Delisle? He's terrific. I found him a few years ago after a professor gave my wife a copy of Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2006 which featured an excerpt from the book.
Pyongyang is a graphic memoir documenting the author's stint in North Korea. He was there for two months working on a French animation production. The book is hilarious, and I highly recommend it. Delisle was every bit as confused by North Korean culture as a guy from Canada, or anywhere else that's reasonable, can possibly be. The narrative conveys all his confusion and frustration with intelligent humor, wit, compassion, and timely sarcasm. Delisle wonders, where are the handicapped people? He was told North Korea has no handicapped people, and reasons that everyone in North Korea must be an over-productive superhuman. At the former Rumanian Embassy, which has been converted into a snazzy recreation facility for foreigners, he encounters a Libyan man who has chosen to live in North Korea for five years, and still has three more to go before returning home. It smacks of a new slogan for the Korean tourist board: "Come to North Korea... it sure beats living in Libya!" Delisle is left feeling uneasy and isolated after his evening of intended relaxation.
More to the point, if you don't know Delisle then get on the stick! You might really like it. Pyongyang is an offbeat travel memoir that entertains and informs. The artwork is black and white, plaintively illustrating the text in a way that doesn't distract conventional readers who may be newcomers to the graphic novel format. Happy reading.
Reviewed by Chris
Paranormal America: ghost encounters, UFO sightings, Bigfoot hunts, and other curiosities in religion and culture by Christopher Bader (130.973 B1417)
This book does not try to determine if ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, astrology, etc. are real. Instead, the authors focus on breaking down paranormal beliefs by groups in the U.S. population (i.e. race, sex, education, etc.). Some interesting findings: women are more likely to believe in astrology and mediums than men, blacks have the highest belief in ghosts, men (especially young ones) are more interested in monsters like Bigfoot. Bigfoot hunters are generally better educated that the average American. Are people who believe in the paranormal crazy? If so, a majority of the U.S. population is crazy. However, the more paranormal phenomena a person believes in, the more likely they are outside the "mainstream." In other words, most Americans only believe in a couple of paranormal phenomena. Those who believe Elvis is alive and regularly attending the Manti Temple in Utah, that Bigfeet are piloting UFOs, that a variety of ghosts are haunting their home, and who regularly seek out astrologers for guidance are fairly rare. But, they do exist. Most are far outside the mainstream and like being there. I enjoyed this book and would recommend to those interested in the sociology of the paranormal.
Reviewed by Art Nifong
The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton (332.024 C4393)
This personal finance book is presented in a non-threatening and easy to understand manner. The main character's father guides him to a local barber who has done well financially by following sound financial principles. The barber dispenses his knowledge to some pupils during weekly meetings in his barbershop. I would highly recommend this book, especially to those new to the subject of personal finance.
Reviewed by Art Nifong
The Housing Boom and Bust by Thomas Sowell (332.7209 So92)
An interesting look at the bursting of the housing bubble this past decade and the recession it caused. What happened? Who is to blame? According to Sowell, a variety of actors were involved: government officials and agencies who believed everyone who wanted to own a home should, advocacy groups that claimed the old mortgage rules were inherently racist and needed to be discarded, profit seekers who were buying properties to quickly flip for money, the Federal Reserve which lowered interest rates for years, etc. I thought this was an interesting and informative book. I don't know that I agree with some of the author's libertarian takes on the free market. I believe regulation can actually strengthen the market by providing rules and a framework for people to work from. However, I would recommend the book to those interested in the subject.
Reviewed by Art Nifong
Check out some more staff favorites from 2011:
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
What It is Like to Go to War
To Be a Runner
The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth
No Biking in the House without a Helmet
Lost in Shangri-La
From Seed to Skillet
Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business…
McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Misha Glenny (364.106 G4879 and also in Spoken Word)
Glenny is a BBC reporter and world-renowned expert in criminal networks. He worked extensively in Eastern Europe before the fall of the USSR. Elated by the fall of the iron curtain, Glenny was thrilled, along with many of the pro-democracy contacts he acquired, by the new governments that replaced the tyrannical regimes.
Unfortunately, Glenny and his friends were shattered when new corrupt regimes (usually closely tied to or directly working with organized criminal networks) took the place of the old Communist ones. Next, he soon realized that his research into Eastern European Mafias and crime syndicates flowed over borders and was soon entangled in a worldwide scourge.
The book is an attempt to outline these connections and Glenny moves around the world outlining each region's major criminal enterprises (the section on drug policy in Canada and the US was interesting).
The picture that Glenny paints fills in the depressing statistics that I remember reading in international political science textbooks. For example, criminal activity now accounts for 15 to 20% of all financial transactions globally. Glenny claims that criminal enterprises have flourished since the deregulation of the financial markets in the 1980s (which allowed criminals to easily merge legal and illegal activities and launder their money) and the massive power vacuums that appeared in the wake of the dissolution of the USSR. Russian oligarchs, Ukrainian revolutionaries (the Orange revolution no longer seems so magnificent after Glenny explains who the leaders were), British Colombian dope dealers, Thai sex traffickers, Caribbean tax havens, Dubai slave labors, and a host of other groups make appearances as Glenny outlines each region's problems and their interconnection to the globalized world of licit and illicit economies.The book was fascinating.
Reviewed by Eliot Wilcox
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (741.5973 W22)
I’m at a loss of how to describe Chris Ware’s graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Critic Ted Rall calls it the “comic equivalent of Joyce’s Ulysses – No one’s ever read it,” he says, “and those who have know that it sucks, but it sure looks great on your bookshelf.” On the other hand, Dave Eggers calls it “Arguably the greatest achievement of the form, ever.” Add to that the glowing praise of the LA Times Book Review: “Nearly impossible to read.”
This is a pretty good summary of the experience I had reading Jimmy Corrigan. Like Ulysses, which I keep trying to read every year, and only get about ten pages in, it took me a few false starts to get into this book. The first two pages are crammed full of large blocks of tiny type interspersed with simple stick figures explaining the finer points of pictorial language among other things. The following pages are even more intimidating. Surrounding an image of the globe are dozens of cartoon boxes showing the lives and development of the characters in the novel and where they fit in the cosmic scheme of things. And the LA Times makes a great argument; Ware likes large blocks of tiny text and lots of panels of various sizes and shapes, which can sometimes make it difficult to follow the multigenerational narrative.
Having said that, Jimmy Corrigan is one of the most rewarding books I’ve read this year. While the novel feels overwhelming at first, concentration and close reading pay off and the pieces eventually snap satisfyingly into place. The storytelling of the novel, which I initially found to be confusing and alienating, instead allowed, or rather forced, me to take a more active role in the novel. I found myself deeply empathizing with the characters and their experiences, ranging from the unexpected loss of a tooth, to the many ways you can lose a parent or child.
The narrative focuses on Jimmy Corrigan in 1983 Chicago. Jimmy is the scion of at least four generations of loneliness, abandonment and loss. One day he gets a letter from the father he never knew, inviting him to come and meet him and get reacquainted. As the story progresses, we see snatches of the lives of Jimmy’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather. At the center of it all is the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, held in Chicago. Jimmy’s great-grandfather, an abusive and negligent father, worked on the exposition buildings and has promised to take his son to see the fair when it’s complete. As Jimmy’s relationship with his long-lost father develops, the older Jimmy’s looming visit to the fair one hundred years previous builds to a climax which is felt by all the Corrigans throughout the generations.
Jimmy Corrigan is a fantastic example of what graphic novels and comics are capable of. Ware’s experimental organization and storytelling methods, along with precise illustration and sharp writing, enable the reader to experience literature in unexpected ways. This book made me think about family and fatherhood in a different light, and made me thankful for my own family in ways I can’t vocalize.
Reviewed by Nathan Robison
The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom by Theodore W. Gray (Call# 546 G7948)
My son has a favorite element: boron. It baffles me that a kid would have a favorite element at all, let alone one that rhymes with moron, isn’t radioactive or isn’t gold. When I ask him why boron is his favorite he just shrugs in a “if-you-have-to-ask-you’ll-never-know” way and tries to explain its impressive properties. Apparently it’s an important ingredient in silly putty, giving it that bouncy if you throw it/squishy if you squeeze it property. And combined with nitrogen it’s nearly as hard as diamond making it handy in industry. And then he went off on all his other favorite stars of the periodic table. He’s totally obsessed.
It turns out that the reason for my son’s obsession with boron and its one hundred and twenty-ish periodic table chums is because of Theodore W. Gray’s book The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom. This fascination for chemistry and the elements made more sense to me when we looked at it together. For one, the book just looks cool. Each page is sleek with its black background, nifty charts and tables, as well as lots of cool pictures of objects both strange and familiar made from each element.
Not only are the images and design of the book very attractive, the book is full of interesting anecdotes and facts dealing with the bizarre nature of many elements and the brilliant minds who have discovered them and their properties. For example, though it’s a metal, lithium is light enough to float on water and for some strange reason, helps certain people regulate mood. Heck, Kurt Cobain even wrote a song about it. The element potassium is radioactive, which means that bananas give off radiation. The metal gallium has a melting point of around eighty degrees which makes it perfect for practical jokes. And most helium sold in the U. S. has added oxygen to prevent suffocation if inhaled.
Mr. Gray’s book is incredibly funny, well-written and extremely informative. (Now I know how many pounds of uranium I can legally possess: up to 15 lbs.) Technically the book is considered “adult nonfiction,” but it will captivate and enlighten both young and old. Read it and you’ll come to a greater appreciation for boron.
Reviewed by Nathan Robison