Book Review: What’s It Like in Space? by Ariel Waldman


Author: Ariel Waldman
TitleWhat’s It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There
Publication Info: Chronicle Books (2016)
Summary/Review:

I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

One of my favorite science writers, Ariel Waldman, collects anecdotes and quotes from astronauts about their experience in space in a small, illustrated coffee table book. Did you know that one cannot burp in space?  And while farting is possible, it is not possible to propel oneself in microgravity using only flatulence.  There’s a lot of bits about “functions” such as eating, sleeping, and excreting in space.  But there are also more inspirational stories such as an astronaut not wanting to sleep so as to not miss a moment of the mission or the experience of watching the Earth rotate beneath one’s feet while on a spacewalk.  It’s a fun, charming, and colorful that’s a quick read, and especially enjoyable if you’ve ever wanted to go to space.

Recommended booksPacking for Mars by Mary Roach and An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Wild lives by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld


Author: Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
TitleWild lives : a history of the people & animals of the Bronx Zoo
Publication Info: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2006.
Summary/Review:

This is a children’s book history of the Bronx Zoo, a place I visited since childhood and have always been fascinated about it’s background.  The book focuses mostly on the early days when the zoo was designed by William Temple Hornaday.  Hornaday was concerned with conservation, breeding animals, and creating naturalistic settings for the exhibits.  In some areas he was successful, such as donating animals to the American Bison Society to repopulate the herds on the great plains, or opening the first veterinary hospital in a zoo in 1916 (which sadly came after many animals died in captivity).  Natural habitats and breeding would come later (most notably with the opening of the African Plains in 1941) although the author makes a point of these developments being built on what was learned from studying the animals in the early days of the zoo.  The book makes no mention of the darker moments in the zoos history such as the leadership of Madison Grant, a notorious racial eugenicist, or the time in 1906 when Ota Benga, a man of the Mbuti people of Congo, was put on display in the zoo.

The book also focuses on the efforts of the New York Zoological Society, later the Wildlife Conservation Society, in the area of field research.  This originated with William Beebe, who traveled the world observing wildlife in nature, his discoveries informing how to design exhibits and care for animals at the zoo.  Later the zoo would expand to work with wildlife parks and reserves on various continents both for research and conservation.  Later chapters bring updates at the zoo itself up to the end of the 20th century.  The book makes a good case for why zoos remain relevant and necessary in the 21st century.

Recommended booksThrough a Window by Jane Goodall , Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenburg, and Central Park in the Darkby Marie Winn
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein


Author: Naomi Klein
TitleThe Shock Doctrine
NarratorJennifer Wiltsie
Publication Info:  Macmillan Audio (2007)
Summary/Review:

This book exposes the ideology of neoliberalism, the idea that government should be limited to the bare bones and that corporations should be completely unregulated, a school of thought promoted by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.  The book begins with the story of CIA mind-washing experiments which attempted to erase the very self-identity of the subjects.  The shock doctrine applies these same actions (mostly metaphorically, but sometimes literally with interrogation and torture techniques) to entire communities and economies.  This begins with the overthrow of democratically-elected government in Chile and the installation of the dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was advised by Friedman’s own trained “Chicago Boys.”  The same policies pop up again in response to disasters – war, economic collapse, and natural disasters – where neoliberal policies are ready to go at the time when democratic processes are least likely to be followed. Klein examines how both Iraq and New Orleans were deliberately cleared of their past and memory to be remade in a neoliberal model, with much exploitation and corporate profits in the process.  This is a chilling and illuminating book.

Favorite Passages:

Communism may have collapsed without the firing of a single shot, but Chicago-style capitalism, it turned out, required a great deal of gunfire to defend itself.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich


Author: Louise Erdrich
TitleThe Round House
NarratorGary Farmer
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2013
Summary/Review:

Set on a fictional Indian reservation in North Dakota, this is the story of the teenager Joe who at the beginning of the novel learns that his mother has been brutally raped.  What follows is a story of legal complications surrounding the crime, Joe and his friends rather naive attempts to play detective in finding his mother’s attacker, and a coming of age story in which Joe learns some uncomfortable truths.  It’s a well-written but emotionally-challenging story about family, guilt, and place.

Recommended books: Waylaid by Ed Lin, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Rating: ***