Biography

America's First Tornado Scientists and What They Taught Us

ISBN: 
9780307378521

I was afraid this would be another macho book about reckless men roaming the plains chasing tornadoes during storm season. Instead it turned out to be a wonderful compendium of tornado lore through the centuries. Also included are biographies of some of our most  important weather scientists.    

Storm Kings begins with a description of how during the 1600s New England settlers called any phenomenon that happened in the sky meteors including: meteors (of course), lightning, thunder, rainbows, comets, clouds in the shape of hands and faces, etc.  Although the science behind tornadoes was not understood and barely documented then, many colonists recognized that the weather in America was much more violent than in their home countries.

When a tornado swooped down near Cambridge, MA in 1680, two farming families were shocked when one lost a servant and another a barn during the storm.  They were so frightened by this event that one wrote to Increase Mather (the father of Cotton) asking about it. Increase, who was a self-educated weather expert, had no answers so he wrote to a scientific association in Europe. No one replied to his inquiry, but Benjamin Franklin found this letter seventy years later when he became interested in the study of weather and electricity. Read more »

Always Heard, Never Known

ISBN: 
6307573279

This is the story of a band that everyone has heard and yet most people don’t even know their name.  They played on more hit records than Elvis, than The Beach Boys, than The Rolling Stones or the Beatles ….combined.  They were responsible for the driving beat of the Motown hit factory.   The riffs you remember to so many songs were arranged and performed by them;  yet  if I mentioned some of their names, James Jamerson,  Richard Allen, Joe Messina, to name a few there would be no flash of recognition in your mind. Read more »

Superman Found Dead

ISBN: 
025192884627

Superman found Dead!  I missed the headline blazing across newspapers all over the country.  I'm not surprised, I was less than four years old in June of 1959 when George Reeves, the actor who starred as both Superman and reporter Clark Kent, was found in his bedroom, dead, apparently of a self inflicted gunshot wound.  At four I wasn't interested in such things as Superman.  At six and seven that changed and I was hooked on the television series "The Adventures of Superman."   At some point after that age I found out that George Reeves,  Superman,  was dead.  What I didn't know until much later in my life was that there were in fact many questions about the death of actor George Reeves.  Enough questions to make one wonder did the actor really kill himself or was he killed?   Read more »

How Gutenberg Changed the World

ISBN: 
9781596435421

While some predict the imminent demise of the printed book, some profess that the printed book will continue on in perpetuity. I stand with the second group. As much as I enjoy the convenience of ebooks, there is a majesty to a beautifully illustrated and bound printed book that not even the most colorfully animated ebooks can equal. There is so much ephemeral electronic correspondence today that a printed book, by its sheer mass and substance commands a certain amount of respect. Or, perhaps it's simply the history of the printed book that I revere.

From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World lavishly presents the early history of the printed book as pioneered by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450.  Categorized as a biography, this new picturebook by James Rumford focuses more on Gutenberg's revolutionary invention of the printing press, than on the life of Gutenberg himself. Each richly illustrated double-page spread describes the process of creating a book as a mystery of sorts, asking the reader to guess the elements that formed the finished product: "What was this thing made of rags and bones?" and answering on the next page: "It was paper, and it was ready."

The epilogue to this book notes that Gutenberg's invention remains a bit of a mystery, as no one knows for sure how he was able to produce such beautifully crisp and clear letters in the 1400s. But some of the books he produced more than 500 years ago endure to this day. In fact a copy of one of those books resides in Bloomington at the Lily Library on the campus of Indiana University. The Gutenberg Bible rests in a glass case on display in the Lily Library, open for anyone to visit. 

From the Good Mountain concludes with an illustration of computer circuitry, suggesting that as hand copied books gave way to printed ones, and printed books give way to ebooks, perhaps it doesn't matter at all what books look like -- what form they take -- as long as people keep writing and reading them. What are you reading today?

A Story of New York City When Robber Barons Were Kings

ISBN: 
9780151014477

Mark Twain christened the years between 1877 - 1900 the Gilded Age. Through business enterprises such as, railroads, oil and real estate, families were able to amass enormous personal fortunes. This book is the story of a daughter and a son of two of these wealthy New York families, the Minturns and the Stokes.

Edith Minturn and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes were childhood friends. At age 28 Isaac convinced Edith to marry him. Neither one was particularly interested in wealth and making money. She worked as a social reformer. Isaac trained as an architect but was more interested in history especially New York City history. They were products of their time and environment and when the stock market crashed in 1929, they crashed with it. Read more »

Photographing a Vanishing America

ISBN: 
9780618969029

If you've ever seen any of Edward Curtis's photos of Native Americans, you cannot forget them. Not only did Curtis capture members of various tribes with respect but their individuality and humanity stares at you from the page. He also recorded many spiritual ceremonies and active shots that give us some insight into what daily life was like for these people.

This excellent biography tells the story of the famous photographer's life, how he came from utter poverty in Wisconsin, then provided for his entire family as a young teen-ager, to a hardscrabble existence fishing and crabbing near Seattle. But in his late teens, he buys something for himself - a rare occurrence. He purchases a lens for his dad's old camera. 

Soon he manages to round up $150 - a large sum for a young man supporting an entire family in those days--and buys into a photography business in downtown Seattle. In a mere two years, he becomes the most famous photographer in the Northwest, in high demand to immortalize society and business leaders. But though the work makes him rich and feted by society, it's the Native American culture that draws him. He realizes that the country has finished expanding, that the westward migration has ended, and that the native tribes will have less and less space to call their own. Curtis understood that their way of life-- the clothing, the hunting, and especially the spiritual ceremonies--will mostly cease to exist. Read more »

Bronson

ISBN: 
876964002752

Charles Bronson, aka Michael Peterson, robbed a small post office in Britain and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He spent 37 years of that time in solitary. Was he forgotten about? No, he wasn't. Bronson was rightly considered the most violent man in Britain's prison system. The film Bronson is his story. Read more »

Marilyn & Me: A Photographer's Memories

ISBN: 
9780385536677

This slim memoir about one of the great stars of cinema is a quick and easy read. As you might guess, it provides some really fine images of the star that you might not have seen. Yet because of the book's small format, the photographs are not as big as you might hope.

The photographer, memoirist Lawrence Schiller, was only 23 years old when he first got the opportunity to photograph the actress. What I like especially in this book, is how he humanizes Marilyn, shows how uncertain she was, longing yet afraid to have a child; Schiller started his family over the couple year-span of the memoir and they often talked about his wife and family.

Marilyn & Me shows the actress to be incredibly smart.  Also, Schiller reveals her skills at conversation--when she was in the right mood--she could really draw people out. On the day she met the author, she discovered that he had blindness in one eye caused by a childhood accident. This fact she never forgot. Read more »

Polar Wives: the Remarkable Women behind the World 's Most Daring Explorers

ISBN: 
9781926812625

What a cool (pardon the pun) idea for a book.  We read so much about men who have conquered the poles or Everest but hardly anything about the women who have explored alongside them or have waited patiently at home. The author knows both how it feels to travel to remote places on dangerous missions and also the anxiety and deep worry that comes with being left at home--she's the daughter of two explorers, Wally and Marie Herbert. She conceived the idea for this book while camping with her father in a tent on a Greenlandic glacier thirty years ago.

Many of the famous arctic and Antarctic explorers' wives are featured here beginning with Lady Jane Franklin, the powerful and persistent lady that pushed for rescue expeditions to find her husband's ship. Also included are portraits of Jo Peary, Eleanor Anne Franklin, Eva Nansen, Marie Herbert (the author's mother), Emily Shackleton, and Kathleen Scott.

What struck me most reading Polar Wives was how talented the woman were in their own right, for instance, Eva Nansen was a leading singer in Norway while Kathleen Scott was a very talented British actress. In addition, Eleanor Anne Franklin, first wife of Sir John, was a Romantic poet who died young at age twenty-nine. Sir John then married her dear friend, Jane.

Imagine how it felt to watch your spouse ship away for a three, four, or five year journey to the coldest and most inaccessible parts of our planet. In the chapter "An Eagle in the Backyard" the author describes the feelings of both Emily Shackleton and her husband Ernest on the British docks. To make matters even worse, many explorers died on these journeys as Sir John Franklin and Robert Falcon Scott did. Read more »

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

UnbrokenUnbroken tells the amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, a rascally little boy who grows up in Southern California to Italian immigrant parents. As a child, Louie is constantly in trouble and has a restless energy. His saving grace is being introduced to long distance running by his older brother. Louie ends up running in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and is focused on the 4 minute mile and another chance at the 1940 Olympics.

Back home, he enrolls in USC and continues running when the War interrupts. Louie joins as a gunner in the Army Air Forces. He is eventually sent to the Pacific theater and after a few successful missions, his plane crashes in the Pacific during a search mission. Three members of the aircraft team make it to two small liferafts and his unbelieveable story continues. Louie's 40+ day survival on a life raft seems impossible. Then he is shot at and captured by the Japanese and unofficially is held in horrible war camps. Here too, his survival is seemingly impossible.

Louise does survive, his spirit is damaged, but also hopeful. Louie's story will stay with you. I kept thinking of him and his story well after I finished the book. Read more »

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