Nonfiction

Tales from Gombe

ISBN: 
9781770854680

If you’re fascinated by some of our closest animal relatives, the chimpanzee, this delightful collection of photographs will delight and inspire you.

Gombe National Park in Tanzania is where Richard Leakey and Jane Goodall first studied these fascinating primates over fifty years ago. 

The married photographer pair, Shah and Rogers, made many trips over a period of ten plus years to the park. What makes this book special is to see how individual chimps changed over the years, from babyhood to young adult, to young adult to mature, from mature to old.

The photos show the chimps doing daily activities, hunting, food-gathering eating, grooming, nursing and taking care of their young, even displaying as powerful males and females do to show who is boss and on top of the hierarchy.

What I liked most were the family portraits, a line of chimps in a row, siblings and one or both parents.

For many years, scientists have named all the chimps in one family with names beginning with the same consonants for instance: Frodo, Freud, Fanni, Flossi, Faustino, etc. Representing the G family are Galahad, Gaia, Gizmo, and Google, among others.

It’s amazing how distinct the chimp’s faces are, just as distinct as those of humans.  Also, how intelligent and expressive their eyes are.  The book’s text describes the struggle for power in each community and how certain chimps are loners, while others go off and join other communities.

It also describes how they help each other, how siblings look after their younger family members, how even adults stay close to their parents.

Several photos document tool use by chimps, including the famous termite-foraging with long grasses that Dr. Goodall first discovered in November, 1960 that amazed scientists around the world.

This is a very beautiful book that will also fill you in on some of the latest chimp research in Gombe.  For more on Goodall’s fascinating work and life, try Jane Goodall: a Twentieth Century Life by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.

Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest

ISBN: 
9781771640459

If one area of our continent calls to me more than any other it’s the Northwest, that region of coastal rain forests that extends from northern California to Alaska. 

This magnificent book of photographs covers one of the few unspoiled areas left there, the Great Bear Rainforest.

It’s located on the mainland slightly north of Vancouver and extends past Prince Rupert to the border with Alaska. Talk about wild: salmon, bear, wolves, sea lions, great Douglas firs and hundred-year-old cedars all thrive there.

Ian McAllister, who lives nearby and works as an ecologist, has taken many incredible photographs of the wildlife and the plants.  He also photographed the native people, including a few of the matriarchs of the Gitga’at clan.

The photos are thrilling including some of spirit bears—a bear I was not familiar with. They are white black bears (yes, that’s right) produced by a recessive gene. They are not albinos, so a spirit bear could have black-furred bear mother and siblings. Francis Kermode, a museum curator, first named them.

The chapter on sea wolves shows how tough making a daily living is for the wolves who have bred on this coastal area for centuries.  They must swim between islands to find food, and one young male, ostracized by his family is shown swimming away from all that he has known after his family boots him away because they cannot feed him.

In one charming photo, tens of curious stellar sea lion bob on the Pacific’s surface—only their heads showing. They stare straight at the photographer. McAllister reports that these wonderfully intelligent and agile creatures are making a comeback in the waters off the Great Bear.

If you’ve ever seen the starfish in the Northwest, you know that these echinoderms are huge and often bright orange. McAllister also takes incredible photographs of colorful underwater creatures: purple urchins and striking rose anemones. Some interesting shots focus on both above-water and below-water life in the same shot.

Like many pristine landscapes left in the world, McAllister reports that the area of the Great Bear Rainforest is under threat from oil drilling. Additionally, there are plans to create a large port in seas that are often stormy and dangerous. This motivated McAllister to publish these beautiful photographs. But the text of the book also provides much information about the creatures of the region. Read more »

Deep Down Dark

ISBN: 
9780374280604

Even though I knew the ending before I opened this book, this in-depth, emotionally and factually rich story of 33 miners trapped under the earth for sixty-nine days was a real thriller.

The book opens with a photograph of the 33 men who survived two months deep underground. Thirty-two were from Chile, and there was one young miner from Bolivia who had the amazingly bad luck to be stuck in a mine collapse on his very first day of work.

In his fourth book, journalist Tobar presents not only the San Jose mine but an overview of modern Chilean life. He begins with a rich description of many of the miners and their families, some of whom travelled almost the whole length of Chile for their jobs. Read more »

Stars, Planets, Moon

ISBN: 
9781770853256

I know the title sounds like an oxymoron, but if astronomy excites you, don't let living in the heart of town make you give up exploring the night skies.

I myself have seen countless meteors and conjunctions, a changing panoply of shining planets, and many constellations right from town. There was also the night of the bright red aurora borealis that I first mistook for a major fire when I was biking home from work. To say nothing of lunar eclipses and "super" full moons.

Written by the vice-president of Britain's Society of Popular Astronomy, this handy guide  is very applicable in the states. What I like best about it is, Scagell's can-do philosophy, not only can you feel awe when looking at planetary bodies, but he invites the reader to do actual astronomical research and to participate as a citizen-scientist.

And don't think you need to spend massive amounts of money for the highest tech equipment.  He recommends a good pair of binoculars for sky-viewing and reports that they even have many advantages over telescopes. He does recommend telescopes too--aperture and field of view should be the deciding factors.

He also advises the city astronomer on things and props he can use to cut or eliminate light pollution, such simple things as simple as a black cape to wear over you and your telescope to cut out glare.

In eight well-researched chapters, Scagell pours his passion for the least earthbound of sciences. Chapter 4 covers the targets of star search. All the usual ones: sun, moon, the near and far planets, the constellations but also other astronomical phenomena such as zodiacal light, noctilucent clouds, artificial satellites, double stars, clusters, nebulae, and deep sky objects.

Although not necessarily geared for the beginner, all terms are so well explained that the guide can work for both the 25-year amateur astronomer and the neophyte. A four page table at the end lists many deep sky objects that can be seen even from cities.

So, on these dark, clear nights, grab your black cape, your binoculars or telescope, and delve into this fascinating science that connects us to other mysterious worlds.

Thinking in Numbers: on Life, Love, Meaning and Math

ISBN: 
9780316187374

It's a cliche, but people often say that if you excel at math, you'll have little talent for language and vice versa. Transplanted Londoner and Parisian resident, Daniel Tammet proves the falsehood of this statement.

In 25 essays that examine life from a mathematical perspective, Tammet enthralls and enlightens the reader on many things especially the beauty of mathematics. Einstein's son Hans Albert said that his father's character was more like an artist than that of a scientist because his highest praise for a theory "was not that it was correct nor that it was exact but that it was beautiful."

Tammet begins this collection with an essay describing his family and numbers theory. In fact, he attributes his first interest in math due to the fact that his neighbors' great interest in his family occurred because there were nine children.  And as he explains it, there were 512 possible ways to spot him or his siblings around town in various combinations. Read more »

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: 50 Years

ISBN: 
9781770854628

Have a soft spot in your heart for animals? Love unexpected and mesmerizing nature photographs? If so, this coffee table book is for you.

This book features the best of the best: a sampling of fifty years of winners from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest as well as an essay describing and presenting the history of the art.

It also includes some early nature photography, photographs that inspired later nature artists including Ansel Adams' 1941 photo "Snake River, the Tetons" with its magnificent play of light and shadows, curvilinear boulders and twin mountain peaks. Another great find is Eric Hosking's 1938 weirdly titled "The Tawny Owl that Robbed Me of an Eye" which turns out to a true story.  Be careful while taking pictures of owls! Read more »

The Little Book of Yoga

ISBN: 
9781452129204

If you like yoga, or are merely curious about it, this lovely book covers all the basics and can get your practice jump-started. Even though I've been doing yoga for years, the author surprised with many details that I had not heard before about its philosophy and forms.

In five brief parts it covers all the basics of yoga: its history, branches, all the yoga styles. It also covers the philosophy of yoga, many of its poses with brief illustrations, also breathing, meditation, mantras, mudras, bandhas, and chakras.

The meditation section is a six page description of types of meditation including walking and compassion ones. Yes, just what it sounds like helping others as part of doing yoga.  This part begins with a quick list of how to start a meditation practice.

The last section, appropriately subtitled "Yoga off the Mat" covers yoga at work and school, while traveling, in relationships, and at rest.

The poses--obviously not a complete compendium--are illustrated with 2 or 3 line drawings, a verbal description of how to do them, and in closing, a list of benefits for each.

This beautiful red book is highly portable and with its amazing summary and synthesis of yoga would make a lovely gift. Perfect for the bedstand table, so you can practice breathing or peaceful asanas just before bed, or more active ones after waking up in the morning.

 

 

Family Secrets

ISBN: 
9780670025558

Remember reading the Old Testament and seeing the list of “begats” that seemed to last forever?  This book examines human history as recorded in our DNA.  It’s full of fascinating lore: recently geneticists and statisticians have proved that African countries where the slave trade was rampant  have not only a much higher sense of distrust toward friends and strangers, but also have much poorer economies today over a hundred fifty years later.

And Genghis Khan really did father thousands of children, yet at the same time he lived up to his name as the Destroyer. During the two centuries of the Mongol raids that he initiated, 40 million people died. So many that much of the inhabited earth became reforested. This was the only time in recorded history that the CO2 in the atmosphere actually dropped enough to measure.

Genghis Khan also lives on for his particular Y chromosome. Not only did he pass this on to countless sons, but he and his armies killed so many men with different Y chromosomes that his became the predominant one in many parts of Asia. Read more »

Murder in the Stacks

ISBN: 
9780762780877

If one single event stands out in the memory of my first semester in State College, Pa., it’s the murder of an English graduate student that happened in the library.  Before reading this book, I would have guessed it occurred just a week or two into term, rather than toward its end—so much did it color life for the rest of my college experience in Happy Valley, Pa.  Yes, this remote mountain valley in almost the exact center of Pa. is actually named that.

Most of my dorm-mates felt absolute terror after the murder.  They literally would not leave the building alone after dark.  I remember big gangs of young women walking together in a phalanx toward the library to study.  I joined them one night, but that was it.  I could not time my departures and arrivals and function in such a timid, emotionally-wrought group.

And though this horrible crime happened decades ago, it still has not been officially “solved.” But the author, a Harrisburg journalist, has come up with some compelling facts that point to a specific fellow grad student. A student in fact that went on to continue his PhD studies and remained on campus for four or five more years. Read more »

Without You, There is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

ISBN: 
9780307720658

This well-written memoir about teaching in a college in North Korea the year Kim Jong-il died sent shivers up my spine. The author, Suki Kim, an American writer, who spent part of her childhood in South Korea and is fluent in the language, had visited North Korea several times. Each time she felt divorced from the people and prevented by her “minders” (they were actually called that) from getting a true understanding of what contemporary life was like in the country.

Emotionally, Kim felt connected to the country because part of her family lived there. Kim’s mother had often told her stories about how her eldest brother disappeared and was never seen again when he was taken from a truck during the Korean War.  The family was divided from other aunts and uncles and cousins who lived across the divide.

Kim, primarily a journalist, had taught at a college in the states and sometime around 2010 heard that a Bible college, financed by Americans, was soon to open near Pyongyang. The very idea sounded strange—a culture that scorned religion was allowing westerners to open a bible college by the capital? Read more »

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