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  • In What's Next?, 18 young scientists present the futuristic ideas they are pursuing that just might change the way we look at the world, even the way we live:

    The articles in What's Next? include: whether it is possible that humankind will become extinct in the near future (or evolve so far as to become unrecognisable); research into dark energy, the strangest substance in the universe; whether global warming will force us all to up sticks and move to the Arctic Circle; the possibility of us enhancing our minds and bodies, even to the extent of being able to remove unwanted memories; and the question: can we think without language? From climate change to cutting-edge physics, from hard-wired morality to modifying our brains or even our genome, What's Next? will give its readers a head start on comprehending what may well be in store for all of us in the next few decades.

  • Few novelists get anywhere near to reaching the kind of influence achieved by Ayn Rand. Her books regularly, annually, still sell half a million copies and she continues to be an intellectual influence in the highest echelons of Power. Ronald Reagan was a big fan as is Alan Greenspan. Anne C. Heller has done an excellent job in bringing her past to life in a compelling biography of one of America's most singular writers:

    Ayn Rand is best known as the author of the perennially bestselling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Altogether, more than 12 million copies of the two novels have been sold in the United States. The books have attracted three generations of readers, shaped the foundation of the Libertarian movement, and influenced White House economic policies throughout the Reagan years and beyond. A passionate advocate of laissez-faire capitalism and individual rights, Rand remains a powerful force in the political perceptions of Americans today. Yet twenty-five years after her death, her readers know little about her life. In this seminal biography, Anne C. Heller traces the controversial author's life from her childhood in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution to her years as a screenwriter in Hollywood, the publication of her blockbuster novels, and the rise and fall of the cult that formed around her in the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout, Heller reveals previously unknown facts about Rand's history and looks at Rand with new research and a fresh perspective. Based on original research in Russia, dozens of interviews with Rand's acquaintances and former acolytes, and previously unexamined archives of tapes and letters, Ayn Rand and the World She Made is a comprehensive and eye-opening portrait of one of the most significant and improbable figures of the twentieth century.

  • Something for the weekend: Violet

    Fri, 30 Oct 2009 03:48

    Violet is, indeed, a very, very special hippo -- and one of the most charming children's books I've read for a very long time.

    Below is part of the review from the excellent Bookbag website:

    Violet is a very special hippo. She is extremely small but that does not make her adoptive parents Albert and Mavis love her any the less. However, they are slightly worried that Violet has a very unusual habit of turning pink without warning and for no explicable reason.

    Although Violet makes friends with many of the animals in the African jungle; there are some that make fun of her size and call her 'Shrinking Violet'. They also laugh at her when she turns bright pink -- that is until they realise that her pinkness only occurs when she senses danger which is an incredibly useful attribute to possess. This causes great admiration from the mighty King of the Jungle as well as from a cheerful rhino called Reggie who becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, Violet also attracts the attention of Mr J. Arnold Schleppenberger Jr, a film producer who captures her and transports her to Hollywood where he has big plans for her to star in a movie. When Reggie discovers what has happened though, he daringly follows her across the ocean, with a little help from some pelicans and dolphins, in a desperate bid to rescue her. Will he succeed or will he be just too late? The story certainly builds to a thrilling climax which is likely to enthral many a young reader.

    I read this book with my six year old daughter and she absolutely loved it. It's a very exciting story which had her on the edge of her seat. A lot happens but it is not so busy a storyline that it might become confusing. It's also told with a great deal of humour which will appeal to both adults and children. The main characters are very endearing, not only in how they are described and what they do, but also through the wonderfully captivating illustrations which are scattered throughout the story. The author, Annie Taylor, is also the illustrator and apparently the story is based on the cartoons she painted on her daughter's walls when she was a baby (more...)

  • The New York Times best-selling Freakonomics was a worldwide sensation, selling over four million copies in thirty-five languages and changing the way we look at the world. Now, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner return with SuperFreakonomics...

    Four years in the making, SuperFreakonomics asks not only the tough questions, but the unexpected ones: What's more dangerous, driving drunk or walking drunk? Why is chemotherapy prescribed so often if it's so ineffective? Can a sex change boost your salary?

    SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything with such questions as:

    • How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
    • Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?
    • How much good do car seats do?
    • What's the best way to catch a terrorist?
    • Did TV cause a rise in crime?
    • What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?
    • Are people hard-wired for altruism or selfishness?
    • Can eating kangaroo save the planet?
    • Which adds more value: a pimp or a Realtor?

    Levitt and Dubner mix smart thinking and great storytelling like no one else, whether investigating a solution to global warming or explaining why the price of oral sex has fallen so drastically. By examining how people respond to incentives, they show the world for what it really is -- good, bad, ugly, and, in the final analysis, super freaky.

  • You may recall the wonderful Luther Blissett novel Q from four or five years back, which was all about the rise and fall of Thomas Muntzer and the disastrous People's Republic of Munster. Well, because the Luther Blissett "shared name" is dead, the radical Italian artists who wrote Q under that moniker now write as Wu Ming. And they have a new book out, called Manituana, following their earlier Wu Ming novel 54:

    A bloody historical epic of exodus and return, torn loyalties and desperate battles, Manituana spans the Atlantic, from the forests of America's northeast to the underworld of eighteenth-century London. The authors' collective Wu Ming have created a genre-breaking re-imagining of the American Civil War -- a story from the wrong side of history.

    1775 -- The conflict between the British Empire and the American colonies erupts in all-out war. Rebels and loyalists to the British Crown compete for an alliance with the Six Nations of the Iroquois, the most powerful Indian confederation, with a constitution hundreds of years old. In the Mohawk RiverValley, Native Americans and colonists have co-existed for generations. But as the thunder of war approaches and the nascent United States struggles violently to be born, old bonds are broken, friends and families are split by betrayal and this mixed community lapses into hatred and resentment. To save his threatened world, the Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant makes a painful decision. Setting off with a group of warriors, he goes beyond the world he has always known in a restless journey that will take him from New York to the salons of Georgian London at the heart of the British Empire, knowing that the road back will be paved with war.

    You can find more details about Manituana via the exellent Manituana website.

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