Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Nevermore Nonfiction Picks: Washingtons, Astronomy, Laura Ingalls, Microbes, Poverty

Reported by Ambrea

Our readers brought a great selection of nonfiction to Nevermore this week, looking into the life of a favorite childhood author, digging deep into the history and the relationships of the Washingtons, America’s First Family, and delving into the natural world.  Starting out, one of our readers volunteered $2.00 a Day:  Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer.  A startling exposé of poverty in America, $2.00 a Day provides insight into the families who struggle to make ends meet and, in some case, resort to desperate measures to keep food on the table and a roof over their head.  Edin and Shaefer interview dozens of impoverished families, compiling research and individual stories to illustrate a startling fact:  1.5 million American households subsist on just $2.00 per person per day—which includes almost 3 million children.  According to our Nevermore reader, $2.00 a Day offers a glimpse into the lives of people who are homeless, who are living from hand to mouth and holding on by the tiniest threads.  It’s illuminating, she said, because it shows readers the truth behind families that struggle financially in the United States.  It’s eye-opening and jarring, but it’s definitely worth reading.

Next, our readers looked at a classic children’s author with Pioneer Girl:  The Annotated Autobiography, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and edited by Pamela Smith Hill.  In her newly published autobiography—which disappeared in the 1930s—Wilder recounts her childhood:  she recalls their journeys from Kansas to Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and even to the Dakota Territory; she recounts the unforgettable stories of her childhood; and she puts into words the pioneer life experienced by millions of others.  Our Nevermore reader was quite pleased with Pioneer Girl, saying it was full of interesting information and quite candid as it showed all the struggles that Wilder and her family faced in their journey through the western states and territories.  However, she wished it would have offered more about Garth Williams—a prolific artist who illustrated dozens of classic children’s novels, including Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie—and delved a little deeper into the publication and creations of the “Little House” series.  Altogether, she said it was an interesting book and deserved to be looked at by fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder, or any interested in pioneer history and lore.

Switching gears, our book club looked at the natural world—and healthy eating—in The Hidden Half of Nature:  the Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé.  Montgomery and Biklé are on a mission to bring life back to their yard, feeding the soil a steady diet of organic matter and compost, planting new crops that will help bring their soil back to life—and it works.  Impressed by results, the authors begin to chronicle their adventures with bacteria and microbes found in soil (and the human body) and show how both can benefit from a little organic TLC.  Our Nevermore reader initially thought The Hidden Half of Nature was mostly a book on gardening and imbuing new life to one’s garden, but she found it had much more to do with health and building human immunity through the cultivation of beneficial bacteria and microbes.  While it wasn’t quite what she expected, she said she found The Hidden Half of Nature to be highly technical and very interesting.

Our Nevermore group also took another look at science (and technology), but in a very different context:  religion.  In God’s Mechanics:  How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion, Brother Guy Consolmagno records how a handful of people who love science—who may even be scientists and engineers or “techies” (as Consolmagno dubs himself)—reconcile their scientific/technological mindset and their religious practices.  Consolmagno, a Jesuit Catholic planetologist, shows how he comfortably brings together his profound, unprovable religious beliefs with his love of theoretical planetary science.  Our reader said he found the author to be much less dogmatic than he expected, giving the reader a very different view of religion and religious practice than he’d seen.  Overall, God’s Mechanics was a very fine book and very enjoyable, offering a glimpse into religion without being overbearing or “preachy.”

Last, our readers checked out The Washingtons:  George and Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love” by Flora Fraser.  In 1759, George Washington—then a young bachelor and the newly appointed owner of Mount Vernon—wed Martha Dandridge Park Custis, a charming and (incredibly) wealthy widow, officially beginning their forty-year marriage and the tumultuous saga of their lives.  Fraser provides insight into the public face that the Washingtons present, as the Revolution waged and the politics of early America enveloped them, and the domestic bliss that the Washingtons cultivated at Mount Vernon, New York and even Philadelphia.  The Washingtons is, according to the cover, “a remarkable story of a remarkable pair as well as a gripping narrative of the birth of a nation—a major, and vastly appealing, contribution to the literature of our founding fathers…and founding mother.”  Our Nevermore reader couldn’t have agreed more.  He said Fraser’s book was incredibly detailed and precise, offering an intimate look at the first First Family of the United States and the relationship of George and Martha Washington as the suffered under the strain of a Revolution—and the politics of early American republic; however, it was also very good.  He called it a “delightful book,” saying it provided a comprehensive and enjoyable look at the Washingtons and the early United States.

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