Saturday, April 26, 2008

Since I'm still reconstructing what was once but is no more today you will see non-fiction recommendations from 2008.... I'll  post the 2007 books later. Sorry -- I'm still figuring this new blog out.the joys of learning. My ratings are based on a five point scale...  Remember the opinions and views I express are mine and belong to no one else! 
***** a classic    
*** very good
** okay
* so-so but only if there is nothing else on the book shelf

1. Waller, Maureen Sovereign Ladies: Sex, Sacrifice and Power ***  Story of six reigning English queens from Mary Tudor - Elizabeth II. Interesting to find out more about Mary (as in William and Mary) and Anne since I knew so little about them personally (okay, have you ever met them?)… The title is somewhat of a misnomer, but the author provides some fascinating details and it’s interesting to note how the various women were educated (or not) like Elizabeth Tudor’s classical education vs. Mary and Anne’s bare bones education (which is being kind). An insightful book well worth the read for any British history buff…

2. Thomas, Dana Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster*** Fascinating study of upscale brands going mainstream – and loosing their value when marketed to the masses (and their quality when parceled out to third world countries for manufacturing, using third rate materials…etc). Also traces history of luxury goods… handbag section was particularly fascinating…and so were perfumes… Only true luxury lines left are Hermes (all hand made still) and now some super specialty makers whose names most of us won’t recognize cause they sell/market only to those in the stratosphere of income…. And quality is job one for those manufacturers/retailers.

3. Einhorn, Steffan The Art of Being Kind ***1/2 Why choosing to be both both kind and good benefits us in everyday life…author offers five life tools to acquire the art of “ethical intelligence.”

4. Hari. Daoud The Translator**** You may have read about Darfur, seen it on the news and even sent a check to aid in the humanitarian crisis, but you will never really grasp the situation until you open the pages of this book and read this memoir. Translating Darfur’s stories of human pain and suffering into English words reporters could understand and later share with the rest of the world was the work of Daoud Hari a local tribesman. One of the most poignant reflections in this wrenching memoir is his notation that sometimes it was just the telling of a story, the sharing of an experience and knowing that someone was recording it that brought some small measure of relief to victims who verbalized their anguish.

At once candid, graphic and yet philosophical this book reminds us that the genocide in the region continues and also helps first time readers understand some of the intricacies of the Sudan and conflict. Hari is a Zaghawan, a tribe that distinguishes itself with scars on the facial temple. It's easy to see that the scars to Hari run much deeper than traditional markings.

During his travels with journalists such as Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, stories of loss, painful, senseless deaths, parents forced to watch their children suffer at the end of bayonets, scores of young men dispatched with machetes (so horrifying in fact that reporters who saw the carnage had to be hospitalized from the visual trauma) Hari persisted in helping document the inhumanity. Day after day, Hari went back into the field, risking his life to tell these stories and help Darfur’s voices be heard all the way to Europe and the Americas.

Woven into the rich fabric of the book we also learn about Hari’s family, their lives prior to and during this genocide. We learn about the ravages of fear, the accumulating toll of savagery on the psyche of youngsters and adults who have seen so much terror and heartbreak. We see Hari try to make his way amidst the chaos of life in a disintegrating country where the only law is who has the bigger guns, machetes and soldiers.

We also hear Hari’s own story about his high school English, his camel, his trek to foreign lands (and a stay in an Egyptian prison when he is caught without legal work permit papers), his love of classic novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND and KIDNAPPED and Charles Dickens’, OLIVER TWIST. But most of all we hear his voice and his storytelling almost as if we were sitting together sharing our thoughts.

This is one book to buy and share with a friend. Everyone can relate to it because it’s easy to place yourself in Hari’s shoes. His gentle storytelling draws the reader in, captures attention and then often asks "isn’t this what you want too,” such as food for your children, safe shelter, and freedom from fear?

If you only buy one book about Darfur, choose this one, especially if you have little knowledge about the situation and want a human perspective and background information. Hari will draw you into his tale, touch your heart and make you wonder why this situation continues to exist.

5. Barlow, Maude The Blue Covenant: The Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water***   this is enough to scare you to death – and it should… Everything from the right to water to privatization, corporate take over of water systems, governments fighting over water rights (even to seeding clouds as they appears over their lands) are all part and parcel of this book. Don’t be too horrified to see how the World Bank, UN, and WTO take over of water systems is not just a blip on the radar… we should all be really worried! If you had nightmares before – just wait until you read this one.

6. Finklestein, Eric and Laurie Zuckerman The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What To Do About It***…. Fascinating read about how farm subsidies add to America’s waistline by aiding certain crops that manufacturers use to make corn sweetners --- author says they should stop this and more fruits and vegetables for table food would be grown bringing down the price of “healthy” foods… The portion size chart/calorie counts was fascinating… you can’t read this and not go “oh my gosh!!” Makes you wonder where it will end (besides on our fannies, thighs and tummies). Fascinating take on this subject from an economic, and health viewpoint.
7. 20. Gordon, Clay Discover Chocolate,: The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting & Enjoying Fine Chocolate***1/2 this is exactly what it says it is -- including how and where the cacao beans are grown and harvested, the different types of beans, how they become chocolate, discerning great chocolate (and all you milk chocolate lovers take note --- she says your taste buds are just fine!!!). Toward the end of the book he even tells you where to buy the best chocolates (online info as well) and how to pair them with wines, etc. A delightful little book --- especially if have a really great piece chocolate in hand as you read it.

8.  Grainger, John D. Alexander the Great Failure: The Collaspse of the Maedonian Empire***  If you have previously been in awe of the legendary tales of Alexander this book will give you pause for thought. If you ever had a good history teacher you’d already have some inkling about the premise of this book that the “Great” was more interested in conquest than in maintenance of what he already had vanquished, was a poor planner (look at succession), seemed to have a bit of a Peter Pan complex --- never grow up and take adult responsibilities, refusing to face problems and placing too much faith in bosom buddies (Hephaistian) to take on jobs for which they were ill prepared or ill suited. It’s a nice history lesson, military lesson and a warning all rolled one…more than I expected to get from this slim volume but after reading about the author’s previous tomes --- including Cromwell Against the Scots, The Roman War of Anitchios and the Battle of Yorktown, perhaps I should not have been surprised at all the military information, campaign tidbits provided that dissected Alexander’s conquests and documented the disintegration of his worldly empire.

9. Hunter, Linda Mason Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Way to Clean Your Home***  exactly what it says inc. “recipes” for ,ixing cleaning supplies inc. laundry detergent, silver tarnish remover as well as the basics for cleaning everything from sinks and counters to floors and furniture.

10.  Ivins, Molly Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch’s Assault on America’s Fundamental Rights***1/2  So what happended to our rights promised in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution under W? the Patriot Act? Ivins skewers the federal government's interventions and shows some of the idiotic actions/results based on inaccurate information. Most importantly she demonstrates how basic American rights have been ignored and how Americans have let this happen based on "fear." She tells the stories of ordinary Americans standing up for liberty (or at least trying too)… Great book – fast read and you won’t forget it.

11.  Padwa, Lynette Quick Answer Me Before I Forget the Question: Everyting You need To Know About Turning 50*** Fun read – even if you can’t remember reading it- just kidding. It’s a quick easy compendium of facts – and answers to questions and concerns of those hitting middle age and more…memory loss, sleeping, sex, vitamins, living will, and even Hair Club. About the only thing she missed was a review of online dating and using the internet…Handy little book…

12. Yunnus, Muhammad Creating A World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism*** Okay, I believe- I’m convinced, I’m converted --- (which is probably why I love KIVA). Yunnus, the Nobel Prize winner takes his simple story of lending $27 and literally changing the world --- and it all started in a small Bangledeshi village. He proves that it doesn’t take a handout, corruption, huge bureauocracy etc. to make lives better and now he is putting the bite on corporations with his ideas for social business. Social businesses make revenue – they cover their costs while at the same time benefiting and meeting their objectives – like manufacturing and seling nutritious food to the poor – without expensive advertising/packaging and luxury targeting…. And the company is not pressured to max their profit – so it is a social business. (pg. 22 paraphrased).

13.  Koeppel, Dan Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World****This  book has already provided more dinner table conversation than most things I've read --- everyone eats bananas so they are fascinated with all the little trivia contained in these pages. Interesting read about how bananas captured the palate of the world and how they may not survive the onslaught of disease. History buffs willl be amazed (was it a banana in the Gaden of Eden?), how did United Fruit manage to overthrow governments in it’s quest to maintain market control? Everything you never knew about bananas is here and truly you’ll be fascinated --- a real storyteller, Koeppel presents an intriguing tale of the world’s favorite edible “berry” from an herb – surprised? Read it for me even more details!

14. STAFFORD, David Endgame 1945: THE MISSING FINAL CHAPTER OF WORLD WAR II****  If you loved (or liked) Ken Burns series you will appreciated this absorbing look at the waning days of WWII ( mainly European theatre) from various perspectives including several “ordinary” people one a hostage/prisoner, several soldiers, etc.)  He takes you to the bunkers, the frontlines, the camps, the war rooms, the battles and the news rooms. Well written and  interesting, filled with little details  it is a living history and one you will find hard to put down --- I read it in one day --- pretty rare for such a large volume…

15. Clarke, Liz ONE HELLUVA RIDE: How NASCAR Swept the Nation, If you don't know who Jimmie Johnson is, if you have never heard of Dale Earnhardt, Sr ( or Jr), and even if you are not thrilled about watching cars go round and round on an oval shaped track - well this book will still fascinate you. How the France family, some beloved racers, cars, sponsors and passion turned NASCAR from what some folks thought of as a "redneck" sport into a beloved pastime for millions of Americans. Reporter Clarke has watched the sport from the beginning, knows the drivers and has seen the good, bad, happy and tragic moments of the track which she brings to life in this well paced book. She delivers a tribute to the fans who supported their drivers in the early days and to the beginning of the sport before the big payoffs, the big sponsors and the safety provisions now made for the protection of the race legends. I was particularly struck when she traces the families who have dedicated their lives to the sport -- some of them who have lost their loved ones on the track or in related events. It's well worth the read and you won't find a better description of NASCAR on the market with a friendlier appeal and more tidbits of information that make the book entertaining.