Ideas and Society Newsletter for July
There have been some really great additions to our catalogue lately, amongst the new items is a very good book on the Transit of Venus, which we all probably missed through the Wellington cloud. Hopefully something here piques your interest to help pass the rest of the cloudy days we are sure to have.
American writers star this month. In a predominately British culture it can be refreshing to look at the world in a different way. We feature three American writers: the very well-known Jonathan Franzen of The Corrections fame, the very reputable John Leonard who will be recognised by readers of The New York Review of Books and a new study of the life and work of Kurt Vonnegut. This ground-breaking novelist wrote books which combine satire, black humour and science fiction. He was also a critical left-leaning intellectual and a free thinker who was president of the American Humanist Association. All in all a most fascinating man.
Reading for my life : writings, 1958-2008 / John Leonard ; edited by Sue Leonard ; [with an introduction by E.L. Doctorow].
“Reading for My Life is a monumenal collection of Leonard’s most significant writings–spanning five decades–from his earliest columns for the Harvard Crimson to his final essays for the New York Review of Books.” – (adapted from Book jacket summary)
Farther away / Jonathan Franzen.
“The new book of essays from Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom. Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was the runaway most-discussed novel of 2010, an ambitious and searching engagement with life in America in the 21st century. Now, a new collection of Franzen’s non-fiction brings fresh demonstrations of his vivid, moral intelligence, confirming his status not only as a great American novelist but also as a master noticer, social critic, and self-investigator. In Farther Away, which gathers together essays and speeches written mostly in the past five years, the writer returns with renewed vigor to the themes, both human and literary, that have long preoccupied him. Whether recounting his violent encounter with bird poachers in Cyprus, examining his mixed feelings about the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace, or offering a moving and witty take on the ways that technology has changed how people express their love, these pieces deliver on Franzen’s implicit promise to conceal nothing from the reader.” – (adapted from GLobal Books in Print summary)
Unstuck in time : a journey through Kurt Vonnegut’s life and novels / Gregory D. Sumner.
“Named for the mental dislocation experienced by Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, Sumner’s exploration of the iconic writer’s life begins with a brief biography and an outline of the recurrent themes found throughout his 14 novels. The significant elements include Vonnegut’s preoccupation with technology, which stems from his scientific studies at Cornell and later work at General Electric, and his penchant for stories reminiscent of his experience as a soldier and POW during WWII. Fourteen chapters follow, providing plot, background, and analysis for each of Vonnegut’s books.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)
An in-depth examination of the sordid News of the World “phone hacking” scandal has enough drama to be fit for the tabloids in the most meta new popular non-fiction item for some time. Also recently added to our catalogue are several volumes on inventions, ranging from serious overviews, to Britain’s celebrities and their concepts for far-fetched future conveniences. As always, a delightfully mixed bunch…
Dial M for Murdoch : News Corporation and the corruption of Britain / Tom Watson and Martin Hickman.
“….the story of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and British phone hacking scandal makes for political drama at its finest. ….News of the World reporters hacked voicemail messages of royals, actors, and soccer notables to drive newspaper sales in the hyper-competitive world of the tabloid press. Led by Rupert Murdoch, the paper’s executives exerted enough pressure on police and politicians to foil years of investigations. An elaborate cover-up that passed off the hacking as the work of a “rogue reporter” and a private investigator was initially successful, but what ultimately undid the tabloid and brought down top execs like Rebekah Brooks were the revelations that reporters deleted voicemails of a murdered teenager, deceiving police and her family into thinking that she might still be alive….” – (adapted from Publisher Weekly summary)
The big book of celebrity inventions / Mark Champkins ; foreword by Peter Jones.
“A fun and fascinating look at the weird, wonderful and wacky inventions that our Great Britain’s favorite celebrities would love to invent. With contributions from Jamie Oliver, James Dyson, Peter Jones, and The Dragons among others, it’s sure to amaze, confuse, and entertain! Ever wished someone would invent a flying car so you could avoid the rush hour traffic? Or a device to dress you under the duvet so you don’t have to face the winter cold? Well you aren’t alone!” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Everything you need to know about everything you need to know about : inventions / Michael Heatley and Colin Slater.
“From the invention of the wheel to the World Wide Web, this book lives up to its promise…. Offering a comprehensive overview of man’s greatest achievements, this book covers all of the major breakthroughs in the worlds of science and technology. As well as the groundbreaking inventions, you’ll also discover a few of the more quirky creations that have had a surprising impact on our day-to-day lives …” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)
Religion & Beliefs
This month’s offerings feature popular authors ranging from Richard Rohr, to Bart D. Ehrman.
Toxic charity : how churches and charities hurt those they help (and how to reverse it), by Robert D. Lupton.
Although we contribute money, and many volunteer hours to support needs here and abroad it appears to be a bottomless pit. Why are the same people trapped in cycles of unemployment, and poverty? Lupton, with many years of experience in urban renewal, argues that “when relief does not transition to development in a timely way, compassion becomes toxic. …He chronicles examples of good intentions gone awry and examines charitable activities that are resulting in transformative outcomes. … A must-read book for those who give to help others. (drawn from Booklist review, courtesy of Syndetics)
Did Jesus exist? : the historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth, by Bart D. Ehrman.
“The short answer is yes. But Ehrman, who’s written much on early Christian history and literature (e.g., Misquoting Jesus, 2005), … shows how empirical historians examine the evidence to conclude that Jesus almost certainly existed. He concludes with an account of who Jesus was historically, namely, an apocalyptic prophet. Finally, those who do not advocate belief in Jesus might be more successful, he says, if they emphasized the discrepancies between the historical Jesus and Jesus as modern Christianity represents him rather than harping on his nonexistence. As engrossing a rigorously nontheological work about Jesus as you’re ever likely to encounter. (drawn from Booklist, courtesy of Syndetics)
A lever and a place to stand : the contemplative stance, the active prayer, by Richard Rohr.
“This book, by a well-respected spiritual master, offers a critique of religious attitudes that create an alternative pious world for their believers without really challenging the oppression, materialism, and sectarianism of our modern world. According to Richard Rohr, religion without a genuinely contemplative stance is often at the root of the problem. He explains that religion can only recover its purpose as a transformational system if it overcomes its own temptation to embrace power, certitude, wealth, and fundamentalism. …(drawn from the book jacket)
This month’s history recent picks are all about the ladies!
The grand tour / Agatha Christie ; edited by Mathew Prichard.
“In 1922 Agatha Christie set sail on a 10-month voyage around the British Empire with her husband as part of a trade mission to promote the forthcoming British Empire Exhibition. She kept up a detailed weekly correspondence with her mother, describing in detail the exotic places and people she encountered as the mission travelled through South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Canada. Previously unpublished letters are accompanied by hundreds of photos taken on her portable camera as well as some of the original letters, postcards, newspaper cuttings and memorabilia collected by Agatha on her trip. The Grand Tour is a book steeped in history, sure to fascinate anyone interested in the lost world of the 1920s. Coming from the pen of Britain’s biggest literary export and the world’s most widely translated author, it is also a fitting tribute to Agatha Christie and is sure to fascinate her legions of worldwide fans.” – (adapted from Global Books In Print summary)
Jackie, Ethel, Joan : the women of Camelot / J. Randy Taraborrelli.
“The Kennedys once again are the focus of a biography, but this time the stories bring together three women who married into the famous family: Jackie Bouvier, Ethel Skakel, and Joan Bennett. Although their childhoods are briefly visited, it is the years of Camelot that are the main focus here, with much attention to its poignant collapse upon the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Filled with anecdotes derived from an exhaustive list of sources, including interviews and personal letters, there are enough tantalizing interpersonal scenes to keep even the most experienced Kennedy watcher alert. Taraborrelli keeps true to his focus by emphasizing the wives’ reactions, feelings, and accomplishments rather than shifting to the Kennedy family members themselves. Although the narrative borders on the melodramatic at times, the comfortable pace, coupled with a rich reading by Beth Fowler, makes this a necessary purchase for any public library collection.” – (adapted from Library Journal summary)
King Peggy : an American secretary, her royal destiny, and the inspiring story of how she changed an African village / Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman.King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village
“Bartels was a native of Ghana living in the U.S., working as secretary to the Ghanaian embassy, when a relative called to give her startling news. Following the death of her uncle, a village king, the council of elders had determined that she would be his successor. Bartels, who’d come to the U.S. to study and had become a U.S. citizen, hadn’t been home since the death of her mother. But she accepted the daunting prospect with determination and brio. She would rule part-time, traveling between Washington, D.C., and Ghana. Bartels, along with coauthor Herman, chronicles her journey from secretary to king of the poor and isolated village of Otuam, 60 miles from the capital of Accra. She becomes reacquainted with distant relatives and her estranged husband as she juggles responsibilities such as refurbishing the modest palace, repaving roads, and burying her uncle before the ancestors can be offended all on fees collected from fishermen and a secretary’s salary. Balancing cultural differences and sketchy finances, Bartels finds within herself the strength to tackle poverty, tradition, and personal transformation.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)
Last month saw the last occurence of the Transit of Venus for 105 years, and due to inclement weather, we missed it. However, we do have a companion book to the transit, along with other books on our planet and Solar system to help pass a rainy day.
Transit of Venus : 1631 to the present / Nick Lomb.
“The transit of Venus across the sun in June 2012 will be the last chance in our lifetime to see this rare planetary alignment that has been so important in history. Rich in historical detail and cutting edge science, along with practical information on how and when to view the transit, Transit of Venus is the must-have companion to this extraordinary astronomical event. From Johannes Kepler’s first prediction of a transit of Venus in 1631, to Captain Cook’s 1769 transit expedition to Tahiti (which led to the European settlement of Australia), and on to our 21st-century quest to find distant Earth-like planets using the transit method, astronomer Nick Lomb takes us on a thrilling journey of exploration and adventure.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Atlas of the southern night sky / Steve Massey, Steve Quirk.
“The book contains over 100 star charts and maps; hundreds of images, new map charts to navigate the primary features of the Moon with a comprehensive table of lunar targets of the Solar System. There are also instructions on how to observe the Sun and the planets with information on telescopes, binoculars and other accessories for getting the most out of a night under the Southern stars.” – (adapted from Publisher’s description)
Hubble : imaging space and time / [David DeVorkin & Robert W. Smith].
“In the spirit of National Geographic’s top-selling Orbit, this large-format, full-color volume stands alone in revealing more than 200 of the most spectacular images from the Hubble Space Telescope during its lifetime, to the very eve of the 2008 final shuttle mission to the telescope. Written by two of the world’s foremost authorities on space history, Hubble: Imaging Space and Time illuminates the solar system’s workings, the expansion of the universe, the birth and death of stars, the formation of planetary nebulae, the dynamics of galaxies, and the mysterious force known as “dark energy.” The potential impact of this book cannot be overstressed: The 2008 servicing mission to install new high-powered scientific instruments is especially high profile because the cancellation of the previous mission, in 2004, caused widespread controversy. The authors reveal the inside story of Hubble’s beginnings, its controversial early days, the drama of its first servicing missions, and the creation of the dynamic images that reach into the deepest regions of visible space, close to the time when the universe began.” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)