“Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Infections” by David Quammen (Norton, 2012)

Spillover
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Spillover is one of those books that everyone should really read, even if it’s really scary and after completing it, you’d have problems doing anything without wondering what viruses might be waiting to attach themselves to your skin. Bestselling author David Quammen looks to perhaps scare you with Spillover, but ultimately educate on both the history of these viruses and what the current status is of them today.

The book is divided into parts and features a thorough coverage of viruses like Ebola, SARS, Hendra and AIDS to name a few, as well as infections like hepatitis and malaria. Each part features an interesting history of the particular virus or disease, how it was first discovered and the devastation it has caused throughout the world, and then a look into its current situation and what it might bode for the future. Quammen is quick to point out in the Ebola chapter of how one being infected by the virus is more likely to show symptoms and the less bloody stages one goes through to death, as opposed to the sensationalist portrayal of someone dying of Ebola in Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone. The AIDS chapter is perhaps the most fascinating in covering the detailed history of the virus and how it is one that is still killing many and while there are medications that help, it is still one that shouldn’t be easily forgotten about.

After finishing Spillover, in addition to being somewhat terrified, readers will also feel as if they’ve ingested an important volume of knowledge and will feel educated now on most of the world’s known diseases and ready to face the next pandemic when it comes . . . or at the least be a little more hygienic in their daily lives and wash their hands more often.

Originally written on February 17, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Spillover from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“God’s Facebook” by Najmus Saquib (Innovation and Integration Inc., 2012)

God's Facebook
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While Najmus Saquib earned his Ph D. in engineering, he is a philosopher at heart, with deep interests in literature, social dynamics and comparative religion.  In God’s Facebook, Saquib sets out to show the evolution of God through the history of humanity, starting in early primitive times, and continuing up through the present and into the possible future.  He does this partly with his own words, but also with quotes from many different sources, be they sacred texts, personal biographies, or even works of fiction.  His goal is to show that with the many similarities in all religions, with how god is seen at the center, that people will see and understand this and feel that humanity is all one.

The book is divided up into chapters by time period, such as Chapter 3 – God is Born (250,000 to 2000 BC) or Chapter 4 – God Gives Us Religions (2000 to 1000 BC).  In each chapter he covers that period in time with a short history of the religion and beliefs of the time, and what was changing.  In every chapter there are numerous quotations from a variety of texts and people linked to the particular subject of that chapter.  To break up the quotes, there are also “Coffee Breaks” and “Like” sections.

Saquib even addresses atheism in some chapters, though it doesn’t make much sense with the rest of the book, as the quotes are added in there as awkward pieces that don’t the puzzle of God’s Facebook.  What feels missing from the book is a clear message.  If Saquib is hoping to link humanity with just the quotes alone, that is not enough.  It does show some of the numerous similarities with many religions, but as is true with many people of faith, they need guidance, and there seems little of it in God’s Facebook.

Originally written on February 13, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of God’s Facebook from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Round About the Earth” by Joyce E. Chaplin (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Round About the Earth
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There have been many books written about the notorious explorers from history, like Columbus, Magellan, Cook and even Darwin.  There are also now a fair number of people who can make the claim that they have circumnavigated this globe.  Joyce E. Chaplin presents readers with the first full history on those who have traveled around the world and told their story.

Divided into sections, Chaplin presents the series of historical tales starting with Magellan, giving the ups and downs of the journey.  She points out that it wasn’t until the twentieth century that these round-the-world trips actually returned to their starting point with most of the crew still alive.  All the greats make it into this book, such as Francis Drake, William Dampier, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, and James Cook.  When sea travel became safer, people like Charles Darwin made the journey, as well as some notable women like Lady Brassey.

With the advent of encompassing railroad travel and exotic cruise ships, round the world journeys became much more achievable and common for a lot of people.  And with the advent of the space race, a new concept of circumnavigating the globe came into play, with an elite few achieving it.  Chaplin has fun exploring these many journeys and why people seem driven to accomplish it.  While her writing can get a little dry and long-winded at points, Round About the Earth still represents an interesting foray into this unique group of travelers.

Originally written on February 11, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Round About the Earth from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The World Until Yesterday: What We Can Learn From Traditional Societies” by Jared Diamond (Viking Press, 2013)

The World Until Yesterday
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After the bestsellerdom of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs and Steel and the popular Collapse, the talented anthropologist Jared Diamond returns with his long-awaited next book, The World Until Yesterday.  But things have to be long-awaited for Diamond, as he doesn’t just keep churning out non-fiction books, but decides on what message he wants to tell and teach to his readers. He also spends a lot of his time lecturing, giving talks, and traveling around the world, as well as most importantly, to New Guinea where he does his research and has been visiting since the 1960s.

In The World Until Yesterday, Diamond goes into detail about what a number of traditional societies from around the world do and how they act and react when it comes to things like raising a child, religion, conflict resolution, treatment of the elderly and many other important subjects we all have to deal with in our lives. The traditional groups Diamond focuses on are: New Guinean tribes, Australian tribes, Eurasian tribes, African tribes, North American tribes, and South American tribes.

As with his other books, Diamond is not looking to tell the reader what to think or believe, but merely to illustrate what these traditional societies have done for many centuries, and what they continue to do, and what we can possibly learn from this. This includes the subject of child rearing and always keeping the child close in a skin to skin contact in the early years of birth, instead of putting the child in a stroller and away from the parent; or treating the elderly in a more respected manner, than putting them away in elderly care home; or having a detailed system to deal with conflict situations so parties that have suffered harm can be correctly compensated. Again, Diamond is not saying that the first world should adopt all these measures to better their society, but to learn from these and perhaps apply some of the techniques to help improve their lives.

As with any Diamond book, The World Until Yesterday is not an easy read, and takes some long focus and concentration to read through, but at the end of it the reader is filled with a new understanding about the world and how many traditional societies live and breathe in their own lifetimes. Diamond uses a poignant framing device of his boarding a plane in Los Angeles to New Guinea and talks about the world he is about to leave, and the one he is about to enter; and then does the opposite at the end of the book, leaving this traditional society he has become a part of for some time, and returning to the modern one in California. As with any Diamond book, it is an enlightening and fascinating story that is well worth the read.

Originally written on June 12, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The World Until Yesterday from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Collapse  Guns, Germs and Steel

“Gold Rush in the Jungle: The Race to Discover and Defend the Rarest Animals of Vietnam’s ‘Lost World'” by Dan Drolette Jr. (Crown, 2013)

Gold Rush in the Jungle
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There is a secret in this world, a very important one that may disappear before we even know it was there.  Vietnam is a nation filled with history and culture, but it is also a unique haven to some of the rarest animals on the planet; it is also one of the few places in this world where new species of fauna continue to be discovered.  Gold Rush in the Jungle is the story of this most unique place.

Dan Drolette Jr. has been a quasi-naturalist; a nature and animal lover since he was a child, discovering a fascination and continuing with it throughout his life.  He has written for publications such as Scientific American, Cosmos, Science, Boston Globe, and Natural History.  His travels have taken him exploring and writing about flora and fauna as far and wide as Hawaii, Sweden, South Korea and Australia.  Drolette Jr. first went to Vietnam in the late nineties and knew he had to return to study and write about his special place, which he did.  Gold Rush in the Jungle is the culmination of all this work.

Vietnam’s jungles have remained relatively untouched, going through a turbulent history and a devastating war; ironically this has led to a somewhat protected habitat for its many species and plans. It has held back development and the advancement of civilization into the jungles, allowing the many animals to live in peace and multiply.  But since the nineties, things have gone quickly downhill.  With the rapid growth in animal trophies, and the use of animal parts as widely disproven medicines in china, poaching has become a very big business.

Fortunately, there are those who are fighting against this, starting up conservation groups and protected places in Vietnam, as well as national parks, one created as long ago as the 1960s with Ho Chi Minh.  It is a very moving story, to see how animals like certain bears are barely kept alive to have their bile surgically removed, or the rhinoceros that used to inhabit these jungles and can no longer be found.  Drolette Jr. goes into the history of this country, talking about certain rare animals that have since gone extinct, but there is still hope that one day they may resurface from these dense ecosystems.

Fans of Jared Diamond’s Collapse and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth will love Gold Rush in the Jungle, with Drolette Jr.’s easy to read style that sucks you in, opens your eyes, and educates you with ideas and thoughts you have likely never had.  It is a powerful story of a very real place that is like no other, and will stay with you long after you have read the last page.

Originally written on February 26, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Gold Rush in the Jungle from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Mortality” by Christopher Hitchens (Twelve, 2012)

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With the passing of popular author Christopher Hitchens on December 15, 2011, the world lost a powerful voice in the writing world.  It began for Hitchens on June 8, 2010 while on a book tour when he was brought down by extreme pain in his chest and throat.  It was then that he was diagnosed with cancer, and began a rigorous series of treatments and chemo therapy to try to get rid of the cancer and bring him on the road to recovery.

It was a long hard struggle, and while at points Hitchens’ health did seem to improve, ultimately the cancer was too much for him.  Mortality is a collection of his writings and award-winning columns published in Vanity Fair.  They are his notes, thoughts and ideas, philosophies on life and his swiftly approaching mortality.  They are unavoidably moving when one considers who is writing down these words, akin to Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture.

Some might be looking to see if this staunch atheist turned to some divine deity as the days of his life grew short, but there is little in here of that; it is more the words of a man who knows he will soon die, and what that means to him, his wife, his family, his friends.  In the afterword, his wife recounts how he was always the one to have the last word, and now she is doing the job . . . and yet she admits, this isn’t really true, as every time she picks up a book from their great library, in the margins and on the blank pages, she finds Hitchens’ words everywhere.

Originally written on October 23, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Mortality from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948” by Madeleine Albright (Harper, 2012)

Prague Winter
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In this moving true story of Madeleine Albright’s past as a child growing up in Europe, readers get to experience her discoveries of her history through her words, many of them a shock to her, especially with her Jewish heritage.  In a way, Prague Winter is a voyage of discovery and with Albright’s clear and honest writing style, readers are swept away by her prose.

This is the harsh story of a world that now seems unfamiliar to us, when a rising Germany controlled by a vicious dictator saw the fate of human existence in black and white, where only the white were allowed to survive in Hitler’s mind.  As a child growing up in what was then Czechoslovakia, it is a heart-wrenching story in some ways, as Albright tells it with skill and drama, mounting the tension that was very real, as she and her family left their home country for England.  But stories continued to unfold of what was happening back in their native nation.

Albright has clearly done a lot of research for this book, not just on her own family, but on the history and sources of the period, along with many photos from that time, it presents a thorough picture of this part of Europe during World War II and the rise of the Fuhrer.  It is also an insight into the culture of the Czechs, a people who do not bow down lightly and whose patriotism and culture is everything to them.  In some ways, Prague Winter reads like a powerful history book that would make great reading for any high school or college student wanting to learn more about the period; and at the same time it is a poignant biography of these people and of this child that was shaped into the incredible woman that she was to become.

Originally written on March 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Prague Winter from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.