This Month’s Books (October 2014)

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Adolf Hitler – Mein Kampf (1925)Mein Kampf

Madman, tyrant, animal – history has given Adolf Hitler many names. In Mein Kampf (My Struggle), often called the Nazi bible, Hitler describes his life, frustrations, ideals, and dreams. Born to an impoverished couple in a small town in Austria, the young Adolf grew up with the fervent desire to become a painter. The death of his parents and outright rejection from art schools in Vienna forced him into underpaid work as a labourer. During the First World War, Hitler served in the infantry and was decorated for bravery. After the war, he became actively involved with socialist political groups and quickly rose to power, establishing himself as Chairman of the National Socialist German Worker’s party. In 1924, Hitler led a coalition of nationalist groups in a bid to overthrow the Bavarian government in Munich. The infamous Munich “Beer-hall putsch” was unsuccessful, and Hitler was arrested. During the nine months he was in prison, an embittered and frustrated Hitler dictated a personal manifesto to his loyal follower Rudolph Hess. He vented his sentiments against communism and the Jewish people in this document, which was to become Mein Kampf, the controversial book that is seen as the blue-print for Hitler’s political and military campaign. In Mein Kampf, Hitler describes his strategy for rebuilding Germany and conquering Europe. It is a glimpse into the mind of a man who destabilized world peace and pursued the genocide now known as the Holocaust. “… I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord”

Verdict: 3/5

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on EarthChris Hadfield – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (2013)

Colonel Chris Hadfield has spent decades training as an astronaut and has logged nearly 4000 hours in space. During this time he has broken into a Space Station with a Swiss army knife, disposed of a live snake while piloting a plane, and been temporarily blinded while clinging to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft. The secret to Col. Hadfield’s success-and survival-is an unconventional philosophy he learned at NASA: prepare for the worst-and enjoy every moment of it.

In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Col. Hadfield takes readers deep into his years of training and space exploration to show how to make the impossible possible. Through eye-opening, entertaining stories filled with the adrenaline of launch, the mesmerizing wonder of spacewalks, and the measured, calm responses mandated by crises, he explains how conventional wisdom can get in the way of achievement-and happiness. His own extraordinary education in space has taught him some counterintuitive lessons: don’t visualize success, do care what others think, and always sweat the small stuff.

You might never be able to build a robot, pilot a spacecraft, make a music video or perform basic surgery in zero gravity like Col. Hadfield. But his vivid and refreshing insights will teach you how to think like an astronaut, and will change, completely, the way you view life on Earth-especially your own.

Verdict: 5/5

John Boyne – This House is Haunted (2013)This House is Haunted

1867. Eliza Caine arrives in Norfolk to take up her position as governess at Gaudlin Hall on a dark and chilling night. As she makes her way across the station platform, a pair of invisible hands push her from behind into the path of an approaching train. She is only saved by the vigilance of a passing doctor.

When she finally arrives, shaken, at the hall she is greeted by the two children in her care, Isabella and Eustace. There are no parents, no adults at all, and no one to represent her mysterious employer. The children offer no explanation. Later that night in her room, a second terrifying experience further reinforces the sense that something is very wrong.

From the moment she rises the following morning, her every step seems dogged by a malign presence which lives within Gaudlin’s walls. Eliza realises that if she and the children are to survive its violent attentions, she must first uncover the hall’s long-buried secrets and confront the demons of its past.

Verdict: 3/5

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson – Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) (2007)

Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell?

Renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right — a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong.

Backed by years of research and delivered in lively, energetic prose,Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deception — how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it.

Verdict: 3/5

Paul Torday – The Girl on the Landing (2008)The Girl on the Landing

Elizabeth has been married to Michael for ten years. She has adjusted to a fairly monotonous routine with her wealthy, decent but boring husband. Part of this routine involves occasional visits to Beinn Caorrun, the dank and gloomy house in a Scottish glen that Michael inherited. There are memories there that Michael will not share with her. But then Michael begins to change. It starts when he thinks he sees, in a picture, the figure of a girl on a landing. As he changes, life becomes so much more fun and Elizabeth sees glimpses of a man she can fall in love with at last. But who – or what – is changing Michael …?

Verdict: 4/5

The Man who Mistook his Wife for a HatOliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (1985)

In his most extraordinary book, “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders.

Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks’s splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine’s ultimate responsibility: “the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject.”

Verdict: 3/5

Patrick deWitt – The Sisters Brothers (2011)The Sisters Brothers

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.

With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne’er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

Verdict: 4/5

Guys Can Be Cat Ladies TooMichael Showalter – Guys Can Be Cat Ladies Too (2013)

Michael Showalter’s Guys Can Be Cat Ladies Too is the hilarious all-access guide to help a man comprehend, appreciate, and bond with the felines in his life. They say dogs are a man’s best friend. True! But what if that man’s girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, or mother-in-law has a cat? Is that the end for him? Is he resigned to an eternity of estrangement from this furry creature with which he shares his life partner, his favorite chair, and his sock drawer?

Showalter offers hope for men everywhere in their quest to understand and love cats. In this intimate portrait of one man’s love for cats, you will learn the answers to burning questions such as: “Why are they all aloof and weird and stuff?”; “They hate me, right?”; and “Is it true that they have nine lives?” Armed with these and countless other valuable lessons, by the book’s end any guy can be on the fast track to becoming a cat’s best friend.

Verdict: 4/5

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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