Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Nevermore: Hidden Figures, Lucifer Principle, Black Widowers, Fountainhead, Fire By Night

Reported by Ambrea

Nevermore decided to start with Hidden Figures:  The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly.  Recently produced as a movie, Hidden Figures tells the story of a group of African American women—math teachers with brilliant minds who were relegated to teaching in the South’s segregated schools—who became “human computers” during the labor shortages of World War II.  They quickly became indispensable with their incredible mathematical skills, assisting NASA and the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in some of the greatest successes in the space race.  Our reader was excited to pick up Shetterly’s book.  She noted it was easy to read and fairly interesting; however, she thought Hidden Figures could have used a good editor and a trim.  Moreover, she thought the book could have used a little more detail about the personal lives of these incredible women.  She wanted to learn more about them personally and their accomplishments, rather than where each woman fit into the grand scheme of things, and she would have loved to have seen pictures.

Next, Nevermore looked at The Lucifer Principle.  Written by Howard K. Bloom, The Lucifer Principle is a compelling psychological study that explores the “intricate relationships among genetics, human behavior, and culture,” according to the book jacket, “to put forth the thesis that ‘evil’ is…woven into our most basic biological fabric.”  Drawing on years of scholarly research and delving deep into the darkest parts of human psychology, Bloom creates a book with depth and a weighty feeling of importance, like Jane Mayer’s Dark Money.  Our reader said Bloom’s book was absolutely fascinating; in fact, she couldn’t put it down.  She even bought her own copy, so, as she told her fellow readers, “I could ponder it.”  She highly recommended it to her fellow members and passed it on to the next interested reader.

Switching gears, Nevermore shared The Casebook of the Black Widowers by famed science-fiction writer, Isaac Asimov.  A collection of short stories about the Black Widowers, a group of friends who create and solve mysteries, riddles, and puzzles, The Casebook of the Black Widowers proved to be a hit for our reader.  He noted that Asimov’s book was “very short, very easy, but very good,” calling it interesting and charming.  Asimov, in conjunction to being a writer, was a professor of biochemistry and often inserted intriguing tidbits of knowledge into each of his books, including The Case of the Black Widowers.  Our reader was especially impressed by the breadth and depth of knowledge possessed by Asimov, saying he enjoyed how easy it was to learn something new.  “You’re learning as you’re reading,” he told his fellow readers, “but in a very easy [and accessible] way.”

Nevermore also took a long, hard look at Ayn Rand’s monolithic novel, The Fountainhead.  Considered a major classic, The Fountainhead follows Howard Roark as he makes his way in the world, an architect with unyielding integrity, and recounts his passionate love affair with the achingly beautiful Dominique Francon.  Initially, our reader picked up The Fountainhead in the hopes of learning about Ayn Rand and uncovering why her books have remained classics for decades; however, she found she was disappointed by the extreme selfishness of Rand’s protagonists.  Objectivism, which Rand touted, she explained to our fellow readers, appears to involve the pursuit of one’s own happiness regardless of consequences—and many of the characters involved in Rand’s novel appear to make decisions based on this ideal.  She also noted it is full of introspection and individual monologues, giving it the feel of a modernized Russian novel.  “If Tolstoy had lived in America in the 1920s, I believe he would have written this novel,” she said.

Last, Nevermore inspected a brand new book by debut author, Teresa Messineo:  The Fire by Night.  Jo, an Italian-Irish girl from Brooklyn, and Kay, a small-town girl from Pennsylvania, first met in nursing school.  They became fast friends, despite their very different backgrounds, and they quickly grew inseparable—and then the war came.  Now, Jo is caught in war-torn France with six wounded soldiers in her care and German soldiers nipping at her heels; Kay is trapped in a Japanese POW camp in Manila, struggling to protect herself and the patients thrust into her lap.  Our reader was absolutely fascinated by The Fire by Night.  She said Messineo delves deep into history, carefully reconstructing the details of World War II and bringing the conflict to life on the page.  It’s bittersweet and tragic, but it’s very, very good, and our reader can’t wait to hear more from Teresa Messineo.

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