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Dave and his wife Jane own the bookstore. Unlike everyone else there, he knows nothing about the business - but from constantly asking questions, he’s trying to learn. The staff very much hopes he’ll succeed before he starts coming up with ideas he’d like them to implement. A trial lawyer in his prior life and now a part-time human rights lawyer focusing on Africa, he’s looking at the ways in which the bookstore can be a forum for critical issues. Examples include increasing diversity on the island, confronting xenophobia, racism, and considering the distinction between freedom of speech and hate speech.
If you are an experience mountaineer or (say) a designer of quilts, read this book since both of you will then have one thing in common; a sense of wonderment that any sane person would (let alone could) do what Alex Honnold did. Considered the last great rock climbing challenge, he climbed 3000 feet straight up the most difficult route on El Capitan without help - no rope, no partner, no equipment. The author, himself an elite rock climber, astutely explains how someone can seemingly lack the capacity to experience fear. The complexities of us humans are magnified in this telling. The purity of the pursuit butting up against the pressure to monetize doing the impossible; petty cruelty and selfless concern for others, and self-confidence bordering on insanity all the while preparing for the climb with thousands of hours choreographing the exact placement of every hand hold and a nubbin of friction for each foot hold. By the end we wonder; which of us is living the fullest of a lives.
This is the most recent in a long series of Montreal based crime novels with a big following on Bainbridge. The ever-brilliant Chief Inspector has never been in the middle of a baffling murder investigation in which he is a key witness at the same time his career is on the line owing to a dicey judgment call he made concerning a major drug bust on a previous case. Penny’s clever if not devious mind links the murder of a prominent Montreal financier to a 150-year old dispute between beneficiaries of a will that gave all of an estate to each son of the deceased. And therein lies the tale.
Even if you're not among the large population of Americans with heart disease or a family history of it, Sandeep Jauhar'sHeart, a History is a gripping story. How our heart pump works, and the history of wacky and brilliant experiments into its mysteries that refused to go away, speaks to the broader issue of how science makes progress over time. From the fatal heart attack suffered by his grandfather in rural India to his own heart disease, this cardiologist clearly lifts the fog around the various ways the heart can fail and steps we can take to avoid the operating room.
Leaving the comforts of Vienna, young Lucius Krzelwewski, a physician barely out of medical school, is posted to a WW I field hospital in the Carpathian Mountains. Sister Margarete, the head nurse who may or may not be a nun, and the brutal conditions of a nearly abandoned hospital, quickly upend his cloistered world. His struggle to comprehend how ill equipped he is as the only physician left in this nearly forgotten outpost, and what to make of the baffling head nurse, frame this tale. One day, a severely injured soldier who can’t or won’t talk arrives and is unresponsive to treatment. Krzelwewski sees no solution other than to send him away to an uncertain fate. The war ends, he returns to Vienna but is consumed with the need to find the woman he loves and perhaps come to peace with what happened to the winter soldier. All in all, a beautiful tale.
Egan conjures up a wonderful tableau of characters in this richly told novel about NYC during WW II. A precocious ingénue turned hard hat diver is the star of the show, a crippled sister who briefly arises Lazarus-like, a fraught dad, and a gangster who can't quite decide if he fits the mold. This tale starts slowly but properly so, since developing these complex characters understandably takes time. The research into the functioning of New York's waterfront during the war effort is fascinating and her treatment of how all these lives connect delights to the very end. No wonder Egan is a previous Pulitzer Prize winner.
One of our top investigative reporters for the past 50 years, Hersch details his most important work (the My Lai massacre, Vietnam, Watergate, Abu Ghraib) in this granular description of what it takes to dig, dig, dig to get the stories our government is so keen to hide. In his "just the facts ma'am" style, this very new memoir is replete with insider snapshots of well-known political figures (Kissinger) to lesser known cultural ones (The New Yorker's William Shawn). Although obviously bright and a wonderful writer, he makes clear that those are unimportant traits compared with tenacity and fervor in getting the job done. What he did to uncover the My Lai massacre is riveting, almost as much as his repeated descriptions of how hard our political leaders worked to hide the ball. That recurring theme through the book should remind us of the need to always question our political leaders' explanations of what they are doing and why. It also reminded me that Hersch has had one hell of a grand time during the course of his life.
Indomitable will, charisma, that level of hubris one equates with Silicon Valley, and the judgement of a fruit fly is John Carreyrou's description of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Teranos. In this fly-on-the-wall account of Holmes' determined effort to revolutionize the testing of blood, the author took no prisoners. Only a few years too old be seen as an ingénue, this story captures how she attracted a preeminent grey beard board of male directors to lend gravitas to her claims and how she let loose the lawyers on the increasing chorus of engineers and scientists wondering if there was any there, there. Like the skilled investigative reporter he is, Carreyrou's readers get all the facts to help us decide if she became a fully former huckster early on or if she honestly believed that, until Teranos imploded and the federal government prosecutors took notice, all she needed was a bit more time before permanent glory and riches were hers.
Israel figures prominently in our political life and it's hard to see that changing. Understanding Bibi and what makes him tick will be essential to understand Israel going forward. His deep, personal connections to the U.S. coupled with his barely disguised loathing of most American Jews, his convoluted personal life, uncompromising view of what his country must have to survive, and his willingness to directly inject his government into our political system is richly told by Pfeffer in this comprehensive biography. This telling of the long conflict surrounding Palestine and Gaza and the Israeli internal politics driving that discussion is clear and vivid. It was refreshing to read a book on an individual and an issue about which so few find common ground that lets the facts rather than a political agenda be the focus of the story. On the other hand, it's hard to be neutral when reading about the bizarre power Netanyahu's wife seemingly has over his decisions as Israel's longstanding prime minister.
From studies the world over of people in every economic strata, one in every six people suffered at least four "Adverse Childhood Experiences" (ACE) when they were young, with the result that they are 10 times as more likely to attempt suicide and significantly more at risk of heart disease, cancer, and any of the auto immune disorders. After reading Dr. Nadine Burke Harris' The Deepest Well, I learned how wrong I was to assume childhood trauma caused only psychological difficulties. It helps us to understand why effectively fighting obesity, diabetes, and ADHD to name a few may first require an understand of the underlying causes. Even if one believes the issue doesn't personally resonate, the science of how early trauma fundamentally alters the brains of its victims is fascinating.
A British alchemist of the English language paints a New York we could only imagine in the telling. The story revolves around the clash that results with the arrival of a mysterious transplant from England into the city’s affluent merchant class. Of course, Spufford throws a very baffling young woman into the mix.
Both odd and lovely, this is the account of a friendship between two brilliant Israeli psychologists—Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky—whose research upended prior entrenched views about how the human mind works.
We all have some sense of the Vietnam War, most of us viewing it as one of our major military failures. This granular coverage of a battle that U.S. forces ended up winning in the technical sense, but losing in every other way, is riveting for its lucid play by play coverage of how our soldiers fought against a motivated enemy. It also reminds us that our military and political leaders, in nearly every sense, were in denial of the forces against us and unwilling to respond to the needs of the front-line soldiers. I hope our current military leaders will read this book .
How is it that after spending four winters in Cape Town working on and reading about post-Apartheid South Africa that I remained relatively clueless about the complexity of the race question until I read this book? Stir in his childhood stories of being dragooned into multiple all Sunday church services by his formidable mama, and the result is pure joy and wonder. How did he survive to become the comic he is, or maybe, how could he have become who he is without growing up as he did? I haven't a clue but do know the clarity of his writing and his life as a kid in the fascinating mess of South Africa made for a marvelous read.
This pile of Christopher Hitchens’ essays written in the decade before his death reminded me of his nasty wit and how few English language words I know. In one, he tips his hat to Charles Dickens while also making it clear the great man was all wet when writing about religion: “… with some of his less imposing and more moistly sentimental prose scenes in A Christmas Carol, (Dickens) took the Greatest Birthday Ever Told and helped make it into the near Ramadan of protracted obligatory celebration now darkening our Decembers.”
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for the fetus when mom is experiencing as much, if not more, intimate attention than is wanted at the moment, McEwan provides the answer through his narrator, the most precocious unborn in literature. Dryly humorous and poignant, McEwan gives us an incisive, talking and hearing being who misses nothing that mom, dad, and dad’s odious brother are doing while he/she bobs around in amniotic fluid, itching to get out and make things right.
Many of us from this part of the world don’t recognize the citizens of the country who voted for Trump. Theroux’s account helps. Avoiding cities, he wanders through backwaters, talking and listening. What his readers get is an awakening, but one we expect when reading about, say, Mozambique. Over and over, we learn about trailer parks, gracious citizens, gun shows, and that running water is a luxury. But we don’t learn why the Gates Foundation has never been seen down there. Reading Deep South and what it says about the Trump phenomenon causes me to hope Theroux will next profile working class white men from, say, Ohio.
Towles is highly regarded for his novels set in sophisticated milieus. Still, how can any novel of the life of a man condemned to spend his entire life in a hotel possibly hold any sensible reader’s attention? It commanded rather than held mine. The simple tableau of the inside of a hotel allows the reader to focus on the plot, Towles exquisite development of the main characters, and the protagonist’s incisive mind. My greatest joy was experiencing Towles’ deft continual pulling rabbits out of a hat when I didn’t see them coming. Easily, my favorite fiction read of the past year or two.
This whimsical story starts in Kansas Territory in 1857, amid anti- and pro-slavery battlegrounds, in and between beer hall towns, where John Brown traveled before his ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry. The narrator: Henry, a diminutive black shoe-shine boy who says he's 11 or 13 years old, makes some kind of sense of his life with John Brown during those years. James McBride, with an exquisite use of the patois of the times, recounts Brown's blinding adherence to his made-up version of the Bible in his effort to free slaves - whether they like it or not. The result is an hilarious and confounding story, rich in characters, and told through imagined conversations with the heroes of the fight against slavery, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. But the story's true hero is language. The description of a how a dance-hall girl's dress, decorated with flowers, moved as she slithered down the stairs should be on anyone's list for the most delightful paragraph of fiction every written. It's well and good that McBride won a National Book Award for this one.