Ideas & Society Newsletter for March

Welcome to your library Newsletter for March featuring a rich collection of literature, history and religion books to inspire you as a reader and challenge your beliefs. Find out about the 800th anniversary since Magna Carta was created, the debates over its constitutions and more. Happy reading!

Library News

Literature

This month’s top pick is a book which aims to make poetry accessible and to encourage reluctant readers to explore a literary form which is often perceived as difficult. Also featuring in this month’s selection is Six poets ; from Hardy to Larkin: An anthology by the always wonderful Alan Bennett.
Your mouth will water at the descriptions of memorable meals in Fictitious Dishes and a little light-heartedness is introduced into the mix by a new anthology of articles written for ‘The New Zealand Herald” by our own Bob Jones and a book of household hints collected from great writers.

Syndetics book cover This is the way of the world : real life poetry / Felix Dennis ; illustrated by Bill Sanderson.
This Is The Way Of The World is a collection of poems specially selected by the author to encourage adults who lack confidence in their reading skills and to introduce new readers to the world of poetry. Easy to read and charting life’s course from birth through to death, the poems deal with real life issues. This Is The Way Of The World is Felix Dennis’s 8th book of verse and includes new poems as well as old favourites. In addition to containing a free spoken-word CD, the book contains many beautiful colour illustrations by Bill Sanderson.” (Globalbooks summary)
Syndetics book cover The Shakespeare notebooks / text by James Goss [and 8 others] ; illustrations by Mike Collins.
“Many people know about William Shakespeare’s famous encounter with the Doctor at the Globe Theatre in 1599. But what few people know (though many have suspected) is that it was not the first time they met. Drawn from recently-discovered archives, The Shakespeare Notebooks is the holy grail of Bard scholars: conclusive proof that the Doctor not only appeared throughout Shakespeare’s life, but had a significant impact on his writing.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue)
Syndetics book cover The Facts on File dictionary of clichés / Christine Ammer.
“This updated and expanded edition of a popular title explains the meanings and origins of almost 4,000 cliches and common expressions. Each entry includes the meaning of the cliche or expression, its origin and early uses, the historical development of the phrase, and its present-day usage. (Globalbooks summary)
Syndetics book cover Fictitious dishes : an album of literature’s most memorable meals / Dinah Fried.
“No recipes, but an assortment of photographic interpretations of culinary moments from contemporary and classic literature. Fried pairs each place setting with the text from that book that inspired its creation. She includes food facts and anecdotes about the authors, their work, and their culinary predilections.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue)
Syndetics book cover No punches pulled : the best of Bob Jones / Bob Jones.
“Every week Bob Jones delivers an upper cut to the foibles, foolishness and outright fatuousness of contemporary life. In this collection of the best of his columns from the NZ Herald, he lines up the pious, the pitiful and the politically correct – and never pulls his punches. Uncompromising and unexpurgated, this is Sir Bob at his most honest and hilarious.” (Globalbooks summary)
Syndetics book cover Six poets : Hardy to Larkin : an anthology / [edited] by Alan Bennett.
“Writers like to elude their public, lead them a bit of a dance. They take them down untrodden paths, land them in unknown country where they have to ask for directions.In this personal anthology, Alan Bennett has chosen over seventy poems by six well-loved poets, discussing the writers and their verse in his customary conversational style through anecdote, shrewd appraisal and spare but telling biographical detail. Ranging from hidden treasures to famous poems, this is a collection for the beginner and the expert alike.” (Abridged from Globalbooks summary)
Syndetics book cover Help! for writers : 210 solutions to the problems every writer faces / Roy Peter Clark.
“The craft of writing offers countless potential problems. The story is too long. The story’s too short. Revising presents a huge hurdle. Writer’s block is rearing its ugly head. In Help! For Writers, Roy Peter Clark presents an “owner’s manual” for writers, outlining the seven steps of the writing process and addressing the 21 most urgent problems that writers face. In his trademark engaging and entertaining style, Clark offers ten short solutions to each problem.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover How to be well read : a guide to 500 great novels and a handful of literary curiosities / John Sutherland.
“As the annual flow of novels grows ever greater, it’s a hard job to keep up, let alone sort the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately John Sutherland is on hand to do precisely that for you, and in 500 wittily informative essays he introduces you to the very best of the world’s fiction.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue note)

Read more

Popular Non-Fiction

New popular Non-fiction in March features a book about Magna Carta as “2015 is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta’s creation – an event which will be marked with exhibitions, commemorations and debates in all the countries over whose constitutions and legal assumptions the shadow of Magna Carta hangs”.

Syndetics book cover Eyes wide open : going behind the environmental headlines / Paul Fleischman.
“Paul Fleischman offers teens an environmental wake-up call and a tool kit for decoding the barrage of conflicting information confronting them. We’re living in an Ah-Ha moment. Take 250 years of human ingenuity. Add abundant fossil fuels. The result: a population and lifestyle never before seen. The downsides weren’t visible for centuries, but now they are. Suddenly everything needs rethinking – suburbs, cars, fast food, cheap prices. It’s a changed world. This book explains it. Not with isolated facts, but the principles driving attitudes and events, from vested interests to denial to big-country syndrome. Because money is as important as molecules in the environment, science is joined with politics, history, and psychology to provide the briefing needed to comprehend the 21st century…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The beauty myth : how images of beauty are used against women / Naomi Wolf.
“In today’s world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. Alongside the evident progress of the women’s movement, however, writer and journalist Naomi Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues, may prove just as restrictive as the traditional image of homemaker and wife. It’s the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society’s impossible definition of “the flawless beauty.”” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Magna Carta / with a new commentary by David Carpenter.
“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”
Magna Carta is probably the most famous declaration in western legal history. Wrested by rebellious barons from a very reluctant King John, it set out a series of rights and duties which have been appealed to, ignored, suppressed and argued about ever since. 2015 is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta’s creation – an event which will be marked with exhibitions, commemorations and debates in all the countries over whose constitutions and legal assumptions the shadow of Magna Carta hangs.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover How to rob a train : the man behind Britain’s most notorious robbery, among other things / Gordon Goody ; with Maurice O’Connor.
“Gordon Goody is the mystery man of the Great Train Robbery, the most notorious theft in British history. Regarded by his partners as tough and fearless, he has kept his silence for five decades. Until now. Raised in rural Northern Ireland, Goody served as an army sergeant but chose a life of crime and became one of the most professional and prolific robbers in London. He and his gang were offered the job of a lifetime: details of a Glasgow to London mail train laden with cash, provided by The Ulsterman, whose identity Goody reveals for the first time.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Our daily poison : from pesticides to packaging, how chemicals have contaminated the food chain and are making us sick / Marie-Monique Robin ; translated by Allison Schein and Lara Vergnaud.
“French journalist and documentary filmmaker Robin… delivers another fiercely activist account of how chemicals that are supposed to improve our lives are making us sick-and how the regulation process “protects producers much more than it does consumers and citizens.” Her unrelenting search for the truth behind the poisons in our foods takes her across the U.S. and Europe to talk with researchers examining the links between chemicals and disease, and those who are hiding those links. …Robin takes particular aim at how chemicals in our food and packaging are regulated, with one OSHA official telling her there’s too much conflict of interest among scientists and corporations… (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Family matters : laughter and wisdom from the home front / Pat McDermott.
“2014 marks the 30 year anniversary of the start of Pat McDermott’s much-loved Family Matters column on the last page of the Australian Women’s Weekly. Her hilarious observations on her own family (five kids!), her long-suffering husband, MOTH (Man of the House), an endless succession of beloved and badly behaved pets and just about every situation a couple or family can find themselves in have kept the Weekly’s readers amused and entertained every month since 1984. Now, these generations of readers can relive their favourite Family Matters moments as well as introduce them to other readers in this warm, charming and hilarious collection from one of Australia’s most loved mothers and chroniclers of family life.” (Syndetics summary)

Read more

Religion & Beliefs

Several explorations in spirituality, either within the context of traditional beliefs or subjective experiences, are included in this month’s list, together with recent books by popular authors Deepak Chopra and Philip Yancey.

Syndetics book cover Spirituality : a guide for the perplexed, by Philip Sheldrake.
What exactly is spirituality? Is it different from religion? This book is a guide to different spiritualities as areas of study, religiously, historically, philosophically and in the social sciences. It explores the tools used to study spirituality or interpret spiritual classics from different times and cultures. Mostly, themes associated with five major world religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism – are represented, but especially Christian Spirituality from its early days. A useful overview.
Syndetics book cover The future of God : a practical approach to spirituality for our times, by Deepak Chopra.
Describes the development from unbelief to faith to knowledge. Although covering Richard Dawkins’ arguments for atheism, this is not really an apologetic for theism, and science is no enemy. He offers possible ways forward in spirituality in a readable and balanced way as he explores spiritual living without eschewing secular knowledge.
Syndetics book cover Why can’t they get along? : a conversation between a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian, by Dawoud El-Alami, Dan Cohn-Sherbok, George D. Chryssides.
The 21st century is no stranger to conflicts over religious conflict. Islam, Christianity and Judaism all can trace roots back to Abraham so what are the differences? Three men discuss what their faiths teach on the big issues of life, and what can be done to form closer partnerships? How can they get along?
Syndetics book cover Vanishing grace : what ever happened to the good news? by Philip Yancey.
Why does the church stir up such disdain? Popular author Yancey explores whether Christians have contributed towards these negativity by presenting their beliefs in judgemental and critical ways. Yancey offers stories of how faith can be expressed in gracious ways.
Syndetics book cover What is veiling? by Sahar Amer.
“Ranging from simple head scarf to full-body burqa, the veil is worn by vast numbers of Muslim women around the world. What Is Veiling? explains one of the most visible, controversial, and least understood emblems of Islam. Sahar Amer’s evenhanded approach is anchored in sharp cultural insight and rich historical context. Addressing the significance of veiling in the religious, cultural, political, and social lives of Muslims, past and present, she examines the complex roles the practice has played in history, religion, conservative and progressive perspectives, politics and regionalism, society and economics, feminism, fashion, and art.” (Syndetics summary)

Read more

History

The past stories and history of New Zealand are not only the domain of the rich and famous. This month in the New Zealand collection we feature some stories of early pioneers whose names are not famous or well known but who played their part in the history of New Zealand.

Syndetics book cover Our stories : the way we used to be : the New Zealand that time forgot… / edited by Ian Wishart.
Every day, thousands of news stories are published in New Zealand, chronicling the big events and the small. Most of these stories are long forgotten by the time historians get around to compiling the ‘official record’ of our country. Discover the heroes and villains of our past through long forgotten news stories, and find out how life really was in pioneer New Zealand. (Adapted from back cover)
Syndetics book cover Working lives c. 1900 : a photographic essay / Erik Olssen.
For the men and women of the skilled trades in the early 20th century, the skills and knowledge of their respective crafts were a source of identity and pride. Together with the so-called unskilled, who built the infrastructure for the new society, these workers laid the cultural and social foundations of a new and fairer society. This book uses photographs to show two processes fundamental to creating a new society: the transformation of swamp into farmland then city-scape, and the transplantation of the knowledge and skill required in the Old World that were essential to building a new world. (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Stolen lives : a New Zealand foster child’s story from the ’40s and ’50s / Netta England.
Netta and her older brother Ray hardly knew their mother. She was a strange woman who made occasional visits, and they did not even know they had a Father. Instead from a very early age they lived with foster parents and at school were treated as different. Growing up, Netta became increasingly aware that her foster mother disliked her. Though never starved, Netta suffered neglect, as well as mental, physical and sexual abuse. After her brother’s death in 1976, Netta, by then married with a grown up family, began her long journey to learn about and understand what had happened in the past. She wanted to find out if somewhere out there was a family, her own family that she could belong to. How would she find them, and would they want to know her? She needed to find her roots. Stolen Lives is the record of Netta’s journey from a neglected and abused state ward, to a woman who discovers her heritage and creates a positive life regardless of her upbringing. (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Pete the Bushman : hunting tales and back-country lessons from a wild West Coaster / Peter Salter with Nigel Zega.
The adventures of Pete the Bushman, a wild West-coaster from Pukekura, New Zealand’s answer to Crocodile Dundee and a man who owns his own town. This book about a true New Zealand bushman, of a life lived against the grain, of adventure in New Zealand’s thickest wilderness and a lifestyle any Kiwi bloke would envy. Pete the Bushman has lived a life inseparable from the bush – these are his stories of running down deer on foot, heli-hunting in his own chopper, finding the perfect woman and eking out a living from the bush. He and his wife Justine run the Bushman’s Centre, 35 mins south of Hokitika, established in 1991 as a place to show visitors how local people use the South Island forest. Also known as ‘Possum Pete’, the Bushman is one of the eccentric and colourful characters featured on TVNZ’s ‘This Town’. (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Vertical living : the Architectural Centre and the remaking of Wellington / Julia Gatley and Paul Walker.
“… we of this Architectural Centre in Wellington are a group of architects and draughtsmen and wood engravers and other people whose greatest claim to affiliation is an overriding enthusiasm for good design” – Design Review, 1948. In 1946, just as the Group was being established in Auckland, Wellington established the Architectural Centre. Members of both were young and idealistic, and they shared common beliefs – in the transformative potential of modern architecture, in need for urban development to be carefully controlled, in the desirability of planning for a better future. This book recovers the powerful history, politics and architecture of the Architectural Centre to return us to a vision of a modernist city, partially realised in Wellington New Zealand. Gatley and Walker begin writing the city back into the history of architecture in this country. (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Victory : New Zealand airmen and the fall of Germany / Max Lambert.
“Here are the vivid, inspiring and previously unpublished stories of the New Zealand fliers – most in their early 20s, some still teenagers – who lived and died in the service of their country while flying with the Royal Air Force from bases in Britain and from airfields in northwest Europe after the invasion of 1944, published to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D Day and the beginning of the end of World War II” (Publisher information)

Read more

Science

Here are a few of the new science books that I have come across in the last wee while.

Syndetics book cover The edge of the sky : all you need to know about the all-there-is / Roberto Trotta.
“Explaining complex ideas in accessible language is the goal of every popular science writer, but Trotta, a theoretical cosmologist at Imperial College London, stretches that effort to creative extremes, telling the story of modern cosmology with only the “ten hundred” (aka 1,000) most common English words. At first glance, the deliberately simple language feels childish, more of a distraction than a valuable, creative approach. Airplanes are “flying cars,” planetary rovers like Curiosity are “space-cars,” a large telescope is a Big-Seer, and planets, with their wandering paths across the heavens, are Crazy Stars. But Trotta’s deft word choices quickly draw the reader into a surprisingly vivid alternate reality where student-persons (scientists) strive to pierce the mysteries of the All-There-Is: the universe.” (Publisher Weekly)
Syndetics book cover Turing : pioneer of the information age / B. Jack Copeland.
“Described by his mother as an “unsociable and dreamy child,” Turing found his calling in mathematics, applying his talents to WWII code-breaking intelligence (efforts “kept secret for almost sixty years”), but the breakthroughs that earned him a place in history were those in software-centric and stored-program computing, developments that gave rise to the fields of artificial intelligence and artificial life. Turing’s work was an exploration of the human mind via computers, though he theorized that there is nevertheless a “mysterious something” in the human mind that goes “beyond computability.” It is an increasingly relevant inquiry, as Turing’s inventions have spread from military-industrial applications into the everyday.” (Publisher Weekly)
Syndetics book cover The quantum moment : how Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg taught us to love uncertainty / Robert P. Crease, Alfred Scharff Goldhaber.
“Histories of quantum theory are typically dense with complex, abstract ideas, but philosopher Crease and physicist Goldhaber offer a new twist, adding a fascinating look at the ways the mainstream world has embraced (though not always accurately!) the concepts of quantum mechanics. Pop culture took up the quantum cause with far more gusto than most physicists. When first proposed, quantum theory was deemed “ugly, weird, unpredictable,” and “quite distasteful.” Experimentalist Robert Milliken tried to kill the idea, but his lab results kept confirming it. While physicists struggled to fill in the missing bits of their incomplete theories, quirky quantum ideas became parts of a “sphinxian riddle” that captured the mainstream imagination and inspired everyone from cartoonists and sculptors to such writers as Ian Fleming and John Updike.” (Publisher Weekly)
Syndetics book cover The science of Interstellar / Kip Thorne.
“Interstellar, from acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, takes us on a fantastic voyage far beyond our solar system. Yet in The Science of Interstellar, Kip Thorne, the physicist who assisted Nolan on the scientific aspects of Interstellar, shows us that the movie’s jaw-dropping events and stunning, never-before-attempted visuals are grounded in real science. Thorne shares his experiences working as the science adviser on the film and then moves on to the science itself. In chapters on wormholes, black holes, interstellar travel, and much more, Thorne’s scientific insights many of them triggered during the actual scripting and shooting of Interstellar, describe the physical laws that govern our universe and the truly astounding phenomena that those laws make possible.” (Publisher’s description)
Syndetics book cover H is for hawk / Helen Macdonald.
“In this elegant synthesis of memoir and literary sleuthing, an English academic finds that training a young goshawk helps her through her grief over the death of her father. With her three-year fellowship at the University of Cambridge nearly over, Macdonald, a trained falconer, rediscovers a favorite book of her childhood, T.H. White’s The Goshawk (1951), in which White, author of The Once and Future King, recounts his mostly failed but illuminating attempts at training a goshawk, one of the most magnificent and deadly raptors. Macdonald secures her own goshawk, which she names Mabel, and the fierce wildness of the young bird soothes her sense of being broken by her father’s untimely death. The book moves from White’s frustration at training his bird to Macdonald’s sure, deliberate efforts to get Mabel to fly to her.” (Publisher Weekly)

Read more