Rest In Power; The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton

Find in catalogI didn’t put this book down and read the first half in 3 hours. The murder of Trayvon Martin, and the resulting racial injustice, brought a new movement together: Black Lives Matter. Each chapter is alternately told from his father’s point of view, then his mother’s. They point out over and over that Trayvon could be anybody’s son and that they are “just” two parents who want justice for the death of their son. Despite their desire to stay clear of the press, in their narratives they tell how losing one of their two sons has changed them forever. They also find that Trayvon’s life will endure.

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Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Find in catalogIn the spring of 1992, Christopher McCandless, after finishing a year at Emory University, took off on a road trip that lead him walking into the wilderness of Alaska by himself. Leaving his well-to-do family and devoted sister behind, he remade himself into “Alex Super-Tramp,” a free spirit with morals but no rules he searched for the unknown and unmarked. And when his innocent mistakes take a fatal turn for the worse, Jon Krakauer takes the headlines Chris leaves behind and calls to attention the story behind the fateful adventure, making sure to include not only the mistakes but also the passion and sense of freedom that drove McCandless. Jon Krakauer’s storytelling is luminous and mesmerizing and I felt this once one of those rare and few books that is able to open doors to entirely new perspectives. I first read this book when I was in high school, and while I did enjoy it, I certainly found that the second time through I was able to get even more from the book.

Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an English Woman in Wartime France

Find in catalogIt all began with the discovery of a box of diaries and correspondence Priscilla Mais kept hidden all of her adult life. The author remembered his aunt as a beautiful, mysterious figure who was rumored to have been a spy during World War 2. Once he starts reading through her diaries, he finds a very different story. The book is meticulously researched and tells the complicated story of life in occupied France.

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham

not kind girlI found this book after reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants (numerous times) and Yes, Please by Amy Poehler, and after hearing rave reviews for HBO’s Girls. Let’s say Lena Dunham is a comedian of the age and generation and her humor is dry and perhaps not for everyone. She’s honest and very modern which makes it all fun. I found her a little hard to take in with her sexual misadventures, and having said that I have read Chelsea Handler’s books, and her lack of attachment to her actions and personal connections is concerning and worrisome for not only her as a person but as a representative of the generation.

The Adventures of Henry Thoreau by Michael Sims

The Adventures of Henry ThoreauWe know the iconic Thoreau, sitting alone in his cabin, philosophizing, engaged in civil disobedience. Sims adds a warmer, more complex, physical man, involved with his community. Thoreau loved teaching children about the nature around them, enjoyed outings and ice skating with friends, and sometimes – but not always! – welcomed visitors to his cabin. And he was a dedicated and caring family man, stepping in to assist in times of illness and helping his father develop their successful pencil business.

A keen observer, Thoreau was one of the first people to note the way in which there is a predictable succession of trees in a forest over the years.

Sims excels in showing the early influences on Thoreau. One surprising story is how as a young man Thoreau and a friend accidentally started a fire that burned 300 acres of the local woods. Neighbors rightly blamed Thoreau for the fire, and their reactions may have led Thoreau to distance himself.

Reviewed by Sarav

Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned by John A Farrell

Clarence DarrowBeyond his rout of Bryan in the Scopes ”monkey trial,” Darrow spent much of his career defending communists, the insane, blacks, bootleggers, young men, union leaders, alleged rapists, corrupt politicians, anarchists, and the poor. He saved the lives of the McNamara brothers, who pled guilty to the bombing of the Los Angeles Times – and then was himself accused of bribing jurors.

Farrell’s magnificent biography shows why and how Darrow was so successful, often by uncovering weaknesses in evidence and appealing to higher justice and compassion from the jurors. Farrell has presented several of his famous cases wth such drama that even if I knew the outcome I read them with suspense. Excerpts from Darrow’s courtroom speeches illustrate his eloquence. All this is set in the context of the large issues fought during his lifetime: union battles starting in the 1890s, the gangs of Chicago, Prohibition, violence against blacks. the communist movement, and, central to Darrow’s thinking, the struggle to preserve the rights of the individual.

I found this an exceptional book. You can read it as a series of courtroom dramas, as a biography of a human being who was able to do enormous amounts of good in spite of his many failings, or as a reflection of a turbulent period in American history, all written as an engrossing story. And the issues that Darrow contended with are still with us today. As he warned, “No era of the world has ever witnessed such a rapid concentration of wealth and power as this one in which we live. History furnishes abundant lessons of the inevitable result.”

Reviewed by Sarav

The Strange Case of the Mad Professor: A true tale of endangered species, illegal drugs, and attempted murder by Peter Kobel

The Strange Case of the Mad ProfessorThis is a fascinating account of the life of John Buettner-Janusch, an anthropology professor at NYU who studied lemurs and also manufactured illegal drugs in his lab and later attempted to murder several people by poisoning. Kobel offers a complex profile of this man’s life and actions. It is a riveting story that includes discussion of academia, mental erosion, and myriad factors and choices that shape a life. Definitely worth reading!

Reviewed by Vicki

The Thoreau You Don’t Know: what the prophet of environmentalism really meant by Robert Sullivan

The reader looking for a detailed  biography of Thoreau might look elsewhere, but Sullivan offers something different, more akin to a series of essays. His subtitle lets us know right away what he’s up to: “What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant.”  The author has crafted a sketchy biography of HDT (meaning that every part of HDT’s life isn’t accorded equal attention), and then examines details of his writings and experiences and  connects those to current topics: Abu Ghraib, taxes, mortgages, the environment, work. And at the end of the book, Sullivan walks to Walden Pond (I don’t want to say more in case you havn’t read the book yet). He finds, and we see, new and unexpected relationships between the past and the present, between nature and the city.  Our worship of pristine, wild spaces, Sullivan suggests, may in fact fool us into missing a clearer vision of what surrounds us. Highly recommended – and being a Thoreau fan is not required.

Reviewed by Sara V.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s eccentric life in nature and the birth of an American classic by Michael Sims

This is a low-key book about a low-key life in a pocket of the twentieth century that may evoke nostalgia. I think it will appeal to those who love Charlotte’s Web, or E. B. White’s writings, or the early New Yorker magazine, or hearing how White wove his connection with spiders – real and imaginary, on an idyllic farm – into a classic story.

But this biography has a puzzling hole in it. White was born in 1899 and lived until 1985. He lived through the Great War, the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, huge social changes. Yet from this biography I would gather that White was relatively untouched by all these events. How could that be? Perhaps he was focused on his writing and the great cycle of nature. Or perhaps this is an example of a phenomenon we see today: the well-off (White doesn’t seem that he would have been in the 1% but he and his wife had good incomes) can remain detached from the social and political problems the average person has to deal with.

Sara V.