4 Booklist February 15, 2016 www.booklistreader.com
Journalism & Publishing
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and
Their Race to Save the World’s Most
By Joshua Hammer.
Apr. 2016. 288p. Simon & Schuster, $26
Abdel Kader Haidara was astonished when
his father entrusted him with the care of his
extensive manuscript collection. But the archivist would later be responsible, along with
a group of other librarians, for rescuing hundreds of thousands of precious materials from
the hands of jihadis in his native Timbuktu
in Mali—without losing a single document
during the dangerous trips out of the city. His
inspiring exploits make illuminating reading in this account by journalist Hammer.
Through Haidara’s work early in his career, as
he journeyed on camel and boat to discover
manuscripts hidden away for generations,
he comes to love the materials he guards, as
if they were children. That love is apparent
in the audacity of the effort to preserve the
region’s heritage after Al Qaeda and rebel
fighters captured Timbuktu in 2012. Hammer, drawing on his own reporting, delves
heavily into the power struggles of the region,
unfortunately often at the expense of the librarians’ narrative. However, the details of
the strictly regulated and dangerous existence
in the city under the jihadis spotlight the essential nature of Haidara’s rescue mission.
You Could Look It Up: The
Reference Shelf from Ancient
Babylon to Wikipedia.
By Jack Lynch.
Feb. 2016. 464p. Bloomsbury, $30 (9780802777522).
Throughout history, the role of reference
books in the development of civilization has
been under-reported and
under-valued, according to
Lynch, a professor at Rut-gers. Without the collection
and organization of facts and
knowledge into dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases,
handbooks, anthologies, and
other forms of reference, life
as we know it—with global languages, major
religions, nation-states, codified laws, modern
medicine, industry, and commerce—would not
exist. In 25 main chapters, Lynch entertainingly
recounts monumental efforts by overachieving
scholars to write and publish 50 influential
historical reference titles, including the code of
Hammurabi, Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, Diderot’s Encyclopédie, the Merck
Index, and the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 24 “half chapters,” he introduces related topics, such as dictionary plagiarism, abandoned
encyclopedia projects, reference book pleasure
reading, and cultural bias in reference books.
Especially fun for librarians, You Could Look It
Up will entertain and enlighten many scholarly
inclined readers and anyone who loves traditional reference works. —Rick Roche
Philosophy & Psychology
The Golden Condom.
By Jeanne Safer.
Apr. 2016. 288p. Picador, $26 (9781250055750); e-book,
$12.99 (9781250055767). 152.4.
Drawing on her own experiences as well as
those of patients and friends, Safer meditates
on love’s most volatile and traumatic forms:
unrequited love, difficult love, betrayal, bad
friendships, the intimate relationships between
mentors and protégés. As a therapist, she takes
a somewhat clinical approach, introducing
psychology terms, when appropriate (
narcissistic injury, ego strength, abreaction), which
she expands upon in well-placed footnotes,
explaining a term’s origins or offering suggestions for further reading. Beyond the clinical,
though, the text also has a philosophical and
literary aspect, weaving in quotes from Samuel
Johnson and Samuel Beckett, for example, as
well as offering personal reflections drawn
from a journal written by the author’s hope-lessly-, destructively-in-love, 19-year-old self.
The timelessness of the topic as well as its
confessional, educational content will give the
book wide appeal—anyone will be able to find
themselves reflected in one story or another,
whether they are in love, or longing, or looking to understand this mystifying, powerful,
innately human experience. —Sarah Grant
Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and
Opportunity of Midlife.
By Barbara Bradley Hagerty.
Mar. 2016. 464p. Riverhead, $28 (9781594631702). 155.6.
When veteran NPR reporter Hagerty reached
midlife, she decided to take a year off to interview scientists, psychologists, and a sampling of
citizens about navigating middle age. Instead of
crises, Hagerty found studies that show men and
women using these years to start new careers,
face physical challenges, and find meaning in
their lives. As she moves chronologically through
the year, Hagerty explores such topics as training
your brain, keeping friends, powering thoughts,
reviving a marriage, finding a purpose, rebounding from bad stuff, donating time and money,
and looking for meaningful work. Interwoven
with the science are her stories of caring for her
aging (but still intellectually thriving) mother,
training for the Senior Games, having the best
vacation ever, and leaving her high-profile but
stressful job. Hagerty uses the perfect mixture of
anecdote and facts and knows how to tell a story.
Inspiring and reassuring, this book is guaranteed
to shake up anyone who is coasting through
middle age, reminding them that it’s up to them
to find their essence and shape their last years
with purpose. —Candace Smith
The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the
Spectrum of Consciousness.
By David Gelernter.
Feb. 2016. 288p. Norton/Liveright, $26.95
Gelernter is a cross-disciplinary intellectual
Continued on p. 8
Appearing below is a list of all the print reference titles reviewed in this issue. Reference
librarians should also remember that all Booklist reference reviews can be accessed by
Booklist subscribers on Booklist Online.
Better Birding: Tips, Tools, & Concepts for the Field. Ed. by George L. Armistad and
Brian L. Sullivan. p. 16
Butterflies. By Ronald Orenstein. p. 12
Firefly Complete Guide to Stargazing. By Robin Scagell. p. 12
The Gale Encyclopedia of Prescription Drugs. p. 18
The Gale Encyclopedia of Senior Health: A Guide for Seniors and their Caregivers. p. 12
A History of Architecture in 100 Buildings. Ed. by Dan Cruickshank. p. 12
Millennials in America. Ed. by Robert L. Scardamalia. p. 12
Modern China. Ed. by Xiaobing Li. p. 24
The Voodoo Encyclopedia: Magic, Ritual, and Religion. Ed. by Jeffrey E. Anderson. p. 8
You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia. By
Jack Lynch. p.4