Upon hearing that Randall Munroe, NASA roboticist turned webcomic all-star, is writing a collection of “What If?” columns, a number of you will immediately make plans to buy the book. Don’t worry, you’ll love it. But this review is for the rest of you, who are curious if a bit confused.
Multitasking at work through texts and emails, pumping breast milk for your baby, then grabbing a decaf latte solo as a treat afterward: Is this you? It turns out our collective drive for greater efficiency is leading to lower productivity, reduced immunity and general malaise.
When 43-year-old John F. Kennedy assumed the U.S. presidency in January 1961, he appeared to have little in common with 66-year-old British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The latter, son of an American mother and a British father, was a publisher, conservative politician and statesman and a wounded hero of World War I. Despite many personal differences, the two leaders shared a love of books and reading. Christopher Sandford writes engagingly of their close relationship during some of the most important years of the Cold War in Harold and Jack: The Remarkable Friendship of Prime Minister Macmillan and President Kennedy, a fascinating glimpse into the role of personal relationships in diplomacy.
Who cares that the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Florida State University won the 2013 Bowl Championship Series college football championship? The Southeastern Conference ran away with the previous seven consecutive titles, saw a conference member finish second in the 2013 series and pitted conference members head-to-head for the 2011 title.
On July 8, 1879, cheering throngs watched as the USS Jeannette set out from San Francisco and sailed off like a “long dark pencil of shadow standing straight up against the vivid sunset.” Under the command of officer George Washington De Long, the steamer and its crew were attempting to reach the North Pole and confirm a then--popular theory that the polar sea remained ice-free and open north of the Bering Strait. The expedition was funded by James Gordon Bennett Jr., the wealthy and eccentric owner of the New York Herald, who had also financed Stanley’s mission to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone.
I read The End of Absence with interest, because I am a member of what author Michael Harris calls the “Straddle Generation,” the generation born before 1985, the last one to remember adult life before the Internet. Harris compares this moment in history to the advent of the Gutenberg press in the 15th century, when the written word became universally available. “Young and old,” he writes, “we’re all straddling two realities to a certain degree. In our rush toward the promise of Google and Facebook—toward the promise of reduced ignorance and reduced loneliness—we feel certain we are rushing toward a better life.
In a Rocket Made of Ice is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary place. Wat Opot Children’s Community is a Cambodian orphanage started with $50 by Wayne Matthysse, a former Vietnam medic driven to make life better for children in war-torn countries. The orphanage is home to children and women affected by HIV and AIDS, where they can get the powerful antiretroviral drugs they need to stay healthy, as well as education and a community in which they belong.
Leonardo da Vinci was an outlier in so many ways: a peripatetic polymath, handsome, unmarried, an innovator, unquestionably an artistic genius. He doesn’t typify his era any more than geniuses ever do. Leonardo was a party of one.
Anyone whose life involves children’s literature has probably encountered the assumption that books for children are all sweetly sentimental tales of selfless trees and fluffy bunnies. In Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, librarian-bloggers Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson (also a BookPage reviewer) and their late co-author Peter D. Sieruta thoroughly debunk that notion.
Ah, the metric system—the logical way of meting out the world that confounds most Americans. Readers who have failed to crack its code will find comfort in John Bemelmans Marciano’s Whatever Happened to the Metric System? How America Kept Its Feet, an intriguing look at why the system failed to take hold here.