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February 8, 2009 Edition

The Atlas of the Real World, by Daniel Dorling, Mark Newman, and Anna Barford

Take a moment to orient yourself with the first map, which shows land area only, then dive in and see the world as you thought you knew it morph into new patterns of information. Somewhat surreal but hard to tear away from once you get the idea, this book is page after page of images of our world, each area swelling or shrinking in proportion to its export, immigration, forest area, etc. The twelve major geographic divisions stay the same color from one page to the next, though map’s appearance changes dramatically depending on whether it features the import or export of toys, immigration or emigration, fuel use, export, and generation, or any of over 300 other topics.

The Barn House, by Ed Zotti

Anyone who has ever fallen in love with a disreputable house will understand why Ed and his wife Mary bought what their kids dubbed the “Barn House” despite its sagging pillars, rotted window frames, sand foundation, and location just down the street from the scene of a murder. There’s something glittering under the mold and falling ceilings, and the Zottis are determined to uncover it. They dig in, doing as much of the work as they can themselves and searching for members of what Zottie dubs “The Brotherhood of the Right Way” to do the parts that would threaten the marriage. This often-humorous, always realistic, treatise on home renovation delves into the history of architecture, the way cities work, and exploration of the way one house changed a family and a neighborhood, and a meditation on the pursuit of Right Way.

Fruitless Fall, by Rowan Jacobsen

How can a book about honeybees and their decline be so delightful a read? Jacobsen’s knack for drawing apt and instructive comparisons between bee and human behaviors make bees and what they do (and what happens when they aren’t around to do it) more understandable to non-hive-minds. He shows readers three weeks (a lifetime!) from a bee’s perspective, then again from a beekeeper’s viewpoint, and discusses possible reasons for the collapse of beehives, ranging from parasites and monocropping, to stress and nutrition. Each problem has its own solution, from cross-breeding to changing the size of cell that kept bees create, but Jacobsen emphasizes that beekeepers and agriculturists can’t wait much longer for changes to pay off, or crops world-wide will be in jeopardy.

The Irregulars, by Jennet Conant

So you’ve read “Boy” and you think you know Roald Dahl? Think again – before he became a bestselling and beloved author, he spent the war years first as a fighter pilot for the RAF, then as a spy in Washington D.C., working to change America’s isolationist stance and bring the U.S. into Britain’s war with Germany. He became like family to a well-positioned American reporter, had a number of affairs with influential women (including one of the first female congressmen, Clare Luce Booth), and charmed his way into First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s inner circle. This page-turning blend of politics, history, spy-novel antics, and society gossip has something for nearly every reader.

Prince of Stories, by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden, and Stephen Bissette

Full of biographical info, critical reviews, essays, and much more, this will delight any Neil Gaiman fan with its thorough, yet patchwork approach. After Terry Pratchett’s introduction, the authors bring out Gaiman’s accomplishments, starting with his graphic novel, The Sandman, and including his books for adults and kids and his movie and television scripts. (A word of warning: readers who can’t abide spoilers should skip chapters that discuss books they haven’t yet read!) There are character descriptions for each story, storylines, and even lists of trivia, all mashed in with interviews with co-writers, co-illustrators, and an extensive one with Gaiman himself.

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