Crows Over a Wheatfield
I have been giving people copies of this book. It is a beautifully crafted saga of life, mental health and the way the law deals with families. It is no courtroom drama. It is the story of a family and a portrait of the underground railroad that exists for women who are trying to escape abusive relationships and for whom the legal system is a failure. It is not preachy or didactic; it is well crafted. Indeed in places it is very funny. The narrator is flawed, which makes the book fun as you see what she cannot. A great read and some great lessons can be found in this book.
Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations
After this book, you should never look at histories the same way again. Schama writes in the style of novels like An Instance of the Fingerpost. But while reading this book is a pleasure, Schama has serious points to make about ambiguity, contradiction, and interpretation in history. The dramatic death of General James Wolfe at the battle of Quebec in 1759, and the murder in 1849 of George Parkman by a Harvard professor at the end of his rope, beg to be explained, but Schama shows how ambiguous they can remain even after we know a great deal about them.
Rosemary A. Joyce
Winner of the Booker Prize in the early 90's, this is ostensibly a novel, set in the 18th century, about the slave trade. It is that, a wonderfully told tale, but it is much more, a meditation on how greed and avarice dehumanize the oppressor and the oppressed. The story begins in Liverpool where a successful "trading" expedition is needed to save the fortunes of the merchant, William Kemp. His nephew, who has come on hard times, will sail on the ship as its doctor. The ship travels to Africa for its cargo, heads for the Americas, and a mutiny on board leads to the establishment of a utopian community in Florida. Utopia's promise is brief. It is a complex tale of moral struggle.
One of the most poetic and beautifully written books I have ever read. Having nothing to do with physics, this novel is rather the author's musings about Einstein's nightly dreams surrounding the nature of time. In one dream there is a place where time stands still, but moves faster and faster as one gets further away. In another people live only one day; in still another, people live forever. And in one of my favorites there is no time, only images. This book, while very short, is best enjoyed leisurely, much as is a good extended conversation with a friend.
Guns, Germs, and Steel:
A tour de force! Answers the question of why Western European society has become dominant in the world, but not for the reasons that you may think. The author explains this in terms of geography, climate, agriculture, and food production that made it possible for the "West" to develop rapidly beyond the hunter-gatherer societies of the rest of the world. This is a meticulously researched study, and shook up the anthropology world. It has won many awards. Thought provoking and consistently interesting throughout.
Into Thin Air
This is a gripping, eye-witness account of an ill-fated ascent of Mt. Everest, in which a number of poor decisions led to disastrous consequences during a rogue storm in May 1996. It is one of those books that's difficult to put down: the description of the mountains, the participants, and the sequence of events will keep you spellbound. The exhilaration and perils of climbing the world's highest peaks are vividly presented - and you will simultaneously wish you were there and be grateful that you weren't.
Genesis & Exodus
These stories from the "Old Testament" form the bedrock of Western moral and literary culture, shaping everything from early philosophy and science to the contemporary Civil Rights movement and today's American politics. All students, whatever their religious feelings, if any, should be familiar with these books.
Crooked Little Heart
A delightful coming-of-age book about an adolescent girl tennis player who learns about the importance of personal honesty. Ms. LaMott, who lives and lectures in the Bay Area, has written a smile into virtually every paragraph. (She is also the author of one of the better books on how to write well, Bird by Bird, also recommended.)
This is a novel written by a working scientist and foremost explainer of science to the public. A seasoned novelist might produce a more refined work, but there is no way that anyone but a scientist could represent the underlying topic as well. The topic is what may be involved in a search for extraterrestrial intelligence, SETI, and what may happen if SETI were successful. The techniques of the search are those of radio astronomy, and the novel portrays them well and in a grand adventure. I, a radio astronomer, hugely enjoy the book. And it's far better than the movie.
Savage Inequalities examines the consequences of unequal funding to schools in the United States. Kozol presents a passionate portrayal of children, teachers and schools in communities that have systematically been deprived of funds for education. Anyone interested in understanding meritocracy, justice and equality in America today must also come to terms with the realities documented by Kozol.
This is the story of a motherless young girl living a life that would defeat most of us. Yet Ellen manages to find her way out of pain and misery through her own belief that there is something better waiting for her. Having survived an unhappy childhood to live a very satisfying adult life, I identify with Ellen. I think this book would be inspirational to others who feel they need to overcome childhood trauma in order to find fulfillment as adults.
Joanne P. Ikeda
Winnie the Pooh
Many years ago I was asked to suggest a book and I had no trouble letting people know that I thought a good book for freshmen to read would be Jack London's Call of the Wild. If Buck could survive through all of that mayhem, any freshman could survive, thrive and enjoy him/herself at Berkeley. Maybe I was looking at the situation more from the viewpoint of a woman professor having to work with extremely critical colleagues in one's own department, but I thought the advice would prepare anyone for any kind of life.
Now I feel quite differently. This brain does constantly change, as people have heard me say many times. In spite of this fact, in general my goal has always been to try to attain elegant simplicity. Today my recommendation might be Winnie the Pooh, simple and elegant. The story was written in 1926 and look at its impact 73 years later. In the midst of information overload from every direction what is most popular in the toy stores today for children, none other than Winnie the Pooh, everywhere you look. A simple little bear, not brainy at all, who is loved by all the animals in the forest who are most considerate of each other. A simple little story which provides a certain peace of mind which has some how been over run with technology. No, I do not think I am losing my selective inhibitory nerve fibers with aging, just using them with more discretion.
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