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
Category: 2011 Entries
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.