UNBROKEN: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
By Laura Hillenbrand
Random House (2010)
The word ‘unbroken’ conjures thoughts of a wild stallion or a mighty chain, both impossible to break. Hold onto that thought as you begin this book. Laura Hillenbrand, a prominent Washington, DC, author, has brought us a captivating true story of human nature, the resilient spirit of mankind and how the love of family can sustain a person. The biography of Louis Zamperini begins with a delinquent child who was always in trouble. His older brother, Pete, strives ceaselessly to help channel his little brother’s energy and attitude into a positive direction. Louis awakens to find purpose in sports, becoming a track star and an Olympic hero. His race times would eclipse the greatest athletes of the 1930s, taking him to the brink of the four-minute mile. His life soars, and the author makes you soar with him.
Suddenly peace and Louis’ life is sundered by the attacks of the German and Japanese armies. World War II confronts a generation of young men and women, and Louis Zamperini accepts that challenge. Hillenbrand brings to life his odyssey of excitement, life-threatening encounters and abject terror and despair.
Louis is cast adrift in a small raft in the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean. Drifting helplessly westward, he is forced to improvise for food and water. Sharks, and even humans, attack the raft. Throughout the journey the author draws the reader down into that raft with the stranded castaways. Hillenbrand immerses you in the sun’s heat, the growling sense of starvation and the imminence of death.
Then comes the joy of sighting land! But it quickly reverts to capture and the horrors of prison camps, worsened by the terrible enemy practices of killing and dehumanizing the allied prisoners. The story becomes a study in human endurance and the will to live. Again Hillenbrand is able to make the reader feel like a prisoner of war, experiencing the privation and torture.
The war’s end brings new challenges to Louis. Initial homecoming euphoria is short-lived as combat-induced stress and the traumas of wartime prison threaten to derail his newfound freedom. Hillenbrand captures those emotions and the trials that Louis endures with great compassion and vivid analysis. The author makes you feel how a woman’s love helps open Louis’ mind to realize his good fortunes in life.
Seemingly pushed to the limit, Louis refuses to succumb to a succession of crushing blows, each one felt intimately by the reader. He wills himself to turn tragedy into triumph. Louis is unbroken!
~ Phil Ferrara
The Feather Quest
By Pete Dunne
Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, (1999)
“What good are birds”? This question was asked of the world-famous bird expert, artist and photographer Roger Tory Peterson several years ago in an interview. How would you answer that question? Are they beautiful to look at, fun to seek out, engaging to listen to? There are many reasons that people are “birders,” as more serious bird watchers like to be called. This book The Feather Quest is written for both the novice, backyard bird watcher or the more serious bird listener, who is always trying to find another “life bird” to add to his ever growing list of feathered friends that he has identified.
The author, Pete Dunne, director of the New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory, is a serious birder, but also very appreciative of the bird watchers who observe their backyard birds or go on the occasional bird hike. He also tries to get people excited about fostering environmental awareness and the preservation of rapidly diminishing birds. Since The Feather Quest was written more than 10 years ago, some things have changed in the areas visited by Pete and his wife, Linda. But the general feeling of love for birds, the environment and the outdoors has not.
Much ground was covered in the writing of this book. Pete and Linda Dunne visited areas in the mid-Atlantic states that readers in the Chesapeake Bay area will find very doable. He writes about Baltimore, Cape May and Whippany, N.J., and Hawk Mountain, Pa., and the World Series of Birding in New Jersey. They also go as far away as Manitoba in Canada, Attu in Alaska, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Other areas explored are in the contiguous United States such as Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Connecticut, Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas and California.
Throughout the book one feels the wonder that the Dunnes experience when they encounter an unusual bird or even the common house sparrow. Be aware, for this book might make you want to pick up (or go out and buy) some binoculars, grab a bird book and take off for a birding adventure. Even if you just put up a bird feeder or a bird house in your backyard, you’re on your way to your own “feather quest.”
~ Peggy Kiefer
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
By Rebecca Skloot
Crown, New York (2010)
It is easy to understand why this book rated a piece in the New York Times Book Review, for it covers so many aspects of human and medical history of the last 60 years. It is the true story of a black woman who died of cervical cancer. While she was receiving treatment at Johns Hopkins, a tumor was biopsied and cells from that tumor were then given to a researcher who was desperately trying to grow a line of cells so that it could be used for research. The problem was that all the cells that he tried died, even though he had developed extensive protocols to avoid contamination to protect the cells. All died until he cultured the cancerous cells from Henrietta Lacks—cells named HeLa for the first two letters of her first and last names.
The HeLa cells multiplied like gangbusters. The researcher learned how to pack them for shipping and soon he was providing them free to medical scientists all over the world. Henrietta never knew. She died of metastasized cancer and her family struggled on—poor and uneducated, trying to make ends meet. Subsequently, for-profit companies began selling the cells. They became rich and the cells became famous. The family found out and they were not only hurt, but angry. Their mother had been “raped,” they felt and they were so dirt poor, they weren’t even able to afford their own medical care.
Under these circumstances, the family was not inclined to let a young, white girl talk with them to learn their story in order to write a book. But just as disinclined as they were, Rebecca Skloot was persistent. Over several years, she came to know the family, their relatives, their town and their lives. She was able to tell their story and with it the history of medical research and protocols as they have evolved over the years, in part as a direct result of the HeLa cells. This book is science writing at its best—warm, human and comprehensible. Henrietta Lacks had immortality through her cells, but now this book has restored her family’s dignity. In addition, Rebecca Skloot has established a foundation for the education of Henrietta Lacks’ descendants.
~ Tricia Herban
THE LIBERATED BABY BOOMER
Making S P A C E for Life
An Eclectic Journey Through Clutter and Beyond
By Kater Leatherman, Kiwi Publishing, Maryland (2011)
Try to imagine living a clutter-free life when we are bombarded with too much information, challenged to keep up with technology and pressured to consume more stuff.
In 1974, Kater Leatherman left a life of excess to live off the land in Colorado — a life of deprivation as she calls it — and realized it wasn’t the road to happiness either. Thus began her quest to simplify by decluttering her life from the inside out. Her definition of clutter is anything that gets in the way of enjoying life.
There are a quadrillion books out there on this subject, so what makes this book stand apart from the rest? Certainly it’s the combination of personal short stories, practical ideas, inspirational quotes and interesting photographs. But Leatherman also raises the bar in a style of raw truth-telling that not only encourages but inspires readers to reflect and reevaluate their lives. And with so many baby boomers now entering the last third of their lives, they are doing just that.
Leatherman’s eclectic journey includes becoming a voluntary mute for a day in the spirit of taking a risk to experience something different. Another story covers her overcoming a very unusual phobia. One eye-opener for me was the talk she attended in California about the five different kinds of people and how to balance them in our lives.
Practical topics include the value of replacing financial security for financial serenity, detoxing your kitchen and the 10 most common fears when letting go of possessions. There are tips on simplifying your life with kids, ways to stay rid of clutter and how to take better care of yourself. You will also receive 20 intangible gift ideas. As for the many quotes in the book, my favorite is “the way we do anything is the way we do everything.”
Those who grew up in the ’60s will most identify with the book, but anyone who wants to downsize can prosper from Leatherman’s suggestions and insights. Personally, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to feel balanced and live a more satisfying, richer life. The Liberated Baby Boomer is an easy read, thought-provoking and inspirational. The book can be purchased at www.katerleatherman.com
– Brooke McDermott
Maryland in The Civil War
By William S. Shepard
Download ebook from Amazon.com 2011
As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, this little e-book is a timely summary of what went on in the state of Maryland.
The story is told in four manageable essays, and it is riveting.
I didn’t know about the thrilling story of Maryland Gov. Thomas Hicks, who in 1861 resisted great pressures to secede with a political mastery that few would have expected from this Dorchester County farmer. Had Maryland joined Virginia in seceding, Washington would have been surrounded by the Confederacy.
Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are here, as well as an account of the end of slavery. Read the astonished letters of an English observer as the market for slaves bottoms out. Also examined is the Wye House, an Eastern Shore plantation where the plantation life was lived by generations of the Lloyd family. The 18th century Orangery is there, and is said to be the only one that still exists in North America. Now, however, the religious relics of the slaves who built it are noted.
Maryland remained a bitterly divided state, whose sons fought on both sides. At the Battle of Gettysburg, units from Maryland faced each other, and the color sergeants of the opposing armies were cousins from Trappe, Maryland. And, of course, John Wilkes Booth is here. You decide if Dr. Samuel Mudd’s conviction was just.
A great read. Homework at school should have been this entertaining.