Staff Picks

Wait, What?

Summary: 
The Dean of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education discusses the art of asking—and answering—good questions. Five questions in particular: Wait, what?; I wonder…? Couldn’t we at least…?; How can I help?; and What truly matters? Using examples from many sources, as well as his own personal life, Ryan attempts to show how these essential inquiries generate understanding, spark curiosity, initiate progress, fortify relationships, and draw our attention to the important things in life. And finally how to answer what he considers to be able answer life’s most important question: “And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?” This is a light-hearted and sometimes amusing and thought-provoking book, that could change the way you think about asking questions. As a scientist, I was trained to ask questions and consequently found this book a very interesting read. I would recommend this to anyone who is of like mind. I have always said there are no silly questions, and this brief little book adds another dimension to this idea.

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Fire and Sword

Summary: 
This third novel in the series following the careers of Napoleon Bonaparte and Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington, takes place in the years from 1804 to 1809. The French revolution is over and Emperor Napoleon sets his sights on the rest of Europe. Wellesley has just returned to England after many years in India. When Napoleon puts his own brother on the throne of Spain, Wellesley sees the opportunity to damage Napoleon's ambitions to rule Europe. He finally gets his chance to command a British force in Portugal and begins to inflict losses on parts of Napoleon's army. Extremely well written and meticulously researched, this book continues to build his characters. Scarrow is a great storyteller, bringing this period of history to life. I devoured this book and will be reading the fourth very shortly.

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Conclave

Summary: 
The Pope is dead!! As the Dean of Cardinals, Lomelli has the task of facilitating a Conclave. We follow his investigations into corruption, secrets, his spiritual struggles and the reflection of his own conscience as he navigates mystery upon mystery in this compelling novel. Meticulous research on the traditions and laws of Roman Catholic Conclave results in an exciting story of an election of a Pope. I was enthralled by the events described in this book and it made me wonder about actual elections that have take place over the centuries. Robert Harris is an excellent storyteller and the ending was incredible. I could not have anticipated the final chapter. Brilliant!

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BlacKkKlansman

Summary: 
The film is based the memoir of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first and only black policeman in his department, infiltrating the KKK with his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). Lee clearly draws direct connection between the racism presented in the film to the political conflicts that resulted in the Charlottesville incident. Lee's point is these men in the KKK like David Duke still mostly exist today. It has only been a generation since the Civil Rights movement; therefore, America cannot assume racial hatred has disappeared within that time. Stallworth is interesting because he believes in fighting for racial equality by rising within institutions rather than joining the protests of the Black Panther movement. He questions how much he can change when the institutions fear blacks because of a predicted race war; and questions if black protest is becoming too polarizing and causes more anxiety than peace. Lee's ultimate argument is American society has allowed hatred to persist in the shadows, hoping to avoid conflict. The problem is what brews in the shadows will eventually grow strong to strike in the light.

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Roads to Memphis: The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr

Summary: 
About fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in front of his hotel room by James Earl Ray. King was fighting for the rights for sanitation workers as part of his mounting war against poverty in the United States. He believed a grand change in the economic landscape was necessary. James Earl Ray was one of the poverty-stricken people King was fighting for; yet, Ray saw his salvation through killing King. The documentary makes it clear that Ray believed society would reward him for the assassination. He sought fame and fortune with violence while King was trying to achieve his aims with non-violence. Ultimately, the documentary asks How long can peace persist in a nation plagued by the legacy of slavery? King accomplished a lot by bravely leading a movement for years; but Ray's single action created a setback for civil rights and enflamed racial tensions. Is it a sad truth a killer can be just as influential as the hero he killed?

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The Help

Summary: 
The Help focuses on Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and other African American women that are maids for the rich white families of Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. The leader of the white women socialites, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), desires to pass a law to segregate all bathrooms. Skeeter (Emma Stone), an aspiring journalist, decides to fight the law and expose the terrifying racism of the state by gathering testimonies from Aibileen and the other maids to publish. However, they all face great danger for doing so. What is fascinating about the film is the racial dynamics of the home. On the one hand, the white women allow black maids into their homes to take care of their children. However, these same women fear black contact, thinking they will catch diseases. The home becomes a place of simultaneous integration and segregation. More interesting is how this set up is caused by the socially restricted roles placed upon white women at the time. Society expected these women to get married at young ages when they lacked the maturity to take care of children and the home. Therefore, the women resort to hiring older black maids to take on their responsibilities. Despite depending on the maids so much, the women look down on them, declaring themselves as racially superior beings. The Help argues that much of racism actually stems from white insecurity about themselves. --

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Knocked Up

Summary: 
Ben Stone (Seth Rogan), a stoner, ends up getting E! reporter Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) pregnant. Now they have to navigate the crazy adventure of pregnancy together. Judd Appatow manages to show the raw side of relationships while also highlighting the magical power of love. Appatow's script of witty raunchy dialogue makes the characters feel real. They are completely insecure about themselves. No one knows what they are doing and can only resort to advice from others who are just as clueless. The only option is to just be the best one can be and roll with the flow.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (George Smiley #5, Karla #1)

Summary: 
"Control" is dead, and George has been forced out of the Circus by the younger generation. When a would-be defector surfaces with a shocking revelation that a Soviet mole, code named 'Gerald' has penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence, it is clear that his treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. George Smiley is assigned to identify and destroy him.. Relying only on his wits and a small, loyal group,Smiley recognizes the hand of Karla—his Moscow Centre nemesis—and sets a trap to catch the traitor. Le Carré's writing, in my view is brilliant, his language and ability to convey the inner workings of the spy industry as a profession is without peer. This is a world-class entertainment and an important, enduring novel, one of the few legitimate classics to arise from the espionage genre. Even on the second reading, the experience was just as enthralling.

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The Fallen Angel (Gabriel Allon #12)

Summary: 
While Gabriel is taking refuge restoring art in the Vatican, he is summoned to St. Peter's Basilica by the Pope's private secretary Donati; the body of a woman lies beneath Michelangelo's magnificent dome. The Vatican police suspect suicide, though Gabriel believes otherwise. Fearful that a public inquiry might inflict another scandal on the Church, Donati tasks Gabriel to quietly pursue the truth—with one caveat. "Don't ask too many questions." The dead woman had uncovered a dangerous secret—a secret that threatens a global criminal enterprise looting and sellingtimeless treasures of antiquity. Gabriel's investigation becomes a chess match between Gabriel and the terrorists planning the third Intifada. The climax takes place in Jerusalem on Good Friday during a visit of the Pope, with a breathtaking race between the terrorists and Gabriel and Eli to defuse a bomb that seeks to destroy the Temple Mount and all the history with it. A great read. Daniel Silva clearly has a better understanding of Middle East dynamics than most of us.

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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography

Summary: 
This book for me is a journey back in time, when I was at university in England and "Monty Pythons Flying Circus" was fresh, new and outrageous. Trying to get a spot in the many television rooms on campus each week to watch the latest episode was highlight for me and most of the students there. Eric Idle reflects on the meaning of his own life in this entertaining memoir that takes us on a remarkable journey from his childhood in an austere boarding school through his successful career in comedy, television, theater, and film. This is a wonderfully entertaining read -- and I had to chuckle at the fact that the song he wrote for the "Life of Brian", 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', has since become the number one song played at funerals in the UK. What an epitaph!! Hilarious.

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