Adult Nonfiction


The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth
by Avi Loeb
published January 2021
ISBN: 9780358278146

Guys, I don't know anything about space, but I find it fascinating. So when a big-deal astrophysicist from Harvard announces that he's entertaining the hypothesis that an alien satellite blew past us a couple years ago, my ears perk up. I'm willing to listen.

I can't say I've spent a lot of time thinking about intelligent life beyond our planet, but apparently Professor Loeb has, and he's quite the storyteller.

A few years ago, Loeb and a team designed a kind of space object called a light sail that, spurred by light, could travel absurdly far distances in a quick matter of time, going further than we ever thought possible during our lifetimes. Then, in 2017, a celestial object was spotted that looked an awful lot like what Loeb and his team had created, and it originated outside of our solar system.

He goes on to say that although there is not enough data to say conclusively what this object was, we should be entertaining the idea that it could be extraterrestrial technology.

The prose is measured, conversational, not at all tabloid-fodder. Rather than advocate for a theory of intelligent races of aliens, what he's really getting at is that the scientific community must maintain a sense of curious wonder as it approaches the unknown, taking risks to study less-popular theories. As someone far into a prestigious career, he has the standing to make these claims.

Extraterrestrial is filled with enough science to make you feel smarter having read it but not enough to make you feel dumb while reading. He comes across as someone I would be delighted to sit next to on an airplane and hear him talk about what he's working on.

Recommended for anyone who finds the expanse of space neat-o.

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All They Will Call You
by Tim Z. Hernandez
published January 2018
ISBN: 9780816537372

You may have heard of a protest folk song written by Woody Guthrie called "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)." It's been covered by a ton of folks, like Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez, and tells the story of a plane crash in 1948 where dozens of Mexican nationals and a few Americans died in a horrific blaze. At the time, no one was sure who the Mexican nationals were on board. Their families never got closure.

Tim Hernandez set out on an adventure a few years ago to name these victims and tell their stories.

Before I get into what this book is, it's important to cover what it is not. It is not dry or academic. It is not about how airplanes work, or the politics of how the US has treated migrant workers.

What it is is a series of short vignettes giving a name and face to the victims -- a short tale of a romance, told by the 90-something year old woman who was the girl he left behind; a tale of a man who brought his love of baseball to each labor camp be joined; a small town struggling to build a well.

I anticipated this book taking a while to read but I read it two sittings and would have happily read another 100 pages.

I highly recommend this to anyone -- unless you're about to board an airplane anytime soon. ;)

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Freedom Libraries:
The Untold Story of Libraries for African Americans in the South
by Mike Selby

published October 2019
ISBN: 9781538115534

An excellent and necessary remembrance of the community center libraries that sprang up to serve Black residents in a few locations during and around the Freedom Summer of 1964. Volunteers both local and out of state faced everything from crumbling infrastructure to assassination attempts to introduce libraries into communities that were systematically denied them.

This is important for two reasons -- one, to remember. This struggle happened here involving some people who are still alive today, not in a far-away time and place. Second, even now, this book is a lesson in what could happen when we completely reimagine the library and it's role in the community. What would it look like if we built it from the bottom up, basing it entirely on the needs and wants of the community it serves?

Overall, an excellent and quick read, and recommended for library lovers and history buffs everywhere.

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How to Survive in Ancient Rome
by L. J. Trafford

out December 30, 2020
ISBN: 9781526757869

A spritely hop through deep and heavy history of ancient Rome, touching on several different topics with a lightness that will irritate the hardcore history crowd and delight casual readers. As someone with a light-to-moderate interest in ancient Rome (as in, I'll watch a documentary, but it's unlikely I'll read a book larger than this) it was just enough to keep me entertained and give me a handful of fun facts to spout off when there's a lull in conversation.

(Like, did you know ancient Romans washed their clothes in pee? Fun.)

Also, I laughed out loud many times.

Recommended for people who like to breeze through some miscellaneous nonfiction now and then.

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A Libertarian Walks into a Bear
by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

out September 15, 2020
ISBN: 9781541788510

There were several instances while reading this that I laughed out loud and had to tell my husband about it. There were also several instances where I skimmed pages at a time because I was growing disinterested.

Packed full of ursine-pun-laced schadenfreude, this reads like a cross between a journal article and a standup act. It tells the story of the growth and (inevitable) dissolution of a libertarian settlement in New Hampshire. To put it simply and use a metaphor from Parks and Recreation -- the town would have worked if everyone who showed up was a self-sufficient and industrious Ron Swanson...

...but instead, they got a lot of lazy and entitled Jean-Ralphios. (And hippies and sex offenders.)

In sum: living in a government-free utopia sounds great until you realize that no one is filling potholes, repairing bridges, putting out house fires, or controlling the surprisingly out-of-control bear population.

A fun read that could've benefited from more aggressive editing. Still recommended.

arc received from the publisher for review

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Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

out June 23, 2020
ISBN: 9781631495731

Instead of venerating a first century Palestinian who said things like "Blessed are the meek/merciful/peacemakers," American evangelicalism has adopted as its ideal the swaggering, aggressive, thrice-married John Wayne, the author argues.

At the center of the author's argument is the idea that American evangelicalism has become indelibly tainted by a machismo toxic masculinity that is harmful to women and men alike and has distorted the Gospel to fit its narrative of strongman (white) dominance. Dominance, aggression, and violence are considered something holy and God-given rather than sinful temptations to be wrestled with, allowing fertile ground for other sins to thrive, such as abuse, hubris, and corruption. The book eloquently argues this point by walking through a history of these strongmen and the way they have channeled or manipulated well-meaning believers into providing them outsized resources to enrich themselves and their friends and grab power for themselves.

It reads easily and quickly and is clearly well researched and sourced. Recommended for readers who want to get a better understanding of why the religious right rallies around its favorite issues but seems much less interested in the issues that Black churches and progressive Christians are interested in like racial justice, de-escalation of war, or alleviating poverty. Also recommended for people from evangelical backgrounds (positive or negative) who are trying to understand the differences between cultural evangelicalism and the actual teachings of Jesus Christ.

arc received from the publisher for review

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Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln
by Edward Achorn

out June 23, 2020
ISBN: 978-0802148742

An immersive look at the world surrounding President Lincoln's second inauguration March 4th, 1865. As someone who has read several books about Lincoln's presidency, I was pleasantly surprised to learn some new things, and topics are covered with a mix of solemnity and humor.

Also, I laughed out loud at the chapter discussing how Vice President Johnson showed up at the inauguration incredibly drunk and launched into an hour-long diatribe, horrifying Republicans and thrilling Democrats.

arc received from the publisher for review

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The Kitchen without Borders:
Recipes from Refugee and Immigrant Chefs and Stories of the Journey to Make a New Home
by The Eat Offbeat Chefs
out February 18, 2020
ISBN: 9781523504046

I love this book for so many reasons.

First off, it gives a face to the refugee crisis. These are people like you or me who like to cook a good meal.

Second off, it features flavors and recipes from cuisines I'm otherwise unfamiliar with, like Nepal, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela, for example.

I am excited to tear into this.

arc received from the publisher for review

[Link to this review]