Hot reads for cold nights

I never know what I am going to read next. Somehow this week I have had five rather varied nonfiction books catch my eye. A purchased ebook to give me organized quotes from highlighting the environmental message of Peter Wadham’s A Farewell to Ice. Two library books were most enjoyed: a) The New Wine Rules (2017) by Jon Bonne has fun Rules from 1) drink the rainbow to 89) don’t save a great bottle for anything more than a rainy day. Open and enjoy. And b) The Flora of Middle-Earth (2017) by the father son team Walter and Graham Judd. Walter is an eminent professor of Botany at UFlorida and his son Graham is a professional illustrator in St Paul Mn. They spent four years exhaustively researching the plants and created an amazing field guide so you can create your own middle earth. I can’t believe I missed the NPR review of this. Two additional books were sent by friends 1) Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shananhan, MD- so much common sense that really means changing your lifestyle and 2) Forged in Crisis by Nancy Koehn, PhD Historian.

Title: Forged in Crisis by Nancy Koehn

Publisher: Scribner, 2017, 517 pp

Genre: history, leadership, crisis management

4 stars, Recommended as Library reading, I’m glad I didn’t pay money.

Author: From her bio

“Nancy Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robinson chair of Business Administration. She has coached leaders from many organizations and speaks frequently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and the World Business Forum. An accomplished author and scholar (she earned her M.A. and PhD degrees in history from Harvard), she spent ten years writing Forged in Crisis, her first book aimed at a popular audience. Her research focuses on how leaders, past and present, craft lives of purpose, worth and impact. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts and is a committed equestrian.” She has written several books and case studies, previous best: Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers’ Trust from Wedgewood To Dell about six entrepreneurs.


The case studies or essays include Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rachel Carson. This was an interesting mix and my first question was why these five, what did they have in common? I’ve read multiple great biographies on all but Bonhoeffer. At the same time, the current political climate could benefit from a wider audience reading this book.

I was disappointed in the analysis of leadership, often a page summarizing at the end of each profile (60-80 pages). They more like afterthoughts not original insight. In the conclusion, “The Power of Courageous Leadership” Koehn tells us that the most important thing that connects these leaders is “that these leaders were made, not born.” Years ago, I read John F. Kennedy’s succinct, inspirational book, “Profiles in Courage.” I can’t believe it’s too dated to read. Especially in light of the comment/conclusion “All five leaders were willing to work on themselves.” I think college lecture or motivational speaker. “The second thing that each of the five leaders learned as they navigated through great turbulence was the significance of committing to a worthy goal.” This applies to every generation, but we need tools to make the generations work together. These five also learned was the value of resilience. We definitely need more of that.


From the introduction, leaders are “effective, decent…people of purpose and commitment who want to make a positive difference and who choose to rise: first within themselves, by claiming their better selves, and then on the large stage, by staking out the higher ground.”

Olympic reading

(faster, higher, stronger: Citius Altius Fortius)
Title: Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg

Publisher: Random House. 400 pp

Genre: non fiction, self help, team building

4+ stars

Author: Duhigg is an award winning reporter for the NYTimes (since 2013, previously he worked freelance). He studied history at Yale, MBA from Harvard. He is the author of the best selling and excellent Power of Habit (2010), about the science of habit formation. His books are well researched and informative. He has a clear writing style, if somewhat wordy.

Story line:

Subtitle is secrets of being productive in life and business.

There are 8 chapters including motivation, teams, focus (the best chapter), goals, managing others, decision making, innovation and absorbing data. The appendix has readers guide, with suggestions. Each chapter includes a variety of stories/ examples, e.g. the marines, Disney, Detroit to airlines that reinforce the 8 concepts. I found them too detailed and not necessarily the best examples. It is overall positive thinking with helpful advice, often with suggestions which will appeal to particular individuals. Hence people will get different messages from this book. Suggestions need greater prominence, or brevity within the text. This is still a good reference book for team building and project management.

Bottom line? Take time to smell the roses too. Life isn’t all about being productive. I was probably the wrong audience for this book as I am already too efficient. Most of this seemed obvious, not secret. You need to set goals, focus on them, recognize choices, use discipline and better leadership to strengthen team efforts. And know you are never finished. In short (“cliff notes”):

1) frame decisions as opportunities, not problems

2) construct teams where positive interaction is crucial

3) engage with the vast data stream (recognize the difference between finding an answer, understanding what it means, and then incorporating it)

4) set goals that push you beyond the “to do lists”, and toward something large (stretch goals/ objectives that can spark outsized leaps in productivity)

Read on

If you like Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, Matthew Syed


These are the things, that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.

There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose resumes appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self-marketing. 

The need for control is a biological imperative. When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster….One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions. Each choice, no matter how small, reinforces the perception of control and self-efficacy. 

For psychological safety to emerge among a group, teammates don’t have to be friends. They do, however, need to be socially sensitive and ensure everyone feels heard. 

Teams need to believe that their work is important, feel their work is personally meaningful, clear goals and defined roles. Team members need to know they can depend on one another. But most important, teams need psychological safety…..

It’s important to manage how you think, rather than what you think.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.


Tartan Day is ahead of us (April 6), celebrating the many contributions of the Scots to the United States. It was chosen to commemorate the Declaration of Arbroath (6 April 1320) upon which the Declaration of Independence was modeled. The water of life (whisky) is certainly in the warm welcoming spirit of America. Andrew Carnegie funded thousands of public libraries in The United States, recognizing their role in the American Dream, and his in particular as a poor scottish immigrant. In past years I have held many fundraisers, often whisky tastings with the wonderful support from Andy’s in Rochester and numerous distillers. I had many warm memories reading the following book, and miss RPL and Andy’s!

Freedom and whisky gang the gither (Robert Burns)

Title: Scotch by Ted Bruning
Publisher: Shire Publishing, Oxford, March 2015
137 pp
Genre: whisky, nonfiction, food/ beverage, single malt scotch
3.5 Stars ***
Author: Ted Bruning has written several interesting books on spirits, including Home Brewing (2014) and Historic Pubs of London (2000). He usually provides a nice list of places to visit and includes here websites and regional distilleries. This would make a nice gift to add to a whisky connoisseur’s collection.
Story line:
This is a small book but is an interesting and informative history of single malt scottish whisky. I have read dozens of book on this subject and enjoyed the concise, entertaining text with good quality informative photographs. There are interesting shenanigans of the corporate whisky world in the 1980/90s. It was depressing to read how many are now foreign owned. At least they are still producing.
After reading, I have a couple new artisanal distillery offerings to try (Abhainan Deag on Lewis since 2008, and Kilchoman, the first new Islay since 1908).
Read on:
Ian Banks Raw Spirits, in search of the perfect dram
MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky (or anything published by Charles Maclean)
David Wishart Whisky Classified
Phillip Hills (Ed) Scots on Scotch
Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch
And a recent favourite
Heather Greene’s Whisk(e)y Distilled (2014)
Eradour, Scotland’s smallest distillery, was founded legally in 1825 by a cooperative of local farmers to supply their own needs; but mysteriously, they seems to have been already experienced stillmen.
Victorian consumers seem to have taken it for granted that whatever they bought might contain more or less anything from innocuous to the lethal; and whisky was no exception.
By the mid 1870s brandy was on short supply. Scotch wasn’t.
In one sense it doesn’t matter what you drink your whisky out of so long as the hole is at the top and not the bottom.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley


BookScapes by Helen McIver

Hermit in the GardenFrom Imperil Rome to ornamental gnome by Gordon Campbell
Oxford University Press (October 2012, recently on book tour in the USA)
Campbell is a noted historian, distinguished professor of Renaissance studies at the University of Leicester and has an impressive list of literature, art and history books authored and edited. (I thoroughly recommend his book “The story of the King James Bible”)
This is a magnificent historical account of Hermits, Hermitages and English Garden design, especially Georgian. Hermitages have enjoyed a minor renaissance recently, with old ones restored, new ones built and even job offers with increased tourism. I think the popularity of hobbits might have helped too. Although he claims that gnomes are a logical evolution of the hermit they are still banned at Chelsea Flower show! “Garden hermits evolved from antiquated druids and eventually declined into the garden gnome.” He illustrates four types of hermitages- religious, secular or court, Elizabethan and earlier British hermits (he often states English hermits, while showing them in Scotland and Ireland). Many early garden hermitages were in southern Europe, Italy, France around the 1400s, although the first might have been at the Roman villa of Hadrian. Campbell also recounts the fascinating history of hermitages in Spain.
18th century British grand garden design brought follies into the landscape. Follies often included hermitages with or without hermits (not religious but secular). Britain has had hermits since pilgrimages of Christianity, but I was astonished at the list of 750 cells and names of 650 hermits in the 1800s (Rotha Mary Clay). These were places of contemplation, which allowed “pleasurable melancholy” and deep thought, sometimes following a retreat after personal crisis. They were also fads/fashionable as recounted by nobility ‘pretending to be peasants”. The affinity for nature and solitude had a quite different expression in America with Thoreau and Emerson. Hermits have been romanticised but in actual fact the austere living conditions were primitive at best – and sometimes had required conditions of not cutting hair or nails (for up to 7 years). I found the descriptions both beautiful and tragic, for so many gardens and hermitages lost over the centuries.
I have space in my garden: gnomes need not apply.

Appendix has a list of interesting hermitages, several I have visited: Dunkeld, Dalkeith park, Craigieburn, Taymouth castle
Some good illustrations, mostly black and white photos and drawings in my e-copy (contents say 63 color plates, 304 pp)
Bibliography and List of Hermitages in the World (country and county) Now I must visit the Ermitage at Arleshein, Switzerland – it sounds idyllic and has the last surviving ornamental hermit.

Read on to (preferably in your garden)
Edith Wharton (short story) Hermit and the Wild Woman
Tom Stoppard Arcadia
Seamus Heaney (1984) poem The Hermit
Read as an ARC
4.5 stars

Non Fiction Author Lists by Helen McIver


It is time for beach reads again, although I read anything and everything over the summer. I have a list of authors I return to, to see what they have written next, that I simply must read. Locate that sun umbrella, the chaise lounge, the iced tea and lose myself in another world. Sometimes it is a place (Paris, London, Yellowstone), sometimes it is a person (Shakespeare, memoirs, presidents), sometimes it is a time (medieval Scotland, Puritan New England, the 1960s) and sometimes it is a taste (single malts, organic foods, what to eat next). Entertaining, educational and edifying, these authors never fail me.
Nonfiction writers

Heavily weighted towards history and natural history.

A. Peter Ackroyd, Margaret Atwood (Payback), Stephen Ambrose

B. Nick Bunker, Bill Bryson, Geraldine Brooks, Iain Banks, Alan Bennett

C. Rachel Carson, AJ Cronin, Winston Churchill, William Cronon

D. Bernard DeVoto, Michael Dirda, Richard Dawkins, John Gregory Dunne

E. Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Edward

F. William Fiennes, Niall Fergusson, David Hackett Fischer, Shelby Foote

G. AAGill, A Greig, Stephen Jay Gould, Doris Kearns Goodwin

H. Edward Hoagland, Tony Horwitz, William Least Heat-Moon, Bernd Heinrich, Stephen Hawkins

I. Ian Frazer

J. PD James, Clive James

K. Verlyn Klinkenborg, Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Kennedy Jr, Tracy Kidder

L. Louise Leaman, Robert Leckie, Aldo Leopold

M. David McCullouch, John McPhee, John Muir, Farley Mowat, William Manchester

N. Stephen Nelson, Cynthia Ne

O. Edna OBrien

P. Michael Pollan, Nancy Pearl, Annie Proulx


R. Oliver Rackham, Tim Russert, Teddy Roosevelt

S. Marjori Santani Persepolis, Simon Schama, Ernest Thompson Seton, Arthur Schlessinger, Jr., TC Smout

T. Studs Terkel, Thoreau, Alisdair Taylor,

U. Robert Utley

V. Voltaire

W. Patricia Wells, Simon Winchester, Daniel Worster

Book Review – Sh*t My Dad Says

7821447-1Sh*t My Dad Says
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Last night I was looking around for something to read and was searching the library’s digital collection when I came across a book entitled, Sh*t My Dad Says.  The title alone was intriguing and – knowing very little about the book – I downloaded it and began reading.   To say that it’s exactly what I needed right now is putting it mildly.  With the winter weather droning on and on, I was in need of something light and humorous to lift my spirits.  This was definitely the book for that!!

Sh*t My Dad Says is a work of non-fiction anecdotal humor about a  young man growing up with a father that has no “filter” on what not to say.  At one point, the author refers to his father as being the least passive aggressive person he’s ever known.  If his father is thinking it, it will come tumbling out of his mouth.

Justin Halpern’s book isn’t quite a memoir so much as it is a series of anecdotes on life through his father’s eyes….and it is absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious!  More than once I caught myself reading a passage that was so funny that I was caught in a fit of giggles with tears streaming down my face.  It’s that funny!

A word of caution to the reader, however:  when I say that Halpern’s father has no “filter,” I mean that he not only has no filter on his thoughts, but none on his language either.  The language can be a bit raw, and that can be a bit of a turnoff.  If the reader can get past the language, though, the book is absolutely hilarious and is a wonderful tribute to all of our parents who embarrass us in their own unique ways.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format, and through downloadable e-book format.


Climate and Conservation
Eds. Jodi A. Hilty, Charles C. Chester and Molly S. Cross
Island Press (publishers) May 2012 392 pages
I anticipated an interesting and informative read as Island Press is a leading non-profit environmental publisher which specialises in ecology, biodiversity, conservation and natural history, all subjects I love. They publish 40 titles each year (with a library of over 800 titles) trying to reach a broader audience with scientific information. One of their books “Unnatural History of the Sea” by Callum Roberts (2009) was declared one of Jonathan Yardley’s top ten books of the year, a formidable accolade. EO Wilson’s memoir was another mesmerizing, unforgettable title for me.
Climate and Conservation consists of 19 case studies presented from many of the world’s ecosystems: temperate, polar, equatorial, montane etc. The studies are presented by ‘people on the ground’ primarily academics and scientists, many working for the Nature Conservancy, WWW or similar NGOs (non-governmental organisations). Although this is published in 2012, it feels dated with much information from 2002-2006/9. At the very least some of the climate data from 2011, 2010 should have been included, especially updating the introductory chapters, which were otherwise excellent.
This book contains some very interesting habitat / ecosystem studies from Madrean Sky Islands to Albertine Rift (Africa) or closer to home with the Appalachians or Yellowstone. Each region has a detailed map of the area, with a few good quality photographs also illustrating some regions. The chapters have specific details to vast generalisations, with multiple authors reflecting different styles, although there is an overall message of providing recommendations to DO something in each local environment, which ultimately will have a global benefit. Some of the pictures painted are dire (the Amazon with illegal land appropriation and deforestation always comes to mind and is represented here).
Having worked in many of the areas represented here the overall portrayal of conditions, expectations and assessments are accurate. I felt confident that regions I knew little about were also presented well, and enjoyed learning more about Mongolian Grasslands and Arctic Alaska (ecosystems I know I will not study myself).
My initial impression on reading this is who is the audience: students? colleagues? professionals? general public? As this book does not just show problems of biodiversity and climate change, but also involves problem solving, de-emphasizing the doom and gloom of many popular presses, I think the book is intended to reach a broad audience, providing scientific facts to people on the ground, such as for planners and managers. I think it could have a much broader audience with this remit. I can’t see many of my neighbors reading this book, but I would like to buy each of them a copy. It would also be an important reference for community and high school libraries which should provide accurate information on an important current topic. 2012 was the warmest year on record, when are we going to wake up?My kindle copy had annoying grammatical errors, typos, weird hyphenation, lack of capital letters for author names, poor indexing, … The Bios of contributors / authors were interesting, and provide reassuring credentials (scientists and academics with good experience). I confess I read that chapter first before assessing the case studies. The index, however, was basic and incomplete, not including the authors or all the locations. There is an impressive list of references or publications, but I feel these would have been more useful and appropriate at the end of each chapter/case study.
I do think this is a valuable reference book, and applaud the kindle format for additional accessibility, with potentially a wider audience. Anything that can get facts into people for educated and informed opinions as this is critical in determining our environmental future. This is a timely book in our current political climate but also before degraded ecosystems are the only habitats we can have. I applaud Island Press for partnering with EcoAdapt who launched CAKE – Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange website in 2010, an online community with database of case studies, literature and professionals.
3.5 stars
Read as an ARC

Book of the Moment
Dan Fesperman The Double Agent
I love discovering a new author to read: his list of awards for previously published novels is delightful. The Double Agent is an old-fashioned spy thriller, well researched (well read!) and well written. His style (descriptive, intrigue, pace) pays homage to Cold War espionage novels and made me quite nostalgic for those books. Especially with the multiple literary references from the masters of this genre: Le Carre, Deighton, but also recognising several of my personal favourites: Geoffrey Household, Helen McInnes, John Buchan and Alan Furst. The Appendix has a list of 222 books from 48 author, 18 of whom were in intelligence. 57 were published before 1957. All will provide hours of entertaining reading if you haven’t already perused this literature.
These spy novels provide literary clues throughout this book, which I relished discovering and remembering (yes, I got sidetracked into several books after reading this one). I loved the references to plots, international locations and historical events.
This story is narrated by Bill Gage, as he tries to uncover the truth behind an earlier incident in his career which decades later has left him a rather sad PR agent instead of journalist. The past, with his father, his son, a previous girlfriend, and the locations of his youth (eastern European) is unravelled with steady pace action, but thoughtful intelligence. This is less high tech/buff agents and more reality on the ground. It wasn’t as dark and dangerous as I remember many spy books, but it was also less desperate and more entertaining. A very good read. *4 stars

Book Review – My Lucky Life in and out of Show Business (A Memoir)

My Lucky Life in and out of Show Business – A memoir
A Review by Kaye Aune

Dick Van Dyke’s memoir, My Lucky Life in and out of  Show Business, is a self-portrait of Van Dyke’s family, personal struggles and successes in the 60 years of being in show business.  Using his well-loved humor and openness in a very moving manner, Van Dyke takes us on a  travel through his childhood:  one of love but not much money, as everyone was poor.  We follow his career from singing and dancing in the Air Force Special Services, and then into radio, theatre, TV and the movies as he entertained the world.

Van Dyke calls his career “luck,” but others know better.  It was a merging of kindness and talent which formed such a funny man.  A Must Read!

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in large print.

Book Review and Author Visit – Martha Fitzgerald’s “The Courtship of Two Doctors”

The Courtship of Two Doctors:  A 1930s Love Story of Letters, Hope & Healing
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Letter writing has become, unfortunately, a lost art.  In earlier generations, people would sit down and write some of the most beautiful letters to their loved ones, often including descriptive passages to give the recipient a little taste of their life and experiences.  The letter would be stamped, taken to a mail drop somewhere, and then carried by a variety of different methods to places far and wide.  Upon arrival at its destination, the letter would be placed in the hands of the recipient, who had often been counting the days until that next letter would arrive and he could finally read the words of the sender.

Many beautiful relationships were formed by these letters throughout the years, with the postal service acting as the go-between who connected the two parties together.  And then, after having been read, they were often lovingly kept together –  sometimes held together by a bit of ribbon or twine – so that they could be read again in the days to come, as the two parties waited for the next letter to arrive.

And then the internet was invented and letter writing as we once knew it quickly became a thing of the past.  These days, there’s no need for descriptive passages to describe the landscapes and events; we simply include a jpeg file of a picture in the e-mail.  Thank you notes have become a quick e-mail or text message, often reading something as brief as “Thx!”  We can’t even spell the words out anymore.   What an incredible loss!

What could be more fun, then, than to unearth the old letters of a young couple as they come to know each other and build a relationship? That’s exactly what Martha Fitzgerald has done in her book, The Courtship of Two Doctors:  A 1930s Love Story of Letters, Hope & Healing.  In tribute to her parents – and with a Prologue written by her father before his death – Fitzgerald has painstakingly collected and ordered the hundreds of letters sent and received between her parents, spanning from the early years of their beginning acquaintance as medical students visiting the Mayo Clinic in the 1930s, through their budding romance that begins to grow through their written letters as they separate to different learning institutions, and finally ending in a love that will withstand the test of time.  While separated by more than a thousand miles, the letters between the two cemented not only their friendship, but eventually became the very foundation of the love they would share for decades.

Fitzgerald’s book is not only well organized, but is also a very enjoyable read.  And what a beautiful tribute to her parents to have been able to bring their love to readers throughout the world!

Rochester readers, library patrons and area residents are in for a real treat tonight!  The Rochester Public Library will be hosting Martha Fitzgerald as she comes to speak about this wonderful book!  Join us this evening, Sept. 24th, at 7:00 PM in the auditorium hear Fitzgerald speak, and then stay around for an opportunity to have your own copy signed by the author.  You can even purchase a new copy if you don’t have one!

This is one author event you won’t want to miss!

Book Review and Visiting Author – Brenda Child – “Holding our World Together”

Holding Our World Together:
Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community

A Review by Marie Maher

History books contain many stories of great leaders, but oftentimes the stories about quiet greatness stay behind the scenes.  Holding Our World Together highlights the stories of remarkable Ojibwe women who struggled through trying times to preserve a valuable community; a culture that may very well have been otherwise lost. Unsung Ojibwe leaders, as one example, did the hard labors necessary to produce, process, and distribute wild rice in order to economically maintain a community.  The Ojibwe women handled all of these tasks as an effort to survive, and they were oftentimes the business leaders of a community that did not limit women’s roles.

The unsung leaders of the Ojibwe women maintained traditions and cultural values when patriarchal European settlers did their best to Christian-ize Native American spirituality.  These women were strongholds in preserving their culture’s traditions.  These unsung leaders fought for strong family values and stood up for their children.  When the government insisted (often forcibly) that all children be sent to boarding schools so that they could be culturally assimilated, Ojibwe women knew that wasn’t “right” and did their best to make their voices heard and regain custody of their children.  “It seems it would be much easier to get my daughter out of prison than out of your school,” stated one woman who bravely approached government officials to voice her dissent.

We all know that atrocities were committed against Native Americans as our country was developed.  Brenda Child’s book, however cognizant of these acts, looks well beyond destruction to the courage and perseverance of a nation’s women:  women  strong enough to help the nation survive and thrive.

Using oral tradition and written documents, Child brings the Ojibwe women to life.  More than a well-researched history of Native North Americans, and more than an acknowledgement of Ojibwe women’s accomplishments, this book is a tribute to the courage, resiliency and leadership of the Ojibwe women.  What a wonderful tribute Child has written!

As part of the Rochester Public Library Visiting Author Series, Brenda Child will be joining us on Sunday, September 9th, at 2:00 PM in the Library Auditorium.  Admission is free and open to the public.