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Science as history

Posted by Jim Concannon August 30, 2009 02:00 PM

Amir Aczel is a mathematician, scientist, historian, and author whose interests are rather, shall we say, broad.
Aczel is a research fellow at Boston University who has written 16 books melding those fields, and the diversity is stunning. There's the best-selling "Fermat's Last Theorem," about the three-century quest to solve a pivotal mathematical riddle, finally accomplished in 1993. There's "The Jesuit and the Skull," about the discovery of the Peking Man's bones and how that changed evolutionary theory. He penned "The Riddle of the Compass," about the invention of that directional device and how it revolutionized travel. (Aczel's father was an Israeli ship's captain who tutored his young son in navigation.) Aczel also wrote "God's Equation," which explains the ongoing expansion of the universe, and "Descartes's Secret Notebook," which focuses on a coded diary kept by the famed philosopher and mathematician. There are more titles in his sweeping catalogue, but you get the idea.
Now Aczel has written "Uranium Wars: The Scientific Rivalry that Created the Nuclear Age," in which he recounts the fevered race between Nazi Germany and the Allies to harness the enormous destructive power of the atom during the 1930s and '40s. If the Nazis had been able to split the atom first, they might have built nuclear bombs powerful enough to rally and win World War II.
Aczel cites new archival evidence that says the Nazis were closer to that goal than was previously believed. He writes, "The Germans understood fission and could produce it in the lab; they understood chain reactions; they knew which isotope of uranium was the right one to use and had developed methods for isotope separation. They knew about using heavy water as a reaction moderator in a nuclear reactor, and they built a reactor ... All that stood between them and an atomic bomb was time and budget and manpower." (Feel free to gulp loudly.)
Aczel will discuss ‘‘Uranium Wars” and his other works Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m., at Brookline Booksmith, Coolidge Corner, Brookline.

Paperback nonfiction bestsellers, Aug. 30 - Sept. 5

Posted by Jim Concannon August 28, 2009 12:29 PM

1. My Life in France
By Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme, Anchor

2. Julie and Julia
By Julie Powell Little, Brown

3. Three Cups of Tea
By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Penguin

4. A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome
By Alberto Angela, Europa

5. Blink
By Malcolm Gladwell. Back Bay.

6. The Shack
By William P. Young. Windblown.

7. In Defense of Food
By Michael Pollan. Penguin.

8. The Tipping Point
By Malcolm Gladwell, Back Bay

9. When You Are Engulfed in Flames
By David Sedaris. Back Bay.

10. Farewell, My Subaru
By Doug Fine. Villard.

Paperback fiction bestsellers, Aug. 30 - Sept. 5

Posted by Jim Concannon August 28, 2009 12:21 PM

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
By Stieg Larsson, Vintage

2. The Time Traveler’s Wife
By Audrey Niffenegger, Mariner

3. Olive Kitteridge
By Elizabeth Strout, Random House

4. Unaccustomed Earth
By Jhumpa Lahiri, Vintage

5. The Elegance of the Hedgehog
By Muriel Barbery, Europa

6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, Dial

7. The Weight of Silence
By Heather Gudenkauf, Mira

8. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
By Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Quirk

9. Eclipse
By Stephenie Meyer, Little, Brown

10. Twilight
By Stephenie Meyer, Little, Brown

Hardcover nonfiction bestsellers, Aug. 30 - Sept. 5

Posted by Jim Concannon August 28, 2009 12:15 PM

1. Born to Run
By Christopher McDougall. Knopf

2. Zeitoun
By Dave Eggers. McSweeney’s

3. Outliers
By Malcolm Gladwell.L.B.

4. The Accidental Billionaires*
By Ben Mezrich. Doubleday *Contains fictional elements

5. Goat Song
By Brad Kessler. Scribner.

6. The Last Lecture
By Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow. Hyperion.

7. Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man
By Steve Harvey. Amistad.

8. 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School
By Matthew Frederick. MIT.

9. The End of Overeating
By David Kessler. Rodale.

10. Good to Great
By Jim Collins. HarperBusiness.


Hardcover fiction bestsellers, Aug. 30 - Sept. 5

Posted by Jim Concannon August 28, 2009 12:11 PM

1. That Old Cape Magic
By Richard Russo. Knopf

2. The Girl Who Played With Fire
By Stieg Larsson. Knopf

3. South of Broad
By Pat Conroy. Nan A. Talese

4. Inherent Vice
By Thomas Pynchon. Penguin

5. The Help
By Kathryn Stockett. Putnam

6. White Queen
By Philippa Gregory. Touchstone.

7. The Magicians
By Lev Grossman. Viking

8. Brooklyn
By Colm Toibin. Scribner

9. A Long, Long Time Ago...
By Brigid Pasulka. Houghton Mifflin.

10. Breaking Dawn
By Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown


Boston area author visits, Aug. 30 - Sept. 5

Posted by Jim Concannon August 28, 2009 12:05 PM

By Judith Maas

SUNDAY: Science fiction authors from the Broad Universe Collective celebrate the birthday of Mary Shelley (“Frankenstein”) at 4 p.m., at Back Pages Books, 289 Moody St., Waltham.

[No MONDAY listings]

TUESDAY: Amir Aczel discusses “Uranium Wars,” at 7 p.m., at Brookline Booksmith, Coolidge Corner, Brookline … Ethan Gilsdorf discusses “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks,” at 7 p.m., at Harvard Book Store, 1256 Mass. Ave., Cambridge.

WEDNESDAY: Jennifer Carol Cook, Abbie Kozolchyk, and others discuss “Best Women’s Travel Writing 2009,” at 7 p.m., at Harvard Book Store.

THURSDAY: Katherine Russell Rich discusses “Dreaming in Hindi,” at 7 p.m., at Brookline Booksmith … H.M. Naqvi reads from “Home Boy,” at 7 p.m., at Harvard Book Store.

[No FRIDAY listings]

SATURDAY: Wally Lamb discusses “The Hour I First Believed,” at 7 p.m., at the East Sandwich Grange Hall, 91 Old County Rd., East Sandwich; for tickets ($5), call Titcomb’s Bookshop, 508-888-2331.

Events are subject to change.

Roy Harris warns on disappearance of newspapers

Posted by guest August 12, 2009 07:54 PM

Amid the precarious state of newspapers today, longtime journalist Roy J. Harris Jr. finds beacons of inspiration. His book "Pulitzer's Gold" recounts newspapers' historical role of public service, offering a warning of what could be lost if newspapers disappear. The Hingham resident will be at the Brookline Booksmith on Aug. 27 as part of a panel discussing such issues as the future of journalism. He spoke about his book and the publishing business in an interview with The Globe.

Boston area author visits, Aug. 16-22

Posted by Jim Concannon August 10, 2009 11:02 AM

By Judith Maas

MONDAY: Novelist Elizabeth Strout (“Olive Kitteridge”) and artist Anthony Kirk speak at 7 p.m., at Fine Arts Work Center, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown.

TUESDAY: Christine Lehner (“Absent a Miracle”) and Brigid Pasulka (“A Long, Long Time Ago and Esssentially True”) read at 7 p.m., at Brookline Booksmith, Coolidge Corner, Brookline … Nick Flynn (“Another Bullshit Night in Suck City”), Marie Ponsot (“Springing”), and artist Linda Bond speak at 7 p.m., at Fine Arts Work Center.

WEDNESDAY: Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski discuss “Dormia,” at 7 p.m., at Brookline Booksmith … Abigail Yasgur discusses “Max Said Yes! The Woodstock Story,” at 11 a.m., at Porter Square Books, 25 White St., Cambridge … Glenn Cooper reads from “Secret of the Seventh Son,” at 7 p.m., at the Harvard Square Coop, Cambridge … Marie Howe (“Kingdom of Ordinary Time”) and Richard McCann (“Mother of Sorrows”) read at 7 p.m., at Fine Arts Work Center.

FRIDAY: Alex Newman presents a birthday tribute to Frank McCourt at 7 p.m., at Brookline Booksmith … Concert violinist Gerald Elias discusses “Devil’s Trill” and plays the violin at 5:30 p.m., at Stellina Restaurant, 47 Main St., Watertown.

Events are subject to change.

Magical mystery tour

Posted by Jim Concannon August 9, 2009 04:34 PM

Harry Potter is reality.
In Hollywood, producers have long embraced the primacy of ‘‘high concept,’’ the guideline whereby a film project’s plot must be boiled down to a few choice words. If the movie’s premise requires too much explanation, producers believe, it will fail with the public, lose money, and so shouldn’t be made.
Lev Grossman (above) has no such problem. Grossman is a Lexington native and Harvard graduate who is now the book critic for Time magazine. He also has written three novels, the latest being ‘‘The Magicians.’’ In it, a Brooklyn high school student named Quentin Coldwater, who’s perhaps too devoted to a childhood fantasy series about the enchanted land of Fillory, is admitted to a prestigious academy to study magic. After arrival, he learns that Fillory actually exists (hence our high concept). Soon he and his friends are called upon to rescue it from evil forces in a climactic battle. Hence, Harry Potter is reality.
Grossman’s novel combines plot and character elements often used by the alphabet soup of great fantasy writers, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling. (L. Grossman, anyone?) Grossman’s ficticious world particularly mirrors Lewis’s fantasy land of Narnia, a connection he is happy to admit. Asked by an interviewer if Fillory was based on Narnia, he said: ‘‘Of course, very much so. Though ‘based on’ — not exactly the words I would use. I think there’s a level on which ‘The Magicians’ is reacting to C.S. Lewis’s work, honoring it but also critiquing it — like [fantasy writer Phillip] Pullman did in the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy.’’
Grossman also sees parallels between Harvard, which developed myriad traditions since its founding in 1636, and Brakehills, his magic academcy. ‘‘You know, I didn’t think about this until I was several drafts into ‘The Magicians.’ But of course, obviously, the Brakebills parts are connected to the experience of going to Harvard, both of them being hyper-exclusive educational institutions.’’
Grossman will discuss his book and the fantasy world he created twice this Thursday, Aug. 13, first at 1 p.m. at Borders Downtown Crossing, and then at 6 p.m., at the Boston Public Library, Copley Square.

Boston area author visits, Aug. 9-15

Posted by Jim Concannon August 7, 2009 04:54 PM

By Judy Maas
SUNDAY: The New England Poetry Club presents a 200th Birthday Remembrance of Poe, Tennyson, and Longfellow, 4 p.m., East Lawn, Longfellow National Historic Site, 105 Brattle St., Cambridge.
TUESDAY: Molly Rosen, Jennifer Lear, Thea Singer, and Erin St. John Kelly discuss ‘‘Knowing Pains: Women on Love, Sex, and Work in Our 40s,’’ 7 p.m., Brookline Booksmith, Coolidge Corner, Brookline ... Jonathan Tropper discusses ‘‘This Is Where I Leave You,’’ 7 p.m., Porter Square Books, 25 White St., Cambridge ... Mary Malloy (‘‘The Wandering Heart’’) speaks, 7 p.m., Book Ends, 559 Main St., Winchester.
WEDNESDAY: Victoria Adler discusses ‘‘All of Baby Nose to Toes,’’ 11 a.m., Porter Square Books ... Jonathan Tropper discusses ‘‘This Is Where I Leave You,’’ 1 p.m., Borders Downtown Crossing, 10-24 School St. ... Lita Judge reads from ‘‘Pennies for Elephants,’’ 3 p.m., Book Ends.
THURSDAY: Lev Grossman discusses ‘‘The Magicians,’’ 1 p.m., Borders Downtown Crossing, and 6 p.m., Boston Public Library, Copley Square.
FRIDAY: Matt Tavares (‘‘Zachary’s Ball’’) reads and signs his books, 12 to 3 p.m., Book Ends.
SATURDAY: Richard Russo reads from ‘‘That Old Cape Magic’’ (see review) 7 p.m., Sandwich High School, 365 Quaker Meetinghouse Road, East Sandwich.

Events are subject to change.

A call for literary tattoos

Posted by guest August 5, 2009 07:33 AM


Well, flex that quad and call me Ishmael.

Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor, a contributor to literary e-zine HTML Giant, launched a call for submissions of high quality photos of literary body art for a book they hope to compile. “From Shakespeare to Bukowski to The Little Prince in a Baobab tree, if it’s a literary tattoo and its on your body, we want to see it.’’

But lest you think different, their interest isn’t simply prurient. “We’d also like to read a few words about the tattoo’s meaning to you — why you chose it, when you first read that poem or book, or how its meaning has evolved over time. How much (or how little).’’

Talmadge and Taylor appear to be tapping into a rising interest in body art with a literary bent.

Back in the day, tattoos carried simple unambiguous messages: Mom, Navy, Sharleen. That was then.

One site, Contrariwise: Literary Tatoos has dedicated itself to sharing of and about this genre of body art. Visitors to the site submit photos of their tats and then write a little note explaining what it's about. For instance, there is a black-and-white shot of a shoulder, adorned famous lines from Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night./Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’’ Numerous tributes to Harry Potter. And some more personal ones such as one of a burning candle in a stand on a young woman who says that it is an allusion to a poem by Shel Silverstein and a tribute to her grandparents who have died, particularly one grandmother who was a fan of the poet and children’s author: “If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar/A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…/If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire/ For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.’’

On another site, Yuppie Punk, there can be found an alleged short history of the trend (“Johannes Guttenberg invented the printing press in Germany in 1439. Samuel O’Reilly invented the modern tattoo machine in 1891 .... The lowbrow nature of the tattoo juxtaposes nicely against the highbrow art of the book.’’).

The range of the tattoos here is impressive. There are quotes from the the Bible and the likes of literary types like Shakespeare, Plath, Dickens, Frost, Kerouac, Vonnegut, along with the expected science fiction and fantasy crowd -- Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury and George Orwell.

Unlike Contrariwise, whose collection appears to be heavily word oriented, here there are portraits of famous authors like Faulkner and Thoreau and equally famous characters like Alice in Wonderland, Curious George, and the Wild Thing.

These are but two sites. A quick Google check will reveal many others.

Got a literary tat? It’s your time. Step out of the closet, flex an appendage, shed shirt or trou, and stage a public reading.


Photos of tattoos of Kurt Vonnegut quotes and illustrations from Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are'' from

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe staff

Richard Russo shifts gears

Posted by Jim Concannon August 2, 2009 01:52 PM

The length and depth of the nation's soul-crushing recession contain few everyday surprises for author Richard Russo. That's because Russo has crafted a career writing about the failing, tired mill towns of the Northeast, from upstate New York where he grew up to coastal Maine where he now lives. Such communities have been mired in their own private slumps for decades.
In such novels as "Nobody's Fool" and "Empire Falls," which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002, Russo painted portraits of flawed yet endearing characters struggling to make better lives in places where nobody misses the recent boom times because they never arrived.
But Russo is trying something different with his latest novel, "That Old Cape Magic." In it, a seemingly content middle-aged academic (Russo used to teach at Colby) travels to Cape Cod to attend a wedding, and dredges up old memories. His personal life quickly starts to unravel, and the book charts the twists and turns of the next year.
Explaining why he picked the fashionable Cape as a focus, Russo told an interviewer he was intrigued by a question: "Why do people believe that happiness is more likely to find you in one place than another? It has something to do with what you can and can't afford, what you think you'll one day be able to swing if things go well. Except that even when they go well, you discover it's still unaffordable, which tives the desired place a magical quality ... I chose the Cape because it's always been expensive and just keeps getting more so, but it could have been any number of similar places."
In other words, we think that if we just had that summer beach house, we'd be happy. But whether Russo's characters are sipping coffee in a shabby diner in Empire Falls or watching a spectacular sunset on Falmouth's cliffs, life's not so simple. Russo will read from ‘‘That Old Cape Magic’’ on Thursday, August 4, at 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books, 25 White St., Cambridge.

About off the shelf News about books, authors, and publishers from The Boston Globe.
Nicole Lamy is editor of the Globe's Books section.
Jan Gardner writes the "Shelf Life" column for the Globe's Books section.

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