Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Scenario One: A trolley is about to run over five people tied to the tracks. You happen to be watching the horrible scene unfold. But, you also happen to be next to a lever. If you pull the level, the trolley switches tracks and kills one person (also tied to the tracks). If you do nothing, five people die. Those are your only options.
Do you pull the lever?
Scenario Two: Again, a trolley is about to run over five people tied to the tracks. But now there is a platform overlooking the tracks with a very large man standing on it (I apologize for the offensive nature of this thought experiment in advance). You are standing behind him on the platform. You have two options. You can do nothing and the five people die. Or you can push the large man in front of the trolley, which will stop it; but he will die. Those are the only options you have.
Do you push the large man?
Most people, it turns out, would pull the lever but would not push the large man, usually because the latter is more intentional. Interestingly, men are more willing to push the large man in front of the trolley. Military workers are more likely to push (vs hospital workers), liberals push (as opposed to conservatives), non-religious people push (vs religious) and — wait for it — psychopaths push! But there is no correlation regarding income or education and pushing.
The point, of course, has nothing to do with trolleys or large men. The point is that both outcomes are the same. One person dies and five people are saved. Yet why do we not push the large man? What else is going on here?
It has everything to do with your moral philosophy, which roughly come in two flavors: Utilitarian or Deontologist, John Stuart Mill or Immanuel Kant. Do you calculate numbers or do you follow strict rules? Does the outcome matter (save five) or does the principle matter more (do not kill)? Does the consequences of your actions matter, or just the actions themselves? Most people (me included) fall into the principle, rule-based camp (Deontology). Other people think that the means justify the end, that morality is about maximizing the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people, that sometimes by golly you have to crack an egg to make an omelet (Utilitarianism).
As for me, I would not pull the lever or push the man. What about you? Please comment below.
Would you kill the fat man
Happy Earth Day, everyone! Today we celebrate the planet we live on, and to that end we have many items for you to explore, from Earth Day specific, to activity-based ways to enjoy the Earth, including camping, hiking, and gardening.
On a more somber note, this year we mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon, and a coalition has formed to highlight the importance of avoiding species extinction in the future. This effort is led by Joel Greenberg, a research associate with both the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and the Chicago Field Museum. Greenberg has written a book about the passenger pigeon, A feathered river across the sky : the passenger pigeon's flight to extinction, which you can place on hold, as it is currently checked out at this writing. Next Monday, Greenberg will address the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo, at an event which is free and open to the public.
A feathered river across the sky : the passenger pigeon's flight to extinction
Leo and his mama go to the library every week for Baby Time . . . sharing stories, playing peek-a-boo with scarves, and singing the happy song.
Leo Loves Baby Time is a sweet story, perfectly suited to very young children, with uncluttered illustrations, few words, and a focused plot. If you like this book, also take a look at Lola Loves Stories, which is about Leo’s big sister.
Leo Loves Baby Time
The hazmat killer’s recent victim is found on a carousel and Zach and Kylie of the elite NYPD Red force must find him before the mayors re-election vote. The hazmat killer is killing people that the legal system was unable to bring to justice. They torture the bad guy and video tape the confession, kill him and then leave the body in a very public place. The video is then released to the internet. Kylie and Zach have a hard time getting people to help as most are routing for the vigilante. NYPD RED 2 is James Patterson and Marshall Karp’s second book in this series. While you can read this book without having first read NYPD RED, I recommend reading them in order. Kylie and Zach have a romantic history and it’s just better if you read about it in the first book as they talk about it a lot (way more than I wanted) in the second book.You can find both books at KPL, as well as thousand of others both in hard print and digital.
NYPD RED 2
Much like Mike Tyson’s greatest fights, Undisputed Truth, the autobiography by the controversial boxer is shocking and brutal, but despite the shock, it is hard to turn away from. Written with the assistance of well-respected coauthor Larry Sloman, Undisputed Truth offers a raw, no holds barred look at the high-flying story of Mike Tyson so far. From his incredibly difficult childhood (with shockingly little parental involvement, Tyson was left to survive on the gritty streets of Brooklyn, New York on his own and was committing armed robbery as a very young child) to training under the tutelage, and basically being adopted by, boxing coach Cus D'Amato as a teenager, to boxing world champion, convicted rapist, celebrity, drug addict, and notorious ear-biting villain, Undisputed Truth is a truly wild ride. The book does little to dissuade readers that Tyson has been anything but a truly despicable person for most of his life, but the raw and honest way that Tyson talks about his life and confronts his demons is admirable and by the end of the book you can’t help but root for him and his redemption as a human being and a sports figure.
In journalism, a stringer is a writer/correspondent who isn’t formally employed by any one news organization, but rather produces articles that may be shopped around to many would be publishers, and more often than not, may actually end up being bought by none. Stringers usually cover their own expenses, provide their own support and go to places where established, affiliated reporters do not. The term itself is of unsure origin. Some say that it was coined because these writers are paid by the word and therefore would tend to “string” together words to increase their payout. Others believe that it refers to these journalists’ potential employers who would “string them along” into believing that a permanent contractual relationship was to be had just around the corner from the next article that they wrote.
Making a living by writing anything professionally is tough enough. Deciding to do it by becoming a stringer takes a certain character; one that is determined to succeed and driven by a thirst for adventure and non-stop action. It is also useful to have a very high tolerance level for repeatedly risking everything in search of that exceptional, preferably exclusive, story. All of these traits are displayed in abundance by Anjan Sundaram in his wonderful first book, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo.
In the summer of 2005, Sunderam decides to leave behind his postgraduate studies in mathematics at Yale, as well as a lucrative job offer from Goldman Sachs, and instead to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why such an extreme exercise in life re-orientation? Although an explanation is provided, it is not very convincing. Rather it seems to be as much due to whimsy and a bad case of ants-in-the-pants as anything else. And why the Congo? Simply due to the shear coincidence that his bank teller tells him that her brother-in-law and family, whom he has never met, live there and would agree to put him up in their home during his stay.
Using his one-way ticket, he arrives and his previously calm predictable world completely disintegrates into the uncertainties of day-to-day Congolese existence; the latter occurring with the chaotic and frequently violent state of Congolese politics and social problems as a backdrop. After many mishaps and struggles along the way to becoming the journalist he sees himself as being, he lucks out by landing a position as a stringer with the Associated Press reporting on the never ending merry-go-round of political corruption and exploitation that are the trademarks of the country’s history.
Success begins to shine upon his efforts, and helps seal his commitment to his new life on the African continent. His story about the Pygmy tribes in Congo’s rain forest wins a Reuters journalism award. His Associated Press editor acknowledges that he himself also began his career as a stringer in Congo. Editor and writer form a bond. Other opportunities present themselves, and Sundaram’s writings have since appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times as well as the Chicago Tribune.
I first heard about “Stringer” when the author was interviewed by Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s Daily Show in early January of this year. However, be assured: This work is no light-hearted, comedic romp. Sundaram’s writing is crisp, searing, and bursting with visual details that make it unforgettable for the reader. (One reviewer used the word “luscious” to describe it, and I could not agree more.)
It is very rare to find a truly engrossing page-turner, much less one that is a work of quality non-fiction. This is just such a rarity.
Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo
What do you know about “the other Ellis Island?” Between 1910 and 1940, Angel Island was the port of U.S. entry for thousands of Asians seeking a new life in America. Russell Freedman’s new book: Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain tells the story of those who passed through, those who were detained, and those who never made it any further into the U.S. before returning to their country of origin.
Especially poignant are the poems that were carved into and painted on barracks walls: “Nights are long, the pillow cold; who can comfort my solitude? . . . Shouldn’t I just return home and learn to plow the fields?” Discovered by a maintenance worker long after the facility closed, the poems have been preserved and incorporated into the public areas of this National Historic Landmark.
Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
This is based on a true story. It is World War II and a group of Polish soldiers who are escaping the Germans and Russians by way of Iran purchase a tiny, half-dead orphaned bear cub from a boy. The soldiers name the bear cub Voytek, which means “Smiling Warrior.” Voytek is cared for by Peter and Stanislav and Junusz and Lolek and Pavel… they explain to their sergeant that the bear is their new ‘mascot.’
The soldiers join the British army. The story follows the soldiers and Voytek from camp to camp for five years watching the many different soldiers’ reactions to Voytek. Voytek is a sweet bear. Peter is his keeper and there are a few instances where he aids the soldiers: he carries bombs, he corners a spy, and he entertains. Voytek provides comfort amid the horrors of war. The soldiers have a few other animals: Kaska, a monkey, who rides on the back of a big dog named Stalin and Dottie the Dalmatian.
Soldier Bear has been translated from the Dutch into English by Laura Watkinson. Soldier Bear received the Margaret Bachelder Award, an American Library Association Award given to the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States.
You may know Walter Kirn from the novels and short stories he has written, but it is more likely you have heard of him because of the movies Up in the Air starring George Clooney and Thumbsucker that are based on his novels of the same name. Since I spend a lot of time reading book reviews, I know he is also a hotshot reviewer.
Now he has another claim to fame; manipulated dupe of impostor and murderer Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a.k.a. Clark Rockefeller.
Desperate for money as a struggling writer who had gotten in too deep buying a ranch in Montana, he agreed to drive a disabled dog from Montana to New York City to aid in its adoption by Clark Rockefeller, member of the immensely wealthy Rockefeller family. Kirn needed the money and was hoping to maybe find in this eccentric person a subject to write about or base a character on in a future novel.
This was the beginning of a long, bizarre relationship during which Kirn actually decides not to write about Rockefeller in deference to their friendship. But this all changes when his friend Clark is brought up on murder charges and investigations start to reveal that the whole relationship has been a string of lies.
You will be stunned by what Christian Gerhartsreiter was able to get away with in Kirn's new memoir/true crime book Blood Will Out.
Blood Will Out
Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul have written another book, Mirage, filled with the adventures of the crew from the ship the Oregon. This time it’s all about invisible ships and magnetic blue beams. A Navy ship sailing out of Philadelphia disappears and somehow an inventor named Nikola Tesla is involved. Give it a read at KPL.