CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes

I have had in mind to read this weighty book (600 pages) about the arrival of Europeans in Australia written by an art historian for a long time. Between the original landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay in 1770 and the arrival of the first wave of transported convicts in 1788, no British ships came to the area. The Botany Bay area would not have supported them; if Captain Phillip hadn’t...

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

As a child I was terrified of the flock of chickens on my family’s small farm. I’m not sure which worried me most: their horrible feet, their scary beaks, their alien feathery bodies, or the apparently random movement of the noisy flock. So a book about training a raptor as a grief healing mechanism is incomprehensible to me and it languished on my Books to Read list for nearly three...

The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton

I found this audiobook of essays written and read by Tim Winton so heartening that when I finished it, I listened to it again immediately. I have never done that before, either listening or reading a book, so what is different about this one? First he writes so beautifully, using such a literate vocabulary with the bonus of the vernacular of Australia, perhaps in particular, working class...

Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville, Virginia by Timothy Heaphy

In the last few days I have been focused on the novella-length report of the summer’s awful events, especially the one I wrote about that occurred on August 12. Though I was skeptical about the report, given that Heaphy seemed to be buddies with various people in City government and that he requested to undertake this project paid for by the City. I believe he did a creditable job. As I...

Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver by Diane Ott Whealy

This is the story of one strain of the national movement to preserve our plant heritage. In this case a couple who were drawn to living close to the land expanded their reverence for the vegetables of their elders to working to preserve the vitality of that heritage. Shortly after Diane and Kent were married and living near her parents in Iowa, he asked her grandfather for seeds from the morning...

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers

This book is a compilation of conversations between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers describing Campbell's teaching on mythology. The conversations occurred near the end of his life and are pretty free wheeling at times. I listened as I worked and marked a few passages on my phone that struck me as of particular interest. Below are my efforts to reproduce them.  Campbell says that every...

Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari

This book was an interesting mix of laugh-out-loud funny moments, embarrassingly silly not funny jokes, and an interesting take on digital lives of people of a certain age. He did a significant amount of research on the subject and along with Eric Klinenberg, sociologist from NYU, did some focus group type of research himself. They contrasted the ways people met each other in the 40s to current...

If the Oceans Were Ink by Carla Power

The subtitle of this book is An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran. The friendship is between the author, an American journalist who has worked all around the world and a former colleague of hers, Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, a Muslim scholar from India who eventually studied at Oxford. The author spent a year studying with the Sheikh, including attending day-long...

Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Dalton

Robin Dalton is a renown literary agent (four of her authors won Booker prizes) and movie producer (Oscar and Lucinda). She was born in 1920 in Sydney and moved to London in 1946. This short book that she wrote about her eccentric family was first published in 1965 and again recently with an introduction by Clive James. It opens with this irresistible bit: My great-aunt Juliet was knocked over...

American Philosophy: A Love Story by John Kaag

I cannot possibly recount all the important bits I want to remember about this book and it is even less plausible for me to give an overall accounting of the book. The NYT review does the latter admirably and I will just record a few of my favorite ideas. While teaching philosophy at UMass-Lowell, John Kaag happened on the private library of John Ernest Hocking who taught philosophy at Harvard...

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