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By: admin

Just in time for holiday reading and gift giving, NCSU Libraries has reprised its popular “The Best Book I Read This Year” blog with new entries from 2014. We asked students, alumni, Friends of the Library board members, faculty and staff to share their very-best, couldn’t-resist book picks and are delighted to share them with you. From picks for kids to high brow literature, this blog is sure to include something for every reader.

We’d also love to hear from you — if you’ve got a book that knocked your socks off in 2014, take a few moments and follow the link below to submit your own review.

Submit your own review!

Read 2013 reviews.

Read 2012 reviews.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

Author: Francine Prose

Reviewer: Jody Herring, Graduate – English (American Literature), NC State

This book came out of Prose’s love of the work of Hungarian photographer Brassai and showcases her incomparable ability to blend fact and fiction. From start to finish (what a beautiful, postmodern ending), it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in many years. If you are interested in photography, gay/lesbian cultures, sports cultures, or Holocaust literature certainly add this beautiful book to your list.

Dec 08 2014

The Book of Mormon

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Book of Mormon

Author: Transl. Joseph Smith

Reviewer: Elizabeth Hassell, Student, College of Science

The Book of Mormon is the centerpiece of a major religion and a compelling historical narrative, but what surprises me is its tendency to become personal. It leaps into intimacy and draws forth one’s most pressing questions. Its insight into what makes life satisfying and where to look for solid happiness are compelling, and no other book I read this year has motivated me more to be my best self or to think more clearly about my life.

Dec 08 2014

All the Truth is Out

By: Marian Fragola

Book: All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid

Author: Matt Bai

Reviewer: Will Cross, Director, Copyright and Digital Scholarship, NCSU Libraries

Growing up in the 1980s, I knew Gary Hart primarily as a Bloom County punchline: that zany politician caught canoodling with a young staffer on a boat called – seriously – “Monkey Business.”  After reading 2014’s All the Truth is Out, I’m starting to wonder who the joke was really on.  Written by superstar political correspondent and House of Cards featured cameo Matt Bai, the best book I read in 2014 tells the story of Hart’s disgrace and exile from Democratic politics.  It also tells the story of a watershed moment for political correspondents like Bai who, after years of winking at dalliances from George Washington to JFK, hounded the Democratic frontrunner with sensationalistic coverage and tactics borrowed – at several points quite literally – from the National Enquirer.

I loved Bai’s discussion of the complex circumstances that led to Hart’s downfall, including the rise of cable news powered by satellite relay and fax machines, a desire to emulate journalistic folk heroes Woodward and Bernstein, and Hart himself, whose prickly demeanor and invitation to “follow me around” proved too tempting for, first local and then national, media to ignore.  As a result, Bai writes, “the walls between the public and private lives of candidates, between politics and celebrity, came tumbling down” driving candidates away from candid, substantive discussion for fear that a single misspoken line or Howard Dean-like show of emotion may come to define them.  All the Truth is Out is a tremendously entertaining, fast-paced read for those who want to rediscover a lost star in the Democratic firmament and revisit the week that the media lost its way.

Dec 05 2014

The Secret Place

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Secret Place

Author: Tana French

Reviewer: Kristen Wilson, Associate Head, Acquisitions and Discovery, NCSU Libraries

Tana French’s The Secret Place is quite possibly the best of her excellent Dublin Murder Squad mystery series. She makes great use of the procedural genre, in particular an extended sequence where one of the main detectives interviews eight girls at an elite private school back to back. Each interview is a masterful character sketch, and all were completely fascinating. I also like how French is able to balance the classic procedural format with plot elements that are deliberately fanciful. She does this in every novel she’s written, and it gives her work a feel that is both emotionally real and somehow beyond reality.

Dec 03 2014

Chasing Chaos

By: Marian Fragola

Book:  Chasing Chaos: My Decade in and out of Humanitarian Aid

Author: Jessica Alexander

Reviewer: Gwynn Thayer, Associate Head and Curator of Special Collections, NCSU Libraries

I picked this book as my personal favorite for the year because it captures the “behind-the-scenes” culture of international aid workers so beautifully. I’ve always admired the work that humanitarian workers do (such as the doctors and nurses from Doctors without Borders) and moreover, I wish that I had their courage! The subculture of international aid work is nicely revealed by the author, a young woman (of my generation) who deals with its ups and downs with humor and grace. Of particular interest to me is how she struggles to balance her personal life with the myriad challenges, both physical, emotional, and intellectual, of aid work.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Book of Dolores

Author: William T. Vollmann

Reviewer: Jason Jefferies, Project Coordinator, North Carolina Literary Festival 2014

I have been a fan of Vollmann since I lived in the San Francisco neighborhoods he writes about in a few of his early novels, and I understand that his work can sometimes seem impenetrable to the uninitiated.  I found The Book of Dolores to be the perfect introduction to his work, and perhaps most representative of both his fictional and his journalistic writing.  The book is a photo essay and process narrative of the time Vollmann spent cross dressing and living as a woman named Dolores (Dolores is the protagonist of one of his future novels, and he found the best way to research her was to become her).  If anyone is interested in finding a jumping on point to the work of an author who is likely to be a future Nobel Prize winner, The Book of Dolores is a great starting spot.

Book: Livability

Author: Jon Raymond

Reviewer: Jason Jefferies, Project Coordinator, North Carolina Literary Festival 2014

I picked Livability up on my way to Portland, Oregon because I wanted to read a book by an Oregon author.  What I ended up with is one of the better short story collections I have read in recent memory.  Two of the stories became the films Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, and the other stories are equally heart wrenching and profound.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Wars of Reconstruction:  The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era

Author: Douglas R. Egerton

Reviewer: David Hiscoe, Director, Communication Strategy, NCSU Libraries

You probably have some idea in your mind about what the south was like immediately following the Civil War.  If you went to the same sorts of schools that I did, it’s probably wrong, unless you are thinking “Baghdad or Syria, 2014.”
Targeted assassinations of idealistic teachers and preachers, the killings of people as they tried to vote, murderers roaming in the night eliminating opponents, especially black elected officials, often heroes who survived the battlefield but died during the peace that followed.  All led by an accidental president who had held slaves himself until two years before he took office—and tolerated by a public that was tired of war and ready to move on.
Dec 02 2014

Still Foolin’ Em

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Still Foolin’ Em

Author: Billy Crystal

Reviewer: Bob Cairns, Page Turners from the Past

I’ve been concentrating on reading older books, ones from the past that I think deserve a good dusting off, and then posting the reviews on my Page Turners from the Past website (

But I had to fast forward and read Billy Crystal’s new book Still Foolin’ ‘Em. If you’re moving into your Golden Years, or would just like to have a good laugh at those of us who are heading to the finish line, then I’d suggest you give this The New York Times BESTSELLER a read. Crystal’s subtitle says it all: “Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where in the Hell are My Keys?”

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and when you turn the book’s last page, who knows, you might just remember where in the hell you left those keys!

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Author: Haruki Murakami

Reviewer: Chris Tonelli, Assistant to the Director, NCSU Libraries

Even though Murakami’s newest novel doesn’t technically contain the elements of magical realism for which he is so well-known, he somehow creates the same disorientation. Maybe it’s because he zooms so far in–on characters, on place–that the familiar feels uncanny. While we follow the narrator, Tsukuru Tazaki, from Nagoya to Tokyo and back, then to Finland, and finally back to Tokyo, as he tries to heal a decades-old trauma, Murakami often operates at the micro level. At this resolution, the real is denatured, for Tsukuru and the reader, and it is this denaturing that allows Tsukuru to experience the everyday anew, free of the incident that had rendered him colorless.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Taste of War; World War II and the Battle for Food

Author: Lizzie Collingham

Reviewer: Rob Maddin, Friends of the Library Life Member

This book provides a clear and insightful history of the important role food played in both the causes and prosecution of World War II. Lizzie Collingham’s writing style is succinct and engaging, and the information she provides is surprising, making this history of what might at first glance appear to be a mundane topic a real page turner. Among the many aspects dealt with are the use of food as a weapon, the use of food in the development of wartime policies and strategies, and the struggle to feed most of the world’s population during the second world war. In a comprehensive examination of these topics, the book addresses this important and previously neglected area of second world war history. The book is available in the D. H. Hill Library stacks.

Dec 01 2014

Henry Frye

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Henry Frye, North Carolina’s First African American Chief Justice

Author: Howard E. Covington, Jr.

Reviewer: Will Quick, President, Friends of the Library Board

I originally picked this book up because Justice Frye and I are colleagues in the same law firm and we got a discount on the purchase price and a personal inscription.  However, when I opened it up, I couldn’t put it down.  I was fascinated with the struggle this man, who in the office is so quiet and non-assuming, went through to make a better life for himself.  At every step he had to “prove” himself to those who were close-minded and bigoted, but he never backed down.  As a young (30 year old) attorney it was eye opening to read about the experiences that someone I know went through to get his law license, succeed in the practice of law, and ultimately reach the pinnacle of our profession within the state.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Author: Roz Chast

Reviewer: Marian Fragola, Program Planning & Outreach, NCSU Libraries

Roz Chast, a cartoonist at The New Yorker, has written and drawn a remarkable memoir about her relationship with her aging parents. At once hilariously funny and heartrendingly sad, this book will resonate with anyone who has experienced or thought about end-of-life issues. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, the first comic book (or graphic novel, call it what you like), ever to be a finalist in the nonfiction category.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather

Author: Sampson Starkweather

Reviewer: Mara Masters, Administrative Support Specialist, NCSU Libraries

This book is exactly what it sounds like- four books of Sampson Starkweather- each with a very different form and feel, all originals but some “transcontemporations,” or loose, creative translations. Starkweather seems to be acutely aware of those every day tensions like life and death, hopelessness and hope, the self and the other, and these poems feel like a sort of fever dream in which the subconscious tries to situate itself in the tension.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything

Author: Chris Hadfield

Reviewer: Clark Pugh, Student, Junior, Civil Engineering, Friends of the Library Student Worker

Chris Hadfield gives readers a detailed, yet entertaining retrospective into the life of an astronaut. As the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space, Hadfield gives readers an insight on the qualities one must have to be a successful astronaut and how such qualities can be applied to personal growth. The vivid depictions of daily life on the International Space Station are make this a worthy read to anyone with an interest in space exploration.

Dec 01 2014


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Postwar

Author: Tony Judt

Reviewer: Kim Duckett, Associate Head, Digital Technologies & Learning, NCSU Libraries

In Postwar historian Tony Judt accomplishes something truly outstanding — a thorough look at the political, economic, cultural, and intellectual history of Europe between 1945 and 2005 encompassing both East and West. I marveled at how Judt could tie together so many historical themes and ideas encompassing so many countries in such an engaging way. Despite the length, I was immensely satisfied all the way through and somewhat sad that my weeks of reading it had ended once I hit the last page.

By: Eric Pauley

Book: Tomatoland

Author: Barry Estabrook

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

A report on the Florida agricultural businesses that supply winter tomatoes to supermarkets, Tomatoland focuses on a city most people don’t know – a drained swamp just 42 miles inland from Naples Florida called Immokalee. It investigates the agriculture techniques required to grow tomatoes in Florida, including the heavy use of fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, many of which are dangerous to humans. The book also looks at labor conditions and the efforts that have been taken to improve them.  If you care about social justice for farmworkers and their families, as well as your own diet, then this is a book to read before going to the grocery for your winter tomatoes.

Book: Cobalt Blue

Author: Peggy Payne

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

When a down-on-her-luck North Carolina artist is struck one night with the grace of kundalini energy, she struggles with sexual and creative urges caused by her rising kundalini while having to negotiate her biggest commission ever, the official portrait of a right-wing US Senator from North Carolina whose political values are abhorrent to her. Cobalt Blue is a joyous and affirming book about our inner ability to grow and change.

Book: A Stricken Field

Author: Martha Gellhorn

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

With the signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement, Nazi Germany annexed portions of Czechoslovakia inhabited by German speakers, an area that came to be known as the Sudetenland. A Stricken Field is a novel based on a week Martha Gellhorn spent in Prague in 1938 where she got caught up in the plight of the refugees fleeing the German occupation. No longer citizens of Czechoslovakia, they were being forced to return to German controlled territory where they feared for their lives. Confronted all around by the terrible problems of good citizens hiding and being forced to return to the brutal oppression of the Nazis, Gellhorn wrote this novel about two refugees Rita and Peter who, for a brief period of time, had found refuge in each other’s love.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Sabbath’s Theater

Author: Phillip Roth

Reviewer: John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

Sabbath’s Theater by Phillip Roth is a full length novel that, while I can’t compare it to everything across Roth’s body of work, I can say gave me a character in Mickey Sabbath that I will never forget.  If you consider the following behaviors prohibitively coarse fictional subject matters: autoerotic cemetery folly, bartering with alcohol for favors at a detox clinic, seducing the college students you teach, et cetera,  then perhaps this one isn’t for you. However, if you want to ride shotgun alongside a reckless genius who crashes through life with a perverse drive fueled by a sense of unapologetic conceit, then I think you too will never forget Mickey Sabbath and perhaps like me, wonder if people like him have ever, or even can, exist.

Book: Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Author: Patrick deWitt

Reviewer: John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

“Discuss, the regulars. They sit in a line like ugly, huddled birds, eyes wet with alcohol” opens, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel, by Patrick deWitt. Dreams die hard on the Sunset strip, and a chaotic dive bar seemingly on the brink of everything is the backdrop for this autobiographical/fictive account given from the perspective of a deteriorating anti-hero barman. Physically occupying a liminal position at the end of the bar near the door, the narrator sees both inside and out, observes who enters and exits (with no ostensible criteria for either), the chronic practice of which produces a bleak, yet by no means humorless, dystopian Cheers. Ablutions is a story told by the Hollywood bar scene’s Johannes factotum who in turn (like the cheep highballs fleeced from the bar), gives the reader a taste of both the sweet and acidulous as we observe his struggle to escape.

Nov 21 2014

Painting as a Pastime

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Painting as a Pastime

Author: Winston Churchill

Reviewer: Josephine McRobbie, NCSU Libraries Fellow

I picked up an early edition of Painting as a Pastime in a flea market as a present for my father, who is a Churchill fanatic.  I ended up reading it cover-to-cover in one sitting, completely enraptured.  This unusual book is Churchill’s essay on the importance of deep engagement with hobbies that are different, in terms of mental and physical demands, from one’s everyday work.  In Churchill’s case, it was oil painting that allowed him some mental peace and emotional release from the “Black Dog” of depression and then-recent career setbacks.

Nov 21 2014

The Gift of Nothing

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Gift of Nothing

Author: Patrick McDonnell

Reviewer: Sharon Silcox, University Library Technician, Design Library

What DO you get someone who has everything?  Mooch the cat solves this problem in a sweet and charming way. And he will steal your heart while doing it! The Gift of Nothing is a Zen like story for all ages. Read it slowly, with your heart. YESH!

Nov 21 2014

The Bone Clocks

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Bone Clocks

Author: David Mitchell

Reviewer: Karen Ciccone, Director Natural Resources Library & Research Librarian for Science Informatics

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is time travel. It begins in a 1984 that is true to memory and ends in a 2043 that is equally believable. One of the characters states then, ”My generation were diners stuffing ourselves senseless at the Restaurant of the Earth’s Riches knowing — while denying — that we’d be doing a runner and leaving our grandchildren with a tab that can never be paid.” Having vicariously lived that lifetime through this book has changed my perspective on now.

Nov 21 2014

Bridge of Birds

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Bridge of Birds: A Novel of Ancient China that Never Was

Author: Barry Hughart

Reviewer: Hilary Davis, Interim Head of Collection Management and Director of Research Data Services

Set in an off-kilter version of ancient China, the two protagonists, Master Li Kao and Number Ten Ox, thread one wild adventure into another as they seek a cure for a village of children who succumb to serious illness.  A truly imaginative, creative, and witty read. The best thing is that there are two more books about Master Li and Number Ten Ox.

Nov 21 2014


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Longitude

Author: Dava Sobel

Reviewer: Dr. Frank Abrams, Friends of the Library Board

A wonderful story of how technological development and human foibles interworked in the 18th century and led to a new way for ships to keep up with where they are!  The clock plays a major role in this new method, and Sobel recounts how a simple craftsman bested the best of the scientists in making a clock that made seagoing less dangerous.  The story is also one of how governmental incentives worked in that time, maybe with some lessons for today.

Note: The book was a selection of my wife’s book club.  She did not like it, what she told me about, i was intrigued.  I loved it, and I am going to read Sobel’s other books: Galileo’s Daughter and The Planets

Dec 16 2013

The Unfinished Garden

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Unfinished Garden

Author: Barbara Claypole White

Reviewer: J. Danielle Miller, NC State alumnae

A beautifully written story rooted in North Carolina about loss, love, and OCD. James, the leading male character suffers from OCD and needs Tilly’s help to conquer his fears, Tilly has enough on her plate with the loss of her husband.  As the plot thickens and the characters develop you will not be able to put it down.

Dec 09 2013

Jennifer Government

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Jennifer Goverment

Author: Max Berry

Reviewer: Peter Kelly, student, Poole College of Management, NC State

Fascinating read. What would happen in a world with very little government?  What happens when corporations run rampant?  Would you buy those new shoes if NIKE contracted killers to murder teenagers to make it look like the shoes were extra popular?  A very fast-paced tale with multiple storylines.  The book is the opposite of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Good for all majors but especially interesting to aspiring business people with an eye for Ethics.

Dec 09 2013

The Ancestor’s Tale

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

Author:  Richard Dawkins

Reviewer: Haritha Malladi, Student, Civil Engineering, NC State

What a brilliant work! Dawkins guides us along on the greatest pilgrimage ever to the dawn of evolution in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales. Through different tales told by organisms we rendezvous along the way, he manages to introduce a plethora of biological wonders, ethical considerations, scientific thinking and philosophy. A must, must read for everyone- especially those with a passion for nature and and life sciences.

By: Marian Fragola

Book:  The Orphan Master’s Son

Author:  Adam Johnson

Reviewer: Jason Jefferies, Coordinator, North Carolina Literary Festival, NCSU Libraries

Things that are weird: Kafka, the secrecy surrounding North Korea, the fluidity of identity in the digital age, Dennis Rodman.
How appropriate that these seemingly disparate ingredients coalesced into a perfect media storm, the aftermath of which resulted in a Pulitzer Prize for Adam Johnson and The Orphan Master’s Son. Johnson’s book is the best I read this year, not for entertainment value and quality of writing (both of which it possesses in multitudes), but because it serves as the perfect example of what happens when a veiled entity allows someone else’s fiction to serve as a placeholder for its truth.
Dec 03 2013

Child of Fire

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Child of Fire

Author: Harry Connolly

Reviewer: Robert St. Amant, Associate Professor of Computer Science, NC State

The most enjoyable novel I read this past year was Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire, in the genre of urban fantasy. Ray Lilly, former car thief, finds that life after prison is harder than he’d expected. He has no money, his new boss hates him, and the universe is filled with Lovecraftian monsters threatening to devour all life on Earth. Ray has managed to create just one magical weapon he can use: a ghost knife that cuts “ghosts, magic, and dead things.” It’s enough. Connolly tells a compelling story of hardboiled mystery and magic; there’s craft in his writing that pulled me along.

Nov 27 2013

World War Z

By: Marian Fragola

Book: World War Z

Author: Max Brooks

Reviewer: Bethany Smith, Director of METRC (Media, Education and Technology Resource Center), College of Education, NC State

For me this book wasn’t about zombies, but how do people react to the apocalypse? Does where you come from impact your reaction? Every chapter takes on a different perspective, from China to Israel  to the Mid-West, voices of “survivors” tell their own mini-memoir of how the war began and ended. Although zombies are apart of it, and how fighting them changes our perspective on the meaning of war, this book is more a Geo-Political thriller that makes you think -”Would I survive?”

Nov 25 2013

Flowers for Algernon

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Flowers for Algernon

Author: Daniel Keys

Reviewer: Crystal Wallace, Administrative Support Specialist, University Scholars Program, NC State University

Flowers for Algernon, written by Daniel Keys, is an intimate novel about a mentally disabled man, Charlie, who undergoes surgery meant to turn him into a genius.  I thoroughly enjoyed the journal format of the novel, as it gave incredible insight to what Charlie experienced during his transformation.  By the end of the novel, I really felt as if I had read the private writings of a man who was struggling to come to terms with whether happiness could be obtained through intelligence, or if he was truly happy when he knew nothing at all.  It is a beautifully written, and very believable, story that I would recommend to anyone looking for something outside of the norm.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Blood Done Sign My Name

Author: Tim Tyson

Reviewer: Demetrius Green, Senior, Psychology, NCSU Libraries Student Worker

Tyson’s work was the most evocative book that I have read since I have been at North Carolina State University. It is filled with heart wrenching details that the author provides from his own perspective over a period of time; a time that, as I now know, was full off vociferous stands for equality, revolts and violent backlash. The setting hits very close to home and gave me a better understanding of our nation’s history that was never fully revealed to me.
Nov 22 2013

A Storm of Swords

By: Marian Fragola

Book: A Storm of Swords

Author: George R. R. Martin

Reviewer: Allison J. Medlin, Associate Director, University Scholars Program

A Storm of Swords is the 3rd book in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  More commonly known by the title of the first book (and subsequent HBO hit) A Game of Thrones, this series is not-to-be-missed by any fans of fantasy literature or the HBO show. A Storm of Swords is widely regarded as the best book in the series so far (there are still 2 books yet to be published), and I would agree with that assessment.  This book is wonderfully written, rich in detail and exciting from start to finish – it is hands down the best book I read this year.  Here’s hoping that the 6th book in the series will be published in 2014!

Nov 21 2013

The Marriage Plot

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Marriage Plot

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Reviewer: Chris Tonelli, Assistant to the Director, NCSU Libraries

Eugenides, author of The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, reprises the trope of the marriage plot through Madeleine, a budding scholar specializing in that very trope. Madeleine and Leonard navigate their own new and precarious marriage, as Leonard, a rising academic star himself, struggles with a debilitating case of bipolar disorder. Eugenides artfully handles this meta-plot, and, in doing so, creates an utterly contemporary and compelling portrait of marriage and mental illness.

Nov 21 2013


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Open: An Autobiography

Author: Andre Agassi

Reviewer: Leia Droll, Director, Friends of the Library, NCSU Libraries

A friend and fellow tennis player gave me her copy of Open as I was headed to the airport one morning.  I typically avoid sports biographies and find them self promoting and dull, but Agassi defied my expectations with an honest, powerful, and relatable account of his tennis career.  He not only provides insight into his greatest triumphs and most crushing defeats, but does so in a humble, human, and candid way that shows remarkable self reflection and understanding of his own struggles as a world-class athlete.

Nov 21 2013

A Mercy

By: Marian Fragola

Book: A Mercy

Author: Toni Morrison

Reviewer: Frances De Los Santos, Senior, Women’s And Gender Studies, NCSU Libraries Student Worker

The best book I have read this year would have to be “A Mercy” by Toni Morrison. The writing is absolutely beautiful and profound, she really has an amazing way with words. The story is captivating and gives readers a better understanding of the pain that slaves went through, as well as the overall hardships encountered in the past due to disease and lack of technology. It is hard not to fall in love with some of the main characters, as well as sympathize for them when learning their personal stories. I believe Toni Morrison is able to fully develop her characters, with each one of them being unique, with their own flaws and beautiful strengths. I would highly recommend this to anybody, as well as any of her other works.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Author: Stieg Larsson

Reviewer: Chelsea Riggs, Senior, Psychology, NCSU Libraries Student Worker

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a novel written by Stieg Larsson that keeps your mind wandering throughout the entire novel. It focuses on a financial fraud and a family’s sinister secret. A journalist and a daring tattooed girl form an inharmonious but credible bond while everyone else is against them. This is an excellent book revolving around crime, revenge, while twisting in a love story.

Nov 21 2013

Command and Control

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

Author: Eric Schlosser

Reviewer: David Hiscoe, Director of Communication Strategies, NCSU Libraries

Did you know that in 1961 two armed nuclear weapons were accidentally dropped in a tobacco field 60 miles from NC State?  The uranium from one has never been found.  Do you sleep well at night thinking that the 17,000 warheads still around are all safe and in the hands of capable people who have fail proof technology that prevents something from going strange? Well, you haven’t read Eric Schlosser’s new book.  He argues persuasively that we’ve been incredibly lucky.  So far.

Nov 19 2013


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Unbroken

Author: Laura Hillenbrand

Reviewer: Claire Vogeley, Administrative Support Specialist, NCSU Libraries

Completely engaging and almost unbelievable, Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and was eventually imprisoned in a POW camp. Just as she did in Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand transfixes her readers with incredible story telling and impeccable research. Her telling of Louis Zamperini’s remarkable life will stick with you long after the book ends.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: My New Teacher and Me!

Author: Al Yankovic, Illustrations by Wes Hargis

Reviewer: Sharon Silcox, University Library Technician, Design Library, NCSU Libraries

Al Yankovic has written the most marvelous story of a rule-driven teacher and his first meeting with a boy named Billy whose imagination is as large as the universe! Mr. Yankovic’s words bounce off the page with a lively beat and zoom right along with Billy’s ideas that include pink poodles on an island between Norway and Guam and squid-eating contests in zero gravity. The illustrations keep right up, lively and bright and colorfully detailed, spilling over the edges of the page to encourage you to add your own ideas. Billy and his teacher find both that they can learn from each other and that discoveries most often come from people who “look at the world just a bit differently.”  Applause to Mr. Yankovic for writing a story that encourages the child in all of us!!

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Shadow of the Wind

Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Reviewer: Dargan Williams, Friends of the Library Board of Trustees

My favorite book read this year ( and I literally read 2 per week) was ” The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. “The Shadow of the Wind” is the first installment in a trilogy centered around an ancient library in the heart of gothic Barcelona. “Shadow” follows a young man who falls in love with a book as a child, and later learns that he may hold the only remaining copy. He becomes obsessed with discovering why the other copies have disappeared and what has become of its reclusive author. Zafon’s novel is at once thrilling and haunting, weaving a plot as intricate as the dark streets of his beloved, war-torn Barcelona.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: 2666

Author: Roberto Bolano

Reviewer: Dan Hawkins, Overnight Service Manager, James B. Hunt, Jr. Library, NCSU Libraries

The best fiction I read (for the first time) this year was 2666 by Roberto Bolano. The book is comprised of five sections that could have stood as novels on their own but taken together form a powerful mosaic that will stand as one of the great books of this century, perhaps of all time. The stories are all, to one degree or another, about the unsolved brutal serial killings of hundreds of women in Santa Teresa (a stand-in for Ciudad Juarez, where the killings took place in real life) near the Mexican-American border. Several of the sections approach these crimes more obliquely, but the section “The Part about the Crimes” is a bloody Whitmanesque catalog of the dead that is repellent even as it puts names and faces to the victims who would otherwise be anonymous. There is much more to the book, obviously, but my point is you should read it. It is beautiful and devastating.

Book: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex and Colonel Roosevelt

Author: Edmund Morris

Reviewer: Dan Hawkins, Overnight Service Manager, James B. Hunt, Jr. Library, NCSU Libraries

The best nonfiction I read (for the first time) this year was Edmund Morris’s three volume Teddy Roosevelt Biography, The Rise of Teddy Roosevelt, Theodore Rex and Colonel Roosevelt. Regardless of whether what you think of the man, his politics and his contribution to the aggregation of power in the President, he is the most fascinating president of all (and I’ve read biographies of all of them up to his cousin FDR). The first volume is probably the best, but that is due to TR’s early life being more interesting than his later, not to the writing, which is consistently excellent throughout. Taken in aggregate, this is not only the best presidential biography I’ve read, but the best biography I’ve read, the one against which others will be measured for the foreseeable future. Even if you aren’t interested in politics, this one is well worth reading.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker

Author: Sydney Nathans

Reviewer: Catherine Bishir, Curator of Architecture Special Collections, Special Collections Research Center

(Full disclosure from reviewer: Author Syd Nathans who now lives in Colorado is an old friend who used to live in NC and taught at Duke.)

This is a compelling narrative of Mary Walker, who escaped from her owner, Duncan Cameron, while visiting in the North in 1848, and her relationships with northern whites who helped her maintain her freedom and seek to find her children. In some respects it is a straightforward and vivid story focusing on her and her friends; at the same time it illustrates the really complex times and situations of her lifetime. The author also tracks  his searches for her story including some remarkable bits of serendipity. The book recently won the Frederick Douglass Prize. Highly recommended as a book that’s both substantive and highly readable.

Nov 18 2013

The Go-Between

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Go-Between

Author: L.P. Hartley

Reviewer: Kristen Wilson, Associate Head, Acquisitions and Discovery, NCSU Libraries

The first great thing about The Go-Between is that Hartley offers some really wonderful descriptions of the natural world. The novel is set at an English country house in the summer of 1900, a record heatwave, and the atmosphere is filled with wheat fields, swimming holes, and cricket pitches. The second great thing is the craftsmanship of the narrator’s voice. With twelve-year-old Leo Colston, Hartley captures the perspective of a child who is exhilarated by his entrance into adult society, yet unable to fully understand its emotional motivations. Despite the famous opening line (“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”), the novel does not embrace nostalgia, but rather evokes the mix of joy and shame that often accompany memories of our formative experiences.

Nov 18 2013

The Second World War

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Second World War

Author: Winston Churchill

Review: Sam Gaetz, Facilities Maintenance Technician, Building Services, NCSU Libraries

(Is it cheating to give a whole series of books?? It’s 6 volumes but it reads a lot like one book! ;) The depth and scope of Churchill’s account of the events leading up to and through the second world war is amazing. Reading the events as he presents them offered both a complete narrative and some twists on the one I already had from my standard American public education. An excellent read for anyone interested in the period or history in general.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Author: Heidi Murkoff

Reviewer: Erik Olson, Technology Support Specialist, NCSU Libraries

I had a lot of questions about what to expect from my expecting wife. This book answered these questions, as expected.

Nov 18 2013


By: Marian Fragola

Book: NOS4A2

Author: Joe Hill

Reviewer: Jason Raitz, Business and Technology Applications Technician, NCSU Libraries

As a child, whenever Victoria wants to escape from her family she discovers that she can cross an old bridge that will take her anywhere she wants.  Unfortunately, over the years, this puts her in the path of a monstrous child kidnapper who has a similar magic that allows him to take children to a horror filled place called Christmasland.  This one is equal parts magic & horror and will make you think of a good Koonts or Stephen King (the author’s father) novel.  I’ve enjoyed every novel and graphic novel that Joe Hill has written, and this is one of his best.

Nov 18 2013


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Exodus

Author: Leon Uris

Reviewer: Warren Stephenson, Friends of the Library Board of Trustees

I went back and read Leon Uris’ book, “Exodus” which was completed  in 1958.  He is one of the best “story tellers” I have ever read. It is history which he researches and experiences since he covered the Israeli-Arab conflict of 1956 as a war correspondent.

It tell of the founding of the State of Israel and is based on the name of the 1947 immigration ship “Exodus”. It is the story of Ari Ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman in the 1960 movie) hatching a plan to move Jewish refugees from a British detention camp in Cyprus to Palestine.  The book then traces the histories of various main characters and the ties of their personal lives to the birth of the new Jewish state.  Uris makes his characters real and almost “touchable”.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire

Author: Eric Berkowitz

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

Disputes over sexual behavior are not new, nor is the attempt to use the legal system to resolve these differences. Eric Berkowitz has looked at legal disputes involving sex over a 4,000 year period, and has found that the behavior considered a crime and the punishments administered to those found guilty have varied quite a lot, not only over time, but also between different cultures of the same time. A large part of sexual abuse has to do with men of privilege and power having their way with those less fortunate than themselves, both male and female, and often without punishment.

Nov 18 2013

The Name of the Wind

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Name of the Wind

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Reviewer: Shaun Bennett, Library Technician, Collection Management, NCSU Libraries

Rothfuss’ writing style draws you into a world constructed with exacting care to be both believable and fantastic, giving a sense of depth and life that is hard to find in many fantasy books. The story is by turns charming, dark, hilarious, and melancholy, but always interesting and always moving forward. The author uses a framing device of a storyteller telling a tale while events occur around them, giving a beautifully crafted two-part narrative that fits together seamlessly.

Dec 04 2012

The News From Spain

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The News From Spain

Author: Joan Wickersham

Reviewer: Dr. Angela Wiseman, Assistant Professor, Elementary Education

This book features seven short stories that focus on love and relationships among very different kinds of people at different times in history (in fact, two of the stories are based on prominent historical figures).  The one strand that connects these stories together is that a phrase “the news from Spain” that emerges in each story.  By using vivid descriptions, realistic characters, and true to life relationship contexts, I found myself drawn into complex and insightful stories.

Dec 04 2012


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Cosmos

Author: Carl Sagan

Reviewer: Haritha Malladi, student, engineering

Of all the books I have read in my life until now, I will always remember Carl Sagan’s Cosmos as the book that brought back meaning into my life. With wonderful humility Dr. Sagan makes the unfathomably huge Cosmos come to life with words that are clearly written from the heart, complemented by beautiful photographs and illustrations. In the deafening noise of various philosophies that concern the meaning of life, Dr. Sagan’s voice is the soothing balm of reason to chaffed and tired ears.

Nov 30 2012

Blue Gold

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Blue Gold

Author: Maude Barlow & Tony Clarke

Reviewer: Hannah Gotsch, student, engineering

This is an amazing nonfiction book that sums up the global issues on water and expresses all the dilemmas humans have created by increasingly depleting the supply of water.  We have extracted ground water faster than it can be replenished because the surface water has  been polluted, used up until rivers were dry because of dams, or salinated and sent back to the sea—thereby increasing the sea level exponentially. It reminds us that a loss of a diminishing energy source is not the only problem we face.

Nov 28 2012

Proof of Heaven

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife

Author: Eben Alexander, M.D.

Reviewer: Laura Jackson, University Library Technician, Collection Management, NCSU Libraries

This book is truly a marvelous read as it is a tale of a neurosurgeon who ends up comatose and experiences Heaven. Fascinating medical information describing why his particular experience is so unique and beautiful descriptions of the metaphysical and spiritual journey in which he partakes intertwine to make this memoir so engaging. Whether you are a person of faith or a skeptic, this book will definitely pique your interest.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Never Let Me Go

Author: Kazou Ishiguro


Book: Waiting for the Barbarians

Author: J. M. Coetzee

Reviewer: John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

So hard to pick one favorite, so here are my top two.

In the wake of Ray Bradbury’s death earlier this year, I made a point to read some works by authors he had influenced. The title of the book Never Let Me Go, by Kazou Ishiguro could also describe the readers’ reluctance to put the book down after delving in. What makes the story so subtly unsettling is the otherwise near complete contextual normalcy in which three all but normal friends mature to self-actualized individuals. No cheap thrills are needed (or used) as Ishiguro masterfully highlights the thin yet dark lines that divides our humanity from medical progress.
Do not read Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee if you are looking for a quick pick-me-up. Within the confines of just a few pages, this novel holds a mirror up to the Imperialistic tradition of expansion and progress, and what you see looking back is alien, if not loathsome.   This Nobel laureate draws upon the evocative themes of isolation (mental and physical), exposure to elemental extremes, and societal disorder, to keep the reader eagerly hoping for just a dash of good fortune for the narrator. When I finished reading this book, I was eerily reminded of the prophetic words mumbled by Joseph Conrad’s’ Mr. Kurtz, another monstrosity of Imperialism;  “The horror! The horror!”

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Lay Down Your Arms, The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling

Author: 2d revised edition by Bertha von Suttner; authorized translation by T. Holmes

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager for Engineering & Computer Science, NCSU Libraries

Google Books, Internet Archive and other online sources of Public Domain literature have opened up a new world for me in 19th and early 20th century reading. In 1905 Bertha Von Suttner was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her novel, Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!), and for her work in organizing an international peace movement. This popular novel, written in an autobiographic style, introduced thousands of readers of her time to the arguments of pacifism by telling the story of a woman, raised in a military family, who becomes opposed to war, and sets out to document rational arguments against the patriotic reasons nations put forward to justify their wars. Leo Tolstoy compared the effect Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on the abolition of slavery to the effect Lay Down Your Arms was having towards the abolition of war. Her hope to find a rational way to end armed conflict is so inspiring to me.

Nov 20 2012


By: Marian Fragola

Book: 11/22/63

Author: Stephen King

Reviewer: Anna Snyder, Intern, NC LIVE

Jake Epping, a high school teacher, reads a story one of his GED-seeking students wrote about his horrible family history, and then finds out the local diner has a gateway to the past in it. Jake sets out to change the past, starting with preventing the crime his student’s father committed, and then takes over the mission to prevent JFK’s assassination. With good intentions (more civil rights progress, no Vietnam war), Jake finds that every change made in the past creates unexpected changes in the future. With incredibly in-depth details about the years leading up to JFK’s assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald’s life, and an interesting cast of characters, this book is one you cannot put down.

By: Marian Fragola

Book:  Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery

Author: Heather Andrea Williams

Reviewer: Catherine Bishir, Curator of Architecture Special Collections, NCSU Libraries

Starting with her discovery of advertisements placed in newspapers by freedpeople of after the war, hoping to find a long lost parent, child, or mate, Williams expanded her study to a wide range of sources to illuminate the separation of families through sales and gifts during slavery time, and family members’ impassioned and determined efforts to find their kin after Emancipation. She tells this story in personal and engaging terms–sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyful–that will appeal to many readers. She makes wonderful use of brief anecdotes she has found, including first-hand accounts of losses and reunions, a love letter from an enslaved man to his faraway wife, and an embroidered bag filled with a mother’s love. Excellent book. It will be on my Christmas giving list for more than one friend. Bravissima to Professor Williams,

Catherine Bishir

Nov 20 2012

Ready Player One

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Reviewer: Jason Raitz, Business and Technology Applications Technician, NCSU Libraries

This book is for the gamers and children of the 70′s-80′s.  It’s a book that is equal parts Zork, John Hughes, Atari, Willy Wonka, treasure hunting, virtual reality, and of course coming of age.  If you like text adventures, virtual worlds and the movie Sixteen Candles, then you’re really going to enjoy this book.  There was a real life easter egg hunt this summer sponsored by the author to win a Delorian, but unfortunately, someone’s already claimed it.

Nov 20 2012

The Big Short

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Big Short

Author: Michael Lewis

Reviewer: David Hiscoe, Director, Communication Strategy, NCSU Libraries

Want some understanding of the incredibly irresponsible behavior that almost gave all of us another Great Depression?  Still don’t know what a CDO is?  Don’t understand why Wall Street needs careful attention from aggressive, disinterested regulators so perhaps we won’t have to live through something like this again?.  Want to know how almost everybody in Iceland got rich overnight–and then got very poor?  Moneyball’s Michael Lewis makes it all interesting.

Nov 20 2012

Drowned Cities

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Drowned Cities

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Reviewer: Cris Crissman, Adjunct Asst Professor, Curriculum, Instruction & Counselor Education

My vote for best young adult novel for 2012 goes to Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Frighteningly realistic after hurricanes have “drowned” New Orleans and New York, Bacigalupi’s dystopian, biopunk setting presents a grim future of what might yet be if we can’t quell the ravage caused by climate change and loss of homeland and humanity that result. Tool, a bioethics nightmare, is one of the most complex, fascinating characters I’ve ever met.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Author: Carmen Deedy

Reviewer: Sharon Silcox, University Library Technician, Design Library

I know you are looking for a new, delightful book for all the young and young-at-heart on your Christmas list! Martina the Beautiful Cockroach by Carmen Deedy fits the bill perfectly! How does a cheeky little cockroach find true love with the help of her wise Abuela ( grandmother) and – COFFEE? This amusing, clever re-telling of a Cuban folktale will solve that mystery and have you cheering for Martina and all her cucaracha family! Plus, it is so much fun to read aloud! This is what I call a surprise book, a story and pictures that comes seemingly out of the blue and makes my heart smile.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World

Author: Roger Crowley

Reviewer: Keith Morgan, Librarian for Digital Technologies and Learning, NCSU Libraries

Roger Crowley rousingly relates the story of Venice’s rise from backwards lagoon to the dominant commercial maritime empire in the 1400s.  With this he also tells the story of the Mediterranean and of the powers which contested for dominance. Crowley’s style is energetic and much of the book has a velocity more common to a fictional thriller.Throughout the  book runs the thread of the simmering and then open conflict with Islam that was to dominate the western world for so many centuries.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Author: Robin Sloan

Reviewer: Keith Morgan, Librarian for Digital Technologies and Learning

This intelligent and amusing book features bookstores, 3D modeling software, references Aldus Manutius,  plus a dungeons and dragon fantasy , describes the Gerritzoon font  (standard on all Macs according to the novel) and an ancient conspiracy involving books.  A trip to the Google campus in Mountain View and a visit to the Google Book Scanner add more candy to the mix. There’s also lots of conversation about the differences between reading books and reading on a device, between reading and actually not reading books. Recommended for fans of Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind or the bibliothriller in general.

Nov 20 2012

Infinite Jest

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Infinite Jest

Author: David Foster Wallace

Reviewer: Dan Hawkins, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

I remember seeing this book in stores in the late 90′s and being put off by its size and judging by the blurbs, its pretension. Several years later I stumbled across a book of his essays which I found largely delightful. I then proceeded to another book of essays and then short stories and his first novel. By this time I was a raving fan. I still put off reading this one though, primarily due to its size. I finally got around to it this year, and it is well worth the effort it take to read it (its structure (hundreds of end notes, some with their own end notes) does make it feel at times like the world’s longest choose your own adventure novel). It takes the form of an ironic, distant, dystopian satire, but is in reality a raw look at the ravages of addiction and the dangers of mass culture. Wallace is brilliant, but he does not make you feel dumb. A third of the book viciously satirizes a culture that is entertaining itself to death. The second is a coming of age story. The final third is a searing view of the life of drug addicts and their attempts to quit using which doubles as a warning metaphor for the dangers of vicarious life through media. I might recommend taking my approach and starting with some of the other books, perhaps the essays, and then proceed on to this one. But by all means read this book. It does have pretensions, but it delivers. A truly great novel.

Nov 20 2012

Steve Jobs

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Steve Jobs

Author:Walter Isaacson

Reviewer: Warren Stephenson, Friends of the Library Board Member, NCSU Libraries

I read Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs early this year and it is still unforgettable!  Evidently the man was driven by demons and made life miserable for his work partners.  His genius is evident in every Apple product because of his quest for perfection – to the tiniest detail you can imagine.  I remember one of his quotes; “they don’t  really know what they (the public) need until I show them!”  What a philosophy and what a story!  It is one of my “best books ever!”

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Author: Jonathan Haidt

Reviewer:Dr. Frank Abrams, Professor Emeritus, Biological And Agricultural Engineering

Professor Haidt, a social psychologist, provides a cogent discussion of how liberals and conservatives construct their moral underpinnings.  For all of us, Haidt says, in forming our viewpoints, emotions rule and our reasoning ability, at least at first, strongly supports where our emotions lead us.  This book offers a way to empathetically view at least some of those who see things very differently.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Dancing After Hours

Author: Andre Dubus II


Book: Townies

Author: Andre Dubus III

Reviewer: Kathy Brown, Director, Planning and Research, NCSU Libraries

After reading Dancing after Hours by Andre Dubus II, I’ll be tracking down his other collections of short stories.  Dubus conveys the struggles of his characters with compassion and a beautiful style, and he was regarded as a master of the short story genre.  A man of great insight, Dubus wrestled his own demons during his life and was, from all accounts, an incredibly lousy father.  Townie, a memoir by Andre Dubus III (also the author of The House of Sand and Fog), describes a life of abject poverty in Haverhill (Massachusetts) after his parent’s divorce.  The younger Dubus exposes the rage that stemmed in large part from his father’s absence and offers a compelling view of how natural it was for him to move down a path of self-destructive violence.  Writing sustained the father and undoubtedly saved the son, who was able to achieve a measure of forgiveness and love for someone who did little to earn it.
Nov 20 2012


By: Marian Fragola

Book: 2666

Author: Robert Bolano

Reviewer: Chris Tonelli, Assistant to the Director, NCSU Libraries

This book is like Javier Bardem’s character, Anton Chigurh, in No Country for Old Men. It’s will is simply more imposing than the will of other books. There is more at stake. It is both more disciplined and more brutal. Like Bolano’s Savage Detectives, 2666 splits time between Europe and Mexico and features a group of European literary critics, a Mexican professor, an American journalist, hundreds of murdered young Mexican women, and a young writer on the Eastern Front of WWII. With what amounts to a kind of Cubist narrative, Bolano relentlessly explores the juxtapositions of art, politics, violence, and love.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Checklist Manifesto
Author: Atul Gawande
Reviewer: Venkitasubramanian Akshay, student, Industrial and Systems Engineering, NC State

A simple solution to a complicated world. This book is an exciting read for anyone who is looking for an excuse to discover the power of simple Post-its and how it has transformed the world around us. Beautifully written, this is by far the best book I have read this year

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Courant in Göttingen and New York: The Story of an Improbable Mathematician*
Author: Constance Reid
Reviewer: Kerry S. Havner, Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering (Solid Mechanics) and Materials Science & Engineering

As this notable, engagingly written work was published 35 years ago, perhaps it already will have been read by those who enjoy and seek out science biography and history. But if you’ve not, and have interest in the mathematical sciences – particularly application of mathematics and analysis, I highly recommend you read it. It of course is a biography of Richard Courant (1888-1972), and initially also a history of the great center for mathematics and theoretical physics developed in Göttingen from around 1900 until Jewish scientists had to flee Germany beginning soon after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. From 1934, after Courant came to America, it becomes the story of (i) his development of the Institute for Mathematics and Mechanics at New York University and its evolution into the world famous Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, (ii) the extraordinary rise of American applied mathematics emanating from there (in particular mathematical physics and fluid mechanics), (iii) the beginnings of major federal support of the sciences (during and immediately following World War II), and finally (iv) the very early days of large-scale computing in America.

*A note from NCSU Libraries: This book was reissued in 1996 as Courant, which is the edition currently in print. The NCSU Libraries has several copies of the 1976 edition in its collection.

Nov 30 2011

Little White Lies

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Little White Lies
Author: Aimee Laine
Reviewer: Nicole Zimmerman, MBA, ’02, NC State

The author has created an intricate world for her characters. Readers find themselves drawn into the details of this world and the characters’ abilities. Also key to the story are the relationships between the characters; especially between Charley and Wyatt. The suspense builds throughout the book as the story unfolds. Without giving too much away, there are some unexpected twists and a satisfying ending. I look forward to joining these characters in their next adventure.

Nov 29 2011

On China

By: Marian Fragola

Book: On China
Author: Henry Kissinger
Reviewer: Dr. William R. “Randy” Woodson, Chancellor, NC State University

A fascinating account of the history of China and its emergence as an economic force in the 21st century.

Nov 29 2011

Growing Up Bin Laden

By: Marian Fragola

Title: Growing Up Bin Laden : Osama’s Wife and Son Take us Inside Their Secret World
Author: Najwa bin Laden, Omar bin Laden, and Jean Sasson
Reviewer: Laura K. Jackson, Collection Management, NCSU Libraries

This book is a fascinating account of the Bin Laden’s family life, as told by Osama’s first wife, Najwa, and one of Osama’s sons, Omar. As chapters switch between Najwa and Omar’s personal and poignant memories, reporter Jean Sasson’s factual information on Osama’s political activities show a stark contrast between a man’s love for his religion and his hatred for other countries (mainly the West).

Nov 29 2011

Bright Shiny Morning

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Bright Shiny Morning
Author: James Frey
Reviewer: William L. Page, NC State alumni, class of 1983

The story takes place in Los Angeles and has four story lines.  A homeless person, a young couple from Ohio, an immigrant Mexican, and a mega famous movie star. They are all chasing something in LA and encounter some tremendous struggles.  The book also mixes some very cool facts and history about the city of Angels.  What I especially like is the ending, one happy, one tragic, and two kind of in-between.  Try it — it’s fast, it’s engaging, and unique!

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
Author: Monique Roffey
Reviewer: Suzanne Weiner, Executive Director of the North Carolina Textile Foundation, NC State

This is a story of newlyweds who go to the small island of Trinidad to follow his dream of a better life.  He falls in love with the complex richness of the island, but her struggle to find balance is what shapes the story.  She is torn between her love for him, and an inability to understand and accept his love of this country.   She finds her way using many different coping mechanisms but throughout the book is best known for her youthful trips around town on her green Raleigh bicycle.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
Author: Daniel C. Dennett
Reviewer: Reha Uzsoy, Clifton A. Anderson Distinguished Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering

A fascinating review of the current issues in evolutionary biology and their philosophical implications. Professor Dennett has a rare gift for developing thought experiments that bring out the essence of a complex issue, and causes one to see connections that are not readily apparent but which give a new perspective. A thinking book, as well as a plain good read.

Nov 22 2011

The Wise Man’s Fear

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Wise Man’s Fear
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Reviewer: Frankie Johnson, student, Natural Resources, and Park Scholar

This is one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. The characters are crafted intricately and the plot is told in a frame story format which creates suspense and intrigue. You can really root for the hero, while simultaneously knowing he is making the idiotic decisions that we all sometimes make. This book is amazing and I can’t wait for the next in the series!

Nov 21 2011

The End of Poverty

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
Author: Jeffrey Sachs
Reviewer: Bob Frigo, Assistant Director, Park Scholars

Sachs presents a stark image of the extreme poverty that exists throughout the world along with a bold plan to end this level of poverty in our lifetime. He provides an excellent overview of global issues and solutions, while enlightening readers on the finer points of the intersection between terrorism and global poverty to the action plan outlined in the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Nov 21 2011

Skippy Dies

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Skippy Dies
Author: Paul Murray
Reviewer: Jamie Bradway, Preservation Librarian, NCSU Libraries

As the title suggests, some pretty horrible things happen in this book. That these things happen in a boarding school (to kids) would normally be enough to turn me off of what is, essentially, an entertainment. But there are also some very beautiful things written in this novel; even some very funny things. It’s the book I needed to read to remind myself that novels should be more than mere entertainments.

Nov 21 2011

Kafka on the Shore

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Kafka on the Shore
Author: Hakuri Murakami
Reviewer: Richard Felder, Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

A couple of years ago someone recommended Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I read it and was mesmerized by the surreal world he created. I’ve read several more since then and had the same reaction. I recently read Kafka on the Shore and nominate it for this year’s best. I plan to plunge into 1q84 if I can overcome my intimidation by its 944 pages.

Nov 21 2011

The Black Swan

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Black Swan
Author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Reviewer: Greg Volk, ’03, Emmy Award-winning writer for the television trivia show Cash Cab (and NCSU Libraries Amazing Alumni)

When I write trivia questions, my job is to know things. But this book is about knowing what we don’t know and can’t know.  We assume “black swans” don’t exist simply because all the other swans we’ve seen are white. With this metaphor, Taleb critiques modern thinking and offers a how-to guide for living in an uncertain world. Written by a philosopher/quant (What’s a “quant”? Exactly.), it’s not exactly a summer read. Then again, it’s not summer (though despite what Greg Fishel said, tomorrow could be very warm). I wouldn’t call it “life-changing,” but I would call it “mind-changing.”

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Illusion of Conscious Will
Author: Daniel M. Wegner
Reviewer: Michael Young, Associate Professor, Computer Science (and 2011 Fabulous Faculty)

This book calls into question our perception that people actually make deliberative choices.  Fast MRI data shows that the activity in our brains driving the -experience- of deciding to take an action arises only -after- the neural activity where the choice actually occurs. Grounded in neuroscience and philosophy, Wegner argues that the conscious experience of deciding is essentially an epiphenomenon, an illusion created as an explanation for other mental processes.

Nov 18 2011

The Name of the Wind

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Reviewer: Jason Raitz, Business and Technology Applications Technician, NCSU Libraries

I loved this thick, fantasy novel about a young, precocious boy who undergoes continuous tragedies in his pursuit of love, music, secrets, magic and revenge. It’s full of song, hardship, tragedy, magic and longing.  There is a Harry-Potter-esque magic school, but it plays out a good bit differently and is not really the focus of the entire story. I love the various female roles as well. So many fantasy novels give women such predictable and often sexist roles. Some epic fantasy is hard to continue reading day after day; I was surprised when I reached the end of this one.  Rothfuss is a great new author and I also loved the sequel to this one, called Wise Man’s Fear. Warning, this is an unfinished trilogy which the author has decided to start finishing as part of NaNoWriMo.

Nov 18 2011


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Arrowsmith
Author: Sinclair Lewis
Reviewer: Samuel Stephen Gaetz, Building Services, NCSU Libraries

Satirical, witty and insightful, Arrowsmith accompanied me on a trip this summer and was by far the best book I’ve read this year. The portrait of early 20th century American life was new and enjoyable. And I found much of the drama and tension in the story (following a medical doctor making his way through life) to still have weight — some of it almost alarmingly so. The plot seemed to waiver at times but ultimately Lewis crafted an incredible read that was both thought-provoking and humorous.

Nov 18 2011

REAMDE and Steve Jobs

By: Marian Fragola

Author: Neal Stephenson
Book: Steve Jobs
Author: Walter Isaacson
Reviewer: Keith Morgan, Research and Information Services, NCSU Libraries

In REAMDE Stephenson reinvents himself as a master of the high-stakes, fast-paced, terrorist-populated thriller. Plus he includes a completely integrated subplot involving a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) called T’rain. There’s also a computer hacking subplot, Russian Mafia credit card theft, sneaking in and out of China, British Mi6 operatives, wilderness action in the wilds of British Columbia and a band of jihadists migrating from China to Idaho. What’s amazing is how Stephenson balances all of these subplots together and then weaves them together. All of this is accomplished in only 1,044 pages. I was sorry when it was over.

Here is the  whole story of Apple, the garage founding, the early successes, the decline and triumphant resurrection. All mediated through the personality of Steve Jobs.  The wealth of detail, combined with Isaacson’s access to Jobs, even as the Apple CEO struggled with his cancer, provides a vivid portrait of the cantankerous contradictions of Steve Jobs. Yes, we learn that he could be rude, manipulative, and boorish but the grand progression of “i-things” plus the legacy of Pixar are surely enough to put Steve on any Mount Rushmore of American innovation.

Nov 18 2011

The World Without Us

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The World Without Us
Author: Alan Weisman
Reviewer: Michael Andrew Kastellec, NCSU Libraries Fellow

Fascinating and well-written, with both breadth and depth.  Weisman avoids the preachy tone which colors so many other books on the environment.  In fact, it’s only subtly Environmentalist — I appreciate the way it’s so factual and plainly stated (but not dry!), showing the world as it is, not as how anyone might want it to be.  It sort of backs into the imperative that something has to change, or else we’re doomed.  And yet it’s not a depressing book.  Just go read it. I bet you’ll like it.

Nov 18 2011

Never Had It So Good

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles
Author: Dominic Sandbrook
Reviewer: Babi Hammond, Special Collections Research Center, NCSU Libraries

Sandbrook’s 2005 history is lively and awesomely broad in scope, taking in politics, economics, sociology, literature and popular culture. It’s a fascinating look at an era I knew mostly from some of the music and movies it produced. I’m not quite done with it yet, but can’t wait to start in on its sequel, White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties (2006).

Nov 18 2011


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Swamplandia!
Author: Karen Russell
Reviewer: Sarah Stein, Associate Professor, Communication, NC State

One of the best novels I read in 2011 was Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. There’s a genre called Florida Gothic which doesn’t at all appeal to me by its name, but I think Swamplandia! fits and is a terrific book. It is a story about a family of alligator wrestlers in the Everglades, told by an 11 year old, and as adult readers we infer what she cannot. The writing is so limpid and engaging, however, I lost the ability to step outside the narrative as the book went along, and was thus caught up in the events as they unfurled as much as the protagonist. A funny, fascinating, and at times heartrending piece of imagination — I highly recommend it.

Nov 18 2011

Simple Times

By: Marian Fragola

Book: Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People
Author: Amy Sedaris
Reviewer: Michael Robert Nutt, NCSU Libraries Fellow

Genius and obsession are often two sides of the same coin. With chapter titles like “Sausages”, “Teenagers Have a Lot of Pain”, and “Making Love”, Simple Times is a hilarious compendium of absurdist crafts. Every page is drenched in comedy, but what really makes this picture-crammed book amazing is Sedaris’ very real command of the crafting arts and a bottomless attention to detail. One gets the distinct impression that “Crafting While Ramped Up On Amphetamines” was written from experience.

Nov 18 2011


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Outliers: The Story of Success
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Reviewer: George Rouskas, Professor, Computer Science, NC State

The author tries to understand why some people succeed while others don’t by considering factors that are for the most part overlooked, including culture, the kinds of parents we have, birth dates, and luck. He shows that while hard work does pay off (“the 10,000-Hour Rule”), he also concludes that “genius” is overrated. The author combines extensive research with a wonderful writing style to bring the stories to life.

Nov 18 2011


By: Marian Fragola

Book: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
Author: Charles C. Mann
Reviewer: David Hiscoe, Director, Communication Strategy, NCSU Libraries

Italy without tomatoes, Ireland without potatoes, America with millions of non-Europeans in cities larger than Paris, China collapsing because it can’t find silver for coins. That’s our world until 1492 when Asia, Europe, and America collided, changing everything, everywhere, for everybody. If you learned history from someone who didn’t know ecology or microbiology or didn’t tell you ten of thousands held in slavery freed themselves before Lincoln, this book will change who you think you are.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Hundred Year Diet: America’s Voracious Appetite for Losing Weight
Author: Susan Yager
Book: Jackson Brodie series
Author: Kate Atkinson
Reviewer: Sarah Ash, Professor, Food, Bioprocessing & Nutrition Sciences

For a scholarly book, I’d recommend The Hundred Year Diet:America’s Voracious Appetite for Losing Weight by Susan Yager. I think most people assume that dieting is a relatively recent phenomenon, but she does a wonderful job tracing the fascinating history of our obsession with weight.

For pure page-turning enjoyment, I recommend the Kate Atkinson series of Jackson Brodie books. Her writing is sharp and witty (the British do it so well), as are her characters. She can make you laugh and cringe on the same page. You really should start at the beginning with Case Histories and work your way up to the present as many of the characters in the later books get introduced in the earlier ones. I can’t put them down.

Nov 17 2011


By: Marian Fragola

Book: Snuff
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Reviewer: Rebekah Anne Jaeger, staff, Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Center, NC State

Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favorite authors whose writing style is like no other authors I have read.  His writing style is poignant, honest and agressive and his stories depict life through a non fairy tale lens.  Snuff depicts a young woman who wants to break a record in the porn industry and is told primarily by three men who are waiting to be filmed each with their own agenda.

Nov 17 2011

More Ghost Stories

By: Marian Fragola

Book: More Ghost Stories
Author: M. R. James
Reviewer: Robert St. Amant, Associate Professor, Computer Science

This collection contains one of my favorite stories of the supernatural, “Casting the Runes.” It begins with letters of regret to a Mr. Karswell, who responds badly to the rejection of his work on alchemy… In this collection, published exactly 100 years ago, the stories have an atmosphere perfectly suited to the events: “So he put his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow: only, it did not get so far. What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth.”

Nov 17 2011

The Inner Circle

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Inner Circle
Author: Brad Meltzer
Reviewer: Benjmain van Ooyen, Staff, NCSU Bookstore

As an avid reader I am always looking for new books that pique my interest, and reading The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer did just that.  This is a book that will keep you entertained from the first page through the last.  It is the story of a young archivist working in the National Archives, when he stumbles upon a dictionary that leads him on a the hunt to solve one of the nation’s oldest secrets.

By: Marian Fragola

Book: The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss
Author: Edmund de Waal
Reviewer: Kathy Brown, Director, Planning and Research, NCSU Libraries

The Ephrussi family built an immense fortune in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, only to have it sucked away by the Nazi regime.  The author reconstructs his family’s history without sentimentality and traces the journeys of a collection of netsuke from household to household.  The collection—all that remains of the family’s vast holdings—survived because it was hidden in a mattress.  The Ephrussis escaped with their lives but lost their world forever.

By: Marian Fragola

Book:  All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis
Authors: Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera
Reviewer: Frank Abrams, Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University

This book shocks with a detailed view of all the things, beginning two decades before the fall of 2008, that led to the financial crisis. In doing so, it underscores, whether by the authors’ design or not, the tight interweaving of Wall Street and the US Government (especially the US Treasury, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac).
[Audio read a downloaded copy from Wake County Public Libraries]