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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.
When Elizebeth Smith accepted a job studying Shakespeare’s First Folio on a wealthy man’s estate, her primary motivation was to escape her domineering father’s household. But this unusual opportunity would set her life on a new and unexpected course. On the estate, she met fellow employee William Friedman and the two began collaborating on code breaking projects. Their partnership would become both professional and romantic, skyrocketing them both into positions as elite cryptanalysts for the United States government. Though William would become famous for heading the team that cracked the Japanese code machine “Purple” and for his role in the fledgeling NSA, Elizebeth’s contributions to her country were less celebrated and in some cases attributed to others–men, of course. But Elizebeth’s incredible work not only saved American lives in both World Wars but broke down barriers for women in intelligence work and pushed the boundaries of code breaking.
Spanning two wars and featuring colorful characters from eccentric millionaires to rumrunning gangsters, this true story at times feels like fiction. Though marketed to teens, adults will enjoy this fascinating biography just as much as younger readers. Greenfield is honest about holes in the historical record but still manages to uncover enough information to piece together a cohesive picture of Friedman’s secretive life and contribution to counterintelligence. Bits of code included in the text along with instructions for deciphering it add a beautiful interactive element to the book. I highly recommend this one to teens and adults alike!
How would you feel if you encountered a 12 ft. tall bird? Or a 6 ft. tall, 10 ft. long ox? As strange and potentially alarming as they might sound, these and other giant creatures ruled their ecosystems until humans hastened their extinction. In his book, Campbell describe the origins, history, role, and extinction of thirteen “giants” of nature. Each account is incredibly interesting, but detailed and written with a sophisticated, scientific style that may not appeal to all of the teen readers to whom it is marketed. Despite a few half-hearted and awkward references to social media, and an occasional break in tone for an attempt at teen-speak, the book reads like a scientific article. So while it won’t attract a broad teen audience, it is fantastic for high schoolers and adults who are interested in the subject matter and looking for a well-researched, thorough narrative about the evolution, impact, and decline of each species–as well as a glimpse into the future of possible back-breeding to restore giants into the ecosystem.
An engaging read which I recommend to older teens and adults who are interested in biology and/or history.
Susannah Cahalan’s illness came out of nowhere. One day she was living a perfectly normal life as a New York Post journalist; weeks later she was strapped to a hospital bed, experiencing seizures, paranoid hallucinations, and catatonia. The doctors were ready to send her to a psychiatric ward, but her family insisted that there must be a medical cause. Something was wrong with Susannah, and it wasn’t mental illness. After a month of tests, procedures, and turmoil, doctors finally found a diagnosis just in time to save Susannah’s life. Although Susannah has nearly no memories of her “month of madness,” she has reconstructed her path through illness and recovery based on family recollections, journals, and hospital records. Her memoir is intense and fascinating, forcing readers to reexamine their perception of mental illness and reminding us how little we know about the remarkable human brain. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in memoirs or medicine!
Although his culture placed great importance on magic, William Kamkwamba always knew the importance of science and education. He was determined to succeed in primary school and make it to one of the top secondary schools in Malawi. But drought and famine destroyed his dreams, plunging his farming family into poverty and forcing him to drop out of school. Once the famine subsided and survival was no longer the only thought in his mind, William decided to educate himself. At his village’s library, he stumbled upon the text book Explaining Physics and began to experiment with the concepts and technology described in the book. His house filled up with the trash he collected from the junkyard for his experiments. People in the village began to mock him, thinking him mad. But when he created a windmill that produced electricity for his home (and eventually a reliable water pump to stave off famine) he became a hero to his village and to scientists around the world.
In this autobiography, Kamkwamba tells the story of his childhood and his eventual success as an inventor and scientist. The story is a blend of cultural history and detailed scientific narrative, all told with Kamkwamba’s great sense of humor. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is truly inspirational and will be particularly engaging for readers with an interest in both world cultures and science.
SHADOW DIVERS: THE TRUE ADVENTURE OF TWO AMERICANS WHO RISKED EVERYTHING TO SOLVE ONE OF THE LAST MYSTERIES OF WORLD WAR II by Robert Kurson
The world of commercial diving is competitive. The minute a shipwreck’s location is leaked, dive teams will sprint to it, hoping to get their hands on some of its fascinating artifacts. The divers that received the secret coordinates to “something big” lying sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey (and 230 feet below the ocean’s surface) were excited to explore an untouched wreck. But they were not prepared for what they found: a sunken German U-Boat, undocumented in any historical record. The divers were elated with the discovery–especially John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, two experienced and adventurous divers who also shared a passion for history. Each diver hoped to be the one to discover the U-Boat’s identity and its story. But diving to 230 feet is perilous, and it wasn’t long before the wreck began to claim lives. As most of the surviving divers gradually gave up on the dangerous wreck, only Chatterton and Kohler remained, determined to discover the U-Boat’s identity–even at the risk of their own lives.
I could not put this book down! Before I began reading Shadow Divers, I knew nothing about commercial diving. The logistics and dangers of deep sea dives are fascinating, as are the stories of the people who engage in such a life-threatening activity. Between the danger and suspense of each dive and the intriguing mystery of the U-Boat, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history, who likes survival stories, or even who enjoys reading thrillers. It is wonderful–a new favorite!
Thanks for the recommendation, Sally!