Talking About Books . . .

How We Got to Now

Steven Johnson has recently written a book in conjunction with a six-part PBS program that explores six things – glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light – and draws unexpected connections and serendipitous discoveries that have had a tremendous influence on our lives.  The book and the series are both called How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Changed the World.  Johnson has a knack for taking something like the concept of cold and reminding us of how it has changed our lives in widely varying ways.  What, you might ask, can he do with the concept of cold?  Well, cold (which is actually the absence of heat) is what allows us to freeze food in order to preserve it for a long period of time.  We also use cold air to make uninhabitable climates such as deserts habitable and even pleasant.  There’s much more that cold has made possible, but you’ll have to read the book or watch the series to find out some of the other ways it has changed our lives.

The genius of the book is that Johnson makes connections that might never occur to us without his gift for the link between seemingly disparate entities.  Over and over again you’ll find yourself thinking, “I never thought of that!”

The six-part PBS series begins this week.  Check local listings for days and times.  YouTube has a few clips that will give you an idea of what to expect in the series.

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Oates' Book

“Norman Mailer, one of the most prolific American writers of the 20th century, may have compared himself to some of the heavyweights of modern literature. But Joyce Carol Oates is an entire sports complex, including the Olympic-sized pools and the locker rooms.”  Joyce Carol Oates has been around for a long time, so it’s remarkable that reviewer Alan Cheuse begins his review of her latest collection of 12 short stories and a novella with such unrestrained praise.

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At some point in their lives writers must ask themselves if they have anything else worthwhile to say.  If they’re honest, the answer might be, “No.”  But that seldom stops them.  Others like F. Scott Fitzgerald die before they have completed their best works.  Roger Grenier explores this subject in an American Scholar article.

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We think of academic scholars as reserved, unemotional folks, but recently two such men got into what can only be described as a down and dirty cat fight over the origins of poems and plays attributed to William Shakespeare.  This argument got particularly ugly when one academic, who believes that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him, said that the other’s attempts to prove otherwise were, “as unconvincing as those of Holocaust deniers and other conspiracy theorists.”

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Walter Isaacson’s latest book is The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionIn a short YouTube clip he talks about some of the women who were pioneers in this field.

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I Am Malala

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was marked for assassination by the Taliban for promoting the education of girls, has won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Kailash Satyarthi of India.  She is one of the most remarkable people in the world.  Here is an NBC News segment on both winners.

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Amazing Grace

The Guardian has started a week-long celebration of diversity in children’s books.  One of the featured articles is a list of the 50 best culturally diverse books for children.  Be sure to explore the complete list of articles that will be published during the week.

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The Man Booker Prize will probably have been awarded to one of six finalists by the time you read this.  You can find out who won the prize as well as a gallery of previous winners here.  You might also be interested in the stories this year’s finalists tell about how they came to write their nominated books.

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