The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 8, 2006


The Mosquito Forum staff suggests books for holiday giving

David Freedman recommends:

The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. Perhaps I shouldn't be recommending some 3,000 pages of reading when I've only completed a tenth of that, as I am just one third of the way through Quicksilver, the first of three colossal, ambitious tomes. But my expectations are high, if I can find the time. If you or your giftee love to read (and read, and read, and read), love to be absorbed into another time and place, love history and adventure, and don't mind extended excursions into scholarly expositions on such things as the origins of calculus, and if you have nothing to do for the next year or so, The Baroque Cycle might be for you.

From what I read online, Neal Stephenson has a cult following, with passionate devotees defending the books' length against those who complain that the author uses 1,000 words where 100 would do, but I find the story thus far engrossing and funny and edifying (though the depth and breadth of the information crammed into the story leaves me feeling even dumber than usual). The writing style works for me, with similes and metaphors that are sometimes breathtaking. The books are a few years old so they are available at Amazon — all three for about $30.That's some 40,000 words per dollar!

Mark Green recommends:

In Revere, In Those Days, by Roland Merullo. The author of this first-person-coming-of-age account describes vividly the world of his childhood and the world to which he sought to escape, and the confrontations encountered with his sense of identity during his transition from one to the other. Anyone from Revere, East Boston, Everett, Somerville or similar urban settings in the Boston area will likely recognize an archetype or two.

State of Denial by Bob Woodward. By now you've probably read more than you wish about the failures in planning for post-war Iraq. Woodward's access to sources nonetheless makes this a compelling read. Ironically, one is left with the definite sense that at least part of that access was purchased by means of Woodward's two previous favorable renditions of the Bush Iraq policy (Bush at War and Plan of Attack). That criticism aside, the book offers a thorough view of several of the fundamental errors in judgment and policy that have led to the current situation.

A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger and The Innocent Man by John Grisham. I've listed these two as a pair, since both treat a similar topic. In A Death in Belmont, Junger reprises the horrors of the Boston Strangler murders in the early 1960s.

The Innocent Man is Grisham's first work of nonfiction, and lacks the suspenseful twists and turns of his usual fictional work.

Junger's book is probably the more interesting, both because it is based in the Boston area and because there is more suspense about where the evidence will lead. Both are page-turners.

John Lee recommends:

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This is the latest of Pollan's insightful, well-researched books looking into the intricacies and mysteries of the plant and food world. It focuses on the issue of what and how we eat and how what we eat gets to our tables. It is a fascinating glimpse into the world of fast food, slow food and the business of food.

Penny Zezima recommends:

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. This is a compelling literary mystery with a wonderful dash of humor. At the same time it is a terrific family saga with something for nearly everyone. Her next mystery, One Good Turn, is set during the famous Edinburgh Summer Festival and is perfect for readers who love off-center characters and superb plotting.

Moving the Chains by Charlie Pierce is an in-depth and well-told look at Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady. It would be a great gift for the teenager on your list, for it is an inspiring story about not always being first, but succeeding through hard, hard work.

An equally perfect find is Charlie Weis' autobiography written with Vic Cavucci, No Excuses. Weis, who was the offensive coordinator for the Pats before becoming head coach for Notre Dame, tells of his friendship with Bill Belichick, his near-fatal surgery and how his handicapped daughter Hannah has been such an inspiration to him. This is a very human look at a man who has been involved with multiple football success stories, so this book will fit perfectly onto many a Christmas list, especially since you can give an autographed copy by going to Willow Books in Acton on December 16.

Ornit Barkai recommends:

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer.The book's bright blue and yellow cover design that echoes the colors of the Ukrainian flag and its titles resembling Cyrillic letters create an immediate graphic backdrop to the unfolding story. With his mangled English, often blunt and hilarious, Alex Perchov, a young Ukrainian, narrates the story of his trip with American writer Safran Foer, who travels to Ukraine carrying a yellowing photograph to look for his family roots and the woman who saved his grandfather's life from the Nazis.

The journey highlights the cultural differences between the young, somewhat odd American writer and his Ukrainian counterpart, who "digs American movies" and music, and who seems to have picked up his English from a thesaurus. As their two narratives move back and forth toward a tragic climax, the connection between Alex and Jonathan becomes unexpectedly clear.

Bob Rothenberg recommends:

The Count and the Confession by John Taylor. Set in Richmond, Virginia, this is a true story of a 1992 high-society murder investigation that riveted the community and entrapped a most unlikely suspect. Having recently spent three months of service on a grand jury, often struggling to decide whether to believe police officers or other witnesses' accounts of alleged crimes, I found this story compelling, disturbing and believable. If you're a murder mystery lover, you'll find it a quick and worthwhile read.

The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam. Bill Belichick wasn't a great football player himself, but was the son of a truly gifted coach. This biography, by one of the best writers of sports stories, is an insightful look at the skills, influences and experiences that have combined to make the Patriots' coach the best in the business.

Phil Drew recommends two books on evolution:

The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins is a tour de force comprising the whole span of evolution from the earliest microbes four billion years ago to the species that currently populates the earth, told in a remarkable way, tracing backward from humans to the next ancestor common to humans and another species, namely, chimpanzees. He explicates the techniques used to construct the evolutionary tree, including analysis of fossils and the relics of evolution embodied in DNA from various species, and the so-called molecular clock. Dawkins lobs a few insults at President Bush and at his other nemesis, Stephen Jay Gould, and states his position as a militant atheist.

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes by Stephen Jay Gould. Before he died several years ago, Professor Gould contributed hundreds of essays to Natural History Magazine, most of which are republished in this book and three or four others. Each essay can be read without reference to the others, but collectively they provide a fascinating tour across the facets of evolution that interested Gould. One of his celebrated ideas is "punctuated equilibrium," suggesting that evolution proceeds in fits and starts when some cataclysmic event alters the environment drastically.

This idea is anathema to Dawkins, who scorns it in favor of the alternative — that evolution always must proceed in small steps because big and sudden changes in a species produces grotesque creatures poorly adapted for survival and procreation. Each writer is quite convincing on his own turf. I have no idea who is right, but the ideas are a delight in themselves.

Kerry Kissinger recommends:

1776 by David McCullough. It's first-rate and very special for those of us fortunate enough to live near the action.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito