New and Notable Non-Fiction from the Library’s Recreational Reading Collection:

(2nd Floor of Library at the base of the stairs)

Rinker Buck The Oregon Trail (Simon & Schuster 2015) McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) F597.B89 2015

Well into middle-age, Rinker Buck found himself divorced, at the edge of bankruptcy, and growing blunt through the twin demons of ennui and alcohol. This was not a state he was accustomed to; instilled by his father with a sense of daring, Buck was no stranger to adventure, having been (with his brother) one half of the youngest duo to fly across the country, a tale documented in his celebrated book, Flight of Passage. On a whim, he found himself in a museum at the head of the Oregon Trail, realizing that even as a fairly serious American history buff, he knew virtually nothing about the pivotal era when 400,000 pioneers made their way West in quests for land, gold, and new lives. On a much bigger whim, Buck decided to travel the 2,000 miles of ruts and superseding highways in a mule-driven wagon on his own “crazyass” quest for a new beginning. The result is a dense-yet-entertaining mix of memoir, history and adventure, as Buck– joined by another brother, Nick, and his “incurably filthy” dog, Olive Oyl–struggle with the mechanical, environmental, and existential challenges posed by such an unusually grueling journey. Buck is an engaging writer, and while the book pushes 500 pages, the story never lags. By the end, you’ll know more about mules than you ever thought you would (just enough, actually), and you’ll have a better perspective on the Trail, its travelers, and the role it played in shaping the modern United States. (And is Rinker Buck not a pioneer-worthy name for an tale such as this?) –Jon Foro — Amazon Best Book of July 2015

By turns frankly hilarious, historically elucidating, emotionally touching, and deeply informative. -Kirkus Reviews

Randall Munroe What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Houghton Mifflin 2014) McNaughton Collection (2nd Floor) Q173.M965 2014

If you’ve ever contemplated questions such as “How close would you have to be to a supernova to get a lethal dose of neutrino radiation?” or “If you suddenly began rising steadily at 1 foot per second, how exactly would you die?” then Randall Munroe’s “What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” is the book for you. Munroe is the Cambridge-based former NASA roboticist turned celebrity cartoonist behind the uber-popular website xkcd. Since 2012, average folk have been submitting oddball “What If?” queries, usually based on some scientific or science-fiction premise. “What If?” the book is a compilation of these Q&As, around half of which are new, and half are “updated and expanded versions” of his most popular investigations. It’s fun to watch as Munroe tackles each question and examines every possible complication with nerdy and methodical aplomb, his distinctive scribblings providing clever running commentary of peanut-gallery jokes as his train of thought (sometimes) happily derails. The delightfully demented “What If?” is the most fun you can have with math and science, short of becoming your own evil genius. To balance every calculation of Yoda’s telekinetic “[f]orce power” (about 19.2 kilowatts, it turns out) or worst-case astrophysical cataclysm, Munroe explores more heady musings, such as the odds of finding your soul mate, or when Facebook will contain more profiles of the dead than living. When he predicts the effects of a magnitude minus-7 Richter-scale earthquake — “[a] single feather fluttering to the ground” — we feel the tug of Munroe’s playful yet existentially-tinged worldview, and all that geek logic and number-crunching becomes unexpectedly poignant. Review by Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe

Tags: , ,