This is the fourth "What Every American Should Know About..." book I've read and just as fascinating as the others. Published in 2008, this book is fi...moreThis is the fourth "What Every American Should Know About..." book I've read and just as fascinating as the others. Published in 2008, this book is filled with facts, history, and the current state of affairs of the countries which comprise the Middle East. Although it's not the sexiest title in the world, it's a book that I read like a page-turning thriller. I kept putting down the fiction titles I've been reading and reading this instead. Before this book, I only had vague notions of what what was going on in this part of the world, and little idea of how it got that way. But after reading this, I've got a much better understanding of the area, it's diverse people, and how they got there. One thing that stands out is how you just can't paint these Middle Eastern countries as simply good and bad, black or white. They all have their good and bad points. And the USA is included in that assessment since the USA has had a big hand in shaping Middle Eastern affairs and it's not always been a helping hand. Nobody comes away cleanly from this book. Not the USA, the British, the French, or the many characters in the Middle East. It's a messy world and this book helped me put it in context. This is just fascinating stuff. (less)
A dozen years ago my inamorata bestowed upon me the first book in this lexigraphic series. Loved it. Six years later I read the penultimate book. Dug...moreA dozen years ago my inamorata bestowed upon me the first book in this lexigraphic series. Loved it. Six years later I read the penultimate book. Dug it. And now I've finally read the third book. Liked it. The first one was the best but these are all fun for word nerds and those of us who aspire to linguistic snobbery. Along with learning arcane words, we are treated to the authors humorous example sentences where he tries using the word. A brief example:
gilliver n. A wanton wench. "What is this 'gilliver' you have on your Christmas gift wish list, Morris?"
Eight years ago I read Ex Libris by Ms. Fadiman and really enjoyed it, so I was interested in checking out this batch of essays as well. A "familiar e...moreEight years ago I read Ex Libris by Ms. Fadiman and really enjoyed it, so I was interested in checking out this batch of essays as well. A "familiar essay" is a reflection on a subject held dear by the author. Some of the subjects Ms. Fadiman covers include butterfly collecting, Victorian writers, little known Arctic explorers, coffee, ice cream, and finally, a tragic canoe trip. I found most of it interesting and all of it well written.(less)
Bill Bryson, a favorite author of mine, looks around his house and wonders where everything came from. The house in question is rectory dating from 18...moreBill Bryson, a favorite author of mine, looks around his house and wonders where everything came from. The house in question is rectory dating from 1851 in some out-of-the-way spot in England. From the hall, to the kitchen, to the drawing room, bedroom, attic, and more, Bryson expounds on the history behind many different things that we now take for granted. It's wonderfully informative and fascinating stuff. How often can you say you breezed through a 700-page non-fiction book? Well, I did just now. There is a wealth of fascinating -- sometimes amazing -- facts within. For instance:
> Out of the thirty thousand types of edible plant thought to exist on earth, just eleven -- corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, casava, sorghum, millet, beans, barley, rye, and oats -- account for account for 93 per cent of all that humans eat, and every one of them was first cultivated by our Neolithic ancestors.
> Your bed, if it is averagely clean, averagely old, averagely dimensioned... is likely to be home to some two million tiny bed mites, too small to be seen with the naked eye. It's been calculated that if your pillow is six years old, one-tenth of its weight will be made up of sloughed skin, living and dead mites, and mite dung.
> The cleanest surface in the average house is the toilet seat; the fithiest object is the kitchen wash cloth.
> Today it takes the average citizen of Tanzania almost a year to produce the same volume of carbon emissions as is effortlessly generation every two and a half days by a European, or every twenty-eight hours by an American.
Most of the chapters in the book are named after rooms in the house. In some cases, Bryson barely touches on the significance of the room but instead launches into some compelling story from history about private life. The book is full of curious characters from history, some well-known and others largely forgotten. Many of these passages are taken from the Victorian era and one quickly counts oneself lucky not to have lived in that time. This book was highly enjoyable. (less)
I enjoyed this handsome little compendium of plant facts and lore. But it's also scary too. There's more than a few plants in this book that I never w...moreI enjoyed this handsome little compendium of plant facts and lore. But it's also scary too. There's more than a few plants in this book that I never want to come in contact with. One that is native to Australia called the stinging tree can leave you in pain for up to a year. I also learned about several very invasive species of plants that are taking over both land and sea. There was also poisonous plants that need only hours to kill you after ingesting; and plants good for getting high (mostly mildly) although some of them look very much like other plants that will kill you. Lesson learned? Just say no. This book includes handsome etchings. (less)
I re-read this recently aloud to my daughter. It's an unusual story that mixes the fantastical with a diary left by the author's father, a documentary...moreI re-read this recently aloud to my daughter. It's an unusual story that mixes the fantastical with a diary left by the author's father, a documentary filmmaker, in a red box. The author's father had traveled to Tibet to film the making of a highway into Tibet and was gone for just over a year. The drawings within are awesome -- I'm a big fan of Peter Sís and his detailed, intricate line-drawings. And the story within is by turns fascinating and strange. (less)
This thin book is simply a collection of monthly articles that Nick Hornby wrote for Believer magazine which detailed his books bought, books read and...moreThis thin book is simply a collection of monthly articles that Nick Hornby wrote for Believer magazine which detailed his books bought, books read and thoughts on the same. Hornby's an interesting, amusing guy but his selection of books leaves a LOT to be desired. He seems partial to obscure biographies and collections of letters. He accidentally discovered reading Dennis Lehane but that seems to be as close as he gets to popular fiction. He regards Charles Dickens as the best writer so I suspect the only cross-over we have in reading is Oliver Twist (the only Dickens I've read) and four of his own novels. He buys pretty obsessively, moreso than me, which is a relief of sorts. (less)
This popular book has been around for many years in over a dozen languages but it has only recently been translated to English. (The reason why is exp...moreThis popular book has been around for many years in over a dozen languages but it has only recently been translated to English. (The reason why is explained in the preface.) Mr. Gombrich originally published this book in Vienna in 1936. It is written for a younger audience which results in a clear, engaging narrative. There are 40 short chapters which include sections on: Ancient Greece and Egypt, the Roman Empire, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Jesus, Mohammed, the Middle Ages, the Crusades, Charlemagne, Martin Luther, Napoleon, and so forth up to World War I. Then in the final chapter, the author talks about his experiences during World War II and his hopes for peace. It is a fascinating book, covers a lot of ground, and made many areas of history much clearer for me to understand. I highly recommend it to anyone curious about world history. (less)
Whether he's writing about traveling, the English language, or science, I find Bryson to be reliably entertaining, interesting, and knowledgable. Here...moreWhether he's writing about traveling, the English language, or science, I find Bryson to be reliably entertaining, interesting, and knowledgable. Here he's writing about his boyhood, growing up in Des Moines, Iowa. This too was a fun, quick read. There's some surprising bits in here too as well as some historical asides. And the whole bit about his father's penchant for semi-nude late-nite-snacking was pretty funny. Recommended for any Bryson fan or 50's nostalgia buff. (less)
Put this book on your required reading list. Originally published in 2001, this book has been a bestseller for years. I can see why. It's not that oft...morePut this book on your required reading list. Originally published in 2001, this book has been a bestseller for years. I can see why. It's not that often that I come across a non-fiction book that is as much of a page-turner as this one. This book is fascinating and alarming. I'll tell you one thing right now: I am not going to be buying any hamburger any time soon.
The chapters concerning the conditions and treatment of employees at slaughterhouses were among the most surprising and disturbing. The types of accidents at slaughterhouses include beheadings, being pulled into the cogs of a conveyor belt and being pulled apart, crushed heads, being overcome by hydrogen sulfide fumes. Once when two men were killed by hydrogen sulfide fumes at a National Beef plant, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) fined the company for its negligence. The fine was $480 for each man's death.
After finishing this book I came to see that the meatpacking industry is evil incarnate and that the Republican Right are so tight with them that they are allowing children to needlessly die. Read this book and then tell me you don't agree. (less)
This is the fourth book I've read by this author. I've been a fan since reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers back in 2004. This book is...moreThis is the fourth book I've read by this author. I've been a fan since reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers back in 2004. This book is full of fascinating details about the nitty gritty life of astronauts in zero gravity. It doesn't take long to realize that the life of an astronaut is far from glamorous. In fact, the problem of waste management (i.e. going pee and poo) in zero gravity is a real... mess. Astronauts have a term for floating bits of fecal matter: "escapees." And you can't open a window to help with the smell either. Astronauts on a short trip generally hope to be a little constipated just so they don't have to deal with it. Dealing with it actually takes about a good 45 minutes too. Anyway, there's more to this book than astronauts having to take a crap. And the author brings her sense of humor to bear on numerous occasions. (less)
This book has been sitting on my bedside since last Christmas. I've been reading a chapter here and there between books. Chabon is an interesting guy,...moreThis book has been sitting on my bedside since last Christmas. I've been reading a chapter here and there between books. Chabon is an interesting guy, especially when he gets to talking about his interests. But I'm not always fascinated by others' accounts of being a father. And, in fact, there's one kinda funny essay here which likens all of us dads into one big fat cliché when it comes to being fathers of girls. It was kinda easy to see myself lumped in there with all the rest. For such an accomplished novelist, Chabon comes across as very modest and self-deprecating (which I respect). Not surprisingly, I enjoyed some essays better than others. But there was nothing really "OMG" really going on. (less)