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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Based on a True Story (page 1 of 5)

The Unexpected Spy by Tracy Walder

A highly entertaining account of a young woman who went straight from her college sorority to the CIA, where she hunted terrorists and WMDs.

When Tracy Walder enrolled at the University of Southern California, she never thought that one day she would offer her pink beanbag chair in the Delta Gamma house to a CIA recruiter, or that she’d fly to the Middle East under an alias identity.

The Unexpected Spy is the riveting story of Walder’s tenure in the CIA and, later, the FBI. In high-security, steel-walled rooms in Virginia, Walder watched al-Qaeda members with drones as President Bush looked over her shoulder and CIA Director George Tenet brought her donuts. She tracked chemical terrorists and searched the world for Weapons of Mass Destruction. She created a chemical terror chart that someone in the White House altered to convey information she did not have or believe, leading to the Iraq invasion. Driven to stop terrorism, Walder debriefed terrorists—men who swore they’d never speak to a woman—until they gave her leads. She followed trails through North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, shutting down multiple chemical attacks.

Then Walder moved to the FBI, where she worked in counterintelligence. In a single year, she helped take down one of the most notorious foreign spies ever caught on American soil. Catching the bad guys wasn’t a problem in the FBI, but rampant sexism was. Walder left the FBI to teach young women, encouraging them to find a place in the FBI, CIA, State Department or the Senate—and thus change the world.

 

Thanks to NetGalley and St Martins Press for this review copy!

This is the story of how a sorority girl who was bullied at school found her calling working for the CIA. At a job fair at college, the author filled out a job application on a whim…and the rest is history. She started her job immediately after she graduated.

Shortly after starting work, Walder was promoted to The Vault, under kindly Director Tenet, who made her feel like a part of the team. She was respected by the other team members and everyone worked together well, thanks to Tenet. He was always doing thoughtful things, such as bringing Thanksgiving dinner to the Vault’s hardworking members.

A few months later, she was moved to Counterterrorism to work under Graham Andersson. This continued to bolster her confidence and erase the “loser” mindset she had, because she constantly received compliments and encouragement from her superiors. Some of the missions she worked on dealt with poison and other weapons of mass destruction. Despite being an introvert, she gave apresentation on a poisoning plot she and two other coworkers discovered. Due to their hard work, the people of interest were captured, and the poisoning plot was exposed and neutralized. The book continues with more stories like this, including some that highlight intelligence operatives that don’t work on Sunday, despite the terrorists that lurk nearby.

Walder remains positive, despite being minimalized by the men in other cultures. About 60% of the way through she meets some male counterparts after a bombing in Africa, and they are less than thrilled to be working with her. She remains professional and focused on the task at hand. This strength is one of her main characteristics – it shines through on almost every page. Her writing is full of her eagerness to fight the terrorists before they get a chance to perform their insidious tasks. She also writes about her feelings of personal failure regarding the March 11, 2004 bombing in Madrid. She wondered what scrap of information she had missed and felt personally responsible for all those dead and wounded. It was this final straw that cause her to fill out an application for the FBI and send it in. They accepted her immediately, and so Walder embarked on a new career. However, for the first time in her professional career she felt bullied during her training at Quantico. She kept moving forward and never let the constant criticism get her down – another display of her incredible mental strength.

Unfortunately, the FBI’s mentality was to pair her up with a more experienced partner and marginalize her, never making her the lead when they picked up criminals. She learned that she wasn’t the only female being discriminated against, but she kept going, hoping things would change. It didn’t, and she quit the FBI after working there only 15 months. Currently she is a history teacher at an all-girls school, her mission empowering and educating girls against the bullies and terrorists of the world. Walder puts as much determination into her teaching as she did in her career, and that is refreshing. She is a role model who still cares about eliminating hatred, embracing all walks of life, and giving girls their voice. I am glad that she chose to write her story to illuminate these causes! Her voice is clear and strong, the writing style will pull you in and make you laugh at times, while other times you will be incredulous, such as when you read about the mistreatment the FBI puts forth. It is also very interesting to be “behind the scenes” at the CIA, as much as they would allow. This unforgettable book would be great for any college age girl to read, for it may spark interest in a career such as Walder’s. Her experiences are powerful and empowering. You can get your own copy here.

Swim, Bike, Bonk by Will McGough

Just as George Plimpton had his proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL as the un-recruited and certainly unwanted fourth-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions, so, too, did Will McGough immerse himself in a sport he had no business trying. Like Plimpton, whose football folly turned into the bestselling Paper Lion, travel and outdoor writer McGough writes of his participation in, around, and over the course of the one of the world’s premier triathlons, the annual Ironman 70.3 in Tempe, Arizona.

McGough chronicles the Ironman’s history, his unorthodox training, the pageantry of the race weekend, and his attempt to finish the epic event. The narrative follows not just his race but also explores the cult and habits of the triathlete community, beginning with the first Ironman competition in Hawaii in 1978. This is a light-hearted, self-deprecating, and at times hilarious look at one man’s attempt to conquer the ultimate endurance sport, with a conclusion that will surprise and delight both dedicated triathletes as well as strangers to the sport.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

I’m going to say right off the bat that this book is not for the faint of heart. The author talks frankly about peeing and pooping himself during training/racing, as well as how his sex life is suffering during his 3 months of intense training. If you don’t mind the gory details, read on.

The premise behind SWIM, BIKE, BONK is simple – the author signs up for a triathlon. However, it’s not just any old triathlon: he chooses an Ironman race where you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, then run a marathon (26.2 miles) immediately afterwards. In the beginning, he is very laissez-faire about his training, thinking that since he is young and in shape he won’t have any trouble. Everyone else around him speaks differently though. Eventually, he realizes that it won’t be that easy as his training miles mount up and he experiences the joy of a numb butt (and other parts) during a long bike ride.

The main part of the book consists of his training miles and his thoughts about same, interspersed with stories on buying just the right bike for the job, which Gatorade flavor is best, his fears about taking on too much, and how his endeavor is affecting his personal life. At times I skipped through some of the training miles because I wanted to get to the racing part to see what happened. Once the racing part started, he accurately captured the emotions and struggles of those involved. He writes about the bonk as he sees those experiencing it:

“With every step, another drop of life falls from their eyes”.

That is a great way to sum up how the bonk feels to a racer. I’ve only run in half marathons, but I have felt the bonk – and this book brings back memories of how it felt. There are some poignant emotions described at the end of the race, as well as afterwards. To finish a challenge such as this brings a wide range of feelings that can only really be understood by those who have done it. The author does his best to convey those feelings, however, and does a good job.

He also adds some thoughts about race volunteers (there was a failed lawsuit where they sued because they wanted to be paid) and how big the Ironman corporation really is. That part was surprising because I didn’t realize how fully corporate Ironman was. There is a lot of profit generated from these races.

SWIM, BIKE, BONK was a fun little read about one human’s desire to push himself to the limit. I think anyone who is interested in competing in the Ironman will love it, and those who run or bike competitively will also enjoy the author’s self-deprecating humor that shines through in most situations. As I mentioned, it’s not for the squeamish, but you can skip over those parts and still get the gist of the story. You can pick up your own copy here.

The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke

Mary Roach meets Bill Bryson in this “surefire summer winner” (Janet Maslin, New York Times), an uproarious tour of the basest instincts and biggest mysteries of the animal world

Humans have gone to the Moon and discovered the Higgs boson, but when it comes to understanding animals, we’ve still got a long way to go. Whether we’re seeing a viral video of romping baby pandas or a picture of penguins “holding hands,” it’s hard for us not to project our own values–innocence, fidelity, temperance, hard work–onto animals. So you’ve probably never considered if moose get drunk, penguins cheat on their mates, or worker ants lay about. They do–and that’s just for starters. In The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke takes us on a worldwide journey to meet everyone from a Colombian hippo castrator to a Chinese panda porn peddler, all to lay bare the secret–and often hilarious–habits of the animal kingdom. Charming and at times downright weird, this modern bestiary is perfect for anyone who has ever suspected that virtue might be unnatural.

Thanks to NetGalley for this review copy!

This book reads like it was written by the love child of Charles Darwin and Mary Roach. There is humor, pathos, and animal facts aplenty. The author’s writing style is easy to read and captured my attention immediately. The love Cooke has for these beasties is quite obvious from the start. Hopefully, given the facts, others will learn to appreciate these maligned characters that occupy the animal world.

Each chapter is devoted (lovingly) to a misunderstood animal, where we find myths debunked through modern science. The reader will learn about sloths, bats, and hyenas, to name a few. The author will discuss how the animals were experimented on/studied over hundreds of years (Who knew that Aristotle was a proponent of spontaneous creation?) then get to modern times, where myths are debunked and the many reasons to love these animals are revealed.

Some of the experiments detailed can be a bit gory, such as when, in the 18th century, the Catholic priest Lazzaro Spallanzani practiced blinding bats in order to find out how they managed to find their way around in darkness. (He also coated them in varnish for another experiment, but I digress).  Other tales are edifying and satisfying, such as:

It may sound suspiciously like bogus medieval folk medicine, but from the 1940s through the 1960s the world’s first reliable pregnancy test was a small, bug-eyed frog. When injected with a pregnant woman’s urine, the amphibian didn’t turn blue or display stripes, but it did squirt out eggs 8-12 hours later to confirm a positive result.

Cooke’s book is full of factoids like that one. How can you not love this book? You will learn, you will laugh, and you will be full of obscure information. That sounds like a winner to me.

Yes, you want your own copy and can pick it up here.

Jet Girl by Caroline Johnson

A fresh, unique insider’s view of what it’s like to be a woman aviator in today’s US Navy—from pedicures to parachutes. 

Caroline Johnson was an unlikely aviation candidate. A tall blonde debutante from Colorado, she could have just as easily gone into fashion or filmmaking, and yet she went on to become an F/A-18 Super Hornet Weapons System Officer. She was one of the first women to fly a combat mission over Iraq since 2011, and she was the first woman to drop bombs on ISIS.

Jet Girl tells the remarkable story of the women fighting at the forefront in a military system that allows them to reach the highest peaks, and yet is in many respects still a fraternity. Johnson offers an insider’s view on the fascinating, thrilling, dangerous and, at times, glamorous world of being a naval aviator.

This is a coming-of age story about a young college-aged girl who draws strength from a tight knit group of friends, called the Jet Girls, and struggles with all the ordinary problems of life: love, work, catty housewives, father figures, make-up, wardrobe, not to mention being put into harm’s way daily with terrorist groups such as ISIS and world powers such as Russia and Iran.

Some of the most memorable parts of the book are about real life in training, in the air and in combat—how do you deal with having to pee in a cockpit the size of a bumper car going 900 miles an hour?

Not just a memoir, this book also aims to change the conversation and to inspire and attract the next generation of men and women who are tempted to explore a life of adventure and service.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This book is a generally well-written memoir about an F/A-18 Super Hornet Weapons System Officer, who happens to be a woman. The military information is just what you would expect: training, the mental game, and some unclassified deployment details. The part of the book that really hits home is the harassment and treatment Caroline gets from her own squads – the men that are supposed to be supporting her, while they expect her support as well. The Navy wives even vilify her and call her out for wearing a “too revealing” dress to a party.

I admire Caroline for putting up with all the slurs and backbiting gossip. It’s a shame that someone with such drive, talent and patriotism should be dealing with such petty bullshit. Most of her fellow recruits treat her normally; it’s the few bad apples as usual spoiling everything.

JET GIRL skips around from chapter to chapter, telling us Caroline’s story from first days in the Navy all the way up to being deployed in Iraq. The chapters do not proceed sequentially; once you realize that and are ok with the story skipping back and forth, the reading smooths out. The story turns a lot darker when Caroline shares her battle with depression with us. I cannot imagine staying in the Navy as long as she did, nor can I believe how badly she was treated despite excelling in her classes and as a pilot. Unfortunately, she decided to change careers to ultimately save her sanity, which I feel is the Navy’s great loss. She started to realize the stress that her body was under due to the strain of deployment even before her aircraft carrier had left the Persian Gulf. She began isolating herself once she got back to the States and was told by the flight doctor to “man up…and stop being a drama queen”.

At this point the story got very frustrating for me, as I felt Caroline’s pain and wanted to scream at all the men that this was a real issue and deserved the proper attention. I could not believe what she was writing – that she was not properly supported by her commanding officers and her squad. The rest of the book details her downward spiral and her “icing out” by her commanders and crew, along with her guilt and confusion about what she should do with her life – leave the Navy or try to stick it out.

The last section is an excellent example of what depression looks and feels like. Poor mental health carries such a stigma in this country and I am happy Caroline had the courage to bare her soul and share her story. Her message is important on many levels – her depression, the mistreatment she experienced, and her love for the Navy all come together in an illuminating and meaningful way. I can only hope that she has smoothed the way for other female Navy pilots with her no-holds-barred examples of how she was treated. Let’s see if the Navy can make the future better than its past.

You can pick up your copy here.

 

Stop Being Reasonable by Eleanor Gordon-Smith

What if you’re not who you think you are?
What if you don’t really know the people closest to you?
And what if your most deeply-held beliefs turn out to be…wrong?

In Stop Being Reasonable, philosopher Eleanor Gordon-Smith tells gripping true stories that show the limits of human reason. Susie realises her husband harbours a terrible secret, Dylan leaves the cult he’s been raised in since birth, Alex discovers he can no longer return to his former identity after impersonating someone else on reality TV. All of them radically alter their beliefs about the things that matter most.

What makes them change course? What does this say about our own beliefs? And, in an increasingly divided world, what does it teach us about how we might change the minds of others?
Inspiring, moving and perceptive, Stop Being Reasonable is a mind-changing exploration of the murky place where philosophy and real life meet.
‘I knew how piercingly smart Eleanor Gordon-Smith is, and what a curious and resolute interviewer. But I was unprepared for how entertainingly she writes! I read this with pleasure.’ — Ira Glass

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

STOP BEING REASONABLE is a dense little book filled with philosophical musings on varied subjects such as why guys catcall, how someone escaped a cult, and if a girl is telling the truth about being abused by her parents. Each chapter starts with a couple of lines from philosophy that sets the tone for the case study, such as this one from Blaise Pascal: People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.

Those who have a background in philosophy will enjoy this book for the anecdotes that illustrate various ways of thinking. My experience with philosophy is minimal, so I am sure a great deal of the material is going over my head. The stories about the people were mildly interesting, just not wholly captivating for me. Perhaps I expected different handling of the subject. This does not detract from the writing itself, just a caveat to potential readers that this is a heavier read than normal.

The author has a background in debate as well, and her skills are apparent in the way she writes and presents her facts. A common theme to all the stories is: examine closely what you expect to be true, for things are not what they seem to be.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

A Death in the Rainforest by Don Kulick

One of Time’s 32 Books You Need to Read This Summer

“A profoundly human story about a seemingly exotic and strange place that really isn’t so strange at all.” —Carl Hoffman, author of The Last Wild Men of Borneo

As a young anthropologist, Don Kulick went to the tiny village of Gapun in New Guinea to document the death of the native language, Tayap. He arrived knowing that you can’t study a language without understanding the daily lives of the people who speak it: how they talk to their children, how they argue, how they gossip, how they joke. Over the course of thirty years, he returned again and again to document Tayap before it disappeared entirely, and he found himself inexorably drawn into their world, and implicated in their destiny. Kulick wanted to tell the story of Gapuners—one that went beyond the particulars and uses of their language—that took full stock of their vanishing culture. This book takes us inside the village as he came to know it, revealing what it is like to live in a difficult-to-get-to village of two hundred people, carved out like a cleft in the middle of a tropical rainforest. But A Death in the Rainforest is also an illuminating look at the impact of white society on the farthest reaches of the globe—and the story of why this anthropologist realized finally that he had to give up his study of this language and this village.

An engaging, deeply perceptive, and brilliant interrogation of what it means to study a culture, A Death in the Rainforest takes readers into a world that endures in the face of massive changes, one that is on the verge of disappearing forever

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

This is an easy read about the likeable members of a tribe in Papua, New Guinea. First of all, I have to give the author props for having the gumption to head into the darkest of rainforests (the only way to reach the village of Gapun is to traverse rivers and thick forests for hours) multiple times.

At first, the author’s statement that all Papuans not-so-secretly want to be white people was a bit off-putting. As I read further, I understood what he meant – they wanted to be successful, not necessarily turning their back on their race.

I also marveled at the author’s dedication to learning, then transcribing Tayap, the difficult language of Gapun. There are gender-related endings to words, which confused him in the beginning, but then he was able to create a large body of work describing the grammar and vocabulary of the Gapuners. Their language is slowly being replaced by one called Tok Pisin, which is a pidgin version of English. The lamentable reason for this loss of language is that the younger generations don’t wish to learn to speak Tayap – they feel that is for old people and choose to speak Tok Pisin instead. Once the elders of the tribe pass away, so will Tayap, preserved only in the author’s memory and his comprehensive body of work. That seems poignant to me; working so hard to preserve something that is vanishing before your very eyes. The fact that this language was confined to less than 500 humans at the time of writing is mind -boggling. Another poignant thought is that while these villagers were sharing their language with the author, they were also sharing the memories of their lives. As Kulick puts it: “Today, those recordings are all that remains of their stories, songs, and explanations”.

The author relates stories of his time in Gapun, complete with self-deprecating humor and details that will make you cringe (imagine eating grubs or maggots?) or make you smile ( an intrepid youngster dubs himself the “security” guarding the author and subsequently stays by his side zealously).

DEATH OF A LANGUAGE is a wonderfully written book that will make you think about many things -the loss of this language, the circle of life, and the strength of this anthropologist who devoted so much of his life to these villagers. You can pick up your copy here.

Black & Blue by Andra Douglas

Growing up in Zephyrhills, Florida, Toady loves nothing more than playing football. It isn’t surprising, given that football is a religion in the small Southern town. Indeed, a winning team is a cure-all throughout the South. But for Toady, the love of football is bittersweet – because Toady’s given name is Christine. She’s a girl, and girls “can’t” play football. Christine’s story, and how she beats the odds to become the owner of – and player on – a championship women’s tackle football team, is told in Andra Douglas’s new novel, BLACK & BLUE: Love, Sports, and the Art of Empowerment (BookBaby, July 2019).

Loosely based on the author’s own story, BLACK & BLUE chronicles Christine’s struggle to “get a slice” of the “pigskin pie” of life. The youngest of three sisters, she chafes against what the South tells her she should be. From childhood on, she loves football and plays exceptionally well. But she is denied a spot on the high school team, and by senior year, she watches unhappily as her male classmates win college football scholarships – knowing that for her it cannot be. Reluctantly, she puts aside her football dreams and moves to New York City, never expecting to play the game she loves – but life is full of surprises.

Douglas, the former owner of the New York Sharks Women’s Pro Football team and a player herself, paints a compelling picture of Christine’s struggle. But more importantly, BLACK & BLUE lays bare the complexity of being a woman who wants to play what has essentially been a man’s sport since it was first created. Once in New York, Christine hears rumors about women playing flag football on Fire Island. She rides the ferry over, clutching her ball – and there she finds her people. The women who will one day be her teammates on the New York Sharks.

This quirky, tough, and diverse group is held together by their love of the game. When, after several years of successful flag competitions, the Women’s Professional Football Association is launched, Christine becomes part of this new tackle league – against her better judgment, because she senses that something isn’t quite right. Before long, she discovers the truth – the Association has no funding and the team needs money and an owner if they want to compete. To keep her dream alive, Christine haggles and scrapes together the cash to buy the franchise.

And that’s when the tension really heats up. In order to create a championship team, Christine must make countless personal and financial sacrifices. Finding a coach who isn’t abusive is a struggle. Rallying team spirit is an endless quest. Add to that the loss of her one true love, the devastation of the September 11 attacks, and the sudden death of one of her players, and Christine’s dream seems doomed. Does she have the guts and the stamina to spite the odds? Will her sacrifices pay off?

BLACK & BLUE not only challenges gender stereotypes, but takes readers behind the scenes of one of America’s least understood sports. Readers will cheer Christine as she doubles down to fight for the women who want nothing more than to be allowed to play the sport they love. This is a story of empowerment that will inspire anyone who is struggling to fulfill their dreams.

Thanks to Jane Wesman PR for this review copy!

BLACK & BLUE is truly like “A League of Their Own” but with football. There are personal struggles, foul-mouthed players, and a sometimes-dysfunctional team.

The author grew up in Florida in the pre-Title IX days, which meant that girls were not only second-class citizens, they were also looked down upon for wanting to play sports with the boys. Douglas’ own sister cautioned her that if she continued to partake in the rough-and-tumble world of football with the boys, she would never be able to “catch a husband”. Another cringe-inducing recollection involves a neighbor girl that goes missing one summer. As the author eats dinner at her girlfriend’s house, there is talk of the missing girl. One brother remarks that he doesn’t know why everyone is making a big deal of things, after all, it’s ONLY A GIRL that is missing. Needless to say, the girls are appalled, and the father passes his son a large helping of food to keep him strong.

This attitude frustrated and upset me, and I was gratified to see the author leave Florida to attend Pratt Institute in NYC. She becomes enamored of the bustling city, even more so when she discovers a bunch of women playing football in an old sandlot. She asks to join the game, and with that simple question she starts a brand-new life. She makes fast friends with the women and play impromptu games with other “teams” in the area. Eventually a semi-pro team is formed called the New York Sharks, and the women have to learn to play nice with their former rivals, since now they are on the same team. They need to unite and believe in each other, as well as combat the attitudes of the coaches (who persist in telling the “ladies” to “behave”).

Douglas goes through a lot of ups and downs with the team, some emotional, some monetary. She ends up buying the Sharks and is now the owner/manager of the dysfunctional but lovable team. This causes her parents and siblings to heartily disapprove of her actions; they tell her so in a disappointed tone. All her life Douglas has wanted to be involved with football and now that her dream is coming true, she is still not considered to be a true woman. Despite the fact that she is challenging societal norms to follow her dreams, she is shunned by her lover also.

After suffering losses both in her professional and personal life, the author slides into a deep depression. Despite her best efforts, her team is imploding. She is not sure if she wishes to continue following her dreams. One bright light on the horizon is the creation of the International Women’s Football League, which the Sharks join. In true shark fashion, the team keeps moving forward and keeps on fighting. They are seeking a win in the Championship game and need to pull together one last time – can they do it?

This book is gritty and authentic, with lots of hilarious trash talk from all the players. I got an excellent grasp of the trials and tribulations of what goes on behind the scenes of a football game. Unfortunately, I also got an excellent look at how the women are still considered to be second class citizens and how their teams were not financially backed as well as the pro men’s teams. I’m certain that the pros don’t need to come up with $40 to pay for their own jerseys.

Douglas also shares her struggle with depression, which takes courage and strength. I too, would become depressed after continually facing the setbacks in her life. One message that I take away from this book is that women are still not thought of as equals, and that is sad. Despite all the strides we have made since Title IX, there is still more to be accomplished. Please read Douglas’ story with not only entertainment, but enlightenment in mind. You can get your copy here.

The Pain of Suicide by Dr Jo-Ann Rowland

 

Every suicide is an individual tragedy whose origins challenge our mental capacity. Suicide is a global phenomenon. Each year there are over 800,000 reported suicides worldwide and that is expected to increase to over 1.5 million by 2020. More people attempt suicide than die from suicide. Family-member survivors and communities are left with many unanswered questions, not understanding why the person chose to commit suicide. Persons responding to suicide and suicide attempts are very often not prepared for what they encounter and this exacerbates the problem. This book looks at the struggles of a high-risk people group and presents interventions and postventions proffered in a consultation forum.

Thank you to Authoright for this ARC!

Dr Rowland’s concern for those lost to suicide is evident in this well-researched book. She concentrates on the suicide rate in Guyana, South America, since this little country had the highest number of suicides in 2012 and 2014. Further into the book she examines some insights into the suicidal mind, the effect of religion on those who want to kill themselves, and a discussion of “psychache”, the ongoing mental, emotional, and psychological emotions experienced by suicidal people.

Regarding Guyana, suicide has historically been a part of the Indian experience, with an average yearly number of about 123,000. There are various predisposing factors, such as culture and sociology, which the author explores further in other chapters.

Hopelessness and suicidal ideation are common threads amongst all races, with the thought being that counseling (both for the depressed person and bereavement) would be helpful. The stigma and grief are nearly unbearable, and the act should not be glamorized. Regarding this last statement, the World Health Organization created guidelines for media reporting of suicides such that a phenomenon called “suicide contagion” does not occur. These guidelines include not placing blame, calling the act “completed” rather than “successful”, and highlight alternatives to suicide. These may appear obvious, but there are stories in the book where friends and relatives seemingly ignored or didn’t understand multiple warning signs given off, and someone died as a result of this.

Dr Rowland’s research was conducted through meetings with both relatives of, and survivors of, suicide attempts. Her goal was to determine why the suicide rate in Guyana was so high and to see if she could make a difference in this number. Transcripts of her meetings were also analyzed independently by two Guyanese, who applied both cultural and academic reason to their analysis. Intervention strategies were discussed by a panel of doctors and social workers after the research findings were examined. Some of these intervention strategies included community care groups, parenting/coping skills, school-based programs, and the establishment of drug courts. This last item is quite important, for pesticides and drugs are used as a method for suicide. Many Guyanese are farmers and have ready access to agricultural chemicals.

Reasons discovered for suicide included depression, substance abuse, and family dysfunction. Family conflicts arose out of cultural differences between children and parents, or marriages where the husband did not support his wife adequately. Guyanese families are structured around the patriarchal system, and “culture shock” can occur when mothers need to work to support the family and the children are left alone with no caregivers.

Suicide survivors expressed the pain of being misunderstood and unsupported by parents or family. There is also a stigma so forceful that one parent “self-discharged” her minor child, claiming the embarrassment of the attempt was too much for the family to bear.

The author concludes that lack of coping skills devalues the meaning of life, and drive these hurting individuals to seek “peace” via suicide. The reasons are the same no matter what country one is from, and there is heartache (or psychache) within every culture.

Dr Rowland has set up an organization in Guyana called Ephrathah, built specifically to engage those who are hurting. Counseling and persona development programs are offered to help reach those who are in despair, regardless of ethnicity or community status. I feel this organization will go a long way to help these vulnerable individuals.

I commend Dr Rowland for giving of her time and interest so freely. She is truly a caring soul who is seeking to mitigate suicidal ideation not only in Guyana, but all over the world. Her research can be translated into any culture in any country and needs to serve as a wakeup call to those who may have suicidal friends or relatives. Mental health can be a challenge at any age or stage, and we must all be willing to give that extra attention to someone who is depressed or hurting. That little bit may go a long way in saving a life. Please take the time to read this book and understand more about suicide. You can get your copy here.

The Ministry of Truth by Dorian Lynskey

An authoritative, wide-ranging and incredibly timely history of 1984 — its literary sources, its composition by Orwell, its deep and lasting effect on the Cold War, and its vast influence throughout world culture at every level, from high to pop.

Nineteen Eighty Four isn’t just a novel; it’s a key to understanding the modern world. George Orwell’s final work is a treasure chest of ideas and memes — Big Brother, the Thought Police, Doublethink, Newspeak, 2+2=5 — that gain potency with every year. Particularly in 2016, when the election of Donald Trump made it a bestseller (“Ministry of Alternative Facts,” anyone?). Its influence has morphed endlessly into novels (The Handmaid’s Tale), films (Brazil), television shows (V for Vendetta), rock albums (Diamond Dogs), commercials (Apple), even reality TV (Big Brother). The Ministry of Truth is the first book that fully examines the epochal and cultural event that is 1984 in all its aspects: its roots in the utopian and dystopian literature that preceded it; the personal experiences in wartime Great Britain that Orwell drew upon as he struggled to finish his masterpiece in his dying days; and the political and cultural phenomenon that the novel ignited at once upon publication and which far from subsiding, has only grown over the decades. It explains how fiction history informs fiction and how fiction explains history.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Be advised – if you loved 1984 you will also love the many companion works cited in THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH. 1984 was well-known and influential, but it was just one among many dystopian/utopian works during Orwell’s life. The author has definitely done his research and it shows. The beginning is heavy with politics, then smooths out about 20% in with excellent compare and contrast of HG Wells, Orwell, and Aldous Huxley.

Orwell admired Brave New World, up to a point. He had fond memories of being taught by Huxley at Eton in 1918; a classmate claimed Huxley had given Orwell a “taste for words and their accurate and significant use”. However, [Orwell] was unconvinced by Brave New World’s tyranny of gratification. He notes that there was no “power-hunger, no sadism, no hardness of any kind. (E)veryone is happy in a vacuous way….it is difficult to believe that such a society could endure”.

The author goes on to note that 1984 and BNW overlap in one area: the status of the proles, then provides more compare/contrast dialogue. This is what makes the book shine – thoughtful and erudite treatment of multiple dystopian works and the ways they matter.

Other authors whose history is intermingled with Orwell’s are included in this book. We will learn more about Yevgeny Zamyatin (who Orwell was accused of plagiarizing), Ayn Rand, and Jimmy Burnham. The movie THX1138 and Animal Farm are also discussed at length. Each of these chapters add another layer explaining the genius of the tortured and driven Orwell. As the book progresses, the politics and descriptions of war-torn London do so as well. Finally,  as the tubercular Orwell languishes in bed, post-war London starts its progression forward.

The second portion of the book brings 1984 into pop culture, and how the book affected music, movies, stagflation, and politics. Author Anthony Burgess compares his own blockbuster novel, A Clockwork Orange, to 1984 and shares his thoughts about Orwell. Time moves forward into the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s, with politics continuing to be at the forefront. McCarthyism rears its ugly head, if only for a moment. It is amazing how the author is able to use 1984 as the center of everything – this novel was much more influential than anyone could guess.

Altogether, this book is layered with anecdotes, political views, comparison, and original thoughts. If you are a fan of Orwell, you will adore this book. I certainly gained a new view of both Animal Farm and 1984 and plan to go back to re-read both. You can pick up your copy of THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH here.

Fukushima and the Coming Tokyo Earthquake by Tony Smyth

This book details the story of two earthquakes, one that has already happened and one that is imminent, and their consequences, not only for Japan but also for the rest of the world. It is structured in a way that ‘chunks up’ in sections, from local/national events through to global consequences.
The first section of the book tells the story of how a country that suffered atomic bombing ended up obtaining a third of its electricity from nuclear power, despite having the misfortune to be located in the most seismically active zone in the world. It then depicts the sequence of what happened in March 2011 after the tsunami struck.
Next, the book details recent peer-reviewed studies about radiation and its effect on human health. The following chapter reveals the full costs of nuclear power– an energy source that never comes in on budget and is incredibly expensive. The final part of this section of the book describes the inadequacy of storing spent nuclear fuel once a nuclear power station has been decommissioned.
The latter half of the book adopts a larger frame or viewpoint and looks at the use of nuclear and renewable energy in the context of world climate change and the widespread use of fossil fuels.
The final section of the book depicts a coming Tokyo earthquake and its consequences. A big earthquake in or near Tokyo is overdue. They usually happen every sixty to seventy years, yet the last one was in 1923. The author asserts that Japan will have to repatriate much of its treasury bonds which are held in the United States. The tsunami and meltdowns of 2011 represent the most expensive natural disaster in history. Even though Japan is the third biggest economy in the world, because of an estimated debt from the tsunami and Fukushima meltdowns of at least $500 million and weak indebted economy, it will struggle to pay this amount. The most obvious way to pay for rebuilding will be to sell stocks and treasury bonds held in the United States.
An earthquake striking Tokyo will hit right at the nerve centre of the country. All political and economic power is concentrated there.The headquarters of many global 500 companies, as well as all the powerful bureaucracies so vital to the country, are located in one central section of the capital. Most of Japan’s imports and exports are dispatched through Tokyo Bay. After a big quake, this area is likely to be crippled for some time. Moreover, much of Tokyo’s manufacturing takes place on reclaimed land in the Bay – land which tends to liquefy in a big quake.
This book argues that because of the fragile situation of world economies since 2008 (Lehman Bros etc), and the heavily indebted state of Japan’s finances post-tsunami/Fukushima, the only way that Japan will appeal to finance the enormous amount of post-quake rebuilding is to repatriate its investment in US government bonds and securities. This will have an immediate knock-on effect on the American economy and, soon after, most of the world’s economies.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this book!

Tony Smyth has done his research. This book is full of facts and figures, with a good deal of opinion thrown in as well. His writing style is not too fussy, so I got into the cadence of words quickly while remaining interested throughout the litany of numbers. First off, I learned a good deal about seismic activity and how the buildings in Japan are created to withstand earthquakes. Some structures have fluid filled “shock absorbers” or sliding walls while others have complex structural cross-bracing which is designed to buckle while absorbing seismic energy.

Despite these measures, nothing could prevent the nuclear meltdown that occurred at the Fukushima power plant because there was no way to protect against the tsunami that devastated the area post-quake. Thousands of lives were lost, towns were washed away, and the land was (and still is) overrun with radioactive isotopes.

The author notes that the total costs of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns of 2011 make those events the world’s most expensive natural disaster. There are a lot of absolutes in this book, yet the author remains fairly neutral about nuclear power. There are plenty of reasons (global warming, cost of disposal, impact on the planet) to seek out alternatives, yet Smyth balances his words well and merely uses them as a warning, not a condemnation. More concerning are the politics of how the reactors came to be, regardless of the fact that many of them are superfluous.

The author speaks from experience; he lives in Japan and is familiar with the socio-economic climate and Japanese culture. Despite the business-heavy title, each facet of the country and the disaster is discussed in plain language that cannot help but affect the reader. Smyth heavily includes the human element, with heart-wrenching stories of parents waiting in vain for their children to get home or children worried about their elderly parents in the flood zone.

My main takeaway from this book was not fear for the future of Japanese business; instead it was fear for the future of mankind and our planet. The section of the book concerning global warming was extremely edifying, and as a result I will personally make an effort to reduce my global footprint.

I feel this is an important book to read on so many levels. Please pick up your copy here.

 

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