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August 15, 2008 Edition

How the States Got Their Shapes, by Mark Stein

This book has answers to questions that have probably never occurred to you, but will nag at you once you hear them. Why don’t all the states have nice, regular shapes like Colorado and Wyoming? Why don’t Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire extend all the way up to their nearest geographic boundary, the St. Lawrence river? What’s up with Oklahoma’s panhandle? Arranged by state in alphabetical order, this is a book to provoke your curiosity and give you ammo to stump your friends and family.

The Healthy Skeptic, by Robert J. Davis

In an era of ever-increasing concern about our health and a proportionate increase in the flood of information regarding healthy living, this book tries to cut through the hype and subsidized science. Davis, a health journalist, admits that it takes work to figure out which health information is trustworthy and so starts his book by giving readers the tools they need to become discerning consumers. Then he goes on to dissect a variety of things we “know” – for instance, that sunscreen protects us from skin cancer, that there are specific “superfoods” that protect us, and that it’s possible to slow (or even stop) the aging process.

The Last Days of Old Beijing, by Michael Meyer

Meyer, who has lived in China for years, speaks fluent Mandarin, and lives in a traditional neighborhood in Beijing, is an excellent cultural translator and guide to the beauty of the traditionally backstreets. Increasingly bulldozed to make way for modern buildings and shops, these areas gain indoor plumbing, but lose their community as many residents are bought or forced out of their homes.

Dog Man, by Martha Sherrill

This dual story of the rebirth of a dog breed and the life of a man and his family starts just after World War II, with the dozen or so Akita, or snow dogs, left in their native Japan. For one thing, few people had the resources to feed domestic animals during the war, and, for another, the government had paid premium prices for snow dog pelts with which to line officers’ coats. Captivated by the breed’s spirit, Morie Sawataishi began acquiring and breeding Akita, much to the dismay of his wife and family. Sawataishi was successful, and today, Akita are found throughout the world, prized for their sweet dispositions, loyalty, and intelligence.

A People’s History of American Empire, by Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, and Paul Buhle.

Zinn’s original book, “A People’s History of the United States,” has gone through six new editions since its first publication in 1980. Now there’s an entirely new version in graphic novel format that examines the cycles of American Expansionism from Wounded Knee to Iraq. Zinn’s premise is that our government’s response to 9/11 was predicted by the long history of similar overreactions against people and nations throughout our history, from our colonization of the Americas to the Mexican-American and Vietnam wars and into the present day. Along the way, Zinn gives readers glimpses of his background, showing the reasons for his passion for truth and justice. Compelling reading, backed up with a bibliography of further reading, and made all the more gripping by the illustrations (which do include photographs that may not be suitable for kids).

In Sisterhood, edited by Kimberley L. Metcalfe

From its inception in 1926, the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 2 has been a force to be reckoned with. In addition to helping Tlingit families through hard times and celebrating the good times, the Sisterhood was responsible for putting the first female matron in place at the prison, getting Tlingit women involved in municipal elections, and working towards equal treatment of Natives in schools, workplaces, and stores. Meet the many movers and shakers of the Sisterhood and learn the role they played in the lives of individuals and the community in this essential time capsule of Southeast history.

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