Ideas & Society eNewsletter for September

Welcome to another Ideas & Society eNewsletter, your taster for some of the highlights from the worlds of Literature, Science, History and Religion at your library.

Library News

Literature

Whatever we think of the smooth, suave, martini-sipping James Bond it is not usually that he was the saviour of Britain, nor that he is a figure of great cultural significance. But in a widely-praised new book, that is exactly how he is portrayed. It shows how he became the hero a depressed post-war country desparately needed, infusing it with new hope and vigour. Author James Winder grew up in Britain during those years, and fell in love with Bond. He writes with great enthusiasm and affection for his subject.

Staying with things British we also feature a new book of poems for Jubilee year by the current Poet Laureate Carol Duffy, approriately entitled “Jubilee lines”, along with new books on Shakespeare and P.G. Wodehouse.

Syndetics book coverP.G. Wodehouse in his own words / edited by Barry Day and Tony Ring.
“An unorthodox biography of “the greatest comic writer ever” (Douglas Adams) and a window into the mind of a brilliant humorist. From the publisher of the acclaimed collector’s Wodehouse editions, P.G. Wodehouse In His Own Words is a sparkling collection of excerpts from the master’s own writings that reveals a wonderfully entertaining gloss on Wodehouse’s own life story.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe man who saved Britain / Simon Winder.
“After victory in World War II, Britain was a relieved but also a profoundly traumatized country. Simon Winder, born into this nation of uncertain identity, fell in love (as many before and since) with the man created as the antidote, a quintessentially British figure of great cultural significance: James Bond. Written with passion, wit and a great deal of personal insight and affection, this book is his wildly amusing attempt to get to grips with Bonds legacy and the difficult decades in which it really mattered.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

Syndetics book coverHidden Shakespeare : a biography / Nicholas Fogg.
“An intriguing examination of the influences and circumstances that made Shakespeare the genius that he was. Provides answers to the many questions surrounding Shakespeare’s life. On 26 April 1564, William Shakespeare was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon. He would go on to be the greatest writer who ever lived. In Hidden Shakespeare, Nicholas Fogg explores Shakespeare’s life, from his family background and education in Stratford, through his career in London, to 1616, when he finally shuffled off this mortal coil. Fogg examines the circumstances and stories surrounding Shakespeare, providing reasoned answers to the many questions. Did he leave school at the age of thirteen? Did he have an arranged marriage? Why did he leave Stratford to emerge as a star of the London stage? What impact did his life and the period in which he lived have on his work? William Shakespeare’s talent was the result of a fortuitous combination of environment, epoch and genius. This fascinating new book draws these threads together to provide a more complete impression of the man and his works.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverJubilee lines : 60 poets for 60 years / edited by Carol Ann Duffy.
“To mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy brings together a dazzling array of contemporary poets (sixty in fact) to write about each of the of the sixty years of Her Majesty’s reign. Celebrated writers as Simon Armitage, Gillian Clarke, Wendy Cope, Geoffrey Hill, Jackie Kay, Michael Longley, Andrew Motion, Don Paterson and Jo Shapcott, alongside some of the newest young talent around – address a moment or event from their chosen year, be it of personal or political significance or both. Through a series of specially commissioned poems, Jubilee Lines offers a unique portrayal of the country and times in which we have lived since 1952, culminating in an essential portrait of today: the way we speak, the way we chronicle, the way we love and fight, the way we honour and remember. Brilliantly introduced and edited by Carol Ann Duffy, Jubilee Lines is an unforgettable commemoration: not only a monarch’s reign but of a way of living for generations of her peoples.” – (adapted from Global Books in Print summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

This month’s set of popular non-fiction books have a focus on what makes us human, questions of ethics, examinations of our interactions with others and more.

Syndetics book coverWhat money can’t buy : the moral limits of markets / Michael Sandel.What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
“Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we put a price on human life to decide how much pollution to allow? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to forprofit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay? Michael J. Sandel takes up one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Isn{u2019}t there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don{u2019}t belong? What are the moral limits of markets?” – (adapted from Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverEcoMind : changing the way we think, to create the world we want / Frances Moore Lappé.
“In her eighteenth book, the paradigm-altering Lappe asks why we’ve failed to effectively address environmental problems. Delving into neuroscience, anthropology, and history, and sharing her own extensive field experiences, she argues that perception is key. She surgically disassembles seven thought traps, or discouraging environmentalist messages that arouse guilt, fear, and despair instead of a sense of mission. On the positive side, she presents fascinating interpretations of six human traits we can count on, including cooperation, empathy, fairness, creativity, and the fact that we are doers.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

This month’s selections evidence that we live in a world of diverse paths, from science to postmodernism, psychology to politics to the parables of Jesus.

Syndetics book coverThe righteous mind : why good people are divided by politics and religion, by Jonathan Haidt.
Dismissing the notion that the human mind is fundamentally rational, Haidt briskly guides the reader through decades of psychology research in order to demonstrate that emotion and intuition determine our judgments, while reasoning is created only later to justify these judgments (a la Hume). …. Blending lucid explanations of landmark studies in psychology and sociology with light personal anecdotes, Haidt has produced an imminently readable book about the complexities of moral psychology and the human fixation with righteousness. (drawn from Publishers’ Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe power of parable : how fiction by Jesus became fiction about Jesus, by John Dominic Crossan.
“Through an exploration of the literary genre popular in the ancient world, distinguished Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan dissects the versions we read in the Gospels to get back to what Jesus really intended to teach. …By unlocking the meaning and purposes of the Gospel’s parables, we can arrive at a better portrait of this enigmatic and charismatic Jewish figure who transformed his world and the next two thousand years of history”– (drawn from the publisher’s description)

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History

Dickens, Austen, Nixon. Sound like an odd mixture? Well, they’re all in our picks of the recent history books this month. Plus a couple of Kiwi themed histories and the wise words of the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor. Have a browse!

Syndetics book coverA guide to Dickens’ London / Daniel Tyler.
“To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, a generously illustrated guide to the city that was perhaps the greatest of his characters. From Newgate Prison to Covent Garden and from his childhood home in Camden to his place of burial in Westminster Abbey, this guide traces the influence of the capital on the life and work of one of Britain’s best-loved and well-known authors. Featuring more than 40 sites, places of worship and of business, streets and bridges, this comprehensive companion not only locates and illustrates locations from works such as Great Expectations and Little Dorrit but demonstrates how the architecture and landscape of the city influenced Dickens’ work throughout his life. Each site is illustrated with substantial quotations from Dickens’ own writing about the city he loved.” (Global Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverAll roads lead to Austen : a yearlong journey with Jane / Amy Elizabeth Smith ; illustrations by Lucia Mancilla Prieto.
“In this humorous memoir, devoted Austen fan Smith, a writing and literature teacher, sets out to discover whether Austen’s magic translates for readers in six Latin American countries (Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina), where she organizes book clubs to discuss Spanish translations of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. Though Smith continuously calls attention to her limited Spanish language skills, she skillfully highlights how and why certain Spanish words are apt for describing Austen’s world and characters. Austen’s work provides a touchstone for surprising discussions about class, gender, and race, as well as history and literature. Smith’s account reads like an educational travel blog, full of colorful characters, overviews of the history and the traditions of each culture, as well as reflections on her own preconceived assumptions and stereotypes. This enjoyable book should appeal to fans of literature and travel, especially those interested in Latin America.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverWatergate : the hidden history : Nixon, the Mafia, and the CIA / Lamar Waldron.
“One vast conspiracy begets another in this meticulous but unconvincing theory of the Watergate scandal. Historian Waldron argues that Vice President Richard Nixon was the “driving force” behind joint CIA-Mafia plots to assassinate Fidel Castro in 1959-1960. Waldrop further says that, as president, Nixon instigated the Watergate break-ins, undertaken by his “Plumbers” unit of old CIA Cuba hands, mainly to find a dossier that he feared could expose those earlier schemes. The author presents an exhaustive, lucid chronicle of Cuba and Watergate machinations and decades of Nixon sleaze: dirty campaign tricks, quid-pro-quo Mafia bribes, burglaries, and other felonies by his White House staff. But Waldron’s central claims about Nixon’s involvement in Castro-assassination plots and his Watergate motives are shaky and based largely on stray, ambiguous comments by marginal figures, “associate”-tracing through degrees of separation, and much rank speculation, all backed by confusing source notes. (Much of the book is a rehash of his similarly massive and implausible Legacy of Fear, which argued that the Mafia assassinated President Kennedy.) Readers will learn a lot from Waldron about America’s Cuba policy and Nixon’s many misdeeds, but the author’s search for a narrow logic behind Nixon’s omnidirectional paranoia and criminality distorts more than it clarifies.” (Publisher Weekly)

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Science

Make sense of the world with the ideas and views contained within these new science picks. The impact of shrimp farming, lessons we can learn from rats, the shapes and patterns of nature, and more …

Syndetics book coverLet them eat shrimp : the tragic disappearance of the rainforests of the sea / Kennedy Warne.
“When a book’s preface is a fictional account of a crab harvester shot to death by rifle-toting guards of a shrimp farm, readers can only guess that they are not going to find stupefying statistics in the pages that follow. Journalist Warne (founding editor, New Zealand Geographic) has produced a personal account of the results of converting mangrove forests into shrimp farms around the world. Telling the stories of people displaced by intensive shrimp farms in Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas, Warne provides evocative tales of economic disparities and disruption of local tradition, but little on the benefits of intensive investment in mangrove forest management. The bibliography lists only 18 references, although it also includes 8 websites that give entry points to a more extensive literature. While inspiring to those interested in participatory journalism, science writing, and the human side of economic development, this book should not be considered a reference work for advanced scientific study or economic analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of intensive shrimp farming. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and undergraduate students. G. C. Stevens formerly, University of New MexicoCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” – (adapted from CHOICE summary)

Syndetics book coverThe lab rat chronicles : a neuroscientist reveals life lessons from the planet’s most successful mammals / Kelly Lambert.
“What can the common laboratory rat tell us about being human? According to behavioral neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, a whole lot. Her twenty-five-year career conducting experiments that involve rats has led her to a surprising conclusion: Through their adaptive strategies and good habits, these unassuming little animals can teach us some essential lessons about how we, as humans, can lead successful lives. From emotional resilience and a strong work ethic to effective parenting and staying healthy, the lab rat is an unlikely but powerful role model for us all. Book jacket.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverShapes : nature’s patterns : a tapestry in three parts / Philip Ball.
“Nature is a self-made tapestry, weaving its patterns in space and time. Patterns make themselves from the interplay of physical and chemical forces on materials living and non-living. The result is an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic array of forms. In this, the first of three books exploring nature’s patterns, Philip Ball describes patterns of shape and makes us look at the world with fresh eyes, seeing order and form in everything from crystals and chemical reactions, to butterfly wings, leopard skins, and even entire ecosystems. Ball’s exploration of shapes ranges over all the sciences and links with art and design, taking in the exquisite architecture of coccoliths alongside the stability of bubble rafts.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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