Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sweet September: New Non-Fiction

Lottery millions, mad Mary Lincoln, the science of of the brain, one Empress turned Emperor, and the diary of a Ming scholar.

Exciting new books to look forward to.
All authors will be interviewed in the weeks to come.

Money for Nothing by Edward Ugel
September 18, 2007 -- $24.95

Ed Ugel knows what winning the lottery can do for a person. How? He never officially won the lottery for himself but instead, at the age of 26, he landed a job at The Firm, a company that goes out of its way to find lottery millionaires who have found that being rich isn't nearly as easy as it may seem. Ugel's job requires him to visit these millionaires, seeing up close how devistatingly broke some of them are, to offer them a cash settlement in exchange for the yearly pay off lottery winners often opt to take. Those who choose to accept the deal are deeply in debt and are lured by the idea of a large lump of money at one time. What they don't realize is that it's a terrible deal which, as Ed notes, doesn't end in his customers being all that happy with him. His memoir is funny because he has been in the trenches with ordinary people who won outrageous amounts of money and adopted even more outrageous habits as a result. Winning the lottery isn't always the miracle it might seem and by reading Money for Nothing you'll see, via Ed's inside experience, exactly why.

The Madness of Mary Lincoln by Jason Emerson
September 6, 2007 -- $29.95

Apparently Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the famed President Abraham Lincoln, was always a little bit off her rocker, but when her husband was assasinated the First Lady went totally nutty. Her son, thinking that Mary was both incompetent and dangerous, tried his mother publicly and proceeded to have her committed to an asylum. However, Mary wasn't completely incompetent as, with the help of friends from teh asylum, she escapes and flees to Europe. Now, with the help of author and historian Jason Emerson, we now know even more about the sad life of Mary Lincoln. Emerson has uncovered twenty-five letters written by Mary Lincoln herself , mostly sent while she was still in the asylum. In addition to the letters, Emerson presents previously unpublished information about Mary's psychiatric diagnosis, the history of her mental illness, and how Mary's plot to murder he own son Robert changed their relationship. The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the first book to be printed about Mary Lincoln in twenty years. Emerson has done a great job at shedding more light on the tragic life of one of America's most known first ladies.

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of Reading the Brain by Maryanne Wolf
September 4, 2007 -- $25.95

Maryanne Wolf, a professor at Tufts University and director of its Center for Reading and Language Research, takes a detailed look into reading the brain. How is it that our brains do some of the things that they do? Reading, for instance, is a miracle that Wolf points out we taught our brains to do only a few thousand years ago. The process of learning how to read, Wolf points out, changed the intellectual evolution of our species. Perhaps even more interestingly, Wolf says that brain that examined tiny clay tablets in the cuneiform script of the Sumerians is configured differently from the brain that reads alphabets or of one literate in today's technology. Learning to read comes with certain implications to an evolving brain. Sound complex? Don't run away just yet. Maryanne Wolf knows her stuff, she is passionate about the brain and determined to share that knowledge with her readers. I am certainly no scientist and yet, having read a few chapters of this book, I can say that I am really beginning to ... wrap my brain around it.

Daughter of Heaven by Nigel Cawthorne
September 25, 2007 -- $ 24.95

I have already written a little blurb about this book. I have always been fascinated by Chinese history and so getting a hold of this book was a sure thing. Cawthorne has been a pretty prolific author, writing about the strange laws of Old England, the sex lives of Popes, and the history of witches. Daughter of Heaven looks to be an interesting book, heavy with deception, murder, and intrigue. Hawthorne writes that Wu Chao, who became a concubine to the Emperor at the age of thirteen, seduced her way to the throne. Wu, the book claims, seduced her way onto the throne, executed her enemies, and murdered her own children in order to stay in power for more than fifty years. That probably made for awkward holidays.

Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man by Jonathan D. Spence
September 20, 2007 -- $ 24.95

The last Ming Man in question is Zhang Dai, one of the most important essayists of the Ming Dynasty. One of the things that make Zhang Dai so essential to Chinese history was his age. Zhang's long life meant that he had witnessed the conquest of China by the Manchus and the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644. He had literally seen it all. The turmoil taking place in China during his life lead Zhang Dai to write a history of the Ming Dynasty in addition to recollections of his youth. Jonathan Spence is an experience Chinese scholar and is able to take Zhang Dai's writings and find interesting information that provides new insight into the culture of China at the time. Zhang Dai's writings and Spence's strong background in Chinese history promise to make Return to Dragon Mountain a successful piece of history and analysis.


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