The Tigress of Forli, by Elizabeth Lev

Find in catalogI am learning about Renaissance Italy and discovered a great book: the Tigress of Forli. This is not a historical fiction, but a well written history of Catherine Riario, Sforza, Di’ Medici. What a fascinating character living in very interesting times! She was a brave woman who knew her own mind. She had armor built and fought along side her soldiers to defend her castle! Just my kind of gal. If you are a student of Italian history or interested in the life of women in the Renaissance era, I recommend this book.

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

The Circus Fire: A True Story by Stewart O’Nan

The Circus FireIn the summer of 1944 in Hartford, Connecticut the big top of the Ringling Brothers circus caught fire during a performance. The big top had been waterproofed with gasoline and paraffin so it was completely engulfed within minutes. There were 9000 people in attendance, scrabbling to flee the fire through 7 exits. The book details the psychology of group behavior during a catastrophe, from heroism to selfishness. It also covers the efforts to identify the dead, some of whom were never identified. This was a very interesting read.

Reviewed by Diane

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman

Savage HarvestIn 1961, Michael Rockefeller disappeared while on an art buying trip in New Guinea. His body was never found, and there has been a great deal of speculation about the circumstances of his death. It was thought that Michael may have been killed by the Asmat, a group of native warriors from whom he had purchased art. The culture of these tribesmen was built around sacred, reciprocal violence, head hunting, and ritual cannibalism. The book delves into the history of New Guinea and the change from colonialism to independence and the effects this had on native cultures. As a part of his research the author submerses himself in the culture of the Asmat, living with them and talking with them about Mr. Rockefeller in an attempt to find out what really happened.

Reviewed by Diane

Ponzi’s Scheme by Mitchell Zuckoff

Ponzi's SchemeI had heard of get rich scams described as “Ponzi Schemes”, but until I read this book, I had no idea that Ponzi was a real person. An Italian immigrant bent on making it big in America, Charles Ponzi came up with a plan to sell international reply coupons and reward investors with ridiculously high returns. In the summer of 1920, the idea caught fire and people were literally lining up around the block to invest their savings in this scheme. The book sets the scene by describing other money scams of the time and explains the press’s role in promoting and ultimately exposing Mr. Ponzi’s business. This is a very interesting look into history and the character of an infamous man.

Reviewed by Diane

Writing on the Wall by Tom Standage

Writing on the WallI recommend this book for anyone who is interested in history, communications, media and journalism.

This book talks about how social communication through media changed from the ancient Greeks to today. For example I found it fascinating that in one culture, graffiti was not thought of at taboo. Instead, it was common for people to etch messages to each other in the sandstone walls outside people’s houses. And people would reply. In addition, this book covers how certain inventions like Morse Code, the telegraph, radio, television, etc. came to be.

Reviewed by Laura

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherRewarding, engrossing. Perpetually impoverished, much-criticized, often overlooked, Egan’s Edward S. Curtis comes to life as a man obsessed with preserving the legacy of the American Indian with photographs, words, and sound recordings. While Curtis’s photographs are widely reproduced, Egan’s text provides context and meaning – the story, for instance behind his poignant portrait of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Curtis’s struggles to document these tribes gave me a much greater understanding of their cultures and of their fears of white intrusion. In a gratifying ending, Egan shows that over the past few years Curtis’s work has become increasingly valued. Curtis did compete his goal of 20 volumes of photographs, a monumental achievement – for which he never received any pay – and Egan’s book raised for me the thought: what is the price of success?

Those who read the book may want to see more of the photographs. While Curtis did not document the Oregon tribes, he worked along the Columbia and across to the plains states and parts of the southwest. Eugene readers will be glad to know that our library has other books about Curtis and reproductions of photographs, as well as a forthcoming CD-ROM of the photos.

Reviewed by Sarav

Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes by Albert Jack

Pop Goes the WeaselThe subtitle says it all. I loved the idea of this book – “the secret meanings of nursery rhymes” and this book includes a lot of history (mostly English history of a certain era) that may have inspired common children’s rhymes. The chantings of playing in the street may have been the political commentary of the time. A number of the explanations include varying possibilities and speculation. Some I had read more about elsewhere. Still, it was fun to have these ideas collected in one place. At the end is a small collection of some traditional songs explained.

Reviewed by Sue

Eugene Bungalows by Judith Lynn Rees

Written during the summer of 1976 for a UO course about Oregon architecture, this book is an overview of the bungalow style and features bungalows in Eugene. Ms. Rees explains that the bungalow derives from the bungla, a Hindi word for a type of dwelling that is low, rambling, and intended to provide shade and good ventilation.  Although the bungla has been adapted for climates all over the world, it generally maintained the characteristics of being one floor and allowing for an intimate connection with the outdoors.

In the US bungalows were cheap to construct and did not require an architect. Most early bungalows in Eugene were constructed between 1900 and 1925 from pattern books.

The author includes forty-five (45) photos of bungalows in Eugene, organized by type of roof and the likely pattern book that they came from. She includes a map showing the 1900 boundaries of the city of Eugene and two areas within that boundary that have a proliferation of bungalows.

I visited two of the bungalows that she referenced: 2209 Fairmount and 2309 Fairmount. 2209 Fairmount was constructed in 1926 and is a 1½ story Colonial bungalow with a hipped gable roof, swept dormers and porch and simple columns. 2309 Fairmount was likely constructed in 1900 and is an elaborate 1½ story bungalow with gabled porte-cochere, trellis, and river rock foundation, porch pillars, and retaining wall.

A good book to learn a bit of the history of architecture in Eugene, our home town.

Reviewed by Lily

The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes

This book was complex, difficult for me to follow, and I can comment best by metaphor. It made me feel that I was dropped into a jungle  with dense, tangled words, images, passions, fascinating and beautiful, but I kept losing my way. Or it’s like a painting – fauve? –  with hyper-saturated colors laid on with a trowel.

Still, the underlying story emerges gradually. And I got the sensations if not the understanding of part of Mexico’s history, the poverty, the wealth and power,  the revolutions.  So I can recommend the book for those who have a taste for this elaborate and stream-of-consciousness style.

Reviewed by Sara V.