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Awesome Box Update - Spring and Summer Picks

Spring and Summer Picks

We received quite a few book reviews in the last few months and our first repeat title—Horse by Geraldine Brooks—was placed in the Awesome Box. We enjoy seeing the books that patrons love.

You can share your favorites by placing them in the Awesome Box at the ground floor checkout desk. You can also write a review on a “What Did You Think” form at one of the service desks or complete the online Patron Review Form. Don’t forget about the items you have downloaded or streamed on Overdrive or Hoopla. Even if we can’t display a physical copy, we can include your review. If you would like to reserve a book, place a request in the online catalog, fill out a request form, or call the reference desk at 978-674-4121.

Click on an item for more information.

Patron Reviews

By Monica L.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

“The Starless Sea” unfolds like a matryoshka doll of stories, one nested in another. It gives the book a delightful dreamlike quality. It’s part magical realism, part mystery, part love story, and entirely an ode to the importance of storytelling in all its forms. A must read for any booklover!


By Farnaz M.

Thank You for Coming to My TED Talk by Chris Anderson

One of the most useful books for students and teenagers. This book helps me to do better in my future talks and presentations. Some of the tips are very important and useful, for instance: when should we use image and video and when we shouldn’t, which points should we remember while making our power point presentation, how to start ans end our talks, etc. One of the nicest sentence in this book is from Bruno Giussani: “When people sit in a room to listen to a speaker, they are offering her something extremely precious:a few minutes of their time and their attention. Her task is to use that time as well as possible.”


By Anonymous

Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair by William Poundstone

The five stars are for being quite well written and for filling a gaping void in books about elections. The book is in three parts: part 1 is about the problem of a spoiler vote in a plurality voting system, part 2 is about the weaknesses of other voting systems, e.g., Borda count, IRV, etc, with Poundstone showing a preference for range voting, part 3, the shortest, is about real world practicalities. I don’t think there is a single formula in the entire book, and it really should be readily accessible to non-mathematicians. Poundstone did a lot of research for this book: he must discuss 50 or so different elections, and the histories and discoveries of many researchers. He also includes an intriguing bibliography and some websites.


The Periodic Kingdom by Peter Atkins

A pleasant, brightly written book, using the analogy of a kingdom with various regions for the periodic table. The analogy is a bit strained, but I can still see the lakes of mercury and bromine in my mind’s eye. The chapter titles support the analogy, “The History of Discovery”, “The Cartographers”, “Physical Geography”. Unfortunately, the publishing company did not stand by their author. There is no table of figures, which is awkward, as the author refers to them several chapters after they are introduced, and the periodic table at the back is drawn into the spine, so that one whole group is more or less invisible. The editors failed to catch unfortunate errors, like the one in which bronze works its way into a sentence as an element. The illustrations are line drawings, mostly 3-D charts of properties of the periodic table as well as some diagrams of electron orbitals and so forth. Unfortunately, the 3-D charts are poorly constructed, and not all that well captioned.

I would certainly read more books by this author. “Molecules” is a much better constructed book, with much better diagrams and illustrations throughout.


The Luck of Nineveh: In Search of the Lost Assyrian Empire by Arnold C. Brackman

A journalist’s biography of Sir Austen Henry Layard, traveller, adventurer, antiquarian, archaeologist, politician, ambassador, art historian, failed lawyer. He never made it to Sri Lanka. The first detailed work I’ve ever read about Assyrian archaeology, so fresh and so interesting.


Lost Discoveries: The Forgotten Science of the Ancient World by Colin A. Ronan

Large format book with many fascinating but sometimes oddly selected illustrations. For example, some very nice period illustrations of Brahe’s and Copernicus’s theories of planetary motion are adjacent to discussions of the speculations of various ancient Greeks. Presumably there are no period illustrations of the ideas of those Greeks. Many portraits are Nuremberg Chronicle woodcuts. There are also reconstructions, taken from various sources and based on ancient descriptions. Probably the most fascinating of all is the illustration of an escapement for an enormous Chinese water clock driven by human energy. That is beautiful and fascinating.

Throughout the book there are reconstructions, usually occupying a whole page, of some ancient technology that has been described but is now lost. One is a toy Greek temple, where lighting a fire on the altar causes the temple doors to swing ajar. Another is a Chinese earthquake direction detecting device (called a seismograph by the author, analogizing a bit too much there). Another is a monumental clepsydra in the Temple of the Winds in Athens. Occupying both pages is a Roman water driven mill, for grinding grain. And another is a reconstruction of the ziggurat of Ur-Nammu. These are all credited to “John Smith”; artist or publisher, I can not say.

The text is in two columns and well-written. The book was published in the 1970s and the author clearly believed that Columbus was unusual in believing the earth was round. This is now commonly understood to be false. Most navigators of Columbus’s time believed that the earth was round, but there was a lot of disagreement on its size, with some adhering to an estimate around that of Eratosthenes’s and others, including Columbus, giving more credence to Ptolemy’s smaller and far less correct estimate.


Books that Changed the World by Robert B. Downs

The authors and works you never heard of are in the list because their work can be said to have influenced Hitler in some way, and because Hitler looms very large in the author’s mind because the book was written in the ’50s.

“The Invention of Science”, which is a very thorough and scholarly work, attempts to refute the assumption of just about everybody, including the author of this book, that Copernicus’s “De Revolutionibus” was extraordinarily influential. He points out that Copernicus’s was just a rearrangement, and that the stars are still fixed in Copernicus’s outer shell, not going off in all directions as we know they do today. He shows that many natural philosophers of the subsequent years seemed to take little interest in Copernicus’s work and he argues that it was Tycho Brahe, whose concept of the universe was a whole lot more three-dimensional that had the greater influence. He could be correct, but that’s a lot of accepted wisdom to overthrow.

There is an interesting, to me, passage in the chapter on “Mein Kampf”. Hitler wrote about techniques of propaganda, and one of his central principles was to keep it simple, to give the people just one enemy to hate, and whenever you want to mobilize them against anything, associate that thing with the one true enemy. In his case, this was “the Jews”. But if we look at today’s propaganda, I think the one true enemy is the only slightly more abstract “white supremacy/racism” and so everything must be connected to that. We note, of course, that the doctrine that only “white” people can be racist helps to make this abstract evil into a concrete race, in this case “whites” instead of Jews. In the quotation, Hitler rants against France but manages to achieve, by words and not by logic a connection to the Jews, who are at the bottom of the French evil. One can imagine some 1930’s German, unaffected by the propaganda, laughing at the shear incoherence of this man’s invective. But we have the same incoherence now, as everything that is disliked by the propaganda machine is turned into “white supremacy” by words and not by logic. That is how Larry Elder becomes “The Black Face of White Superemacy” and so forth. We deride the incoherence of the propaganda, just as our hypothetical reader of “Mein Kampf” derides its incoherence, but maybe that is to utterly miss the point. It seems to be working reasonably well on the masses now and it was quite effective then.