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Tomes and Tea Leaves

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Jaimie Admans
On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History
Nicholas A. Basbanes
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing
Anya Von Bremzen
The Mirror Lied: One Woman's 25-Year Struggle with Bulimia, Anorexia, Diet Pill Addiction, Laxative Abuse and Cutting.
Marc A. Zimmer, N.R. Mitgang, Ira M. Sacker
Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet
Stephen Manes
Curtis Sittenfeld
Gail Godwin
The Old Curiosity Shop
Charles Dickens, Norman Page
The English Eccentrics
Edith Sitwell, Richard Ingrams (Introduction)
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife - Mary Roach I think Mary Roach is a hilarious writer. Ever since I read Stiff, I've been waiting in anticipation for her next book. In Spook Roach jumps from the physical to the metaphysical. Whereas Stiff examined the ultimate fate of cadavers, Spook looks to the soul. In particular, the book examines scientists' efforts to to offer measurable proof of the existence of the soul, and their attempts to understand what happens to immaterial parts of personhood after death. To give a full picture of these efforts Roach's research takes her across cultures and continents. She brings us the story of the woman who could vomit large quantities of fabric on demand in the name of talking to the dead. She writes of doctors who attached dying consumptives to giant scales. As with her other work, Spook is infused with Roach's sense of humor and her clear fascination with the bizarre. The stranger it gets, the happier Roach seems to be. This book is, without question, a rollicking good read. Beyond pure enjoyment, Roach book also shows just how enmeshed certain sectors of the scientific community have become, in the past two centuries, in matters of belief. The very premise of this book, and what unifies these stories, is an attempt to merge seemingly incompatible thought systems. Ever since the arguments in Kansas and the Dover, PA school board case, the ability, and the desirability of merging these two thought systems in the name of education has become an issue of political significance. Roach's study suggests that scientists and lay people have been involved in efforts to merge the physical and metaphysical arts. It shows that at significant points in the past, large numbers of people have been drawn to efforts to apply science to faith; see, for example, her chapter on spiritualism. The experts involved, however, (scientists, doctors, etc.) have ususally been marginal figures, on the fringes of their fields, or at least respected only in their work outside of the supernatural. Obviously, the scientific question of the afterlife is never going to create the firestorm generated by evolution/creationism/intelligent design. The general consensus remains that afterlife is a matter of faith, not science. Public schools have little need or desire to teach about the fate of the soul. That is the work of clerics and philosophers. But here lies the great irony. It is precisely because there is such widespread agreement in the western world on the division of body and soul, that attempts to bring science to bear of matters of the spirit and the immortal may be able to proceed without the criticism and argument generated by by similar battles in which the divisions seem less clear.