Untold History of the United States

Untold History of the United States

The Untold History of the United States

By Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick

Review by Richard Xu


The Untold History of the United States is a long, but well-written exposé on U.S. history centered around the idea that since World War II, American hegemony has had a pernicious effect on sovereign nations all throughout the world. It substantiates this claim by providing a detailed look at U.S. military interventions from the 1950s and onward, which included South America, Central America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, and which almost always resulted in regime change through violent and/or covert means conducted by the CIA.  Continue reading

Scrappy Little Nobody

Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody

E-Audiobook by Anna Kendrick

Review by Stephanie Bragg

Anna Kendrick, star of Pitch Perfect and Up in the Air, has written a book.  Her autobiography starts in her young childhood through her rise to stardom and all the awkwardness in between.  Enter Anna’s brain and follow along with her completely honest and charming tales from her middle school double life through personal relationships to what it’s like to pick out a butt double. Continue reading

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels

Dr. Mutter's MarvelsDr. Mütter’s Marvels

By Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Review by Sarah Reisert

I can’t say if I’ve ever noticed the portrait of Thomas Dent Mütter hanging in his namesake museum on any of my previous visits.  Even if I had glanced at it amongst the walls of skulls and bottled tumors, I wouldn’t have known much about the man. I wouldn’t knowa bout the new plastic surgery method Dr. Mütter developed to help burn victims lead more normal lives. Nor how he was the first surgeon in Philadelphia to use ethyl ether anesthesia. I wouldn’t know about his weakness for splashy clothes that matched the color of his carriage, or how his students positively adored him until his untimely death at age 48.  Continue reading

Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation

Tranlated by: Gavin Flood and Charles Martin

Reviewed by Sarah Newell

Imagine you are on the precipice of a great battle.  You are an ancient warrior lined up with your faction facing the opposing army.  As each side prepares for battle you realize what a great loss this will be for both armies.  With two sides of a great family facing each other cousins will fight cousins, uncles will slay uncles, and neighbors will maim neighbors.  Continue reading

Mistakes Were Made . . .

Mistakes Were MadeReview by Michele Bolay

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) Or, Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Basically, this is a book about cognitive dissonance, which is defined as: “an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously.” The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

In other words, most people, when confronted by evidence that they are wrong, do not change their point of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously. Even irrefutable evidence is rarely enough to overcome self-justification.

Chapters focus on prejudices and blind spots, psychology, politics, law, and personal relationships. By far, the most fascinating sections for me were those dealing with politics, law, and the relationship between cognitive dissonance and self-esteem.

If you’ve ever wondered how politicians justify taking large kickbacks and bribes, the authors explain it: corruption happens with one small, innocent step (having lunch with a constituent) and, through cognitive dissonance, snowballs into accepting an all-expenses paid golfing trip to St. Andrews from a lobbyist. As the authors state, “Politicians are the most visible of self-justifiers, which is why they provide such juicy examples. They have the refined art of speaking in the passive voice; when their backs are to the wall they will reluctantly acknowledge error, but not responsibility.”

The law section includes the complicated issues of eyewitness and expert testimony, the problems with current interrogation methods, and the controversy of repressed memory syndrome and its use as legal evidence.

Regarding dissonance and esteem, interestingly enough those with more humility (and/or lower self-esteem), because they tend to allow for divergent opinions and don’t stick to their guns as often as people with high self-esteem (or downright arrogance), have far fewer problems with cognitive dissonance. Special mention also needs to be made of the pithy (and humorous) anecdote on page 41 relating a visit to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

The science in the book is well-documented yet very accessible to a wide range of readers. Someone in my book group chose this as a selection, and it made for a lively and engaging discussion. I would definitely recommend it!

Check availability on Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

About the reviewer: Michele Bolay just celebrated her 25th year working at Tredyffrin Public Library. You can find her in the children’s department and running the Framed! A Journey in Art program.

The Quartet by Joseph Ellis

The QuartetReview by Eric

I didn’t choose this title, but when having it brought home from the library coincided with an author interview about this book on PA Books. It has great scholarship and a concise narrative; more truthful than liberal or conservative. This would seem a timely book given current events and currents, but truthfully, it would have been a timely book at any point in American History after 1800 or in the future after our own time. Continue reading

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

In Defense of FoodReview by Sarah Newell

In Defense of Food asks us to ponder the simple question of how we humans managed to feed ourselves for thousands of years, yet now struggle more than ever to nourish ourselves with readily available foods.  As a journalist, not a nutritional scientist, nor a government agency, author Michael Pollan is able to look at the broader historical, social and political picture of food in America.  Through this lens, Pollan is able to defend “real food – the sort of food our great grandmothers would recognize as food” against many of the “edible foodlike substances” that exist on the market.

While certainly a stark reality, Pollan is not a pessimist.  In fact, he provides his simple solution to the problem at hand within the first seven words of the book – “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  With these shockingly simple words, Michael Pollan takes us on an eye-opening and yet affirming journey, showing Americans how political the food system really is.  Continue reading

A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson

A Year by the SeaReview by Angie Andre

“Aren’t you afraid something will happen to you? A neighbor asked upon seeing me pack the trunk of my car.

“I certainly hope so,” I answered defensively. “That’s the whole point.”

This autobiographical memoir explores one woman’s journey from mother and wife to a resilient and distinct woman. Joan Anderson finds herself lost in her roles as wife and mother. Her children are grown and they are creating new lives of their own. When Joan’s husband receives an out of state job promotion Joan makes a life changing decision. She is not going with her husband. Joan decides to spend a year in Cape Cod in a small cottage they own and re-examine her life.  Joan finds an extraordinary mentor, a job in a fish market, and contentment walking the shores of the beach of Cape Cod. Continue reading

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy'Review by Marianne Hooper

Through the recollections of six North Korean defectors, LA Times Beijing based journalist, Barbara Demick, paints an exceedingly grim picture of the lives of everyday citizens of North Korea.  The book is a great read and presents a telling first-hand look into a people and culture very far removed – geographically and ideologically – from our own.

Looking at a night time satellite photo, North Korea is practically invisible; a black hole devoid of energy; a stark contrast to its brightly lit neighbors South Korea, Japan and China.  Similar to their scarcity of energy, the North Korean people are also lacking unfiltered knowledge and information about the world outside of their insular country.  The only information they are allowed to receive is that conveyed by the government through print and limited television media.  There is little power for the internet and, in any case, all access is blocked.

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A Fine Romance by Candice Bergen

A Fine Romance

A Fine Romance by Candice Bergen

Review by Susan Williams

In this, her second memoir, Candice Bergen shares experiences from about the age of 34. This includes details of her marriage to the French director, Louis Malle, which ended in his untimely death. She also shares intimate anecdotes of her award-winning TV show, Murphy Brown and the birth of her daughter Chloe. Finally she describes her marriage to billionaire Marshall Rose, to whom she’s been married since 2000. A Fine Romance is a tender look at the great loves of Bergen’s life, first and foremost, that of her daughter.

Bergen writes with candor, intelligence, and wit. I found this memoir to be a very refreshing read that I would recommend for anyone who likes autobiographies of smart, funny women. As a long-time admirer of Ms. Bergen’s acting, I really enjoyed reading her memoir.

A Fine Romance is the follow-up to her bestselling Knock Wood.

Check availability for A Fine Romance.

About the reviewer: Susan Williams has worked in the circulation department since 2001.  I love reading, traveling, gardening & enjoying my new grandchild!