Libraries offer a batch of nonfiction for all tastes

In the stacks

Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2005

There's something new for just about everyone at the Juneau Public Libraries.

"The Travel Book," by The Lonely Planet. A book that covers every country in the world? A bit ambitious for anyone except The Lonely Planet people. To be fair, each of the 230 countries gets only 2 pages, and those are mostly photos, but since this tome is meant to whet appetites rather than give comprehensive information, that's just fine. Best time to visit, surprises in store, what to read, listen to, watch, and eat ... all this, accompanied by a line map of the country and its neighbors make this an exciting book for browsing.

"Lunchbox," by Jack Mingo and Erin Barrett. Do you remember your elementary school lunch box? The one you just had to have, because it had your favorite TV/cartoon/movie character/sport on it? Chances are good you'll see it again in these pages. Full-color photos and pithy comments (especially in the section called "What were they thinking?") make this a fun trip down memory lane.

"Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea," by Kathleen Broome Williams. Hopper, from a wealthy family that believed in education for women, was a mathematician by training, a Navy rear admiral by profession, and a champion of the computer age by avocation. Her career began as a WAVE, when she was assigned to work with Harvard's Mark I computer. After leaving the service, she helped create the programming language COBOL, and then was recalled to the Navy to standardize COBOL's use. In 1986, when she finally retired, she was the oldest serving officer (she was 79) in the Navy, and still going strong. A fascinating look at a woman who truly helped shape our world as it is today.

"Lost Photographs of the RNLI," by Edward Wake-Walker. Sometime in the 1940s, Amos Burg, a writer, explorer, and filmmaker from Juneau, borrowed a collection of photographs from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in London. They weren't returned until 2002, after their discovery by Charles Campbell, who bought Burg's property. Though Burg presumably borrowed the photos in order to write an article, that article was never published (and perhaps never written). Now, former-RNLI public relations director Wake-Walker has put the photos together with accompanying information held by the RNLI and created a beautiful book of English rescues at sea.

"Founding Myths," by Ray Raphael. America is a young country whose traditions and stories are newly enough formed that it is still possible to run them to ground in search of the truth. Firmly believing that truth is the best basis for patriotism, Raphael sets about searching out the roots of many of the legends of the beginnings of the United States and reconstructing their events into much more compelling and inspiring reality. Take the story of Molly Pitcher, for example: School books say that Molly was a brave woman who followed her husband into battle during the American Revolution and took his place when he died. But Raphael presents her as an amalgam of the hundreds of thousands of camp followers who cooked, cleaned, cared for the wounded and kept the army going for eight years. Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson and Sam Adams all fall under Raphael's scrutiny: The result is a complex and rich revision of history.

"You Can Do the Math," by Ron Lipsman. This is a book of word problems for adults, of the sort we all encounter in our lives. For instance, is it more economical to buy or rent a home? What kind of insurance should I buy, and how much of it do I need? And how the heck do I lower my taxes? Lipsman, a veteran math teacher, is friendly and nonintimidating in his approach. No recommendations of mutual funds here, just the math you need to know in order to understand and evaluate your choices.

"Small Spirits," by Mary Jane Lenz. From the moment you glimpse the cover, you'll know that this beautiful collection of color photographs from the National Museum of the American Indian is a treasure to savor. Full of photos of ancient and contemporary dolls from all across the Americas (including South America), this covers dolls created as toys, as ritual objects and for the tourist trade. The text is full of details about the construction and use of the dolls as well as their cultural context.

"Natural Grace," by William Dietrich. Dietrich, a writer for Pacific Northwest magazine, has compiled a number of witty and delightful essays about the natural world of the Pacific Northwest. He includes everything from the taken-for-granted (sea gulls, jellyfish, alder), to the overlooked (dirt, mosquitoes, moss) and the iconic (cedar, crabs, bald eagles). The inanimate bits of the world fall under his pen, too. The weather gives Dietrich, a pragmatist, a chance to point out how lucky we are. Snow, he informs us, defines our water wealth, and the tides help keep beaches clean. Though his focus is on Washington, many of his observations will bring smiles (or grimaces) of recognition to Juneau readers.

"Moral Courage," by Rushworth M. Kidder. Stories of moral failings fill our newspapers, from individuals to corporations. Here at last is a book that sets out the principles by which decisions are made and illustrates them with examples of moral behavior on personal and societal levels. Why, for example, would an executive turn down a job that would more than double her salary? Why didn't a group of teenagers call 911 when one of their friends was injured? Exploring these questions and the principles behind them may help us understand the decisions we make in our own lives.

"The Fall of Baghdad," by Jon Lee Anderson. Anderson, who lived in Baghdad from 2000 to 2004, chronicles the shifts in outlook and attitude of the Iraqis living in that city. In the beginning, their fear of Saddam wars with their unease at living in the most likely American target. As the attacks begin and war breaks out, he shows their preparations for life under siege. Through conversations and formal interviews, the Iraqis he meets tell their own stories of suffering, liberation, fear and hope.

• As always, placing a hold on our material is easy: Call the Juneau Public Libraries at 586-5249, or, if you have Internet access, your library card and a PIN, you may place your own holds by going to our Web site ( and looking at our catalog. Placing holds on items featured in this column is now even easier. The new columns are hyperlinked to the catalog: Simply look up the column on our Web site, click on the title you want, and you will be ready to place a hold.

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