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This looks like a very interesting book: Ideas, by Peter Watson. He is also the author of The Modern Mind. His new one just hit the shelves. I think I may have to look at it when I get back from my trip. I’m off to the U.S. Open! Here is what the publisher has…


imageThis looks like a very interesting book: Ideas, by Peter Watson. He is also the author of The Modern Mind. His new one just hit the shelves. I think I may have to look at it when I get back from my trip. I’m off to the U.S. Open!

Here is what the publisher has to say about Ideas: “In this hugely ambitious and stimulating book, Peter Watson describes the history of ideas, from deep antiquity to the present day, leading to a new way of understanding our world and ourselves.

“The narrative begins nearly two million years ago with the invention of hand-axes and explores how some of our most cherished notions might have originated before humans had language. Then, in a broad sweep, the book moves forward to consider not the battles and treaties of kings and prime ministers, emperors and generals, but the most important ideas we have evolved, by which we live and which separate us from other animals. Watson explores the first languages and the first words, the birth of the gods, the origins of art, the profound intellectual consequences of money. He describes the invention of writing, early ideas about law, why sacrifice and the soul have proved so enduring in religion. He explains how ideas about time evolved, how numbers were conceived, how science, medicine, sociology, economics, and capitalism came into being. He shows how the discovery of the New World changed forever the way that we think, and why Chinese creativity faded after the Middle Ages.

“In the course of this commanding narrative, Watson reveals the linkages down the ages in the ideas of many apparently disparate philosophers, astronomers, religious leaders, biologists, inventors, poets, jurists, and scores of others. Aristotle jostles with Aquinas, Ptolemy with Photius, Kalidasa with Zhu Xi, Beethoven with Strindberg, Jefferson with Freud. Ideas is a seminal work.”

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 31 2005 • Books

Tyranny of Reading

Have you gone your entire life without reading a book? It seems that many people have. Hester Lacey writes an interesting essay about reading in The Guardian.

"But if you don't love reading, and particularly if you positively dislike it, why should you feel in the least bit bothered if you don't polish off a serious novel a week? The reasons for reading, as far as I can see, are either to learn something new or, more often, for sheer enjoyment's sake. If you are unlikely to achieve either via Jane Austen or Iris Murdoch or Carol Shields or Helen Fielding, why force yourself? We all have enough duties in our lives without adding the Booker candidates to the list, if that's not our natural proclivity."

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 19 2005 • Books

Debut Novel

Ann Bauer's debut novel, A Wild Ride up the Cupboards, has hit the shelves. Bauer, a senior writer for Minnesota Monthly (a magazine published by the same company where I work, Greenspring Media Group) is a wonderful writer. Congrats Ann. It's quite an accomplishment.

Here is what Publisher's Weekly has written about the book: "Bauer's nuanced debut chronicles a mother's struggle with her child's mysterious, undiagnosed illness and the once-passionate marriage that doesn't survive the decades of extraordinary stress. Love, marriage and babies follow quickly from Rachel and Jack's first electric meeting, when Rachel is a 20-year-old student at a small Minnesota college and Jack an itinerant worker. But when Edward, the eldest of their three children, turns four, he suddenly transforms from a bright, animated boy to a zombie who goes weeks without sleeping, stares endlessly at his hand and howls to fill a silent room. Settled in Minneapolis, Rachel and Jack try various doctors, codeine and even marijuana tea for their son, who is often mistaken for an autistic, but he stays locked in what he calls, during moments of lucidity, "the nowhere place." Bauer follows the family through Edward's adolescence: Jack struggles with alcoholism and holding down a job while Rachel, a journalist, binds the family together with fierce mother-love. Throughout, Rachel attempts to unravel the mystery of her long-deceased Uncle Mickey, a strange, troubled man whose plight might hold a clue to Edward's disease. Bauer's prose often pierces with authentic, unsentimental power, but blow-by-blow chronological plotting diminishes the novel's grace."

Here is an interview with Ann, from the City Pages.

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 18 2005 • Books

Specialized Specialty

"If you're a Subaru-driving face painter with a jones for Jane Austen, there's a magazine -- actually, three -- for you. Bill Dawson of the Star Tribune put together this funny story on just how specific magazine titles can be.

Subiesport, Your guide to tuning and driving Subarus, Face Painting International and Jane Austen's Regency World are geared to readers with highly specialized interests, writes Dawson. You also can subscribe to Bonsai Today, Atomic Ranch, Face Painting International and Gene Simmons Tongue. Even the Ford Focus has a magazine," says professor Samir Husni, a University of Mississippi professor and president of Magazine Consulting & Research.

According to Dawson's story, about 450 magazines have been launched in just the first six months of this year. It seems that every niche is fillled with a publication. A couple of my favorites: Atomic Ranch, a magazine for those living in modest ranch homes; Elevated Living, "the livestyle magazine for those loving life at elevation"; and Ferrets, which believe it or not filled the place after Modern Ferrets ended a ten-year run. Gotta love the magazine world.

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 17 2005 • Journalism

Schools Destroy Reading?

USA Today has an interesting story about how schools might actually destroy students' love or reading. Patrick Welsh, an English teacher in Virginia, reports that national reading tests haven't improved since 1999. "The Pew Research Center's Internet Project reported that for today's teenagers, "the Internet and cell phones have become a central force that fuels the rhythm of daily life." Eighty-seven percent of America's kids ages 12 to 17 spend time online. E-mail is no longer fast enough for most teens who are using instant messenger and text messaging to keep up with their friends."

The culprit might actually be bad textbooks. "So few kids curl up with a book and read for pleasure anymore, what do we teachers do? We saddle students with textbooks that would turn off even the most passionate reader."

Our classes and textbooks are written to simply prepare students to taked dumbed-down standard tests, he writes. "It's time for states and school districts to kick the mega-textbook habit that four or five big corporations control and start spending money on the kind of books that will make kids want to do sustained reading, to get lost in the written word. For English classes, that's paperback novels (whole novels) and collections of short stories (complete short stories) and poetry."

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 14 2005 • Current Affairs

Fall Reading

I just read a list of upcoming books for the fall compiled by Barnes and Noble. Wow! Where to start? I am interested in almost every one on the list. Highlights include a book by Jonathan Harr (author of A Civil Action) on the search for a missing painting by Caravaggio; the third and final volume of Frank McCourt's memoirs (of Angela's Ashes fame); an in-depth look at Abraham Lincoln from Pulitzer Prize-winner Doris Kearns Goodwin; and a unique look at Venice by John Berendt (author of the wonderful Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

This is only a few that catch my attention on this list (also set for fall are Simon Winchester's book on the San Francisco earthquake, a biography of Andrew Jackson by H.W. Brands, Bruce Feiler's latest on the Holy Land, and ... I have to stop). Take a look at this list for yourself. It's just too much. I am swearing off bad TV for the next few months.

I think Harr's book  looks particularly interesting. His last book, A Civil Action, was wonderful. It is in my mind one of the best long-form narrative nonfiction books around. Here is what the publisher writes about The Lost Painting, which comes out October 25:

"An Italian village on a hilltop near the Adriatic coast, a decaying palazzo facing the sea, and in the basement, cobwebbed and dusty, lit by a single bulb, an archive unknown to scholars. Here, a young graduate student from Rome, Francesca Cappelletti, makes a discovery that inspires a search for a work of art of incalculable value, a painting lost for almost two centuries.

"The artist was Caravaggio, a master of the Italian Baroque. He was a genius, a revolutionary painter, and a man beset by personal demons. Four hundred years ago, he drank and brawled in the taverns and streets of Rome, moving from one rooming house to another, constantly in and out of jail, all the while painting works of transcendent emotional and visual power. He rose from obscurity to fame and wealth, but success didn't alter his violent temperament. His rage finally led him to commit murder, forcing him to flee Rome a hunted man. He died young, alone, and under strange circumstances.

"Caravaggio scholars estimate that between sixty and eighty of his works are in existence today. Many others-no one knows the precise number-have been lost to time. Somewhere, surely, a masterpiece lies forgotten in a storeroom, or in a small parish church, or hanging above a fireplace, mistaken for a mere copy.

"Prize-winning author Jonathan Harr embarks on an spellbinding journey to discover the long-lost painting known as The Taking of Christ-its mysterious fate and the circumstances of its disappearance have captivated Caravaggio devotees for years. After Francesca Cappelletti stumbles across a clue in that dusty archive, she tracks the painting across a continent and hundreds of years of history. But it is not until she meets Sergio Benedetti, an art restorer working in Ireland, that she finally manages to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle.

"Told with consummate skill by the writer of the bestselling, award-winning A Civil Action, The Lost Painting is a remarkable synthesis of history and detective story. The fascinating details of Caravaggio's strange, turbulent career and the astonishing beauty of his work come to life in these pages. Harr's account is not unlike a Caravaggio painting: vivid, deftly wrought, and enthralling."

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 09 2005 • Books

The Planets


Dava Sobel, one of my favorite writers has a new book coming out on October 11. She is the author of Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, two books I enjoyed very much. Sobel is such a wonderful writer about history and science, and I can't wait to read her latest: The Planets. I had the chance to listen to her read a couple of years ago (she signed a copy of Galileo's Daughter for me too). She was such a good story teller in person, and a very nice person. Here is how the publisher is describing her new book.

"With her blockbuster New York Times bestsellers Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, Dava Sobel used her rare and luminous gift for weaving difficult scientific concepts into a compelling story to garner rave reviews and attract readers from across the literary spectrum. Now, in The Planets, Sobel brings her full talents to bear on what is perhaps her most ambitious subject to date—the planets of our solar system.

"The sun's family of planets become a familiar place in this personal account of the lives of other worlds. Sobel explores the planets' origins and oddities through the lens of popular culture, from astrology, mythology, and science fiction to art, music, poetry, biography, and history. A perfect gift and a captivating journey, The Planets is a gorgeously illustrated study of our place in the universe that will mesmerize everyone who has ever gazed with awe at our night sky."

Posted by Joel Schettler on August 07 2005 • Books