Adrian Liang: With Mount Agung in Bali on the very verge of eruption and residents hastily evacuating, I’m finally reading Krakatoa by Simon Winchester. In 1883, a volcanic island off Java exploded, killing directly and indirectly more than 36,000 people. Reading Winchester’s sharp prose while seeing live updates from Bali via the Internet is a disquieting experience. Modern science gives us more warning than island residents had in 1883, but it’s still frightening. I’m also finishing up Dan Brown’s Origin this weekend, and in my opinion it’s among his better Robert Langdon books. Origin reminds me of some of Crichton’s technology-centered stories, with science battling the dark forces of ignorance. My only quibble is that as Langdon runs around Spain, he spends more time waxing on about Spain’s greatest architects and artists than doing his symbology thing, but the upside is that visiting Barcelona has moved much higher on my bucket list.
Jon Foro: In my house, in the place where I drop my wallet and keys when I get home and where I store important documents such as the cable TV channel guide, sits one of those mail-in DNA tests. The box is unopened, in mint condition. See, it was a gift, and while I am curious about what it can tell me about my ancestry (I am sure there are Vikings), I haven’t managed the gumption to spit in the tube and crack open my chromosomal secrets. All that changes this weekend, and the catalyst will be the ambitiously titled A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford’s entertaining and illuminating exploration of our family tree, one that covers genetics, the concept of race, migrations, and at least four species of humans. I probably belong to one of them, but I guess we’ll see.
Erin Kodicek: The unique relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena "Hick" Hickok has long fascinated history buffs, the generally curious, and more than a few writers. Susan Quinn's Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady has recently been optioned for a television series, and acclaimed novelist Amy Bloom has penned historical fiction for the first time with the upcoming White Houses. Were the FLOTUS and the reporter actually lovers? We may never know for sure, but by many, many accounts they shared an intimacy that went far beyond friendship, and this unconventional union was so powerful that it inspired both women to do extraordinary good for the country during a very trying time in its history. I'm excited to learn more about these complicated, amazing women.
Sarah Harrison Smith: Maybe it’s unfair to tell you about an extraordinary novel that’s not coming out until December, but they say anticipation adds to the pleasure of gifts and travel, and Olaf Olaffson’s forthcoming novel is both a gift and a ticket to the unknown. One Station Away begins when Magnus Colin, a neuroscientist, elects to spend two hours under the effects of a drug that leaves him physically paralyzed but fully conscious. As the novel unfolds, that experiment becomes central to Olafsson’s exploration of love, compassion, and estrangement. Speaking of compassion, I have some for whichever book I turn to next, because One Station Away will be a hard act to follow, and I have some for readers who have to wait a few more months to experience this novel themselves.
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