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American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama is the complete title of this remarkable book. Rachel Swarns is an engaging writer, and knows how to weave an interesting tale. The interconnected lives of Michelle Obama’s ancestors are fascinating and inspiring. Sometimes the book get bogged down in historical detail, but you can pick it up and tap in at any point in the story.

A- for bogged down in historical detail.


Author Victoria Sweet is a consummate storyteller. Her portraits of the fascinating, often doomed residents of the Laguna Honda Hospital were spellbinding to me. But there are more treats in Sweet’s book. Even laypeople will be drawn into her medical research into Medieval¬† medicine and how its wisdom can inform the medicine of today.¬† And her account of her 4 year walking pilgrimage in southern France was an engaging detour interspersed at every summer. This was one of the most readable books I’ve encountered in a long time. Part autobiography, part travelogue, part history of an amazing institution, and partly a series of intelligent essays, anyone will enjoy reading this book. Required reading for doctors, but by no way not just doctors.

A: It’s an original. Never read anything like it, really.

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, PhD in biology, has written two compelling books. An interesting mix of personal narrative and scientific facts, the books weave a path between her own story and the story of the poisoning of the earth. To me, it is astounding that, after reading them, not everyone takes up the cause to save the planet from the looming threat of toxins, petrochemicals and carcinogens.

To be honest, her books have triggered me into action, both for my future and my daughter’s. This is a must read for anyone who cares about the 7th generation.

Note: Steingraber wrote “Living Downstream“, the 1990’s bestseller.

Solid A for relevancy and integrity (no plus, because every once in a while she rambles on a bit, not often but every so often, so if you find yourself skimming in a few places, know that you are not alone. So did I.)

Framed as a Socratic dialog between savant and novice, the book lays out the fundamentals of the eco-theology movement in clear, eloquent prose. Co-authored by a physicist and theologian, the book’s arguments beautifully blend compassion with objectivity and logic. (Thomas Berry is the theologian and Brian Swimme is the physicist.)

Once again, the books that make it to OssumBooxs usually are the ones that float to the top, mostly due to excellence and quality. This one is no exception.

Solid A for readability, conciseness and eloquence of arguments. If you read one book about the global climate crisis, this is the one.

Jessica Hagy is the oracle of the miniature truth and the brief witticism. It all gets expressed diagrammatically in a 3 x 5 card. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Jessica’s index cards are worth several thousand. Her blog and her book both go by the name ‘Indexed’.

Check it out: A ++

Peter Morville wrote one of the best introductions to digital IA, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. His most recent book, Ambient Findability, is a pleasant and entertaining jaunt through specific aspects of IA such as wayfinding, faceted browsing, semantics, metadata, and information hierarchies. What I particularly like is that Morville weaves in contributions from others in the field such as Clay Shirky and Dave Wienburg. This collaborative approach stands in stark contrast to Steve Johnson’s book Everything Bad is Good for You, which tackled the question of popular culture’s effects on educational development and literacy while completely¬† ignoring Neil Postman’s critical contributions to the topic. I was appalled at Johnson’s ignorance, and wondered how his editor ever let him publish a book with such shoddy scholarship.

Although Ambient Findability lacks a certain depth of original thought, Morville’s willingness to do his homework in regards to the other movers and shakers in his field goes far towards redeeming the book in my eyes.

My stamp of approval: A-

I’ve read a fair amount of ‘outsider’ books on India, all of which try to do the impossible: portray the country in its complex and contradictory entirety. None comes closer to highlighting its magnificence, pointing out its inherent paradoxes, and revealing its haunting mystery, than Jonah Blank’s Arrow of the Blue Skinned God. Told with sober compassion, the book traces the epic journey of the Ramayana, alternating between the present India and the ancient past. Underneath the suffering and the futility, Blank gives us heartbreaking glimpses into the soul of India and her people.

The only noted omission in the book was the lack of glossary, as Blank uses a fair amount of Hindu words and phrases.

solid A

I can’t wait to tell you about this one.

Chevalier (Girl with the Pearl Earring), tackles a fascinating moment in natural history: the late 19nth century, when archeologists and historians were just beginning to probe evolution and natural selection.

At this time in history, the northwest coast of England revealed an astounding number of dinosaur skeletons, some perfectly preserved in their entirety. The book tells the story of the local fossil hunters, and one particularly talented young woman, Mary Anning. Virtually unschooled, Anning, nevertheless, had a knack for finding the remains of creatures never before seen by the Academy. This book is the story of her discoveries and of her struggle to be recognized by Britains’ academic elite, aided by an unusual advocate and friend.

The writing in the book is flawless: rich, poignant, and every word counts. Rarely do I regret a book coming to its end, this was one.

My take: oh yeah, A ++

This is a sequel to this team’s first book, Freakonomics.

Super Freakonomics, like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, is a testament to the power of statistics, and the surprising information it reveals. For example, believe it or not, it is actually safer to drive home from a party drunk, than to walk. Stuff like that.

But the tone of the book is too chatty, especially in relation to the serious topics that it explores. Modern warfare, drug addiction and prostitution have enough pain and suffering that anyone touching on them should tip their hat to that reality. These authors were a little too cavalier for me. I got tired of the snappy turns of phrases.

My score: C + (and that’s being generous)

You want to be a starfish because if you lose a leg, you grow back a new one. The starfish is a model of decentralization.

The spider, in contrast, is highly centralized. All ‘administration’ is concentrated in the central part of the body. This leaves the spider more vulnerable. If you lose the center, you fall apart.

Decentralized organizations are stronger and more resilient and the internet encourages and fosters them. Collective repositories, open source software, and social networks all represent the decentralized starfish model. (Wikipedia, Apache, etc.)

An example of the spider model would be American auto makers: less flexible, unable to respond quickly to changing customer demands and needs.

The books was a great read: the prose is straightforward, not too many “big words”… especially good in mid-summer when half of one’s mind is on vacation anyway. Bring it to the beach if you want something a little more substantial than the latest Alexander McCall Smith installment.

Solid A.