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Category: Non-fiction

Nov 21 2014

Longtitude

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 09 2013

The Ancestor’s Tale

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.

Nov 22 2013

Blood Done Sign My Name

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 21 2013

Open

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

Command and Control

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

Unbroken

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.

Nov 19 2013

2666 and Teddy Roosevelt Biography series

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.

Nov 18 2013

To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker

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 Second World War

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.

Nov 18 2013

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

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

Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire

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.

Dec 04 2012

Cosmos

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

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

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.

Nov 20 2012

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

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

The Big Short

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

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

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.

Nov 20 2012

Steve Jobs

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!”

Nov 20 2012

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

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.

Nov 30 2011

Courant in Göttingen and New York: The Story of an Improbable Mathematician

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 29 2011

On China

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

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 22 2011

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

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 21 2011

The End of Poverty

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

The Black Swan

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.”

Nov 18 2011

The Illusion of Conscious Will

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

REAMDE and Steve Jobs

Book: REAMDE
Author: Neal Stephenson
and
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

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

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

Simple Times

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

Outliers

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

1493

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.

Nov 17 2011

The Hundred Year Diet and Kate Atkinson mysteries

Book: The Hundred Year Diet: America’s Voracious Appetite for Losing Weight
Author: Susan Yager
and
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

The Hare with Amber Eyes

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.

Nov 16 2011

All the Devils are Here

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]