Ideas & Society Newsletter for August

Library News

Literature

Notable picks this month include a New York Times Bestseller by the American professor of Literature Harold Bloom, writing about the literature of his own country this time, a surprising hypothesis about the influence of Shakespeare in the shaping the New World and a cheering book of summer poems by Vikram Seth.

Syndetics book cover Summer requiem : a book of poems / Vikram Seth.
“‘I have so carefully mapped the corners of my mind That I am forever waking in a lost country…’ Summer Requiem traces the immutable shifting of the seasons, the relentless rhythms of a great world that both ‘gifts and harms’. Luminous, resonant and profound, these poems trace the dying days of summer, ‘the hour of rust’, when memory is haunted by loss and decay. But in the silence that follows, as the soul is cast adrift, there is also reconciliation with the transience of all things.”(Syndetics summary).
Syndetics book cover The daemon knows : literary greatness and the American sublime / Harold Bloom.
“*NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER* Hailed as “the indispensable critic” by The New York Review of Books, Harold Bloom — New York Times bestselling writer and Sterlin. Professor of Humanities at Yale University — has for decades been sharing with readers and students his genius and passion for understanding literature and explaining why it matters. Now he turns at long last to his beloved writers of our national literature.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Shakespeare in America : an anthology from the Revolution to now / James Shapiro, editor ; foreword by President Bill Clinton.
“‘The history of Shakespeare in America,’ writes James Shapiro in his introduction to this groundbreaking anthology, ‘is also the history of America itself.’ Shakespeare was a central, inescapable part of America’s literary inheritance, and a prism through which crucial American issues — revolution, slavery, war, social justice–were refracted and understood.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover J.K. Rowling : a bibliography 1997-2013 / Philip W. Errington.
“Rowling’s books are covered in exquisite detail … Many of the notes read like good stories in themselves and there are some fascinating snippets of information to be had.” (Global Books summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

A varied pick of books this month, from the ‘Daughter’ organizations of the KGB, to Joseph Stiglitz’s new book about unequal societies, which expands upon ‘The Price of Inequality’; ‘The Great Divide’.

Syndetics book cover Daughters of the KGB : Moscow’s secret spies, sleepers and assassins of the Cold War / Douglas Boyd.
“Staffed by Moscow-trained nationals closely monitored by KGB “ambassadors”, Poland’s UB, the Czech StB, the Hungarian AVH, Romania’s Securitate, Bulgaria’s KDS, and the ultra-Stalinist Stasi of the German Democratic Republic all repressed democratic movements in their respective countries for 40 years. When this boiled over–in GDR in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968–Russian troops and tanks mowed down unarmed protestors. The “daughters” also carried out espionage and assassinations for Moscow in Britain and other Western countries, such as the murder of Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov on Waterloo Bridge in 1978, and occasionally hired professional hit men, including the notorious assassin Carlos the Jackal.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The great divide : unequal societies and what we can do about them / Joseph E. Stiglitz.
“In The Great Divide, Joseph E. Stiglitz expands on the diagnosis he offered in his best-selling book The Price of Inequality and suggests ways to counter America’s growing problem. With his signature blend of clarity and passion, Stiglitz argues that inequality is a choice–the cumulative result of unjust policies and misguided priorities. Gathering his writings for popular outlets including Vanity Fair and the New York Times, Stiglitz exposes in full America’s inequality: its dimensions, its causes, and its consequences for the nation and for the world… With formidable yet accessible economic insight, he urges us to embrace real solutions.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The people : the rise and fall of the working class, 1910-2010 / Selina Todd.
“THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER… 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)

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Religion & Beliefs

This month’s selections include three windows into Pope Francis’ life and contribution, and two very different rites of passage away from fundamentalist family communities.

Syndetics book cover The great reformer : Francis and the making of a radical pope, by Austen Ivereigh.
At its heart, this book is as much about Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the remarkable man whose background and total commitment to the discernment of God’s will transformed him into Pope Francis, as it is about the intersection of faith and politics. This investigates Francis’ teenage years growing up in Buenos Aires and events during the Perón era that shaped his beliefs; his ongoing conflict and disillusionment with an authoritarian and militaristic government in the 1970s and priestly training gave him a unique understanding and advocacy for a “Church of the Poor”; through to present days. The library has also received The future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis, by Garry Wills, and Pope Francis : conversations with Jorge Bergoglio, by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti.
Syndetics book cover The spiritual child : the new science on parenting for health and lifelong thriving, by Lisa Miller ; with Teresa Barker.
Psychologist Lisa Miller explains the evidence for a link between spirituality and health to explain that children who are developing a positive approach to spirituality are 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers, and have significantly more positive indicators for thriving including an increased sense of purpose, and high levels of academic success. Miller then translates these research findings into practical advice for parents to encourage their children’s wellbeing in concrete ways.
Syndetics book cover Girl at the end of the world : my escape from fundamentalism in search of faith with a future, by Elizabeth Esther.
What happens when a pastor holds unchecked sway over his followers? How can we leave behind the harm inflicted in the name of God without losing God in the process? “I was raised in a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group … I know hundreds of obscure nineteenth-century hymns by heart and have such razor sharp “modesty vision” that I can spot a miniskirt a mile away. Verily, verily I say unto thee, none of these highly specialized skills ever got me a job, but at least I’m all set for the end of the world. Selah.” This is a story of the impact of spiritual abuse on young psyche and the growing hope that God can still be good when His people fail. (drawn from the Syndetics summary)

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History

This month’s selection is a reminder of history’s constant unravelling through the uncovering of memories held by personal archives, secret documents and unheard stories. Picks include Louisa Lim’s sharp lens on the collective amnesia surrounding the events in Tiananmen Square in The People’s Republic of Amnesia and scientific acknowledgement of aboriginal Australian knowledge and methodology surrounding land management in The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage.

Syndetics book cover The People’s Republic of amnesia : Tiananmen revisited / Louisa Lim.
“Despite its emergence from backward isolation into a dynamic world economic power, a quarter-century after the People’s Army crushed unarmed protestors […] in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, the defining event of China’s modern history remains buried. […] In The People’s Republic of Amnesia, NPR’s China correspondent Louisa Lim offers an insider’s account of this seminal tragedy, revealing the enormous impact it had on China and the reverberations still felt today.”– Provided by publisher.
Syndetics book cover The full catastrophe : travels among the new Greek ruins / James Angelos.
“A transporting, good-humored, and revealing account of Greece’s dire troubles, reported from the mountain villages, idyllic islands, and hardscrabble streets that define the country today. […] With vivid character-driven narratives and engaging reporting that offers an immersive sense of place, he brings to life some of the causes of the country’s financial collapse, and examines the changes, some hopeful and others deeply worrisome, emerging in its aftermath.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The biggest estate on earth : how Aborigines made Australia / Bill Gammage.
“Reveals the complex, country-wide systems of land management used by Aboriginal people in presettlement Australia. Across Australia, early Europeans commented again and again that the land looked like a park, with extensive grassy patches and pathways, open woodlands, and abundant wildlife. […] Aboriginal people spent far less time and effort than Europeans in securing food and shelter, and this book reveals how. Once Aboriginal people were no longer able to tend their country, it became overgrown and vulnerable to the hugely damaging bushfires Australians now experience. With details of land-management strategies from around Australia, this book rewrites the history of the continent, with huge implications for today.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Italianissimo : the quintessential guide to what Italians do best / by Louise Fili & Lise Apatoff.
“What is it about Italy that inspires passion, fascination, and utter devotion? This quirky guide to the Italian way of life, with its fifty witty mini-essays on iconic Italian subjects, will answer that question as well as entertain and delight both real and armchair travellers […] This is a new kind of guidebook overflowing with enlightening and hilarious miscellaneous information, filled with luscious graphics and unforgettable photographs that will decode and enrich all trips to Italy-both real and imaginary.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

Read more about the wonderful world of plant intelligence, whale and dolphin culture, and restoring extinct animals through cloning.

Syndetics book cover Brilliant green : the surprising history and science of plant intelligence, by Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola ; translated by Joan Benham ; foreword by Michael Pollan.
Can plants solve problems, and communicate? We can all think of exceptions (like the Venus fly-trap) but on the whole we regard them as passive, silent and immovable if it were not for Wellington’s wind. Yet recent discoveries are challenging these ideas, and Mancuso argues that, in fact, they process information, sleep, remember, and signal to one another. He demonstrates a more sophisticated view of plant intelligence through a survey of plant capabilities from sight and touch to communication. “Part botany lesson, part manifesto, Brilliant Green is an engaging and passionate examination of the inner workings of the plant kingdom.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover How to clone a mammoth : the science of de-extinction, by Beth Shapiro.
Could extinct species be brought back to life? “Ancient DNA” research says yes. This is not without controversy – from deciding which species should be restored, to considering how these revived populations might exist in the wild. Both scientific and ethical issues are explored. Shapiro’s focus is not so much the restoration of a handful of favoured species, but an overarching goal to revitalize contemporary ecosystems. Is this conservation’s future?
Syndetics book cover Expanding universe : photographs from the Hubble space telescope, by Charles F. Bolden Jr., Owen Edwards, John Mace Grunsfeld, Zoltan Levay.
Hubble has changed both our understanding of astronomy, but our own place in the universe. This is a collection of wonderful ultra high-resolution deep space images celebrating science and photography – brilliant colours and textures revealed in several large foldouts, accompanied by an interview with Zoltan Levay, who explains how the pictures are composed, while Hubble astronauts Charles F. Bolden, Jr. and John Mace Grunsfeld discuss Hubble’s legacy.
Syndetics book cover The cultural lives of whales and dolphins, by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell.
Whales and dolphins are some of the most captivating sea animals to us, and this is not simply because they are mammals. Their intelligence, behaviour and social habits invite us to try to understand and interact with them. Human cultures pass on languages and customs and the authors consider could whales and dolphins have developed a culture of their very own? Drawing on their own research and observations as well as other scientific literature they ponder behaviours which Youtube clips have brought to the non-scientific world such as humpback whales bubble feeding, Australian dolphins using sea sponges to protect their beaks while foraging for fish in coral.

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Ideas & Society Newsletter for May

Take a look at this selection of books packed with reflections and often provocative ideas about wars and scientific explorations, poetry and humour.
Delightful finds that you can read for basic information, relaxation and inspiration. Enjoy!

Library News

Literature

In this centenary year of the beginning of the First World War what could be more appropriate than that we open this month’s selection with a book of love letters written in during times of conflict, when correspondence assumes such critical importance.
Other books in the mix include reflections on the nature of writing, Clive James’s thoughts on poetry, a new look at Chaucer, and a couple of humorous books to cheer us on our way. We hope you find something to take your eye here.

Syndetics book cover Wives and sweethearts : love letters sent during wartime / Alastair Massie and Frances Parton.
“What is it like to fall in love with a soldier? What is it like to be a soldier in love? Throughout history, those serving in the British Army have combined romantic relationships with their military duties. In wartime especially, all the usual emotions experienced by men and women in love are felt to a heightened degree. The sense of danger, and the sometimes years of separation imposed by service abroad, make the heartache of loss and the joy of reunion all the greater.” (Global books summary)
Syndetics book cover Chaucer’s tale : 1386 and the road to Canterbury / Paul Strohm.
“A lively microbiography of Chaucer that tells the story of the tumultuous year that led to the creation of The Canterbury Tales In 1386, Geoffrey Chaucer endured his worst year, but began his best poem. The father of English literature did not enjoy in his lifetime the literary celebrity that he has today–far from it. The middle-aged Chaucer was living in London, working as a midlevel bureaucrat and sometime poet, until a personal and professional crisis set him down the road leading to The Canterbury Tales.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover A slip of the keyboard : collected nonfiction / Terry Pratchett.
“A collection of essays and other nonfiction spanning Terry Pratchett’s entire career, from his early years to the present day. A collection of essays and other nonfiction spanning Terry Pratchett’s entire career, from his early years to the present day” (Provided by publisher)
Syndetics book cover Thinking about it only makes it worse : and other lessons from modern life / David Mitchell.
“What’s wrong with calling a burglar brave? Why are people so f***ing hung up about swearing? Why do the asterisks in that sentence make it okay? Why do so many people want to stop other people doing things, and how can they be stopped from stopping them? Why is every film and TV programme a sequel or a remake? Why are we so reliant on perpetual diversion that someone has created chocolate toothpaste? David Mitchell delights us with a tour of the absurdities of modern life.” (Summary from Global books)
Syndetics book cover Poetry notebook : 2006-2014 / Clive James.
“Clive James is one of our finest critics and best-loved cultural voices. He is also a prize-winning poet. Since he was first enthralled by the mysterious power of poetry, he has been a dedicated student. In fact, for Clive, poetry has been nothing less than the occupation of a lifetime, and in this book he presents a distillation of all he’s learned about the art form that matters to him most.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

This month’s selection of books talk about: how our passion for possessions is fast fading, politics in Indonesia, and being a practicing Muslim in the West. Interesting reading!

Syndetics book cover The looting machine : warlords, oligarchs, corporations, smugglers, and the theft of Africa’s wealth / Tom Burgis.
“While reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa and Lagos, Nigeria for the Financial Times, Burgis realized that natural resources might be Africa’s curse, not its salvation. In this alarming history of colonialism and exploitation, Burgis skillfully explains how Africa’s longstanding difficulty in securing Western support has led to a partnership with China in which that country has provided “infrastructure for interference” to several African countries since the 1990s.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Stuffocation : why we’ve had enough of stuff and need experience more than ever / James Wallman.
“For many of us, our possessions and the lifestyle that goes along with them are causing more stress than happiness–otherwise known as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ or what Alain de Botton calls ‘status anxiety.’ But James Wallman argues that we are approaching a tipping point with regard to materialism. People are turning away from the endless drive to consume in favor of a simpler, more streamlined way of living… (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Demokrasi : Indonesia in the 21st century / Hamish McDonald.
“…After providing a solid and balanced portrait of the three decade-plus governance of the Suharto regime (1967-1998), McDonald carries the story forward to the present day, which finds a populace eager for accountability from its elected leaders. Those still uncertain about Indonesia’s importance to the US will find evidence here in the form of its growing economy, posed to be the sixth largest in the world by 2030. McDonald’s insights-including the observation that Indonesian foreign policy favors “soft” over “hard” power – present clear reasons for the current limits to the country’s international influence…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Laughing all the way to the Mosque : the misadventures of a Muslim woman / Zarqa Nawaz.
“Being a practicing Muslim in the West is sometimes challenging, sometimes rewarding and sometimes downright absurd. How do you explain why Eid never falls on the same date each year; why it is that Halal butchers also sell teapots and alarm clocks; how do you make clear to the plumber that it’s essential the toilet is installed within sitting-arm’s reach of the tap? And it’s not always easy to get things right with the community either…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The hundred-year marathon : China’s secret strategy to replace America as the global superpower / Michael Pillsbury.
“Pillsbury … argues that China has deceived the United States about its motives since the two nations began normalizing relations in the 1970s. He asserts that China’s military “hawks” are really in charge, not the moderates; the economy is not moving toward free market capitalism but mercantilism; and the government will not democratize.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

This month’s selection features tales of Celtic myths, as well as insights into Islam, Sufism and Buddhism. Enjoy!

Syndetics book cover The Celtic myths : a guide to the ancient gods and legends, by Miranda Aldhouse-Green.
This includes both vivid retelling of Irish and Welsh myths as well as social history, evidence from archaeology (such as the Gundestrup Cauldron) and a guide to themes such as animals or the environment. the book begins with a discussion on how myths are handed down and ends with a discussion on the influence of monastic writers and translators. This is a great guide for anyone interested in Celtic history. The library has also received Pagan Britain, by Ronald Hutton, which takes a different approach to a similar topic.
Syndetics book cover The handy Islam answer book, by John Renard, Ph.D.
This user-friendly guide answers nearly 800 questions that cover Islamic history, religious practices, and Muslim cultural perspectives. Some questions include Why is Mecca a holy city for Muslims? What do Muslims mean by the term Allah? What is the Muslim “call to prayer”? Do Muslims, Christians, and Jews worship the “same God”? Why do some people not want girls to get an education? Muslims are diverse, and they have a vast range of views about Islam, just as any other religious adherents. This guide brings us further down the path of understanding.
Syndetics book cover The perfect I : fitness in mind, fearless in body, by Mike Ansari.
Martial arts expert and mystic, Mike Ansari, describes his forty-year search for God. He first visited a Moslem shrine at aged four and the reader follows him from Iran to his journey to New Zealand. Mike’s beliefs in the need for fitness in mind, body and spirit has led him to follow a strict Sufi regime of self-sacrifice, fasting and meditation. (summarised from the Back cover.)
Syndetics book cover Waking the Buddha : how the most dynamic and empowering Buddhist movement in history is changing our concept of religion, by Clark Strand.
This tells the story of the Soka Gakkai International, the largest, most dynamic Buddhist movement today. This movement invites Buddhism to “wake up” so it can truly work in ordinary people’s lives, rather than foster a style of meditation which detaches from reality. The author draws on his experiences as a Buddhist teacher and journalist to offer insight into how and why the Soka Gakkai’s commitment and approach to social justice has become a role model.

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History

This month’s recent history picks are big on mood and journey. Atmospheres take on an interiorized and reflective tone in Adam Thorpe’s On Silbury Hill. These are picks for readers that want to feel transported.

My Dear Bessie My dear Bessie : a love story in letters / Chris Barker & Bessie Moore ; edited and introduced by Simon Garfield.
Twenty hours have gone since I last wrote. I have been thinking of you. I shall think of you until I post this, and until you get it. Can you feel, as you read these words, that I am thinking of you now; aglow, alive, alert at the thought that you are in the same world, and by some strange chance loving me. In September 1943, Chris Barker was serving as a signalman in North Africa when he decided to brighten the long days of war by writing to old friends. One of these was Bessie Moore, a former work colleague. The unexpected warmth of Bessie’s reply changed their lives forever. Crossing continents and years, their funny, affectionate and intensely personal letters are a remarkable portrait of a love played out against the backdrop of the Second World War.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Journeys home : inspiring stories, plus tips and strategies to find your family history : featuring Andrew McCarthy, Joyce Maynard, Pico Iyer, Diane Johnson & the National Geographic travel team ; foreword by Dr. Spencer Wells, National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
“Actor and award-winning travel writer Andrew McCarthy discovers his ancestry in a compelling narrative that combines 26 intriguing and heartfelt stories about discovering home and roots with tips and recommendations on how to begin your own explorations. Sidebars and a hefty resource section provide tips and recommendations on how to go about your own research, and a foreword by the Genographic Project’s Spencer Wells sets the scene. Stunning images, along with family heirlooms, old photos, recipes, and more, round out this unique take on the genealogical research craze” (Provided by publisher)
Syndetics book cover Paper love : searching for the girl my grandfather left behind / Sarah Wildman.
“Wildman takes an unexpected journey through her family’s past to piece together her grandfather’s history and uncover the fate of a young woman bound in unforeseen ways to her own life. Always believing that her grandfather had been incredibly blessed and extremely lucky to escape from Vienna and Nazi persecution on the eve of WWII, the author was surprised to discover, after her grandfather’s death, a cache of passionate letters from Valy, her grandfather’s first love. Determined to track the tragic trajectory of her grandfather’s early life a bitter chapter he repressed and glossed over for years and to retrace the harrowing odyssey of the woman he left behind, she traveled the globe in search of evidence and answers.” (Booklist)
Syndetics book cover On Silbury Hill / Adam Thorpe.
“Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, England, has inspired and perplexed people for generations. Artists and poets have fathomed their deepest thoughts searching for the hill’s hidden meanings, archaeologists have tunneled through earth for fragments that prove its purpose. But for all this endeavor, Silbury Hill remains a mystery. On Silbury Hill is Adam Thorpe’s own projection onto Silbury’s grassy slopes. Twenty years after the publication of his classic novel Ulverton, the acclaimed poet and novelist revisits the landscape that inspired him. It is a chalkland memoir, told in fragments and family snapshots, skillfully built, layer on layer, from Britain’s ancient and modern past.” (Amazon.com summary)
Syndetics book cover A man of good hope / Jonny Steinberg.
“South African journalist Steinberg (Sizwe’s Test) vividly recounts one Somali man’s experience of diaspora, resulting in a book that is part biography and part contemporary history. Steinberg first met Asad Abudullahi in 2010, in the wake of the South African riots that targeted the thousands of refugees, among them Asad, drawn there by the promise of a better life. In 1991, Asad, not yet in his teens, fled the anarchy in his native country, ending up in Kenya. He honed his survival instincts in Nairobi’s slums before traveling to Ethiopia in search of members of his fractured family… When Asad eventually reached South Africa in 2004, he took on the dangerous work of running a shop in one of the country’s poorest townships… The book’s subject matter may be unfamiliar to most Americans, but Steinberg’s thoughtful approach and Asad’s attitude of droll resilience make for a tale that any reader can appreciate.” (Publisher Weekly)

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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 Ocean : the definitive visual guide / project editor, Rob Houston.
“From mangrove swamp to ocean floor, mollusc to manatee, the Japanese tsunami to Hurricane Sandy, unravel the mysteries of the sea. Marvel at the oceans’ power and importance to our planet – as the birthplace of life on Earth, a crucial element of our climate, and as a vital but increasingly fragile resource for mankind. You will discover every aspect, from the geology of the sea floor and the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere, to the extraordinary diversity of marine life. Includes an inspiring introduction by editor-in-chief Fabien Cousteau. Ocean captures both the beauty and scientific complexity of the ocean, making it perfect for families and students alike.” (Syndetics)
Syndetics book cover Planet of the bugs : evolution and the rise of insects / Scott Richard Shaw.
“Shaw, professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, takes an arthropodist stand against “human-centric bias that seeks to place our vertebrate ancestors in some kind of elevated position,” as he frames evolutionary history from the vantage point of insect development. The million distinct catalogued species that Shaw says “rule the planet” only constitute a subset of those that are documented in the fossil record or that have been discovered in the microniches of environments such as the tropical rainforest. Shaw looks at groups of species in terms of the structural features that developed to exploit emerging habitats and examines them in light of their parallel development with plant or animal species for which they might be prey, parasites, or pollinators.” (Publisher Weekly)
Syndetics book cover How not to be wrong : the hidden maths of everyday life / Jordan Ellenberg.
“The maths we learn in school often seems like a mysterious and impenetrable set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong, acclaimed mathematician Jordan Ellenberg shows us just how wrong this view is: in fact, maths touches everything we do, allowing us to see the hidden structures beneath the messy and chaotic surface of our daily lives. It’s a science of not being wrong, worked out through centuries of hard work and argument. Through supremely witty storytelling and wry insight, Ellenberg reveals the mathematician’s method of analyzing life, from the commonplace to the cosmic, showing us which numbers to trust, which ones to ignore, and when to change the equation entirely.” (Syndetics summary)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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Ideas and Society Newsletter – September 2014

Welcome to our September Ideas & Society newsletter!

You may notice that this newsletter looks a bit different — we’ve switched our newsletters over to Mailchimp, but other than the engine powering them, nothing else has changed! These newsletters are still put together by our librarians, and we hope you enjoy our picks of the new books! If for any reason you would like to stop receiving these emails, you can find a link to unsubscribe at the bottom of this email.

Have a browse — and we hope you enjoy our picks!

Library News

Literature

This month we focus on J. G. Ballard — novelist, short story writer, and essayist — with a collection of interviews given to journalists over a period of 50 years of his life and career. Plus, the world of J. R. R. Tolkien, a companion guide to writing historical fiction, and a look at William Wordsworth and his relationship to his sister, English author, poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth. Enjoy!

Syndetics book cover Extreme metaphors : selected interviews with J.G. Ballard, 1967-2008 / edited by Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara.
A startling and at times unsettlingly prescient collection of J.G. Ballard’s greatest interviews. J.G. Ballard was a literary giant. His novels were unique and surprising. To the journalists and admirers who sought him out, Ballard was the ‘seer of Shepperton’; his home the vantage from which he observed the rising suburban tide, part of a changing society captured and second-guessed so plausibly in his fiction.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue note)
Syndetics book cover Writing historical fiction : a writers’ and artists’ companion / Celia Brayfield and Duncan Sprott ;series editors: Carole Angier and Sally Cline.
“This is an invaluable companion for a writer working in the historical fiction genre, whether your period is Ancient Rome or World War II. The book includes reflections on the genre and provides a short history of historical fiction. It also contains guest contributions from Margaret Atwood, Ian Beck, Madison Smartt Bell, Ronan Bennett, Vanora Bennett, Tracy Chevalier, Lindsay Clarke, Elizabeth Cook, Anne Doughty, Sarah Dunant, Michel Faber, Margaret George, Philippa Gregory, Katharine McMahon, and many others.” (Summary from Books In Print)
Syndetics book cover William and Dorothy Wordsworth : ‘all in each other’ / Lucy Newlyn.
“William Wordsworth’s iconic relationship with his ‘beloved Sister’ spanned nearly fifty years. Separated after the death of their mother when Dorothy was six, and reunited as orphans after the death of their father, they became inseparable companions. This is the first literary biography to give each sibling the same level of detailed attention; with Dorothy’s writings set fully alongside her brother’s, we see her to be the poet’s equal in a literary partnership of outstanding importance.” (Publisher website)
Syndetics book cover The making of Middle-Earth : a new look inside the world of J.R.R. Tolkien / Christopher Snyder.
“J. R. R. Tolkien’s reputation has varied but certainly has increased in the last few years (to some degree because of the popularity of Peter Jackson’s films). Snyder, a professor at Mississippi State University, teachers seminars about Tolkien and has written several books on historic Britain and its literature. This informational book deals with Tolkien’s scholarly and writing life, the mythical and medieval influences on his works, and his legacy. Part 1 traces Tolkien’s life, from his birth in South Africa to his studies and teaching.” (Booklist)

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Popular Non-Fiction

Here’s a quick round-up of some of our picks of the latest non-fiction in July. There are definitely some fairly weighty economics books this month, with Michael Lewis’s latest “Flash Boys” and a new book from Timothy Geithner, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Arundhati Roy also has a new title out —enjoy!

Syndetics book cover Flash boys : a Wall Street revolt / Michael Lewis.
“In his latest captivating expedition into the marketplace jungle, Lewis (Moneyball) explores how the rise of computerized stock exchanges and their attendant scams started a battle for the soul of Wall Street. He probes the subterfuges of high frequency traders who, assisted by banks and brokerages happy to sell out customers, use blindingly fast data links to gain inside information on investors’ trades and then exploit them on today’s entirely digital stock markets. At the center of his novelistic narrative is a New York mosaic:… This cast bands together to expose the market manipulations and then start their own honest stock exchange.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Capitalism : a ghost story / Arundhati Roy.
“…Roy’s… book begins with Karl Marx’s quip that capitalism is like a sorcerer’s apprentice, conjuring forces too strong for it to control. She labels these apprentices as America’s multinational corporations and the various organizations that act as tentacles, disrupting the cultures, economies, and governments of the world. Prominent in the list are endowed foundations like those started by Ford and Rockefeller, which transformed the fortunes of the US’s most successful magnates into political influence by funding the beginnings of the U.N., the CIA, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Research and Development (RAND) Corporation. Roy traces the links between these groups and the co-optation of social science research, using NGOs to soften the politics of radical social movements in the face of IMF-imposed structural adjustment, and the separation of feminist and class analysis in mainstream political discussions. Roy’s central concern is the effect on her own country, and she shows how Indian politics have taken on the same model, leading to the ghosts of her book’s title: 250,000 farmers have committed suicide, 800 million impoverished and dispossessed Indians, environmental destruction, colonial-like rule in Kashmir, and brutal treatment of activists and journalists. In this dark tale, Roy gives rays of hope that illuminate cracks in the nightmare she evokes.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Stress test : reflections on financial crises / Timothy F. Geithner.
“On January 26, 2009, during the depth of the financial crisis and having just completed five years as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Timothy F. Geithner was sworn in by President Barack Obama as the seventy-fifth Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. Now, in a strikingly candid, riveting, and historically illuminating memoir, Geithner takes readers behind the scenes during the darkest moments of the crisis. Swift, decisive, and creative action was required to avert a second Great Depression, but policy makers faced a fog of uncertainty, with no good options and the risk of catastrophic outcomes. Stress Test Reflections on Financial Crises takes us inside the room, explaining in accessible and forthright terms the hard choices and politically unpalatable decisions that Geithner and others in the Obama administration made during the crisis and recovery.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Sustainable revolution : permaculture in ecovillages, urban farms, and communities worldwide / Juliana Birnbaum &Louis Fox.
“Urban gardeners. Seed-saving collectives. Intentional communities. Renewable energy innovators and proponents of gift economies. How are these seemingly disparate groups connected? Based on common ethics of sustainable cultures throughout history, the ecological design systems of permaculture is the common thread that weaves them into a powerful, potentially revolutionary –or evolutionary –movement. Sustainable Revolution features photographs, interviews, and essays profiling 60 thriving community-based projects in diverse climates across the planet…(adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion &Beliefs

Recent offerings from Tom Wright and Hans Kung rub shoulders with the Munk debates between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair this month’s new religious books.

Syndetics book cover Surprised by scripture : engaging contemporary issues, by N.T. Wright.
Chapter headings from this popular author include Do we need a historical Adam? —Can a scientist believe in the Resurrection? —The biblical case for ordaining women —How the Bible reads the modern world —Our politics are too small —Becoming people of hope. Each question is examined with compassionate and serious biblical interpretation in looking a modern concerns through a fresh looking glass. A welcome addition to the debate on current issues.
Syndetics book cover Can we save the Catholic Church? by Hans Küng.
The German Swiss priest and theologian describes the Roman Catholic Church as gravely ill –suffering from a centralized, hierarchical structure of authority and imperialism, with power entrenched in the pope and bureaucracy. He urges restoration by reviving the faith and priorities of early Christianity.
Syndetics book cover Hitchens vs. Blair : be it resolved religion is a force for good in the world : the Munk debates, edited by Rudyard Griffiths.
Atheist Christopher Hitchens goes head-to-head with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the highly charged topic of religion. Here they ponder: How does faith influence our actions? What is the role of people of faith in the public sphere? Is religious doctrine rigid, or should we allow for flexible interpretations? Hitchens vs. Blair represents two formidable minds in a great debate.
Syndetics book cover Mandala sourcebook : 150 mandalas to help you find peace, awareness and well-being, by David Fontana &Lisa Tenzin-Dolma.
Each of the 150 mandalas is accompanied by a guided meditation which details the symbolism which underpins the design. No expert knowledge or faith base is required –they are suitable for anyone wishing to meditate for the first time. The book is divided into five distinct sections: Introduction to Mandalas;Toward Awareness;Natural Mandalas;Myth, Symbol and Cosmos;and Healing Mandalas. Some are drawn from traditional designs while others are drawn from architecture, mythology, or natural elements.

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History

Our history recent picks this month cover a broad range of topics, include the story of the archaeological find of the bones of Richard III in a car park (!) in Leicester. Plus, discover Andrew Robinson’s history of India —the world’s largest democracy —and read about a third of a million country women and the story of their lives in England during the Second World War. Have a browse, and enjoy!

Syndetics book cover Digging for Richard III : how archaeology found the king / Mike Pitts.
“The events of Richard IIIs reign and his death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth are known worldwide through Shakespeares most performed, filmed and translated history play. Digging for Richard III is the page-turning story of how his grave was found, the people behind the discovery and what it tells us. It is the first complete narrative of a project that blended passion, science, luck and detection. Told by a noted archaeologist with access to all the parties involved, it follows the quest from an idea born in an Edinburgh bookshop to the day, fourteen years later, when two archaeologists carefully raised the bones from a car park in Leicester, and the scientific studies that resulted. The vivid tale of a king, his demise and now his rediscovery, this is also an insiders gripping account of how modern archaeology really works, of how clues meticulously assembled and forensically examined are pieced together to create a narrative worthy of the finest detective fiction.” (Amazon.co.uk)
Syndetics book cover Jambusters : the story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War / Julie Summers.
“The Second World War was the Women’s Institute’s finest hour. The whole of its previous history –two decades of educating, entertaining and supporting women and campaigning on women’s issues –culminated in the enormous collective responsibility felt by the members to ‘do their bit’ for Britain. With all the vigour, energy and enthusiasm at their disposal, a third of a million country women set out to make their lives and the lives of those around them more bearable in what they described as ‘a period of insanity’. Jambusters tells the story of the minute and idiosyncratic details of everyday life during the Second World War. Making jam, making do and mending, gathering rosehips, keeping pigs and rabbits, housing evacuees, setting up canteens for the troops, knitting, singing and campaigning for a better Britain after the war: all these activities played a crucial role in war time.” (Library Catalogue)
Syndetics book cover Ko te whenua te utu=Land is the price : essays on Māori history, land and politics / M.P.K. Sorrenson.
“In this new book, Sorrenson brings together his major writing from the last 56 years into a powerful whole –covering topics from the origins of Māori (and Pākehā ideas about those origins), through land purchases and the King Movement of the nineteenth century, and on to twentieth-century politics and the new history of the Waitangi Tribunal. Throughout his career, Sorrenson has been concerned with the international context for New Zealand history while also attempting to understand and explain Māori conceptions and Pākehā ideas from the inside. And he has been determined to tell the real story of Maori losses of land and their political responses as, in the face of Pakeha colonisation, they became a minority in their own country. Ko te Whenua te Utu / Land is the Price is a powerful history of Māori and Pākehā in New Zealand” (Library Catalogue)
Syndetics book cover India : a short history / Andrew Robinson.
“In ten incisive chapters Andrew Robinson provides a clear focus to each segment of the unfolding story of Indian history, from the remarkable cities of the Indus Valley civilization four millennia ago to the Hindu dynasties, from the Mughal Empire to the British Raj, and from Indian independence to the nations emergence as the worlds largest democracy and one of its fastest growing economies in the modern era.” (Amazon.co.uk)

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Science

Here a few of the pulchritudinous new science books that have filtered their way over my desk in the last month.

Syndetics book cover Physics in minutes / Giles Sparrow ;consultant, David W. Hughes.
“‘Physics in Minutes’ covers everything you need to know about physics, condensed into 200 key topics. Each idea is explained in clear, accessible language, building from the basics, such as mechanics, waves and particles, to more complex topics, including neutrinos, string theory and dark matter. Based on scientific research proving that the brain best absorbs information visually, illustrations accompany the text to aid quick comprehension and easy recollection. This convenient and compact reference book is ideal for anyone interested in how our world works.” (Library Catalogue)
Syndetics book cover Scatter, adapt, and remember : how humans will survive a mass extinction / Annalee Newitz.
“”Earth has been many different planets with dramatically different climates and ecosystems,” says Newitz, journalist and founding editor of io9.com. Finding a common ground between climate change arguments Newitz found a thread of hope while researching mass extinctions: that life has survived at least six such events thus far. Without addressing the cause of the current shift, she cites data that indicates we may already be in the midst of another period of mass extinction. Guiding readers through the science of previous mass extinctions, Newitz summarizes the characteristics that enabled species to survive: variable diet and habitat, and ability to learn from the past. “The urge to survive, not just as individuals but as a society and an ecosystem, is built into us as deeply as greed and cynicism are.” She reviews theories of how Homo sapiens survived while Neanderthals did not, discusses how science may one day enable a disaster-proof city, and advocates geoengineering and research for eventual moves to other planets. “We’ll strike out into space…. And eventually we’ll evolve into beings suited to our new habitats among the stars.” Newitz voice is fervent and earnest, and despite her gloomy topic, she leaves readers with hope for a long future.” (Publisher Weekly)

Books:

Syndetics book cover Ice, mice and men : the issues facing our far south / Geoff Simmons and Gareth Morgan with John McCrystal.
“Our far south is packed with history and wildlife, and is renowned for its breathtaking and photogenic beauty. But does our appreciation of the region run more than skin deep? Do Kiwis really understand how important the region is and what issues are facing it? In February 2012, Gareth Morgan trapped ten of New Zealand’s top experts on the region in a boat with 40 ordinary Kiwis for a month. Together with Geoff Simmons, he grilled them about the issues facing the region and this book is the result. What they found was startling. Our Far South –that part of New Zealand that extends from Stewart Island almost without interruption to the South Pole –harbours precious wildlife and is the engine room of the world’s oceans and climate. We are blessed to live in this unique part of the world, but we also have a huge responsibility to look after it. This book looks at the three ways we risk inflicting long-term, even permanent harm, on this precious and fragile region. The race to exploit resources has been underway for three centuries, and may be poised to escalate. Pressure from human activity may be threatening biodiversity and even the survival of species. And looming ever larger is the threat of climate change. Damage done to our far south will have profound implications, both for New Zealand and right across the globe.” (Cover)
Syndetics book cover The Goldilocks planet : the four billion year story of Earth’s climate / Jan Zalasiewicz &Mark Williams.
“The climate change debate has long been dominated by climatologists, politicians, and economists, but the contributions of geologists to an understanding of this issue have been underreported. In The Goldilocks Planet, geologists Zalasiewicz and Williams (both, Univ. of Leicester, UK) synthesize a vast body of work on paleoenvironmental reconstruction and paleoclimate through geologic time. They identify the greenhouse and icehouse episodes from the Archaean eon to the present and explain how these conditions waxed and waned. The authors concentrate on the warming and cooling episodes from the Pliocene period (prior to the Pleistocene glaciations) to date and use substantial and diverse recent research findings. The Earth is now thought to be headed to that Pliocene warming benchmark. Zalasiewicz and Williams provide simple explanations of the astronomical, geological, chemical, and geographic factors that weave into the natural greenhouse and icehouse episodes. This scholarly book is well written and documented, and the authors make good use of analogies to convey the scale and importance of the processes at work. Along the way, readers also learn about the scientists in many fields who have contributed to the development of these ideas.” (CHOICE)

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Ideas and Society Newsletter May

Library News

Literature

Bird By Bird is is a lovely little book which offers coping mechanisms for those overwhelmed by either life or literary endeavours. The advice for both situations is ” just take it one step at a time” and “never give up.”A landmark event this month is another book by beloved author Frances Mayes of Under The Tuscan Sun fame. In Under Magnolia she tells of her rather rollicking upbringing in the American South. Happy reading!

Syndetics book coverBird by bird : some instructions on writing and life / Anne Lamott.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverUnder magnolia : a southern memoir / Frances Mayes.
“Mayes, adored for her famed Tuscany books (Under the Tuscan Sun, 1996; Every Day in Tuscany, 2010), mined the murky depths of her family’s history for her first novel, Swan (2002). She now returns to the scene of the crimes in both literal and figurative senses. Her southern memoir is a tale straight out of Faulkner, rife with episodes of dissipation and disillusion, parents who loved and fought with equally wild abandon, and ancestors with names like Big Mama and Daddy Jack.” (Abridged summary from Booklist).

Syndetics book coverWhat makes this book so great / Jo Walton.
“Offers a selection of the best of author’s musings about her prodigious reading habit. This title includes his many subjects that range from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. It offers a collection of opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.” (Wellington City Libraries catalogue note)

Syndetics book coverOpened ground : selected poems, 1966-1996 / Seamus Heaney.Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996
“As selected by the author, Opened Ground includes the essential work from Heaney’s twelve previous books of poetry, as well as new sequences drawn from two of his landmark translations, The Cure at Troy and Sweeney Astray, and several previously uncollected poems. Heaney’s voice is like no other–”by turns mythological and journalistic, rural and sophisticated, reminiscent and impatient, stern and yielding, curt and expansive.” (Helen Vendler, The New Yorker).” (Abridged Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

Lots of very serious issues this month, include history, economy, and how to become the best grandparent.

Syndetics book coverThe sixty minute grandparent : becoming the best grandparent you can be / Rob Parsons.
“There are all kinds of grandparents – super-involved, tired-out, ready to help or stressed and over-busy. But whether you live close by or halfway round the world, every grandparent has a vital role. In just one hour Rob Parsons will help you towards fulfilling your goal: to be the best grandparent you can possibly be.” (Book jacket)

Syndetics book coverFor the benefit of those who see : dispatches from the world of the blind / Rosemary Mahoney.
“Like many sighted people, Mahoney… dreaded the idea of going blind and felt uncomfortable around blind people. A magazine assignment sent her to visit Braille Without Borders, Tibet’s first educational institution for the blind, and its founder, blind German educator Sabriye Tenberken. Mahoney’s encounters with Tenberken and her resilient students inspired her to take a teaching position at Tenberken’s International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs (IISE) in Kerala, India, which trains and empowers visually impaired adults. Here she surveys the history of blind education and the surprising, upsetting results of vision restoration surgery but also focuses on the Tibetan children and the IISE students from lands as diverse as Liberia, Japan, and Norway.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverContest of the century : the new era of competition with China / Geoff Dyer.
“By sea and on the airwaves, by dollar and yuan, a contest has begun that will shape the next century. China’s rise has now entered a critical new phase, as it begins to translate its considerable economic heft into a bigger role on the world stage, challenging America’s recent supremacy. With its new navy, China is trying to ease the US out of Asia and re-assert its traditional leadership in the region. Beijing plans to turn the renminbi into the main international currency, toppling the dominance of the US dollar. And by investing billions to send its media companies overseas, it aims to contest Western values and shift the global debate about democracy and human rights. If globalisation has been the driving force of the past few decades, Geoff Dyer argues that a more traditional great power-style competition between the US and China will dominate this century. Yet he also shows why China may struggle to unseat the West – its ambitious designs are provoking intense anxiety, especially in Asia, while America’s global alliances have deep roots.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNazis, Islamists, and the making of the modern Middle East / Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz.
“During the 1930s and 1940s, a unique and lasting political alliance was forged among Third Reich leaders, Arab nationalists, and Muslim religious authorities. From this relationship sprang a series of dramatic events that, despite their profound impact on the course of World War II, remained secret until now. In this groundbreaking book, esteemed Middle East scholars Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz uncover for the first time the complete story of this dangerous alliance and explore its continuing impact on Arab politics in the twenty-first century.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

A welcome addition to the catalogue is the latest book by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh on fear.

Syndetics book coverFear : essential wisdom for getting through the storm, by Thich Nhat Hanh.
“Fear has countless faces: from the fear of failure to worries about everyday life, from financial or environmental uncertainties to the universal despair we all experience when faced by the loss of a friend or loved one. Even when surrounded by all the conditions for happiness, life can feel incomplete when fear keeps us focused on the past and worried about the future. While we all experience fear, it is possible to learn how to avoid having our lives shaped and driven by it. In these pages, Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a timeless path for living fearlessly.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverIntergenerational Christian formation : bringing the whole church together in ministry, community and worship, by Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross.
Although some practical issues are covered, for the most part this is not a how-to manual. Topics covered the Benefits of intergenerationality; Feasts, Jehoshaphat and house churches : biblical foundations; Becoming Christian in community ; Millennials, Xers, Boomers and Silents : generational theory ; Intergenerational learning experiences ; Intergenerationality and story sharing ; Intergenerationality in small groups, multicultural and megachurches.

Syndetics book coverThe age of atheists : how we have sought to live since the death of God, by Peter Watson.
“In his 14th book, British journalist and historian Watson (The Great Divide) turns his estimable intellectual skills on the history of non-belief – which he calls “a major plank of modernity” -beginning with Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1882 declaration that “God is dead.” While this ground is well-trodden, Watson takes an intriguing course: he charts it by genre. Particularly fascinating are passages about non-belief’s impact on the arts.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverReligion 101 : from Allah to Zen Buddhism : an exploration of the key people, practices, and beliefs that have shaped the religions of the world, by Peter Archer, MA, MLitt.
“Written in easy-to-understand language, Religion 101 offers a fascinating – and memorable – glimpse at the sacred stories, traditions, and doctrines that have influenced today’s most popular religions. From Jesus and the Four Noble Truths to the Buddhist Wheel of Existence, this book provides you with thought-provoking insight into the customs and beliefs of common faiths like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. So whether you’re looking to unravel the mysteries of existence and meaning, or just want to find out what Kabbalah is all about, Religion 101 has all the answers – even the ones you didn’t know you were looking for.” (Page 4 of cover)

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Science

Here are some of the latest science goodies that have come across my desk in the last month or so.

Syndetics book coverThe story of physics : from natural philosophy to the enigma of dark matter / Anne Rooney.
“The Story of Physics traces the development of physics from the natural philosophers of the ancient world to cutting-edge experiments in quantum mechanics Also features the giants of science history, from Archimedes through Newton and Galileo to Curie, Einstein and Hawking.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverSpeed : how to make things go really fast / Guy Martin.
“How far can Guy Martin travel on a bicycle, in a human powered aircraft, on a hydroplaning motorbike or in a supersled? How will Guy Martin complete these four dangerous, adrenaline-fuelled speed challenges in record time?” (Cover)

Syndetics book coverThe monkey’s voyage : how improbable journeys shaped the history of life / Alan de Queiroz.
“Biogeography, the study of the geographical distribution of living things, has been of interest since at least the time of the Greeks. In his entertaining and enlightening book, evolutionary biologist de Queiroz demonstrates that despite this longstanding interest in the subject, the discipline has resisted an organizing paradigm. De Queiroz comprehensively describes the shift, beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, from Darwin’s belief that long-distance dispersal was the dominant explanation for biogeographic patterns to the rise of those promoting vicariance-the belief that environmental fragmentation is responsible for observed patterns-and back again to promoting long distance dispersal. He cogently describes the science underlying these ideas, the nature of continental drift, the complexity of molecular clocks, and the mathematics of cladistics, explaining why he believes the only reasonable interpretation for current data is an acceptance of rare, long-distance dispersal events that can only be called “mysterious” and “miraculous,” including the book’s eponymous monkeys accidentally crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Beyond the actual science, de Queiroz brings insight into the nature of scientific discourse itself.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverVolcanoes of the south wind : a volcanic guide to Tongariro National Park / Karen Williams.
“A comprehensive field guide to the remarkable landscape of this dual World Heritage site. With photographs and diagrams, it tells the turbulent story of a volcanic complex that continues to make headlines. It explains the incredible forces that shape and mould the landscape, and where on the park’s walks and tracks you can see them.” (Back cover)

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Ideas and Society April 2014

Welcome to this April’s newsletter.

Library News

Literature

Liz Williams discusses the history of letter-writing, the great letter-writers (such as Byron) and gives us the encouraging news that letter-writing is enjoying a resurgence. (If you like the sound of this book you might also like Faded Glamour and Gracious Spaces). Also featured this month two authoritative books on Shakespeare; one on C.S. Lewis; Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance” is revisited.

Syndetics book coverKind regards : the lost art of letter-writing / Liz Williams.
“All the signs show that the worthy art of letter writing is in decline. In Kind Regards, Liz Williams explores the popular history of letter-writing and how it has shaped the world today – from the early Greek philosophers, to the great letter writers Byron and Walpole and famous letters that changed the world. It also covers the invention of the fountain pen and the growth of the mail delivery system. This is the fascinating story of how a simple piece of paper revolutionized global communication and how, despite the ever-growing influence of technology, handwritten letters are regaining their value, meaning and popularity.” (Summary from amazon.co.uk).

Syndetics book coverLiving with Shakespeare : essays by writers, actors, and directors / edited by Susannah Carson ; foreword by Harold Bloom.
“Why Shakespeare? What explains our continued fascination with his poems and plays? In Living with Shakespeare, Susannah Carson invites forty actors, directors, scholars, and writers to reflect on why his work is still such a vital part of our culture. We hear from James Earl Jones on reclaiming Othello as a tragic hero, Julie Taymor on turning Prospero into Prospera, Camille Paglia on teaching the plays to actors, F. Murray Abraham on gaining an audience’s sympathy for Shylock, Sir Ben Kingsley on communicating Shakespeare’s ideas through performance, Germaine Greer on the playwright’s home life, Dame Harriet Walter on the complexity of his heroines, Brian Cox on social conflict in his time and ours, Jane Smiley on transposing King Lear to Iowa in A Thousand Acres, and Sir Antony Sher on feeling at home in Shakespeare’s language. Together these essays provide a fresh appreciation of Shakespeare’s works as a living legacy to be read, seen, performed, adapted, revised, wrestled with, and embraced by creative professionals and lay enthusiasts alike.” (Abridged summary from Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverPlaying Shakespeare / John Barton ; with a foreword by Trevor Nunn.
“John Barton is Advisory Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company and has directed some of the greatest Shakespeare productions of our time. His book, “Playing Shakespeare,” is a transcript of his televised workshops with some of our finest Shakespearean actors. This new edition contains a DVDwith 80 minutes of video featuring John Barton in conversation with Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Jane Lapotaire discussing changes in approaches to Shakespeare’s text since the book first published. (Abridged Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow to be a heroine : or, what I’ve learned from reading too much / Samantha Ellis.
“Any woman with a remotely bookish childhood will find great pleasure in How to be a Heroine… like Ellis, I find it reassuring that Lizzy Bennet can admit that she was wrong about Darcy, have used Scarlett’s indomitable mantra in times of adversity, and have every sympathy with the women who keep their bank accounts separate as in Lace.” (Summary from Books In Print) Published: January 2014

Syndetics book coverThe A-Z of C.S. Lewis : an encyclopedia of his life, thought, and writings / Colin Duriez.
“This fascinating volume brings together all the aspects of C S Lewis’ life and thought. It will delight anyone who is interested in C S Lewis and wants to learn more about him. Arranged in alphabetical order The A-Z of C S Lewis begins withThe Abolition of Man – a book written in 1943 and described by Lewis as “almost my favourite” – to Wormwood, a character inThe Screwtape Letters. Lewis’ work is widely known and regarded, but enthusiasts are often only aware of one small part – his children’s stories and his popular theology – and yet he wrote so much more, including science fiction and literary criticism.” (Summary from Books In Print)

Popular Non-Fiction

From Marxism to miners to Minecraft, a very eclectic range of books for you to enjoy this April.

Syndetics book coverIntroducing Marxism / Rupert Woodfin & Oscar Zarate.
Introducing Marxism provides a fundamental account of Karl Marx’s original philosophy, its roots in 19th century European ideology, his radical economic and social criticism of capitalism that inspired vast 20th century revolutions. Rupert Woodfin and Oscar Zarate’s brilliant graphic guide explores the life, history, philosophy and politics of this most divisive of thinkers, and argues that Marxism remains a powerful set of ideas even today.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThree mothers (and a camel) : Notes to my mother-in-law, and, How many camels are there in Holland? / Phyllida Law.
“The omnibus edition of Notes to my Mother-in-Law and How Many Camels Are There in Holland? Phyllida Law’s mother-in-law Annie was her family’s lynchpin, so when they realised she was growing ever more deaf the only solution was to note down all the gossip for her to read. When her own mother Margo – always deliciously dotty – was diagnosed with dementia, Phyllida took over her care too, always on hand to prepare a medicinal G&T. And all the while Phyllida had to manage her busy acting career and figure out how to be the best mother to her own daughters, the actresses Emma and Sophie Thompson.” (Book jacket)

Syndetics book coverOverwhelmed : work, love, and play when no one has the time / Brigid Schulte.
“Journalist Schulte manages to take a fairly pedestrian topic, the value of leisure in modern American society, and turn it into a compelling narrative on work, play, and personal achievement. Liberally peppered with her own experiences as a wife, mother, and Washington Post reporter, this artful blend of memoir and cultural exploration asks hard questions about how to create a well-lived life. Is leisure a waste of time, or the only time to live fully present? Are we more concerned about a purpose-driven experience, or bogged down in banal busyness? Schulte, juggling the demands of children and work while facing conflicts with her spouse over familial responsibilities, realizes that she is mired in busyness… Schulte follows every lead to uncover why Americans are so determined to exhaust themselves for work and what has been lost in the process.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA year with Minecraft : behind the scenes at Mojang / Thomas Arnroth.
“With over 33 million units sold since 2011, Minecraft has also become a tool for education all the way from U.S. to Kuwait, while the United Nations uses it to change slums in the world’s poorest megacities. In just three years, Persson emerged from total obscurity to fame and incredible wealth, as he and his team at Mojang have changed the indie game scene and how the gaming industry works. With a fresh, interesting and personal view on how Mojang works, this book is a smart read both for the fan, the gamer, and anyone who wants to understand the phenomenon of Minecraft and how it’s changing the world.” (Syndetics summary)

Religion & Beliefs

Is the universe specifically designed to make life possible? How do you create a personal religion? Explore the answers to these questions in the latest religion books.

Syndetics book coverA religion of one’s own : a guide to creating a personal spirituality in a secular world, by Thomas Moore.
Another title from the author who penned Care of the Soul – a classic spiritual text. This latest volume continues to bring together religion and psychology, and encourages readers to cultivate their own spirituality. Moore’s own spirituality is Catholic, and he counsels paying attention to your dreams and intuitions to foster creativity. “This book should appeal to many of the unchurched, as well as the faithful across traditions.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverMy name used to be Muhammad : the true story of a Muslim who became a Christian, by Tito Momen with Jeff Benedict.
Tito Momen (Muhammad Momen) was raised as a strict Muslim. Every morning he attended the mosque and prayed with the other men in his Nigerian village, and even began copying the entire Qur’an word for word. However, his path took an expected turn when he was introduced to Jesus Christ. His decision cost him his family and his freedom, and for 15 years he endured a life sentence in an Egyptian prison. “Tito said, “I never gave up hope. I never stopped believing.” Although he was falsely imprisoned, beaten, and ridiculed, Tito’s remarkable true story is one of faith, and forgiveness.” (adapted from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverBig bang big God : a universe designed for life? by Rodney D. Holder.“Is the universe specifically designed to make life possible? How did the universe begin and how has it evolved? Does a scientific explanation mean that we can do without God? … Can the existence of a multiverse, a vast or infinite collection of universes, explain the specialness of this universe? This book argues that only God provides an explanation for the universe to exist at all, and that design by God provides the best and most rational explanation to adopt for the fine-tuning.” (from the publisher’s description, Global books)

Syndetics book coverBig gods : how religion transformed cooperation and conflict / Ara Norenzayan.
“Why did Christianity and Islam flourish while other faiths faded into obscurity? What binds complex societies together and enables strangers to live cooperatively within them? Norenzayan, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, claims that these two questions answer each other. Religions that have omniscient “Big Gods” who monitor and punish adherents for moral transgressions gave rise to large-scale societies of strangers out of small groups of related hunter-gatherers. Ranging across quantitative studies, historical cross-cultural examples, theological texts, and the practices of believers, Norenzayan convincingly argues that religions with Big Gods are successful because they generate a sense of being watched and regulated, require extravagant displays of commitment that weed out religious impostors, and encourage solidarity and trust. While the author only briefly sketches why Big Gods incite war and violence, he speculates that we may be on the verge of cooperative societies without God. Prosperous and peaceful Scandinavian countries with a majority of atheists rely on secular institutions to enforce cooperation. They “climbed the ladder of religion, and then kicked it away,” he writes. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.” (Publisher Weekly)

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History

The history of New Zealand: The sheep, the pets, the music the aircraft, and the people.

Women of substance : the Otago women who wore “fabulous frocks” / Seán G. Brosnahan.
Syndetics book coverCreature comforts : New Zealanders & their pets : an illustrated history / Nancy Swarbrick.
“New Zealand has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world: more than half of all Kiwi households have a cat and nearly a third have a dog, while many have other pets. Yet, until now, no book has explored how pet ownership came to be such an integral part of the New Zealand way of life. Beautifully illustrated, with many previously unpublished historical images, Creature Comforts chronicles the major events and ideas that have shaped pet ownership in New Zealand. This fascinating and entertaining book explains the strong relationship New Zealanders have with their animal companions, and how this has changed over time. The book looks at the social impact of pet fanciers’ organizations, the moral influence of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and other animal welfare groups, the educational role of calf clubs, and the debates stirred up by animal rights movements.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverA passion for flight : New Zealand aviation before the Great War / Errol W. Martyn.
“Volplane Press in association with the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand is proud to announce publication of the first volume of Errol Martyn’s new trilogy – A Passion for Flight, a history of New Zealand aviation before the Great War of 1914-1918. This definitive work presents for the first time a detailed record of all known New Zealand-related aeronautical activity of the long-neglected pioneering period of 1868-1914. It includes eye-witness accounts and over 100 illustrations, many of which are published for the first time. All known patents, flying machines – designed, constructed or trialled – aerial events and the personnel involved are described in detail. (It is generally not realised that some 70 patents were applied for and more than 30 gliders or aeroplanes were completed or begun in New Zealand by 1914.)” (adapted from Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverBohemian journey : a musical heritage in colonial New Zealand / Roger Buckton.
“In 1863, settlers from Bohemia arrived in a densely forested and rugged valley in Puhoi, north of Auckland. Bohemian Journey traces their cultural heritage as it evolved in a new country amidst a dominant British culture, itself coming to terms with pioneering life. Isolated by geography and language, the Puhoi settlers’ heritage of music and dance helped them to celebrate their achievements as they broke in the land and built a thriving community.” (back cover)

Syndetics book coverLife changing : learning from the past, fixing the future / Alisdair Thompson.
“In Life changing, Alasdair Thompson outlines the events surrounding his sacking as chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, New Zealand’s largest business membership organisation, after twelve years of reorganisation and rebuilding the Association. He reveals his upbringing, the people and events that shaped him, his views on business, economics and public policy, and outlines a career in local government and in various local authorities and boards. We see the man behind the media target, and he shares his beliefs and values, his crises, as well as personal transformation and newfound faith and peace. Thompson’s was at the centre of a media maelstrom that led to his downfall. This book describes how he and his family coped with the aftermath and ultimately moved on, happier and stronger.” (Syndetics)

Science

Read the best Australian science writing, explore the universe and enjoy the fun science experiements.

Syndetics book coverTrespassing on Einstein’s lawn : a father, a daughter, the meaning of nothing, and the beginning of everything / Amanda Gefter.
“Opening with the author’s attempt to sneak herself and her father into a conference attended by the planet’s great scientific thinkers (including Brian Greene, Max Tegmark, and coiner of the term “black hole” John Wheeler), Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn takes readers on an exhilarating and memorable journey to the mysterious heart of the universe.” (Provided by publisher)

Syndetics book coverHow to build a hovercraft : air cannons, magnet motors, and 25 other amazing DIY science projects / Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe.
“From the Diet Coke and Mentos fountain makers who found initial fame via YouTube and the Maker Faire comes this collection of 25 awesome projects guaranteed to inspire a love of scientific experimentation. Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, also known as EepyBird, share some amazing DIY projects: a Diet Coke and Mentos fountain of Bellagio proportions, a leaf blower hovercraft, a paper airplane that will fly forever, and many more. Each experiment features instructions that will take users from amateur to showman level–there’s something here for all skill levels–alongside illustrations, photographs, and carefully explained science. EepyBird’s 25 Amazing Science Projects includes everything needed to create an exciting and impressive scientific production!” (Library Catalogue)
Syndetics book coverFive billion years of solitude : the search for life among the stars / Lee Billings.
“Billings (contributor, Nature; Popular Mechanics, etc.) interviewed astronomers and geologists to compile this occasionally meandering overview of the still-evolving field of “exoplanetary” research (discovery and characterization of planets orbiting other stars). Early dreams that we would locate and visit intelligent, technologically sophisticated beings elsewhere in space have been tempered as declining governmental funding has restricted our planet hunting. Today’s astronomers are still intrigued by the possibility of discovering ever more exoplanets and by primitive nonterrestrial life forms but are far less optimistic about finding intelligent life or sending manned -spacecraft outside the solar system. While this book may dampen the dreams of young planet hunters and exobiologists, the scientists featured still offer the hope that a combination of commercially viable unmanned spaceflight, public outreach by astronomers, and effective lobbying for improved research funding could expand our capacities to find new, somehow inhabited worlds beyond our own. VERDICT Complementary to Michael D. Lemonick’s more optimistic Mirror Earth: The Search for Our Planet’s Twin and less technical than Ray Jayawardhana’s Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System, this work will appeal to amateur astronomers and geologists as well as to general science buffs.” (Abridged from Library Journal)
Syndetics book coverThe best Australian science writing 2013 / edited by Jane McCredie and Natasha Mitchell.
“The Best Australian Science Writing 2013 brings together great writing about life and the universe, including contributions from poets and psychologists, comedians and climate commentators, neuroscientists and novelists, star-gazers and science journalists.” (Library catalogue)

Ideas and Society February 2014

Library News

Literature

The connection between alcohol and creativity has long been documented. In The trip to Echo Spring British writer Olivia Laing examines its pivotal place in the lives of six well-known American scribes. It now seems they have an excuse – the pressures of the writing life can be very extreme. However the real charm of this book is in its description of the American landscape as the author travels around that country researching her subjects. W.H. Auden was very partial to a strong aperitif as well – and he famously kept a bottle of vodka at his bedside in case he couldn’t sleep. But he was still able to write wonderful poetry. This month Alexander McCall Smith, who has often used Auden’s lines in his own work, explains his affecton and esteem for him.

This is a very good month for literature. Interesting new books examine the relationship enjoyed by noted British writers with the mysterious East and the strong connection between the English rectory and writing. The classics are not neglected, the poet Horace has his day in the sun, and we have a selection of the usual how-to books. Enjoy !!

Syndetics book coverMaeve’s times : selected Irish Times writings / Maeve Binchy ; edited by Róisín Ingle
“As someone who fell off a chair not long ago trying to hear what they were saying at the next table in a restaurant, I suppose I am obsessively interested in what some might consider the trivia of other peoples lives, Maeve Binchy is well-known for her bestselling novels the most recent of which was A Week In Winter. But for many years Maeve was a journalist, writing for The Irish Times. From The Student Train to Plane Bores, Bathroom Joggers to When Beckett Met Binchy, these articles have all the warmth, wit and humanity of her fiction. Arranged in decades, from the 1960s to the 2000s, and including Maeve’s first and last ever piece of writing for The Irish Times, the columns also give a fascinating insight into the author herself. With an introduction written by her husband, the writer Gordon Snell, this collection of timeless writing reminds us of why the leading Irish writer was so universally loved.” (Sue)
Published: September 2013.

Syndetics book coverThe trip to Echo Spring : why writers drink / Olivia Laing.
“[This book] examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. This title strips away the myth of the alcoholic writer to reveal the terrible price creativity can exert.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverRomancing the East : a literary odyssey from the heart of darkness to the River Kwai / Jerry Hopkins.
“From the time of Marco Polo’s trek across the Central Asian desert to the empire of the mighty Kahn, no other place on earth, not the languid South Pacific or even deepest, darkest Africa has so challenged and enchanted the Western imagination as have the fabled lands of the East! However soaked in blood its history and no matter how unsettling its social conditions and poverty, Asia has never lost its irresistible attraction or mystic. It has long been an inspiration for Western novelists, so much so that more than 5000 novels have been set in Asia in the English language alone.” (Publisher’s website)

Syndetics book coverWalking in the shade : volume two of my autobiography, 1949-1962 / Doris Lessing.Walking in the Shade: My Autobiography, 1949-1962
“More casually written and organized than the superb Under My Skin, this second volume of Lessing’s memoirs contains acute, brutally frank comments on topics from book publishing to left-wing activism. She opens with her arrival in London four years after the end of WWII. A 30-year-old single mother with a two-year-old son, Lessing left Southern Rhodesia in search of a place and a means to write freely. Chapters are named for the locations in which she lived‘ (Denbigh Road, Church Street, Warwick Road, Langham Street‘) and her narrative is similarly episodic. She covers her love affairs, years of psychotherapy, her increasingly disenchanted involvement with the Communist Party, the books she was writing, though she also interpolates musings.” (Publisher Weekly)

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Popular Non-Fiction

See the world differently with these non-fiction books. And find out the origin of the Yeti, Nessie and other cryptids.

Syndetics book coverConstable Colgan’s connectoscope / Stevyn Colgan.
“Everything is connected. There is a connection between Buffalo Bill and Les Miserables. Chess has a connection with H. G. Wells’s martians… if you know how to look. The trainers on your feet can be connected to the Greek goddess of victory, who is connected to an ingredient used in making Absinthe, which is connected to the voice of Dangermouse’s assistant Penfold, who is… Stevyn Colgan takes you on a series of circular journeys through a world of connections embracing science, art, history and popular culture.” (Book jacket)

Syndetics book cover50 ethics ideas you really need to know / Ben Dupré.
“Questions of ethics – about how we should act, our responsibilities to one another, the difference between right and wrong – have long been debated by philosophers the world over and form the foundations of government, culture and religion. Here, in concise, easy-to-read chapters, Ben Dupre explains the fundamentals of this discipline and how it is relevant to our lives today. Covering essential ethical concepts, including relativism, the golden rule and utilitarianism, as well as high-profile issues such as terrorism, censorship and the death penalty, 50 Ethics Ideas You Really Need to Know will lead you through the moral maze – and rattle your conscience in the process.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAbominable science! : origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other famous cryptids / Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero.
“Loxton (staff writer, Skeptic magazine) and Prothero (research associate, vertebrate paleontology, Los Angeles Cty. Natural History Museum; Catastrophes! Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters) present the stories behind five notable cryptids, or creatures proposed as existing but not accepted by scientists: Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, sea serpents, and Mokele-Mbembe (the Congo “dinosaur”). The authors carefully explain how most, if not all, of the “evidence” supplied in support of these creatures consists of hoaxes and specious arguments. Sightings are often unverifiable or turn out to be misidentifications of something unremarkable, such as a tree stump. Physical proof, in the form of a specimen or a fossil, is never available; the authors logically and persuasively explain why it is unlikely ever to be found.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover1963, the year of the revolution : how youth changed the world with music, art, and fashion / [compiled by] Robin Morgan and Ariel Leve.
“An oral history of the year 1963, recounting the kinetic story of the twelve months that witnessed a demographic power shift: the rise of the Youth Quake movement, a cultural transformation through music, fashion, politics, and the arts. For the first time in history, youth became a commercial and cultural force with the power to command the attention of government and religion and shape society. Some of the period’s most influential figures recall the incredible roller-coaster ride of those twelve months.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWalk in their shoes : can one person change the world? / Jim Ziolkowski, founder of buildOn with James S. Hirsch.
“Twenty-one years ago, Ziolkowski, then a student in the financial management program at GE Capital, was being groomed for a promising career, but after a backpacking trip in Nepal showed him how simple generosity could change the lives of the impoverished, he quit the course and founded the nonprofit buildOn, which brings education to inner-city teens, and transforms them into community service leaders in the U.S. and abroad. After struggling to secure funding and organize volunteers, Ziolkowski begins traveling the globe, documenting injustices in apartheid-era South Africa and among the street children of Brazil, while rallying the community to come together and build schools for their children. Ziolkowski balances sobering facts with an approachable writing style. His unflinching determination drove him to establish over 500 schools, turning buildOn from a nascent dream into a multimillion-dollar phenomenon. He believed that one person could indeed change the world, and his story may inspire others to do the same.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

Our first list of 2014 covers a wide spectrum, from angels to Asian religions, and authors from Jefferson Bethke (youtube poet) to TV presenter Joyce Meyer.

Syndetics book coverBeyond betrayal : trouble in the promised land – restoring the mission to Māori, by Keith Newman.
“After the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, a succession of governors resisted missionary advice, despite their local knowledge and peacemaking skills, and influenced a raft of misunderstandings that provoked violent outbreaks across the country. The rise of Māori prophetic movements, and an intense desire for Māori to have a unified political voice, saw allegiances split between those supporting the government and those frustrated at failed Treaty promises. The pressure to surrender tribal lands had the same impact – a shattered economy and a dispossessed people.” (Back cover) This follows on from the author’s Bible & Treaty : missionaries among the Māori, which the library also owns.

Syndetics book coverThe faithful scribe : a story of Islam, Pakistan, family and war, by Shahan Mufti.
Journalist Mufti, incorporates the stories of his family and ancestors into the larger story of Pakistan and America both before and after 9/11. He tells of his family’s experiences briefly living in Ohio before they moved back to Pakistan. “This astonishingly detailed, well-researched history is brought to life by the addition of Mufti’s personal story’ and journalistic acumen.” (Publisher Weekly, courtesy of syndetics)

Syndetics book coverAsian religions : a cultural perspective, by Randall L Nadeau.
“This all-embracing introduction to Asian religious practices and beliefs takes a unique approach; not only does it provide a complete overview of the basic tenets of the major Asian religions, but it also demonstrates how Asian spiritualities are lived and practiced, exploring the meaning and significance they hold for believers. In a series of engaging and lively chapters, the book explores the beliefs and practices of Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Japanese religions, including Shinto. Using a comparative approach, it highlights the contrasts between Asian and Western modes of thinking and living, and debates the influence of religion on real-world issues including work, economic growth, the environment, human rights, and gender relations.” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverGod is not mad at you : you can experience real love, acceptance & guilt-free living, by Joyce Meyer.
“Another title from one of the world’s leading practical Bible teachers. She teaches on a number of topics with a particular focus on the mind, mouth, moods and attitudes. Her candid communication style allows her to share openly and practically about her experiences so others can apply what she has learned to their lives. Joyce has written nearly 100 books, which have been translated into 100 languages.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverJesus > religion : why He is so much better than trying harder, doing more, and being good enough, by Jefferson Bethke.
“This book is based on material similar to his highly successful youtube video Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus which has been viewed over 26 million times. Told through the lens of his own life story, which is far from perfect, his aim is to shine the spotlight on Jesus and separate Him from church culture. His message is accessible : old truth but in modern language e.g. We’ve never said the f- word out loud, but not supported our local homeless community either. A challenge to any wanting to live lives consistent with their beliefs.” (Library Catalogue)

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History

These new books feathers New Zealand history of: hunting with helicopters, lost gold and lost heritage in forgotten landmarks, unique motorbike collections, and the first New Zealand craft beer.

Syndetics book coverInjun Joe : the legend of Smoking Joe Collins / Marion Day.
“This is the life story of Injun Joe, born Wellwyn Harris Collins in 1950. Joe became well known as an elite hunter-helicopter pilot, one of New Zealand’s most dangerous occupations of the time, in what is now known as The Last Great Adventure.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverNew Zealand’s lost heritage : the stories behind our forgotten landmarks / Richard Wolfe.
“Features 20 notable structures which, for various reasons, no longer exist. Most of the buildings have been demolished in the name of urban development, creating controversy. Each building is discussed and illustrated including the circumstances of its demise. The selection includes: Ruapekapeka Pa in Northland (burned down deliberately), Admiralty House in Auckland (demolished to make way for new roads) Wellington’s Parliament Buildings (accidental fire) Invercargill’s Seacliff Asylum (fire), TJ Edmonds landmark factory (bulldozed). What emerges is a fascinating social and historical narrative that sheds light on parts of New Zealand’s cultural history and reveals the truth of the old adage that history repeats.” (Publisher information)

Syndetics book coverKiwi bike culture : unique motorbike collections / Steve Holmes.
“Delves into the love affair New Zealanders have with their motorbikes. From Harley-Davidsons to Vespas, and everything in between, this book is about the men and women whose lives revolve, in some way, around two-wheeled machinery.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverThe McCashin’s story and the Kiwi brewing revolution it sparked / John McCrystal & Simon Farrell-Green.
“The craft beer industry is one of New Zealand’s local business success stories, and it’s thriving. It all began with Terry McCashin establishing Mac’s Ale back in the 1980s. This book tells the story of the entrepreneurial McCashin family and the challenges they’ve faced over the years. They’re now rebuilding their brand with new beers such as Stoke, and a highly successful range of ciders. It also includes general craft beer information such as: What makes a craft beer; how beer gets made; a day in the life of McCashins; how to drink beer; what sort of glass to use; what different styles mean; the difference between an ale and a lager. Plus: Nelson: The craft beer capital. What has made Nelson such an extraordinary place for craft beer? The book includes short profiles on each of the breweries, pubs and cafes on the trail and the remarkable story of New Zealand hops and how they’ve supported Nelson and New Zealand’s craft beer revolution.” (Adapted from publisher information)

Syndetics book coverChanging times : New Zealand since 1945 / Jenny Carlyon & Diana Morrow.
“Pirate radio in the Hauraki Gulf and the first DC8 jets landing at Māngere; feminists liberating pubs and protests over the closing of Post Offices; kōhanga reo and carless days: Changing Times is a history of New Zealand since 1945. From a post-war society famous around the world for its dull conformity, this country has become one of the most ethnically, economically and socially diverse countries on earth. But how did we get from Nagasaki to nuclear-free? What made us embrace small-state, free-market ideology with such passion? And were we really leaving behind a society known for its fretful sleepers and ‘the worship of averages’? In Changing Times, Jennifer Carlyon and Diana Morrow answer those questions, taking us from the ‘Golden Weather’ of post-war economic growth, through the globalisation, economic challenges and protest of the 1960s and 1970s, and on to the free market revolution and new immigrants of the 1980s and 1990s. Throughout, stories from the lives of New Zealanders are key: a tank driver yelling in his sleep after World War II, a woman in the Wairarapa discovering The Feminine Mystique, a Tapawera forestry worker losing his job. This is a powerful history of the transformation of New Zealand life.” (Syndetics)

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Science

Australian scientist Dr Karl divulges why the left side of your face is the most attractive, why we drink beer faster when it is served in a curved glass, and why psychopaths make good kings. Also read the true tales of walking sea creatures, gaia hypothesis, and the math of life.

Syndetics book coverGame of knowns : science is coming… / Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.
“The inimitable Dr Karl reigns once more in his Dynasty of 34 Science Books with scintillating science scenarios, techie tales and tasty morsels to sate even the most haemoglobin-thirsty of his army of followers. In Game of Knowns, he divulges why psychopaths make good kings, how smartphones dumb down our conversations, why the left side of your face is the most attractive, how the female worker bee gets a raw deal and why we drink beer faster when it is served in a curved glass. He discloses the amazing opportunities that 3D Printing will bring, the magic of hoverboards, solemnly shares why dark matter matters, and spills the scientific basis of wealth distribution. Thereby Science is decreed to be the only true ruler of the kingdom, and there is none better to claim the Throne than Australia’s most trusted and knowledge-thirsty scientist – Dr Karl.” (Book cover)

Syndetics book coverThe shark that walks on land — and other strange but true tales of mysterious sea creatures / Michael Bright.
“This title uncovers tales of ancient and modern mariners, with stories of sea serpents, mermaids and mermen, sea dragons, and the true identity of the legendary kraken. But this is more than a showcase for mystery beasts for marine biologists from all over the world, the modern mythbusters are finding all manner of unusual animals, many new to science.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe Gaia hypothesis : science on a pagan planet / Michael Ruse.
“In 1965 English scientist James Lovelock had a flash of insight: the Earth is not just teeming with life; the Earth, in some sense, is life. He mulled this revolutionary idea over for several years, first with his close friend the novelist William Golding, and then in an extensive collaboration with the American scientist Lynn Margulis. In the early 1970s, he finally went public with the Gaia hypothesis, the idea that everything happens for an end: the good of planet Earth. Lovelock and Margulis were scorned by professional scientists, but the general public enthusiastically embraced Lovelock and his hypothesis. People joined Gaia groups; churches had Gaia services, sometimes with new music written especially for the occasion. There was a Gaia atlas, Gaia gardening, Gaia herbs, Gaia retreats, Gaia networking, and much more. And the range of enthusiasts was-and still is-broad. In The Gaia Hypothesis, philosopher Michael Ruse, with his characteristic clarity and wit, uses Gaia and its history, its supporters and detractors, to illuminate the nature of science itself.” (Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverThe accidental species : misunderstandings of human evolution / Henry Gee.
“Gee, paleontology editor at Nature, confronts two commonly held views of evolution and effectively demolishes both, persuasively arguing that evolution doesn’t work the way most people believe it does and that the entire concept of “human exceptionalism” (the idea that humans are fundamentally superior to other animals due to “language, technology, or consciousness”) is erroneous. By providing a cogent description of natural selection, he explains how evolutionary progress does not necessarily lead to increasingly complex organisms, and why it makes no sense to consider adaptation yielding an ideal fit between an organism and its environment. Building on this concept, Gee demonstrates that there is nothing about humans, from our bipedalism to our tool-making abilities, and from language to cognition, that definitively sets us apart from other species of animals. He buttresses these points with an impressive and accessible overview of the pattern of human evolution, showing just how little we actually know and arguing that different evolutionary stories could likely fit the extant data. Throughout, he explores how science simultaneously explains the unknown while raising new questions. Gee is also adamant that the process of evolution is the best explanation we have for the diversity of life, and he provides a scathing attack on creationists who have taken his words out of context and used them to support their own pseudoscientific claims.” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThinking in numbers : on life, love, meaning, and math / Daniel Tammet.
“*Starred Review* With these words from a fellow mathematician, There is nothing as dreamy and poetic, nothing as radical, subversive, and psychedelic, as mathematics, Tammet describes the magical realms he explores in these 25 wonderful essays. Here numbers become portals to pure possibilities in the math of life. Smashing preconceptions of mathematics as a task for drudges, Tammet takes prime numbers as a key for unlocking haiku by Basho and shares the emotion-laden colors surging through his mind when, as a number artist, he sets a European record by reciting the value of pi to 22,514 decimal places. Tammet visits the pure possibilities in mathematics that inspire poetry, drama, and even theology. But the tether of impure reality tugs the author back into a world where impoverished grandparents suffer the indignity of eviction, their furniture scattered across the front lawn; a world where his mother manages Christmas for a large family only by scouring neighborhood garage sales. But then, perhaps, it is precisely in the tension between math’s sublime dreamscapes and the terrestrial numbers of working-class budgets that readers truly see the math of life. Admirers of Tammet’s Born on a Blue Day (2007) and Embracing the Wide Sky (2009) will find here fresh reasons to laud the author’s gifts.” (Adapted from Booklist)

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Ideas & Society December

Library News

Literature

The Great Gatsby is regarded as a twentieth-century classic and remains one of the best-loved novels of recent times. Its brilliant evocation of the glamour and glitz of the jazz age, the mystery of Jay’s origins and the source of his fortune together with his hopeless love for Daisy Buchanan have made it an irresistible magnet for generations of readers – and for Hollywood.

Syndetics book coverCareless people : murder, mayhem and the invention of The Great Gatsby / Sarah Churchwell.
“Since its publication in the spring of 1925, The Great Gatsby has become one of the recognized masterpieces of the twentieth century, beloved by readers across the world and regularly named one of the greatest novels ever written in English. Now comes a book which tells of the mayhem, and the surprising story behind the novel, exploring in newly rich detail the relation of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece to the chaotic world he in which he lived. Careless People is a fascinating reconstruction of the crucial months during which Fitzgerald returned to New York in the autumn of 1922 – the parties, the drunken weekends at Great Neck, Long Island, the drives back into the city to the jazz clubs and speakeasies, the casual intersection of high society and organized crime and the growth of celebrity culture of which the Fitzgeralds themselves were the epitome.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverParade’s end / Tom Stoppard.
“Tom Stoppard’s dramatization for BBC TV of Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford will bring new readers to the novel as well as giving Stoppard’s audience much that is original to his inventive version of a masterwork of modernist English literature. This is the story of Christopher Tietjens, The Last Tory, his beautiful, disconcerting wife Sylvia, and the virginal young suffragette Valentine Wannop who completes this triangle of love among the English upper class before and during the Great War.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe FSG book of twentieth-century Italian poetry : an anthology / edited by Geoffrey Brock.
“*Starred Review* Praise for The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry: “Geoffrey Brock, editor of the elegantly conceived FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry does everything he can to force his readers to hear the translations he’s assembled as English-language poems. The poems gathered in The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry are similarly adept performances in the English language.To read through the anthology, poet by poet, is to be struck immediately by the fact that over the last hundred years Italian poetry has not developed so much by successive generations, as within generations: everything seems to be happening at once.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverHard times require furious dancing : new poems / by Alice Walker ; foreword and illustrations by Shiloh McCloud.
“Pulitzer Prize-winning author Walker (The Color Purple) confronts personal and collective challenges in words that dance, sing, and heal, in this new collection of poems. Black & white illustrations.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

From a book seller to a globaly popular online store, Amazon’s founder tells us the amazing story of their transformation. Another great story is a drama teacher who gave hope and a future to an economically depressed town, starting from the theater. We might never have thought of solving something as big as poverty, economy, poor health, or environment; but this has changed with the morden technology.

Syndetics book coverThe everything store : Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon / Brad Stone.
Amazon.com started off by delivering books through the mail and rode the first wave of dot-com hysteria. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn’t content with being a fashionable online bookseller. He wanted Amazon to offer limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices – to become the ‘everything store.’ To accomplish his grand vision he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy.” (Book jacket)

Syndetics book coverThe solution revolution : how business, government, and social enterprises are teaming up to solve society’s toughest problems / William D. Eggers and Paul Macmillan.
“Executives Eggers and Macmillan set out to explain the multitrillion dollar solution economy, which is arising as governments partner with the private sector (citizens, businesses, entrepreneurs, and foundations) to address society’s urgent and deep-seated problems locally and worldwide. This new approach replaces the historic government-dominated model for solving entrenched problems in fields including health care, poverty, education, housing, and recycling.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDrama high : the incredible true story of a brilliant teacher, a struggling town, and the magic of theater / Michael Sokolove.
“Journalist Sokolove pays tribute to drama teacher Lou Volpe, who in the last 40 years has revolutionized the theater program at Harry S. Truman High School. Located in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar town that has been on a slow economic downswing since the 1960s, Truman has become known for its drama program, thanks to Volpe, whose productions draw not only critical acclaim but also the attention of famous theater producers. During the season Sokolove spends at Truman, Volpe and his kids put on the play Good Boys and True and the musical Spring Awakenings both of which address teen sexuality, angst, and reckless behavior. Volpe pushes his student actors hard, but for most of them, being in one of his productions is transformative.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPower from the people : how to organize, finance, and launch local energy projects / Greg Pahl ; foreword by Van Jones.
“With its focus on U.S.-based technologies and resources, this volume offers brass-tacks practical advice on the planning, organizing, and financing angles of implementing alternative power without waiting for big government to pitch in. Pahl explains why our current reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable and provides concrete how and where examples of co-ops and neighborhoods in states from Oregon to Vermont, in which such energy sources as solar, wind, and geothermal are now supplementing and even supplanting conventional power. Along with an extensive guide to grass-roots power associations and online resources, Pahl gives sound advice on how individuals can conserve energy.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

It is not uncommon to have a family with different beliefs, but how do they live with it? When your religion is not what you thought it was, what do you do? Do you want to know the history behind the religion? Let these new books answer the questions and unveil the people, histories, and stories for you.

Syndetics book coverBeing both : embracing two religions in one interfaith family, by Susan Katz Miller.
“Susan Katz Miller grew up with a Jewish father and Christian mother, and was raised Jewish. Now in an interfaith marriage herself, she is one of the growing number of Americans who are boldly electing to raise children with both faiths, rather than in one religion or the other (or without religion). In [this book], Miller draws on original surveys and interviews with parents, students, teachers, and clergy.” (from book cover)

Syndetics book coverI am Malala : the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai.
At only age 11, Malala Yousafzai, using the pen name Gul Makai, wrote for the BBC living under the Taliban. Her mission was speaking about the right for girls to be educated in her community. Then she was shot in the head as she was returning from school on a bus, but miraculously survived and continues to speak out with courage. She is the youngest person ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. “Ms. Yousafzai’s stature as a symbol of peace and bravery has been established across the world.” (Salman Masood, The New York Times)

Syndetics book coverThe witness wore red : the 19th wife who brought polygamous cult leaders to justice, by Rebecca Musser, M. Bridget Cook.
The author describes growing up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (not to be confused with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). She is ordered to be a prophet’s 19th wife – she is eighteen, he in his eighties. She escapes and assists law enforcement investigate, and prosecute the men for bigamy, underage marriage, and statutory rape. “The book speaks to the ways isolation, fear and secrecy can shelter insidious abuses until someone has the courage to step forward as a witness.” (Kirkus review).

Syndetics book coverJesus among friends and enemies : a historical and literary introduction to Jesus in the Gospels, edited by Chris Keith and Larry W. Hurtado.
As the title suggests, this book attempts to explore the life of Jesus through the eyes of those who knew him – his family, friends such as Mary Magdalene, the Bethany family, and the beloved disciple – but also his accusers, e.g. Jewish leaders and political authorities such as Pilate or Herod. Another contribution to the quest for the historical Jesus.

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History

Official and non-offical secrets has been revealed: Mrs Thatcher’s ironing board and other politician’s untold stories; a secrete agent’s wife; an English man’s success in French cheese making; and photos of the soldiers of American civil war.

Syndetics book coverMrs Zigzag : the extraordinary life of a secret agent’s wife / Betty Chapman & Ronald L. Bonewitz.
“When Betty Farmer married double agent Eddie Chapman, Agent Zigzag, she knew her life would never be ordinary. Yet even before her marriage to Eddie, her life involved incendiary bombs, serial killers, film roles and love affairs with flying aces. After her marriage she coped with Eddie’s mistresses, his criminal activities, separations and personal traumas. Coming from humble origins, Betty would, in time, own a beauty business, a health farm and a castle in Ireland, become the friend and confidante of film stars and an African president, and the honoured guest of Middle Eastern royalty. In an age where women were still very much second-class, she became a perfect example of what, in spite of everything, was possible.Much has been written about Eddie Chapman, films have been made, television programmes produced. Yet alongside Eddie for most of his extraordinary life was an equally extraordinary woman: Mrs Zigzag. This book tells the story of the Chapmans’ often fraught but ultimately loving relationship for the first time.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover“The Prime Minister’s ironing board and other state secrets : true stories from the government archives, by Adam Macqueen.
“Stored in Whitehall’s archives are everything from blood-chilling warnings of imminent nuclear attack to comical details of daily life in the corridors of power. Concerned notes from ministers on the subject of the Heir to the Throne’s potential brainwashing by Welsh terrorists are shelved alongside worries about housemaids ‘on the wobble’ at Chequers. These, and other unlikely revelations are revealed in this constantly surprising book.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe cheese and I : an Englishman’s voyage through the land of fromage, by Matt Feroze.
“Matt Feroze had a rather unusual dream: to become a cheesemonger in the highly competitive French cheese industry. To accomplish this, however, he would have to give up a good job as an accountant in England and say goodbye to his friends and family, moving to a country in which he struggled with the language and knew next to nothing about the profession he wished to enter. Yet only a year later he was being crowned Champion de France des Fromagers, beating veteran French cheesemongers to the title and opening up a wealth of new opportunities for himself. The Cheese and I is the remarkable story of how he pulled off such an incredible feat.” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverPhotography and the American Civil War / Jeff L. Rosenheim ; [edited by Anna Jardine].
“Six hundred thousand lives were lost between 1861 and 1865, making the conflict between North and South the nation’s deadliest war. If the “War Between the States” was the test of the young republic’s commitment to its founding precepts, it was also a watershed in photographic history, as the camera recorded the epic, heartbreaking narrative from beginning to end—providing those on the home front, for the first time, with immediate visual access to the horrors of the battlefield.
Photography and the American Civil Warfeatures both familiar and rarely seen images that include haunting battlefield landscapes strewn with bodies, studio portraits of armed Confederate and Union soldiers (sometimes in the same family) preparing to meet their destiny, rare multi-panel panoramas of Gettysburg and Richmond, languorous camp scenes showing exhausted troops in repose, diagnostic medical studies of wounded soldiers who survived the war’s last bloody battles, and portraits of both Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg (1863), this beautifully produced book features Civil War photographs by George Barnard, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and many others.” (Syndetics summary)

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Science

A wealth of new books have arrived in time for the festive season holiday break, with many warmly recommended. There’s a strong ornithological theme but plenty of other offerings, from earth to sky.

Syndetics book coverTop 100 birding sites of the world, by Dominic Couzens.
Even if you have no intention of visiting these 100 sites, this book is a visual delight. His criteria for selection include bird (or species) numbers, amazing migration events, or rare or unusual species. Very little information about the sites is provided, but the photographs of stunning landscapes are worth a gander alone.

Syndetics book coverChasing Doctor Dolittle : learning the language of animals, by Con Slobodchikoff.
“Focusing on important issues such as eating, danger, love, protection, and initial interactions, Slobodchikoff puts the world of animal communication into a realm that readers can readily understand, appreciate, and marvel at. Highly recommended for general readers interested in the complexities of language across species.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverNear-Earth objects : finding them before they find us / Donald K. Yeomans.
“Humans may fret over earthquakes, nuclear meltdown, and heart attacks, but only collision with a near-Earth object has ‘the capacity to wipe out an entire civilization with a single blow.’ Balancing the wonders of astronomy with the looming potential for an epic, planetwide disaster, Yeomans, a fellow and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explores the origins of near-Earth objects-asteroids, comets, meteors, and meteoroids-and the threat they can pose to our planet.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverIslands beyond the horizon : the life of twenty of the world’s most remote places / Roger Lovegrove.
“A bit of a geography nut, Lovegrove (former director, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Silent Fields), has an affinity for obscure islands. For his latest book, he chose 20 of them to write about, spread across five oceans and spanning pole to pole. Some names (e.g., Guam, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, the San Blas) will be recognizable to most readers, but many more will leave them without a clue. Who among us can easily pick out Wrangel, Mykines, St. Kilda, Halfmoon, and Great Skellig on a map? In each easy-to-digest chapter, Lovegrove paints a geological and historical picture of the island then provides a thorough description of its flora and fauna, both current and extinct. (Remember the dodo?) One island is so herpetologically beset that it makes Snakes on a Plane seem like a Disney movie.” (Library Journal)

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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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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.

Library News

Literature

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.

Syndetics book coverReading 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)

Syndetics book coverFarther 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)

Syndetics book coverUnstuck 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)

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Popular Non-Fiction

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…

Syndetics book coverDial 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)

Syndetics book coverThe 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)

Syndetics book coverEverything 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)

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Religion & Beliefs

This month’s offerings feature popular authors ranging from Richard Rohr, to Bart D. Ehrman.

Syndetics book coverToxic 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)

Syndetics book coverDid 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)

Syndetics book coverA 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)

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History

This month’s history recent picks are all about the ladies!

Syndetics book coverThe 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)

Syndetics book coverJackie, 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)

Syndetics book coverKing 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)

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Science

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.

Syndetics book coverTransit 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)

Syndetics book coverAtlas 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)

Syndetics book coverHubble : 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)

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