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December 2, 2005 Edition

Off the Map, by Fergus Fleming

Spanning 700 years, from Marco Polo’s adventures in China in the 1200s to Umberto Nobile’s trip to the North Pole in 1928, this recounts 45 variously purposed expeditions, some successful, others doomed. None of the accounts are very long, but readers will discover little-known adventurers. Maps are shown for each story and there is a bibliography for more in-depth reading.

Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz, by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird

Whether introducing chaos theory through origami, explaining multiple dimensions with tsetse flies, or illustrating the Fibonacci sequence with rabbits and pineapples, this lively book explains mathematical concepts in concrete and humorous ways. Discover, with the authors’ coaxing, Le Corbusier, the Golden Mean, and other things you know your teachers mentioned all those years ago: this time, you’ll understand what they mean.

The Rabbi’s Cat, by Joann Sfar

Set in Algeria in the 1930s, this is the story of a cat who, annoyed by the family parrot’s incessant squawking, eats him and gains the ability to talk. His life changes: the rabbi who owns him wants him to become a good Jew and study the Torah, but the cat decides he wants to study the kabbalah instead. The two make peace when the rabbi’s daughter falls in love with a young French rabbi and cat and father travel to France to meet their new in-laws. A philosophical, cat-like, and very funny graphic novel from one of France’s most talented artists.

The Magician and the Cardsharp, by Karl Johnson

This dual biography is centered around card tricks for both fun and profit – Dai Vernon, known as the Professor of card tricks in the first half of the twentieth century, was a perfectionist by nature who prided himself on his flawless sleight of hand. When he heard that a card player had mastered dealing from the center of the deck, a feat thought impossible, Vernon had to track the player down. Evoking the secrecy surrounding card tricks and illegal gambling, this detective story is a quietly thorough investigation of two lives and countless card tricks.

It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend, by Richard Lavoie

Written for parents, teachers, and caregivers of children with learning disabilities, this book looks past the schoolwork problems and into the social lives of kids. Strategies for helping children learn to understand body language, negotiate space issues, follow conversational rules, and make friends are presented with plenty of examples. Calm and empathetic, this is an immensely readable and useful book.

Legion of the Lost, by Jaime Salazar

Unhappily facing a life behind a desk and with a lifelong fascination with the French Foreign Legion, Jaime quits his executive-track position to take the plunge and sign up for five years with the Legion. Looking for a way to inject honor and meaning into his life, he perseveres through the brutal training, only to find himself disillusioned by the banality of life in the Legion in peacetime. As one of his friends observes, Jaime is only happy when he is struggling, and so he deserts. Fascinating in parts, but in the end, the reader must wonder what, other than a fairly intense drinking habit, Jaime has taken from his experiences.

Annie Duke: How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions, by Annie Duke

Hearts, gin, bridge, and the occasional game of poker were the cement that held Annie’s family together. Not terribly surprising then, that both she and her brother became world class poker players. The story of her journey to become the only woman to win two major tournaments in one year alternates with a play-by-play recap of her 2004 win in the 35th Annual World Series of Poker. Bonuses include poker tips and strategies as well as a list of players to watch.

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