Exciting, compelling, and potentially life-changing. McDougall expertly weaves together unforgettable stories, personalities, and research findings, a...moreExciting, compelling, and potentially life-changing. McDougall expertly weaves together unforgettable stories, personalities, and research findings, all culminating in the most exciting sporting event you've never heard about. Regardless of how you feel about running, I'd still recommend this book. (less)
An exploration and celebration of the water, sewage, electricity, gas, internet, phone, train, road, airport, and trash systems; in other words, a loo...moreAn exploration and celebration of the water, sewage, electricity, gas, internet, phone, train, road, airport, and trash systems; in other words, a look at the infrastructure that most people both largely ignore and completely depend on.
The author focuses on his hometown of Raleigh, so those sections will be most interesting to those familiar with the area, but he also offers a great deal of generalized information. I like having a better understanding of the infrastructure around me and how to help it work more smoothly as an individual user (a few tips: garbage disposals are the devil, pizza boxes can't be recycled, and most non-TP products that claim to be flushable and septic-safe actually aren't.) I also enjoyed the historical tidbits, including free-range pigs disposing of London trash, the origins of terms like highway, turnpike, and tarmac, and Edison’s absolutely horrifying advertising ploys.
I wasn't all that impressed by the prose or the editing (there are a few exquisitely confusing typos), but Huler still definitely succeeds in getting his point across. I finished the book a bit more educated and a lot more in awe of the under-appreciated (and often dangerously under-funded and under-supported) systems and their employees who keep our society running.(less)
I had to get over some initial disappointment with this one, since I was more interested in how colors were interpreted and represented (psychological...moreI had to get over some initial disappointment with this one, since I was more interested in how colors were interpreted and represented (psychologically/sociologically/historically/religiously) than how they were created for paints and fabric dyes; also the author's delivery style of her stories didn't capture me at first. However, it ended up being legitimately interesting book, interweaving fascinating fragments of biography, travelogue, history, culture, and science. The author eventually started to grow on me too, with her enthusiasm and touches of humor. I learned a lot from this one, even if it didn't meet my original expectations.(less)
A fascinating exploration of funeral rites in various times and places, interspersed with the author's contemplation of her father's recent death and...moreA fascinating exploration of funeral rites in various times and places, interspersed with the author's contemplation of her father's recent death and her own final arrangements. A memorable, emotional journey with touches of humor.(less)
I don't read a great deal of historical fiction (I like both history and fiction, I just generally prefer them separated...more"Let me tell you about ice..."
I don't read a great deal of historical fiction (I like both history and fiction, I just generally prefer them separated) but I was eventually drawn into this one and enjoyed the majority of it. Wegener was a fascinating and underappreciated scientist, always searching, striving, and theorizing with a boundless curiosity that sent him wandering into uninhabited lands and unfamiliar fields (often to the irritation of the established experts in those fields). Clare Dudman captures his life, his childhood adventures, his bond with his brother, his harrowing and fascinating Arctic expeditions, the horrors of WWI, his life with his young family in post-war Germany, and his once-highly-derided-but-now-praised theories on continental drift, moon craters, ice flows, and raindrop formation, all told in a voice that at times could almost make you forget it's not actually an autobiography.
"At last, I feel, I am entering the boundary between what is known and what is yet to be discovered. I am becoming a scientist."(less)
An excellent examination of the history of relic veneration and theft. Some sections on individual monasteries' histories and arguments over document...moreAn excellent examination of the history of relic veneration and theft. Some sections on individual monasteries' histories and arguments over document dating were predictably dry, but the theft accounts and Geary's religious, political, historical, and symbolic analyses of relics and their importance were really quite fascinating (if you're a nerd about this topic, anyway, which I am). Clear, brief, and insightful account. (less)
In 1959, writer John Howard Griffin darkened his skin with medical treatments and dye in order to go 'undercover' as a black man in the South. He unde...moreIn 1959, writer John Howard Griffin darkened his skin with medical treatments and dye in order to go 'undercover' as a black man in the South. He undergoes the expected mistreatment, along with both pleasant and unpleasant surprises, one of the greatest being how fully and immediately he finds himself immersed in his new identity. As a black man in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, he constantly struggles to find somewhere to stay, work, eat, wash his hands, and use the bathroom. He constantly faces subtle mistreatment and outright hatred that leaves him emotionally and psychologically exhausted. Frequently he finds support and kindness from other black individuals, and occasionally he finds the same from white individuals, small kernels of hope for an improved future. Throughout his experience, Griffin and the people he meets speak eloquently and insightfully about the racial problems of the time and their possible solutions.
A few examples:
An elderly gentleman in a café tells him: “Our people aren’t educated because they either can’t afford it or else they know education won’t earn them the jobs it would a white man. Any kind of family life, any decent standard of living seems impossible from the outset. So a lot of them, without even understanding the cause, just give up. They take what they can get – mostly in pleasure, and they make the grand gesture, the wild gesture, because what have they got to lose if they do die in a car wreck or a knife fight or something else equally stupid.”
Griffin also found that an inordinate number of white men were disgustingly open with him about their experiences forcing or buying sex with black women, and that they were desperately eager to know about the hypersexual abilities and perversities that they assumed he must have, being a black male. Griffin comes to realize that “In these matters, the Negro has seen the backside of the white man too long to be shocked. He feels an indulgent superiority whenever he sees these evidences of the white man’s frailty. This is one of the sources of his chafing at being considered inferior. He cannot understand how the white man can show the most demeaning aspects of his nature and at the same time delude himself into thinking he is inherently superior.”
When Griffin tries to explain to one of these aggressively curious men that the races are not significantly different in their sexual behavior, the man asks why then the black population has more illegitimate children and on average an earlier loss of virginity. Griffin responds: “The fact that the white race has the same problems proves these are not Negro characteristics, but the product of our condition… Deprive a man of any contact with the pleasures of the spirit and he’ll fall completely into those of the flesh…In most places we can’t go to the concerts, the theater, the museums, public lectures… or even to the library. Our schools in the South don’t compare to the white schools… With practically nothing to exalt the mind or exercise the spirit, any man is going to sink to his lowest depths.” And deprived of the respect and high wages that would make him feel like an effective head-of-household, “Most often the sex-king is just a poor devil trying to prove the manhood that his whole existence denies,” and the prostitute or overly young mother is similarly led into her situation by lack of money and education.
It was a fascinating study and an emotionally wrenching narrative. In some ways it is dated, of course, but in others it is depressingly timeless. Bigotry cycles back to similar arguments and evils, while its opponents shake their heads at the illogic and unfairness of it all and strive for similar solutions. (less)
A relatively interesting account of a man's career in advertising and his interviews with those still in the field. I learned some intriguing facts an...moreA relatively interesting account of a man's career in advertising and his interviews with those still in the field. I learned some intriguing facts and opinions about advertising, but I wasn't blown away by it. (less)
I randomly picked this one up from the library because (1) I like history/culture books centered on weird body facts, and (2) I initially thought it w...moreI randomly picked this one up from the library because (1) I like history/culture books centered on weird body facts, and (2) I initially thought it was by Mary Roach, the author of Stiff (not the case, but quite the weird coincidence). In any case, I enjoyed the book and learned quite a bit. There are apparently a lot of "common" stereotypes and legends about redheads that I'd never heard before, and the stories behind them are really rather fascinating. Roach includes a lot of autobiographical redhead-identity-and-soul-searching alongside the history, but I think it works.(less)