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August 30, 2012 Edition

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Written by Jane Jacobs

This classic of urban planning was first published in 1961 and has been reissued for its 50th anniversary with an updated introduction giving insight into Jacobs and looking back at the ways her thoughts have influenced the subsequent 50 years of city development. There was a lot going on in the Fifties and Sixties, notably large-scale “improvements” within cities that led to whole neighborhoods being disrupted, divided, and in some cases, obliterated in the name of urban renewal. Jacobs dismissed the idea that an area should be labeled a “slum” purely on the basis of its housing units per acre and instead looked at what mixes of usage bring the lowest crime and the highest happiness to residents. Many of her thoughts have become such a part of our psyche in the years since she first put them to paper that listening to them now is as much affirmation as revelation. Rawlins reads Jacobs’ words with steady energy, much as I imagine Jacobs felt while writing.

The Ghost Map

Written by Steven Johnson

In 1854, London was swept by an epidemic of cholera – without a good sewer system or means of garbage disposal, residents of one of the first modern cities were at the mercy of a tiny but deadly bacteria. Laying entire families low at once, cholera killed as quickly as 12 hours after infection and was seemingly unstoppable. It was up to two men, Dr. John Snow, who pioneered the idea that the disease was a result of tainted water instead of bad air, and Henry Whitehead, an assistant curate who was intimately involved with the residents of the disease epicenter, to stop the deaths. Combining the history of urban planning, the evolution of modern medical thinking, and a detective story, and highlighted by Sklar’s able reading, this story will grip listeners (and make you happy to live in the modern world).

Inside Scientology

Written by Janet Reitman

If you’ve wondered why Katie Holmes is so explicitly severing ties with Scientology as she divorces Tom Cruise, listening to this will give you some perspective. Purporting to be an even-handed view of Scientology, Reitman has expanded on her award-nominated Rolling Stones article to dive more deeply into the complexities of the religion. She draws her information from interviews with former and current Scientologists and examines the scandals that have rocked the church’s reputation as well as tracing its history beginning with its creation by L. Ron Hubbard. From Scientology’s early days as a substitute for psychology to its current status as a non-profit religion, Retiman looks for the truth behind stories of kidnappings and deaths as well as stories from people who say they’ve been helped by their involvement.

The Pun Also Rises

Written by John Pollack

Do you like playing with language? Hearing your friends and family groan out loud at yet another pun? Pick up this delightful audiobook that traces the history and importance of puns in a chuckle-inducing way. Pollack is a World Pun Championship winner and knows his way around puns, knock-knock jokes, and shaggy dogs, but he also knows a lot about what makes wordplay work – how the brain processes “incorrect” information to make it funny, for instance. Martin’s reading shows he loves wordplay, too, delivering his lines with amusement and aplomb. Whether you want fuel for your own groaners, want to give yourself a treat, or want answers about our complicated brain workings, you’ll find lots here to ‘pun’-der.

Triumph of the City

Written by Edward Glaeser

Much as his intellectual predecessor, Jane Jacobs was in the 60’s, Glaeser is in love with the vital energy of cities. Here, in the face of current “back to the country” movements, he shows that city-dwellers use less energy, are healthier, and are more prosperous than their more suburban counterparts. He ponders January temperatures as the single-most influential factor in urban growth and weighs Silicon Valley and Bangalore and finds them remarkably similar. Glaeser’s examination of why some cities thrive and others fail is fascinating, as is his thesis that cities bring out the best in humanity. James’ measured reading gives listeners time to ponder the heady information here.

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