Monday, September 28, 2015

Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand

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Part of Our Lives
A People's History of the American Public Library
by Wayne A. Wiegand

ISBN-13: 9780190248000
Hardcover: 317 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Released: September 29, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
In Part of Our Lives, Wayne A. Wiegand traces the history of the public library by looking at the words of everyday patrons. He features records and testimonies drawn from newspaper articles, memoirs, and biographies. Libraries have continuously adapted to better serve the needs of their communities. Though there have been many controversies about what books should be carried in libraries and who should be allowed to use them, they have also had a transformative effect for many, including people like Ronald Reagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Oprah Winfrey.

My Review:
Part of Our Lives looks at how social issues throughout American history have affected how public libraries are used and what books they carry. The author spent a chapter describing the first public-use libraries in America (including social libraries and circulating libraries) and what prompted people to switch from that to public libraries supported by taxes. The rest of the book was about changes at and the spread of those libraries.

The author focused on what the library users of the time wrote about the libraries, so much of the book recounted controversies about what reading materials should be put in the libraries and what materials or activities should be banned (usually based on the major social issues of that period). He also quoted people explaining about how libraries and books impacted their lives.

He also talked about how libraries changed over time: closed stacks to open stacks; the various programs they hosted; allowing women, children, and blacks to use the library, and so on. I enjoyed learning how library use changed over time, but I didn't realize how much of the content would be recounting heated debates. I don't enjoy controversial debates. If that's what you're interested in, though, then you might find this book really interesting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Activate Your Brain by Scott G Halford

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Activate Your Brain
by Scott G Halford

ISBN-13: 9781626341975
Hardcover: 248 pages
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Released: May 5, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Our brain is an incredible organ and is still full of mystery, but we know enough to harness its power better than ever before. We just have to recognize how the brain works and understand the actions we can take to help it perform at its best. Combining research, anecdote, and inspiration, Activate Your Brain shows you how small choices can lead to better brain function and management.

My Review:
Activate Your Brain contains advice for managers on how to get the most out of themselves and their team at work. I've read this advice in relationship books for years. The author found brain studies that back this advice up then applied it to business-related situations. It's good advice and will work, but it's not new just because they put a brain on the cover.

The first two chapters were heavy on jargon with references to "mammalian brain, "reptilian brain," "human brain," and the names of hormones connected with certain behaviors. His related advice was very basic, like think about the consequences before you say something, or don't make big decisions while tired, or break difficult tasks into easier steps and then do the first step. If you haven't heard this advice before, then you'll probably find the whole book very useful.

The rest of the book focused more on real life situations and applications than on brain studies, though he'd still refer to how the brain works. He covered things you can do to keep yourself at top performance, like exercise (both mental and physical), nutrition, sleep, and relaxing activities. He covered effective ways to motivate workers (especially during stressful times), the benefits of cooperation & collaboration, and building trust in relationships. He also talked about things like control, confidence, and focus.

The author did a good job at encouraging the reader, and he suggested practical ways to apply his advice. Since the application was usually specific to an office/business environment, I'd recommend this book to managers or those who want to be managers who would like some basic advice.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel

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Out on the Wire
by Jessica Abel

ISBN-13: 9780385348430
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Broadway Books
Released: August 25, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
A graphic book that takes readers behind-the-scenes of five of today's most popular narrative radio shows, including "This American Life," "The Moth," "Radiolab," "Planet Money," and "Snap Judgment." Each of these shows has a distinct style, but every one delivers stories that are brilliantly told and produced. Out on the Wire offers a look into this new kind of storytelling--one that literally illustrates the making of a purely auditory medium.

Jessica Abel, a cartoonist and devotee of narrative radio, uncovers just how radio producers construct a narrative. Jad Abumrad of RadioLab talks about chasing moments of awe with scientists, while Planet Money's Robert Smith speaks candidly about his slightly goofy strategy for putting interviewees at ease. And Abel reveals how mad Ira Glass becomes when he receives edits from his colleagues.

My Review:
Out on the Wire is a graphic book that looks at how narrative nonfiction radio shows are created. The author assumed the reader has a certain familiarity with narrative nonfiction radio, and she used examples from shows that have aired. Narrative nonfiction is basically taking a series of interviews and/or narration by an individual and piecing bits together to tell a story--like how a T-shirt is made.

The author interviewed various people involved in producing the five radio shows. She drew this book like she was piecing together bits of video interviews. The person's clothing, hairstyle, and background would change since she mixed together interviews done at different times. Unfortunately, many of the people looked very similar as drawn characters and she'd jump back and forth between people as well as in time. I found it difficult to keep track of who was from what show and what they did. Also, without audio clues, the frequent "ha ha" text sometimes felt out of place as it's not clear why they are laughing.

The book mainly focused on storytelling aspects like coming up with the idea and the focus, getting engaging interviews, how to put the interviews together to form a story, and edits/critiquing. It also talked about sound cues (music, sound effects, ambient sounds) and editing the actual audio of the interviews. But it's not a how-to on the technical aspects of radio shows; it's a collection of useful tips about forming an engaging story.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Lost Detective by Nathan Ward

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The Lost Detective
by Nathan Ward

ISBN-13: 9780802776402
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Released: September 15, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from NetGalley:
Dashiell Hammett was born in 1894, left school at thirteen, and joined the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as an operative in 1915. He periodically worked for the agency until, in 1922, the tuberculosis he contracted during WWI forced him to retire—prompting one of America’s most acclaimed writing careers.

His childhood, his life in San Francisco, and especially his years as a detective deeply informed his writing and characters, from the nameless Continental Op—hero of his stories and early novels—to Sam Spade and Nick Charles. He would write five novels between 1929 and 1934, two of them (The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man) becoming American classics.

My Review:
The Lost Detective is a biography of Dashiell Hammett. The first half of the book talked about Hammett's life before his writing career. The author searched for documents or first hand information about Hammett. However, apparently there is little known about this time except the stories that Hammett told about himself.

Hammett periodically worked for the Pinkerton's, but none of his case reports still remain and Pinkerton's strongly discouraged their employees from telling accurate stories about their work. Nathan Ward related stories that Hammett told about his detective work, compared them to known facts, and generally concluded that they were changed or embellished rather than accurate stories. But Ward describes how the Pinkerton detective methods and case report writing style influenced Hammett's detective fiction.

The second half of the book talked about how Hammett's poor health changed his life and how he got into writing detective fiction. We get details about his health, where he lived, his affairs, his writing, and what was sold to whom. It was interesting how Hammett's gritty, hard-boiled style started a new sub-genre in detective fiction. Again, Ward searched for the facts rather than settling for the legend about Hammett's life, and there was more information available for this time period.

I'd recommend this biography to fans of Dashiell Hammett who want to know more about his life.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A is for Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup

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A is for Arsenic
by Kathryn Harkup

ISBN-13: 9781472911308
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Released: September 8, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Agatha Christie used poison to kill her characters more often than any other crime fiction writer. The poison was a central part of the novel, and her choice of deadly substances was far from random; the chemical and physiological characteristics of each poison provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. Christie demonstrated her extensive chemical knowledge (much of it gleaned by working in a pharmacy during both world wars) in many of her novels, but this is rarely appreciated by the reader.

Written by former research chemist Kathryn Harkup, each chapter takes a different novel and investigates the poison used by the murderer. A is for Arsenic looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering, and detecting these poisons, both when Christie was writing and today.

My Review:
A is for Arsenic examines the poisons used to kill in Agatha Christie's mystery novels. The author talked about the use of the poison in Christie's novels (usually without giving away who the murderer is, but with a warning if she does). She described real life cases involving the poison, from murder to accidents or suicide. She talked about cases that might have inspired Agatha Christie. She also described in depth how the poison kills, its symptoms, any antidotes (now and back when Christie wrote), and how it can be detected in the victim. She also explored how difficult or easy it would have been for a murderer to obtain the poison and get the lethal dose into the victim.

The poisons covered are Arsenic, Belladonna, Cyanide, Digitalis, Eserine, Hemlock, Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium, Phosphorus, Ricin, Strychnine, Thallium, and Veronal. This would be a great resource for mystery authors. The sections involving science may be more detailed than the average reader would care about, but fans of Christie and true crime fans may find this book interesting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.