Ideas and Society eNewsletters for July

Enjoy poetry and plays from New Zealand, religion and stories of women believers, American secret agent 110, and science of medicine and the mind. Also meet Libby, the new app for Overdrive’s eBooks and eAudio books.

Library News

Literature

Poetry and plays are the focus of this month’s picks, including the much anticipated Poetry 17, the New Zealand poetry yearbook. A newly-published notebook of a road trip undertaken in the American South by Joan Didion and a novel study of the powerful attraction of Sylvia Plath complement the list.

Syndetics book cover A girl walks into a book : what the Brontës taught me about life, love, and women’s work / Miranda K. Pennington.
“How many times have you heard readers argue about which is better, Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights? The works of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne continue to provoke passionate fandom over a century after their deaths. Brontë enthusiasts, as well as those of us who never made it further than those oft-cited classics, will devour Miranda Pennington’s delightful literary memoir.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Poetry New Zealand yearbook. 2017 / edited by Jack Ross.
“Continually in print since 1951, when it was established by leading poet Louis Johnson, this annual collection of new poetry, reviews and essays is the ideal way to catch up with the latest poetry from established and emerging New Zealand poets. Issue #51 features 128 new poems by writers including featured poet Elizabeth Morton, Riemke Ensing, Mohamed Hassan, Michele Leggott, Kiri Piahana-Wong and Elizabeth Smither.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Falstaff : give me life / Harold Bloom.
“From Harold Bloom, one of the greatest Shakespeare scholars of our time comes “a timely reminder of the power and possibility of words [and] the last love letter to the shaping spirit of Bloom’s imagination” (front page, The New York Times Book Review ) and an intimate, wise, deeply compelling portrait of Falstaff–Shakespeare’s greatest enduring and complex comedic characters.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Molly Keane : a life / Sally Phipps.
“Molly Keane (1904 – 96) was an Irish novelist and playwright (born in County Kildare) most famous for Good Behaviour which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Hailed as the Irish Nancy Mitford in her day; as well as writing books she was the leading playwright of the ’30s, her work directed by John Gielgud. Between 1928 and 1956, she wrote eleven novels, and some of her earlier plays, under the pseudonym M.J. Farrell.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Maya Angelou : adventurous spirit / Linda Wagner-Martin.
“A comprehensive biographical and critical reading of the works of American poet and memoirist Maya Angelou (1928-2014). Linda Wagner-Martin covers all six of Angelou’s autobiographies, as well as her essay and poetry collections, while also exploring Angelou’s life as an African American in the United States, her career as stage and film performer, her thoughtful participation in the Civil Rights actions of the 1960s, and her travels abroad in Egypt, Africa, and Europe.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

This time we have some books about politics, some books on economics, the anthropocene, and a cold war spy story for your reading pleasure!

Syndetics book cover What we do now : standing up for your values in Trump’s America / edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians.
“This collection of essays by progressive leaders suggest actual strategies on how to move forward in resistance to a Trump administration.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover “Curbing catastrophe : natural hazards and risk reduction in the modern world / Timothy H. Dixon.
“What does Japan’s 2011 nuclear accident have in common with the 2005 flooding of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina? This thought-provoking book presents a compelling account of recent and historical disasters, both natural and human-caused, drawing out common themes and providing a holistic understanding of hazards, disasters and mitigation. The book shows how billions of dollars and countless lives could be saved by adopting longer-term thinking for infrastructure planning and building, and argues that better communication is vital in reducing global risks and preventing future catastrophes.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Well, you did ask : why the UK voted to leave the EU / Michael Ashcroft & Kevin Culwick.
“The UK’s vote to leave the European Union shocked the world – not to mention many people in Britain. What it revealed about our country is at least as significant for the future of politics as Brexit itself. Drawing on more than two years of intensive research by Lord Ashcroft Polls, Well, You Did Ask explains how voters came to make the most momentous political decision of our time – how they saw the choice before them, what they made of the campaign, its personalities, claims and counterclaims – and why they ultimately chose to take the UK out of the EU. To think clearly about what the referendum result means, we first need to understand how it came about. The answers are in this book.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The man with the poison gun : a Cold War spy story / Serhii Plokhy.
“In 1961, a KGB agent defected to West Germany. The 30-year-old man in police custody had papers in the name of an East German, Josef Lehmann, but claimed his real name was Bogdan Stashinsky, a citizen of the Soviet Union. On the orders of his KGB bosses, he had traveled on numerous occasions to Munich, where he singlehandedly tracked down and killed two enemies of the communist regime. He used a new, specially designed secret weapon–a spray pistol delivering liquid poison that, if fired into the victim’s face, killed without leaving any trace. In 1962, after spilling his secrets to the CIA, Stashinsky was put on trial in what would be the most publicized assassination case in Cold War history.” (Adapted from publisher’s description)
Syndetics book cover Programmed inequality : how Britain discarded women technologists and lost its edge in computing / Marie Hicks.
“In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all post-industrial superpowers. In Programmed Inequality, Marie Hicks explores the story of labor feminization and gendered technocracy that undercut British efforts to computerize. That failure sprang from the government’s systematic neglect of its largest trained technical workforce simply because they were women. Hicks explains why, even today, possessing technical skill is not enough to ensure that women will rise to the top in science and technology fields.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

A strong feminine focus is featured in this month’s selections, but from widely different viewpoints. Read about Dominican sisters in NZ, the life of Buddhist nun Freda Bedi, or the latest title by best-selling author Ann Voskamp.

Syndetics book cover The revolutionary life of Freda Bedi : British feminist, Indian nationalist, Buddhist nun, by Vicki MacKenzie, foreword by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo.
Freda Bedi (1911-1977) was an English woman who become both a revolutionary in the fight for Indian independence and then a Buddhist icon. She was the first Western woman to become a Tibetan Buddhist nun and broke the rules of gender, race, and religion–in many cases before it was thought that the rules were ready to be challenged, and counted among her friends, and teachers Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and many others. (Drawn from publisher’s summary)
Syndetics book cover The broken way : a daring path into the abundant life, by Ann Voskamp.
Best-selling author Ann Voskamp contemplates her own brokenness and asks: Is it really possible to live abundantly? Can we be whole? “This one’s for the busted ones who are ready to bust free, the ones ready to break molds, break chains, break measuring sticks, and break all this bad brokenness with an unlikely good brokenness. You could be one of the Beloved who is broken — and still lets yourself be loved.” (publisher’s summary)
Syndetics book cover Grace, not perfection : embracing simplicity, celebrating joy, by Emily Ley.
“When Ley realized she could not do it all, at least not well – she began to simplify her life and prioritize her goals. Instead of holding herself to a picture-perfect standard, the author extended grace to herself and was able to give mental and physical space to those ambitions which mattered most. In a friend-to-friend tone, she advises investing in oneself, surrendering control, and cultivating contentment and gratitude. Simple exercises and response blanks follow each chapter. VERDICT A powerful antidote to society’s pressure to have all and be all to everyone.” (Library Journal, courtesy of Syndetics)
Syndetics book cover Women who knew Jesus, by Bonnie Ring.
Women were seen as low status citizens whose testimony couldn’t be trusted in court. The author paints a picture of Jesus interacting with women – becoming friends, and healing or teaching them. This mixes anecdotes, biblical commentary and short meditations to help readers engage with the stories.

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History

This month’s selections contain a few updated histories, including Andrew Marr’s A History of Modern Britain now covering the Brexit vote and aftermath, and a new version of Jeff Evans’ Polynesian Navigation and the Discovery of New Zealand. Old and new conflicts also go under the microscope, with World War II revisited from several perspectives, while Michael Zacchea’s The Ragged Edge looks at the rebuilding of Iraq’s armed forces and the insurgency that would later develop into ISIS.

Syndetics book cover The history of the future : American essays / Edward McPherson.
“In The History of the Future, McPherson reexamines American places and the space between history, experience, and myth. Private streets, racism, and the St. Louis World’s Fair; fracking for oil and digging for dinosaurs in North Dakota boomtowns-Americana slides into apocalypse in these essays, revealing us to ourselves.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Notes from the blockade, and, A story of pity and cruelty / Lydia Ginzburg
“From her experience as a survivor of the 900-day siege of Leningrad, Lidiya Ginzburg has created a remarkable hero in whom she distils the experience of life under siege. Though she depicts the harrowing conditions, the reader takes away an impression of the dignity, vitality, and intellectual resilience of the thinking mind as it makes sense of extreme experience. This classic work of documentary fiction will be the first introduction of a major 20th-century Russian writer to many English-language readers.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Agent 110 / Scott Miller.
“In November 1942, American spymaster Allen Dulles slipped into Switzerland. His mission: to report on the inner workings of the Third Reich. Code-named Agent 110 by the OSS, he discovered a network of Germans conspiring to overthrow Hitler. Aided by his mistress, an American journalist, Dulles built a network of secret agents and became convinced that Moscow aimed to dominate postwar Europe. He desperately sought Washington’s support in Operation Valkyrie, and worked with a ruthless Nazi SS general to secure the surrender of all German forces in Italy. Dulles himself would eventually lead the CIA during the Cold War, driven by his wartime distrust of the Soviets.” (Abridged from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Polynesian navigation and the discovery of New Zealand / Jeff Evans ; foreword by Francis Cowan.
Polynesian navigation and the discovery of New Zealand offers a straightforward account of how and why Polynesian seafarers made their journey south to New Zealand shores. The first part discusses the origins of the voyages, legends of the homeland and the explorer Kupe, traditional Polynesian navigation techniques, and the preservation of seafaring knowledge by Māori. The second part presents a gripping account of the canoe Hawaiki-nui retracing the route from Tahiti to New Zealand in 1985 using traditional voyaging methods.” (Library catalogue)
Syndetics book cover And the monkey learned nothing : dispatches from a life in transit / Tom Lutz.
“Without an itinerary and without a goal, Tom Lutz is on a mission to visit every country on earth, describing personal encounters in rarely visited spots and anecdotes from way off the beaten path. With an eye out for both the sublime and the ridiculous, Lutz falls, regularly, into the instant intimacy of the road with random strangers.” (Syndetics summary)

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Science

This month, explore areas of medical science that are often overlooked, such as sense of taste and the science of flavour, and research into compulsive behaviour. Take a look at the groundbreaking research of a Nobel Prize Winner, and at the history of antibiotics and how it changed humanity’s relationship with nature. Books on menopause, anxiety and postpartum depression are also showcased this month, so make sure you have a browse!

Syndetics book cover Wild coast : a celebration of the places where land meets sea / Marianne Taylor.
“This book is a celebration of the wildlife and landscapes of Britain’s coastline. Sheer limestone crags resound with the voices of thousands of bickering seabirds; endless acres of estuarine mud are packed with squirming invertebrates that sustain thousands of wading birds. In between are the dazzling chalk outcrops of the south coast with glorious floral communities on the clifftop meadows, shingle beaches where terns and plovers hide their eggs among the stones, and dune systems bound together with marram grass and supporting a unique and fragile ecosystem. Beautifully illustrated with colour photographs and authoritative text, this book is a celebration of the wilder aspects of the UK’s coasts.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Voices in the ocean : a journey into the wild and haunting world of dolphins / Susan Casey.
“While swimming off the coast of Maui, Susan Casey was surrounded by a pod of spinner dolphins. It was a profoundly transporting experience, and it inspired her to embark on a two-year global adventure to explore the nature of these remarkable beings and their complex relationship to humanity. Casey ends her narrative on the island of Crete, where millennia-old frescoes and artwork document the great Minoan civilization, a culture which lived in harmony with dolphins, and whose example shows the way to a more enlightened coexistence with the natural world.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Miracle cure : the creation of antibiotics and the birth of modern medicine / William Rosen.
“As late as the 1930s, virtually no drug intended for sickness worked; doctors could set bones, deliver babies, and offer palliative care. That all changed in less than a generation with the discovery and development of a new category of medicine known as antibiotics. William Rosen captures this scientific revolution with all its false starts, lucky surprises, and eccentric characters. Timely, engrossing, and eye-opening, this is a must-read science narrative combining science, technology, politics, and economics to illuminate the reasons behind one of the most dramatic changes in humanity’s relationship with nature in history!” (Adapted Syndetics Review)
Syndetics book cover On edge : a journey through anxiety / Andrea Petersen.
“A wry, sympathetic, bracingly honest account of living with anxiety, coupled with deep reportage on the science of anxiety disorders. Andrea Petersen was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of twenty, and began a journey that took her from psychiatrists’ offices to yoga retreats to the Appalachian Trail. Woven into Petersen’s personal story is a fascinating look at the biology of anxiety and the groundbreaking research that might point the way to new treatments. Brave and empowering, this is essential reading for anyone who knows what it means to live on edge.” (Adapted Syndetics Review)
Syndetics book cover Can’t just stop : an investigation of compulsions / Sharon Begley
“Do you check your smartphone continuously for messages? Or perhaps do the weekly shop with military precision? Maybe you always ensure the cutlery is perfectly lined up on the table? Compulsion is something most of us have witnessed in daily life. Sharon Begley’s meticulously researched book is the first of its kind to examine the science behind both mild and extreme compulsive behaviour; using fascinating case studies to understand their deeper meaning and reveal the truth about human compulsion.” (Adapted Amazon Review)
Syndetics book cover If our bodies could talk : a guide to operating and maintaining a human body / James Hamblin, M.D
“In 2014, James Hamblin launched a series of videos for The Atlantic called “If Our Bodies Could Talk.” Now Hamblin explores the stories behind health questions that never seem to go away such as: Can I “boost” my immune system? Does caffeine make me live longer? Do we still not know if cell phones cause cancer? How much sleep do I actually need? In considering these questions, he draws from his own medical training and from hundreds of interviews with distinguished scientists and medical practitioners.” (Adapted Syndetics Review)

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Ideas and Society Newsletter for March

You can now borrow brand new tablets from Wellington City Libraries for three weeks! This month’s Ideas and Society recent picks feature Katherine Mansfield’s poetry collection, a New Zealand home buyer’s guide, festivals in the southern hemisphere, and planet Vulcan.

Library News

Literature

Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand’s best known writer, but it’s for her short stories we remember her. It now emerges that she was a significant poet too. Claire Davison has arranged the poems chronologically in a beautiful little book so that we can chart her development, her experimentation with different forms and see the themes which preoccupied her throughout her writing life.
At the other end of the spectrum are two amusing little books, one of limericks written by Michael Palin and the other an imaginary look at what celebrities might carry in their handbags.

Syndetics book cover The collected poems of Katherine Mansfield / edited by Gerri Kimber & Claire Davison.
“This edition is made up of 217 poems, ordered chronologically, so that the reader can follow Mansfield’s development as a poet and her experiments with different forms, as well as tracing the themes – love and death, the natural world and the seasons, childhood and friendship, music and song – that preoccupied her throughout her writing life.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The man who invented fiction : how Cervantes ushered in the modern world / William Egginton.
“In the early seventeenth century, a crippled, graying, almost toothless veteran of Spain’s wars against the Ottoman Empire published a book. It was the story of a poor nobleman, his brain addled from reading too many books of chivalry, who deludes himself that he is a knight errant and sets off on hilarious adventures. That book, Don Quixote , went on to sell more copies than any other book beside the Bible, making its author, Miguel de Cervantes, the single most-read author in human history.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Carry this book / Abbi Jacobson.
“With bright, quirky, and colourful line drawings, Jacobson brings to life actual and imagined items found in the pockets and purses, bags and glove compartments of real and fantastical people-whether it’s the contents of Oprah’s favorite purse, Amelia Earhart’s pencil case, or Bernie Madoff’s suitcase. Carry This Book provides a humorous and insightful look into how the things we carry around every day can make up who we are.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Little grey cells : the quotable Poirot / Agatha Christie ; edited by David Brawn.
“A charming, beautifully designed collection of bite-sized wisdom from Agatha Christie’s beloved detective Hercule Poirot–delightful, witty, and perceptive quotations and bon mots to stimulate every fan’s little grey cells.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

The highlight of this months’ books is The Machine Stops, in which 12 artists write to E.M. Forster’s imaginary Machine. The story “The Machine Stops” is included, and the book makes for fascinating reading. Also important at the moment is What is a Refugee?, a very timely book, a touch of comedy in The Revenge of Anguished English, and a new edition of the well praised Prosperity without Growth rounds up our selection.

Syndetics book cover The machine stops / E.M. Forster; with contributions by Julieta Aranda, Fia Backström and R. Lyon … [et. al.] ; edited by Erik Wysocan.
“In 1909 E.M. Forster (1879-1970) wrote his one work of dystopian science fiction, The Machine Stops, which imagines the world in the aftermath of an ecological crisis, where humans live in underground chambers without physical contact. Here, 12 artists–Julieta Aranda, Fia Backstrom and R. Lyon, Ed Atkins, Ian Cheng, Melanie Gilligan, Pedro Neves Marques, Tobias Madison, Jeff Nagy, Rachel Rose, Bea Schlingelhoff and Mariana Silva–contribute texts addressing culture in the networked age.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover What is a refugee? / William Maley.
“Arguing that Western states are now reaping the consequences of policies aimed at blocking safe and ‘legal’ access to asylum, What is a Refugee? shows why many proposed solutions to the refugee ‘problem’ will exacerbate tension and risk fuelling the growth of extremism among people who have been denied all hope. This lucid book also tells of the families and individuals who have sought refuge, highlighting the suffering, separation and dislocation on their perilous journeys to safety.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Buyer beware : a New Zealand home buyer’s guide / Maria Slade.
“How to negotiate the minefield of buying a home in New Zealand today. Property prices going through the stratosphere, leaky buildings, P contamination, bullying body corporates – purchasing a house today can feel akin to entering a minefield. Written by a news journalist who has covered many of the horror stories, this book takes a no-holds-barred look at the challenges facing home buyers and offers savvy advice on how to navigate that minefield. It will appeal to all home buyers, from first-timers hoping for a small apartment to older people looking to downsize and everyone in between.” (Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

If you’re looking for inspiration, challenge, or reflection, there’s some great holiday reading to begin the year. Two important recommended titles to note are The Little History Of Religion, and the latest biography of Samuel Marsden.

Syndetics book cover Talking God : philosophers on belief, edited by Gary Gutting.
Where does belief come from? This book features conversations with twelve skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and believers including challenges from evolution, cutting-edge physics and cosmology, and meditations on the value of secular humanism. Insights on Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as Judaism and Christianity are offered.
Syndetics book cover A little history of religion, by Richard Holloway.
Richard Holloway begins at the dawn of religious belief and retells, quite succinctly, the history of religion to the twenty-first century. Suitable for those with faith and those without, he accentuates tolerance, mystery, and calmly restores a sense of the value of faith. The discussion covers all of the major religions, and is simple without being simplistic. Evil done in the name of religion is not overlooked. This is an important snapshot to aid understanding different beliefs.
Syndetics book cover Awakening from the daydream : reimagining the Buddha’s wheel of life, by David Nichtern.
“Although traditionally thought of as modes of reincarnation, Nichtern describes the realms as mental states that we move between, sometimes quite rapidly. He clearly and briefly describes how each blocks our path towards enlightenment but also contain unique possibilities. He also provides concise and easily implemented meditation practices for coping with the negative effects of each and includes a basic guide to karma and advice for finding a spiritual guide. …this is a clear, and current introduction to Buddhist thought and practice.” (drawn from Publisher Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics).
Syndetics book cover Festivals in the Southern Hemisphere : insights into cosmic and seasonal aspects of the whole earth, by Martin Samson.
Many festivals draw on northern hemisphere seasons. This has led some to suggest that some festivals in the southern hemisphere should be celebrated at opposite times of the year: for example, celebrating Christmas in June. Rudolf Steiner shared cosmic, spiritual imaginations for the northern hemisphere, and in this book Martin Samson develops a useful equivalent guide for the southern hemisphere.

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History

This month have a look at far-reaching histories on today’s nation-states both new and old in Tokyo: A Biography and A History of South Sudan. Leaf through the intimate notes of Lydia Ginzburg from St. Petersburg under siege, or the unpredictable encounters of Tom Lutz’ ramblings through every country in the world. Take a trip through past and future in Robert L. Kelly’s Fifth Beginning, or follow the indigenous footsteps that made it back to deal directly with empire, at the heart of London.

Syndetics book cover A history of South Sudan : from slavery to independence / Øystein H. Rolandsen, M. W. Daly.
“South Sudan is the world’s youngest independent country. Established in 2011 after two wars, South Sudan has since reverted to a state of devastating civil strife. This book provides a general history of the new country, from the arrival of Turco-Egyptian explorers in Upper Nile, […] to the Anglo-Egyptian colonial era. The book concludes with coverage of events since independence, with insights into what the future might hold.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Tokyo : a biography : disasters, destruction and renewal : the story of an indomitable city / Stephen Mansfield.
“The history of Tokyo is as eventful as it is long. In a whirlwind journey through Tokyo’s past from its earliest beginnings up to the present day, this Japanese history book demonstrates how the city’s response to everything from natural disasters to regime change has been to reinvent itself time and again. Readers see a city almost unrivalled in its uniqueness, a place that–despite its often tragic history–still shimmers as it prepares to face the future.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The Great War for New Zealand : Waikato 1800-2000 / Vincent O’Malley.
“A monumental new account of the defining conflict in New Zealand history. It was war in the Waikato in 1863-64 that shaped the nation in all kinds of ways: setting back Māori and Pākehā relations by several generations and allowing the government to begin to assert the kind of real control over the country that had eluded it since 1840. Vincent O’Malley focuses on the human impact of the war, its origins and aftermath.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

This month’s selection features a myriad of stellar books discussing adventures to Mars, meteorites, the planet Vulcan, and telescopic advances, as well as popular authors such as Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Syndetics book cover Forces of nature, by Professor Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen.
Popular presenter Professor Brian Cox uncovers some of the most extraordinary natural events on Earth and in the Universe and beyond. The forces of nature shape everything we see and the results are astonishing. In seeking to understand the everyday world, the colours, structure, behaviour and history of our home, we develop the knowledge and techniques necessary to step beyond the everyday to understand the Universe beyond.
Syndetics book cover Mars : making contact, by Rod Pyle.
This book offers a visually stunning insider’s look at how Mars has been explored and the challenges facing future missions. The first 22 grainy closeups were in 1965, but the probes didn’t land until 1976. Today the two rovers Curiosity and Opportunity have allowed us to make even more discoveries of ancient rivers, lakes, ocean beds, and valleys. Plans for a manned mission to Mars, are discussed including the spacecraft design and surviving on the planet’s inhospitable surface. Another new book on Mars is Mars One, humanity’s next great adventure.
Syndetics book cover Meteorite, by Maria Golia.
‘Meteorite’ tells the long history of our engagement with these sky-born rocks, which are among the rarest things on earth. … This richly illustrated, wide-ranging account surveys the place of meteoric phenomena in science, myth, art, literature and popular culture.”(Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The hunt for Vulcan : how Albert Einstein destroyed a planet and deciphered the universe, by Thomas Levenson.
In 1859, scientist Urbain LeVerrier discovered that the planet Mercury’s orbit shifts over time. His explanation was that there had to be an unseen planet Vulcan circling even closer to the sun. Astronomers of their generation began to seek out Vulcan and at least a dozen reports of discovery were filed. But a young Albert Einstein came up with a theory of gravity that also happened to prove that Mercury’s orbit could indeed be explained – not by Newton’s theories but by Einstein’s own theory of general relativity.

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Ideas & Society October Newsletter

The newest Vinyl collection is now available for lending. You will also enjoy the extra special book sale that will save you loads of money! And there are many fun activities to choose from, plus librarians’ picks of DVDs, music and much more!

Library News

Literature

“Bloomsbury South” is the appellation given by the authors to the Christchurch of the two decades between 1933 and 1953, a time of unique fusion between artists, writers, musicians, the establishment of a new new literary magazines and a specialist printing press. A true flowering of the arts in the antipodes. Also making waves this month is a new collection of essays entitled Extraordinary Anywhere. Read these lovely books and be a proud Kiwi.

Syndetics book cover Bloomsbury South : the arts in Christchurch, 1933-1953 / Peter Simpson.
“For two decades in Christchurch, New Zealand, a cast of extraordinary men and women remade the arts. Variously between 1933 and 1953, Christchurch was the home of Angus and Bensemann and McCahon, Curnow and Glover and Baxter, the Group, the Caxton Press and the Little Theatre, Landfall and Tomorrow, Ngaio Marsh and Douglas Lilburn. It was a city in which painters lived with writers, writers promoted musicians, in which the arts and artists from different forms were deeply intertwined.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The prose factory : literary life in England since 1918 / D. J. Taylor.
“Gossipy journalists, revolutionary poets, political novelists and influential professors: take a tour of twentieth century literary culture. The book DJ Taylor was born to write: award-winning literary biographer (won Whitbread Prize for biography of George Orwell), esteemed journalist and novelist (longlisted for Booker for Derby Day) is the expert on 20th century literary culture: he’s lived and worked through half of it! Insight into our world: shines a light on readers, writers, publishers, booksellers and magazine editors – and holds them up for scrutiny.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover On cats / Charles Bukowski ; edited by Abel Debritto.
“A raw and tenderly funny look at the human-cat relationship, from one of our most treasured and transgressive writers. “The cat is the beautiful devil.” Felines touched a vulnerable spot in Charles Bukowski’s crusty soul. For the writer, there was something majestic and elemental about these inscrutable creatures he admired, sentient beings whose searing gaze could penetrate deep into our being. Bukowski considered cats to be unique forces of nature, elusive emissaries of beauty and love.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Extraordinary anywhere : essays on place from Aotearoa New Zealand / editors Ingrid Horrocks & Cherie Lacey.
“This collection of personal essays, a first of its kind, re-imagines the idea of place for an emerging generation of readers and writers. It offers glimpses into where we are now and how that feels, and opens up the range and kinds of stories we can conceive of telling about living here. Contributors include Tony Ballantyne, Sally Blundell, Alex Calder, Annabel Cooper, Tim Corballis, Martin Edmond, Ingrid Horrocks, Lynn Jenner, Cherie Lacey, Tina Makereti, Harry Ricketts, Jack Ross, Alice Te Punga Somerville, Giovanni Tiso, Ian Wedde, Lydia Wevers, and Ashleigh Young.” (Syndetics summary).

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Religion & Beliefs

Two very different approaches to the questions of faith versus science are featured this month, together with a unique view of London, the Pyramid texts, and an award-winning book on religious violence.

Syndetics book cover Festivals in the Southern Hemisphere : insights into cosmic and seasonal aspects of the whole earth, by Martin Samson.
Many festivals draw on northern hemisphere seasons. This has led some to suggest that some festivals in the southern hemisphere should be celebrated at opposite times of the year: for example, celebrating Christmas in June. Rudolf Steiner shared cosmic, spiritual imaginations for the northern hemisphere, and in this book Martin Samson develops a useful equivalent guide for the southern hemisphere.
Syndetics book cover London : a spiritual history, by Edouardo Albert.
Viewing the expanse of religious history through the lens of one city provides a great snapshot of beliefs over the centuries. Albert discusses what its inhabitants believed and what they worshipped, delving into where, when, and how, and covering the landmarks, the names, the issues, and the arguments. It begins in early pagan times, and comes forward in time and is peppered with the author’s own spiritual journey.
Syndetics book cover The big question : why we can’t stop talking about science, faith, and God, by Alister McGrath.
“McGrath develops a perspective in which science and religion enrich rather than threaten one another. That perspective highlights the formative influence of Christian faith during the scientific revolution and exposes the urgent need to move beyond the limits of contemporary science to find transcendent sources of morality and meaning. … McGrath calls for a full-bodied humanism invigorated by both scientific reasoning and religious devotion.” (Drawn from Booklist, courtesy of Syndetics) Also by the same author: Inventing the universe : why we can’t stop talking about science, faith and God.
Syndetics book cover Pushing boundaries : New Zealand protestants and overseas missions, 1827-1939, by Hugh Morrison.
Quite a lot has been written on the very first wave of missionaries to come to New Zealand. But our understanding of why, within a generation or two, the settler church was sending missionaries from NZ, is weak. Hugh Morrison outlines why missions were important to the colonial churches. What motivated these New Zealanders to leave their new home to live elsewhere? Was it similar colonial trends of culture, empire, childhood and education, or something else?

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History

Every month is a reminder that history reading lets us travel through multiple dimensions, a space heightened through time, shedding light on both the most exhausted and uncharted grounds.

Syndetics book cover Sunken cities : Egypt’s lost worlds : the BP exhibition / edited by Franck Goddio and Aurélia Masson-Berghoff.
“This book showcases a spectacular collection of artefacts, coupled with a retelling of the history by world-renowned experts in the subject (including the sites’ long-term excavator), bringing the reader face-to-face with this vibrant ancient society.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Fear drive my feet / Peter Ryan.
“At age eighteen, Peter Ryan was an intelligence operative, patrolling isolated regions of New Guinea during World War II. Isolated, with Japanese forces closing in, he endured the hardships of the jungle without adequate supplies, a radio, or even a proper map. Ryan’s gripping account has become a classic memoir of the war in the Pacific, rarely out of print in forty years.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The art of time travel : historians and their craft / Tom Griffiths.
“No matter how practised we are at history, it always humbles us. No matter how often we visit the past, it always surprises us. The art of time travel is to maintain critical poise and grace in this dizzy space.’ In this landmark book, eminent historian and award-winning author Tom Griffiths explores the craft of discipline and imagination that is history.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The drone eats with me : a Gaza diary / Atef Abu Saif.
“An unforgettable rendering of everyday civilian life shattered by the realities of twenty-first-century warfare. Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza lasted 51 days, killed 2,145 Palestinians (578 of them children), injured over 11,000 people, and demolished more than 17,000 homes. Atef Abu Saif, a young father and novelist, puts an indelibly human face on these statistics, providing a rare window into the texture of a community and the realities of a conflict that is too often obscured by politics.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Rio de Janeiro : extreme city / Luiz Eduardo Soares ; translated by Anthony Doyle.
“Luiz Eduardo Soares tells the story of Rio through the everyday lives of its people: gangsters and police, activists, politicians and struggling migrant workers, each with their own version of the city. Taking us on a journey into Rio’s intricate world of favelas, beaches and corridors of power, Soares reveals one of the most extraordinary cities in the world in all its seething, agonistic beauty.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

Scientific writing can take many forms, and these latest arrivals to the collection are evidence of a happy marriage of science and story-telling. Muse on personal stories behind big inventions, the biographies of three very different scientists, or the challenge of explaining complex stuff using only the 1,000 most popular words in our language.

Syndetics book cover Houston, we have a narrative : why science needs story, by Randy Olson.
“Hollywood has a lot to teach scientists about how to tell a story – and, ultimately, how to do science better.” In this book Olson sketches out a blueprint to turn the dull into the dramatic. He first outlines the problem that when scientists tell us about their work, they pile one detail on top of another. But they need to understand the core of narrative – momentum (“And”), conflict (“But”), and resolution (“Therefore”) (or ABT). Taking this approach, audiences sit enthralled for hours (watching TED talks on youtube?).
Syndetics book cover The human side of science : Edison and Tesla, Watson and Crick, and other personal stories behind science’s big ideas, by Arthur W. Wiggins and Charles M. Wynn Sr. ; with cartoon commentary by Sidney Harris.
“”This lively and humorous book focuses attention on the fact that science is a human enterprise. The reader learns about the foibles and quirks as well as the admirable ingenuity and impressive accomplishments of famous scientists who made some of the greatest discoveries of the past and present. Examples abound: Robert Hooke accused Isaac Newton of stealing his ideas about optics. Plato declared that the works of Democritus should be burned. …book takes the reader behind the scenes of scientific research to shine new light on the all-too-human people who “do” science.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Penguins, pineapples & pangolins : first encounters with the exotic, by Claire Cock-Starkey.
Can you remember the first time you saw an elephant? In these modern times every child has seen a video clip, or a photo at the very least, of far away animals or plants. But, if we travel back in time a few hundred years, to the age of exploration or before trades routes became more frequented, people were discovering new animals, food or other cultures for the first very first time – with absolutely no frame of reference. Based on stories gleaned from the British Library archives, this new book reflects the awe and wonder these fresh encounters.
Syndetics book cover The man who knew infinity : a life of the genius Ramanujan, by Robert Kanigel.
“In 1913, a young unschooled Indian clerk wrote a letter to G H Hardy, begging the preeminent English mathematician’s opinion on several ideas he had about numbers. Realizing the letter was the work of a genius, Hardy arranged for Srinivasa Ramanujan to come to England. Thus began one of the most improbable and productive collaborations ever chronicled. With a passion for rich and evocative detail, Robert Kanigel takes us from the temples and slums of Madras to the courts and chapels of Cambridge University, where the devout Hindu Ramanujan, “the Prince of Intuition,” tested his brilliant theories alongside the sophisticated and eccentric Hardy, “the Apostle of Proof.” (Syndetics summary)

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Ideas and Society eNewsletter for September

Enjoy our newly arrived eBooks including Breaking Connections that takes us places in NZ and Hawaii. Plus there’s the story of computer scientist and code breaker Alan Turing and many other mind opening books. You are also invited to join us at our Vinyl collection launch party on the 24th of September.

Library News

Literature

This month’s titles from Overdrive are set across the globe, from the sand hills of Nebraska to a Swedish caravan park. And we haven’t forgotten the Pacific: Breaking Connections by Albert Wendt takes place in both New Zealand and Hawaii. So have your map, compass and e-reader at the ready, and enjoy!

Overdrive cover Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, by Barney Norris
“One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide – a flower seller, a schoolboy, an army wife, a security guard and a widower. As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life.” (Adapted from Overdrive description)
Overdrive cover Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight
“Single mother Kate is in the meeting of her career when she is interrupted by a call to say her teenaged daughter Amelia has been suspended from school. Torn between her head and her heart, Kate eventually arrives at St Grace’s, only to find her daughter has jumped off the roof of the school, apparently in shame. A grieving Kate can’t accept that her daughter would kill herself: Amelia would never leave her alone like this. So begins an investigation into Amelia’s troubled world.” (Adapted from Overdrive description)
Overdrive cover Breaking Connections, by Albert Wendt
“A dynamic group has emerged in Auckland whose members refer to themselves as the Tribe. Mainly Polynesian, they grow up together and become successful professionals, bound by the self-destructive Aaron. But when Daniel receives a call in Hawaii telling him Aaron has been killed, he must return to New Zealand and step into the most dangerous crisis he has ever faced. What has the Tribe become?” (Adapted from Overdrive description)
Syndetics book cover Writing your legacy : the step-by-step guide to crafting your life story / Richard Campbell M.Ed., Cheryl Svensson, Ph.D.
“Craft a meaningful life story! A written legacy of your life–one that encompasses experiences, lessons learned, failures and triumphs–is a gift your family and friends will cherish for years to come. Writing this story may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Writing Your Legacy is a step-by-step guide to chronicling a life story that reflects your true self. Leave an eloquent record of your life for future generations.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

An interesting collection this month takes us on journeys around the globe and back in time.

Syndetics book cover This brave new world : India, China and the United States / Anja Manuel.
“In the next decade and a half, China and India will become two of the world’s indispensable powers–whether they rise peacefully or not. During that time, Asia will surpass the combined strength of North America and Europe in economic might, population size, and military spending. Both India and China will have vetoes over many international decisions, from climate change to global trade, human rights, and business standards…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The Nordic theory of everything : in search of a better life / Anu Partanen.
“A Finnish journalist, now a naturalized American citizen, asks Americans to draw on elements of the Nordic way of life to nurture a fairer, happier, more secure, and less stressful society for themselves and their children. Moving to America in 2008, Finnish journalist Anu Partanen quickly went from confident, successful professional to wary, self-doubting mess. She found that navigating the basics of everyday life–from buying a cell phone and filing taxes to education and childcare–was much more complicated and stressful than anything she encountered in her homeland… As Partanen explains step by step, the Nordic approach allows citizens to enjoy more individual freedom and independence than we do…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Man (dis)connected : how the digital age is changing young men forever / Philip Zimbardo and Nikita D. Coulombe.
“Masculinity is in meltdown. Young men are failing as never before : academically, socially and sexually. But why? And what needs to be done? Internationally-acclaimed psychologist Philip Zimbardo, and research partner Nikita Coulombe, show how symptoms include excessive gaming and porn use, apathy and drug abuse. They argue that digital technologies create alternative worlds that many boys find less demanding and more rewarding than real life, yet which are ultimately harmful.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover A million years in a day : a curious history of everyday life from the Stone Age to the phone age / Greg Jenner.
“Who invented beds? When did we start cleaning our teeth? How old are wine and beer? Which came first: the toilet seat or toilet paper? What was the first clock? Every day, from the moment our alarm clock wakes us in the morning until our head hits our pillow at night, we all take part in rituals that are millennia old. Structured around one ordinary day, [this book] reveals the astonishing origins and development of the daily practices we take for granted… It is the story of your life, one million years in the making.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

August’s listed books are quite a mixed bunch, across a range of religions. However, they invite the reader to challenge their misconceptions, and look below the surface to think more deeply about our beliefs and moral decisions.

Syndetics book cover Break the norms : questioning everything you think you know about God and truth, life and death, love and sex, by Chandresh Bhardwaj.
“Have you ever felt like you’re living out a script written for you by others–in your work, your relationships, or spirituality? “To break through the norms we’ve been conditioned to believe is an act of rebellion,” writes Chandresh Bhardwaj. “We must be prepared to be brutally honest. We must overturn our assumptions and unlearn our suffering. We must be willing to discover our real reasons for being alive….Authenticity is inherent each of our souls. When we start to be authentic, we start to get back in touch with our divine source.” (drawn from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Why be Jewish? : a testament, by Edgar M. Bronfman.
Completed just weeks before the author’s death, this charts his respect and love for his Jewish faith. This is a personal journey and walk through the main ideas and beliefs, explaining meanings and traditions gathered over a lifetime of study. He explains that even secular Judaism is still immersed in moral values derived from the ancient texts.
Syndetics book cover Queer virtue : what LGBTQ people know about life and love and how it can revitalize Christianity, by Reverend Elizabeth M. Edman.
“Christianity, at its scriptural core, incessantly challenges its adherents to rupture false binaries, to “queer” lines that pit people against one another. Thus, Edman asserts that Christianity, far from being hostile to queer people, is itself inherently queer. Arguing from the heart of scripture, she reveals how queering Christianity – that is, disrupting simplistic ways of thinking about self and other – can illuminate contemporary Christian faith. Pushing well past the notion that “Christian love = tolerance,” Edman offers a bold alternative: the recognition that queer people can help Christians better understand their fundamental calling and the creation of sacred space where LGBTQ Christians are seen as gifts to the church.” (Drawn from the Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The cities that built the Bible, by Robert R. Cargill.
“For many, the names Bethlehem, Babylon, and Jerusalem evoke epic stories from the Bible – fortresses, moonlit mangers or magnificent temples. This is a magnificent tour through fourteen cities: the Phoenicia cities of Tyre, Sidon, Ugarit, Nineveh, Babylon, Megiddo, Athens, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Qumran, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Rome, with dig sites, ruins, and relics. An interesting and informative adventure through time.

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Science

Scientific writing can take many forms, and these latest arrivals to the collection are evidence of a happy marriage of science and story-telling. Muse on personal stories behind big inventions, the biographies of three very different scientists, or the challenge of explaining complex stuff using only the 1,000 most popular words in our language.

Syndetics book cover The invention of science : a new history of the scientific revolution, by David Wootton.
We live in a world made by science. How and when did this happen? This book tells the story of the extraordinary intellectual and cultural revolution that gave birth to modern science, and mounts a major challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy of its history. … “[this] is a truly remarkable piece of scholarship. His work has an ingenious and innovative linguistic foundation, examining the invention and redefinition of words as tracers of a new understanding of nature and how to approach it. His erudition is awesome, and his argument is convincing.” Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University.
Syndetics book cover The human side of science : Edison and Tesla, Watson and Crick, and other personal stories behind science’s big ideas, by Arthur W. Wiggins and Charles M. Wynn Sr. ; with cartoon commentary by Sidney Harris.
“This lively and humorous book focuses attention on the fact that science is a human enterprise. The reader learns about the foibles and quirks as well as the admirable ingenuity and impressive accomplishments of famous scientists who made some of the greatest discoveries of the past and present. Examples abound: Robert Hooke accused Isaac Newton of stealing his ideas about optics. Plato declared that the works of Democritus should be burned. …book takes the reader behind the scenes of scientific research to shine new light on the all-too-human people who “do” science.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover Penguins, pineapples & pangolins : first encounters with the exotic, by Claire Cock-Starkey.
Can you remember the first time you saw an elephant? In these modern times every child has seen a video clip, or a photo at the very least, of far away animals or plants. But, if we travel back in time a few hundred years, to the age of exploration or before trades routes became more frequented, people were discovering new animals, food or other cultures for the first very first time – with absolutely no frame of reference. Based on stories gleaned from the British Library archives, this new book reflects the awe and wonder these fresh encounters.
Syndetics book cover Prof : Alan Turing decoded : a biography, by Dermot Turing.
If you enjoyed the Imitation Game, dip into this biography of Alan Turing by his nephew, Sir Dermot Turing. We meet him in the film as mathematician, codebreaker, computer scientist, and as a war hero underestimated and mistreated by his own country. This is a fresh look at the influences on Alan Turing’s life and creativity, and the later creation of a legend. This is a unique family perspective drawing on sources only recently released to the UK National Archives, including photos.

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Ideas and Society Newsletter for June

Hurry, don’t miss the hot winter book sale at the Central Library! You can also celebrate Matariki with activities at the Central Library throughout June. Enjoy this month’s hand picked books including Shakespeare in Swahililand, poems of New Zealand, the history of Egypt, literature on lady detectives, stories of a penguin and much more.

Library News

Literature

As we all know so well, this year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, which is being commemorated all over the world. No book could better illustrate his influence than this month’s top pick Shakespeare in Swahililand: adventures with the ever-living poet.

Syndetics book cover Shakespeare in Swahililand : adventures with the ever-living poet / Edward Wilson-Lee.
Shakespeare in Swahihiland explores the Bard’s global legacy like no other book before it. In these pages explorers stagger through Africa’s interior accompanied by Shakespeare; eccentrics live out their dreams on the African savannah with Shakespeare by their side; decadent emigres, railway labourers, Indian settler communities, all turned to Shakespeare and adapted his plays to fit their needs. The book examines how Shakespeare influenced the first African leaders of independent nations, Cold War intrigues and even Che Guevara.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Poems that make grown women cry / edited by Anthony and Ben Holden.
“Following the success of their anthology Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, father-and-son team Anthony and Ben Holden, working with Amnesty International, have asked the same revealing question of 100 remarkable women. What poem has moved you to tears? The poems chosen range from the eighth century to today, from Rumi and Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath, W.H. Auden to Carol Ann Duffy, Pablo Neruda and Derek Walcott to Imtiaz Dharker and Warsan Shire. Their themes range from love and loss, through mortality and mystery, war and peace, to the beauty and variety of nature.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The year of reading dangerously : how fifty great books (and two not-so-great ones) saved my life / Andy Miller.
“A working father whose life no longer feels like his own discovers the transforming powers of great (and downright terrible) literature in this laugh-out-loud memoir. Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he’d always wanted to read. Books he’d said he’d read, when he hadn’t. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the 6.44.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover This change in the light : a collection of poems / Fiona Kidman.
“Fiona Kidman’s exquisite and adroit poetry invites the reader into her life, introducing us to her family, friends and places she has loved. In turn it touches our own experiences, offering universal relevance and insight.” (Publisher information)
Syndetics book cover And so it is : new poems / Vincent O’Sullivan.
“Hot on the heels of Being Here, O’Sullivan’s capacious selected poems, which many chose as one of the poetry highlights of the year, comes a collection of 75 new poems. They show a mature poet, full of experience, still with the capacity to dazzle.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

This month, many ladies are featured in our new books… as well as economics, politics, journalism and philosophy. Something to get your teeth into!

Syndetics book cover All the single ladies : unmarried women and the rise of an independent nation / Rebecca Traister.
“In 2010, Rebecca Traister started a book that she thought would be about the twenty-first-century phenomenon of the American single woman, but she made a startling discovery: historically, when women have had options beyond early heterosexual marriage, their resulting independence has provoked massive social change. Unmarried women were crucial to the abolition, suffrage, temperance, and labor movements; they created settlement houses and secondary education for women. Today, only 20% of Americans are wed by age 29, compared to nearly 60% in 1960. The Population Reference Bureau calls it a “dramatic reversal.” Traister sets out to examine how this generation of independent women is changing the world.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Pistols and petticoats : 175 years of lady detectives in fact and fiction / Erika Janik.
“A lively exploration of the struggles faced by women in law enforcement and mystery fiction for the past 175 years. In 1910 Alice Wells took the oath to join the all-male Los Angeles Police Department. She wore no uniform, carried no weapon, and kept her badge stuffed in her pocketbook. She wasn’t the first or only policewoman, but she became the movement’s most visible voice. Police work from its very beginning was considered a male domain, far too dangerous and rough for a woman to even contemplate much less take on as a profession. Women who donned the badge faced harassment and discrimination. It would take more than seventy years for women to enter the force as full-fledged officers.”–Provided by publisher.
Syndetics book cover Harley and me : embracing risk on the road to a more authentic life / Bernadette Murphy.
“What happens when women in midlife step out of what’s predictable? For Bernadette Murphy, learning to ride a motorcycle at forty-eight becomes the catalyst that transforms her from a settled wife and professor with three teenage children into a woman on her own. The confidence she gained from mastering a new skill and conquering her fears gave her the courage to face deeper issues in her own life and start taking risks. …With scientific research and journalistic interviews weaving through a page-turning, road trip narrative, this is a compelling look at how one woman found deeper meaning out on the open road.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Going red : the two million voters who will elect the next president–and how conservatives can win them / Ed Morrissey.
“Ed Morrissey argues that the fate of conservatism hangs on the 2016 election–and on a mere seven counties that will decide the whole race. Together, these counties are home to only 2 million people (that is, 1.5% of the American population), but it was in these communities that Barack Obama won the 2008 and 2012 elections, and in 2016, they hold the key to the states Republicans must win in order to take back the White House. Due to the Democrats’ misadventures under the Obama administration, the door is open for Republicans to win these counties–and the presidency…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The power paradox : how we gain and lose influence / Dacher Keltner.
“…It is taken for granted that power corrupts. This is reinforced culturally by everything from Machiavelli to contemporary politics. But how do we get power? And how does it change our behavior? So often, in spite of our best intentions, we lose our hard-won power. Enduring power comes from empathy and giving. Above all, power is given to us by other people. This is what all-too-often we forget, and what Dr. Keltner sets straight. …Dr. Keltner lays out exactly–in twenty original “Power Principles”– how to retain power, why power can be a demonstrably good thing, and the terrible consequences of letting those around us languish in powerlessness.” (Syndetics summary)

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History

Compare the slow decay of Shekhawati’s abandoned mansions, with the continuing turbulent change of the Arab Spring in Jack Shenker’s The Egyptians, or the global waves explained in 1956: The World in Revolt, The New Deal and Jurgen Kocka’s Capitalism, of which the ramifications have irreversibly altered life for us all.

Syndetics book cover Abandoned India : the mansions of Shekhawati / photographs by Kip Scott ; foreword by Lal Singh Shekhawat.
“A rare and evocative photographic portrait of India, and specifically Shekhawati’s ‘abandoned’ mansions, and its desert towns. This exquisitely produced book features a selection of Scott’s work made throughout the region of Shekhawati in Rajasthan, India. Here we glimpse courtyards, living spaces, frescoes, vast interiors, both lovingly restored and bordering on ruin. Scott’s images capture the complex nature of change, of sublime beauty and decay, mirroring an India that will seduce the reader.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The Egyptians : a radical story / Jack Shenker.
“From award-winning journalist Jack Shenker, The Egyptians is the essential book about Egypt and radical politics In early 2011, Cairo’s Tahrir Square briefly commanded the attention of the world. Half a decade later, the international media has largely moved on from Egypt’s explosive cycles of revolution and counter-revolution – but the Arab World’s most populous nation remains as volatile as ever, its turmoil intimately bound up with forms of authoritarian power and grassroots resistance that stretch right across the globe.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Capitalism : a short history / Jürgen Kocka ; translated by Jeremiah Riemer.
“In this book, one of the world’s most renowned historians provides a concise and comprehensive history of capitalism within a global perspective from its medieval origins to the 2008 financial crisis and beyond. From early commercial capitalism in the Arab world, China, and Europe, to nineteenth- and twentieth-century industrialization, to today’s globalized financial capitalism, Jürgen Kocka offers an unmatched account of capitalism, one that weighs its great achievements against its great costs, crises, and failures.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover 1956, the world in revolt / Simon Hall.
“1956 was one of the most remarkable years of the twentieth century. All across the globe, ordinary people spoke out, filled the streets and city squares, and took up arms in an attempt to win their freedom. In response to these unprecedented challenges to their authority, those in power fought back, in a desperate bid to shore up their position. It was an epic contest, and one which made 1956 – like 1789 and 1848 – a year that changed our world.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Republic of spin : an inside history of the American presidency / David Greenberg.
“We now have, and have had for some time, according to Greenberg, the image-is-everything presidency. Spin, he argues, is here to stay; it is neither our savior nor a sinister force eating away at our democratic soul. This revealing account of politics as image in U.S. presidential culture should be read by any student of the American presidency and American politics.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The lovers : Afghanistan’s Romeo & Juliet : the true story of how they defied their families and escaped an honor killing / Rod Nordland.
“Growing up on neighboring farms in the Bamiyan Valley, Zakia and Ali fell in love as teens. Ali asked Zakia’s father, Zaman, for Zakia’s hand in marriage, but because they were from different tribes, Zaman refused. Nordland offers a stark, eye-opening look at the deplorable state of women’s rights in Afghanistan through the travails of a brave, determined young couple.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

Birds rule the roost in the latest crop of arrivals to the science section. Read about extraordinary owls, an epic migration journey, and a heart-warming penguin. The list is rounded off with two recommended reads – a sneak look into the life of bats, and the wonderful contribution that microbes make to Earth.

Syndetics book cover The penguin lessons : what I learned from a remarkable bird, by Tom Michell.
A real-life story of the extraordinary bond between a young English teacher who rescues a penguin from an oil slick in Uruguay. The penguin refuses to leave his rescuer’s side. “That was the moment at which he became my penguin, and whatever the future held, we’d face it together,” says Michell. He names the penguin Juan Salvador (“John Saved”), but Juan Salvador, as it turns out, is the one who saves Michell. This is a witty and yet inspirational book.
Syndetics book cover The secret lives of bats : my adventures with the world’s most misunderstood mammals, by Merlin Tuttle.
Ever since discovering a colony in a cave as a boy, Tuttle has realized how sophisticated and intelligent bats are. As he began to study bats all over the world, he also served tirelessly as their advocate, convincing farmers, landowners, and city dwellers that bats are beneficial members of their local ecosystems. But it was when he discovered that no one had ever produced good photographs of bats exhibiting their natural behaviours that a conservation star was born …. Tuttle’s tales of stalking bats, and of the discoveries he and fellow researchers have made, will make bat lovers out of every reader. (drawn from Booklist review, courtesy of Syndetics)
Syndetics book cover The house of owls, by Tony Angell ; foreword by Robert Michael Pyle.
For a quarter of a century, Tony Angell and his family kept journals of their observations of pairs of western screech owls that occupied a nesting box outside the window of their forest home. His illustrations show owls at work and play – hunting, courting, or raising families. He shares their unique characteristics that distinguish owls from other bird species and provides a fascinating overview of the impact owls have had on human culture and thought.
Syndetics book cover Life’s engines : how microbes made Earth habitable, by Paul G. Falkowski.
From his last chapter “Thanks be to microbes for making this speck of detritus in the stardust of the universe a great place to live for their overgrown relatives, the animals and plants that temporarily decorate and rent the small dot from their microbial ancestors, who maintain it for their future relatives.” Easily understood by anyone with a passing knowledge of science – highly recommended and readable.
Syndetics book cover Unseen city : the majesty of pigeons, the discreet charm of snails & other wonders of the urban wilderness, by Nathanael Johnson.
It all started with Nathanael Johnson’s decision to teach his daughter the name of every tree they passed on their walk to day care in San Francisco. This project turned into a quest to discover the secrets of the neighbourhood’s flora and fauna, and yielded more than names and trivia: Johnson developed a relationship with his nonhuman neighbours. Johnson argues that learning to see the world afresh, like a child, shifts the way we think about nature. (drawn from the publisher’s description)

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Ideas and Society Newsletter for May

This month’s eNewsletter features the best selling book: Ta-Nehisi Coates book Between the world and me; literatures on memoir writing; and books on religion and science. It also features the Ruth Gotlieb oral history which you can listen to online. 

Library News

Literature

This month’s picks feature two books about memoir writing, a genre which has grown exponentially in the last few years. British novelist and critic David Lodge has produced an excellent collection of essays on the topic by prominent writers, and American academic Mary Karr examines what fuels the impulse to reveal all. We also feature a seminal biography on Maurice Gee and a fascinating look at famous writers at the end of their lives.

Syndetics book cover Lives in writing : essays / David Lodge.
“This thoughtful and enlightening collection by one of our best-loved and most highly respected novelists and critics includes essays on Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis, Terry Eagleton, Muriel Spark and Alan Bennett, as well as pieces on John Boorman and the death of Princess Diana. It also gives insight into Lodge’s own writing processes and novels. Full of anecdotes and wonderful observations, Lives in Writing is the perfect literary companion.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The violet hour : great writers at the end / Katie Roiphe.
“From one of our most perceptive and provocative voices comes a deeply researched account of the last days of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak, and James Salter–an arresting and wholly original meditation on mortality.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The art of memoir / Mary Karr.
“Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well. For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning teaching prizes at Syracuse University.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Maurice Gee : life and work / Rachel Barrowman.
“Maurice Gee is one of New Zealand’s greatest fiction writers. His long literary career began in the 1950s and includes seventeen adult novels, thirteen novels for children, a short story collection, and screenplays for television and film. His work is loved by generations of readers and has earned him many awards. [This is] a revelatory new work, by an acclaimed biographer.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

New books this month include the best selling Ta-Nehisi Coates book Between the world and me.

Syndetics book cover The profiteers : Bechtel and the men who built the world / Sally Denton.
“The tale of the Bechtel family dynasty is a classic American business story. It begins with Warren A. “Dad” Bechtel, who led a consortium that constructed the Hoover Dam. From that auspicious start, the family and its eponymous company would go on to “build the world,” from the construction of airports in Hong Kong and Doha, to pipelines and tunnels in Alaska and Europe, to mining and energy operations around the globe. Today Bechtel is one of the largest privately held corporations in the world, enriched and empowered by a long history of government contracts and the privatization of public works, made possible by an unprecedented revolving door between its San Francisco headquarters and Washington. Bechtel executives John McCone, Caspar Weinberger, and George P. Shultz segued from leadership at the company to positions as Director of the CIA, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State, respectively…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Shredded : inside RBS, the bank that broke Britain / Ian Fraser.
“The Royal Bank of Scotland was once one of the most successful and profitable financial institutions in the world; revered, admired and trusted by millions of savers and investors. A trusted employer for tens of thousands of people, with branches on nearly every high street in the land. Now, the very mention of the bank’s name causes fury and resentment, and the former CEO, Fred Goodwin, is regarded by many as the one of the principal culprits of the worst financial crash since 1929. Now, for the first time, award-winning financial journalist Ian Fraser reveals how the ‘light touch, limited touch’ approach to financial regulation of New Labour and the aggressive, confrontational, autocratic and reckless style of Fred Goodwin led to disaster, not just for the Royal Bank of Scotland, but for everyone in the UK…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The end of alchemy : money, banking and the future of the global economy / Mervyn King.
“Most accounts of the recent (financial) crisis focus on the symptoms and not the underlying causes of what went wrong. But those events, vivid though they remain in our memories, comprised only the latest in a long series of financial crises since our present system of commerce became the cornerstone of modern capitalism. The End of Alchemy explains why, ultimately, this was and remains a crisis not of banking – even if we need to reform the banking system – nor of policy-making – even if mistakes were made – but of ideas.” (Book jacket)
Syndetics book cover Between the world and me / Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“…In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men – bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

A fascinating and detailed work on the influence of language and linguistics on the development of religions across the ages is featured in this month’s latest arrivals together with a thoughtful treatment on globalisation by Miroslav Volf.

Syndetics book cover Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious, by David Dark.
Religion is often a forbidden topic in conversation. Some prefer the word “spirituality” which doesn’t have quite the same association with ritual, self-righteousness, or hypocrisy. But religion includes the stories that make up a person’s values and beliefs. Dark illuminates how thoughts are handed down to us, what we judge to be essential, and argues a convincing case for religion’s place in modern society.
Syndetics book cover Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, by Miroslav Volf.
In this perceptive and thoughtful book, a leading theologian discusses how world religions and globalization have interacted across the centuries, but what ought their relationship to be? How do we judge globalization – how well it enables us to live out our authentic humanity? Despite their flaws, religions remain one of our most powerful sources of moral motivation and renewal. The ongoing process of reform in religions needs to shape globalization to encourage people to flourish at every level.
Syndetics book cover Passwords to paradise : how languages have re-invented world religions, by Nicholas Oster.
“Ostler (The Last Lingua Franca) roams across several millennia of world history and delves into precise linguistic shifts looking for clues to how the “missionary religions” of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam have been affected by the new language communities they entered. [He demonstrates how] they may have been altered not only by the imperfect art of translation but by their social, political, and military contexts. … For those fascinated by linguistic transitions, this impressive study is a feast. (drawn from Publisher’s Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics)
Syndetics book cover Shi’i Islam : a beginner’s guide, by Moojan Momen.
“Provides readers with an accessible and insightful introduction to the Shi’i branch of Islam, from its beginnings after the death of the Prophet Muhammad through to the present day. As well as providing a historical overview, the book also introduces readers to Shi’i doctrines and practices, explains the key differences between the Shi’i and Sunni branches of Islam, and addresses the role and position of women within Shi’i communities.” (drawn from publisher’s description)

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Science

What can we see? Intriguing and insightful accounts of our visible and invisible worlds feature in this first edition for 2016. Topics include photos from outer space right down to the contribution that microbes make to our well-being.

Syndetics book cover Invisible : the dangerous allure of the unseen, by Philip Ball.
Ball examines attraction of invisibility and the intriguing ways that the concept connects with myth, magic, and science. This study begins with historical examples e.g. mediaeval magic books, through the more modern scientific ponderings on invisible forms of electromagnetic radiation, such as X-rays, telepathy or optical manipulation through camouflage, through to a discussion on H.G. Wells’s novel The Invisible Man. Very readable, and the extensive references will be useful for those wishing to follow up on the topics it covers.
Syndetics book cover Earth + space : photographs from the archives of NASA, preface by Bill Nye ; texts by Nirmala Nataraj.
Marvel at the wonders of our universe with this collection of photographs from NASA of Earth from above, and our solar system. Each photo is accompanied by an explanation its place in the cosmic ballet of planets, stars, dust, and matter–from Earth’s limb to solar flares, the Jellyfish Nebula to Pandora’s Cluster.
Syndetics book cover The invisible history of the human race : how DNA and history shape our identities and our futures, by Christine Kenneally.
This account of the historical human journey includes enlightening descriptions of genome research projects, the connection between genetics and evolution, and the benefits and drawbacks of genealogy. … Kenneally argues that all humans are interconnected – there is no biology of race. Race is culturally defined and has artificial perspectives… Controversies remain about privacy, health, data-gathering techniques, the use of genetic data, and future developments within varying societies/cultures along with related ethical issues. (drawn from Choice magazine)
Syndetics book cover The hidden half of nature : the microbial roots of life and health, by David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé.
Microbes living inside us outnumber our own cells by almost 10 to 1. But those in the soil and sea reaches into the thousands of trillions, taking up half of the weight of all life on Earth. These microbes are critical both to our own health and the health of the planet. The authors mix descriptions of the many varieties and behaviours of microscopic creatures such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, with their personal slants on how they helped their garden blossom and Biklé’s encounter with cancer.

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Ideas and Society Newsletter for April

Welcome to this month’s ideas and society newsletter. 2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare. You may be interested to read the book about the most important year in English literature: The year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. This newsletter also features books about global issues, religions, cross-cultural histories, genetics and the universe.

Library News

Literature

1606 was a momentous year in both the history of Britain and of English literature. One had a direct influence on the other. Read exactly how and why in our star pick this month – the widely acclaimed The year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606.

Syndetics book cover The year of Lear : Shakespeare in 1606 / James Shapiro.
“Preeminent Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro shows how the tumultuous events in England in 1606 affected Shakespeare and shaped the three great tragedies he wrote that year– King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover By the book : writers on literature and the literary life from The New York Times Book Review / edited and with an introduction by Pamela Paul ; foreword by Scott Turow ; illustrations by Jillian Tamaki.
“Sixty-five of the world’s leading writers open up about the books and authors that have meant the most to them.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The republic of imagination : a case for fiction / Azar Nafisi ; illustrations by Peter Sís.
“From the author of the bestselling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran comes a powerful and passionate case for the vital role of fiction today. Ten years ago, Azar Nafisi electrified readers with her million-copy bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran, which told the story of how, against the backdrop of morality squads and executions, she taught The Great Gatsby and other classics to her eager students in Iran. In this exhilarating follow-up, Nafisi offers an impassioned, beguiling and utterly original tribute to the vital importance of fiction in a democratic society.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Boundaries : people and places of central Otago / Brian Turner ; photography by Steve Calveley.
“This handsome collection is charged with evocative and candid prose and poetry and an inspiring alternative vision. Boundaries is illustrated throughout with stunning photographs by Steve Calveley.” (Random House website)

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Popular Non-Fiction

From Russia and China to Spain and Greece, this month’s political books take us around much of the world. Also featured are oil, Lego Mindstorms and mindful tech, something for everyone!

Syndetics book cover The world in conflict : understanding the world’s troublespots / John Andrews.
“…In The World in Conflict, John Andrews tackles head-on the reasons why global conflict is an ever-present in our lives. He analyses today’s conflicts continent by continent, considering the causes, participants, impact and likely outcomes. He looks at recently-ended wars that remain prone to intermittent fighting. And, crucially, he considers where, why and how new conflicts might erupt. This is a book for our times, an essential guide for anyone and everyone who wants to know more about the world’s main danger spots and how and why war and terrorism persist – in short, how we might better understand our world in conflict.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Mindful tech : how to bring balance to our digital lives / David M. Levy.
“From email to smart phones, and from social media to Google searches, digital technologies have transformed the way we learn, entertain ourselves, socialize, and work. Despite their usefulness, these technologies have often led to information overload, stress, and distraction. David M. Levy, who has lived his life between the “fast world” of high tech and the “slow world” of contemplation, offers a welcome guide to being more relaxed, attentive, and emotionally balanced while online.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Blood oil : tyrants, violence, and the rules that run the world / Leif Wenar.
“Natural resources like oil and minerals are the largest source of unaccountable power in the world. Petrocrats like Putin and the Saudis spend resource money on weapons and oppression; militants in Iraq and in the Congo spend resource money on radicalization and ammunition. Resource-fueled authoritarians and extremists present endless crises to the West-and the source of their resource power is ultimately ordinary consumers, doing their everyday shopping at the gas station and the mall. …Blood Oil shows how the West can now lead a peaceful revolution by ending its dependence on authoritarian oil, and by getting consumers out of business with the men of blood.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Hacking your Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit / John Baichtal.
“You can do way more with your LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit than anyone ever told you! …You’ll discover just how much you can do with only the parts that came with your kit-and how much farther you can go with extremely low-cost add-ons like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. You’ll learn how to reprogram your Mindstorms Intelligent Brick to add additional hardware options and create more complex programs.” (Book jacket)

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Religion & Beliefs

This edition covers quite a mix of approaches and worldviews. Two books chart the growth of individuals across a year of challenges, while others urge a return to the beliefs at the heart of their faiths.

Syndetics book cover The Bloomsbury reader on Islam in the West, edited by Edward E. Curtis IV.
Some assume that Islam is foreign to the West, but it has been part of western civilisation for more than a millennium. The Reader discusses the impact of Islamic ideas and Muslims on Western politics, societies, and cultures. Part 1 takes a more historical approach e.g. significance of Islam in medieval and early modern times e.g. Islamic Spain, while Part 2 addresses more contemporary issues. A timeline of key events in the history of Islam in the West is particularly helpful.
Syndetics book cover Secular meditation : 32 practices for cultivating inner peace, compassion, and joy, by Rick Heller.
Written by meditation teacher Rick Heller includes step-by-step instructions, personal stories, and question prompts to encourage the reader develop more empathy, reduce stress and build resilience. “Heller simplifies what is often found mysterious, describing and providing detailed instructions for thirty-two different practices, ensuring that anyone can find the right one.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover A year of living prayerfully : how a curious traveler met the Pope, walked on coals, danced with rabbis, and revived his prayer life, by Jared Brock.
Brock takes readers on a world tour, but learns something of “the practice of the presence of God” (prayer according to 17th-century monk Brother Lawrence), trust, reverence, evangelism, and the need for silence. This book is a story of a young man finding his way as a pilgrim, although at times his honesty leads the reader through insensitive comments (humour?). However, after this year, Brock realises that he is just at the beginning of his journey.
Syndetics book cover The year without a purchase : one family’s quest to stop shopping and start connecting, by Scott Dannemiller.
“In 2005, a life-changing mission year in Guatemala inspired Dannemiller and his wife, Gabby, to develop a family mission statement: live with integrity, be grateful what they have, grow in faith together, and serve God’s people. Ten years later, living in the suburbs with two children and feeling spiritually off-track, they embark on another yearlong experiment to reinvigorate their mission … Dannemiller explores a handful of recurring themes, such as wanting “to do the right thing, but not wanting to force our values on other people,” the difficulties around deciding what’s a necessity, and managing social pressures, particularly rituals and expectations around gift-giving.” (drawn from Publisher Weekly)

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History

A promising highlight from this month’s offer is Native, an insight into the complexities of a life led by an Israeli-Palestinian.

Syndetics book cover Midnight in broad daylight : A Japanese American family caught between two worlds / Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
“This is an epic chronicle of the Fukuharas, a Japanese family living in the Pacific Northwest in the early 20th century who moved to their mother’s ancestral home in Hiroshima during the Great Depression, only to have two of the children return to the United States, while others were conscripted in military service. Sakamoto’s scrupulously researched story employs material gathered through interviews with surviving Fukuhara family members to show how the war in the Pacific affected both the Japanese and Japanese Americans.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Native : dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian life / Sayed Kashua ; translated form the Hebrew by Ralph Mandel.
“This startling and insightful collection of Kashua’s (Second Person Singular) popular weekly columns for the Hebrew-language newspaper Haaretz narrates the sobering reality of life as an Israeli-Palestinian. Whether recounting the insults encountered by his children, shaming from friends and critics alike, Kafkaesque encounters with the civil justice system, or his dreams of escape, Kashua maintains a light satiric tone and steady compassion even as the essays slide into disillusionment. [It] is bound to open the eyes and awaken the sympathies of a new swath of loyal readers.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The hundred-year walk : an Armenian odyssey / Dawn Anahid MacKeen.
“An epic tale of one man’s courage in the face of genocide and his granddaughter’s quest to tell his story. In the heart of the Ottoman Empire as World War I rages, Stepan Miskjian’s world becomes undone. […] The Hundred-Year Walk alternates between Stepan’s saga and another journey that takes place a century later, after his family discovers his long-lost journals.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

What can we see? Intriguing and insightful accounts of our visible and invisible worlds feature in this first edition for 2016. Topics include photos from outer space right down to the contribution that microbes make to our well-being.

Syndetics book cover Iridescence : the play of colours, by Peter Sutton and Michael Snow.
This book introduces and explains the mysterious capacity of the human eye to perceive the beautiful effects of iridescence, or non-pigmented colour, on a wide range of phenomena – from paua to soap bubbles, rainbows to CDs. Iridescence is described both scientifically and through a series of images from the world of art as well as nature.
Syndetics book cover Atoms under the floorboards : the surprising science hidden in your home, by Chris Woodford.
Is it better to build skyscrapers like wobbly jellies or stacks of biscuits? Can you burn your house down with an electric drill? We all use Post-it Notes, but how do they keep sticking after repeated use? The author explains complex matters simply in lively and educational ways.
Syndetics book cover Unnatural selection : how we are changing life, gene by gene, by Emily Monosson.
Evolution is now in the fast lane. Bugs, bacteria, weeds, and cancer cells are evolving resistances to cures or herbicides at rates far beyond other species. Vaccines unable to keep up with viruses, or bedbugs that have slipped past pest control, are just some of the examples of reactions to chemicals which are terrifying in their near-total takeover of modern life. There are unrecognized evolutionary changes under way all around us. Monosson’s thesis is to say “Stop” to the convenience spraying, and urges us to reduce our chemical footprint.
Syndetics book cover Black hole : how an idea abandoned by Newtonians, hated by Einstein, and gambled on by Hawking became loved / Marcia Bartusiak.
“For more than half a century, physicists and astronomers engaged in heated dispute over the possibility of black holes in the universe. The weirdly alien notion of a space-time abyss from which nothing escapes–not even light–seemed to confound all logic. This engrossing book tells the story of the fierce black hole debates and the contributions of Einstein and Hawking and other leading thinkers who completely altered our view of the universe.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Ideas and Society Newsletter for January

Library News

Literature

The internet is now the most widely-used form of communication so the ability to write for it clearly and pleasantly is of paramount importance. Nicely Said will show you how.
This month sees the receipt of a posthumous collection of essays by the celebrated Christopher Hitchens and Taking my mother to the opera – a New Zealand book of poems about landmark occasions in the author’s life. And for those of us of A Certain Age – a lovely little book on all the covers of the beloved Ladybird books – still going strong after 60 years.

Syndetics book cover And yet … : essays / Christopher Hitchens.And Yet: Essays
“The death of Christopher Hitchens in December 2011 prematurely silenced a voice that was among the most admired of contemporary writers. For more than forty years, Hitchens delivered to numerous publications on both sides of the Atlantic essays that were astonishingly wide-ranging and provocative.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Nicely said : writing for the web with style and purpose / Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee.
“Whether you’re new to web writing, or you’re a professional writer looking to deepen your skills, this book is for you. You’ll learn how to write web copy that addresses your readers’ needs and supports your business goals. Lessons are drawn from real-world examples and interviews with people who put these ideas into action every day.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Taking my mother to the opera / Diane Brown.
“Piquant, frank, open, wistful, tender, funny … this personal memoir by Diane Brown is deftly ‘marbled’ throughout with social history. From carefully chosen anecdotes it slowly unfolds a vivid and compelling sense of character and the psychological dynamics within the family. Many readers will recognize the New Zealand so vividly portrayed here, as Brown marshals deeply personal events and childhood memories in a delightfully astute, understated poetic form.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Ladybird by design / Lawrence Zeegen.
Ladybird By Design is a fascinating look at the social and design history of the well-known publisher Ladybird Books, released to celebrate 100 years since the familiar ladybird was first registered as a logo in 1915. Ladybird by Design charts the rise of the company from its origin as a small Loughborough printer through to its growth into a global publisher beloved by millions of children, teachers and parents.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

Our feature book this month makes the case for those who have decided that life is rich and rewarding without having children. In another book, a plea has gone up for our world to not be economically governed any more by GDP, which does not measure so much of the economy, but instead measures ‘more output’. Finally, the New York Times bestseller which controversially argues that women should give control over her marriage to her husband, for a happier union.

Syndetics book cover The little big number : how GDP came to rule the world and what to do about it / Dirk Philipsen.
“In one lifetime, GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, has ballooned from a narrow economic tool into a global article of faith. …While economies and cultures measure their performance by it, GDP ignores central facts such as quality, costs, or purpose. It only measures output: more cars, more accidents; more lawyers, more trials; more extraction, more pollution–all count as success. …Dirk Philipsen uncovers a submerged history dating back to the 1600s, climaxing with the Great Depression and World War II, when the first version of GDP arrived at the forefront of politics. Today, increasing GDP is the highest goal of politics… But the world can no longer afford GDP rule. A finite planet cannot sustain blind and indefinite expansion. If we consider future generations equal to our own, replacing the GDP regime is the ethical imperative of our times.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Prepared for the worst : selected essays and minority reports / Christopher Hitchens.
“Christopher Hitchens is widely recognized as having been one of the liveliest and most influential of contemporary political analysts. Prepared for the Worst is a collection of the best of his essays of the 1980s published on both sides of the Atlantic. These essays confirmed his reputation as a bold commentator combining intellectual tenacity with mordant wit, whether he was writing about the intrigues of Reagan’s Washington, a popular novel, the work of Tom Paine, the man George Orwell, or reporting (with sympathy as well as toughness) from Beirut or Bombay, Warsaw or Managua.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Body of truth : how science, history, and culture drive our obsession with weight– and what we can do about it / Harriet Brown.
“…Harriet Brown has explored the conundrums of weight and body image for more than a decade, as a science journalist, as a woman who has struggled with weight, as a mother, wife, and professor. In this book, she describes how biology, psychology, metabolism, media, and culture come together to shape our ongoing obsession with our bodies, and what we can learn from them to help us shift the way we think. Brown exposes some of the myths behind the rhetoric of obesity, gives historical and contemporary context for what it means to be “fat”, and offers readers ways to set aside the hysteria and think about weight and health in more nuanced and accurate ways.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The surrendered wife : a practical guide for finding intimacy, passion, and peace with a man / Laura Doyle.
“A “New York Times” bestseller, this controversial guide to improving your marriage has transformed thousands of relationships, bringing women romance, harmony, and the intimacy they crave. Like millions of women, Laura Doyle wanted her marriage to be better. But when she tried to get her husband to be more romantic, helpful, and ambitious, he withdrew–and she was lonely and exhausted from controlling everything. Desperate to be in love with her man again, she decided to stop telling him what to do and how to do it. When Doyle surrendered control, something magical happened. The union she had always dreamed of appeared. The man who had wooed her was back…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

The first crop of beliefs books for 2016 reveals musings on atheism, mysticism, hospitality and islam, the holy grail, and writings inspired by the good book.

Syndetics book cover Kings of the Grail : tracing the historic journey of the cup of Christ from Jerusalem to modern-day Spain, by Margarita Torres Sevilla and José Miguel Ortega del Río ; translated from the Spanish by Rosie Marteau.
The authors, a medieval history lecturer and an art historian, came across the clues leading to the Grail’s discovery in parchments in the Egyptian University of Al-Azhar. This led them on a three-year investigation as they traced the Grail’s journey across the globe and discovered its final resting place in the Basilica of San Isidoro in Leon, Spain. This is the definitive guide to one of history’s most sought-after treasures, the origin and object of both Arthurian myth and Christian legend, offering objective information to support an extraordinary discovery. (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Battling the gods : atheism in the ancient world, by Tim Whitmarsh.
How old is atheism? It did not start in the Enlightenment, but in a far more remote past. Priests were functionaries rather than sources of moral or spiritual wisdom. There was an extraordinary variety of perspectives on sacred matters. Whitmarsh explores individuals who challenged their existence of gods such as ancient poets and philosophers and writers, such as Socrates, who was executed for rejecting the Athenian gods. “By shining a light on atheism’s first thousand years, Battling the Gods offers a timely reminder that nonbelief has a wealth of tradition of its own, and, indeed, its own heroes. (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Fighting God : an atheist manifesto for a religious world, by David Silverman.
Silverman is the president of American Atheists and one of the best-known atheists in America. Known as “America’s loudest heathen,” a term he embraces proudly, Silverman is passionate about atheism and atheist equality. He presents his arguments and personal reasons for being an atheist and wants to call atheists to emerge from the shadows. Fighting God is a provocative, unapologetic book that takes religion to task.
Syndetics book cover Hospitality and Islam : welcoming in God’s name, by Mona Siqqidui.
Considering its prominent role in many faith traditions, surprisingly little has been written about hospitality within the context of religion, particularly Islam. In her new book, Mona Siddiqui, explores and compares teachings within the various Muslim traditions over the centuries, while also drawing on other materials such as diverse as Christian reflections on charity, and Islamic and Western feminist writings on gender issues. Applying a more theological approach to the idea of mercy as a fundamental basis for human relationships, this book will appeal to a wide audience. (drawn from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Post-traumatic church syndrome : a memoir of humor and healing, by Reba Riley.
Reba Riley’s twenty-ninth year was a terrible time. An untreatable chronic illness forced her to take stock of things and she decided if she couldn’t fix her body, she might heal her injured spirit. This began a circuit of visiting thirty religions before her thirtieth birthday. She visited an Amish community, a Buddhist temple, a virtual reality church, movie theater, a drive-in bar, sweat lodge, and fasted for thirty days without food. She realised she didn’t have to choose a religion to choose God. This is a book for questioners, doubters, misfits, and seekers of all faiths. (drawn from Syndetics summary)

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History

This month, summer-friendly reading that will take you wandering through the wilderness of Claxton, where Mark Cocker’s seasonal nature diary springs with vivid detail. In another diary, experience a candid day in the life of Anne McEntegart, who headed a busy farm in the turbulent years of World War II in her support of the war effort. Both make sense of their human world through the subtle rhythms of nature.

Syndetics book cover Claxton : field notes from a small planet / Mark Cocker ; illustrated by Jonathan Gibbs.
“In 2001 Mark Cocker moved to Claxton, a small village in Norfolk. In a series of daily writings spanning the course of a year he explores his relationship to the landscape he lives in, to nature and to all the living things around him – the birds, plants, trees, mammals, hoverflies, moths, butterflies, bush crickets, grasshoppers, ants and bumblebees. Passionate, astonishing and inspiring, this book is a celebration of the wonder that lies in our everyday experience.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The milk lady at New Park Farm : the wartime diary of Anne McEntegart June 1943 – February 1945 / Anne McEntegart.
“Anne McEntegart wanted to support the War Effort. Her Royal Air Force officer husband was working abroad and her only child was in Canada, evacuated for safety. Aged thirty-eight, Anne left London, and her life as the wife of an officer, to work on the land and deliver milk for Walter Gossling at New Park Farm, just outside the village of Brockenhurst, in the New Forest.” (Back cover)
Syndetics book cover Iraq : a history / John Robertson.
“In this insightful analysis, highly-respected expert John Robertson canvases the entirety of Iraq’s rich history, from the seminal advances of its Neolithic inhabitants to the aftermath of the American-led invasion and Iraq today. Grounded in extensive research, this balanced account of a country and its people explores the greatness and grandeur of Iraq’s achievements, the brutality and magnificence of its ancient empires, its contributions to the emergence of the world’senduring monotheistic faiths, and the role the great Arab caliphs of Baghdad played in the medieval cultural flowering that contributed so much to the European Renaissance and the eventual rise of the West.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The love of strangers : what six Muslim students learned in Jane Austen’s London / Nile Green.
“In July 1815, six Iranian students arrived in London under the escort of their chaperone, Captain Joseph D’Arcy. Their mission was to master the modern sciences behind the rapid rise of Europe. Over the next four years, they lived both the low life and high life of Regency London, from being down and out after their abandonment by D’Arcy to charming their way into society and landing on the gossip pages. The Love of Strangers tells the story of their search for love and learning in Jane Austen’s England.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Fighters in the shadows : a new history of the French resistance / Robert Gildea.
“The French Resistance has an iconic status in the struggle to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe, but its story is entangled in myths. […] Robert Gildea’s penetrating history of resistance in France during World War II sweeps aside “the French Resistance” of a thousand clichés, showing that much more was at stake than freeing a single nation from Nazi tyranny.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

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

Syndetics book cover Black hole : how an idea abandoned by Newtonians, hated by Einstein, and gambled on by Hawking became loved / Marcia Bartusiak.
“For more than half a century, physicists and astronomers engaged in heated dispute over the possibility of black holes in the universe. The weirdly alien notion of a space-time abyss from which nothing escapes–not even light–seemed to confound all logic. This engrossing book tells the story of the fierce black hole debates and the contributions of Einstein and Hawking and other leading thinkers who completely altered our view of the universe.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The fascinating world of graph theory / Arthur Benjamin, Gary Chartrand, Ping Zhang.
The fascinating world of graph theory goes back several centuries and revolves around the study of graphs–mathematical structures showing relations between objects. With applications in biology, computer science, transportation science, and other areas, graph theory encompasses some of the most beautiful formulas in mathematics–and some of its most famous problems. Requiring readers to have a math background only up to high school algebra, this book explores the questions and puzzles that have been studied, and often solved, through graph theory. An eye-opening journey into the world of graphs, this book offers exciting problem-solving possibilities for mathematics and beyond.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Living with the stars : how the human body is connected to the life cycles of the Earth, the planets, and the stars / Karel Schrijver and Iris Schrijver.
Living with the Stars describes the many fascinating connections between the universe and the human body, which range from the makeup of DNA and human cells, growth and aging, to stellar evolution and the beginning of the universe. This popular science book should be of interest to anyone who wonders about the processes going on in our human bodies that connect us to our environment on Earth, to the Solar System, to the stars in our Galaxy, and even to the origin of the universe.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The developing genome : an introduction to behavioral epigenetics / David S. Moore.
“Why do we grow up to look, act, and feel as we do? Through most of the twentieth century, scientists and laypeople answered this question by referring to two factors alone: our experiences and our genes. But recent discoveries about how genes work have revealed a new way to understand the developmental origins of our characteristics. These discoveries have emerged from the new science of behavioral epigenetics–and just as the whole world has now heard of DNA, “epigenetics” will be a household word in the near future. What matters is what our genes do. And because research in behavioral epigenetics has shown that our experiences influence how our genes function, this work has changed how scientists think about nature, nurture, and human development. The Developing Genome is an introduction to this exciting new discipline.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Ideas & Society Newsletter for December

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

Library News

Literature

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

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

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Popular Non-Fiction

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

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

 

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

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Religion & Beliefs

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

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

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History

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

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

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Science

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

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

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Ideas & Society Newsletter for October

Welcome to the latest Ideas & Society newsletter! This month we feature a variety of books on topics ranging from how to write crime fiction to interesting historical stories and the way seeds and nuts shaped our history. Enjoy!

Library News

Literature

Coincidentally, many of this month’s picks have red covers. Red is the colour of passion, life and energy and these are the books to get you going, whether writing, reading or better understanding literature.

Syndetics book cover On writing / Charles Bukowski ; edited by Abel Debritto.
“Sharp and moving reflections and ruminations on the artistry and craft of writing from one of our most iconoclastic, pivoting, and celebrated masters. Charles Bukowski’s stories, poems, and novels have left an enduring mark on our culture. In this collection of previously unpublished material–letters to publishers, editors, friends, and fellow writers–Bukowski shares his insights on the art of creation. On Writing reveals an artist brutally frank about the drudgery of work and canny and uncompromising about the absurdities of life–and of art. It illuminates the hard-edged, complex humanity of a true American legend and countercultural icon–the ‘laureate of American lowlife’.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover How to write crime fiction / Sarah Williams.
“Using examples from contemporary specialists in each of the chosen genres, this book provides the reader with practical pointers, clear explanations and step-by-step exercises to develop their skills and understanding, and find their own voice.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Advanced banter : the QI book of quotations / [compiled by] John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.
“Upgrade your small talk instantly with this compendium of crisp one-liners.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover What could possibly go wrong… / Jeremy Clarkson.
“No one writes about cars like Jeremy Clarkson. While most correspondents are too busy diving straight into BHP, MPG and MPH, Jeremy appreciates that there are more important things to life. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the cars. Eventually. But first we should consider: The case for invading France; the overwhelming appeal of a nice sit-down; the inconvenience of gin and tonic; why clothes are no better than ice cream; spot-welding with the Duchess of Kent; why Denmark is the best place in the world. Armed only with conviction, curiosity, enthusiasm and a pair of stout trousers, Jeremy hurtles around the world – along motorway, autoroute, freeway and autobahn – in search of answers to life’s puzzles and ponderings without forethought or fear for his own safety. What, you have to ask, could possibly go wrong . . .” (Syndetics summary).

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Popular Non-Fiction

In one of our featured books a plea has gone up for our world to not be economically governed any more by GDP, which does not measure so much of the economy, but instead measures ‘more output’. Plus we have the New York Times bestseller which controversially argues that women should give control over her marriage to her husband, for a happier union.

Syndetics book cover The little big number : how GDP came to rule the world and what to do about it / Dirk Philipsen.
“In one lifetime, GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, has ballooned from a narrow economic tool into a global article of faith. …While economies and cultures measure their performance by it, GDP ignores central facts such as quality, costs, or purpose. It only measures output: more cars, more accidents; more lawyers, more trials; more extraction, more pollution–all count as success. …Dirk Philipsen uncovers a submerged history dating back to the 1600s, climaxing with the Great Depression and World War II, when the first version of GDP arrived at the forefront of politics. Today, increasing GDP is the highest goal of politics… But the world can no longer afford GDP rule. A finite planet cannot sustain blind and indefinite expansion. If we consider future generations equal to our own, replacing the GDP regime is the ethical imperative of our times.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Prepared for the worst : selected essays and minority reports / Christopher Hitchens.
“Christopher Hitchens is widely recognized as having been one of the liveliest and most influential of contemporary political analysts. Prepared for the Worst is a collection of the best of his essays of the 1980s published on both sides of the Atlantic. These essays confirmed his reputation as a bold commentator combining intellectual tenacity with mordant wit, whether he was writing about the intrigues of Reagan’s Washington, a popular novel, the work of Tom Paine, the man George Orwell, or reporting (with sympathy as well as toughness) from Beirut or Bombay, Warsaw or Managua.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The surrendered wife : a practical guide for finding intimacy, passion, and peace with a man / Laura Doyle.
“A “New York Times” bestseller, this controversial guide to improving your marriage has transformed thousands of relationships, bringing women romance, harmony, and the intimacy they crave. Like millions of women, Laura Doyle wanted her marriage to be better. But when she tried to get her husband to be more romantic, helpful, and ambitious, he withdrew–and she was lonely and exhausted from controlling everything. Desperate to be in love with her man again, she decided to stop telling him what to do and how to do it. When Doyle surrendered control, something magical happened. The union she had always dreamed of appeared. The man who had wooed her was back…” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

This month’s beliefs selections explore journeys that we may encounter – why we make life decisions to leave or join groups, how we transition through stages in our lives, or how certain events can transform our whole perspective.

Syndetics book cover Bridge between worlds : extraordinary experiences that changed lives, by Dan Millman and Doug Childers.
This is a collection of inspiring stories about people whose lives were changed by extraordinary events – “unique journeys across bridges to a higher reality.”(Syndetics summary) In the authors’ cases a sudden crash changed Millman’s Olympic hopes, while Childers experienced a violent attack. Lives of ordinary people as well as more famous figures invite the reader to reconsider the mysterious possibilities for growth hidden in daily life.
Syndetics book cover Soul shifts : transformative wisdom for creating a life of authentic awakening, emotional freedom, and practical spirituality, by Barbara De Angelis.
“There are pivotal moments in the lives of all seekers when we realize that we’ve been traveling on our path of growth toward happiness and ful­fillment, but, simply put, we want to go faster. How we have been living, working, and loving just isn’t enough or even acceptable anymore. We know we’re being called to something more signi­ficant and expanded–we can feel it. At these times what’s needed is not simply more change or an adjustment in our outer life, but profound transformation. We don’t just want to rearrange the pieces of ourselves so that they look better temporarily. We want nothing less than rebirth. We are ready for Soul Shifts. ….” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover All the places to go… how will you know? : God has placed before you an open door. What will you do? by John Ortberg.
God opens doors through circumstances and invites us to walk through. There are no guarantees what is on the other side, but how we respond shapes the person we will become. Author John Ortberg opens our eyes to the many opportunities which are placed before us each day, teaches us how to recognize them, and gives us the encouragement to step out in faith and embrace what follows.
Image from amazon.com Walking the Bible : a journey by land through the five books of Moses, by Bruce Feiler.
Feiler has joined archaeologist Avner Goren in a trek through the Middle East, visiting the sites mentioned in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. This weaves together archaeological evidence, history, theology, myth, and travelogue, to explore many stories in the Pentateuch as he visited the places. His account also includes encounters with other pilgrims and interviews with local residents. One senses that Feiler’s own spiritual journey was strengthened by his first hand experience of this significant stories on location.

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History

Power and politics run deep in this month’s selection. Some titles cover a vast span, chronicling the internal mechanisms of those in charge, while others focus on the intense personal reserves used to pick up the pieces of these often violent legacies of power.

Syndetics book cover Petals and bullets : Dorothy Morris, New Zealand nurse in the Spanish Civil War / Mark Derby.
“This book is based on the vivid, detailed, and evocative letters New Zealand nurse Dorothy Morris sent from Spain and other European countries. They have been supplemented by wide-ranging research to record a life of outstanding professional dedication, resourcefulness, and courage. […] Dorothy Morris’s remarkable and pioneering work in the fields of military medicine for civilian casualties, and large-scale humanitarian relief projects is told in this book for the first time.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Deng Xiaoping : a revolutionary life / Alexander V. Pantsov, with Steven I. Levine.
“Deng Xiaoping joined the Chinese Communist movement as a youth and rose in its ranks to become an important lieutenant of Mao’s from the 1930s onward. Two years after Mao’s death in 1976, Deng became the de facto leader of the Chinese Communist Party and the prime architect of China’s post-Mao reforms. Abandoning the Maoist socio-economic policies he had long fervently supported, he set in motion changes that would dramatically transform China’s economy, society, and position in the world. Three decades later, we are living with the results.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Nagasaki : life after nuclear war / Susan Southard.
“A poignant and complex picture of the second atomic bomb’s enduring physical and psychological tolls. Eyewitness accounts are visceral and haunting… But the book’s biggest achievement is its treatment of the aftershocks in the decades since 1945.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The wisdom seeker : finding the seed of advantage in the Khmer Rouge / Pisey Leng as told to Jennifer Colford ; foreword by Rob Hamill.
“Pisey Leng miraculously survived the infamous killing fields of Cambodia that claimed the lives of nearly two million people in the late seventies. In the face of unspeakable horrors, a light shined in Pisey that kept her determined to survive […] You’ll gain insight into one of the darkest points in human history. Yet your eyes will be opened to the unlimited power you have to: find serenity and peace during the worst of times.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover American warlords : how Roosevelt’s high command led America to victory in World War II / Jonathan W. Jordan.
“In a lifetime shaped by politics, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proved himself a master manipulator of Congress, the press, and the public. But when war in Europe and Asia threatened America’s shores, FDR found himself in a world turned upside down, where his friends became his foes, his enemies his allies.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

Read more about whale and dolphin culture, restoring extinct animals through cloning and how seeds have shaped our history.

Syndetics book cover Cakes, custard + category theory : easy recipes for understanding complex mathematics, by Eugenia Cheng.
Packed with entertaining examples of mathematical culinary analogies, puzzles and recipes (including chocolate brownies, sandwiches, Yorkshire puddings bagels) the author sets about her mission in life which is to rid the world of maths phobia. Her enthusiasm for the world of maths is infectious and this will appeal both to the maths glutton and those with little appetite. “This is maths at its absolute tastiest.” (Syndetics)
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 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.
Syndetics book cover The triumph of seeds : how grains, nuts, kernels, pulses, and pips, conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history, by Thor Hanson.
Seeds are quite literally the stuff and staff of life, supporting diets, economies, and civilizations around the globe. The search for nutmeg and the humble peppercorn drove the Age of Discovery, and cottonseed help spark the Industrial Revolution, while a Middle Eastern grass known as wheat has underpinned economies and diets for much of the world for centuries. In nature and in culture, seeds are fundamental–objects of beauty, evolutionary wonder, and simple fascination – as Hanson puts it, “the simple joy of seeing something beautiful, doing what it is meant to do.” This is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow. (drawn from Syndetics summary).

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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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