Friday, December 2, 2011

Last Day of Patron Review Week - Thank You!

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

So, for starters, author Isaacson pretty much tells you up front that Jobs asked him to write a biography and at first, he wasn’t really interested. That was about six sentences into the introduction and struck me as strangely arrogant, and maybe apropos, that someone would ask to have a book written about their life. But it sets the tone of the book and shadows the narrative of Jobs’ upbringing, his disdain for authority, his often cruel personal and business behaviors, and most importantly, his utter brilliance. You will see his warts, his humanity, and his lasting legacy in a chronicle that began with his childhood adoption and ends with an unmistakable impact to our technological symbiosis.

There are ample opportunities to be abhorred by Jobs’ personality or behavior, but to do so would be to miss the genius of the man. Like so many historical figures, Jobs’ feet are those of clay and his imperfections are often hard to visualize along with the wisdom. His intensity, vision, and maniacal pursuit of perfection in function and form have embedded within our culture words like iPod and download. His skill in persuasion and the power to recognize his dreams have made worldly changes in animated movies (Pixar), digital music, mobile communications, and much more. He broke eggs but made omelets, and along the way made his passions transformed into what we as a consuming public truly wanted (Jobs didn’t believe in market research but rather believed that consumers didn’t know what they wanted until he showed them).

Perhaps his greatest legacy was that he challenged himself, and those he allowed to share in his vision, to “Think Different” – later an Apple slogan. Great minds have always had to dispel with conventional wisdom and challenge the unknown, and Jobs was no exception. His father instilled in him an instinct for perfection and his quest for achieving perfection in his work never wavered, even in the face of failures. Oddly, there is no mention of his death – no time, date, place – and while that absence is unusual, so was Steve Jobs.

Tom V.F.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Garfield Assassinated, Hates Mondays

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard tells the fascinating true story of the assassination of President James Garfield. This episode in American history is not very well known, but it is an incredibly interesting story about, as the title indicates, madness, medicine, and murder. This book tells the whole story of Garfield’s short presidency and long, difficult death. The book starts at Garfield’s unusual nomination for president, and ends with the trial and death of his assassin. Charles Guiteau, a mentally unstable man, former cult member, and deluded political office seeker, shot Garfield after he believed he received instructions from God to do so. However, the bullet did not immediately kill Garfield, that job was left to his team of doctors who treated Garfield without using sterile medical practices despite a growing world-wide movement to practice antiseptic surgery. The book also chronicles the work of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, who worked to create an induction balance in hopes of locating the bullet inside the President’s body. However, the work done by Bell and the doctors as well as the prayers of an entire nation could not save Garfield from the infection spreading throughout his body that was caused by his doctors poking and prodding his wound with their bare, unclean fingers and performing surgery without sterile tools. After over two months of suffering, Garfield died from what an autopsy revealed to be profound septic poisoning. Millard writes about the final moments of the President’s life in a very touching and emotional way. While many nonfiction historical writings can be detached and unemotional, Millard writes in a way that makes the reader feel the pain of Garfield’s friends, children, and widow. The book’s narrative writing style is incredibly assessable even t o those who do not usually read nonfiction which makes this book very readable and enjoyable for everyone. Millard’s account is a well-researched, well-written, and touching telling of the work done to save a president's life, the delusions of his would-be assassin, and his eventual death.

Alison W.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Two Patron Reviews, Same Low Price

Eleanor Roosevelt - PBS Home Video

This was a wonderfully captivating, stimulating and engaging video about the life of a woman who was hands down, the most extraordinary first lady we have ever had. Regardless of where on the political spectrum the viewer sits, or whether or not you agree with the policies she supported, you cannot help but be awed by Eleanor's dedication, energy, caring and intelligence.

Through news and original footage from her life, excerpts from journals, and interviews with her living relatives, and historians, this DVD takes you on a remarkable journey that left me feeling like I actually knew Eleanor. Beginning with her dysfunctional early childhood, and becoming orphaned after her father drinks himself to death and her mother dies suddenly of Diptheria, you come to understand her and gain insight into the time period as well. An average human living her early life, might have spent the rest of their life in therapy trying to overcome their demons -- the fact that she managed to extract so much value from the opportunities she did have, and then do her best to give back to others is inspiring beyond words. Then to see how she was betrayed by some of those closest to her -- yet never succumbed to bitterness or revenge make her a very important role model for all of us. Eleanor Roosevelt's life is something I will always be able to look to for inspiration and to see the very best of what humanity can be.

I have been so moved by the experience of watching of this video, and think that it was so well done, I hope that everyone can view this. Eleanor Roosevelt sits alongside, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Fredrick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln Albert Schweitzer, and Lucretia Mott as one of the most extraordinary, gifted and compassionate humans who ever lived. We all get pulled up a notch just by learning about the life of someone like this.

Watch this video for your own benefit, then share it with your children, grandchildren and friends for their enrichment as well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Patron Review: Day Two

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I enjoyed this book very much, but I am afraid it might only appeal to a fairly specific demographic. It takes place in the early 1980s at a selective college. The three central characters are very bright students facing graduation. The main character is a literature major and there are some fairly obscure references to postmodern lit crit. If you know the stuff, Eugenides' take on it is pretty funny, but if you aren't familiar with it you might be put off. One of the other main characters has bipolar disorder, and if you have any experience with that I think you will appreciate Eugenides' sympathetic representation of it. The book also has a lot of detail, which I mostly really liked but every once in a while I would forget where he was going with it. The main story line is a love triangle, which of course is not unique, but I was very much drawn in and I found it hard to put down. I cannot resist the temptation to point out this book is not _Middlesex_, so if you have read that and are hoping for something as wonderful, you will be disappointed. However, if you can take it for what it is, you may enjoy it. I probably would not recommend it to anyone who is not at least a little familiar with postmodernism and the 1980s.

Jennifer B

Monday, November 28, 2011

Full Week of Patron Reviews! Enjoy...

If you love tales of King Arthur (especially the parts about Excalibur), can name Frodo's and Gandalf's swords -- and both the names of Aragorn's sword -- from Lord of the Rings, and/or ever wondered what it was really like to use a sword in battle, this book is for you.

In The Book of Swords, Hank Reinhardt steers the reader through the history of the sword, throwing in some metallurgy, archaeology, poetry, and applied research as needed along the way. The focus is on how these weapons were used in combat and how they were adapted over time to changing technology (i.e., the discoveries of iron and then steel), battle conditions, and societal conditions. Each chapter ends with suggestions for further reading, most from Reinhardt himself. (The book was edited and published posthumously by Reinhardt’s wife, Toni Weisskopf Reinhardt.)

Whenever possible, Reinhardt tried out reproduction blades himself and described the results (sacrificing innumerable pork shoulder roasts in the process) — what kinds of wounds different swords made; how well they penetrated chain mail; which were good for cutting, thrusting, or both. He also takes time to discuss armor and other weapons used against swordsmen to give readers a clearer context for how swords were used. Finally, he discusses the differences between the sport of fencing and sword combat, and dispels a few myths and excessive liberties taken with the facts, perpetrated by the movies and other popular sources.

It’s an interesting topic, and Reinhardt made it a delightful read, full of quirky asides and fascinating details. Highly recommended.

Sarah K.

All week long, we will be posting reviews submitted by patrons, so a big THANK YOU! for those submissions. We encourage everyone to send in a review - they are much appreciated and (while supplies last) you get Lawrece Public Library promotional items for the effort.