Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Past blog posts have highlighted top science books like The Wright Brothers by David McCullough and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, so now let’s take a look at some other works that are also on the New York Times bestselling science list. All of the books mentioned here can be found on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library.

Two books are particularly interesting because they have remained popular with individual readers and book groups for several years. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman is about a culture clash between an immigrant Laotian Hmong family with a severely ill epileptic daughter and the California doctors and nurses who address the child’s medical issues. Western medicine versus a belief in the power of the spirit world is the focus of this fascinating and highly readable book. 

Race permeates the news, but it also rears its ugly head in science. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks author Rebecca Skloot tells the story of an African American woman in 1963 whose cancer cells are harvested without her knowledge and eventually become the source through which companies make money, none of which benefits the late woman’s family. This is a terrific read.

The life of tech entrepreneur and Internet start-up wizard is told in the biography Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. From a tough childhood in South Africa to involvement in PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, Musk is compared to other captains of industry and also viewed as someone who always focuses on the future and not the past. Biography fans who may not be techies will also find this a fascinating and compelling book.
In Thinking Fast and Slow author Daniel Kahneman shares his idea that humans are hardwired through evolution to address problems quickly instead of taking them on in a methodical way. Who would think that a book about cognition would be entertaining, but it is just that. Another book that sparks new ideas is Quiet by Susan Cain which promotes the idea that introverts are not always respected in a world where self-promoting extroverts often get to the head of the class.

Friday, October 9, 2015


When a beloved author of a popular series dies, can a new writer simply step in and take over? In the past other authors wrote for Raymond Chandler, Robert Ludlum and Dorothy L. Sayers, but not to universal acclaim. 

Swedish writer Steig Larsson is one of those authors whose characters continue although he has passed, and the truth of his replacement may be more complicated than Larsson’s fiction, the Millennium series. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest were published in 50 countries and sold more than 80 million copies. Larsson’s work can be found in print, Spanish translation, CD and DVD at the Monrovia Public Library.

When Larsson unexpectedly died at the age of 50 he and his companion of more than 30 years were not married and she did not have fiduciary interest in his estate. To make matters more provocative, Larsson’s money and literary legacy were inherited by his father and brother, with whom he had little contact. It is the two of them who decided to continue the Millennium series with a new writer. That writer is Swedish reporter and author David Lagercrantz.
Lagercrantz’s new book, The Girl in the Spider Web, continues the story of the punk and tattooed investigator Lisbeth Salander and crusading journalist Michael Blomkvist who share a complicated history and a commitment to justice. Like the original, the plot of this story is very complex and includes many characters, but now revolves around computer hacking, national security and an autistic boy who does not speak. In the book Salander finds new reason to avenge her past and Blomkvist is able to expose wrongdoers. Reviews for The Girl in the Spider Web have been mixed and readers are invited to see if this new title meets their high expectations.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


No doubt that the visit of Pope Francis to the United States was a memorable event for those who attended events where he spoke, those who stood on road sides waiting to catch a glimpse of him and for those who watched from home. The interest in Pope Francis seems to extend beyond that of Catholics and has rekindled a parallel interest in the history of the Church and the men who have led it. Look for books on these topics on at the Monrovia Public Library. 

The Church of Mercy is a collection of the sermons, speeches and writings of Pope Francis during his first papal year. The book addresses such topics as hope, faith and the poor. The chapters are short and should be appreciated by readers looking for spiritual guidance.

Two biographies of Pope Francis, both in Spanish, are available. Un Aire Nuevo: Francisco, Un Papa Sorprendente by Carlos Vallejo and Francisco: Vida y Revolution by Elisabetta Piqu. Both cover his youth, Jesuit career, election to the papacy and his personal attributes of humility and humor.
Library users looking for more information on the popes might want to read Vicars of Christ: A History of the Popes by Charles Couloumbe, which includes biographies of each pope and supplies many anecdotes about the times in which they ruled. Readers looking for an explanation of Catholic doctrine, history and personalities should read Robert Barron’s Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of its Faith.
AWitness to Hope: Biography of John Paul II by George Weigel examines the life of this pope from Poland who was known for his anti-communist and ecumenical activities. Another pope who captured the imagination of the world was Pope John Paul II, who visited Los Angeles in 1987.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Jimmy Carter, our 39th president, is often cited as the gold standard for how former presidents should conduct themselves. Noted for his work on worldwide health and human rights and his promotion of Habitat for Humanity, the organizations that builds housing for the needy in the United States, President Carter is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and a prolific author.  Celebrating both his 90th birthday and recognizing his recent announcement about his cancer diagnosis, this is a particularly great time to read the many books he has written that are available at the Monrovia Public Library.

President Carter has written several autobiographies and memoirs. His newest A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety has been called a warm and honest book in which he steps back and takes a look every realm of his life, what challenged him and what gave him pleasure. A Full Life is a terrific read. In An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood, Mr. Carter recalls his Depression-era childhood, his segregationist father, his intelligent mother and the people, both black and white, with whom he grew up. Here the author tells how his strong work ethic and his endorsement of diversity grew from his childhood experiences. 

Keeping a daily diary resulted in White House Diary, an account of what happened and how he felt during both momentous events, like the Iran hostage crisis, and in his appraisals of the people with whom he came into contact. Readers will find his assessments of various personalities particularly eye-opening.

Known for his deep spirituality and for teaching Sunday school, Living Faith shares Carter’s Christian values and how they inform his sense of fairness and justice.  Our Endangered Values is President Carter’s look at how we all benefit from inclusion and sharing.
When President Carter was elected his small town in Georgia became famous.  With the upcoming holiday season enjoy Christmas in Plains, a slight and lovely book about how simplicity and warmth, not extravagant gifts, is what make holidays memorable.