Archive for the ‘True Lit’ Category

The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

  Since Harford County Public Library will be hosting the Smithsonian exhibit: Journey Stories in May, I thought it might be fun to read something about immigration. I was drawn to The Warmth of Other Suns (Find in our catalog)by Isabel Wilkerson because it was a part of history that happened during my lifetime (some of it anyway), yet I knew little about it. Wilkerson writes about the migration of African Americans from the Jim Crow South to cities North and West between 1915 and 1970. This movement of about six million people changed the face of the country: its politics, suburban growth, culture and economics.

Wilkerson uses three real people to demonstrate aspects of what this migration was like: Ida Mae Gladney who left Mississippi for Chicago in 1937; George Starling, who went from the Florida citrus groves to Harlem in 1945; and Dr. Robert Pershing Foster, who left for California from Louisiana in 1953. Dr. Foster’s story of his trip to California in a new Cadillac had a dramatic impact on me. During the trip, there was no place he could stay overnight because of his race. My husband’s family told similar stories about being turned away from motels at about the same time because they were Jewish.

I also found George Starling’s account fascinating because it talks about how labor shortages during the Wars started the movement North and gave African Americans a taste of economic power. It was this power struggle that almost got George Starling lynched and forced his move to New York.

And, Ida Mae, like many others, sought out others from her home town who had already moved north. Wilkerson even identifies some strange partner cities including my hometown of Syracuse, N.Y, which apparently had a lot of immigrants from Palestine, Texas.

Pulitzer Prize winner, Isabel Wilkerson conducted countless hours of interviews and research for this book. The book is compellingly written and medium to fast-paced. I highly recommend this for people who are interested in history, personal accounts or the modern struggle of African Americans.

Posted by Linda Z.

What Your Neighbors are Reading—December-January

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Ever wonder what your neighbors are reading? Here is a list of the most popular narrative nonfiction books at the Harford County Public Library in the past 30 days.

 1. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly

 2. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Lee Dugard

 3. Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo

 4. Bossypants by Tina Fey

 5. Now Eat This! by Rocco DiSpirito

 6. Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony by Jeff Ashton

  Unbroken: A World War II story of survival, resilience and redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

  7. Suicide of a Superpower by Patrick Buchanan

 8. Destiny of the Republic: A tale of madness, medicine and the murder of a president by Candice Millard

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

 Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic conversations on life with John F. Kennedy by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

 10. The Immortal Live of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skoot

  Seriously—I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

Posted by Linda Z.

A new world in close-up

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

  The Natural World Close-Up by Giles Sparrow (Find in our catalog)

I am really not one for coffee table books and when The Natural World Close-Up by Giles Sparrow came across my desk, I was prepared to pass it by.  I am glad I took the time to open it.  This book is not about the information it provides or the pithy prose, it is about changing how we view the world.  Giles Sparrow takes a relatively familiar image—a fly, a seal pup, a chalk cliff or a sage leaf—and then finds magnifications of that image that open worlds within worlds.  The photo below is a magnification of a sage leaf showing drops of its aromatic oil (from Eye of Science/Science Photo Library, found on page 209 of The Natural World Close-Up






Here is magnification of a moss by Susumu Nishinaga (Science Photo Library, found on page 171 of The Natural World Close-Up)






This book is recommended for those interested in science, nature, photography or those who merely want to marvel at the complexity of the world.

Posted by Linda Z.

True Lit by Linda

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

  Effie: The passionate lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais by  Susan Fagence Cooper (Find in our catalog).

I admit to having a fondness for the Pre-Raphealite  painters.  The emotions of the subjects and the almost scientific detail of the background create art that I can look at for hours.  So, when a book on John Ruskin,  John Everett Millais and Effie Gray hit the shelves, it immediately went on my reading list.  I was not prepared for such a strange story.

Effie: The passionate lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais by Susan Fagence Cooper begins slowly, with Effie’s marriage to John Ruskin.  Effie, attracted John’s intellectual power and growing reputation, was quite prepared to further his career through social connections.  What she was not prepared for was an unconsummated marriage.  The pace picks up as Effie is thrown in the way of Everett Millais who is attracted to her beauty and apparent mystery.

Cooper relies on voluminous letters between Effie and her family and from the Ruskins.  Her insight into the historical status of women and girls is interesting as Effie fights the social stigma of having “two living husbands” as Queen Victoria saw it.  Effie’s role of “the woman behind the man” is also explored as Millais career goes from revolutionary young artist to President of the Royal Academy under Effie’s social guidance.

Medium paced, historical nonfiction.  Recommended for those interested in history, art and women’s issues.

Posted by Linda Z.

Home – Who Knew?

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

  Bryson, Bill.  At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Find in our catalog).

In 1979, I was enthralled by the BBC series, Connections, hosted by James Burke.  His nonlinear approach to history linked events like the Norman invention of stirrups to the invention of modern telecommunications.  As a lover of this kind of trivia, I found Bill Bryson’s new book At Home: A short history of private life to be right up my alley.  It is a delightful romp through the history of domesticity, and much like his previous book A Short History of Everything it takes the scenic route through the past. 

My favorite parts of the book are the great inventors you never heard of: Sir William Grove, inventor of the light bulb (you thought it was Edison, didn’t you?) and Canvass White, inventor of hydraulic cement whose invention kicked off Americas rise to economic power.  Bryson’s stories are also delicious; he tells us of the countess who found a family of mice living in her huge wig and the lady who served the newfangled discovery, “tea” boiled on toast. 

This is a must read for information lovers or anyone who is in need of cocktail party small talk!

Posted by Linda Zuckerman

How to Live: or A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer

Friday, March 25th, 2011

   How to Live: or A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by  Sarah Bakewell (Find in our catalog).  In a time where the question “How to Live” has been relegated to self help books, it is a relief to come across a person who takes this question seriously.  This readable biography places the writings of philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne in context of his life amidst the warring religious factions of southern France.  Despite taking a philosophy course in college I knew very little of Montaigne, but found myself drawn to his writing like countless others.  Montaigne coined the term essayist; in fact the word “essayer” (to try or attempt) conveys his approach to both his writing and his philosophy.  He was one of the first to portray the workings of his mind on paper, allowing readers from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Virginia Wolfe to see themselves in his writings.   He changes his mind, goes off on tangents and adds to his essays as he gains age and experience.  Each chapter presents a period in Montaigne’s life, which provides an answer to the question “how to live”.  The provocative advice in chapter four, for example: “Read a lot, forget most of what you’ve read and be slow witted” is a camouflage that allows him time to develop perspective and thoughtful judgments as passions raged around him.  As a magistrate in Bordeaux during the Protestant uprisings, he walked a fine line to maintain objectivity in the face shifting alliances.  Bakewell does a good job presenting both the life and work of a complex and little known man.  The format of the book is nonlinear, which serves to enhance the philosophy at the expense of a straight historical narrative.  Pacing: moderate. For readers who like philosophy and the history of ideas.

Posted by Linda Z.

True Lit by Linda Z. – Genius on the Edge

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

  Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber, M.D. (Find this book in our catalog)  My mother had a mastectomy. My grandmother had a goiter removed. And I have many friends who have had hernia operations, appendectomies, surgeries for gall stones, and colon cancer. However, had my friends and family lived just one hundred years ago, none of these surgeries would have been possible. These critically important surgical techniques that we depend upon today are attributable, directly or indirectly, to Dr. William Steward Halsted. When Halsted enrolled at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1874, surgeries were performed without anesthesia in a matter of minutes. Surgeons worked in their street clothes, barehanded, with instruments that may not have been cleaned between patients. Only the poorer patients were operated on in the hospital; if you were well off, your surgery was performed at home on your kitchen table. And anyone who had surgery had a great chance of dying from infection. However, new ideas were coming in from Europe: Lister’s theories of aseptic technique, new methods of medical training and experimentation, and the possibility of drugs that could reduce or eliminate pain. As was often the case, though, these breakthrough concepts were slow to gain acceptance in the United States. Gerald Imber’s book Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted vividly describes the time and place of modern medicine’s creation. The title is somewhat misleading, though, because the book is not just about Halsted. Rather, it addresses a perfect storm of medical talent created by Johns Hopkins’ endowment of a medical school and hospital in Baltimore. We learn that four men singlehandedly created the hospitals and medical schools that we rely on today: Halsted, the father of modern surgery; William Welch, the father of modern pathology; William Osler, in charge of Medicine and a new method of teaching medical residents; and Howard Kelly, who revolutionized gynecology. If you were sick at the beginning of the 20th century, we are told, “there was Hopkins, and there was everyplace else” (p. 228). As the book reveals, however, new ideas sometimes come with a cost–these men experimented not only on dogs, but on themselves and each other, in some cases with dire consequences. Halsted’s experiments with cocaine and other anesthetics engendered a lifelong cocaine habit that dogged his entire life and career. To my disappointment, Imber sheds little light on addiction’s true effects on Halsted, and I found myself wanting to know more about this man than the book reveals. On the plus side, Genius on the Edge effectively provides understandable descriptions of the development of surgical techniques without being too graphic, while containing enough about the historical context to still be fascinating to those with a medical background. Recommended for readers who like historical settings, details of medicine and science or local Baltimore connections. Pace: medium. Posted by Linda Z.

Linda Z. is a Harford County Public Library librarian.  With this post she begins a regular “column” of reviews of nonfiction titles that are interesting, intriguing, current and informative.  Linda calls her column “True Lit.”  You can go directly to it by clicking on True Lit in the Categories section on the lower right of the page.