Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Nevermore: Letters from the Trenches, Trials of the Earth, Sidney Chambers, The Secret War, Incognito

Reported by Ambrea

This week, Nevermore decided to get historical, kicking things off with Letters from the Trenches:  The First World War by Those Who Were There by Jacqueline Wadsworth.  Described as fascinating and insightful, Letters from the Trenches is not a traditional history; rather, it compiles hundreds of letters penned by different men who served in the war—men who only have their letters to survive them.  Our Nevermore reader was thrilled with her book, saying it was an excellent investigation into the history of World War I and, more importantly, to shine a light on the human element of such a brutal conflict.  She said she was particularly interested in Wadsworth’s research into the soldier’s letters, uncovering whatever happened to the men who survived on the front line and relating their stories before and after the war that forever changed the world.

Next, Nevermore explored a little further into the past, taking a look at the pioneering days of the American South from deep in the Mississippi swamps to settlements on the Arkansas frontier with Trials of the Earth.  Penned by Mary Mann Hamilton, Trials of the Earth is, according to the book jacket, the “only known first-person account of one woman’s struggles and triumphs taming the Mississippi Delta.”  In her memoir, Mary Hamilton describes her harrowing life as she, along with her husband, pushed at the boundaries of the frontier.  Our reader said Hamilton’s memoir was “so very good,” beautifully written and incredibly precise.  She highly recommended it to her fellow readers, noting that it was so easy to be “swept along by it” as Mary recounted her time at the fringes of American civilization.

Nevermore also dived right into a historical mystery by James Runcie, his second installment in the Grantchester Mysteries:  Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night.  Sidney Chambers, a full-time priest and part-time detective, is called to investigate a number of new mysteries, including the poisoning of Zafar Ali and the unexpected fall of a Cambridge don from the roof of King’s College Chapel.  Richly detailed and woven with hints of humor, Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night combines the best of mystery and romance as Sidney makes his way through the 1950s Cambridge campus and continues to deal with his own spiritual struggles.  Our reader said she enjoyed reading Runcie’s novel, and she enjoyed discussing differences between the Grantchester mysteries series and the Grantchester television series appearing on PBS.  Although she noted several critical differences between the book series and the television show, she highly recommended both to her fellow Nevermore members as having merits that made them equally likable.

Proceeding in the historical vein, Nevermore took a good long look at World War II in The Secret War:  Spies, Ciphers, and Guerillas by Max Hastings.  Hastings, one of Britain’s senior historians of World War II, has written more than a dozen books on the subject—including his latest on some of the more secretive aspects of war.  In his book, Hastings puts a magnifying glass to many of World War II’s harshest battles—and some of its lesser known ones—and uncovers many of the leading spies, cryptologists, and guerilla fighters who helped to turn the tides of war.  Our reader said he greatly enjoyed The Secret War, saying, “[Hastings] knows his stuff, and his book is a thorough account of a matter that has received less attention than it deserves.  But modern nations do not like to reveal their secrets, and it takes an experienced scholar of Hastings caliber to ferret out the whole story,” which he does admirably.  Our reader highly recommended it to his fellow readers, noting, “If you like cloak and dagger stories, The Secret War will appeal to you.”

Last (but certainly not least), Nevermore had a long discussion about Incognito:  The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman.  Like Mary Roach, Eagleman attempts to answer questions readers never even knew they had, like:
“Why can your foot move halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead?  Why do you hear your name being mentioned in a conversation that you didn’t think you were listening to?  What do Ulysses and the credit crunch have in common?  Why did Thomas Edison electrocute an elephant in 1916?  Why are people whose names begin with J more likely to marry other people whose name begins with J?  Why is it so difficult to keep a secret?  And how is it possible to get angry at yourself—who, exactly, is mad at whom?”
Eagleman attempts to answer these questions and more in his book, which our readers were excited to discuss.  Although our reader said she would sometimes get bogged down by the sheer weight of information provided in Incognito, she found Eagleman’s book fascinating.  In between all the research, she found little nuggets of stories that were useful and insightful or just plain fascinating.  After sharing a lengthy discussion of the conscious mind versus the brain and the soul, Incognito was quickly snapped up by another reader who was eager to learn more about the neural pathways of the mind

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