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It's the End of the World as We Know It

Full Body BurdenThree Mile Island, Chernobyl, and most recently Fukushima have all made names for themselves in the history books, but lesser known is Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant in Colorado. In Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, Kristen Iversen draws on her own experiences living in one of the neighborhoods close to the plant and later working there herself. The result is part family memoir and part historical account of Rocky Flats, which was quickly built after World War II. At first, Rocky Flats was seen as a boon to the community, bringing a myriad of jobs and stability to the region. Later, it became known as one of the most contaminated places in the U.S., with high rates of illnesses amongst workers and environmental threats to the surrounding neighborhoods. During its years of operation, several major accidents occurred, including a fire in 1969 that could have turned into a disaster on par with Chernobyl if not for a series of fortuitous actions on the part of plant workers. Activists and residents became increasingly vocal about problems, yet it wasn’t until the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Environmental Protection Agency conducted a joint raid of the plant in 1989 that truths finally came to light.

 

Iversen does an excellent job weaving together the stories of Rocky Flats and her own family with the common thread of secrecy: much like government and plant officials downplayed gross negligence and destructive environmental practices, her parents hid problems in their own home, including alcoholism and financial hardships. She also skillfully charts both her family’s history and Rocky Flat’s legacy to bittersweet conclusions, posing a question still being contemplated today: Are we living under the protection of the bomb, or under its shadow? Readers who enjoy narrative science books like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, disfunctional family memoirs like The Glass Castle, or environmental justice accounts like A Civil Action will all find reason to be intrigued with this book.  

Melanie

 
 

Designing Men

Designing Men

posted by:
January 10, 2013 - 8:55am

The Things that MatterCarter's WayAmerican BeautyThree of today’s most celebrated designers offer unique books reflecting personal style and sharing ideas for frustrated DIYers. Friend of Oprah and nationally known designer Nate Berkus offers a twist on the traditional decorating book in The Things that Matter. This beautifully illustrated title combines his life story with a diverse tour of homes, including his family and some celebrity friends. His message regarding the value of the things we cherish is clear since these objects reflect our personalities. This will appeal to collectors and those who keep it simple, since it’s all about how the things we love and choose to surround ourselves with fill us with comfort and joy.

 

Carter Oosterhouse, the popular host of several of HGTV shows, is known for his simple design style. In Carter’s Way, he offers homeowners an inside look at his successful home design process. Each chapter covers a different room or area of the house and highlights the diversity of layouts in homes today.  He recognizes the intimidation experienced by homeowners when tackling design projects, but his laid-back attitude provides encouragement. Oosterhouse focuses on environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and readily-found materials, and the specific examples and striking photos illustrate his philosophy.   

 

Thom Filicia is a respected professional designer and former star of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. American Beauty is homage to his two year renovation of a vacation home in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Filicia fell in love with the Lakes as a vacationing child, and the beauty of the area and the Skaneateles Lake is showcased here. Readers are treated to information about the history of his home and also given smart tips on making the right design choices. After two long years, Filicia created the house of his dreams and the 300 stunning photographs will appeal to anyone dreaming of the perfect retreat.

Maureen

 
 

Fashion Forward

Fashion Forward

posted by:
January 10, 2013 - 8:45am

Empress of FashionEmpress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland, by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, chronicles the life of one of the world’s most important stylemakers. Born into a wealthy family, Diana was designed for greater things. Her younger sister Alexandra was the beauty of the family, a fact that was revealed to Diana constantly by their mother, Emily. Often Diana felt unloved and unappreciated at home, and used creativity and imagination to escape her dull, drab world. She discovered an ability to surround herself with beautiful things, wonderful clothes and interesting people. In 1936, Vreeland joined the staff at Harper’s Bazaar as a fashion editor. While the editor-in-chief was concentrating on Paris couture, Vreeland concentrated on American fashion and design, often spotting new and fresh designers and photographers and pairing them together to create magic. She was able to keep the pages fresh and inviting throughout the WWII era and well into the Fifties. Times changed drastically again with the arrival of the Sixties, and Diana soon found herself at editor-in-chief of the American edition of Vogue. Here she was able to deal with rising hemlines and a youth movement that would change the world of fashion. By 1971 she was fired from Vogue, but Vreeland never stopped. She joined the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Special Consultant to the Costume Institute, and was able to create exhibits featuring the fashion that she loved.

 

Vreeland is a fascinating character with an unusual yet powerful voice. Readers who would love to learn about fashion will find much to like in this book. Vreeland's life is captivating, as are the many stories of the designers, photographers and models of that period. It is fascinating to read how world events and the economy shape the ways people look at fashion and determine what is worn. Empress of Fashion is sure to please readers, even with the most discerning tastes.

Doug

 
 

Revisiting Art, or Learning How to "Look"

Always LookingAlways Looking: Essays on Art, by John Updike, is an invaluable collection of fourteen eloquent discussions that examine Western painting and sculpture. Although Updike was an acclaimed writer of literature, many readers might not know that he was also an art connoisseur. His skillful nonfiction reveals an astute perspective which masterfully dissects art in a way that will gratify the seasoned appreciator, as well as the casual observer who is just curious to learn more.

 

John Updike’s lifelong passion for visual art began in childhood when discovered comics, like Mickey Mouse in the Treasure Hunt. Into adulthood, he continued to seek out pieces that fascinated him and curiously described familiar pieces in a new way. While considering Gustav Klimt’s "The Dancer", Updike questioned if the painting is “a bold and necessary step in the direction of modernism, or an uneasy half-step, a cheaply bought glamour, a kind of higher kitsch?”

 

Much more than a conversation of art, Always Looking offers rich and vivid images of the very works Updike is discussing.  From René Magritte’s unnervingly sensual "The Lovers" to Roy Lichtenstein’s loud pop of "In the Car", the short essay format makes this a perfect book of leisure. You might dip in for a bit and read on a topic or discover the pleasure of flipping through its pages to take in the richly dynamic selection. This stimulating reconsideration of classics will change the way you look at art.

Sarah Jane

 
 

Father Knows Best?

Father Knows Best?

posted by:
January 3, 2013 - 8:45am

Because I Said So!We’ve all heard the warnings from Mom and Dad. Wait an hour after eating before you go swimming or you’ll get a cramp. If you swallow gum, it will sit in your stomach for seven years. Chewing on pencils will give you lead poisoning. In his new book Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales & Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids, record-breaking Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings searches for the truth behind the myths that parents tell their children. Using case histories, scientific research, and statistics, Jennings investigates the warnings passed down to us from our parents in a book that both informs and entertains.

 

Do you really need to wait for your parents to check your Halloween candy for poison or razorblades? Jennings says probably not. You're more likely to have octuplets or die by elephant stampede than you are to eat poisoned Halloween candy. Will you really get arthritis from cracking your knuckles? Knuckle popping may be annoying, but it doesn't cause arthritis. Is chewing ice really bad for your teeth? According to Jennings, yes, it actually is. The cold causes the tooth fibers to contract as you chomp down on the hard ice cube, making you more likely to break or chip a tooth. Because I Said So! is a perfect read for fans of Discovery’s Mythbusters, trivia buffs, and those of us who simply want the right to say “I told you so.”

Beth

 
 

Dogs, Cats, and Facts

Paw Prints in the MoonlightI Want to Kill the DogWeirdopediaGood things come in small packages this time of year, as this delightful trio of recently published stocking stuffer-sized books demonstrates. From pondering the idiosyncrasies of domestic life with man's best friend (dog or cat) to a quirky collection of curious tidbits about our world, here are some lighthearted, quick reads to enjoy or give.

 

Feline lovers will cheer for Toby Jug, the enterprising black and white kitten in Denis O'Connor's  Paw Prints in the Moonlight: the Heartwarming True Story of One Man and His Cat. Set in rural Northumberland, O'Connor rescues the badly injured kitten one snowy night and brings it back to his 18th century cottage, where he keeps the kitten in a large cotton ball-cushioned pitcher. The kindhearted nature lover and his Maine Coon form an inseparable bond through many of Toby Jug's escapades. Lovely descriptions of the English countryside and delicate color illustrations enrich this poignant and charming tale for young and old.

 

Unfortunately, it’s not all domestic bliss for Richard Cohen when the family pet gets in the way. His new book, I Want to Kill the Dog, chronicles in jest the master-versus-canine tug of war. The author is married to television journalist Meredith Vieira, definitely the animal lover of this long married couple. Jasper is the “dog of many flavors," whose many annoying habits (ear splitting bark, for one) threaten marital harmony. Pet peeves aside, Cohen’s story belies what is really important: marriage and family come with good and bad and even the dog.

 

A potpourri of trivia awaits readers of Alex Palmer's Weird-o-pedia: the Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts about (Supposedly) Ordinary Things. For instance, did you know that mosquitoes prefer people with Type O blood, or that humming is good for your sinuses? In 12 humorous chapters, each containing alphabetized entries, Palmer focuses on food and drink, friends and family, work, play, and so forth. A useful list of sources is also included. Parents beware, though; some mature topics are presented. 

 

Cynthia

 
 

A Man Called Hitch

HitchcockAudiences continue to be fascinated by the life and work of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. He is the subject of the new theatrical film based on Stephen Rebello’s Hitchcock!: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Rebello begins with the story of Ed Gein, whose grisly crimes inspired Robert Bloch to write the novel Psycho. Hitchcock’s selection of Bloch’s gruesome novel was an abrupt departure from the expected, eliciting doubt from everyone including the studio. When Paramount made it clear that they wouldn’t back Psycho, Hitchcock offered to finance the movie himself if Paramount would distribute the finished product. Rebello pulls together details about the production of the film and explores the public reaction after its record-breaking openings in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago in June 1960. Hitchcock, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Helen Mirren, brings to life Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma and their collaboration during the production of Psycho.

 

Audiences looking for more Hitchcock will also want to see HBO’s The Girl. The film focuses largely on Hitchcock’s dark and often abusive relationship with Tippi Hedren, leading lady in his iconic films The Birds and Marnie. Hitchcock and Hedren, played by Toby Jones and Sienna Miller, create unforgettable films together but at a steep price to Hedren’s well-being.

 

Beth

 
 

You Are What You Eat With

You Are What You Eat With

posted by:
December 20, 2012 - 9:15am

Consider the ForkWhat do frying pans, spit-jacks, and molecular gastronomy have in common? They are all kitchen technologies that have affected how humans accomplish the very basic task of feeding themselves. Some are ancient, like the wooden spoon, which has been around for thousands of years. Some are complex, like the SousVide SVK-00001 Supreme Water Oven, which can hold a vacuum-sealed package of chicken breast at a constant temperature of 137 degrees Fahrenheit until the meat becomes succulent, juicy, and somehow safe enough to eat. And some, like the basic cooking pot, are more influential than others. They all have a place in Bee Wilson’s insightful and entertaining new history, Consider the Fork: A history of how we cook and eat

 

In a work that spans time from before the development of agriculture through today’s high-tech kitchen gadgetry, it is impossible to be comprehensive. Wilson, instead, focuses on certain culinary implements that have had an impact on what we eat and how we go about preparing to eat it. Each chapter explores a different kitchen tool or concept, with charming hand-drawn illustrations of the various equipment sprinkled throughout the text. Wilson also includes short spotlights on particularly useful, unique, and interesting examples of kitchen technology that punctuate the end of the every chapter. 

 

Witty and filled with wonderful obscure facts about famous and long-forgotten kitchen equipment, Consider the Fork is perfect for anyone who has ever looked in their kitchen drawers and wondered, “Where did all this stuff come from?” Food history enthusiasts and fans of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A world history will devour this delightful read.

 

Rachael

 
 

Outside Looking In

Brain on FireAs Susannah Cahalan waited in the doctor’s office the painting of Miro’s Carota, with its twisted, unnatural grin, seemed to smile down at her. She would revisit the colorful and distorted face over the next several months as she battled a mysterious neurological illness that almost permanently severed her connection with reality. In her candid and gripping new memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, the New York Post reporter reconstructs in a riveting fashion the journey that carried her to the brink of lunacy.

 

For twenty-four-year-old Cahalan the illness crept up innocently enough. She believed her flu symptoms were the result of bedbugs in her Manhattan apartment. Once she began experiencing numbness she sought out a doctor. Soon she was missing deadlines at work, and her increasingly erratic behavior now included paranoia and hallucinations. Cahalan and her family worried she was having a nervous breakdown. It was her first blackout at her boyfriend Stephen’s house that “marked the line between sanity and insanity,” she recalled. Doctors were baffled, and on March 23, 2009 she was admitted to the hospital. Eventually, a prominent neurologist's hunch followed by a brain biopsy confirmed that she suffered from rare autoimmune encephalitis. Recovery would take months. Her zombie-like behavior scared people who wondered what was wrong with her. She described running into an old high school friend as a "soul crushing moment." Her rock remained her family, Stephen and her parents, who never wavered.

 

Cahalan admits writing her story was difficult. With only flashes of memory intact she relied on interviews, medical records, journals, and hospital video footage to complete the picture. Absorbing and fast paced, the book’s short chapters read like a medical mystery that takes an eye-opening look inside the misfiring of the human mind and its ability to repair and emerge from the abyss.

 

Cynthia

 
 

Natty Boh and Pitchers from the Sunpapers

Baltimore BeerDays RememberedBaltimore CountyCare for a stroll down memory lane? How about a local history lesson? Check out this trio of books focusing on Bawlmer and its ‘burbs. Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing joins Days Remembered: Iconic Photography of the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore County: Historical Reflections and Favorite Scenes in a remembrance of things past.

 

Local author, former Sun food columnist, and founder of Baltimore Beer Week, Rob Kasper knows his food and drink. In Baltimore Beer, he traces the growth of the brewing industry beginning with the influence of the German immigrants who brought their craft with them from Europe. Loaded with anecdotes and moving from early biergartens to modern brewpubs, Kasper explores the breweries’ social and economic influence on the Baltimore area. “Ain’t the beer cold?”

 

Baltimore residents Barton and Elizabeth Cockey teamed up to produce a charming look at ye olde suburbia in their book Baltimore County. Divided into sections such as Transportation, Public Buildings and Schools, and Wars, this book takes the reader on a tour of county peoples and places and offers an informative narrative laced with personal recollections. Instead of photographs, the book is illustrated with artist Elizabeth’s paintings of the area.

 

2012 marked the 175th year anniversary of the Baltimore Sun. While no longer a “penny paper,” the power of its photographs to inform and inspire remains a constant. Days Remembered is a collection of images from the Sun spanning from the 1901 debut portrait photograph of Judge Sherry of the Maryland Court of Appeals to the Blue Angels flight over Fort McHenry this past summer. Grouped by decade and including pictures of Babe Ruth, marble step-scrubbing, Blaze Starr, the Berrigan brothers, and the integration of Southern High, this visual history perfectly captures the past one hundred-plus years of Maryland living.

 

Lori