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Staff Picks: Books

A History of America in 100 Maps

Susan Schulten here presents a beautifully printed book of historical maps, dating all the way from a Ptolemaic world map created by Henricus Martellus Germanus in 1489 or 1490 all the way down to a DeepMap data visualization for autonomous vehicles created in 2018. There are notes and analytical commentary about all 100, which include other topics such as opening the Oregon Trail, the origins of the Cold War, the geography of Hollywood, and a 1932 map of Harlem nightclubs. I was so taken with the map reproductions that I resorted to using a magnifying glass in order to take in the massive, fascinating detail included in what amounts to a real work of art.


As I was reading a review of this book the subtitle caught my attention: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live.  The subject being discussed struck me as being quite horrible, yet I felt a compulsion to take a look and see what the repulsiveness was all about. The book's front flap says that author Rob Dunn, a professor in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State, 'reveals that our domestic domain, far from peaceful, is wild beyond imagination' and that 'every house is a wilderness -- brimming with thousands of species of insects, bacteria, fungi, and plants that live literally under our noses.' But, he also contends that 'the healthier we try to make our homes, the more likely we are to put our own health at risk.' This book would be a totally depressing endeavor were it not for Dunn's breezy style of writing. All who are interested in knowing who their possible housemates are should take a look at this book.

How to Disappear

At a time when the pressure to be outwardly “public” with the granular details of our lives and our minute to minute thoughts, and where the corporate network of image-making has become a reality filter that mediates our very existence, many people are expressing a desire to break from social networking sites and their powerfully seductive and artificial influence. Akiko Busch’s new book How to Disappear: notes on invisibility in a time of transparency is an interesting work of essay, memoir and cultural criticism that meditates upon the individual and cultural pressure to constantly reify our lives through social networking sites, corporations and our jobs. At the heart of the work, is an examination of the self and whether or not, reducing our level of visibility and self-promotion can work to enrich our life experiences and deepen our relationship to others and the natural world.

It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work

In this book that describes the ideal workplace, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say that it's time to stop celebrating 'Crazy' and start celebrating 'Calm.' In doing so, they seek to cross out '80-hour weeks, packed schedules, super busy, endless meetings, overflowing inbox, unrealistic deadlines, can't sleep, Sunday-afternoon emails, no time to think, stuck at the office, all-nighters, chats blowing up.' There are some valid points in this book; others I can't accept. But, for anyone who wants to study the art of management, this book provides a smorgasbord of ideas about organizational culture.

The History Book : Big Ideas Simply Explained

I happen to like books from DK Publishing, a firm that produces quality items on quality paper. They specialize in books that have a pictorial, visual emphasis. From the library's teen section is this one-volume digest of world history arranged in two-page chapters. This is a good book even for those who have studied history extensively, since herein, under one cover, are photos and information not often seen elsewhere. It's unlikely that anyone would read this book straight through although one could; it lends itself to selective browsing in chapters of interest to the reader.

Built : The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures

Roma Agrawal, at only 35 years of age, is an experienced structural engineer who has been involved in building some very large projects, such as London's 'The Shard,' western Europe's tallest tower. She is also a promoter of technical and engineering careers to young people, particularly women. In this book, she describes in easy-to-understand terms many aspects of the work that has gone into some of the world's buildings and structures, both ancient and modern. Among these are the pyramids, the Northumbria University Footbridge, the John Hancock Center in Chicago, Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, and Brooklyn Bridge. As Henry Petroski of Duke University says, this is 'a book about real engineering written by a real engineer who can really write.'

Year-End Review

As 2018 winds down, its a customary tradition for staff to compile a list of those books, movies and albums that have inspired us, made us laugh, made us cry, stoked our imagination, and provoked us to think deeply about the relationship between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy and art and life. Here are a few of my favorites.


Winter, Karl Ove Knausgaard
Becoming, Michelle Obama
WKW: the Cinema of Wong Kar Wai, John Powers
Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, John Banville
Meaty, Samantha Irby
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh
These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore
The Largesse of the Sea Maidens, Denis Johnson


100 Places You Will Never Visit

Subtitled The World's Most Secret Locations, this book that lists 100 Places You Will Never Visit is good for both information and entertainment. There are descriptions and photographs (some from a distance, of course) of 100 sites, many of which the general public has not even heard of, let alone visit, such as the Rosslyn Chapel vaults, Room 39, Pionen White Mountains, and the Oak Island Money Pit. Others are famous because of their secrecy, such as the Fort Knox Bullion Depository, the Coca-Cola Recipe Vault, Air Force One, and the Queen's Bedroom at Buckingham Palace. This is another example of a book that can either be read straight through or looked at by individual site.

No one tells You this

Glynnis MacNicol celebrated her 40th birthday by herself, intentionally, even though her dear friends wanted to throw her a party. She was unmarried with no kids, no partner and no plans for either. She was squirming a bit under the burden of others’ expectations that she should be married, should be a mother by now. In No one tells You This, MacNicol chronicles how, during the year following her 40th birthday, she shook hands with that expectation, then let go of it for herself. Meanwhile, she embraced her full and interesting life--with gratitude for the flexibility her schedule allowed her to support her parents, sister, niece and nephew with some life changes--and found new choice adventures of her own.

MacNicol has a captivating writing style, and this is a meaningful memoir. There are so many single people in our culture, living vital multi-dimensional lives. Yet our media and our literature too rarely illuminate this reality. I hope MacNicol will publish more soon.

Coding for Kids!

While computer coding is a deep topic, like math and technical fields, it never hurts to set foundations early. Kiki Prottsman and DK have created a fun way to set these foundations with the new “My First Coding Book.” The basics of coding have to do with learning logic and the words used to describe certain actions and ideas. My First Coding Book teaches young readers these concepts, with fun illustrations, and lift-the-flap style games. This book is very cute, great fun, and I recommend it to anyone (even adults) who want a better sense of how this computing stuff -- at its core -- really works.