Library's new non-fiction includes books on Buddhism and how Congress works

Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2004

New non-fiction at the Juneau Public Libraries!

"Halfbreed," by David F. Halaas and Andrew E. Masich: George Bent's extraordinary life was the inspiration for Jack Crabb in the novel "Little Big Man." Born in 1843, Bent was the son of a white trader and his Cheyenne wife and spent his life weaving between the two cultures. Brought up as Cheyenne, he later attended white schools, fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, then became a Cheyenne warrior and fought with the Dog Soldiers. After working as an interpreter for whites and an advisor to tribal leaders, he settled down to write about the Cheyenne way of life and became a prolific and valued correspondent with many of the day's greatest historians and ethnologists.

"The Man who would be King," by Ben MacIntyre: The first American to find his way into Afghanistan was Josiah Harlan, a Pennsylvania Quaker, who set out to explore Central Asia in 1821. He spent 20 years in the area, serving at times as surgeon, spy, military commander, and naturalist before declaring himself Prince of a kingdom he carved out of the Hindu Kush. When the British took over Afghanistan and forced Harlan out of the country, he returned to America where he fought in the Civil War and tried to introduce the camel as a means of transportation.

"Scurvy," by Stephen R. Bown: The greatest threat to sailors' lives between the 1500s and the 1700s wasn't drowning or starvation or even warfare, but scurvy. During the "Age of Sail," as nations expanded their horizons and sent their ships further out to sea, sailors died in droves from the "mouth disease," prompting both medical quacks and genuine scientists to search for a cure. Random concoctions sometimes included helpful ingredients, but it wasn't until the late 1700s when James Lind, James Cook, and Gilbert Blane, working separately and using scientific reasoning, found a cure and finally conquered the disease.

"Re-enchantment," by Jeffery Paine: As few as fifty years ago, Tibetan Buddhism was an isolated religion with adherents only in its native land. But with the Chinese invasion of Tibet and subsequent targeting of its monasteries, Tibetan monks were driven into exile in India, just in time to attract the attention of Western "seekers" of the 1960s and 70s. Now, Tibetan Buddhism is the fastest-growing religion in the West. A fascinating look at the history and spread of a religion. "Posterity," by Dorie McCullough Lawson In this extraordinary collection of letters, you'll find parental advice from Theodore Roosevelt, Ansel Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Anne Sexton, and many other Americans of note. Sorted by subject, such as Aging, Struggle, Good Work, the Developing Mind, and (my favorite) Brace-Up, it is as ideal for browsing as for reading straight through.

"How Congress Works and Why You Should Care," by Lee H. Hamilton: Okay, I'm the first to admit that even though I went through the usual civics class in high school, I know very little about how our government works. This book aims to change that, at least at the congressional level, by addressing the role of Congress, its impact, how it works, and how it could be better. Hamilton was US Representative for Indiana for nearly 35 years and is privy to the inner workings of Congress. Not only that, but he writes well - this isn't a textbook (though perhaps it should be used as such), it is an involving work of non-fiction that isn't afraid to ask hard questions and give real answers.

"Arts of Diplomacy," by Castle McLaughlin: This spectacular photo exhibit tells the story of the first thorough examination and cataloging of objects in the Lewis and Clark Indian collection. It includes items they traded for as well as gifts the expedition was given, placing them in cultural and historical context and giving them a human background. Interspersed with the museum collection are profiles of modern native Americans who are reviving old traditions.

"Why People Believe Weird Things," by Michael Shermer: His motto is "Cognite tute," or, "Think for yourself." He believes that rationality and moral decency are the most powerful weapons humans can wield. And he doesn't confuse cynicism with skepticism. Shermer's quest is to shine the light of reason on extravagant claims and prove or disprove them, including alien encounters, creationism versus evolution, Holocaust deniers, cults, and more. The most useful section of the book might well be the first, in which Shermer attempts to hone readers' "baloney detectors" in a discussion of common fallacies, pseudoscience, and logical reasoning, but his subsequent chapters targeting specific beliefs are thought-provoking and refreshing.

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