Paul Du Chaillu wanted to be a famous explorer and naturalist. In actuality, Du Chaillu was a good marksman willing to go to West Africa to search for a dangerous, possibly mythical beast – the gorilla. In 1859, Du Chaillu came out of his exploration with skins and stuffed specimens which he lectured upon at exhibitions. These exhibitions drew Du Chaillu into Darwin’s new evolution debate, as the beast he brought back was so similar in shape to human beings. Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debate, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm studies race, religion, and a world growing smaller through the adventures of a man searching for scientific legitimacy and wealth.
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It started as a blog. Annie and Dan Shannon wanted to veganize the recipes in The Betty Crocker Cookbook. It is that adventure in blogging that led to Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family. Many of the Shannons’ comfort foods are inspired by Betty Crocker, but not all. Being vegan becomes accessible in this tip-filled cookbook. Betty Goes Vegan is great for new or busy vegans, as it relies heavily on vegan processed foods (like mock meats and soy cheeses). With delish recipes like vegan curry, buffalo tofu steaks, mini pot roast pies, apple fritters, and Mexican hot chocolate cupcakes, Betty Goes Vegan has something for everyone.
Erwin Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist integral to developing the fundamentals of quantum theory. Considered of the “new school” of physics, Schrödinger thought outside the box. His life was no different than his science. Schrödinger once hiked to a science conference. When he and his rucksack got there, he was denied entrance because he was thought to be a tramp. In addition, Schrödinger was known to be rather amorous with ladies of all ages, and his wife took equal liberties to have lovers. Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution is a compelling pop-science biography that gets into the nitty-gritty of Schrödinger’s personal life and how he helped move science into the next century.
Alice Herz-Sommer and her young son survived Theresienstadt concentration camp due to her skills on the piano, having played over 100 concerts for the Nazis. Today, Alice is 109 years old. She lives in a London flat by herself and still plays 3 hours of piano a day. A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor expresses the positive mindset that let Alice survive and thrive though her closest friends and family did not. Alice’s life has crossed continents and she’s met the likes of Kafka, Mahler, Freud, and Rilke. She is a firm believer that music fights despair and that it can help fine-tune a positive mental outlook.
In his book Decoded, Jay-Z said, “Hip-hop has always been controversial, and for good reason…The music is meant to be provocative – which doesn’t mean it’s necessarily obnoxious, but it is (mostly) confrontational, and more than that, it’s dense with multiple meanings. Great rap should have all kinds of unresolved layers that you don’t necessarily figure out the first time you listen to it. Instead it plants dissonance in your head.”
Alice Prin, otherwise known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was the queen of 1920s bohemian Paris. She was unmistakable in a crowd, with her black bobbed hair and joie de vivre. Kiki was not only a model – she was the model, posing for Man Ray, Cocteau, Soutine, and others. Her evenings were spent as a nightclub singer, her days poised for art, and her life became a testament to spontaneity and creativity. Kiki de Montparnasse is a graphic novel biography that portrays the highs and many lows of Alice Prin’s all too short life.
To see Kiki and her world in real life, follow the graphic novel with the coffee table essay and photography book, Kiki’s Paris.
Mary Karr says her third memoir, Lit, is about “leaving home to find home.” It is a hard look at her early adulthood wrought with insecurity, denial, and alcoholism. Fortunately, she tells her story with sharp observations and a sometimes dark humor that helps make this a powerful story of redemption.
Fishbone is a funk, ska, rock band whose mohawked members are as likely to play in zoot suits as naked. They are known for their eclectic, complicated sound and high-octane stage presence. Bands that were inspired by Fishbone, like No Doubt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, and Primus, became famous, and yet, mainstream success eluded Fishbone. Laurence Fishburne narrates Everyday Sunshine, a documentary that follows Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher, the two remaining original band members. Vintage concert footage and interviews from admirers like Gwen Stefani, Ice-T, and George Clinton fill out Fishbone’s beginnings, near break-ups, and 30-plus years on the road.
SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Page Count: 473
Genre: Nonfiction – Biography
Tone: Inspirational, adventurous, engaging
1. Was there something special about Louie that could be seen at an early age or did his actions reflect more on a style of parenting? (e.g., climbing out the window and running down the street as a two year old with pneumonia or jumping off the train to California)
2. Louie moved from being a rambunctious toddler into what some would call a delinquent. Did you find it difficult to empathize with Louie given his devious behavior?
3. Do you think in today’s society Louie would face more trouble with the law or school authorities as a young person?
4. What are the ways in which Louie’s childhood prepared him for his time in the war?
5. What impact did seeing the German dirigible Graf Zepplin have on Louie as a12-year-old boy? Why did Hillenbrand choose to open the book with this image?
6. If his older brother Pete had not come up with a plan to get him into track, would Louie’s life have been different? How?
7. Did the Great Depression prepare Louie, and perhaps others of his generation, to persevere through the great hardships they would later face in the war?
8. Why did young Louie long to be a cowboy?
9. How was Louie able to set the NCAA record for the mile with a cracked rib, cut shins, and a bloody foot?
10. What did you take away from Louie’s time on the boat to Berlin? Can you believe he gained 12 pounds eating the almost unlimited amount of food?
11. Louie came in 7th place at the Berlin Olympics, but had such a fast stride at the end that Hitler wanted to meet him. What did you think of this experience?
12. Do you think Louie would’ve broken the 4-minute mile if it hadn’t been for the war?
13. How many of you knew Zamperini survived? Did that affect your reading of the book?
14. Did anyone find it unusual that Louie had so many photographs of these different times in his life, especially the war photos?
15. When Louie, Phil, and the crew of Superman returned from their first mission, they found that their friends’ plane crashed on take-off and the entire crew was killed. How did this affect Louie’s view of the war?
16. Were you surprised the majority of Army Air Force casualties in World War II were due to accidents? (p. 80)
17. After Superman’s dramatic return from Nauru, the plane was barely intact. Louie attributed the crew’s survival not only to Phil’s expert flying, but to the plane itself. How important was it that the crew knew how to fly their specific plane?
18. Why did the lieutenant ask the men to take the Green Hornet on the search mission, in spite of their misgivings that it wasn’t airworthy?
19. What devices did Zamperini and others use to survive and maintain their sanity during their time on the raft and in the POW camp?
20. What explains how Louie and Pete were able to survive on the raft while Mac, who seemed to have no physical injuries, did not? Are survival skills learned or inherent?
21. Why were many of the Japanese who first found Louie and Pete kind to them? Why were they surprised that the men had been fired on in their raft?
22. What do you find the most horrifying about Louie’s captivity? Were you aware of the biological experiments the Japanese were conducting on POWs and civilians alike?
23. Why didn’t the guards kill the prisoners when they knew the end was in sight for Japan?
24. Do you think there is less of a focus on Japan’s role in historical accounts of WWII than on Germany’s? If so, why would that be?
25. How was Japan able to reinvent itself after WWII? Has Germany been able to reinvent itself as well?
26. How was Louie able to readjust to life after the war? How was he able to overcome the struggles that were common to many veterans such as alcoholism and depression?
27. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was identified as a legitimate condition. Why did this diagnosis take so long to be recognized?
28. Which do you think was more responsible for Louie’s drastic life change, the idea that his wife was going to leave him or his attending the Billy Graham revival?
29. What role did Jimmy Sasaki play in the book and in Louie’s life? Why was he on campus at USC when Louie was in college and what did he do when he showed up at the POW camp? (p. 357)
30. How was Louie able to forgive The Bird and his other captors? How did you feel about the punishments the guards received after WWII? What happened to The Bird?
31. Like Louie, Bill Harris survived the war and the Japanese POW camp. Why do you think he chose to remain in the military? What do you think happened to him when he went missing in Korea?
32. Did you learn something new from this book?
33. Were there parts of the story you found difficult to believe?
34. What did you think of Hillenbrand’s style of writing? Was there anything you didn’t like in the writing or anything you wished Hillenbrand would’ve covered more deeply?
35. Are you familiar with Hillenbrand’s own health struggles (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)? Did you know she was unable to leave her house for more than two years while she wrote this book? She tells The New York Times:
“Writing is a godsend to me that way. Without it I wouldn’t have anything. I am completely still almost all the time. A lot of time I don’t leave the upstairs. What I have is the story I’m working on. It’s a wonderful thing for me to get out of my body for a while.”
How, if at all, does this affect her writing?
36. What does Unbroken add to the already voluminous collection of WWII research? What value is there, or is there any at all, in telling the story of one man’s experience in the war?
37. Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to refer to people from Louie’s time who came of age during the Great Depression, fought during WWII, and took care of the homefront. Is this moniker accurate?
38. Why did Hillenbrand include this quote from Walt Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser, “What stays with you latest and deepest? Of curious panics, of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous, what deepest remains?” What do you think are the “deepest remains” for Louie Zamperini?
Laura Hillenbrand’s website
Laura Hillenbrand interviewed by NPR
Laura Hillenbrand interviewed by the Kenyon Collegian
Louis Zamperini interviewed by CBS
Louis Zamperini in discussion at USC Annenberg
New York Magazine review of Unbroken
The Wall Street Journal review of Unbroken
Ringo was best man at Harry Nilsson’s wedding. Nilsson knew all of The Beatles. In fact, when asked who his favorite band was, Lennon said “Nilsson.” Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? is a documentary examining the life of a songwriter who widely influenced popular music of the 20th century, but has since been somewhat forgotten. Using three dozen interviews with family and friends (like Yoko Ono, Robin Williams, and Eric Idle), along with music videos, home videos, and archive audio footage, a moving portrait of a musician is made. Nilsson’s vivid and complex creativity is exposed, along with the wild side that may have hastened his death.