Thursday, May 17, 2012

Nevermore: Abundance, Madness, Lifeboat & The Rebel Wife

There were some new faces at Nevermore this week! We had another wide ranging discussion, starting with Jud’s recommendation of Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. The book examines some of humankind’s most pressing needs—access to fresh water, for example—and discusses what coming technological innovations may solve the problem.  The book also looks at some of the great modern philanthropists and how they are helping to change the world. The authors point out that compared to our ancestors, our standards of living are incredibly high; and that while some areas of the world lag behind, new technologies are helping them as well.  One example cited was how cell phones have transformed communication in many African companies where the cost of installing landlines would still be prohibitive. The book is nothing if not hopeful.
 Even certain mental illnesses may have some benefits, at least according to Nassir Ghaemi, director of the Moods Disorder program at Tufts University Medical Center.  In his new book A First-Rate Madness:  Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness, he argues that under certain conditions depression or bi-polar symptoms can actually give some people an advantage in assessing critical situations.  He compares several leaders whom he believed to have had a mood disorder (Lincoln, Kennedy, Churchill, FDR, etc.) with those who were apparently more stable (Neville Chamberlain, Nixon, and George W. Bush).  Whether or not you agree with his hypothesis, it’s an interesting, thought-provoking  book.
Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan is set in 1914, just before the start of WWI.  The story opens with young widow Grace Winter writing down her account of events before she is to stand trial.  She and her new husband were aboard the Empress Alexander when the ship suffers a catastrophic explosion and sinks.  Grace is put onto a lifeboat before the liner sinks, but her husband goes down with the ship.  What follows is a horrific ordeal as food and water run out and people are forced to decide who lives and who dies.  Our reader found it very compelling even as she wondered how much to trust the narrator’s view of events.
With the upcoming program on the Civil War, Jud thought it serendipitous that Taylor Polites’ first novel, The Rebel Wife, was on our new book shelf.  The book is actually set post-Civil War and concerns Augusta Branson, the young wife of a suspected Yankee sympathizer.  When her husband dies suddenly from a fever, Augusta is forced into a new role. She soon must confront the realities of the prevailing social and political realities while the deadly plague spreads quickly.   Polites has written a Southern gothic that will upend some of the stereotypes often found in books set in the era.  The Providence Journal described the book as “history with a heartbeat.”

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