Well, I did thoroughly enjoy the essays, however, after pondering for 2 days I can't find anything that brings these essays together. No common threadWell, I did thoroughly enjoy the essays, however, after pondering for 2 days I can't find anything that brings these essays together. No common thread. I think McPhee's essay collections are stronger when they share a theme. But they are of course, as always, truly fascinating. I liked the title essay best on cattle rustling, and I'd like to see the Japanese hot-air-balloon bombings get a little more attention in schools since that's such a wild thing that happened and almost no one knows anything about it. (I heard about it last year on History Detectives). You always come away richer from a McPhee collection....more
Arianne is 6'2". I am completely average: 5'6". But I have a very good girlfriend who is nearly 5'11". And a guy friend who is 6'4". My tall girlfrienArianne is 6'2". I am completely average: 5'6". But I have a very good girlfriend who is nearly 5'11". And a guy friend who is 6'4". My tall girlfriend also has three very tall children and I noticed how gleeful she is about their height and how the kids also seem to take pride in it, not feel self-conscious about it. So when I ran across this book, it intrigued me.
This isn't a memoir. It's actually a book ABOUT tall-ness and being tall. Ms. Cohen looks into the biology, the social aspects, the history, the medical issues, tall clubs, tall fetishes, and gigantism. She isn't afraid to get technical, but the book is completely accessible and fun. It's definitely enjoyable for a non-tall, and when I get onto my plane Wednesday, I will be grateful to my 50th percentile femur length.
Oh also, it's in a taller-than-standard trim size which I just loved....more
I am a huge fan of Mr. Bryson. However, after going through his entire oeuvre on a tear in the late '90s, I then had quite a gap. Last year I finallyI am a huge fan of Mr. Bryson. However, after going through his entire oeuvre on a tear in the late '90s, I then had quite a gap. Last year I finally got around to reading A Short History of Nearly Everything, and so I lusted after At Home: A Short History of Private Life as soon as I heard about it.
And I am thrilled to report that Mr. Bryson delivers in this book! While he has had to stop travelling, having pretty much covered most of the Western world in his previous books, I was worried that he'd have trouble coming up with topics through which to fill me with random fascinating facts. No worries. He takes as his jumping off point his home: a rectory in rural England built in 1851 by a Mr. Marsham. And we go room by room through the building, learning about the development of living indoors, when and why furniture and other features of the home developed, along the way learning about the spice trade, the Eiffel tower, and Alexander Graham Bell. I'm sure for some, Mr. Bryson might venture a bit off-topic, but for me that's the fun. Here are some cool things I learned:
•Females are more likely than men to fall down stairs, for the simple reason that we use them much more. The most dangerous is a single step in an unexpected place, closely followed by four stairs or less which inspires overconfidence (this is where my sister badly broke her foot 3 months ago.) •Early paints and wallpaper were very toxic. Sure, lead paint which I know you already thought of, but most of the colorings were poisonous, using arsenic, antimony, and other lovely things. While on the plus side rooms with these paints and wallpapers were often free of bedbugs, they also were slowly killing their occupants. So in 19th century novels when it is suggested that a sick person might need s change of air, that was usually correct and helped immensely. •King Louis XIII of France did not bathe until he was nearly 7 years old. •At least 14,000 Americans are attacked by rats every year. poisons are effective against rats because they cannot regurgitate.
One interesting note is that the book is obviously a joint US-UK production. It uses American punctuation and British spellings, which was the same agreement we used when I was an editor and we co-published with the Brits. I think Mr. Bryson was the perfect person to write this book because he is an American living in Britain. He can speak to both audiences with nearly equal ease, uses both currencies seamlessly, and can talk smoothly about both an English rectory and Monticello. At Home is a brilliant mix of humor and fun facts, covering the entire history of living indoors in the Western world. ...more
I was reluctant to read this book. The topic, caving, was enticing to me, but the bad title and ugly jacket made me hesitant, not to mention the compaI was reluctant to read this book. The topic, caving, was enticing to me, but the bad title and ugly jacket made me hesitant, not to mention the comparisons to Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. But I saw the author on "The Daily Show" last week and was won over.
This book tells, in two parts, the race to find the deepest supercave by American Bill Stone in Mexico, and Ukranian Alexander Klimchouk in The Republic of Georgia. Bill Stone is much more of a character, and so the bulk of the book does focus unevenly on him. A driven, obsessed explorer who is willing to sacrifice nearly everything for his quest, he is riveting and hard to take one's eyes off of, in the nature of a car wreck. Klimchouk on the other hand is organized, simpatico with his wife, and just not as interesting although he's just as driven. The descriptions of the explorations are occasionally confusing, but they're certainly exciting and frightening. Being in absolute pitch black darkness for weeks on end is nearly unimaginable but Tabor does a good job of conveying the oppression and danger of the caves. The geography and descriptions of the caves themselves was a little confusing, as was keeping up with all the names.
The book was a fun, fast read, but the writing was more effortful than inspired. Mr. Krakauer doesn't have anything to be worried about. But if you're looking for an exciting adventure story, you won't go wrong with Blind Descent. ...more
Do you love watching Cold Case Files? Did you see the articles last summer about the finally solved 30+ year old child murder case in New York City? IDo you love watching Cold Case Files? Did you see the articles last summer about the finally solved 30+ year old child murder case in New York City? If you like mysteries, especially real ones, this book is for you.
Three men in Philadelphia, William Fleisher, Frank Bender, and Richard Walter, founded the Vidocq Society, honoring the founder of the very first police detective department, in France. Originally conceived as a social club for various detective-types (cops, private detectives, profilers, pathologists, FBI agents, coroners, etc.) to network over world-class food, they quickly found that they wanted to talk shop and that seemed to always lead back to the "one case" each of them had that they couldn't forget--because it was still unsolved. So the group officially began to solicit the presentation of cold cases to them. They do not want to circumvent the police so they prefer the officers or DA involved actually make the presentation. And it is amazing when you get the best minds in the field into one room and they can look at the evidence with fresh eyes, how many times they really do figure out who did it. And while they can't always prove it, they often do provide fresh leads and new avenues of investigation and new people to interrogate (or old people to look at more thoroughly.)
These three men are an odd trio. Bender is probably the oddest, as he has a wife and a longtime mistress (who is well-known to the wife who vets all his girlfriends before allowing them), and he communicates with the dead, which is very helpful in his facial reconstructions. Walter, the psychologist and profiler, was the second oddest. He resembles Sherlock Holmes the most, in his habits (smoking, piano playing), physicality (skinny), and demeanor (isn't friendly, doesn't care if others dislike him, confronts people). Fleisher is odd mostly in that he seems rather ordinary and yet is friends with these two misfits. Bender and Walter solve a number of famous cases, are on American's Most Wanted several times, and help bring in some truly pathological murderers, decades after the fact.
It's amazing how years later, not only has the science advanced which we know, but often people are less scared to tell what they know. when they were younger, when the crime was closer, when the perpetrator had more power over them, they often clam up. But after decades, the potential recriminations fade. In fact a couple of the murderers themselves confess when confronted decades later. Also the distance these men and women have from the original cases helps them see evidence without bias, as does the breadth of their experiences.
This book was not great literature, the author repeated a few phrases several times, the promise of Sherlockian-esque escapades of the title never pans out, and the pacing of how the different cases were presented was uneven, however it was thoroughly enjoyable. I worried it might be too creepy or scary to read late at night but that did not prove to be the case; while you do read about gory and reprehensible acts, the whole point of the book is catching the perpetrators so those murders become less scary. I read it fairly quickly, and it was a nice distraction from my usual fare....more
I thought a nonfiction work by a famous author about a firehouse would be cool. Didn't realize until I started reading it that it's about September 11I thought a nonfiction work by a famous author about a firehouse would be cool. Didn't realize until I started reading it that it's about September 11th. Still wanted to read it, but knew it would be hard, so even though it's very short, it took me a little while.
It's about Firehouse 40/35 (Engine 40, Ladder 35) in midtown Manhattan. On Sept. 11, 2001, the engine and the ladder both went down to the World Trade Center at 9:30 AM, with 13 men aboard the two trucks. One man survived. Mr. Halberstam had lovingly portrayed detailed portraits of every man on those rigs. Several were within a year of retirement. Two were probies. One was engaged to be married in November. One firefighter was filling in from another firehouse and this was his first day at 40/35. Several of the men weren't supposed to be on the rigs that day but changed shifts with other guys for one reason or another. Some wanted more overtime, some guys needed the day off. All were hardworking, caring, honest men who put others' lives before their own. It turns out they only entered WTC2 10 minutes before it collapsed. The one survivor had a broken neck (3 vertebra), a concussion, lost most of his testicles, and had been thrown half a block by the force of the collapse. Later he talked to a reporter about how difficult it was to be the sole survivor, the guilt and doubt he was feeling, only to be branded a coward in the newspaper, for his honesty and feelings.
There isn't much detail about the run itself. After all, very little is known. The survivor, Shea, doesn't remember much thanks to the concussion, and there aren't any records. The FDNY's communication system was so bad as to be practically worthless. This isn't a book about Sept. 11th, but a book about 13 men who gave their lives, the families who loved them, and by extension it's written in honor of all the New York City firefighters who lost their lives that day.
May we never forget them:
Engine 40 Lt. John Ginley Bruce Gary Michael Lynch Mike D'Auria Vincent Morello Steve Mercado
Ladder 35 Capt. Frank Callahan Jimmy Giberson Michael Otten Michael Roberts Dan Marshall Kevin Bracken Kevin Shea*
It is a touching, loving, thoughtful, compelling, heartbreaking, and necessary book. I wish a book could be written that would go into such detail about all the NYFD lost that day, but that would be impractical. Instead, we have this brief, beautiful homage. Thank you.
I was so blown away by Tracy Kidder's previous book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, that I didn't think twice about picking up this one (in fact, I thinkI was so blown away by Tracy Kidder's previous book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, that I didn't think twice about picking up this one (in fact, I think I will search out more of his books, he's such a great writer.) And while the story of Deo's escape from civil war in Burundi to New York City with only $200 and not a single contact or word of English is inspiring, he's a little more of an enigma than Dr. Paul Farmer. I never really feel like I get to know him, and he always hovers slightly outside of my line of vision.
Deo grows up in a family of cowherders. He goes to school most of the year (except when he's needed to work) and eventually goes to medical school. In his third year war breaks out between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Deo didn't even know which he was until he was in his teens, as it was a non-issue in his life until all this happened. With slaughter all around him, he manages to hide and be overlooked and then walks to Rwanda, where the exact same civil war (but with the dominant racial group reversed) broke out a few months later. He returns to Burundi and eventually, with help from friends, is able to secure a visa and a flight to Kennedy. A customs official (a fellow African emigre) pities him and takes him to his flop house in the Bronx and helps him figure out the subway system and get a job delivering groceries. At one delivery at a church, he meets a woman who adopts him as her cause. Through her he is eventually de-facto adopted by an older couple in the Village. Meanwhile he begins to attend Columbia University as an undergraduate (his paperwork from Burundi is hard to come by and some of it claims he is dead.) One day he goes to hear a lecture by Dr. Paul Farmer and afterward he speaks further with Farmer who offers him a job at his foundation in Boston. The foundation works to open medical clinics in Haiti, and Deo has the idea that maybe one day through it he can open a clinic in Burundi.
Inspiring, although filled with breathtaking violence, this book does make you wonder what you would do in Deo's shoes. Would you give up and die as so many did in his home country? Would you have found the resources in New York? Would you have been able to put a life together as he has with such terror and tragedy in your history? Deo is a persistent, driven, caring man who is making a definite difference in the world. The writing is effortless, smooth, and even with jumps back and forth in time and continents you are never confused or jarred in the transitions. Kidder is a masterful author. ...more
I was, as most people, skeptical about a man writing about a friendship among women (or girls, as they were when they first met), but Mr. Zaslow reallI was, as most people, skeptical about a man writing about a friendship among women (or girls, as they were when they first met), but Mr. Zaslow really does pull it off! I was also skeptical that a group as large as 11 could really all be close friends, but in the end the girls convinced me of that as well (although it certainly isn't everyday.)
In the end, about half of the girls came alive for me, like Kelly and Karla and Marilyn, but others remained distant enigmas, like Diana and Jenny. Mr. Zaslow began the book with four chapters each about one girl (well, some of them were sort of about two girls, the main girl the chapter was about and the girl she was closest to), but then he abandoned that structure and most of the following chapters were more thematic, focusing on children, growing older, and mean girls. Personally, I wish he'd continued with his initial structure, covering all 11 girls (at least in pairs), and I wish there was a little more about their youth and teen years, and less on their adult years. Yes, their friendships have really influenced and molded their adult decisions and helped them face hard times, but I never fully understood how a group this large worked, how it held together, and how it worked within the larger community of their high school. I frequently found myself referring back to the page with three pictures of each girl and a brief description to remind myself, "now, who is Jane? Which one is Cathy?" I don't think it's any fault of Mr. Zaslow's, it was just an inevitable outcome with a subject so large and unwieldy.
I did enjoy the book very much. These women are exactly ten years older than me, so exactly the age of my cousin Mary Jo which helped me to always know what year it was and how old they were in certain situations. I liked the flashbacks to keggers in cornfields and the 70s music and pop stars, and the photos with Farrah Fawcett hair were priceless. For the most part the women seemed open and honest, but you could tell certain things were glossed over, and only one particularly ugly incident where the group turned on one of their own was noted, although there must have been others (albeit perhaps not as notable in their viciousness or long-lasting repercussions.) I got the feeling that while they did want to be honest with Mr. Zaslow, they did keep things relatively light, and there were certainly hints of deeper ugliness that weren't addressed, such as most of the group's disapproval of Kelly in recent years.
Being ten years younger, I was dismayed at not only the assumption that they would all marry and have children and jobs would be a second priority, but that even Cathy, the one who never married and hasn't had children, is presented a bit as lonely and wistfully wishing for what the other women have. Some of us aren't that maternal and we don't all need to be paired off right away and forever. While a couple of the women do divorce, they remarry right away, and I just got a vibe of disapproval about both Cathy and Kelly's paths, even though neither of them chose those paths, and they also aren't "wrong." But I think that's partly a generational issue. No one was disapproving at Karla's nearly immediate remarriage, which I personally found to be a much more questionable decision, even though it did work out.
Overall, this was an intriguing glimpse into a time and a place and eleven women whose lives were changed forever by knowing each other. Through tragedy and happiness, they always are there for each other and come together over the years to provide support, caring, and common history. ...more