Oh, my gosh, what an engrossing read! I found a clip on Youtube from a U.S. traveller who cadged his way into North Korea, and took some footage (ille...moreOh, my gosh, what an engrossing read! I found a clip on Youtube from a U.S. traveller who cadged his way into North Korea, and took some footage (illegally, since it was technically forbidden, though none of his mandatory guides stopped him...), and it appalled and fascinated me at the same time. So when I saw this subtitle, Ordinary Lives in North Korea, I was fascinated. What was life like in this backward little police state with nuclear weapons?
And it was worse than I'd dreamed. Demick follows the stories 6 North Korean defectors she found while serving in the South Korean press corps. And the horror stories they tell are all the worse for being completely typical of the North Korean experience. The schoolteacher who watched her kindergarten class go from 50 kids to 15, and many starved to death. The doctor who was required, as part of her job, to go out and find her own medicinal plants and make her own bandages, since regular medicines were practically unheard of, and who watched her patients starving to death as she herself starved.
This book was finished in 2009, so of course, it missed the spectacular announcement last fall of Kim Jong Il's death. She didn't even have anything much of Kim Jong Un, since he only really came on board in 2010. I really hope she's working on an update, because I'd love to hear what's going on over there now...(less)
I freely admit I'd not have picked this up but for my book club. Still, I'm glad I did. I learned a lot about the African-American situation after the...moreI freely admit I'd not have picked this up but for my book club. Still, I'm glad I did. I learned a lot about the African-American situation after the Civil War, but prior to the Civil Rights era, and Madam Walker's was a true rags-to-riches story which was, unfortunately, all too rare in those times.(less)
Most biological and medical researchers know about the unique, never-dying cancer cell culture known as Hela. Not nearly so many people know the human...moreMost biological and medical researchers know about the unique, never-dying cancer cell culture known as Hela. Not nearly so many people know the human story behind it, about the black woman raised on her grandfather's tobacco share-cropping farm with the orphaned cousin who would become her husband, about the five children she would give him, who would become motherless at an all-too-young age. And about the life of her cells, after her body was gone, how they emerged on the new-born scene of cell cultures in the bio-medical field at just the right time, how it was 20 years before her family found out she wasn't as dead as they'd thought, how her children continued to be haunted by the mother they never really got to know...and about the white woman who wormed her way into their lives, determined to put a human face on the almost anonymous cell culture that had been responsible for so many modern developments...
Fascinating. Absorbing. I'd never really given a thought to what might be happening with my blood samples after they'd tested them. If I'd thought about it, I would have guessed they discarded them... But they don't. The ethics involved here, for Henrietta Lacks, her family, and for everyone else, ought to be sorted out. Do we have rights to our own tissue samples, after they leave our bodies? Why or why not? Who gets to decide? It sounds like a potential ticking legal time bomb. And for the most part, the courts are not siding with the patients on this one...(less)
Cute, but forgettable, which surprised me a little, because, hey, I'm a librarian... Should be a perfect fit, right? I love cats, don't get me wrong,...moreCute, but forgettable, which surprised me a little, because, hey, I'm a librarian... Should be a perfect fit, right? I love cats, don't get me wrong, and Dewey seems to have had a perfect personality for his job, but how book can you really fill about a cat? I personally got more of a kick watching the library progress over the 19 years of Dewey's life, but then, I'm a library geek that way...
And I would LOVE to get a cat for my library, though I don't think the county would go for it...(less)
Wow, I like this way more than I thought I would, since it's an autobiography about a woman and her siblings who manage to survive their parents' pera...moreWow, I like this way more than I thought I would, since it's an autobiography about a woman and her siblings who manage to survive their parents' perapatic, homeless lifestyle. It SOUNDS like a downer, but I found it fascinating...(less)
A little-known fact about Galileo; he had two daughters and a son by his mistress, and raised them largely by himself when she decided she wanted to g...moreA little-known fact about Galileo; he had two daughters and a son by his mistress, and raised them largely by himself when she decided she wanted to get married to someone else. He put his two daughters in a convent, since, being illegitimate, they had little chance at a good marriage, and managed to get his son legitimized before his relationship with the Catholic church took a nosedive.
The eldest daughter, who took on the name Maria Celeste on becoming a nun, was his favorite, and the two were faithful correspondents while they were separated. His letters to her have not survived; it is believed her mother abbess destroyed them on Maria Celeste's death, since Galileo was not on good terms with the church at that point, to put it mildly. But he saved and treasured all her letters to him; 125 of them have survived to this day, and these help to paint a fresh picture of Galileo's life, work, and, above all, his religious belief.
Kind of dry, very informative. Dava Sobel does an excellent job of re-creating the mindset of the 1600's, which almost inevitably led to Galileo's trial for the "heresy" of making the case for the earth revolving around the sun. He truly was a man ahead of his time, as a great champion of observation, experimentation, and the scientific method.(less)
This book got the second largest group ever to my book discussion. That surprised me a little...
A.J. Jacobs is technically Jewish, but he's had a larg...moreThis book got the second largest group ever to my book discussion. That surprised me a little...
A.J. Jacobs is technically Jewish, but he's had a largely secular upbringing. Now a husband and father, (and needing a new project to write a book about) his curiousity about religion is roused, and he decides to try to live every biblical law as fully as possible for a year to discover just what the hubbub is about.
He does pick gentle fun of some of the more ridiculous biblical laws, such as not wearing clothes of mixed fibers, or not sitting on the seat a menstruating woman sat on. (My whole group loved how his wife went and sat on every seat in the house when she got her period.) But he wasn't derisive of the bible, or even of any of the religious groups and people he investigated on his quest, even the odder ones. (I'd never heard of snake handlers..!!??)
Still, as a Christian, I found myself frustrated by Jacobs' focus on obedience to the outward, physical laws. He investigated the New Testament, too, and did document a few occasions when he felt something more spiritual. But for him, religion seemed to be something one DID, not something one WAS. He was quite content at the end of the year to shed the beard and the rules, and return to normal.(less)
I'd heard about this book, so when it came in the library the other day, I cracked it open to see what it was like. I couldn't put it down. I checked...moreI'd heard about this book, so when it came in the library the other day, I cracked it open to see what it was like. I couldn't put it down. I checked it out, jumping the line (librarian's priviledge!), and proceeded to devour it.
It reminded me very much of "Freakonomics", as Gladwell analyzed what made rich and successful people rich and successful. He dismissed the idea of an "overnight success", showing that anyone could become expert at anything, from piano to computer programming, if they just spend 10,000 hours doing it. He dismissed the idea of "genius", showing that once people had a functional IQ of at least 120, it wasn't about how intelligent people were so much as what they did with that intelligence. He highlights the importance of cultural and socio-economic biases; for instance, he shows that, while Asians are not inherently more intelligent than any other ethnic group, they DO have a much more rigorous cultural work ethic, and a completely different approach to mathematics, and both traits help them excel in comparison to other cultural groups. (In fact, Gladwell blames many of the failures of American education system on the existence of summer vacation, saying that many other countries have 40-60 more educational days in their school year...)
Fascinating stuff, and very thought-provoking...(less)
Larson did some excellent, pain-staking research on this book, and it shows. The passages about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair were fascinating; the "W...moreLarson did some excellent, pain-staking research on this book, and it shows. The passages about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair were fascinating; the "White City", as it was dubbed, was the world's first glimpse at what we now think of as the modern world, where everything from electric street lights, to shredded wheat, to Ferris wheels, were shown to wondering crowds for the first time. I thought it was fascinating that Walt Disney's father worked at the fair, and that as a result, the Disney parks probably owe their existance to the fair.
But I actually wish those parts could be pulled out and put in a separate book, since this one was pretty much overshadowed for me by the parallel story Larson tells about Dr. H.H. Holmes, the psychopathic mass-murderer who operated practically right outside the fair's gates. No-one knows exactly how many he killed, but at least nine deaths are directly traceable to him, and many other disappearances became suspect after the fact, since unidentified body parts were discovered in the basement of his Chicago property. As a handsome, young, apparently single doctor, his victims generally appear to have been women on their own in the city for the first time, and the occasional children and relatives of such women, but he didn't limit himself. It was kind of nerve-wracking to read; whenever he met a new person, I cringed a bit, wondering if this one would die. Larson tells it just like a story, though he documents his sources in breath-taking detail.
Very well-written, but only recommended for those who can take a bit of the macabre.(less)
I like history, anyway, so I was pre-disposed to like this. But Goldstone did a really good at piecing together the historical evidence and giving an...moreI like history, anyway, so I was pre-disposed to like this. But Goldstone did a really good at piecing together the historical evidence and giving an almost soap-operatic view of the lives and times of these queens.
By the year 1234, Raymond Berenger IV, Count of Provence, and his wife, Beatrice of Savoy, only managed to have four girls. But, through luck and skillful manipulation, all four daughters of this rather minor noble were queens by the time they died. First, Raymond arranged for Marguerite, the oldest, to marry Louis IX, of crusader fame. Using Marguerite's new position as leverage, her Savoy relations managed to get the second daughter, Eleanor, married to Henry III of England. Eleanor arranged to get her younger sister, Sanchia, married to Henry's brother, Richard, in an attempt to keep Richard from trying to dethrone the (rather incompetent) Henry; the fabulously rich Richard later managed to bribe enough electors so that he was elected King of the Romans(the area of Germany, the Holy Roman Empire). The youngest, Beatrice, was the only one unmarried when her father died, so he left her all his Provencal properties, to the extreme indignation of her older sisters, who all felt they had a right to a share, and some of whom had even been previously promised portions. As an heiress, she then became the target of the power-hungry everywhere, and was eventually manuevered into marriage with Louis IX's ambitious younger brother, Charles, who later went on, with Louis's aquiescence, the Pope's assistance, and his own military prowess, to make himself the King of Naples.
Like any soap opera, there's a bit of a learning curve at the beginning as the reader struggles to pick up the back story and all the characters. But I found it fascinating to see how these women went on to use their marriages and families, openly and behind the scenes, as they fomented or quelled rebellions, raised armies, lobbied for peace, and enacted family quarrels. The names could be confusing, though; Henry had a grandmother, wife, and sister all named Eleanor, and a mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and daughter all named Beatrice. This isn't even getting into all the Charless, Edmunds, and Henrys there were... One could wish they'd had a good baby-naming book back then...
Half of my book club members didn't manage to get this book by the time of the discussion. But even with that, it started a fascinating discussion on the roles of women, and how they have - and haven't - changed over the centuries.(less)
All the members of my book club were disappointed in this one. It sounds like it SHOULD be good; a 21-yr-old takes guardianship of his 8-yr-old brothe...moreAll the members of my book club were disappointed in this one. It sounds like it SHOULD be good; a 21-yr-old takes guardianship of his 8-yr-old brother when both parents die of cancer within a year of each other, and together they move out to San Francisco. I'd feel sorry for the kid, except HE clearly is living an 8-yr-old's dream (except for losing both parents, of course); Eggers spends more time himself talking about the difficulties of getting his 20-somethings magazine off the ground. Maybe it's a guy thing??(less)
OK, this is not the kind of book you LIKE, but it is one that makes you THINK. I'm not sure that I agree with all the ills Schlosser blames fast food...moreOK, this is not the kind of book you LIKE, but it is one that makes you THINK. I'm not sure that I agree with all the ills Schlosser blames fast food for; for instance, is it fast food's fault that the USDA feeds kids absolute crap in school lunches? Still, it's thoroughly documented and researched, and brings up some valid points. Some of the nonsequitars were annoying, though; I wasn't reading this for potted historys of Walt Disney or Plouen, Germany. (less)