New Non-Fiction To Read Now

February 24, 2011

Harvard urban economist Edward Glaeser has just published Triumph Of The City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier to ever-widening acclaim.  “In 2009, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s population lived in cities. In a time when family, friends and co-workers are a call, text, or email away, 3.3 billion people on this planet still choose to crowd together in skyscrapers, high-rises, subways and buses. Not too long ago, it looked like our cities were dying, but in fact they boldly threw themselves into the information age, adapting and evolving to become the gateways to a globalized and interconnected world.” Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Glaeser  The Daily Show.

How The West Was Lost: fifty years of economic folly–and the stark choices ahead by Dambisa Moyo
Fresh off a Newsweek story about her entitled: The Siren Of The Financial Meltdown, Ms. Moyo, an economist, will be claiming your attention elsewhere in the media now that her new book is out. She regularly contributes to The Financial Times, The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. Her previous book, Dead Aid: why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa was a New York Times Bestseller. From her new book’s cover description: “Amid the hype of China’s rise to global power, the most important story of our generation is being pushed aside: how America’s rapidly growing population of the unskilled, unemployed, and disaffected threatens the nation’s wealth and stature.” Got your attention now?

Another “wake up and smell the coffee” book just out and tangential to Moyo’s argument above is Academically Adrift: limited learning on college campuses by Richard Arum. Arum’s focal point in a study he conducted of more than 2,300 undergraduates at 24 institutions was whether undergraduates are really learning anything once they get to college. For a large proportion of students, the answer is a definitive no. The extensive research draws on survey responses, transcript data, and, for the first time, the state-of-the-art Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test administered to students in their first semester and then again at the end of their second year. According to their analysis, forty-five percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills – including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing – during their first two years of college. “Academically Adrift holds sobering lessons for students, faculty, administrators, policy makers, and parents – all of whom are implicated in promoting or at least ignoring contemporary campus culture.”

In Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters (yes, a definite must-read), the sisters’ motto is “There is no problem a library card can’t solve.” Music to a librarian’s ears but it also would resonate with distinguished scholar Arnold Weinstein as he has just published Morning, Noon, And Night: finding the meaning of life’s stages through books.  “From Homer and Shakespeare to Toni Morrison and Jonathan Safran Foer, major works of literature have a great deal to teach us about two of life’s most significant stages—growing up and growing old. Tapping into the hearts and minds of memorable characters, Weinstein makes an eloquent and powerful case for the role of great literature as a knowing window into our lives and times. Its intelligence, passion, and genuine appreciation for the written word remind us just how crucial books are to the business of being human.”

And for the armchair gardener in all of us, Page Dickey and Margaret Roach have books out that won’t fail to please. Dickey’s Embroidered Ground: revisiting the garden shares her very personal views on what contributes to a garden’s success—structure, fragrance, the play of light and shadow, patterns and textures, multi-seasonal plants. She writes of gardening with a husband, with wildlife, with dogs and chickens. And she grapples with how to adapt her garden—as we can adapt ours—to change in the years ahead.

Margaret Roach, whom you may recognize from her work at The New York Times, Newsday and Martha Stewart Omnimedia, has been blogging about gardening (very successfully) for 3 years now. Go look at her blog (A Way To Garden.com) and I dare you to spend less than 30 minutes pouring over it–the photos are wonderful and her writing is personal and informative without being authoritarian or stilted. Her book And I Shall Have Some Peace There: trading in the fast lane for my own dirt road, just out yesterday, is an enjoyable memoir displaying her personable style as she leaves her busy corporate job to spend time in her upstate New York garden. A previous book, A Way To Garden was also a hit.

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