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Book Propaganda
We like books.  In fact we love 'em, though we
don't necessarily have time to read a lot of them.  
When we have gotten a chance to read lately, we
have been impressed by:
Salman Rushdie - Midnight's Children.  This is a sprawling masterpiece
about a group of children born at the moment of India's partition in 1947.  
Fantastic, magical, violent, and un-put-down-able.  Also in that vein,
Rushdie's excellent
The Enchantress of Florence.  

Laura Hillenbrand - Seabiscuit: an American Legend. Who would have
guessed that a biography of a racehorse, his owner, his trainer, and his
jockeys would turn out to be absolutely compelling reading?  We don't know
beans about thoroughbred racing, and ordinarily care even less, but the story
of this horse and his people is completely absorbing, not to mention
jaw-dropping.  You gotta read it.

Neal Stephenson - Cryptonomicon is a spectacular Big Book that casts its
plot-net far and wide to cover a contemporary hi-tech venture company and
codebreaking in World War II.  It teems with fascinating protagonists,
fascinating time-skipping plot, fascinating information, and laugh-out-loud
humor.  It is the best book I've read in years.

Reginald Hill - An English writer of mysteries.  His series starring Dalziel
and Pascoe (
Deadheads, A Killing Kindness, An Advancement of Learning,
A Clubbable Woman, Pictures of Perfection, An April Shroud, Recalled to
Life, Bones and Silence
, Exit Lines, etc.)  is about the best mystery fiction
I've ever read.  Character-driven, clever, beautifully written, and even
moving, though fall-down funny at times.  Plus, there's enough of them to
satisfy the deep craving you'll develop.  Hill's other books (some under the
pen name Patrick Ruell) are uneven but worth checking out if you become a
fan.

Stephen Jay Gould - Harvard Professor, Paleontologist, historian of
science, plolymath, and raconteur, Gould is the best ever writer of science
for non-scientists.  His agenda includes evolutionary mechanisms and
Darwin's legacy, Precambrian fauna, the confluence of bacteria and baseball,
and the truths contained in and revealed by all of life's little oddities, from the
panda's thumb to the overgrown antlers of the extinct Irish Elk.  His
collections of essays (
The Panda's Thumb, Hens' Teeth and Horses' Toes,
The Flamingo's Smile, Ever Since Darwin, Bully For Brontosaurus
, etc.) are
perhaps the best way to get acquainted, but for my money
Wonderful Life,
his work on the power of contingency and the incredible Cambrian animals
of the Burgess Shale, is one of the best books I ever read.  Plus, I once sang
in a barbershop quartet with him.

Daniel Quinn - Be forewarned:  if you read this guy's books (Ishmael, The
Story of B
) you will never see the world in the same way again, and I don't
say this lightly.  Mr. Quinn has worked out why things are the way they are
for us humans, and his analysis will send you reeling.  It's hard to explain
what these books are about:  they are part philosophy, part history, part
anthropology, part spiritual, and utterly compelling.  Now if I had heard this
description I probably wouldn't have been interested; they came to me with
this recommendation only: "They will change the way you look at things."
And damned if they didn't.  If you can get past the talking-gorilla gimmick of
Ishmael you will encounter a completely consistent, completely subversive
essay on the right way to live and why most humans have been living
wrongly for the last 10,000 years.  And once you read them, you can never
go back.

John McPhee - Annals of the Former World is an epic exploration of the
geology of the North American Continent written, in typical McPhee fashion,
in an anecdotal and eminently readable style.  Travelling with professional
geologists roughly along the coast-to-coast path of Interstate 80, McPhee
experiences and illuminates the incredible variety and wonder of the earth
beneath our feet.  This is a collection of several prior volumes including
Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, and Crossing the Craton.  It's big, and
it's bountiful.