The inspirational story of a Ugandan teen is deftly shared by Tim Crothers in The Queen of Katwe: a Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster. Phiona Mutesi lives in poverty with her mother and three siblings. Meals are hard to come by and Phiona’s education has been haphazard at best. In 2005, at age nine, Phiona met Robert Katende, who had also grown up in slums, was a war refugee, and worked tirelessly as a missionary. His dream was to empower children through chess – highly unlikely since the game was so foreign there wasn’t even a word for it in the children’s language.
Children were enticed to the chess lessons by the promise of porridge, but soon many grew to love the game. Of these children, Phiona stood out as a talented, thinking chess player. In 2007, she was her country’s junior champion and continued winning titles over the next several years. In September 2010, she traveled to Siberia to compete in the Chess Olympiad, the world’s most prestigious team-chess event. Although she didn’t win, she did earn the respect of competitors and teammates. The Queen of Katwe is the story of a young girl struggling against every conceivable obstacle to pursue her dream. Readers will root and hope that Phiona will one day succeed as a Grandmaster and will remember her uplifting spirit long after the book is closed.
Crothers first shared Phiona’s story in an ESPN Magazine article, which was a finalist for the National Magazine Award. To hear some of the story in Phiona’s own words, watch this video from ESPN. In September, 2012, Phiona again competed in the Chess Olympiad, and her strong performance earned her the title of Woman Candidate Master, making her the first titled female player in Ugandan history. This fantastic dream may just become reality.
Dog owners will tell you that their dogs are much more than just pets. They are important, beloved members of the family. Two new books examine that love between humans and their canines. For many years, Alison Pace, author of a new book of essays called You Tell Your Dog First, was a dog person without a dog. Then she moved into a dog-friendly apartment building in New York City and found the love of her life—a West Highland white terrier named Carlie. In these essays, Pace shares the ups and downs of her life as a single writer in New York City. She quickly sees that she connects to the world differently once Carlie becomes part of her life. Together, Alison and Carlie weather bad dates and a cancer scare, and they meet some interesting new friends at the park. Pace, who typically writes romantic fiction featuring lovable canine sidekicks, brings warmth and humor to the essays and makes us all long for a loyal pal like Carlie.
Following the success of their popular blog A Letter to my Dog, Robin Layton, Kimi Culp, and Lisa Erspamer compiled a new book called A Letter to My Dog: Notes to Our Best Friends.The book is a collection of photographs of dogs along with letters to the pooches from their humans. Letters from celebrities like Tony Bennett, Oprah Winfrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Chelsea Handler and Robin Roberts are funny, sad, quirky, and relatable. A Letter to My Dog is sure to warm the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.
Do you find it difficult to remember how to solve a differential equation? Do probabilities and statistics drive you up the wall? Is your six year-old’s math homework giving you fits? If so, you may enjoy The Joy of X: a Guided Tour of Math, From One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz, a sophisticated and lighthearted refresher of some of the most basic and some of the most cutting edge mathematical concepts to ever grace our minds (or our bookshelf).
Strogatz starts with the easy stuff—addition, subtraction, the number line—and progressively moves on to more abstract and advanced subjects, like calculus, group theory, and analytics. Using diagrams, literary allusions, and Sesame Street, Strogatz draws you into each topic and before you know it the rather short chapter is over. Presto! You’ve learned something. While this is by no means a comprehensive picture of mathematics, Strogatz simultaneously enlightens and entertains with each successively more challenging chapter. Like a magician willing to share a few choice trade secrets, Strogatz invites us to peek behind the curtain and uncover the mysteries of long forgotten concepts, such as quadratic equations, infinity, and the elusive prime numbers.
The chapters, many of which have been adapted from Strogatz’s New York Times column "The Elements of Math", are brief, accessible, and threaded with his enthusiasm for the topic at hand. This is a fascinating, quick, and approachable read for anyone who would like a math reboot, including parents, the curious, and those interested in discovering what sine waves have to do with Romeo and Juliet’s love life.
Two intriguing new books tackle science, inventions, and diagrams, and are perfect for armchair scientists looking to learn a little more about those things that made the world what it is today. 100 Diagrams That Changed the World: From the Earliest Cave Paintings to the Innovation of the iPod by Scott Christianson takes on the world of diagrams and explores their value to society. Some significant diagrams stand on their own, such as the Rosetta Stone, but many are actual drawings or plans of something tangible, like the cotton gin. Each double-page spread of this interesting and quick read shares a different diagram that impacted the world profoundly. Christanson arranges the diagrams chronologically starting with the Chavet Cave Drawings and ending with the iPod. All the diagrams in between are clearly illustrated and accompanied by text containing information about the development and significance of that diagram. Readers will be instantly drawn in by these diagrams that transformed the shape of the world and impacted not only science, but culture and history as well.
Mad Science: Einstein’s Fridge, Dewar’s Flask, Mach’s Speed, and 362 Other Inventions That Made Our World, edited by Randy Alfred, offers a day-by-day calendar of science and technology tidbits from Wired Magazine’s popular This Day in Tech blog. Entries from forty contributors serve to highlight the each episode, discussing its history and value and sharing other notable events from the same day. From the Gregorian calendar, the breathalyzer, and the ballpoint pen, to the first coin operated café (the Horn & Hardart Automat in Philadelphia), the inventions are intriguing, entertaining, and momentous. Equal opportunity is afforded to all scientific fields, so there really is something for everyone, even those who absolutely dreaded high school science.
Pete Townshend’s biography, Who I Am is not only the story of The Who but also a deeply personal memoir. Townshend shares intimate details from his sometimes bleak early childhood, revealing that these years caused him lifelong fears of abandonment. Who I Am also gives a personal view into cultural and historical developments in post-World War II England.
Compared to other rock memoirs, Townshend’s stands out for his lack of bitterness toward other members of The Who. He resists the temptation to disparage his bandmates. Given The Who’s colorful history, no doubt he has countless stories that would entertain readers but may embarrass fellow band members. Because this is such a well-crafted and honest memoir, the absence of descriptions of debauchery is not missed. Readers who prefer their musical biographies to be full of name-dropping gossip will not be disappointed, though. He shares numerous stories about Sixties icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger.
Who I Am will be enjoyed by fans of The Who and also readers who are interested in intimate memoirs of artists. Read by Townshend in his distinctly reedy London voice, the audiobook is highly recommended.
Three 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.
Three 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.
Empress 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.
Always 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.
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.”