Ideas & Society Newsletter for December

Some great new books in this month’s newsletter, covering historical literature to modern art and religion. Don’t forget to check out our new online resources – ComicsPlus and Lynda.com – and pop in to the book sale to grab a bargain for Christmas!

Library News

Literature

Beowulf is possibly the oldest surviving long poem in Old English and is commonly cited as one of the most important works of Old English literature. The author was an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet. J.R.R Tolkien, an acknowledged expert in Old and Middle English, devoted much of his scholarly career to translating the work and writing a commentary on his translation. Read this month’s star pick to become better versed in this famous epic work.

Syndetics book cover Beowulf : a translation and commentary : together with Sellic spell / by J.R.R. Tolkien ; edited by Christopher Tolkien.
“The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work, very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication. This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Hemingway on war / Ernest Hemingway ; edited and with an introduction by Seán Hemingway ; with a foreword by Patrick Hemingway.
“Ernest Hemingway witnessed many of the seminal conflicts of the 20th century, as a Red Cross ambulance driver during the First World War and during his twenty-five years as a war correspondent. This work offers a portrayal of the physical and psychological impact of war and its aftermath. It contains extracts from ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Puna wai kōrero : an anthology of Māori poetry in English / edited by Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan.
“Two leading Māori scholars collect Māori poetic voices in English and let flow a wellspring of poetry. From both revered established writers as well as exciting new voices, the poems in Puna Wai Korero offer a broad picture of Maori poetry in English. The voices are many and diverse: confident, angry, traditional, respectful, experimental, despairing and full of hope, expressing a range of poetic techniques and the full scope of what it is to be Māori.” (Publisher’s website)
Syndetics book cover May I quote you on that? : a guide to grammar and usage / Stephen Spector.
“In May I Quote You on That? Stephen Spector offers a new approach to learning Standard English grammar and usage. The product of Spector’s forty years of teaching courses on the English language, this book makes the conventions of formal writing and speech easier and more enjoyable to learn than traditional approaches usually do.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

In one of this month’s books a plea has gone up for our world to not be economically governed any more by GDP, which does not measure so much of the economy, but instead measures ‘more output’. We also have selections from Christopher Hitchens, and stories of the working class in the early 20th century.

Syndetics book cover Prepared for the worst : selected essays and minority reports / Christopher Hitchens.
“Christopher Hitchens is widely recognized as having been one of the liveliest and most influential of contemporary political analysts. Prepared for the Worst is a collection of the best of his essays of the 1980s published on both sides of the Atlantic. These essays confirmed his reputation as a bold commentator combining intellectual tenacity with mordant wit, whether he was writing about the intrigues of Reagan’s Washington, a popular novel, the work of Tom Paine, the man George Orwell, or reporting (with sympathy as well as toughness) from Beirut or Bombay, Warsaw or Managua.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The people : the rise and fall of the working class, 1910-2010 / Selina Todd.
“What was it really like to live through the twentieth century? In 1910 three-quarters of the population were working class, but their story has been ignored until now. Based on the first-person accounts of servants, factory workers, miners and housewives, award-winning historian Selina Todd reveals an unexpected Britain where cinema audiences shook their fists at footage of Winston Churchill, communities supported strikers and pools winners (like Viv Nicholson) refused to become respectable. Charting the rise of the working class, through two world wars to their fall in Thatcher’s Britain and today, Todd tells their story for the first time, in their own words.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The lunatics have taken over the asylum : political letters to The Daily Telegraph / edited by Iain Hollingshead.
“Telegraph letter writers, that most astute body of political commentators, are probably not alone in thinking that politics has taken some strange turns in recent years. The first coalition government since 1945 has led the country from the subprime to the ridiculous, lumbering from Leveson to Libya, riots to referendums, pasty-gate to pleb-gate, Brooks to Bercow, the Bullingdon Club to the Big Society. Five years is a long time in politics. Fortunately for us, it has also been a most fertile period for the Telegraph’s legion of witty and erudite letter writers, who have their own therapeutic way of dealing with the pain. An institution in their own right, theirs is a welcome voice of sanity in a world in which the lunatics appear finally to have taken over the asylum.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Fabulous but broke : because there are no unicorns, fairy godmothers or magical shoes coming to save you / Melissa Browne.
“When Alice fell down the rabbit hole she found a magic drink and a magic cake. Today many of us are still searching for the magic formula when it comes to our finances but sadly it doesn’t exist. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you knew it was up to you right? There are no unicorns, fairy godmothers or magical shoes coming to save you. But you do have something very important which fairytale characters don’t often have. Choice. Fabulous but Broke is a collection of financial fairytales which highlight money messages we carry with us and suggest an alternative, happy ending.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

 

Syndetics book cover The little big number : how GDP came to rule the world and what to do about it / Dirk Philipsen.
“In one lifetime, GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, has ballooned from a narrow economic tool into a global article of faith. …While economies and cultures measure their performance by it, GDP ignores central facts such as quality, costs, or purpose. It only measures output: more cars, more accidents; more lawyers, more trials; more extraction, more pollution–all count as success. …Dirk Philipsen uncovers a submerged history dating back to the 1600s, climaxing with the Great Depression and World War II, when the first version of GDP arrived at the forefront of politics. Today, increasing GDP is the highest goal of politics… But the world can no longer afford GDP rule. A finite planet cannot sustain blind and indefinite expansion. If we consider future generations equal to our own, replacing the GDP regime is the ethical imperative of our times.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

There are more than two sides to every story, and this month we present several contrasting views : of science, faith, sin and the church.

Syndetics book cover Art + religion in the 21st century, by Aaron Rosen.
“The relationship between art and religion has been long, complex, and often conflicted, and it has given rise to many of the greatest works in the history of art. Artists today continue to reflect seriously upon religious traditions, themes, and institutions, suggesting a new approach to spirituality that is more considered than confrontational. Art & Religion in the 21st Century is the first in-depth study to survey an international roster of artists who use their work to explore religion’s cultural, social, political, and psychological impact on today’s world. … Each of the book’s ten chapters introduces a theme e.g. ideas of the Creation, the figure of Jesus, the sublime, wonder, diaspora and exile, conflict, etc followed by a selection of works of art that illustrates that theme.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Breaking the Mother Goose code : how a fairy-tale character fooled the world for 300 years, by Jeri Studebaker.
“Who was Mother Goose? Where did she come from, and when? … Several have tried to pin her down, claiming she was the mother of Charlemagne, the wife of Clovis (King of the Franks), the Queen of Sheba, or even Elizabeth Goose of Boston, Massachusetts. Others think she’s related to mysterious goose-footed statues in old French churches called “Queen Pedauque.” This book delves deeply into the surviving evidence for Mother Goose’s origins – from her nursery rhymes and fairy tales as well as from relevant historical, mythological, and anthropological data.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Searching for Sunday : loving, leaving, and finding the Church, by Rachel Held Evans.
What does it mean to be part of the Church? Like millions of millennials, Rachel Held Evans didn’t want to go to church. The hypocrisy, the politics, the budgets, the scandals – church culture seemed too removed from Jesus. Yet, something kept drawing her back. Her journey took her through seven sacraments often associated with church – baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death. This is not theology, but a memoir about taking risks, community, grace, and finding hope, somewhere in the messiness of church.
Syndetics book cover Born bad : original sin and the making of the Western world, by James Boyce.
“”Original sin is the Western world’s creation story.” According to the Christian doctrine of original sin, humans are born inherently bad, and only through God’s grace can they achieve salvation. In this captivating and controversial book, acclaimed historian James Boyce explores how this centuries-old concept has shaped the Western view of human nature right up to the present. … religious ideas of morality still very much underpin our modern secular society, regardless of our often being unaware of their origins. If today the specific doctrine has all but disappeared (even from churches), what remains is the distinctive discontent of Western people–the feelings of guilt and inadequacy associated not with doing wrong, but with being wrong.” (Syndetics summary)

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History

These stories reveal the devastating power of struggles that have gone unnoticed; voices unheard that are starting to confront the residual traumas that affect the present day.

Syndetics book cover 30-second ancient China : the 50 most important achievements of a timeless civilization, each explained in half a minute / editor, Yijie Zhuang ; contributors, Qin Cao [and others].
“In the West, the story of Ancient China is less familiar to us than that of Ancient Egypt or Rome, but it is no less absorbing, and its rollcall of achievements is easily as impressive. […] 30-Second Ancient China becomes the perfect introduction to one of the great ancient civilizations.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Katrina : after the flood / Gary Rivlin. Katrina: After the Flood
“Ten years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana–on August 29, 2005–journalist Gary Rivlin traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm’s lasting effects not just on the city’s geography and infrastructure–but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation’s great cities.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Stars between the Sun and Moon : one woman’s life in North Korea and escape to freedom / Lucia Jang and Susan McClelland.
“Born in the 1970s, Lucia Jang grew up in a common, rural North Korean household–her parents worked hard, she bowed to a photo of Kim Il-Sung every night, and the family scraped by on rationed rice and a small garden. However, there is nothing common about Jang. […] With so few accounts by North Korean women and those from its rural areas, Jang’s fascinating memoir helps us understand the lives of those many others who have no way to make their voices known.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Paradise of the Pacific : approaching Hawaii / Susanna Moore.
“Susanna Moore pieces together the elusive, dramatic story of late-eighteenth-century Hawaii–its kings and queens, gods and goddesses, missionaries, migrants, and explorers–a not-so-distant time of abrupt transition, in which an isolated pagan world of human sacrifice and strict taboo, without a currency or a written language, was confronted with the equally ritualized world of capitalism, Western education, and Christian values.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

These are just a few of the gems that we have had come into the library in recent times. Enjoy!

Syndetics book cover Black hole : how an idea abandoned by Newtonians, hated by Einstein, and gambled on by Hawking became loved / Marcia Bartusiak.
“For more than half a century, physicists and astronomers engaged in heated dispute over the possibility of black holes in the universe. The weirdly alien notion of a space-time abyss from which nothing escapes–not even light–seemed to confound all logic. This engrossing book tells the story of the fierce black hole debates and the contributions of Einstein and Hawking and other leading thinkers who completely altered our view of the universe.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover How to bake Π : an edible exploration of the mathematics of mathematics / Eugenia Cheng.
“What is math? How exactly does it work? And what do three siblings trying to share a cake have to do with it? In How to Bake Pi, math professor Eugenia Cheng provides an accessible introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics, powered, unexpectedly, by insights from the kitchen: we learn, for example, how the béchamel in a lasagna can be a lot like the number 5, and why making a good custard proves that math is easy but life is hard. At the heart of it all is Cheng’s work on category theory, a cutting-edge “mathematics of mathematics,” that is about figuring out how math works. So, what is math? Let’s look for the answer in the kitchen.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Living with the stars : how the human body is connected to the life cycles of the Earth, the planets, and the stars / Karel Schrijver and Iris Schrijver.
Living with the Stars describes the many fascinating connections between the universe and the human body, which range from the makeup of DNA and human cells, growth and aging, to stellar evolution and the beginning of the universe. This popular science book should be of interest to anyone who wonders about the processes going on in our human bodies that connect us to our environment on Earth, to the Solar System, to the stars in our Galaxy, and even to the origin of the universe.” (Syndetics summary)
Image from Huia Publishers Geothermal treasures : Māori living with heat and steam / contributing writers, Vanessa Bidois, Cherie Taylor and Robyn Bargh.
“Natural geothermal phenomena – geysers, hot springs and mud pools – have drawn people to the thermal region of New Zealand for years. Locals and tourists are captivated by the beauty and magic of bubbling mud, steam and hot water gushing from the earth. New Zealand’s world-class geothermal resource is a source of energy, a tourist attraction and a treasure of great historical, cultural, spiritual and economic importance for Maori. In this book, Maori traditional stories, understandings and history stand alongside geothermal science in an exploration of the thermal phenomena of the Volcanic Plateau.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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