Nonfiction

Stars, Planets, Moon

ISBN: 
9781770853256

I know the title sounds like an oxymoron, but if astronomy excites you, don't let living in the heart of town make you give up exploring the night skies.

I myself have seen countless meteors and conjunctions, a changing panoply of shining planets, and many constellations right from town. There was also the night of the bright red aurora borealis that I first mistook for a major fire when I was biking home from work. To say nothing of lunar eclipses and "super" full moons.

Written by the vice-president of Britain's Society of Popular Astronomy, this handy guide  is very applicable in the states. What I like best about it is, Scagell's can-do philosophy, not only can you feel awe when looking at planetary bodies, but he invites the reader to do actual astronomical research and to participate as a citizen-scientist.

And don't think you need to spend massive amounts of money for the highest tech equipment.  He recommends a good pair of binoculars for sky-viewing and reports that they even have many advantages over telescopes. He does recommend telescopes too--aperture and field of view should be the deciding factors.

He also advises the city astronomer on things and props he can use to cut or eliminate light pollution, such simple things as simple as a black cape to wear over you and your telescope to cut out glare.

In eight well-researched chapters, Scagell pours his passion for the least earthbound of sciences. Chapter 4 covers the targets of star search. All the usual ones: sun, moon, the near and far planets, the constellations but also other astronomical phenomena such as zodiacal light, noctilucent clouds, artificial satellites, double stars, clusters, nebulae, and deep sky objects.

Although not necessarily geared for the beginner, all terms are so well explained that the guide can work for both the 25-year amateur astronomer and the neophyte. A four page table at the end lists many deep sky objects that can be seen even from cities.

So, on these dark, clear nights, grab your black cape, your binoculars or telescope, and delve into this fascinating science that connects us to other mysterious worlds.

Thinking in Numbers: on Life, Love, Meaning and Math

ISBN: 
9780316187374

It's a cliche, but people often say that if you excel at math, you'll have little talent for language and vice versa. Transplanted Londoner and Parisian resident, Daniel Tammet proves the falsehood of this statement.

In 25 essays that examine life from a mathematical perspective, Tammet enthralls and enlightens the reader on many things especially the beauty of mathematics. Einstein's son Hans Albert said that his father's character was more like an artist than that of a scientist because his highest praise for a theory "was not that it was correct nor that it was exact but that it was beautiful."

Tammet begins this collection with an essay describing his family and numbers theory. In fact, he attributes his first interest in math due to the fact that his neighbors' great interest in his family occurred because there were nine children.  And as he explains it, there were 512 possible ways to spot him or his siblings around town in various combinations. Read more »

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: 50 Years

ISBN: 
9781770854628

Have a soft spot in your heart for animals? Love unexpected and mesmerizing nature photographs? If so, this coffee table book is for you.

This book features the best of the best: a sampling of fifty years of winners from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest as well as an essay describing and presenting the history of the art.

It also includes some early nature photography, photographs that inspired later nature artists including Ansel Adams' 1941 photo "Snake River, the Tetons" with its magnificent play of light and shadows, curvilinear boulders and twin mountain peaks. Another great find is Eric Hosking's 1938 weirdly titled "The Tawny Owl that Robbed Me of an Eye" which turns out to a true story.  Be careful while taking pictures of owls! Read more »

The Little Book of Yoga

ISBN: 
9781452129204

If you like yoga, or are merely curious about it, this lovely book covers all the basics and can get your practice jump-started. Even though I've been doing yoga for years, the author surprised with many details that I had not heard before about its philosophy and forms.

In five brief parts it covers all the basics of yoga: its history, branches, all the yoga styles. It also covers the philosophy of yoga, many of its poses with brief illustrations, also breathing, meditation, mantras, mudras, bandhas, and chakras.

The meditation section is a six page description of types of meditation including walking and compassion ones. Yes, just what it sounds like helping others as part of doing yoga.  This part begins with a quick list of how to start a meditation practice.

The last section, appropriately subtitled "Yoga off the Mat" covers yoga at work and school, while traveling, in relationships, and at rest.

The poses--obviously not a complete compendium--are illustrated with 2 or 3 line drawings, a verbal description of how to do them, and in closing, a list of benefits for each.

This beautiful red book is highly portable and with its amazing summary and synthesis of yoga would make a lovely gift. Perfect for the bedstand table, so you can practice breathing or peaceful asanas just before bed, or more active ones after waking up in the morning.

 

 

Family Secrets

ISBN: 
9780670025558

Remember reading the Old Testament and seeing the list of “begats” that seemed to last forever?  This book examines human history as recorded in our DNA.  It’s full of fascinating lore: recently geneticists and statisticians have proved that African countries where the slave trade was rampant  have not only a much higher sense of distrust toward friends and strangers, but also have much poorer economies today over a hundred fifty years later.

And Genghis Khan really did father thousands of children, yet at the same time he lived up to his name as the Destroyer. During the two centuries of the Mongol raids that he initiated, 40 million people died. So many that much of the inhabited earth became reforested. This was the only time in recorded history that the CO2 in the atmosphere actually dropped enough to measure.

Genghis Khan also lives on for his particular Y chromosome. Not only did he pass this on to countless sons, but he and his armies killed so many men with different Y chromosomes that his became the predominant one in many parts of Asia. Read more »

Murder in the Stacks

ISBN: 
9780762780877

If one single event stands out in the memory of my first semester in State College, Pa., it’s the murder of an English graduate student that happened in the library.  Before reading this book, I would have guessed it occurred just a week or two into term, rather than toward its end—so much did it color life for the rest of my college experience in Happy Valley, Pa.  Yes, this remote mountain valley in almost the exact center of Pa. is actually named that.

Most of my dorm-mates felt absolute terror after the murder.  They literally would not leave the building alone after dark.  I remember big gangs of young women walking together in a phalanx toward the library to study.  I joined them one night, but that was it.  I could not time my departures and arrivals and function in such a timid, emotionally-wrought group.

And though this horrible crime happened decades ago, it still has not been officially “solved.” But the author, a Harrisburg journalist, has come up with some compelling facts that point to a specific fellow grad student. A student in fact that went on to continue his PhD studies and remained on campus for four or five more years. Read more »

Without You, There is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

ISBN: 
9780307720658

This well-written memoir about teaching in a college in North Korea the year Kim Jong-il died sent shivers up my spine. The author, Suki Kim, an American writer, who spent part of her childhood in South Korea and is fluent in the language, had visited North Korea several times. Each time she felt divorced from the people and prevented by her “minders” (they were actually called that) from getting a true understanding of what contemporary life was like in the country.

Emotionally, Kim felt connected to the country because part of her family lived there. Kim’s mother had often told her stories about how her eldest brother disappeared and was never seen again when he was taken from a truck during the Korean War.  The family was divided from other aunts and uncles and cousins who lived across the divide.

Kim, primarily a journalist, had taught at a college in the states and sometime around 2010 heard that a Bible college, financed by Americans, was soon to open near Pyongyang. The very idea sounded strange—a culture that scorned religion was allowing westerners to open a bible college by the capital? Read more »

Stilwater: Finding Wild Mercy in the Outback

ISBN: 
9781571313140

De Grenade brings to vivid life a remote cattle range in the far reaches of Australia, just a boat journey away on the Coral Sea from the Indonesian island of Papua New Guinea. Stilwater, this remote ranch bounded by seas on two sides and by the curvy Solomon and Powder Rivers, was until a year before the author’s arrival mostly uncared for, its cows and bulls, unbranded and roaming free. Not only free but feral on this ranch of a thousand square miles.

De Grenade, adventurous and stubborn, and an excellent horsewoman left school at age twelve to cattle ranch in Arizona. There she buffed up her horse and animal skills.  In her young twenties she asked family members for contacts in Australia, and through them found a distant connection who offered her free room and boarding in exchange for work.  At the end of her gig, they gave her an airline ticket and as she wandered around “this island between two oceans” as she calls Australia, she found a notice to work on Stilwater. Read more »

Limber

ISBN: 
9781936747757

Nature, particularly trees are central to this lovely book of essays.  Several of the narratives were unusual enough that I wondered if they had been fictionalized. They seemed more like creative nonfiction than essays. For instance, “Moon Trees” begins with this sentence, “There are cinnabar trees growing on the moon. “ But soon the world of facts—and interesting ones—becomes paramount.

Did you know that astronaut Stuart Roosa brought lots of tree seeds—katsura, loblolly pine, sycamore, sweet gum, and redbud onto Apollo 14’s moon expedition?  Unfortunately, he did not get chosen to land on the moon so he brought these seeds back, and 450 of them were planted and studied by scientists. But they just grew normally like tree seeds that had never left Earth. However, for a brief while, Roosa got to combine his early career as a forest service Smoke Jumper (saving beautiful trees) and an astronaut whirling through space. Read more »

The New York Dog

ISBN: 
9781617690907

There are dog people in this world and then there others! Sorry, cat afionados. But for you lovers of all things canine, this new book of photographs with New Yorker's "best friend" stories will charm you. When you think of it, what could be more counterintuitive than a Manhattan or Brooklynite pup? Imagine the crowds (homo sapien primarily), the honking horns, lights, and police and fire sirens. It's enough to set even a human howling.

The photos are lovely. They include: an endearing poodle with its mouth open leaning into the wind from a cab window, a Great Dane crossing a car-filled side street, and several mixed breeds running free past colorful graffitied walls. There's even a refreshing series of summer beach scenes with dogs coated in sand or racing into the surf. Famous photographer William Wegman is shown with four of his graceful dog models: Flo, Topper, Candy, and Bobbin. Read more »

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