Monday, July 16, 2012

These true stories are waiting for you @ your library

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A. J. Jacobs

Kirkus Reviews –

The bestselling author of The Know-It-All (2004) and The Year of Living Biblically (2007) stretches the experiential journalist shtick to its limit with a cockamamie fitness quest to become the "healthiest man alive." Jacobs, an affable everyman with a ready supply of reliable one-liners, offers a moderately entertaining literary stunt. Some might spend 10 years or more dabbling in this or that fitness craze; the author runs the entire gauntlet in a period of months. One month he's running bare-chested through Central Park like a caveman. The next he's eating off kiddie plates (to reduce portion size) and squatting over the toilet (to facilitate smoother excretions). The author tests a variety of differing health prescriptions but quickly settles into a rut of conflicting information, unsettled medical consensus and eye rolling from his wife. He dedicates each month to a different part of the body--the stomach, the heart, the teeth, etc. By the end Jacobs has donned a bicycle helmet for simple walks around town in order to protect his fragile skull. Any hope of gaining a leg up on the Grim Reaper evaporates into a mist of futile perspiration. Despite his labors, the best advice the author offers is eat less, move more and try to steer clear of pollutants. Periodic visits to his 94-year-old grandfather (who has "the relentless energy and hearty build of Theodore Roosevelt") are welcome detours, alleviating the drudgery and providing much-needed authenticity to an otherwise contrived exercise. The story of granddad's long and rich life as a crusading lawyer (he helped bring "The Gates" art installation to Central Park) lends sharp perspective to Jacobs' somewhat myopic quest. Maybe the goal shouldn't be becoming the healthiest man alive, but to live life to the fullest. Unobtrusive reading material for your next trip on the treadmill.

Heroes for My Daughter by Brad Meltzer

From Barnes & Noble –

Even before his 2010 Heroes for My Son was published, Brad Meltzer heard insistent calls for a matching volume for female offspring. The strong demands emanated from his daughter who every day would march into his office and say, "Is my book done yet?" Now, to the relief of Meltzers large and small, the book is complete. Heroes for My Daughter offers a full assemblage of heroes worth admiring. The laudable roster includes Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, Billie Jean King, Winston Churchill and Stevie Wonder.

Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden

Kirkus Reviews –

A detailed study of two spirited and privileged young women who unexpectedly became a small part of the history of the American West.

Rosamund Underwood and Dorothy Woodruff, both Smith College graduates, spent their 20s traveling to Europe and Manhattan and pouring tea for suffragettes at home in Auburn, N.Y. Nearing 30, they were becoming restless and, longing to do useful and interesting work, applied to become teachers in the small community of Elkhead, Colo. New Yorker executive editor Wickenden, Woodruff's granddaughter, relates their experiences with a vivid, gossipy flair, and readers get an excellent sense of what everyday life was like, not only for the privileged and highly educated, but for the mine worker, the homesteader, the elementary-school teacher. However, readers expecting a straightforward, linear narrative will be baffled by the sinuous curve of the story as it makes switchbacks and loops, like the much-discussed Moffat Road Railroad. In fact, the momentous first day of school for the young teachers doesn't arrive until halfway through the book. The earlier material covers their journey to Elkhead, their childhood and college years and their extensive domestic and international travel. The author's frequent diversions into local and national history demand careful attention, and they might delight one reader but bore another. Wickenden defers the discussion of the women's marriages until two-thirds of the way through the book, which both prioritizes their accomplishments and entices the reader. We know at the outset that Dorothy has children, and this knowledge pulls us gently through the narrative's many turns.

An absorbing maze of a book—readers may well, like Woodruff and Underwood, find their hearts lost to the West.

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright

Kirkus Reviews –

The former U.S. secretary of state blends World War II–era history and memoir in her account of her discovery, at age 59, that she had lost more than two-dozen relatives in the Holocaust. Albright's (Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership, 2008, etc.) parents had never told her of her Jewish heritage, and in January 1997 she had only recently learned of it when a Washington Post reporter broke the larger story. She spent the ensuing years researching her family's history and the history of her native Czechoslovakia. She was aided in her endeavors by family material she found stored in boxes in her garage--and by a small research team. Born in 1937, the author naturally doesn't remember the war's earliest days, so the initial sections are principally a summary of history of the region and the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Occasionally, she slips into the first person to talk about the activities of her father, a career diplomat, and her mother, a diplomat's wife but also a woman very interested in the supernatural. The most gripping parts are those personal stories; the others mostly repeat what can be found in many histories of the war and Holocaust. Retellings do not, of course, diminish the horror, but Albright sometimes focuses more on the politics and the war than on the remembrance. The personal passages increase in number and detail as she grows older. Also engaging are the later sections, which deal with the postwar politics in Czechoslovakia, especially the communists' moves to subvert the fledgling democracy. Although much is conventional history, the unconventional--the personal--animates and brightens the narrative.

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