Category: Book Blog Posts

What Are You in the Mood For? Part One

What Are You in the Mood For? Part One

Like so many people, I’ve read a lot of books during the pandemic. Since I only post about books I liked/loved/lost it over, I decided to create a post that makes recommendations to match your current mood with the proper book.

As always, please buy/order your books from an independent bookstore! Check for yours at:

Indie Bookshops UK
Indie Bookshops Europe
Indie Bookshops Australia (audiobooks)

If you want to read…

…an insighful, poignant “autobiographical” novel about the real-life Alva Vanderbilt; prominent multi-millionaire American socialite and a major figure in the American women’s suffrage movement.

A Well Behaved Woman—Therese Anne Fowler

Nordic noir at its finest (part of a series that I recommend reading in order as the characters and plots intertwine). This is the most recent book in the series.

Lazarus—Lars Kepler:

…a gripping four book series ostensibly about two Neapolitan girls who grow up together. The astonishing writing transcends the plot to cover love, violence, loyalty, marriage, parenthood, rebellion, politics, family… If I sound like I’m waxing lyrical, I am.

My Brilliant Friend Quartet—Elena Ferrante:

…a book of simple, beautiful prose (part of a series and with characters from other Backman books) that revolves around hockey but is really a rich, insightful study of the people who live in this small town.

Us Against You—Frederik Backman

...Marconi! A notorious murderer! The invention of the telegraph! Crime investigation innovations! Need I say more-it’s Erik Larson.

Thunderstruck—Erik Larson

…a work of historical fiction so gripping that it’s un-putdownable. A group of women on a very dangerous Arctic journey; fits right into that sweet spot of mystery, thriller and intense character study.

The Arctic Fury—Greer MacAllister

…one of Kate Atkinson’s clever Jackson Brodie mysteries; one should always be in the mood for these fantastic books!

Started Early, Took My Dog—Kate Atkinson

…Nordic noir from Iceland; Books 1 and 2 of the fantastic Forbidden Iceland series.

The Creak on the Stairs/Girls Who Lie—Eva Björg Ægisdottir

…brilliant historical fiction about Shakepeare’s son; so little is known about the lives of the father or the son that O’Farrell’s imagination really shines through.

Hamnet-Maggie O’Farrell

…a book that bears some similarities to The Orchid Thief, but with a very different focus and background; natural history and a daring heist.

The Feather Thief-Kirk Wallace Johnson

…a brutally honest and well-written account about running the Iditarod and the musher life in general. On Twitter, if you follow #mushertwitter or #uglydogs, this is the book for you!

Winterdance-Gary Paulsen

…a quintessential Amisosity, Amisless, Amisesque novel/bio/essay/WTF kind of a book.

Inside Story—Martin Amis

Thus endeth Part One of the “What are You in the Mood For? posts. Part Two will cover fantasy, fashion and more…

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Book Bits Oct. 14, 2020

Book Bits Oct. 14, 2020

Book news and events from across the bibliosphere!

A Cappella Books, Atlanta

Steve Madden, “The Cobbler: How I Disrupted an Industry, Fell from Grace, and Came Back Stronger Than Ever” in conversation with Holly Firfer, CNN Journalist . Click here for tickets; ticket options include a copy of the book.

Atlanta Writer’s Club

Weekly Contest: I’m a former winner of this contest, and what a great prize; the winner will receive a one-year extension to their membership! The deadline for this week’s contest is Friday, October 16th at noon Eastern, and the word to use in a submission of 50 words or less is “dream.” Atlanta Writers Club members are invited to send your submission with “Weekly Contest” in the subject line to Clay Ramsey, Officer Emeritus and VP of Contests, Awards, & Scholarships, at To join the AWC or renew your membership, please use the link here for online and mail-in options:

For information about the upcoming virtual Atlanta Writer’s Conference, click here.

Lit Hub Weekly

From this week’s issue of LitHub: ““It’s not laziness, but criminal, to feign ignorance of the havoc we have wrought on the world.” Fatima Bhutto chronicles this world on fire. | Lit Hub Politics

“Prince always accepted what was coming, and was trying to prepare, he told me as far back as 1985.” Neal Karlen on his complicated relationship with an American icon. | Lit Hub Biography

“It seemed to be extremely unlikely that I would ever have this particular event to deal with in my life.” Louise Glück on winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. | The New York Times

Andri Snær Magnason: It will never be too late to mourn the slow loss of glaciers. | Words Without Borders

From Lit Hub’s Bookmarks Bulletin:

In literary land this week: American poet Louise Glück won the 2020 Nobel Prize for literature, Fox News is getting its own imprint at HarperCollins (?!), the staff of The New Yorker is celebrating a well-earned union victory, this year’s MacArthur fellows include six literary writers, and there’s a new Ethan Hawke novel on the horizon.

Here at Book Marks, we got some rapid-fire book recs from Douglas Stuart and Karen Russell, and talked books about the civilian experience of war with Phil Klay.

We hope you’re all keeping healthy and sane, and supporting your local independent bookstores in any way you can. Click on the image below to find your local independent bookstore in the US.

Featured Bookstores of the Week:

Jarndyce Books: Leading specialists in 18th and, particularly, 19th century English Literature & History. Our shop, opposite the British Museum, is open between 11 & 5.30. @JarndyceBooks on Twitter.

Coachouse Books: Coach House Books is an independent Canadian publisher of poetry, fiction, drama & nonfiction. Good on paper since 1965. @coachhousebooks on Twitter.

Drama Book Shop: 2011 Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre. Since 1917, the greatest theatre and film bookshop in the world. Re-opening Spring 2020! @dramabookshop on Twitter.

Port Book and News Shop: Locally owned indie bookshop serving the Olympic Peninsula for over 35 years. Come for the books, stay for the community and conversation! Open 7 days/week. @portbookandnews on Twitter.

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The Blue Notebook of a Thousand Titles

The Blue Notebook of a Thousand Titles

In 1996, I began writing down the titles of books I was interested in reading. I bought a beautiful small notebook and began a practice I continued until very recently. I read about most of the books in the NYT Book Review, which I subscribed to for over 20 years. I eventually cancelled my subscription due to non-book related issues, and began tracking the books on my Mac. However, the notebook is a great time capsule of my long history as a bookworm (which preceded 1996 by a long shot!).

I started digitizing the notebook this weekend; here is the very first page:

The books crossed out are the ones I ending up buying. I had to carry this with me to bookstores because often, I would buy a book I already had. I’m sure I’m not the only one!

I really got going on page 2 forward as far as the percentage of books listed vs. books bought:

Just because I didn’t cross a book out doesn’t mean I decided not to buy it; as long as it’s in print or I can find it used, it’s always on the “to be read” list.

AN URGENT PLEA: Please buy or order any books that catch your eye at your local independent bookstore. For physical books from US indies, check Indiebound. For audiobooks, check In the UK and Ireland, check Booksellers Association.

Although my reading tastes are pretty eclectic, there are some genres and topics that always catch my eye:

  • British and Scandinavian/Nordic mysteries
  • Polar history and exploration, both Arctic and Antarctic
  • Travel, mountain climbing and other types of non-fiction adventure
  • Books about books, libraries, museums, booksellers, bookstores and bibliomaniacs
  • Popular science
  • Disasters such as shipwrecks, hurricanes, pandemics
  • History and historical fiction

There are also many authors whose books I will always buy because I already know how much I love their writing; in the interests of space I’ve only included a few, followed by their Twitter handles if they have an account:

  • Simon Winchester @simonwwriter
  • Oliver Sacks @OliverSacks (now the account of the Oliver Sacks Foundation)
  • Jennifer Egan @egangoonsquad
  • Hilary Mantel @hilarymantel (she does not tweet)
  • Steve Silberman @stevesilberman
  • Erik Larson @exlarson
  • Bill Bryson @billbrysonn
  • Bill Hayes @BillHayesNYC
  • Stephen King and his son, Joe Hill @stepheking and @joe_hill
  • Erin Morgenstern @erinmorgensterm
  • Sebastian Junger @sebastianjunger
  • Susan Orlean @susanorlean
  • Lisa See @lisa_see

I also have a large collection of Scandinavian/Nordic mysteries; I can recommend any book by any of these authors. Please note that most of these books are best read chronologically, since the characters and some personal details persist and grow from book to book.

  • Maj Sjöwall/Per Wahlöö
  • Henning Mankell
  • Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
  • Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis
  • Jo Nesbo
  • Karin Fossum
  • Håkan Nesser
  • Quentin Bates (also an excellent translator)
  • Lars Kepler
  • Niklas Natt Och Dag
  • Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Kjell Eriksson
  • Kristina Ohlsson
  • Anne Holt
  • Ragnar Jónasson
  • Asa Larsson
  • Sofie Sarenbrant
  • Janwillem van de Vetering (cheating in the category here; he is Dutch and the books take place in Amsterdam.)

The following images go up to page 10 in my notebook so there will be several future posts about the rest. Do we share any book interests? If so, please let me know on Twitter at @angryalgonquin!

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Writing Contest Win!

Writing Contest Win!

I’m so grateful to the Atlanta Writers Club for selecting me as this week’s “Weekly Writing Contest” winner!

For our latest weekly writing contest, with “seashore” as the magic word, the judges selected AWC member Abbe Wiesenthal‘s submission, which was as follows:   

ATL Writer’s Club Newsletter, July 2020

I used to sell shells there
But twisted tongues and barren beaches
Swept away my customers
Like sandcastles in a high tide.
Who am I now,
The woman with the empty bucket,
Walking along the seashore,
Searching for slippery shrimp,
And saying it, three times, very fast.   

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Reading As an Escape from Social Distancing

Reading As an Escape from Social Distancing

Since I left my job almost a year ago, and much more so during the last couple of months of social isolation, I’ve had a lot more time to read during unfortunate circumstances. It’s an escape, a solace, a welcome distraction—as it has been throughout my life.

To support the many wonderful independent bookstores struggling to get by (particularly, but not only, in Atlanta and Athens) I have amassed a “to be read” inventory that is going to last me a very long time! The shelf pics below do not include all books purchased since the coronavirus; only the ones I have not yet read, with one exception: I have started Gore Vidal’s “Burr”, seen below in the picture on the right.

This is my second time reading “Burr”; I was inspired to do so by seeing “Hamilton” in NY during better times. Although it’s a work of historical fiction, Vidal did his homework and it’s great to hear the story of those years from Burr’s point of view as narrated by Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, who works for him as a law clerk. I especially loved the parts told by Burr in the first person, as Schuyler “transcribes” them for his own story about Burr.

In this post I review some of the books I’ve read and thankfully, moved from my “tbr” shelf to their proper place in the library; the unread books are on the shelves closest to the window:

In Berkeley, CA? Visit Sleepy Cat Books!
Follow them on twitter: @SleepyCatBooks
Email them at

The Magician’s Assistant—Ann Patchett

I’d like to start out with “The Magician’s Assistant” by Ann Patchett. I’ve been enchanted by Patchett’s work since I read “Bel Canto”, and this book is no less gripping.

Sabine had been assistant to L.A. magician Parsifal for 22 years when they finally married. She knew he was homosexual; both had mourned the death of his gentle Vietnamese lover, Phan. What she didn’t know until Parsifal’s sudden death only a short time later was that Parsifal’s real name was Guy Fetters, that had he lied when he claimed to have no living relatives and that he has a mother and two sisters in Alliance, Neb.

Publishers Weekly

As events unfold, what I thought the book would be about changes dramatically to another type of story that is in turn gut-wrenching, poignant, sharply observational and ultimately redemptive. If you’ve never read Patchett, this would be a great book to start with.

In Kona, HI? Visit Kona Bay Books
Follow them on twitter: @BooksKona
Email them at

Bloody Murder-From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History—Julian Symons

I’m a lifelong mystery buff, so I was pretty excited when I found this book. Published in 1972, Symons traces the history of the genre; I understand there have been several revised versions but I believe this is an unrevised edition. In addition to the historical aspect of the book, Symons offers his unvarnished opinions of many famous, and some obscure, mystery and detective fiction authors. I can’t say I agreed with all of his assessments, but the book is intermittently fascinating for fans of mystery/detective writing. (I have to admit that since I am unfamiliar with many of the early European authors of this genre, the book was a little dry for me in places. It’s hard to relate to a critique of an author whose name and books you’ve never heard of).

In Savannah, GA? Visit The Book Lady Bookstore!
Follow them on twitter: @bookladybkstore

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Treachery at Sharpnose Point—Jeremy Seal

Frankly, this book was quite a letdown. I’m an avid fan of shipwreck/disaster/maritime histories, which is why this title caught my eye. However, the author having failed to find any evidence of his theories regarding the “treachery”, resorts to detailing his (mostly unsuccessful) research efforts for about a third of the book. Another third is pure conjectural fiction about personalities and dialogue aboard the ship prior to the shipwreck. The remaining third is not uninteresting, but contrary to the subtitle, no mysteries were “unraveled”. I just can’t recommend it.

In Louisville, KY? Visit Carmichael’s Bookstore!
Follow them on twitter:
Email them at

The Diary of a Bookseller—Shaun Bythell

This book was a sheer pleasure from beginning to end. Let’s just say that I have many of the qualities of, and enjoy the company of, curmudgeons. I married one. The dictionary definition of this word is “a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.”. I consider this to be a vicious libel! Curmudgeons are DELIGHTFUL IF they also possess a dry and wicked sense of humor, and Mr. Bythell has this in spades. His piercing and witty observations about running a bookstore and dealing with the general public are just delightful, and when, not if, I visit Wigtown I will certainly pay hommage.

In Wigtown, Scotland? Visit Wigtown Bookshop!
Follow them on twitter:
Email them at

The Dream of Scipio—Iain Pears

I first read Iain Pears in 1997, when “The Instance of the Fingerpost” was published. Although I very much enjoyed it, I did not catch up with a Pears book again until this year, when I found “The Dream of Scipio” at Normal Books in Athens, GA. The book goes back and forth in time between three narratives, set in the fifth, fourteenth, and twentieth centuries, all revolving around an ancient text and each with a love story at its center. Although the novel has a complex structure, it is so ingeniously crafted that it is a delight to read. I love this quote from Kirkus Reviews:

This imposingly intricate novel begins slowly, makes heavy demands on the reader, and rises to a stunningly dramatic crescendo. Pears has leapt to a new level, creating a novel of ideas even more suspenseful and revelatory than his justly acclaimed mysteries.

In Sidmouth, UK? Visit Winstone Books!
Follow them on twitter:
Email them at

Gutenberg’s Apprentice—Alix Christie

Marvelous example of how good historical fiction can be when the author combines impeccable research and knowledge with great writing. Told from the point of view of the real-life apprentice, Peter Schoeffer, the novel’s story begins with a frame narrative that follows the deaths of both Johanns: Gutenberg himself and Johann Fust, Gutenberg’s partner and financier, and Shoeffer’s foster father. Unwillingly apprenticed to Gutenberg, Peter is torn between the loving labor of script and the mechanical allure of print.

The real hero of “Gutenberg’s Apprentice” is the press itself, this horrifying, beautiful machine capable of throwing out “a boundless net of shining letters.” Near the middle of Christie’s novel, Gutenberg and Fust hit on the momentous idea of printing the Latin Bible in its entirety. As Peter prepares the initial type, he summons those “words that brought a new world into being,” the opening verse of Genesis: “Peter set them flush against a nothingness; hard against a nonexistent margin he arranged them, floating like the world itself in the great void.”

It’s a beautiful image, rendering the printing press as a medium of ethereal transcendence that depends, nevertheless, on those gnarly chunks of metal poured and etched in the workshop over months and years of sweaty toil.

Bruce Holsinger, Washington Post, 12/12/14

FIN Part One

In future posts, I will discuss more of the books I’ve read so far this year, and as always, highlight some of the great independent bookstores around the world.

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Reading as an Escape from Reality

Reading as an Escape from Reality

I’ve been very negligent about new posts; what does a blog count for among millions of others at this time? But I know from those I follow, and those who follow me on twitter, that reading can be a comfort, a distraction, and an escape from the a world that seems to be irrevocably changing while we sit inside and hope for better times. I do what I can to support the independent bookstores and other local small businesses that I love and hope that they make it through this intact.

As for me, I’m well aware that socially isolating, sitting inside, and reading is an indescribable luxury. There are no words sufficient, no reward great enough, for the people who keep our lifelines going while putting their own lives at risk for low pay and long hours. Our health workers on the front lines, along with policemen, firemen and others who help to keep us safe. The people who keep the supplies moving and those who come in at risk and little reward to sell them to us. The teachers and librarians who labor to continue delivering words of wisdom to us and our children virtually while coping with their own personal struggles.

I thank you all, I salute you, I wish you all well, and most of all, I hope that the world remembers all of your efforts when this passes. Not just with words of thanks, but with better working conditions, higher pay, and comprehensive health coverage. It’s something we should ALL be working for because it’s the right thing to do and long overdue.

OK thereby ends my homily. My reading escapes in the past month:

The Mirror & the Light—Hilary Mantel

By happenstance, I had pre-purchased a special UK edition of this book earlier this year, and it arrived about a month ago. I started it immediately.

UK Edition

I have read reviews criticizing the book as “overly long” or “padded”; I could not disagree more! The closer I got to the end, the longer I wished the book were. I think it was a magnificent conclusion to the Cromwell trilogy. As soon as it was over I wanted to start all over agin with “Wolf Hall”, but I can’t find it on my shelves; there is an open slot to the left of “Bring Up the Bodies” that I can’t account for.

Wolf Hall Mystery: Unsolved

Did I Iend it to someone or leave it on a trip? No matter; it gives me a good excuse to support a local indie by re-purchasing it.

A Cappella Books, Atlanta, GA
Open for online orders only.
Follow @acappellabooks on Twitter
Follow @acappellabooks on Instagram

The Magician’s Assistant—Anne Patchett

This book started out with a story that I thought would be the focus of the entirety and then shifted in a way I didn’t expect. I love Patchett’s writing style and loved this book as much as “Bel Canto” (which I also highly recommend).

Paperback edition

Characters so achingly human and vulnerable caught in a world that they struggle to understand; in other words the perfect book to read during this time. I found this book at:

Normal Books, Athens, GA
(706) 850-6225
Follow them on Instagram.

Comfort Food: Final Account—Peter Robinson

When I need the distraction of reading combined with the joy of eating still-warm brownies, I turn to my vast library of British mysteries. This week’s choice is by one of my favorites, Peter Robinson. He’s an English-Canadian crime writer who is best known for his crime novels set in Yorkshire featuring Detective Alan Banks. I recommend reading them in order, since the lives of Banks, his family, his colleagues and friends continue throughout the series and undergo some significant life changes. Click here for a great list of the books in order.

Current read:

I also strongly recommend the associated TV series based on the books. DCI Banks first ran in the UK, was very well cast, and can be enjoyed without ever having read any of the books. It is available currently on streaming services.

Next Up: The Dream of Scipio—Iain Pears

This will be the first book of Pears that I’ve read since the marvelous “An Instance of the Fingerpost”. It was also purchased at Normal Books in Athens.

In Closing:

I hope that you all find the same comfort in books that I do, and I wish fervently for your well-being, health and safety, and the same for your loved ones. Read in joy and love.

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A Nostalgic Trip Down (Atlanta) Highway

A Nostalgic Trip Down (Atlanta) Highway

First Stop: Avid Bookshop

On Saturday, I took a very rewarding road trip to Athens, GA, home to my alma mater and two wonderful independent bookstores. I came home with two large bags (reusable of course) FILLED with great books and a lot of old memories!

Avid has a beautifully curated collection of books and gifts; what a lovely place to visit!

Avid Bookstore on is on South Lumpkin St. From their website:

Avid Bookshop is a fiercely independent, community-focused bookselling business with two shops in Athens, Georgia. In fall 2018, Avid Bookshop was chosen as the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year. Founded by Janet Geddis, Avid has been named by Flagpole readers as Athens’ Favorite Local Business for seven years in a row! As the country has become more fraught, Avid booksellers have become more outspoken about standing up for human rights, equality, and the freedom to read. We are a safe space and are proud to serve those here in Athens, Georgia and our website customers nationwide. 

In 2017, Avid was named a top-five finalist in Publishers Weekly‘s Bookstore of the Year competition, and Janet was named an Ambassador for Athensmade, a local group with the mission of “amplifying brands, attracting talent.”
Who could disagree with this?
Very welcoming place, no?
Great card selection
Good for kids as well.

I was tempted by so many books there, but I couldn’t buy every book in the store (don’t think I wasn’t tempted). I brought home the books pictured below and a great sticker!

The Henning Mankell book, “The Rock Blaster”, has never before been released in English. It explores the reflections of a working class man who has struggled against the constraints of his station for his entire life. Having read all of his other available books, I was quite excited at this find.

I also couldn’t resist a very nice T-shirt!

I’m sure A.R. Moxon (aka @JuliusGoat on Twitter) would be happy to see his book featured!

The old bookstore sign
Helpful art in the restroom

Follow Avid Books on Twitter and Instagram, and check out their podcasts.

Half-Shepherd Market and Cheese Shop

I don’t know about you, but book shopping makes me VERY hungry. At the recommendation of one of the lovely young women behind the counter at Avid, we went to the Half-Shepherd Market & Cheese Shop on Prince Ave., known for their great sandwiches (specializing in grilled cheese), their well-stocked wine and cheese selection, and other gourmet items.

Conveniently, right next to Half-Shepherd is Normal Books, with a large selection of new and used books. I had a great conversation with the owner about authors, the Athens music scene, and book life in general. If you should find yourself in Athens, do NOT miss this wonderful store! Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

My purchases are pictured below; I don’t usually buy nine books from one store, but this place is irresistable! I was particularly glad to see a book by Per Wahlöö; I’d never read anything by him individually, only the series of Martin Beck mysteries that he wrote with Maj Sjöwall.

The owner was also kind enough to gift us with a copy of “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South” by John T. Edge.

From the author’s website:

Beginning with the pivotal role of cooks in the civil rights movement, noted authority John T. Edge narrates the region’s journey from a hive of racism to a hotbed of American immigration. In the process, he traces how the food of working class Southerners has become a signature of American cuisine.

Restaurants were battlegrounds during the civil rights movement. Access to food and ownership of traditions were key contentions on the long and fitful march toward racial equality. The Potlikker Papers begins in 1955 as black cooks and maids fuelled the Montgomery bus boycott and it concludes in 2015 as a newer South came into focus, enriched by the arrival of immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, and many points in between.

Of course, I couldn’t leave without seeing the place where I spent so much of my college life; the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The building is in the same complex as the auditorium that used to be the campus movie theater (now located in the new student center) and the Psychology Building, which (legend has it) has an architectural window design that is meant to look like a punch card. What do you think?

Last but not least I couldn’t resist a visit to the “house” (i.e. uninsulated, wobbly shack) I lived in during my junior and senior years. Amazingly, it’s still there, and looks like it’s still worth the $70 monthly rent I paid (with two other rooommates). Fun fact: I lived either in an apartment or a dorm until I was 20, so this is the first place where I ever used a lawnmower!

Well, that closes out my Athens journal. Next post: A continuation of “Is There a Doctor in the Library?”, Part II.

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Is There a Doctor in the Library?

Is There a Doctor in the Library?

For reasons that DEFY EXPLANATION, I recently took stock of the books in my library about medicine, health and science. These include biographies, histories, case studies, scientific studies, and related topics. I was somewhat surprised when the total count reached 25!

I can trace my initial interest in these topics to Dr. Oliver Sacks’ “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” first published in the US in 1998. I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Sacks speak that year in the now-defunct Borders Bookstore in Atlanta.

I now own ten books by Dr. Sacks, including the above, but I’ve already covered his books in a previous blog post, #5 The Marvelous Dr. Sacks. Suffice it to say I can strongly recommend ANY of his books, but do not miss the book pictured above, “Awakenings”, “Uncle Tungsten” (more of an autobiography), and “Musicophilia”.

So, moving on to the other books in La Biblioteca de Algonquin. One interesting thing I noted is that of the other 15 books, I have one book each by 15 different authors. I’ve divided the books into two blogs; the first and longest being medical histories. Enjoy!


“The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat: The Story of the Penicillin Miracle” by Eric Lax

I just finished this book a week ago; it was not only fascinating, but an excellent corrective to the commonly held belief that Dr. Alexander Fleming not only discovered penicillin, but was also responsible for its development, production and usage as a medical breakthrough of historic proportions.

The many critical contributions of other scientists, including the above-mentioned Dr. Florey, are highlighted in this wonderfully researched and well-written book. The long, convoluted path to researching penicillin’s effects, discovering how to produce it in sufficient quantities, and using it to cure formerly deadly infections and diseases is beautifully explained.

“The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy” by Bill Hayes

Another great example of a book with an illuminating story not as well known as it should be. From The New Yorker: “The book coincides with the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of “Gray’s Anatomy’s” first publication…

…”Fascinated by the fact that little was known about the famous book’s genesis, Hayes combed through nineteenth-century letters and medical-school records, learning that, besides Henry Gray, the brilliant scholar and surgeon who wrote the text, another anatomist was crucial to the book’s popularity: Henry Vandyke Carter, who provided its painstaking drawings. Hayes moves nimbly between the dour streets of Victorian London, where Gray and Carter trained at St. George’s Hospital, and the sunnier classrooms of a West Coast university filled with athletic physical therapists in training, where he enrolls in anatomy classes and discovers that “when done well, dissection is very pleasing aesthetically.” Follow Bill Hayes (also a wonderful photographer) on Twitter at @BillHayesNYC.

“The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration” by Richard Barnett

This book is an excellent companion to “The Anatomist”.

From Will Self in The Guardian: “The strange, symbiotic relationship between medicine and social oppression is here given full-colour form: not only by anatomical illustrations of paupers’ and criminals’ corpses, but also by what – were they not so disfigured – would be regarded as straightforward portraits of the leprous and the syphilitic, the tubercular and the cancerous … Richard Barnett’s superbly erudite and lucid accompanying text would really suffice in itself as an introduction to the history of western medical science.” (Italics mine). Follow Richard Barnett on Twitter at @doctorbarnett.

“The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine” by Dr. Lindsay Fitzharris

Dr. Lister lives on in modern times in the name of the ubiquitous mouthwash, Listerine. However, his contributions to saving the lives of surgical patients, whose survival percentage was very low due to infection, cannot be overstated. Dr. Fitzharris’ book is a great read! This book was the winner of the PEN / E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, the Staff Pick on NPR’s best books of 2017, and was listed in the New York Times‘ “10 New Books We Recommend This Week”. She has a great twitter account, @DrLindseyFitz AND, (fun fact) her husband, Adrian Teal, is a magnificent caricaturist who you can follow at @TealCartoons.

In The Butchering Art, Dr. Fitzharris reveals the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and shows how it was transformed by advances made in germ theory and antiseptics between 1860 and 1875. She conjures up early operating theaters—no place for the squeamish—and surgeons, who, working before anesthesia, were lauded for their speed and brute strength. These pioneers knew that the aftermath of surgery was often more dangerous than patients’ afflictions, and the were baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high. At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more hazardous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon named Joseph Lister, who would solve the riddle and change the course of history. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

“The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History” by John M. Barry

This book could not be more timely given the current news about the coronavirus, or as it’s now known, COVID-19. I enjoyed it a great deal and think that it’s ripe for a re-read just about now!

From the Boston Globe: “John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza,” a sobering account of the 1918 flu epidemic, compelling and timely.The 1918 pandemic took a staggering toll — worldwide, 50 million to 100 million lives; in the United States, 675,000. More people died from mid-September to early December in 1918 than have died of AIDS in its 24-year scourge, Barry notes. When the flu struck in 1918, it was killing, Barry writes, “in some new and awful way.” As an internal Red Cross report put it, the flu spread “a fear and panic . . . akin to the terror of the Middle Ages regarding the Black Plague.” Barry’s descriptions of the disease’s ravages are gruesome.” Follow John M. Barry on Twitter at @johnmbarry.

“The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York” by Deborah Blum

A fascinating Jazz Age tale of chemistry and detection, poison and murder, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten era.

In early twentieth-century New York, poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Science had no place in the Tammany Hall-controlled coroner’s office, and corruption ran rampant. However, with the appointment of chief medical examiner Charles Norris in 1918, the poison game changed forever. Together with toxicologist Alexander Gettler, the duo set the justice system on fire with their trailblazing scientific detective work, triumphing over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice. Follow Deborah Blum on Twitter at @deborahblum.

In 2014, PBS’s “American Experience” released a film based on The Poisoner’s Handbook. Here is the link.

“The Great Mortality: An Intimate HIstory of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time” by John Kelly

From Publishers Weekly:”Drawing on recent research as well as firsthand accounts, veteran author Kelly (Three on the Edge, etc.) describes how infected rats, brought by Genoese trading ships returning from the East and docked in Sicily, carried fleas that spread the disease when they bit humans. Two types of plague seem to have predominated: bubonic plague, characterized by swollen lymph nodes and the bubo, a type of boil; and pneumonic plague, characterized by lung infection and spitting blood. Those stricken with plague died quickly…

…Survivors often attempted to flee, but the plague was so widespread that there was virtually no escape from infection. Kelly recounts the varied reactions to the plague. The citizens of Venice, for example, forged a civic response to the crisis, while Avignon fell apart. The author details the emergence of Flagellants, unruly gangs who believed the plague was a punishment from God and roamed the countryside flogging themselves as a penance. Rounding up and burning Jews, whom they blamed for the plague, the Flagellants also sparked widespread anti-Semitism. This is an excellent overview, accessible and engrossing.” Follow John Kelly on Twitter at @JohnKelly_NS.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

What a riveting page turner this was; my favorite kind of history that reads like a thriller! Describing London as both a city and culture experiencing explosive growth, Johnson builds the story around physician John Snow. In the face of a horrifying epidemic, Snow posited the then radical theory that cholera was spread through contaminated water rather than through miasma, or smells in the air. Against considerable resistance from the medical and bureaucratic establishment, Snow persisted and, with hard work and groundbreaking research, helped to bring about a fundamental change in our understanding of disease and its spread.

Johnson weaves in overlapping ideas about the growth of civilization, the organization of cities, and evolution to thrilling effect. From Snow’s discovery of patient zero to Johnson’s compelling argument for and celebration of cities, this makes for an illuminating and satisfying read. Follow Steven Johnson on Twitter at @stevenbjohnson.

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

I’ve read this book twice, and will come back to it again, I’m sure. In the meantime, I will also be making plans to visit the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, PA; it sounds fascinating! “America’s finest museum of medical history, the Mütter Museum displays its beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments in a 19th-century “cabinet museum” setting. The museum helps the public understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body and to appreciate the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.”

From NPR Books: “With clinical precision, Aptowicz lays bare the facts of Mütter’s colorful, tumultuous life. But those are only the bones of the book. Through anecdotes, rich context and an unabashed artistic license on par with Erik Larson’s novelized historical accounts like The Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck, she injects Dr. Mütter’s Marvels with warmth and wit.

In particular, the doctor’s borderline fetishization of grotesque medical curios — which would come to rest in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, still standing and attracting tens of thousands of visitors annually — comes across as both a quirk and a virtue, the result of his fascination with how the human body can be not only healed, but re-sculpted. His work in plastic surgery underscores a larger point that Aptowicz reveals masterfully: Vanity and wanting to be accepted in society are two very different things, then and now.” Follow Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz on Twitter at @coaptowicz.

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness and Recovery by Sam Kean

From Kirkus Reviews: “For centuries, brain injuries have been documented and analyzed as doctors attempted to comprehend how the brain functions. How is it that a man can survive a spike through his skull, and yet his peer drops dead after a seemingly minor bump? In tale after tale, best-selling author Kean…provides a fascinating, and at times gloriously gory, look at how early efforts in neurosurgery were essentially a medical guessing game…

…”Those who survived the wounds or seizures were often irrevocably changed as new personality traits emerged, giving doctors clues about how the brain altered itself in a struggle to function despite trauma. Major discoveries about how the brain works were borne from inspecting damaged brains in the context of the injured person’s symptoms. Compulsively readable, wicked scientific fun.”

I can also recommend “The Disappearing Spoon” by the same author. Follow Sam Kean on Twitter at @sam_kean.


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