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May 10, 2012 Edition

A History of the World in 100 Objects

Written by Neil McGregor

McGregor, director of the British Museum, tells a story of two million years of human civilization as revealed by 100 objects from the Museum’s collection. This project started as a podcast, then became a bestselling book, and is now a delightful recorded book. Through interviews with experts on history, economy, archaeology, and more, scenes from around the world and throughout the ages open up for listeners. Beginning with the mummy of an Egyptian priest and ending with a piece of Chinese jade, McGregor connects events, builds histories, and introduces cultures to listeners. Listeners who want more in a similar vein might try James Burke’s television series of the late 70s, Connections.

Absolute Monarchies

Written by John Julius Norwich

Norwich presents a historical overview of all the Catholic popes, all 265 of them, including usurpers and anti-popes, some of whom he’s known personally. His purpose is to give a grounding history to the average reader, and he approaches his topic from a non-secular point of view (Norwich is a self-professed agnostic Protestant), blending the history of the period together with the personality and influence of each pope. Some were truly great, brokering peace with invaders, commissioning great works of art, and instituting reforms that helped Europe enter the modern age. Others were corrupt, inept, or debauched. But all are here, making for a lively read.

Those Guys Have All the Fun

Written by James Miller

More than 500 people were interviewed for this oral history of ESPN, the channel that’s been all sports, all the time since 1979. What started out as a way to televise local sports events throughout Connecticut has become an international behemoth, with eight channels throughout the world plus online, mobile, and print forms. Here for the first time, is the story of the rise, near implosion, and rebirth of a giant, complete with the behind-the-scenes rivalries, scandals, and triumphs.

Destiny of the Republic

Written by Candice Millard

This is a fascinating look at one instance in time when clean hands clearly would have saved a life and changed the course of history. James Garfield had been president for only four months when he was shot by Charles Guiteau at a train station. His wounds weren’t terribly serious – many Civil War veterans had recovered from worse. But the theory of germs was fairly new and the inaptly named Dr. Doctor Bliss, who bullied his way into head position, wasn’t a subscriber of Joseph Lister’s theories of hygiene. In addition, Bliss refused to let Alexander Graham Bell use his new invention, a metal detector, on the president, and so the bullet that lodged near Garfield’s liver remained there. The world had only a glimpse of what an extraordinary president Garfield might have been. This is part-biography, part-expose of bad medical decisions, and part speculation on what might have been is an intriguing listen.

In an Antique Land

Written by Amitav Ghosh

As a student, Ghosh came across a reference to a Jew called Abraham Ben Yiju living in Cairo in the 1100s who owned an Indian slave. What was remarkable was that the slave, Bomma, was mentioned by name in the correspondence Ghosh came across, and the story caught Ghosh’s imagination and sent him to Egypt to investigate further. The result is this book, a dual-themed narrative winding Bomma and his master’s lives in the 12th century together with Ghosh’s story of Egyptian life in the 20th century. Ghosh’s rich language and skill at describing the world around him make this mesmerizing.

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