Book Notes, Spring-Summer 2013

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on May 22, 2013 in Book Reviews |


Summer approaches. For many it begins with Memorial Day Weekend, and offers a little extra time to enjoy a good book. As the season is rapidly upon us, I make a few suggestions. These books will resonate with a wide audience, but there is one here for people interested in archaeology, one for people who like novels with great historic contexts, and one for people who like folklore (and believe that folklore is still evolving). I also have a business-book suggestion for my colleagues in Cultural Resource Management (CRM) and allied disciplines who build clienteles and consult for a living.

The Angel of Darkness book coverFirst, The Angel of Darkness (Fiction, paperback, Ballantine Books 1997). The Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr is a detective story pursued with an early forensic psychiatric method, and features a villain defended by Clarence Darrow. Beginning in New York City and the assembly of a team of investigators, much of the action takes place in upstate New York, in the Ballston Spa courthouse and neighborhoods (not far from where I write this), with side-trips to nearby Saratoga Springs and Stillwater. Replete with psychological drama, The Angel of Darkness is set circa 1897, and very adequately brings you the (sometimes seamy) feel of the Gilded Age.

Riptide book coverNext is Riptide (Fiction, paperback, Warner Books, 1998) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. My two favorite adventure authors tell the story of a dangerous, high-tech search for pirate treasure on the coast of Maine. The cast of characters includes an archaeologist (of course) to mitigate the looting element of the expedition, as well as a single-minded treasure hunter, full of hubris. The hero is a local guy returned home from Boston, who was haunted by a childhood tragedy connected with the treasure-legend. He is pulled in because he inherited the treasure site. As in some other Preston-Child works, the story has a moral: you can’t mess with Mother Nature. Riptide is a wild ride.

Shadows of the Western Door coverThird, Shadows of the Western Door: Haunted Sites and Ancient Mysteries of Upstate New York (Paperback, Western New York Wares, Inc., 1997) by Mason Winfield. Indian legends, ghost stories, or cryptozoology, anyone? I can’t call this book fiction, but I can’t call it non-fiction either. It occupies a spooky space in between. The author intends to convey, perhaps even preserve ghost stories and other strange tales, but he in no sense fictionalizes them; rather he brings a critical perspective to his task. On the other hand, some explanations lean toward the unconventional, particularly in allusion to a so-called Dragon Path across western New York. The book contains many tales of unexplained happenings— some clearly of historical importance, others a little more far-out, depending upon what you believe. There is also much fare for classic folklore-lovers. The stories come from the area between approximately Geneva and Buffalo, New York; from Niagara Falls, Batavia, Wellsville, and many other places worth visiting with Shadows of the Western Door as a guide book— even if you live there (Full disclosure alert: I grew up around some of these places). When was your last western New York vacation/stay-cation featuring a historic adventure right around the corner? (PS: Too bad I hadn’t read this before I visited Roycroft at the end of last summer).

Little Big Things coverLast, for my colleagues in CRM or other lines of business, The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence (Non-fiction, hardcover, HarperCollins, 2010) by Tom Peters. A good book to read in a slow economy, it will also serve you well in better times. This book reminds us that the many little, kind, courteous, communicative, over-communicative, people-focused things we do in work and life count a lot. And it includes you, yourself, as a target of kindness and people-focus. For example (and this is just one, short thought in a book loaded with ideas), The Little Big Things says to take an “internal” vacation, recommending two days at work every month with ample time to recharge your battery through self-development initiatives. Like much of this book, this may sound like something you haven’t been doing (at least not very well), but really should do, even if you feel you don’t have time to. You may convince yourself that you can make the time if you read the first two sections titled “Little” and “Excellence”, and then jump to “Self”. After that, pursue excellence by wandering according to whim and curiosity through the other 149 short, insightful, often iconoclastic essays; and (in the Tom Peters spirit) by wandering more often to see what is away from your desk.


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