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December 19, 2004 Edition

Oil, by Matthew Yeomans

If you tried, could you go without using oil or oil-based products for a day? You’d be going without a shower curtain, plastic-bristled brush or comb, and deodorant for your morning routine, and have to forgo non-stick pans and plastic spatulas, or milk for breakfast, if it’s in a plastic container. No computers, dvds, or cds, and if you go for a walk, don’t step on the asphalt! Many medications are also petroleum based. After tracing the history of oil use in American and world history for the past century, Yeomans works to persuade readers that American oil dependence is fast becoming our Achilles heel, and that a true oil shortage would affect us in ways we rarely think of.

Caliban’s Shore, by Stephen Taylor

In the spring of 1755, the Grosvenor, one of the finest ships of the day, ran aground on the coast of southeast Africa. The survivors, crew and passengers including women and children, were far away from the nearest outpost which might offer help. After a surreal encounter with a group of natives, who surrounded and burned what had washed ashore for whatever metal fittings could be salvaged, without giving any sign that they noticed the survivors huddled in small groups on the beach, the captain faced mutiny. The group divided, with some deciding to stay put and ingratiate themselves to the Pondo, while the majority attempted to walk to a known European settlement. In the end, of the 125 known survivors of the shipwreck, only 13 can be accounted for.

Kayaks you can build, by Ted Moores and Greg Rossel

Want a new kayak and feeling crafty? Take a look through this lovely book on making kayaks from kits. Great step-by-step instructions and tons of helpful hints and techniques will make building a kayak a satisfying experience. The instructions are general enough to apply to just about any kayak kit, and in fact, the book includes three “builder’s journals” detailing the building of three models from different companies. Several companies that sell kayak kits are listed in the back, with addresses, phone numbers, and website contact information for each.

Weather: a visual guide, by Bruce Buckley, Edward J. Hopkins, and Richard Whitaker

With an arresting cover photo of a lightning strike over a city, this book begs you to find it fascinating… and you will. If the well-written and informative entry-level text plays a supporting role, it is only because the incredible color photos are the stars here. Flip it open anywhere and read about cloud formations, or see how weather shapes the land. Start at the beginning and find out what causes weather, what “normal” means, and what it looks like when the unexpected happens.

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, by Julian Rubinstein

Better than fiction is this true story of a charming, but feckless young Romanian named Attila who escaped into Hungary by clinging to the bottom of a train, discovered that he didn’t have the talent to become the star hockey goalie he wanted to be, and finally became a thief. Pursued by Hungary’s version of Inspector Clouseau, Attila was caught and put into an escape-proof jail, from which he promptly escaped, making him into a celebrity and t-shirt personality. He’s still considered a folk-hero of sorts in Hungary, and even though he’s back in prison, he’s frequently featured as a commentator on true crime shows.

Caribou Rising, by Rick Bass

Navigating easily between politics, caribou hunting, and conversations with friends, Bass gives a picture of the state of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that is at once comprehensive and personal. Bass is visiting Arctic Village to hunt caribou with the Gwich-‘in, who, reliant on the Porcupine caribou herd that migrates through their area, are careful nurturing new skills with which to stave off oil drilling. Bass’s writing style is meditative and lyrical; his story, and those of the Gwich-‘in, are compelling.

The Cloud Garden, by Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder

Some of the world’s most exotic and rare orchids are found in Central America; unfortunately, so are some of the most dangerous places. This is the harrowing story of two young men, an adventurer and a botanist, who met by chance while traveling. Tom and Paul got to know each other very well while being held captive by FARC guerillas for nine months before being abruptly released. Told in alternate voices, their story is riveting

The Mind at Work, by Mike Rose

We’ve all thought it – “I can do that!” – about someone else’s job, without fully appreciating the skills, learned and innate, that make people good at some jobs and not at others. Rose celebrates the intellectual demands of a variety of blue collar jobs, from waitressing with its need for memory, physical coordination, and social aptitude, to plumbing, where perception and good judgment go hand-in-hand with coordination and knowledge. Rose also discusses vocational and “college” track schooling and the way this division of education creates an artificial elevation of “mind work” over “body work.” Persuasive writing on an important topic.

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