*** Chop Chop by Simon Wroe


Chop Chop starts as the twisted life of a restaurant kitchen, viewed by a poor English degree graduate who needs a job, any job, then blossoms into an even darker tale of gangsters. It’s written cleverly, as if the author had consulted with his ex-colleagues on the tale, always one step ahead of breaking the illusion of a brilliant tale. Much more fun than the standard restaurant memoir — and probably not the best choice to read before going out!

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** Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik


I read Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World shortly after How We Got to Now, and I enjoyed it more. Who knew that materials science can actually be fun? Whether the author is talking about steel, paper, or concrete, he can share a diagram of chemical structures when appropriate,  talk about Romans or Egyptians, or traverse industrial and cultural references — all with the geeky charm of well, the materials engineer he is.

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*** Dorothy and Otis by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel


Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream is a beautifully illustrated biography of Dorothy and Otis Shepard, a couple of designers who worked in advertising and design, creating gorgeous, stylized ads but also entire image packages, as for Catalina island for which they even created a typeface. I did not care much about the longish section about the Chicago Cubs, but fully enjoyed the modern approach to promoting Catalina island. One can only imagine what those two would have done with social media!

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*** Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng


In Everything I Never Told You, the suspicious death of a teenager is the starting point for extended flashbacks that tell the story of a mixed-race family, from the parents’s alienation from their own families to the three children’s complicated reactions to their parents’ unrelenting push to achieve. I thought that the descriptions of the intricate relationships between siblings, both loving and competitive, were particularly well described. The unrelenting mother seemed to me surprisingly out of touch and forced, however.

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** How we Got to Now by Steven Johnson


With a lively, entertaining style, How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World takes a few inventions (glass, refrigeration, the reproduction of sound, sanitation, time measurements, and the technologies of light and photography) and describes the inventors and how the new technologies changed the world. It is a short book, so we meet again our friend Birdseye, of frozen food fame, but briefly. Still, there is time to consider how the entire city of Chicago was raised up several feet int he late 19th century to make room for a sewer (thank you Ellis Chesbrough), or how technologies helped to highlight social ills (such as tenements, through photography) or new kinds of music (such as jazz, through the new medium of radio).

An easy and entertaining read.

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*** Being Mortal by Atul Gawande


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End shares the personal and professional journey of the author, a surgeon, from the standard response of doing “everything” to fight disease to the newer approach of asking patients at the end of life what they want to achieve, and adapt the treatment accordingly. This applies obviously to older patients but also to younger, very ill patients.

The author is candid about his prior ignorance and avoidance of difficult conversations, which makes for a kind an gentle book that suggests and never hectors.

We can only hope that politically-charged conversations about death panels can be replaced by thoughtful, individualized discussions of patient goals with their doctors and families.

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** The Lonely War by Nazila Fathi


The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran is the memoir of a woman journalist who grew up under the revolution in Iran, and who eventually was forced to flee after the regime had her followed and threatened. She tries to combine her personal history with that of the country, and she is much more successful when she conveys personal experiences, whether it is the conservative revolutionary chasing her and all girls away from the swimming pool in her apartment complex or forcing her to wear clothes that made it hard to breathe. There are stories of the family maid, whose revolutionary daughter scores them a new apartment, and of the morality teachers railing against “original packaging”, which they mistakenly thought was the name for Walkmans, and many street jokes that capture the Zeitgeist better than any lengthy considerations about policies, candidates, or statistics.

Feel free to skip the details of elections, and you will enjoy the personal stories.

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Filed under True story