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Staff Picks: Books

First Ladies

One of my fields of study in addition to librarianship has been political science, so it naturally follows that I would be an eager viewer of C-SPAN. In fact, I have been known to watch Senate hearings at 3:30 a.m. The program on which this 2015 book is based, though, comes on at the more reasonable time of 8:00 p.m. on Sunday evenings. Susan Swain, the moderator of C-SPAN's series on first ladies of the United States, is in my opinion one of the finest interviewers on TV. In this book she has compiled material from the series that originally ran in 2013 and 2014 and is now being replayed. The result of her efforts is, under one cover, an absolute treasure of information and little-known facts about the presidents' spouses, and by extension, the presidents themselves, their families, and events concurrent with their time in the White House.

Countdown to Zero Day

I casually picked up Kim Zetter’s Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the launch of the world's first digital weapon because I was familiar with her writing for Wired magazine where she covers cybercrime, privacy, and security issues. While I knew Zetter as a skilled writer, I was not prepared for this book to capture my attention so profoundly and to be such a scary thrill to read. The book begins as an account of the detection and spread of what seemed at the time (2010-11) a rather routine computer “malware” attack but quickly unfolds into a thrilling whodunit with complex international implications and a glimpse at the kind of cyber-warfare that we will face in the future.


I Pledge Allegiance

This story touches my heart. I picked it up to read because I met Pat Mora one Fall when she made an author visit to Kalamazoo. I always enjoy her work, so it was natural for me to read this book.

The story is about Libby’s great aunt (Lobo) who is eighty years old. She has been studying very hard, learning all about America so that she can take her citizenship test. Libby and her Mom will go with Lobo to the ceremony when she becomes a citizen of the United States.

Libby’s class practices the Pledge of Allegiance just as her great aunt does. Libby’s teacher explains the meaning of it as they recite it. Libby and Lobo practice saying the Pledge of Allegiance every night so that on Friday, the big day, they will both be ready. While they wait for Friday to come, Libby’s great aunt tells her about her country and coming to the United States. They came here to protect the family.

At the ceremony, the Judge tells everyone what a happy day it is. She has all the new citizens stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

When my mother-in-law was eighty years old, she too became a citizen of the United States. We were lucky enough to be able to have the Judge come to her home and perform the ceremony. My daughter was in kindergarten at the time and we talked about how Grandma had to learn the history of our country and how important it was to her. It was a touching ceremony and we all recited the Pledge of Allegiance with her, there was not a dry eye among us. We were every bit as proud of her as Libby was of Lobo. It is something our family will never forget.

No Place to Hide

No matter what your personal opinions on Edward Snowden, or his actions, are; Glenn Greenwald’s account of breaking the Snowden story, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. surveillance state, is gripping stuff. Greenwald, a journalist who has subsequently become synonymous with the Snowden leaks and hasn’t been shy about offering his strong opinion on the blanket NSA surveillance they exposed, spends the first half of No Place to Hide detailing the cloak and dagger story of his first contact with Snowden and the events that led to Greenwald flying to Hong Kong to meet Snowden personally and release the initial secret documents that broke the story worldwide. The second half of the book is devoted to explaining the alphabet soup of secret NSA programs that Snowden’s documents exposed. These surveillance programs effectively try to sweep up and collect all communications and internet activity worldwide and their breadth and depth is downright shocking. Viewed as evidence that we are living under a dangerous surveillance state or proof that our government is fighting terrorism by any means necessary, No Place to Hide is an eye opening and incisive read.

American Folklife

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: an Illustrated Guide…the title sounds bland, but the book/CD set is anything but! It covers a wide cross-section of folk art and folk lore in the United States.

Most amazing is the accompanying CD. With 35 tracks in all, there are songs from all over the U.S., including a song sung by Zora Neale Hurston, storytelling, personal interviews with many different people about aspects of daily living and the impacts of war and slavery. Some recordings are over 100 years old. Altogether they demonstrate the richness and variety of cultural experience in our country. This would be a great teaching tool to help bring an American history topic to life for your students.


Library of Congress American Folklife Center: An Illustrated Guide

50th Anniversary of JFK Assassination

I was born in Washington D.C. four days after JFK was killed. As a result I always felt an affinity for, and curiosity about, Kennedy.

I was especially moved when my father and I had the chance to visit the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. We went to Dallas together on the last major trip my father took before he died. We watched TV clips of pivotal moments in Kennedy’s presidency. We looked out of the window from which the shots were fired, onto the white painted “X” on Elm Street marking the spot where Kennedy was struck dead. Dad told me about how he felt, living in D.C., expecting a new baby to the family, while memorial events for the fallen president were taking place.

After the museum, Dad and I went for dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant nearby. As we were finally leaving downtown, we got a little turned around and drove down a few different streets before finding the exit onto the freeway. I felt chills when I realized-- just as we were clearly headed in the right direction-- that I was driving right over the fatal spot, the painted “X” on Elm Street.

As the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination approaches, you may wish to revisit that time, explore something new about Kennedy’s administration or ponder the controversies surrounding his death. We’ve got so much you can read, view and hear.

Where were you? America Remembers the JFK Assassination


An Unconventional Look at the Presidents

Writing about the U.S. presidents has been a popular thing to do throughout most of the history of the country, but especially recently, whether individually or collectively. Here's a rather large volume that has two parts: 1) The Making of the President, 1787, and 2) Presidential Profiles. I found the profile section to be particularly enjoyable. For each president, author Davis gives biographical milestones, quotations, fast facts, a lively summary of the administration, online resources for further information, and a final analysis and grade. This latter item provides the capstone to each chapter. While I don't agree with all of the ratings, I was interested to note the rationale for each. Some are obvious and expected -- Washington and Lincoln get an A+. Three in a row get an F -- Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan. But there are some surprises among the rest. This is a nice work of history presented with an entertaining flair.



Don't know much about the American presidents : everything you need to know about the most powerful office on Earth and the men who have occupied it

So I finally know what people are talking about when they talk about Obamacare Death Panels...

Dr. Lobosky, who probably dictated this book to an intern, a red faced old school doc from the 70’s, raging mad about all the problems with health care, talking about the good ol’ days when doctors actually saw their patients... Anyway, he was hopeful when President Obama talked about a single-payer system, a public option, universal access, and letting Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices. But alas money and politics! The special interests (insurance, drug companies, trial lawyers) gobbled up Obamacare and spit it out. It’s mutilated, complains Lobosky, to the point that it may not solve the larger problems it began to solve in the first place. Like affordable access and care for all.
Now I must admit I really liked listening to this doctor rant and rave about everything, but eventually he does offer some solutions:

  1. Everyone has insurance and pays through the same system (single-payer system)
  2. Everyone gets the same coverage (universal access)
  3. Force insurance companies and hospitals to be not-for-profit: if a company must choose between profit and patient care, they will choose profit. After all, they have stock-holders to make happy. He sees this as a glaring conflict of interest.
  4. Protect doctors from getting sued so much
  5. Force drug companies to make new drugs, not just “copy-cats”: and increase their patents so it will be worth their while.
  6. Use evidence-based medicine: don’t waste resources by doing procedures that are unnecessary or don’t work
  7. Death Panels! This is called “rationing” in the health care debate. It boils down to the fact that we have a finite number of resources in our health care system. So if a person insists on getting a procedure that probably won’t work and probably won’t help their quality of life, then, the argument goes, they should have to pay for it instead of the government. Or perhaps a charity would.

This book will propel you into the health care debate. It’s written by a politically moderate doctor who has a unique view in the trenches. At times he sounds arrogant, and he knows it. I found myself laughing. But this issue is no laughing matter. I highly recommend.

We have many other books on health care reform.


It's Enough to Make You Sick

One Eagle Scout’s Story

In 2011, Zach Wahls’ speech to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee was posted online and went viral, where it gleaned over 17 million hits on YouTube. For those who’d like to hear more from this promising young activist, you can read his book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family.

Wahls, an Eagle Scout, was raised -- in a home steeped in family values, discussing morals at the dinner table—by two moms. In his book, Wahls breaks down the Boy Scout motto, law, oath and slogan, giving concrete examples of how his family exemplified values in each of those codes and what he learned from the Boy Scouts about living out those values. He also gives a moving account of his mother, Terry’s, struggle with MS, and how her illness and triumphs over her condition impacted the whole family. In general, we see a family sharing love and struggles, as all families do. This family’s parents ultimately earned the legal right to marry in their home state, partly due to Zach Wahls’ inspiring speech on the Iowa legislative floor.

The library has other materials by, and/or for, children of gay or lesbian parents, and their parents. If you don’t find what you are looking for, please ask!



My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family

A Look at Detroit

Detroit is described as our country’s greatest urban failure from once being a capitalist dream town.

As several reviewers have written, Detroit City is the Place to Be, captures the beauty and nobility of the city as well as the hardship and chaos. It is part history and part biography of a city and its people; a commentary on postindustrial America with some limited optimism for the future. The author grew up in the city and weaves in some personal narrative as well.

This may sound familiar to those who grew up in Detroit or Michigan. For those of us who were not here during the glory days of Detroit, it helps understand how and why Detroit became “a once-great American metropolis gone to hell” as one reviewer wrote.

This book provides the framework for our state, even our nation, to grapple with the issues facing Detroit.


Detroit City is the Place to Be