Reviews

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

If you only read one book about science this year, let this be the one. Richard Holmes has somehow managed to meld a compendium of 18th and 19th century scientific biographies into a compelling narrative that is part travelogue, part scientific exploration, and all magical. He begins with the story of Joseph Banks who travelled the South Seas with Captain Cook as the expedition's botanist, a position he paid for and equipped with many new instruments and two great mastiffs. Banks was one of the earliest westerners to visit Tahiti. He soon learned the language and basically abandoned his botanical studies to become an anthropologist in Paradise.

Tales from Outer Suburbia

Who says suburban living has to be dull and unimaginative? Welcome Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia, which takes traditional suburban ideal living and turns it on it's head. This book is bursting with imagination as it tells 15 short, illustrated short stories filled with wonder, loss, peace, hope and redemption. Not to make it sound all like butterflies and flowers, there is a slight bizarre and surreal edge to these tales that will leave the reader both wondering and and inspired.

Cleopatra: A Life

Forget what you know about Cleopatra - she was neither Egyptian, nor did she commit suicide with a live snake (though it remains a tenaciously romantic symbol) - and discover a much more complicated and interesting person. She was not the beauty as Elizabeth Taylor would make us believe, but was able to charm two of the most powerful men in history, and was lucky enough to bear sons by both. Stacy Schiff argues in this new remarkably readable biography, Cleopatra: A Life, that her death marked the end of an empire, the end of a dynasty and the end of ancient history.

Repackaging the Classics

Wuthering HeightsHow important is the cover of a book? Will romantic new covers and bonus quizzes like "Are you destined for a love like Catherine and Heathcliff's?" be enough to appeal to young adult readers? HarperTeen thinks so. They have recently rereleased several classic books including Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Romeo and Juliet with covers no doubt reminding teen girls of the Twilight series.

Atlas of Remote Islands

Just in time to get us dreaming of summer travel comes this quirky but lovely book about out-of-the-way places. Judith Schalansky grew up in East Germany when it was still situated behind the Iron Curtain. Forbidden to travel, she began a lifelong fascination with atlases and maps. The very names of these islands pull you in: Robinson Crusoe, Takuu, Possession Island, Lonely Island, Pagan, and Diego Garcia.

Just Kids

One of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs begins with the lines,"I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel/You were talking so brave and so free." Patti Smith's memoir of her coming-of-age with artist/photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is partially set in this hotel with its unique history and cast of characters.

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