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Tuesday, 12 November 2019 12:48

‘Genuine Fakes’ keeps it real

What is real? What is fake? What do those terms even mean? Is there some kind of gray area in between? And what about authenticity? Is that the same thing? Can something be real without being authentic? Or authentic without being real?

That idea of what is real is the central tenet of Lydia Pyne’s new book “Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff” (Bloomsbury Sigma, $28). Through an exploration of eight different objects that land somewhere in that blurry place between real and fake, Pyne offers readers a chance to consider what the differences might be.

Too often, we allow ourselves to be conditioned to believe that there are two choices: real and not-real. But the world is far too complex to be governed by that sort of yes/no binary – authenticity depends on one’s perspective.

What Pyne does with “Genuine Fakes” is offer up examples that point up the malleability of authenticity; what is and is not real isn’t always set in stone. And just because something comes to be through methods different than the norm, does that make it fake? Or just a different kind of real? It’s a legitimately fascinating read, well-researched and packed with detail – the sort of book that will surprise and delight the intellectually curious.

Published in Style
Tuesday, 05 November 2019 12:36

‘The Body’ a fantastic voyage

How much do you know about the ways in which your body works?

Most people have at least a rudimentary understanding of some of the basics, but it’s a scant few that possess a truly thorough knowledge about the ins and outs of their assorted systems and the organs that make those systems go.

Don’t worry, though – Bill Bryson is here to help.

Bryson’s newest book is “The Body: A Guide for Occupants” (Doubleday, $30). It’s a thoughtful and thorough trip through the human body, an amiable amble from top to bottom and from the outside in. It’s a well-researched and witty exploration of the immense complexities of the human form.

Published in Tekk

“The secret of showmanship consists not of what you really do, but what the mystery-loving public thinks you do.” – Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini.

It’s a name that even now, almost a century after his death, remains familiar to the vast majority of Americans. A cultural sensation during the early part of the 20th century, Houdini captured the popular imagination in a way that few ever have or ever will.

Magician. Escape artist. Skeptic. Houdini was all these things, but those things were far from all that was Houdini. What is it about this man, this self-made myth, that continues to resonate with people to this very day?

This is the question that Joe Posnanski tackles with his new book “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini” (Avid Reader Press, $28). It’s a look at the man himself, yes, but it is also a look at the people who have been influenced by their passion for Houdini. It’s a biography that examines its subject both directly and indirectly, and while the details of Houdini’s life are fascinating in and of themselves, they are rendered all the more fascinating when juxtaposed against some of the many people who have had their lives changed by their own Houdini-related journeys.

Published in Style

As the old adage goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. That may be true, but what about this: you can lead a donkey to the road, but you can’t make him run.

That’s the question asked by author Christopher McDougall in his new book “Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero” (Knopf, $27,95). In this nonfiction account, McDougall tells the story of Sherman, the donkey that he and his family rescued. From sad, almost tragic beginnings, we watch as Sherman – thanks to the boundless love and patience of Chris and his family and friends – goes from a shy, sickly, socially maladjusted donkey to a lean mean racing machine … eventually.

It’s a story about a donkey, yes. But it’s also a story about the lives that are touched by the indomitable spirit of that donkey. Through the successes and the bumps in the road alike, Sherman’s refusal to give up serves to rally the people around him. It’s the story of a man who has moved his family into the middle of Amish country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The story of a man touched by the generosity and gentleness of the Amish people.

The story of a man and his donkey.

Published in Adventure

There are plenty of books out there that aim to tell you how to do something. Whether its DIY home repair or computer programming or self-help or what have you, there’s probably a book that purports to tell you how to do it. These books bill themselves as offering straightforward instructions on doing whatever it is you seek to do.

But maybe you’re not looking for straightforward. Maybe the how-tos (hows-to?) you’re looking for are needlessly complicated, convoluted and/or flat-out absurd. And if they’re illustrated with goofy graphs and jokey stick-figure comic strips, so much the better.

If you fall into the latter category, then Randall Munroe’s “How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Real-World Problems” (Riverhead, $28) is the book you’ve been waiting for. The NASA-roboticist-turned-beloved-webcomic-artist aims his unique perspective and skill set at coming up with ridiculous and technically correct (the best kind of correct) advice for dealing with an assortment of everyday – and occasionally not-so-everyday – issues.

The blend of smart and simple that has marked Munroe’s work since the earliest days of online comic sensation xkcd is in full effect in this new book; he takes real joy in finding that weird intersection of scientific thought and anarchic absurdity … and that joy is evident on every page of this book. He wants you to laugh and to learn as you look at the workings of the world through his own peculiarly and particularly cracked lens.

Published in Tekk

No matter how far we move into the future, there will always be much that we can learn from the past. And often, the achievements of the former lead directly to paradigm shifts in the latter.

That’s where Dr. Sarah Parcak comes in. She is a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham who is at the forefront of the cutting-edge field of space archaeology. Yes, you read that right – space archaeology. Through the use of high-resolution satellite imagery and other tools, Parcak and her colleagues have completely changed the game, finding thousands of heretofore unknown potential dig sites and unlocking whole new worlds of investigative possibilities.

The National Geographic Explorer, TED Prize-winner and all-around brilliant researcher has written a new book – “Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past” (Henry Holt and Co., $30) – aimed at sharing her work, its importance and the history behind it. It’s a chance to gain a closer understanding of the complexities of Parcak’s work, as well as the value that comes from digging into our ancient past. It’s a compellingly-written piece of popular science.

But it also offers something that other science-oriented nonfiction doesn’t – the warm, impassioned and funny voice of Sarah Parcak.

Published in Tekk

There are plenty of people out there in the world who will tell you just how wonderful it is to be a parent. For these folks, there is nothing quite so rewarding as becoming a mother or father. That notion of the importance of having and raising children has been part of our society for so long as to have become engrained in the communal discourse.

But what about those who choose not to be parents? Those who choose to be childfree?

Dr. Amy Blackstone is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine; her new book is “Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family & Creating a New Age of Independence” (Dutton, $26). In it, Blackstone condenses a career’s worth of studies focused on childlessness and the childfree choice into a treatise on the concept of what it means to be childfree.

Published in Style

No American sport is as enamored of its own history quite like baseball. Even as today’s players take the field, the shadows of those who came before are omnipresent. Baseball is as much about what was as it is about what is.

But there are some moments that transcend even the game’s historical affection. These are the times that make the leap from history to legend, the instances and accomplishments that are the foundation of baseball’s long and intricate mythology.

Kevin Cook’s “Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink” (Henry Holt and Co., $28) is a thorough exploration of one such instance, a single game in 1979 that wound up as one of the greatest offensive explosions in the history of Major League Baseball. That game – a May 17 contest that saw the Chicago Cubs play host to the Philadelphia Phillies – ultimately went 10 innings, with a final score of Phillies 23, Cubs 22; it was the highest scoring game of the modern era.

(It was second only in MLB history to a 1922 game that, funnily enough, featured these same teams; the Cubs triumphed in that one, with a score of 26-23.)

Through a combination of personal interviews and meticulous research, Cook gives an inning-by-inning rendering of the game (known to many as simply “The Game”), breaking down every on-field moment while also delving into some off-the-field exploration into the lives of some of the major players. An historic and iconic MLB moment, the picture painted of a generational contest.

Published in Sports

While it certainly remains a significant destination, the Mount Desert Island of today is viewed very differently than the MDI of days gone by. Yes, there are still plenty of wealthy people who summer on the island, their vast estates surrounded by nature’s beauty. But a peek into the island’s history reveals that not long ago, MDI served as a summer playground for the elite of the elite.

And where the elite of the elite gather, scandals are never far behind.

Those scandals are the subject of “Bar Harbor Babylon: Murder, Misfortune, and Scandal on Mount Desert Island” (Down East, $26.95) by Dan and Leslie Landrigan. It’s a collection of some of the more salacious stories from MDI’s decades-long stint as the go-to getaway for the rich and unprincipled. This was a time when what happened on MDI definitely stayed on MDI. These are tales of deception and theft, of sex and murder – stories that once served as the kind of cocktail party gossip that only the truly privileged might encounter.

Published in Buzz

Baseball is a team game made up of individual battles, a series of one-on-one confrontations where one man throws a ball and the other attempts to hit it. Yes, the action evolves after that, but at its heart, baseball is about pitcher versus hitter.

The man at the plate has a weapon – his bat – and protection in the form of gloves, a helmet, perhaps some armor in the form of an arm guard or shin guard. The man on the mound has none of that. But he is not unarmed – he has the ball. And the ball can be a formidable weapon indeed.

That weapon is the focus of Tyler Kepner’s new book “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches” (Doubleday, $28.95). In it, the New York Times baseball writer digs deep into the myriad ways that players have tried to put the ball over the plate over the course of the game’s long history. It’s an exploration of one-half of that ever-present central conceit of hurler against striker.

Published in Sports
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