Books to Get You Thinking Holiday Edition I

The grey frosty mornings of November, the red and gold leaves softly falling off the branches, the early sunsets, and lengthening evenings are all a gentle reminder of the approaching holiday season. Along with that realization comes the nagging sense of panic about all those gifts that must be readied for the holiday.  Cast all those worries aside - books make the most perfect gift and, to help you get off to an early start, here is a list of books that would make perfect gifts for just about everyone on your list! Non-Fiction and biography titles are featured in our list this month but, for those who prefer fiction or cooking and entertainment, keep a look out for the next edition of Books to Get You Thinking!

Non Fiction

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough                 

Acclaimed historian David McCullough has authored several bestselling biographies and  hosted the PBS television series The American Experience. In his new book, McCullough goes back to the many speeches he has delivered over the past twenty-five years, some before Congress and the White House and others at various university commencements and historical society lectures. His hope is to “help remind us, in this time of uncertainty and contention, of just who we are and what we stand for, of the high aspirations that inspired our founders, of our enduring values, and the importance of history as an aid to navigation in such troubled, uncertain times.” (p.xiv).

Reality Is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli                       

Italian theoretical physicist Carol Rovelli follows up his previous bestseller, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, with this fascinating book. Addressing a popular audience without much knowledge of physics, Rovelli explains how the idea of reality has evolved over the last century with new ways of thinking about space and time. He elucidates concisely the basic principles of physics from Lucretius and ancient Greek philosophers to Einstein’s relativity, gravitational waves and quantum theory. It was Lucretius who, in his epic work The Nature of Things, explored the physical mysteries of the world and conceived of atoms as the building blocks of the universe.

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy                                                                                                                                                   

Liza Mundy has penned a riveting story about the forgotten women who played a vital role in the victory of the Allies in World War II. More than 10,000 women were employed to break complex military codes used by the armies and navies of Germany and Japan. They also created codes that were put in use by the United States military. The project was shrouded in secrecy and the women worked in the guise of typists, tabulators, and workers in record keeping and filing. Liza Mundy unearthed the full story after sifting through the recently declassified collection in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. She was able to track down and interview a few of the twenty cryptographers still alive. The book is a fascinating blend of the stories of the challenges these brilliant and spirited young women faced at work and at home, the history of the war, and the evolution of cryptography as an intelligence tool.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant     

Two years ago the world was shocked hearing about the sudden sad demise of Adam Goldberg, husband of Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of the popular acclaimed book Lean In. Teaming up with Adam Grant, psychologist and professor at the Wharton School of Business, Sandberg shares her poignant story of coping with sadness and  loss, and of looking for ways to counter adversities that shatter and transform lives. To find resilience in the face of grief, Sandberg looks at Martin Seligman’s research that focusses on the “3 Ps” that can impede recovery from loss: personalization (when one constantly blames oneself for what happened), pervasiveness (when one sees grief as omnipresent) and permanence (where one sees the grief as inescapable and unending). Working to counter each of these can help build resilience and once more restore the lost joy from life.

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz 

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former Google Data scientist and visiting lecturer at the Wharton School of Business, is also a regular contributor to the op-ed column of the New York Times. In his book, he explores the hidden facets of the human psyche, values and behavior as revealed through Google Internet searches.  People often hesitate to put down their true innermost feelings on a subject in response to survey questions. This is due to the inherent social bias that drives people to exaggerate, often deluding themselves and answering sensitive questions in ways that make them appear desirable or good.  Using data analytics to evaluate the masses of Google data sets yields surprising and unexpected perspectives on important topics as health, mental illness, and religion, and also a fascinating picture of how people really think, their fears, desires and aspirations.

Biography and Memoirs

Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly 

Scott Kelly, veteran NASA astronaut, writes about his experiences and the challenges he faced  over the one year he spent aboard the International Space Station. The mission included medical studies on the effects of space travel that involved Scott’s twin brother Mark Kelly who stayed on earth and served as a control object. Readers get a view of  the hard training that goes into preparing an astronaut for living in space and life in a zero gravity environment.  In the memoir, Kelly also shares other life experiences – his struggles in school and the time he spent training to be a navy test pilot. The key to facing any difficulty, advises Kelly, is to keep the focus on things that one can control while ignoring things that we cannot influence – a valuable trait that he picked up in the army.

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson                                                                                                   
Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the most remarkable personalities from the Renaissance period, comes alive through engaging text and high definition pictures.  Walter Isaacson’s brilliant work is based on a study of thousands of notebook entries made by Leonardo. He perceives Leonardo’s artwork and scientific breakthroughs as a direct reflection of the artist’s innermost thoughts, and constructs for readers a fascinating portrait of the genius of Leonardo da Vinci, his many passions, and achievements. A brilliant mind, always curious and investigative, Leonardo was consumed with an obsessive desire for knowledge, often failing to bring ideas and projects to a closure.  He may be best known for his art and the eternally beautiful paintings of Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, but his scientific experiments and thousands of drawings on engineering, architecture, biology and physics were truly extraordinary - in so many ways he was centuries ahead of his times.

Grant by Ron Chernow                                                                                                                                   
Ron Chernow, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian well known for his acclaimed biographies on George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, pens a brilliant biography of Ulysses Grant, commanding general who led the army to victory in the American Civil War of and went on to become America’s eighteenth president (1869 -1877). Grant’s life was a tumultuous mix of triumphs shrouded by loss and failure. Based on meticulous research, Chernow brings together the disparate facets of Grant’s personality, interwoven with the historical events that marked his lifetime. A crowning legacy of Grant’s presidency was his creation of a Justice Department and the conviction of thousands of Klan members who posed a threat to the newly liberated slaves. Yet his presidency was also marred by accusations of corruption and nepotism. Close to bankruptcy towards the end of his life and suffering from cancer, Grant completed a memoir just before he died that was published by Mark Twain and became an instant bestseller.

Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem by Bill Nye

Bill Nye, graduate in engineering from Cornell University and iconic science educator who has spent more than twenty-five years popularizing science, is perhaps best known for his Emmy Award-winning television series, Bill Nye the Science Guy.  In this captivating book, Bill Nye shares with readers his personal journey and what contributed to his passion for science - stories from his childhood, the earlier years when he worked as an engineer, and the influence of his mentor Carl Sagan. In the book, Bill Nye advocates for the importance of science, engineering and research and also the importance of government and legislation guided by scientific thinking. He advocates doing everything all at once by identifying eight keys to success with the objective of changing the world:

EVERYONE you’ll ever meet knows something you DON’T. 
GOOD ENGINEERING invites right use.
Constraints provide OPPORTUNITIES.
Be part of the START.
Think COSMICALLY; act LOCALLY. 
QUESTION before you BELIEVE.
CHANGE YOUR MIND when you need to.
Be OPTIMISTIC; be RESPONSIBLE; be PERSISTANT. 





- Nita Mathur, West Windsor Branch

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