Linda's Staff Picks
If it's Wednesday, I must be at The Bookloft - not the greenhouse, not leading a field trip, not at Naumkeag and not doing trail work on the AT! So many interests, like so many books, and so little time! That's why non-fiction books are usually my picks, because I try to keep up with my favorite subjects. As I heard once, "Act your shoe size!" We all need to slow down and see what there is to see. We need to reread some books, like Silent Spring. Sometimes it's children who help us grown-ups marvel at the wonders of the natural world, right in our own backyards. Stop and smell the flowers!
Find more of my Staff Picks here!
Title: American Eden
Yes, it's about plants (for medicine, agriculture, and commercial use), an extraordinary medical doctor, and a whole exciting period in our history.
Author Victoria Johnson did her research about Dr. David Hosack. The time period began after our nation began and into the early 1800s. So now you need to think - Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Burr, Lewis & Clark, medical schools in NYC, Plus the international personalities of medical men and botanists.
Hosack was a man of vision - teaching the importance of botanical medicine - and determination to do the best for mankind.
New York City was where he began an extraordinary project of a botanical garden to teach and enjoy - where today stands Rockefeller Center!
This reads as a fast-paced biography because Hosack worked at may projects, involved with many different people, and brought benefits to NYC and beyond. Very engaging read!
Title: The Plant Messiah
Is Carlos so passionately or compulsively being a champion for the survival of plants?? He is all of that & more.
Plants ARE the basis of everything & humans are oblivious to their dependence. How about air, food, clothes, medicine...
From a child fascinated with plants (especially water lilies), his studies and his education at Kew Garden in London have taken him around the world.
He NEEDS to know about the rare plants & some "last of their kind" and how he can help. He has developed techniques for special propagation of unusual plants. Remember - plants evolved with particular pollenates and THAT life cycle can be very unique!
Humans don't know what they have (until it's gone...) and with the changing climate, habitat destruction, and humans who are trying to make the most money, we may be losing the potential for future medicines, foods, etc.
Fascinating stories - sad & funny. Watch where you step!
Title: Tip of the Iceberg
There is always a big discussion about XtraTuf Boots in Alaska. It's the main, dependable footwear up there.
But back in the 1800's when John Muir was exploring glaciers and the gold rushers were invading the territory, they made do. Of course the Native Peoples of Alaska knew how to survive.
Mark Adams travels (mostly by boat/ferry/snow-mobile) throughout Alaska and its coast. He recounts the first scientific expedition in 1899 - which was extraordinary! And what has been happening to the land and residents since then up to current times.
A wonderful journey to learn about glaciers, natural history, the earthquakes, survival, preservation (Sierra Club) and how people are adjusting today.
Full of adventure and humor but reflective of the human influence in a pretty isolated & LARGE expanse of land with special beauty!
Title: The Shadow of Death
This IS a murder mystery BUT you'll have to smile and maybe laugh out loud!
Sister Agatha loves solving any mystery. She has even taken a course (and listens to podcasts)on how to write mysteries.
And now there really is one at Gwenafwy Abbey. A block of their signature cheese, Heavenly Gouda, has become part of the murder scene.
Great characters-nuns & lay folk, farmers & political troublemakers-who all interact in as great story.
these nuns are modern with cell phones, use Amazon, wifi in the abbey and-Welsh teacakes!
Title: The Awkward Squad
Some people called them misfits but these detectives are really individuals with different talents AND different ways of handling themselves!
Officer Anne Capestan is one of "those" too. BUT she is now in charge of solving cold cases with her 'odd squad' of officers. This unusual group gets in sync and comes together as a team-set on solving cases in their unique way.
It is a mystery with drama and touches of hyjinx mixed with humor and all comes thru positively solving the cases. I hope there will be more cases for this unusual team!
Title: The Long Haul
A surprisingly incredible read! This is about life...and things. Finn Murphy writes with expertise (he IS a mover), compassion, and humor about life as a trucker and mover of people's possessions.
It will certainly make you think of your stuff - how much we have and what it says about our life and values. Did you ever wonder about HUGE trailer trucks you see on the road? What about those pieces of rubber tires lying in the shoulders? What is a trucker's life - sleeping, eating, home, and $$ made vs. $$ spent?
Finn has great stories of drivers and the "shippers" - very funny, some sad, even a few disasters. He is different - thoughtful and passionate about his rig and his crew.
He can analyze people, keep the peace between everyone (you'll read about the Chinese monuments!), with humor he describes the journeys on the road AND talks politics, history & sprawl as he experiences it firsthand. Think about it: when crossing the land bridge over the Bering Sea, how much "Stuff" do you think those people had??
People and relationships matter...Prepare for belly laughs and tears.
Title: The Great Quake
The earth really does move under your feet. And now, since George Plofker of the U.S. Geological Survey did extensive field research after the Great Quake of 1964 in Alaska, we can all "picture" the movement.
This is not a new event. This is not insignificant. We (as earthlings) have been in constant flux below ground and deep underwater. These volcanoes, tsunamis reversing magnetic poles (?!!), quakes, and now add climate change - are altering things.
Lots of wonderful details in the science George used in the field and lab. He even had major help from barnacles and dried seaweed!
It's also a personal drama for George. The extraordinary travels & dangers he and his team encountered in Alaska are dramatic! His research added to other scientists who have been forming a picture of all the earth's drama. And now we have a better idea of how and what Pangaea or Gondwanaland has changed!
Wonderful geologic history as well as biography.
Title: Radio Free Vermont
"Underground, underpowered, and underfoot." Is this for real?? McKibben really surprised me with these modern issues, capers galore, up to date personalities and products local and small, from Vermont into a FUNNY yet serious story.
Warning! this could bring belly laughs - every few pages! The idea is: Vermont should be an independent country. There are local farms (plenty of dairy products), the most micro breweries, it's independent mindset, it is first in civil rights, etc. etc. So why not?
The small group of 4 can really organize some mischief, which includes: chaos, house fires, internet "adjustments," hi-jacking a Coors trailer truck, special training, ski rescues, and even assistance from a nursing home!
Thing is - do they really WANT to secede or just change things as they come?
Everyone pulls together (even some flatlanders) for the intricate capers.
What's your "recipe" for distress?
Need a sip of radium water for a pick-me-up? How about a REAL cold shower? And just draining a few drops of blood can (maybe, but probably not) reduce your fever. A little arsenic can keep that pale attractive complexion!
This is a book you may not want to read all at once - too much to digest. But the methods employed by those in the medical profession (barbers or not!) and those quick money-making schemes certainly tried to solve health problems over the centuries.
Extreme treatments were used to relieve pain or try to cure an illness or help you become more attractive - and extreme treatments were par for the course.
I'm sure folks will think twice about asking a friend about "their health." Because if they read this book they may make some "suggestions"!!
Title: Caesar's Last Breath
In the beginning there was no earth and no air as we know it today. Kean takes us through the billions of years of changes with how the atmosphere became full of air!
He tells biographical stories of early scientists who discover oxygen, hydrogen, etc. down the periodic table in an engaging form. Basically, Caesar's last breath is still around, molecules of air move and may stay in our atmosphere unless an "event" makes a big commotion. But outer space "air" adds to us daily and humans have even added more troublesome chemicals to our air. Think of the atomic bomb, nuclear testing, and forms of pollution.
This is a serious book on chemistry BUT enjoyable because of the presentation of facts - with historical references, personalities, trials & errors (lots of those!) and the author's sense of humor! Bravo, Sam Kean.
Title: A Thousand Billion Things (and Some Sheep)
Poor old Waldo! He's got nothing to hide compared to THIS little girl!
A great book with which to relax with someone - maybe not to sleep. It takes a lot of work to LOOK at so many things and find the ones in question!!
You can make up other things to do with so much happening on the page!
Title: Code Girls
Did you know the U.S. had its own center for intercepting messages during World War 2?
Mostly managed by military and political people...but the thousands of code breakers were women! They were recruited from the top women's colleges and had degrees in math and science. They were ready to serve the War Effort!
Like the Bletchly group in England, with Germany's Enigma or Japan's naval codes, the U.S. focused on breaking them all!
Secretive or in plain sight, work was 24/7 in shifts.
There began a rivalry between the Army and Navy and civilians. And so began the women in WAVES or WACs.
These dedicated groups worked to bring the soldiers home or save them. The processes involved very complicated components, changing daily. Pencil and paper, plus HUGE machines, kept feeding the military information of the European and South Pacific troop movements.
The work was intense but people still had personal lives, surprisingly.
Should be required reading for WWII buffs!
Title: The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Well Done Marta!
This book is a combination of natural history, geography, memoir, geology, farming and economics.
When, and if you've already read some of Laura Wilders books, you'll be able to imagine the underlying living conditions at that period in time.
The pictures & sketches within the book certainly add to the background of each story Laura wrote. She was LIVING her stories.
If you're interested in Americana, Laura's stories, or natural history of early America, you WILL enjoy this book!
Did I like this book??? I don't know!
Wait - it was bizarre in the sense that you might ask: "Is this news today?" Drama from page one and WITH ACTION TILL THE END.
Abel was an international journalist involved with many "things" and his knowledge of the workings of politics, government, medicine and MORE, make his books REALISTIC!
Great characters and complicated story...to keep you wondering...maybe lock your door (may not do much good....)
Title: Glass Houses
Our Gamache really can't fully retire. He is so in tune with good and evil, past and present, that he is obliged to become involved - to make a difference.
When do you say no? What does your conscience tell you to do? How many lines are affected by this new menace in Three Pines? Who is feeling the guilt - one? Or more?
With eyes becoming more and more open, Gamache will protect his neighbors - at what cost?
A very twisted story with Gamache at his best yet!
Three hundred years of challenges - and it WILL continue for Bellevue!
What an amazing history of a public hospital, the one that is open to ALL and with ANY problem. From the days of Malaria and yellow fever, tuberculosis (still), through war injuries, HIV epidemic, 9/11 and Super Storm Sandy, this is the place you want to go!
The training of staff, the research and compassion and hope, keep Bellevue going with the support of NYC.
You'll read about the evolution of the hospital, competition between the schools who train doctors, and the dilemma now about the insured or not in this modern life.
As staff have said, working there has deepened their humanity; treating the weak makes you stronger.
ALL manner of problems are met with such a devoted staff (*everyone*) going that extra mile to help anyone who needs care.
Some of the stories are just mind boggling - how the staff teams up in a crisis.
Title: Confessions of an Accidental Zoo Curator
Zoo curator - who knew? For Annette who didn't like animals and feared them, she became world-known in the zoo world and in conservation/education circles.
From Poland and the European War era to New York, one thing lead to another and she became one the heads of the Bronx Zoo.
So this isn't just about zoo animals, but a way of life & thinking for those involved in caring and preserving species.
From Asia, South America, and Africa there are tales - wondrous tales of different cultures, animals, and those people dedicated to the future of wildlife.
Great book to read as "Short Stories" - sensitive, informative, heartbreaking, and yet funny at times. Enjoy!
Title: Hero of the Empire
I had no particular interest at this time for Churchill or the Boer War. BUT Candice Millard wonderfully brings facts into a compelling story and you want to read it! So I learned about South Africa & the Boers. And Churchill, who was looking for action (in ANY war) to prove himself, had really found his action! He was privileged but worked hard and used his talents in the time of great stress.
A wonderful history of times and people!
Title: Radium Girls
Yes, young women who had a great opportunity to earn good money, work together, and socialize together, and - literally SHINE!
Painting numbers on watches and other dials so they would be illuminated for the military and the general public. It was an intricate job using a special radium-based powdered mix. You wet the brush in your mouth, dip it in the mix, then paint the tiny numbers. Not supposed to be a problem, although the Curies did curtail its use. The radium was the "new thing" - a tonic good for your blood and complexion.
But warnings WERE out there about the danger and unknown consequences. The biggest problem? The girls weren't warned and the "problems" came a few years later, and doctors were stymied! Horrible effects - loss of bone mass, continuous infections in the mouth, loss of teeth, anemia - and so much suffering.
The girls from New Jersey and Illinois fought the Radium Company for compensation - to the end. Company doctors, lawyers, public health officials just couldn't get all the facts together.
And the "girls" tried to band together and fight. How hard it was for them, as their friends were dying of radium poisoning - so tragic, and sad, and strong!
Title: Mrs. Sherlock Holmes
A father's plea-"Won't you help me?" And Mrs.Grace Humiston, who started the People's Law Firm as a practicing attorney & becoming a detective as well, would take this CHALLENGE & more.
Grace, a society woman who studied law, was greatly moved by the horrors immigrants were subject to in early 1900's NYC. And then there were the questions of missing young women & families in a panic.
She was methodical & thorough looking for the facts & connections. She was also a challenge to the NYC police who assumed certain things about the missing.
This book begins with a missing girl story (Ruth Cruger) and Graces searches for her-which uncovers connections with corruption, abuse of immigrants (Italians down south) & the legal rights for everyone.
Thousands of young women disappeared in to white slavery and the police did not follow thru with investigations. Grace helped organize the Missing Persons Bureau.
Thru the 1920-30s racial issues were still present, gangs, spies and international intrigue were a daily occurrence. And Grace was there-but who remembers her and her sacrifices???
The Epilogue is full of information so be sure to read that as well. It may help you understand the greater picture...
Title: The Last Castle
Money is convenient, but how you use it can become complicated.
It is a story of the Vanderbilts, George and his wife in particular, during the American and world changes from the late 1880s to today. Kiernan does a wonderful job of telling this story with all the personal drama, world history, landscaping and forestry, and how the building has survived today.
George's dream and Edith's persistence to save a special, beloved place was worthwhile: the ups and downs, conflicts of personalities, the "who's who" of the day and the drive to preserve not only a building but the town as well.