A very short introduction…

Do you have not a lot of time, snatched moments here and there, but still want to learn about new topics? Then the Very Short Introductions series might be just the thing for you. Written by experts in the field, but intended for a general audience, these short books offer a concise introduction to the particular topic, and often contain suggestions for further reading. Ranging from religion, ideologies, science, philosophy, history, and art, there is a Very Short Introduction on any number of subjects you may care to learn about.

Syndetics book coverBuddhism : a very short introduction / Damien Keown.
“This accessible volume covers both the teachings of the Buddha and the integration of Buddhism into daily life. What are the distinctive features of Buddhism? What or who is the Buddha, and what are his teachings? How has Buddhist thought developed over the centuries, and how can contemporary dilemmas be faced from a Buddhist perspective? Words such as “karma” and “nirvana” have entered our vocabulary, but what do they really mean? Keown has taught Buddhism at an introductory level for many years, and in this book he provides a lively, challenging response to these frequently asked questions.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverUtopianism : a very short introduction / Lyman Tower Sargent.
“There are many debates about utopia – What constitutes a utopia? Are utopias benign or dangerous? Is the idea of utopianism essential to Christianity or heretical? What is the relationship between utopia and ideology? This Very Short Introduction explores these issues and examines utopianism and its history. Lyman Sargent discusses the role of utopianism in literature, and in the development of colonies and in immigration.” (Abridged from publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverGalaxies : a very short introduction / John Gribbin.
“Renowned science writer John Gribbin takes us on a journey around the universe, looking at galaxies ranging from magnificent spirals like our very own Milky Way, to the ragged remains of massive intergalactic collisions, active galaxies which pump out jets of radiation into space, and those that we can just detect at the farthest reaches of space and time. Gribbin reveals how and why the study of galaxies has been central to our growing understanding of the cosmos, and why they remain one of the most exciting topics in astronomy today.” (Book jacket)

Continue reading “A very short introduction…”

Five frightening films from female filmmakers!

Want your Hallowe’en to be hair-raising? Here are five freaky films with female directors!

Cover imageNear Dark
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow – a mid-western farm boy reluctantly becomes a member of the undead when a girl he meets turns out to be part of a band of southern vampires who roam the highways in stolen cars. (Adapted from Syndetics)

Cover imageAmerican Psycho
Directed by Mary Harron – a young, handsome man with a Harvard education and success on Wall Street has terrible urges that take him in pursuit of women, greed, and murder. (Adapted from Syndetics)

Cover imageRavenous
Directed by Antonia Bird – Captain John Boyd is promoted during the Mexican-American War, but is sent to an isolated military outpost in the Sierra Nevada wilderness due to his cowardice. When the lone survivor of an ill-fated expedition that ended in murder and cannibalism arrives, the men must fight for survival against cannibals, the wilderness and their own murderous instincts. (Adapted from Syndetics)

Cover imageAmerican Mary
Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska – after she is betrayed and brutalized by one of her professors, medical student Mary Mason’s life takes a downward turn as she becomes a sawbones for the local mob after she stumbles into a seedy burlesque bar looking for work. Simultaneously ‘Bloody Mary’ becomes a hit in the body-modification underground after she helps a woman become the ultimate living doll. Before long Mary finds herself becoming increasingly unhinged and the constant surgeries begin to leave more marks on her than her so-called freakish clientele. (Adapted from Syndetics)

Cover imageIn My Skin
Directed by Marina de Van – Esther suffers deep gashes on her legs from an accidental fall. She begins to become preoccupied with her body and skin, especially her wounds. At first she merely traces the cuts on her legs, but it isn’t long before she is carving wounds directly and aggressively into her own body. Her boyfriend becomes concerned and angry, but his inability to understand forces Esther into reclusion to explore her new found passion. (Adapted from Syndetics)

“One small step for man…”

This year is the 40th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo missions to the Moon. Apollo 17 was the sixth and final moon landing by the United States and launched from the Kennedy Space Centre December 7 1972. Apollo 17 had the first scientist/astronaut to land on the moon – Harrison Schmitt.

Syndetics book coverApollo : the epic journey to the moon / by David West Reynolds.
“Space expert Reynolds reconstructs all the key events and personalities connected to the Apollo space missions, from the experiences of the astronauts to the scientists and mission control operators who helped convert this extraordinary dream into reality. His text is accompanied by 400-plus color photographs, artwork showing the lunar explorations, and cutaway illustrations.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe last man on the moon : astronaut Eugene Cernan and America’s race in space / Eugene Cernan and Don Davis.
“Eugene Cernan is a unique American who came of age as an astronaut during the most exciting and dangerous decade of spaceflight. His career spanned the entire Gemini and Apollo programs, from being the first person to spacewalk all the way around our world to the moment when he left man’s last footprint on the Moon as commander of Apollo 17. Between those two historic events lay more adventures than an ordinary person could imagine as Cernan repeatedly put his life, his family and everything he held dear on the altar of an obsessive desire. Written with New York Times bestselling author Don Davis, this is the astronaut story never before told – about the fear, love and sacrifice demanded of the few men who dared to reach beyond the heavens for the biggest prize of all – the Moon.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSpacesuit : fashioning Apollo / Nicholas de Monchaux.
“When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in July of 1969, they wore spacesuits made by Playtex: twenty-one layers of fabric, each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles. This book is the story of those spacesuits. It is a story of the Playtex Corporation’s triumph over the military-industrial complex—a victory of elegant softness over engineered hardness, of adaptation over cybernetics. Playtex’s spacesuit went up against hard armor-like spacesuits designed by military contractors and favored by NASA’s engineers. It was only when those suits failed—when traditional engineering firms could not integrate the body into mission requirements—that Playtex, with its intimate expertise, got the job.” (Global Books in Print)

James May on the moon [videorecording].
“In this BBC documentary, James May commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings. He meets three of the men who walked on the moon, before experiencing the thrill of weightlessness, and the bone-crushing G forces of a Saturn V rocket launch. Finally, he puts on a space suit and flies to the edge of space in a U2 spy plane, where he looks down at the curvature of the earth and upwards into the black infinity of space.” (Syndetics summary)

From the Earth to the Moon [videorecording] / HBO presents a Clavius Base/Imagine Entertainment production.
“Through dramatization, this series relates the story of the conquest of the moon by the Americans, from the Mercury and Gemini projects to the legendary Apollo missions.” (Syndetics summary)

NASA – Apollo 17
Project Apollo drawings and technical diagrams

The next train, stopping at all stations…

On 27 October 1904 the first underground New York City subway line opened. It is one of the oldest, and also one of the largest by number of stations (468) and by total length of routes (337km). Check out some of our books on subways, metros and other underground railways.

Syndetics book cover722 miles : the building of the subways and how they transformed New York / Clifton Hood.
“The New York subway was the vision of a few enlightened politicians working with a tight-knit mercantile elite who saw the potential that a high-speed underground rail system would have as a vehicle for urban development. Hood (American history, Hobart and William Smith Coll.) tells the fascinating story of the individuals who created this unparalleled achievement of civil engineering. This concise, scholarly history describes the impact on urban life and the creation of new neighborhoods (the Upper West Side, Harlem, Jackson Heights) separated only by a nickel fare from the heart of the city. Hood chronicles the changes in the city’s political climate, from a laissez-faire mood at the onset of the century through the rise of the progressive reform movement, concluding in the big-government era of the 1950s.” (drawn from Library Journal, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverWe own the night : the art of the Underbelly Project : New York Mar 2009-Aug 2010 / curators, Workhorse, PAC ; editors, Emeht Agency, Jiae Kim, John Lee.
“Having discovered a never-completed subway station in Brooklyn, two street artists-Workhorse and PAC-brought in artists from around the world to reclaim the space with original artwork. From the spring of 2009 to the summer of the following year, the Underbelly, as it came to be called, became a subterranean gallery, accessible only to those few who knew where to find it. Conceived in part as a commentary on the commodification of street art, notable figures such as Ron English, graffiti progenitor Haze, as well as the lesser known Dick Chicken and Indigo, sometimes hid from MTA workers or police in complete darkness for hours. Works such as Mint & Serf’s graffiti inflected dismantling of the American flag a la Jasper Johns or Trustocorp’s deconstruction of commercial art resonate with more conceptual pieces, such as Jeff Stark’s site-specific performance, in which the tuxedo clad artist served a multi-course dinner to two well-dressed friends in the underground space. The works in the Underbelly deliberately set themselves outside of traditional spaces for art and commerce, destined to be largely unseen firsthand. It is fitting-though tragic-that shortly after word of the space reached the press, the MTA sealed off access to the station. This book itself then becomes a testament to art for its own sake, an artifact of a project that posed the provocative question: “If no one will see it, will it still be important?” (drawn from Publisher Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverMetro : the story of the underground railway / David Bennett.
“In Metro, writer and engineer David Bennett gives a comprehensive insight into the rise of underground travel over the past 150 years.He traces the technological progress – from the risky breakthroughs in tunnelling techniques that made underground travel possible to the innovations that have made it safer and more pleasant, such as the move from coal-burning locomotives to the electrification of the line and the evolution of the first wooden carriages into the air-conditioned aluminium ones of today. He also explores the architecture of the most dramatic and inspiring stations ever built, including the clean, Bauhaus-influenced lines of Berlin’s U-Bahn, the stern grandeur of the Moscow Metro’s “socialist” architecture, and the breathtaking exuberance of the Hollywood Red Line in Los Angeles. Metro also takes an in-depth look at the cultural phenomena, such as poster art and graffiti, that have flourished on underground systems around the world. Thought-provoking, informative, entertaining, and expansively illustrated with 200 photographs, Metro reveals historical facts, heroic achievements, beautiful architectural details, and the secrets of subterranean engineering, and will appeal to historians, designers, architects, rail enthusiasts, and world travellers alike.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBeneath the metropolis : the secret lives of cities / Alex Marshall ; editor, David Emblidge.
“Independent journalist Marshall (How Cities Work) presents a unique and colorful view of the subterranean environments of 12 world cities. The comparatively recent settlements of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Sydney are joined here by the modernizing conurbations of Mexico City, Paris, Rome, London, Moscow, Cairo, Tokyo, and Beijing. Marshall occasionally draws parallels to other cities, such as Venice, Montreal, and Boston. Utilizing interviews with architects, engineers, and planners, as well as print sources, web sites, and some on-site visits, the author details the meandering underground networks that have evolved to convey people, water, electricity, effluvia, and telecommunications. Each city has faced obstacles imposed by its geology, archaeological history, and political and social constraints. Relying on either current or past watercourses, most did not make much use of underground potential before 1800, except for Rome with its catacombs. Thereafter, alternatively cooperating and competing public and private actors constructed these cities’ underground elements.” (drawn from Library Journal, courtesy of Syndetics)

Subway lives : 24 hours in the life of the New York City subway / Jim Dwyer.
“While the subtitle’s promise of a day-in-the-life of New York City’s colossal and troubled subway system is fulfilled, and quite dramatically, this robust and crackling page-turner also contains a hard-hitting history of the rise and damn-near collapse of the 85-year-old endeavor. Columnist Dwyer has that old-time, keyboard-pounding newsroom energy, breathing life and a whiff of incredulity into his historical facts while sketching vibrant portraits of people and suspenseful accounts of their predicaments. He brandishes the staggering statistics of the subway–the numbers of riders, dollars, crimes, breakdowns–with a mixture of respect and disgust, while his tone is almost tender when he focuses on individuals. He describes the day of a singing conductor, a token-booth clerk, an assortment of riders covering the spectrum from desperate to generous, and the last of the infamous graffitists. Dwyer keeps us in a continual state of amazement, exposing destructive sweetheart deals in one chapter, while in another, recounting the miraculous story of a woman giving birth on a stalled C train. An unforgettable tale of the craziness that is New York, that is humanity.” (drawn from Booklist, courtesy of Syndetics)


Anniversary of supersonic flight

Sunday 14 October was the 65th anniversary of the first manned supersonic flight by Charles “Chuck” Yeager in the experimental Bell X-1 research rocket plane.  In celebration of this feat here are some of our books on supersonic flight.

Syndetics book coverFaster than sound : the story of supersonic flight / Bill Gunston.
“This is the fully revised and updated story of how British and American test pilots pierced the sound barrier in the late 1940s, support with many new photographs. Since then much has happened in the advancement of supersonic flight. As recently as 2003, tens of thousands of fare-paying passengers were routinely enjoying transatlantic intercontinental air travel at speeds of up to Mach 2 on Concorde. Internationally acclaimed best-selling aviation author Bill Gunston OBE describes in accessible style the rules and technologies of supersonic flight, developments in engine and airframe technology, the age of supersonic passenger transports, and advances in supersonic fighter and bomber design.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverInto the unknown : the X-1 story / Louis Rotundo.
“Until Ezra Kotcher of Wright Field and John Stack of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) provided the leadership to convince officials to build a high-speed plane, public opinion was fraught with popular stories of a sonic “wall,” better known as the sound barrier. Now hanging in the Smithsonian, the X-1 was developed to conduct comprehensive flight tests and to acquire data in a scientific manner to demystify supersonic flight. The contributions of many people involved in the project are recounted, including Lawrence Bell, president of the contractor Bell Aircraft; Alvin “Tex” Johnson, Bell test pilot; and Chuck Yeager. Numerous first person interviews and exhaustive research into previously secret files relates the intrigue that surrounded the Mach 1 tests. Technical discussions of the aircraft design, power plant, and airframe are excellent, as are all the descriptions of the test flights, from the first to Chuck Yeager’s historic supersonic flight in 1947. The data gathered during this process helped set the stage for the X-15 and, later, for the space program. A significant contribution to aviation history.” (Drawn from Choice, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe X-planes : X-1 to X-45 / Jay Miller.
“This new and revised version of The X-Planes contains a detailed and authoritative account of each U.S. X-designated aircraft. Each aircraft is fully described, and coverage of history, specifications, propulsion systems, and disposition are included in a logical, readable format. Complementing the text are more than 900 photographs, many of which have never-before been published. Each X-Plane is also illustrated by an accurate and detailed multi-view drawing, which also provides color scheme information and scale data. Also included are appendices, an index, and miscellaneous tables. For aviation enthusiasts.” (Syndetics summary)

Doctor Livingstone, I presume? and other famous explorers

Need some motivation to go out and do great deeds today?  These books containing various heroic exploits may just provide the added push you need!

Syndetics book coverResolution : the story of Captain Cook’s second voyage of discovery / Peter Aughton.
“On 13 July 1772, a year and a day after James Cook had returned to England having claimed Australia and New Zealand for the British crown, he set sail again on another voyage to the Pacific with two ships, the Resolution and the Adventure, to complete his search for lands in the southern hemisphere. This three-year venture still remains the greatest exploratory voyage ever undertaken in the far southern waters of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. No other sailing ship has ever been further south through the ice. This was an epic voyage. The Pacific Ocean, covering more than a quarter of the earth’s surface, still had great lonely expanses where no ship had ever sailed. Numerous small islands had been spotted over the previous 250 years but nearly all had been sightings and not landings; even of the landings many were unvisited since their first discovery. Fresh food and water supplies were always a problem – and scurvy always a worry, in spite of the eighty barrels of sauerkraut they took with them. They also took invaluable instruments supplied by the Board of Longitude, not least a copy of Harrison’s fourth marine chronometer.” (Book jacket)

Syndetics book coverRace to the end : Amundsen, Scott, and the attainment of the South Pole / Ross D.E. MacPhee.
“Between 1910 and 1912, parties led by Norway’s Roald Amundsen and England’s Robert Scott made simultaneous attempts to be the first to reach the South Pole. Both parties attained the pole (Amundsen’s first, Scott’s second), but only Amundsen and his comrades returned alive. In a handsome volume that accompanies the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibit on the Scott and Amundsen expeditions, curator MacPhee sheds new light on this well-known story of triumph and tragedy. His text is complemented by a treasure trove of photos, maps, journals, and artifacts (some seen here for the first time). Seamlessly combining high adventure with meticulous documentation, this book will have broad appeal. Includes five contemporary panoramas showing Scott’s journey, as well as two vertical maps.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverExplorers : the most exciting voyages of discovery : from the African expeditions to the lunar landing / Andrea de Porti.The Explorers: The Most Exciting Voyages of Discovery — From the African Expeditions to the Lunar Landing
“Journalist De Porti not only explains the reasons why these apparently sane people left safe havens to explore the world and beyond, but supplies hundreds of period photographs and illustrations in gatefolds that create posters that explain the length and breadth of 53 journeys into the unknown. The seemingly sane people include Charles Lindbergh, Rosita Forbes, Richard Burton, John Speke, Robert Peary, Howard Carter, Freya Stark, Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gargarin, whom De Porti puts in context with their various and sundry motives, compatriots, beasts of burden, mistakes, and triumphs.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverXanadu : Marco Polo and Europe’s discovery of the East / John Man.
“Marco Polo’s journey from Venice, through Europe and most of Asia, to the court of Kublai Khan in China is one of the most audacious in history. His account of his experiences, known simply as The Travels, uncovered an entirely new world of emperors and concubines, great buildings — ‘stately pleasure domes’ in Coleridge’s dreaming; huge armies and imperial riches. His book shaped the West’s understanding of China for hundreds of years. John Man travelled in Marco’s footsteps to Xanadu, in search of the truth behind Marco’s stories; to separate legend from fact. Drawing on his own journey, archaeology and archival study, John Man paints a vivid picture of the man behind the myth and the true story of the great court of Kublai Khan.” (Global Books in Print)

Syndetics book coverThe race to the New World : Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, and a lost history of discovery / Douglas Hunter.
“It’s hard to imagine that there is still uncharted territory in the history of the New World’s discovery. But Hunter indeed sails unsullied waters, offering an intriguing and surprising new twist on the old subject. Other historians have paralleled the voyages of Columbus and Cabot, Italian explorers for hire determined to find a westward route to Asia, but Hunter interweaves their stories and places them firmly into the complex geopolitical landscape of Renaissance Europe. Insisting that one cannot understand the career and motivations of one without understanding the career and motivations of the other, he analyzes the significant influence and impact these two rivals had upon one another. As this fascinating historical detective story unfolds, new pieces of an old puzzle are put into place, providing fresh perspective on the traditional discovery narrative. This important contribution to the scholarship of exploration history should also please readers who enjoy well-researched revisionist histories like Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower (2006).” (Drawn from Booklist, courtesy of Syndetics)

Strange science at the library

Check out some of the more bizarre books about science found at the library. In amongst the time spent by scientists trying to find the cure for cancer, the common cold and global warming, they manage to get up to some pretty crazy things!

Syndetics book coverElephants on acid : and other bizarre experiments / Alex Boese.
A fascinating account of some of the stranger experiments from history that were done in the name of science. In the ‘a tad creepy’ basket we have zombie kittens and the 1970s Stanford Prison experiment.  In the ‘scratch your head and ask why’ basket we have the difference between Coke and Pepsi (you may think you can taste it, but you can’t actually) and whether your dog is likely to go get help if you are in distress (unlikely). (Staff member)

Syndetics book coverWhy don’t penguins’ feet freeze? and 114 other questions : more questions and answers from the popular “last word’ column / edited by Mick O’Hare.
In this book of questions from New Scientist’s popular Last Word column, all sorts of odd questions are posed (and answered). If you want to know why supermarket bags are so noisy, why milk will run down the bottle if you pour it too slowly or why planes can fly upside down, just grab this book to find out! (Staff member)

Syndetics book coverIg Nobel prizes : the annals of improbable research / Marc Abrahams.
In 2010 the Ig Nobel Physics prize was won by three ladies from the University of Otago for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in winter, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes. A trick I learnt growing up in Dunedin is that old wooly rugby socks are the best sort for wearing over your shoes. (Staff member)

Syndetics book coverThe hungry scientist handbook : electric birthday cakes, edible origami, and other DIY projects for techies, tinkerers, and foodies / Patrick Buckley and Lily Binns.
Did you know that cooking is actually chemistry? Delicious, tasty chemistry? Have you ever fancied making icecream with liquid nitrogen, or making edible origami? These and many more ideas bring science into the kitchen and onto the plate. (Staff member)

Syndetics book coverHow many licks? : or, how to estimate damn near anything / Aaron Santos.
Have you ever wondered how many grams of tea it would take to make the Boston harbour palatable? Or how long it would take to eat the Stay Puft Man from Ghostbusters? If you have, this book will show you how to go about estimating the answers to all sorts of wacky questions. (Staff member)