Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mountains Beyond Mountains - The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Would Cure The World

Title: Mountains Beyond Mountains - - The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Would Cure The World
Author: Tracy Kidder
Publication Information: Random House Inc. 2004. 335 pages.

Book Source: I read this book based on a recommendation from a friend.

Favorite Quote: "We're all human beings."

Mountains Beyond Mountains - The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Would Cure The World is the inspiring story of Dr. Paul Farmer, an American medical anthropologist and physician. He is one of the founder of Partners In Health. The organization began in an effort to bring medical facilities to the poor in the central plains of Haiti. It has grown into a worldwide health organization. It made possible the treatment of diseases like AIDS and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis for the poorest of the populations in many parts of the world including Haiti, Peru, and Russia.

This book tells the story of Dr. Farmer's passion and his work. In addition, it tells the story of Dr. Farmer, the individual as he struggles to balance personal and family needs with the needs of his work.

The book, as a book, accomplished what it set out to do. It brought to life an inspirational story. The individuals come to life. Some of the medical cases are heart wrenching. Some of the situations described can be beyond understanding if you have never experienced a part of the world where such poverty exists. I have to say I did skim through parts. I was awed by the magnitude of what they overcame and the magnitude of what they accomplished. I got that understanding even while skimming the book.

As a story, the book is inspirational. It reminds us of the amazing things one person - or a small group of dedicated people - can accomplish. Dr. Farmer and his colleagues have truly changed the lives of the population they serve. They started with the knowledge that something needed to be done. And they did it. Many times, they did it at the expense of their personal lives. They continue to work for their mission day in and day out following Dr. Farmer's philosophy that "the only real nation is humanity."

Monday, January 30, 2012


Title:  Heartbroken
Author:  Lisa Unger
Publication Information:  Crown Publishers, Random House Inc. 2012. 367 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book as an advance uncorrected proof from the publisher.

Favorite Quote:  "In caring for her children, anything that she was afraid of, or any shortfall she had, simply became irrelevant. She would be what she had to be, do what she had to do, to get them through any crisis, large or small."

Heartbroken is part thriller and mostly a family story, particularly focusing on the relationships between mothers and daughters. There is Birdie - the family matriarch - who is still dealing with the childhood memories of her mother and who is driving her family away with her own actions. There is Kate - the "good" daughter and mother - who attempts to understand her own mother based on the journals of her aunt and her grandmother and then writes a book based on those journals. There is Emily - a daughter seeking to find her place in the world.

The place is Heart Island - what should be a beautiful sanctuary in the Adirondacks. It's been owned by the family for generations. To some, it represents a safe harbor and home. To some, it is a harsh place to be escaped.

The intrigue in the book comes from two places. First is a long ago love affair and the brooding main character of that love. A love that continues to impact people now long after the lovers are gone. Second is the men brought low by drugs and crime who are seeking money and jewels and who will use anyone and any means to get it. It all comes to a dramatic conclusion one night on Heart Island.

The mix of family story and thriller was an interesting one to read. The relationships between mothers and daughters were developed as the book progressed. Details emerged allowing the reader greater understanding of each of the characters. The "bad guys" stayed the bad guys and moved through the book bringing with them drama and a climax.

This is the first book I have read by Lisa Unger. I am not sure what her readers expect. More thriller and suspense or more character and family? Overall, I found it an enjoyable book.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Place of My Own

Title:  A Place of My Own - The Education of an Amateur Builder
Author:  Michael Pollan
Publication Information:  Random House Inc. 1997. 320 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I enjoyed some of the author's other works.

Favorite Quote:  "Daydreaming is where we go to cultivate the self, or, more likely, selves out of the view and earshot of other people. Without its daydreams, the self is apt to shrink down to the size and shape of the estimation of others."

A Place of My Own is a book by Michael Pollan that came before he took on the food industry in The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. A Place of My Own deals with a completely different topic - the transformation of Mr. Pollan's daydream into reality. It tells of Mr. Pollan's two-and-a-half year journey to create what could simply be called a home office but is more appropriately called a "shelter for daydreams" and "a place of my own."

The project began with the idea of creating on a his property a stand-alone structure that would serve for as a place to work. It went further as the idea blossomed that he not only wanted the structure, but also wanted to build it himself. It ventures forth into the arena of building design, construction, and all the trials and tribulations that process entails. As such, the book is well researched and presents facts, connections, and information as all of Mr. Pollan's books do.

In addition, this book is a journey of self-discovery. He takes us along with him on his daydream and its manifestation in this physical building. Because this is his project, this book has a much more personal tone than his other books. It envelops the reader in the story while continually providing the information. I was left at the end wanting to see the place and feel the reward and satisfaction he got from its creation.

I recently watched Food Inc. which includes a lot of commentary by Michael Pollan. I wonder if that commentary was filmed in his "writing house". I wanted to look around the place and out the window to see if the reality lived up to the expectations.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts

Title:  Just My Type - A Book About Fonts
Author:  Simon Garfield
Publication Information:  Penguin Group, Inc. 2011. 356 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on a write-up in a book magazine.

Favorite Quote:  "Let's consider the English alphabet:  twenty-six purely abstract symbols that in and of themselves mean absolutely nothing, but when put together in the right combinations can introduce into the heads of readers an infinite variety of sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, places, people, characters, situations, feelings, ideas. In the right hands entire universes are born out of just a few sentences, and can be just as quickly destroyed. Regimes are upended and then re-created through these groups of little, seemingly harmless, glyphs."

Just My Type - A Book About Fonts - is a book exploring the history of of type and their impact on our world. Rather than being a historical tome, it is a collection of interesting tales of different individuals and companies and how a font came to be or how it impacted our lives. Admittedly, it is not a topic many people think about. However, if you enjoy language and history, you will find this a fascinating read.

Driving around, reading, watching TV, reading product labels, opening packages - have you ever noticed that we are constantly surrounded by the printed word? Do you think about how those letters and words come across? What happens if words we are used to seeing a certain way suddenly appear differently? Did you know that behind each typeface and font is an individual or a set of individuals - designers and artists - who determine how every letter looks, how much space it takes up, and how much space goes in between each letter? This book addresses these questions and many more through specific stories.

You can read this book cover to cover, or you can flip through the different chapters. Some of the different stories about fonts can stand alone. The bulk of this book is typeset in Sabon Lt Std 11/15 pt. The story of this font itself is found within the book. In addition, examples of different fonts and what they look like abound throughout the book making it fun to browse through even without reading it.

If you are a "typophile" or a studier of modern culture and design or if you have wondered why words look the way they do, this book will provide interesting reading. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

India Was One

Title:  India Was One
Author:  An Indian
Publication Information:  An Indian Publishing. Smashwords edition. 341 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered through Smashwords.

Favorite Quote:  "This is my country as much as yours."

India Was One is the story of what could happen if the culturally and religiously diverse parts of India threaten to come apart over these differences. The book tells this story through the love story of Jai and Kaahi, one from south India and one from north India. The book highlights some of the struggles going on in India today as caste differences, economic differences, cultural differences and other such things within this large country threaten to overshadow the fact that all these diverse populations are part of one country.

The story of Jai and Kaahi begins in India, comes to the US, travels to Europe, and then returns to India. The target audience for the book appears to individuals not familiar with Indian culture or with US culture. In the middle of the story, entire passages appear in italic print and provide descriptions and explanations much as a travel brochure would.  Sometimes, it's unclear whether the explanations are there to help the story or the story is there to provide structure to the explanations. However, the book does paint a vivid picture of Indian culture and the expatriate culture of Indians living outside of India.

The book provides a hypothetical look at what would happen if India as a country started splitting into pieces. Unfortunately, the book does not follow through. It comes to a somewhat abrupt ending, bringing into play a stereotypical, external force as the resolution. The resolution seemed too quick and too cut and dried to address the complex cultural issues that the book was highlighting. The shift in focus to external conflicts undermines the point being made about the need to unify India across the cultural divides and the need for real, tangible solutions to these challenges.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle

Title:  Thinking Small:  The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle
Author:  Andrea Hoitt
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2012. 462 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book is a paperback advance uncorrected proof.

Favorite Quote:  "Like a still point through the storm, it survived the chaos of so much contradiction and turmoil, and - thanks to the persistence of the men who championed it - eventually proved that an idea created in darkness can indeed become a vessel for light."

Thinking Small is a history book told as a story. It tells the story of a car we are all familiar with. A car that is now symbolic of so much. The Volkswagen Beetle. The "People's Car." What is interesting is that the story is told through the stories of the individuals that were instrumental in bringing this car about and then marketing it.

This book traces the history of the car from its origins in Nazi Germany during World War II to the present day. It traces the journey of the car to America and the influences that helped market the car in America. The book does not truly focus on the technical development of the car itself, but rather tells the story of the car in the context of history and people.

The book is long - over 450 pages - and detailed with a lot of information, some of which is relevant and some that appears as a tangent. The story is an interesting one but sometimes gets bogged down in that detail. I learned a lot, perhaps too much. I would have preferred a more succinct version.