Books To Get You Thinking

Reflecting on the many outstanding works of nonfiction that appeared throughout the months of 2014 in widely different genres ranging from history and politics to health, nature and the environment, there are some books that have made a definitive mark on ways that we think and view the world around us. Each year in December, leading newspapers and journals publish a list of the best books of the year. As we usher in the New Year and the cold winter evenings loom ahead of us, it is just the right time to pick up and enjoy these excellent works. This month’s column features a few picks from selections made by the New York Times and the Washington Post and can all be found at the Mercer County Library.

Berlin: Portrait of a City through the Centuries by Rory MacLean
Berlin: Portrait of a City through the Centuries by Rory MacLean
The book is a tribute to the city of Berlin by author Rory McLean, who paints an enchanting portrait of the city looking back at five hundred years of its history. Today Berlin is a culturally rich, modern, busy metropolis bustling with people of different traditions and heritage, speaking many different languages and yet there is an inherent sense of continuity and history that pervades the heart of the city. The volatile history of Berlin, the violence, the wars and the conflicting ideologies is retold by the author through captivating vignettes and voices of twenty three different inhabitants who lived in Berlin at different periods of time. Fascinating stories such as those of Karl Fredrick Schinkel, the architect; Lilli Neuss, an armaments factory worker; Christopher Isherwood and others transport readers back in time to witness the changing character of Berlin. The author weaves the voices from the distant past to the more recent to reflect on both the city’s grandeur, its ruins and, ultimately, its amazing strength and tenacity to rebuild and rise from the ashes.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande, a surgeon and Professor at the Harvard Medical School and staff writer for the New Yorker, reflects on aging and the care that our current health care system gives to the terminally ill and the old. Advancements in modern medicine provide novel drugs and innovative procedures to treat disease and prolong life yet often fail to accept the inevitability of death. Patients facing a poor prognosis due to a terminal condition or to the natural aging process are rarely offered real options that would help make the time they have left more comfortable and meaningful. The book holds poignant stories of some of Doctor Gawande’s patients including that of his father, himself a surgeon who became afflicted with spinal malignancy. Rather than continue with painful surgeries and medical treatment with limited outcomes that would involve lengthy stays in nursing homes, the use of palliative treatment and hospice care provide such patients with a way to lead a fulfilling life to the very end, often at home surrounded by friends and family . Physicians today are trained to acquire knowledge and be competent physicians but are not prepared to discuss the reality of mortality with patients.

Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David by Lawrence Wright
A riveting account of the crucial peace summit enacted at Camp David during thirteen critical days in September 1978 when President Carter organized a meeting between the Egyptian and Israeli leaders, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. The previous three decades had already seen four wars between the Arabs and Israelis and the author gives a dramatic account of the peace negotiations at Camp David and President Carter’s role in helping the leaders of these two nations come to a consensus and hammer out the final agreement. What is perhaps the most fascinating part of the book lies in the author’s analysis of each of the leaders' personality, psychology and beliefs and how these played out decisively in shaping the course of the discussions and ultimately in the final negotiated settlement. The wide chasm between the Israelis and the Arabs was not easy to bridge but ultimately each of these leaders played a decisive role in bringing peace to the region. The book is a timely reminder about the role negotiations can play at a time when deep mistrust and unrest cover large areas of the Middle East.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
Elizabeth Kolbert from the New Yorker, well known for her prolific science writing, has penned this powerful eye opening book. The first part of the book delves back into the 3.8 billion years of Earth’s history and examines the specific phenomenon that resulted in the “Big Five” extinctions that have taken place in the past. In the second part of the book, Kolbert turns her attention to the role mankind is currently playing in changing climate and disrupting the eco-system that makes a sixth extinction very probable in the future. The process is examined through tracing the effects of the large scale dumping of gaseous waste into the earth’s atmosphere. The resultant rapidly rising temperatures of both atmosphere and the ocean waters are jeopardizing many life forms and species – examples abound in the Amazon rainforest, the slopes of the Andes and the outer banks of the Great Barrier Reef. Kolbert calls out for the imperative need for a shift in the short term view we place on industrial and agricultural policy and a return to sustainable living to prevent a mass extinction and the end of civilization as we know it.

Nita Mathur

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ocean-in-a-Bottle Craft for Kids

Neil Gaiman Ruined My Life

Happy National Peanut Month!