Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013

READING BITES

Hello Goodbye Hello

“How many intellectuals does it take to crash two bicycles?” asks Craig Brown in Hello Goodbye Hello. Hello Goodbye Hello is jampacked with nervous encounters between famous artists.

Page 1801Brown is a satirist based in London and he weaves together dozens of chance encounters between famous authors into a glittering chain that reads like a mathematical proof of the theory of six degrees of separation.

It zigzags across decades and it illustrates the “cosmic serendipity of life”, somehow managing to connect the dots between Rudyard Kipling and Helen Keller (both knew Mark Twain), between Frank Lloyd Wright and Nikita Khrushchev (both met Marilyn Monroe), and between Diana, Princess of Wales, and Raymond Chandler. (Diana met Princess Grace of Monaco, who had worked with Alfred Hitchcock, who had worked with Chandler).

This Is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn
Henry Miller is a philosopher who sought to reestablish the freedom to live without the conventional restraints of civilisation. This tribute to Miller is based on the documentary film called The Henry Miller Odyssey and features interviews and still photos from the film. But hardly anywhere does Miller’s spirit shine more brilliantly than in this piece. A poignant “oracle of writing”, this book gives us more-than-a-tour into a brilliant mind.

The Girls of Atomic City
In The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, Denise Kiernan tells the story of the Oak Ridge center of the Manhattan Project, a town of 70,000 workers — primarily women — who lived in a camp-like environment of propaganda, barbed wire, checkpoints, code words, and spies, while working a thousand different jobs, all of which contributed to the events of August 6, 1945 and the dropping of the atomic bomb.

A lively story about the tens of thousands of women who made the bomb  from the power-plant janitor struggling each day through the mud to the exiled physicist in Sweden, the book offers a bottom-up history revealing that the atomic bomb was not simply the product of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s genius, but also of the work of women at every level of education and class.

One Nation Under Stress
Modern neuroscience has strongly suggested that optimism might benefit physical health, and researchers are now confirming that psycho-emotional stress might actually trigger physical inflammation in the body. But what, exactly, is stress  and how did we come to think of it the way we do? In “One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea”, Dana Becker investigates the origins of our stress metaphors. A professor of social work, she explains that the concept of stress has become inflated to a deleterious degree over the past 40 years, critiquing our cultural tendency to approach stress management and the preservation of sanity as a matter of perpetual bandaging of symptoms rather than a deeper concern with understanding and healing the underlying causes.

Immortality
Cambridge University philosopher Stephen Cave explores the inner workings of that ancient impulse, inviting us on a mind-bending, intense, at times unsettling and at times deeply comforting journey into curious corners of the human psyche.

Since the dawn of time, it has been the human instinct to resolve the psychological dilemma by constructing various immortality narratives. Cave argues that besides our immortality narratives, what sets us apart from other sentient beings are our highly connected brains and our self-awareness  adaptive developments that have enabled us to foresee different possibilities and make sophisticated plans, but also, in envisioning the future, to grapple with the terrifying prospect of our own demise.