Monday, December 07, 2009

Epublishers Weekly: Our 24 Favorite Books of 2009

Here is our selection of 24 favorite books in 2009. Many of these have been reviewed in full on the EPW blog; just a few of these books have been published in 2008, but they are significant enough to include in this year-end review. The last "book" on our list is Ebooks without DRM, a tribute to the enormous growth of the ebook industry.

1. Ideas That Changed the World by Felipe Fernández-Armesto
2. Sanctuary by Michael Tobias and Jane Morrison
3. State of the World 2009 by the WorldWatch Institute
4. The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
5. 50 Benefits of Ebooks by Michael Pastore
6. Abraham Maslow Audio Collection by Abraham Maslow
7. Distracted by Maggie Jackson
8. Rapt by Winifred Gallagher
9. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
10. Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
11. The Rabbi's Cat 2 by Joann Sfar
12. The Art of Conversation by Catherine Blyth
13. Going Rouge edited by Richard Kim and Betsy Reed
14. Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio
15. Lucifer at the Starlite by Kim Addonizio
16. Loneliness by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick
17. The Solomon Scandals by David Rothman
18. Remix by Lawrence Lessig
19. In the Studio with Michael Jackson by Bruce Swedien
20. Geniuses of the American Musical Theatre by Herbert Keyser
21. Learning Python 4th Edition by Mark Lutz
22. Head First PHP and MySQL by Lynn Beighley and Michael Morrison
23. Statistics in a Nutshell by Sarah Boslaugh and Paul Andrew Watters
24. Ebooks Without DRM

[From the Epublishers Weekly home page, click "Read more! ... " to read the reviews of these 24 books.]

Ideas That Changed the World
by Felipe Fernández-Armesto
Paperback, 400 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4351-1498-2

Great ideas have been transforming our world for more than than 300 centuries. Starting with B.C. 30,000, in seven eras up to the present age, this book describes more than 160 revolutionary notions.

Each idea is given two full facing pages; each page features bright photos and illustrations, exquisitely created by the masters of the art of book design, Dorling Kindersley. Each entry provides quotations from great thinkers; recommended readings; and "Connections" -- suggestions for related ideas elsewhere in the book.

The author writes:

"Every event we imagine is a potential new future. I think most historical change has intellectual origins ... For each idea, I try to say not only what it is or was, but how it arose, and how it registered its influence ... "

This splendid book can be read for the pure intellectual joy of it, or as a basis for deep thinking and discussion. Our information-cluttered world floods us with millions of superficial tidbytes; the gems in this book -- the truly significant ideas -- are marvelous and rare.

Global Oases of Innocence
by Michael Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison
Hardcover, 360 pages
ISBN: 978-1571782144

A sublime sense of awe and wonder at Earth's incredible beauty -- the beauty of persons, trees, birds, insects, amphibians, flowers, landscapes, and animals -- is the first thing that struck me as I browsed the pages of Sanctuary. Next, I was reminded of that stunning passage from the film "My Dinner With Andre". Andre notes that a wave of pessimism has captured our era, and that many people believe that we are reverting to a savage, lawless, terrifying time ahead. At the same time, a new and different note is sounding, "pockets of light" will emerge all over the planet. For human beings, utopias reside in our best imaginations and in our inevitable sustainable future. Yet, thanks to a wonderful combination of vision, compassion, ecological knowledge, courage and cash, there are numerous sanctuaries for non-human living species. The new book by Tobias and Morrison documents many of these sanctuaries -- twenty-four of them worldwide -- with vivid (and oftentimes, sublime) photographs, and with a prose style so radiant and so powerful that the words capture the whole spirit of this noble endeavor.

The book's 24 chapters feature photos and descriptions of the sanctuaries, located in 21 different nations. These sanctuaries span the earth, some located in icy places, others in warm ones, and wherever they are they are devoted to protecting all creatures great and small. In their essay about the Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, the authors remind us that all creatures are sacred and indispensable to the ecosystem: the survival of the small ant matters just as much as the great elephant. In Canada, America (including Central Park, New York City), Europe and Asia -- the best of the human spirit manifests itself in these oases of loving kindness.

Read the Full Review on Epublishers Weekly:

State of the World 2009
Into a Warming World
from the WorldWatch Institute, edited by Linda Starke
Paperback, 262 pages
ISBN: 978-0393334180

State of the World — produced by the environmental research organization — is published every year. This year's edition is unique: it is written by 47 different authors, and it focuses on one burning theme: climate change. The book's chapters, standalone articles in themselves, explain where we are now, what catastrophes will happen if we fail to act wisely and promptly, and what solutions we can apply to heal our aching planet. All the articles are scholarly — there are more than 50 pages of endnotes — without a trace of pedantry: every article is thoughtful and clear.

The book does not leave planet Earth tied to the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. It explains the many solutions that have been already taken, and many more that might be applied in the very near future.

State of the World is one of the few books that I call "indispensable", thanks to its reliable information, its depth of insights, and its underlying focus about how we can transform our troubled world into a thriving sustainable culture. This 2009 edition, focusing on solutions to climate change, should be on the bookshelf of every thinking person who cares about future generations.

Read the Full Review on Epublishers Weekly:

The Age of Wonder
How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
by Richard Holmes
Hardcover, 552 pages
ISBN: 978-0375422225

In 1818, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus, warned readers that new inventions could have consequences unforeseen. Decades later, authors such as Carlyle and Ruskin, lamented that the Industrial revolution had destroyed the natural landscape, transmogrified the nature of work, and warped the best of human nature. In The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes discovers a far more sympathetic view of the scientific enterprise. Holmes has called the era between 1768 and 1831, the Age of Wonder, a second scientific revolution where scientists approached their profession with selfless dedication, flashes of creative insights, and the poetic feelings of wonder and awe. The book is a "relay race of scientific stories" featuring the lives, ideas, and discoveries of the astronomer William Herschel and his sister Caroline; the chemist Humphry Davy; and the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks. One might read this book as a well-researched history and a skillful biography; another person might read this as a gentle nudge to our narcissistic generation that has thoroughly lost this noble spirit. Today's researchers and academics must rekindle the passion in scientific work, and re-humanize the present scientific system, which is too often about enriching the fame and the fortunes of the scientists themselves. Whichever way you read, Holmes's insights and narrative gifts will keep you intelligently entertained.

50 Benefits of Ebooks
A Thinking Person's Guide to the Digital Reading Revolution
by Michael Pastore
Paperback and ebook (PDF, EPUB): 372 pages / 51,000 words
ISBN: 978-0927379-17-5

[Full Disclosure: Plucking a quill from the pens of Whitman, Shaw and Joyce, this book's reviewer and the book's author are the same person. For reviews and mentions of this book by others, visit this page of Praise and Mentions.]

50 Benefits of Ebooks is a lively introduction to the brave new worlds of ebooks and electronic publishing. This revised September 2009 edition (now 51,000 words) is 25% larger than the March edition, contains new chapters, and features an inspiring Afterword by Michael S. Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg. Three versions are available: paperback, PDF and EPUB.

The price of the ebooks is $ 2 — one-tenth of the paperback price. Michael S. Hart, who has been called 'the inventor of ebooks', says about the book: "This book is pretty much a 'must read' and a 'ready reference' for anyone considering eBooks." In addition to the essay by Mr. Hart, new chapters have been added, and other chapters have been expanded and updated, including the chapter about How and Where to Find Free Ebooks. An article "The Google Book Search Settlement Demystified", offers a clear and simple explanation of this boggling issue.

Written for a wide audience — from ebook newcomers to experts — in 28 chapters, the book explores 5 essential aspects of ebook reading, writing and publishing: A. Benefits of Ebooks and Paper Books; B. Reading Ebooks; C. Ebooks for Authors & Publishers; D. The Value of Reading; and E. The Education of An Ebooklover. Ebook newcomers will find all the basics here. Ebook experts can debate and debunk the author’s wild predictions for the rosy and thorny future of ebooks, by reading the essay, “Publishing Ebooks: Ten Tremendous Trends in 2009.” Authors will discover tips and resources for ebook publishing. Library professionals will enjoy the book’s glossary, Index, and links to leading ebook sites.

For more information, visit the book's companion blog-site:

Abraham Maslow Audio Collection
by Abraham Maslow
Two Volumes
Downloadable MP3 audio

Abraham Maslow's electrifying talks have now been collected into two volumes of audio, as downloadable MP3 files. More than two years in the making, this project from publisher Maurice Bassett -- and fully approved by Ann Maslow -- is now complete! Volumes One and Two include a total of 28.5 hours of Abraham Maslow's talks and workshops at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, from the mid and late-1960s. The individual programs include:

Volume One:
• Self-Actualization (1 mp3 file, total playing time 1 hour)
• Psychology and Religious Awareness (1 mp3 file, total playing time 1 hour)
• The Aims of Education (1 mp3 file, total playing time 1 hour)
• The B-language Workshop (5 mp3 files, total playing time 5 hours, 35 minutes)
• Weekend with Maslow (9 mp3 files, total playing time 4 hours, 25 minutes)

Volume Two:
• The Eupsychian Ethic (6 mp3 files, total playing time 5 hours, 45 minutes)
• The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (10 mp3 files, total playing time 9 hours, 45 minutes)

The sound quality is excellent, and the content is always captivating, the quintessence of Maslow's most important ideas! For more information, visit the web page:

The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age
By Maggie Jackson
Paperback, 327 pages
ISBN: 978-1591027485

Is our planet Earth plummeting into another Dark Age, a mire of disintegration and self-destruction, lifeless and loveless, where not a spark of defiance fires the human soul, where no children laugh, no birds sing, and no swift shoes are flung at lamely-ducking presidents?

One expects this sensational warning in modern films. But when alarms are sounded from beyond Hollywood -- from some our best and most sincere minds -- it is time to face the problem and closely pay attention. Jane Jacobs (Dark Age Ahead), Jared Diamond (Collapse), Martin Rees (Our Final Hour), Charlene Spretnak (The Resurgence of the Real), and Albert Gore (An Inconvenient Truth) have all written non-fiction works warning us about unpleasant things in our possible or probable future. Distracted, by Maggie Jackson, is an important contribution to this growing genre. With clarity and compassion, Jackson explores the dangers of our hi-tech lifestyle, describing how and why our world is darkening, and providing some illuminating hints about what we might do to reverse the dangerous trends.

A much-quoted bumper-sticker in our town (popular in the pre-Obama era) reminds us:
“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Attention is the key, says Jackson: a lack of attention (distraction) is the essence of our problems, and our hope for the future depends on cultivating “a renaissance of attention.” Jackson explains psychologist Michael Posner’s definition that divides attention into three “networks”: orienting, alerting, and the executive.

Jackson travels around the U.S.A. to observe people and to talk with researchers connected to her theme. All the while, she quotes many useful literary sources, old and new, including the greatly misunderstood play by Capek (R.U.R.); the eerily prescient science fiction story by E. M. Forster (The Machine Stops); and Mary Shelley's saga of a dysfunctional monster (Frankenstein). I have been studying this notion (ABC: Attention, Being fully in the present, Concentration) for more than a year, and I thought that I could not be surprised with information new to me. Happily, I was very wrong. Jackson introduced me to the French science fiction author, Albert Robida (1848&endash;1926). Robida wrote a short story about the future (the year 1965); interviewed about his predictions, he said (and he is talking about us):

“Their every day will be caught in the wheels of a mechanized society to the point where I wonder how they will find the time to enjoy the most simple pleasures we had at our disposal: silence, calm, solitude. Having never known them, they shall not be able to miss them. As for me, I do — and I pity them.”

Robida wondered then, and -- more than a century later -- I am wondering now. But for pity there is no time. Quickly we must turn down the noise, simplify our lives, learn the art of attention, and cultivate our minds.

Attention and the Focused Life
by Winifred Gallagher
Hardcover, 244 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59420-210-0

What is the meaning of the title, 'Rapt'? ... The author writes:

"... attention enables you to have the kind of Dionysian experiences beautifully described by the old-fashioned term "rapt" — completely absorbed, engrossed, fascinated, perhaps even "carried away" — that underlies life's deepest pleasures."

In addition to acquainting us with the latest brain research about attention, Gallagher shares insights from her own experiences, and from artists, musicians, psychologists and scientists. Chapters explore paying attention, how feelings affect our ability to focus, the art of seeing, attentional styles, how focusing changes our brains, and the power of attention (or lack of) to transform our work and our relationships. The book explains Csikszentmihalyi's theory of "flow"; and attention's impacts on decision making, creativity, and health. The author writes:

"You cannot always be happy, but you can always be focused. Which is the next best thing."

For those of us who want to change our lives, to open new vistas of experiencing in our everyday moments and personal encounters — Gallagher's book is a focused and extraordinary guide.

Eating Animals
Jonathan Safran Foer
Paperback, 341 pages
ISBN: 978-0241144251

"I am a vegetarian," said George Bernard Shaw, "because I don't like eating dead bodies." Foer's book — written after three years of research — takes a closer look at these bodies, and at the thoroughly cruel and inhumane factory-production system that brings America its sacred fowl and meat. In the history of extraordinary books that attempt to make us see the barbarism in the ritual of meat consumption, Foer's book ranks among the best. Foer has stated, in interviews, that he committed himself to the vegan lifestyle for the sake of his son. The book makes a strong case for the three pillars of vegetarian benefits: you will be healthier and feel better; you will affirm the rights of animals; and you will be helping the environment: meat farms require an unsustainable amount of energy and resources. (Foer says that if Americans would remove one serving of meat a week from their tables, it would be environmentally equivalent of taking 5 million cars off the road.) Visit the book's website and you will find an active question and answer forum, where many of the comments state: "I am now a vegetarian thanks to Jonathan Safran Foer."

Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness
by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
Revised and Expanded Edition
Paperback, 312 pages
ISBN: 978-0-14-311526-7

How is it possible -- without using force, malicious deception, or bribery -- to influence the behavior of others, and to improve the efficacy of our own judgment and decision-making? ... The answer can be simple: Nudge others, and nudge ourselves. Here is a book explaining scientific research that has practical applications far beyond the ivory towers. The chapters discuss strategies for making better choices in many areas, including economic investments, health and healthier eating, protecting the environment, family matters, and education. This paperback edition is expanded with an extra chapter of nudges. You will be hooked from the very start after reading about the smart urinals in Amsterdam airports. Nudge is an amusing and informative book filled with flashes of genius, ingenuity and sound advice. For more information, follow the book's blog at

The Rabbi's Cat 2
Story and drawings by Joann Sfar
Translated by Alexis Siegel
Hardcover, 130 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-42507-3

In the first volume of The Rabbi's Cat, Joann Sfar introduced us to the rabbi, his delightful daughter Zlabya, and a talking cat who loves her. In this second book in the series, we re-encounter the original players (although we see less of Zlabya) and meet exotic new ones. The rabbi's storytelling cousin yearns for everlasting fame. A Russian painter searches for a prejudice-free utopia. The painter falls in love with a voluptuous waitress who accompanies him on the dangerous quest. The stories, tales within tales, are always interesting; the colorful and expertly-drawn art is enchanting. Yet that could be said of many of the fine graphic novels published in this blossoming genre. What distinguishes this book, and the first volume of The Rabbi's Cat, is the characters -- who are many-dimensional -- and the dialogue, which is rich with insights and memorable lines.

I was surprised to see this extraordinary book for sale on the bargain websites; and astounded that (unlike the first volume) a paperback edition never came to print. Because here we have "literature", a modern classic, written for everyone and for all ages, earthy and entertaining and instructive, like the classic novels we so admire, by Dickens and Burnett and Twain. This book, and works like it, could help to renew the art of reading. What good is all our fancy ebook reading devices, and our advanced technologies, and Franklin's ingenious gift -- the public libraries -- what good is all this opportunity if we ignore it? ... All the world's radiant wisdom instantaneously at our fingertips, is available to us, free or almost free, as long as we renew our love of reading, and cultivate the ability to discern the genuine novels from the ordinary ones.

The Art of Conversation
A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure
by Catherine Blyth
Paperback, 304 pages, $ 15
Available December 29, 2009
(hardcover and ebook editions available now)

Like Michel Montaigne and Theodore Zeldin, Catherine Blyth believes in the timeless value of good conversation. At the end of The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of A Neglected Pleasure, Blyth writes:

"Conversation's finer points may be lost without our world tottering. Still, as communication, it is unimprovable. Of all arts the oldest and most captivating, it is also the easiest, free to all. As prices soar and time shrinks, and space compacts, it is one luxury that costs nothing. Protect it, prioritize it, and reap the wealth of a companionable, convivial life. Let conversation bring you the world."

Blyth's book is filled with humorous anecdotes, historical snippets, wise musings, and practical advice. Advice about many topics including how to begin a conversation, what to talk about, humor, how to tell (detect) a lie; the language of love; flattery; ending the chat. In explaining how not to be bore, Blyth offers the "Shut-up Test":
Imagine you're soft-boiling a modest egg,
Have you talked more than three minutes?
This better be a great dinosaur egg of a fascinating topic.
Stick to the point. If they want more, they'll ask.
Written with charming style, and always entertaining, Blyth's book artfully blends the theory and the practice about how to effectively and enjoyably converse.
Read the full essay at Epublishers Weekly:
Can We Save the Dying Art of Conversation?

Ordinary Genius
A Guide for the Poet Within
by Kim Addonizio
Paperback, 311 pages
ISBN: 978-0-393-33416-6

What is poetry? My first glimpse of the answer came in high school, when a substitute teacher arrived in English class. Around the school she had been called "Lincoln's Legbone", for she was hardly five feet tall, and looked as if she had been born four score and seven years ago. As she entered the class the typical substitute teacher shenanigans ensued: shouting, laughing, and paper airplanes careening in all directions. But soon after LL stood up on the desk and began reciting Whitman's tragic poem ("When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd") silence and order conquered chaos. Some of us grasped that poetry -- genuine poetry -- was about one's deepest personal experiences. Ala the statement by Arthur Symons: "Art begins when a man wishes to immortalize the most vivid moment he has ever lived." But it's a long long way from "Roses are red, violets are blue" to giving succinct expression to the genius we have within. Kim Addonizio's book -- comprising clear explanations, writing exercises, and exemplary poems -- is an excellent guide for understanding how great poetry moves us, and how to write our own poems from the heart.

Lucifer at the Starlite
poems by Kim Addonizio
Hardcover, 89 pages
ISBN: 978-0-393-06852-8

Kim Addonizio's new book of poems begins with two quotations, one from Virgil's Aeneid ("Each of us must suffer his own demanding ghost.") and one from Dante's Inferno ("lo venni in luogo d'ogni luce muto"), which means, roughly: I came into a place where light was all silent. The book might be seen as a guided tour of the modern hells of Death (our failure to appreciate it), and Love (our failure to realize it). There are also a few laugh-out-loud pieces including "You" and "Forms of Love"; and some hilarious stings about the denseness of the male species -- which made me hope that Ms. Addonizio has found a few good men among my brute and mindless brethren. For me, the book was strange because I do not see our world through such a bleak lens. My favorite artists are not blind to the world's injustices and idiocies, yet also find miracles in mice, heavens in wildflowers, infinite worlds in a grain of sand. Nevertheless, I had to admire these poems for their raw honesty, their memorable images, the inventiveness of their language, and the Gorkian glimpses into despairing lives and souls. The great gift of this little book is that it is interesting without being obscure: the poems speak not only to the scholars, but to everyperson on the street. The book's cover shows a burnt and smokeless match stick; I would have chosen a match burning with a sharp bright flame.

Going Rouge
Sarah Palin An American Nightmare
Edited by Richard Kim and Betsy Reed
Paperback (240 pages) and Ebook
ISBN: 978-0-9842950-0-5

This an anthology of essays is perhaps the only remedy for liberals who are not amused by the ceaselessly inane media coverage of America's most famous moose hunter. Someone had the splendid idea of satirizing Sarah Palin's autobiography; the result is a very funny book cover that masks a very serious book. There are more than 50 pieces here, by women and men who are concerned that the real Palin is revealed. This is a book we need in order to remind us that America dodged a nuclear torpedo in the 2008 elections; and to warn us that we must be vigilant again in 2012.

You can watch something close to a book trailer here: .

Reed and Richard Kim have written a captivating introduction: you can read that in its entirety here: ; and read this excerpt now:
"As it turned out, at the ballot box, most Americans proved they were able to see through the glossy packaging and peg Palin for what she was: a Christian fundamentalist opposed to the teaching of honest sex education in schools and in favor of teaching creationism alongside evolution, a climate-change-denier and government-basher alarmingly ignorant of the world and totally unprepared to be president. Women voted overwhelmingly for Obama--56 percent to 43 percent for McCain/Palin--while men were about evenly split. Exit surveys showed that Palin was a drag on the Republican ticket.
But as we’ve seen, this is a woman with at least nine lives. By our count, having crashed and burned in Election 2008 and resigned ignominiously as governor, she’s still got seven left."

Is this too cruel, or is this the honesty demanded of professional journalism? ... All's fair in literature, politics, and love.


Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection

by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick

Paperback 317 pages, $ $ 17.95

ISBN: 978-0-393-33528-6

Loneliness, like sleep shortages, impacts not only our emotions, but our physical health and well-being. More than 60 million Americans suffer seriously from this epidemic condition. In addition to a thorough and well-documented diagnosis, the book provides solutions that are within the reach of almost everyone.

I never imagined that a book about loneliness could be so entertaining: almost like the good cheer of the famous foot-stomping folk song, "The Ship Titanic". These pages contain many bursts of humor, and many memorable passages. It will be a long time before I forget the astounding saga of Phineas Gage; even longer before I forget the book's description about how a female chimp (page 211) ingeniously made peace between two belligerent males.

The book proposes that there are three keys to happiness: Social connections; Household income; and Age. Surprisingly -- and this may be the most controversial of the book's claims, -- "people get happier as they grow older."

Maximizing genuine relationships, while minimizing conflicts, is a strategy for personal and professional success. What is the cure for loneliness? ... Develop strong social connections.

The book Loneliness by Cacioppo and Patrick, is filled with such a superabundance of subtle humor, excellent scholarship, and practical advice, it stands alone as one of the most valuable books in print about its all-important theme.

For more information, visit the book's companion website: Science of Loneliness.

See also the full review at Epublishers Weekly:

The Solomon Scandals
a novel by David Rothman
Paperback, 252 pages, $ 16.95
Ebook: $ 5.95
ISBN: 978-1-60619-042-5

Just for fun, go to Google and type into the search box: "scandals Washington D.C." In a fraction of one second, more than 3.7 million results appear. Whereas other East Coast cities are notorious for a unique genre of scandal -- Boston for stranglers, New York for Wall Street, and Philadelphia (the City of Muggerly Love) for mundane street crime -- Washington D.C. is unique for the variety, inventiveness, and chutzpah of its offenses. The city ennobled by George Washington, Thom Jefferson and Abe Lincoln has a checkered past encompassing Watergate, the Plame outing, missing persons, missing emails, briberies, conspiracies, frauds, tax evasions, spying, lying, and the D.C. Madam, whose client list included more than 10,000 customers.

David Rothman's new novel, The Solomon Scandals, depicts a Washington D.C. tainted with corruption on a grand scale. There's no small stuff sweated here: these are Madoffian white-collar crimes that pay splendidly, and involve some of the city's most respected kingpins. The novel tells the story of a ballsy Jewish reporter, Jonathan Stone, who investigates a rich, powerful pillar of the Jewish community, Seymour Solomon. Stone's efforts are hindered by an ethically-challenged editor hoping to hush the inconvenient truths; and helped by a grad student who shares her bathtub and her bed. Politicians are exposed and the media skewered in this comic-tragic tale of Washington D.C. laid bare.

Three things about this novel impressed me. Real settings (D.C. by someone who knows it intimately), and real events -- for example, the collapse of the Ronan Point housing project -- are skillfully interweaved with the fictional characters and plot. The book's women are especially likable: they radiate that screwball-comedy pizzazz ala Roz Russell's Hildy Johnson in the film His Girl Friday. And humor: though the theme could hardly be more serious -- and the book's conclusion comes as a sad but inevitable shock -- this is often a subtly funny book.

Read some sample chapters at

Read the full review at Epublishers Weekly:

Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy
by Lawrence Lessig
Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN: 978-1408113479

Lawrence Lessig's book explains why and how we need to change our current copyright laws. Lessig is a law professor, and the founder of Stanford's Center for Internet and Society. You can buy the book in paperback; and/or you can download a free PDF ebook. You can also listen to a 38-minute interview with Lessig on NPR. A summary of the book is given at the beginning of the NPR interview:

"Our copyright laws must be updated to fit the digital reality we live in. Or else, teenagers will be seen as criminals, and forms of creative expression will be trampled by outdated copyright laws."

Lessig discusses many aspects of copyrights, music piracy, and the decline of newspapers. He says that newspapers lost an enormous amount of revenue due to Craigslist. Lessig's number one news source, he says, is Google News, where he can read many different reports about the same story.

Download and read the ebook, free, from Bloomsbury Academic:

In The Studio With Michael Jackson
by Bruce Swedien
Foreword by Quincy Jones
Paperback, 191 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4234-6495-2

Shocked by Michael Jackson's death, the media focused on the troubled aspects of Jackson's life; this book portrays Jackson's warmth as a human being and his genius as a musical artist. It contains stories and anecdotes about Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Bruce Swedien and some of their successful collaborations, including The Wiz, Off the Wall and Thriller. The book has more than 100 photographs (15 in color), some of people, and others of the recording equipment used to produce Swedien's finest works. In addition to the telling personal glimpses, this book contains a wealth of practical information about how to record sound. Swedien writes: "In choosing a microphone and recording technique for a solo or lead vocal in a pop or rock vocal recording, the most important thing to consider is the vocal timbre of the artist." This kind of information, from one of the very best in the business, is typical of Swedien's useful and savvy advice.

Geniuses of the American Musical Theatre
The Composers and Lyricists
by Herbert H. Keyser
Hardcover, 305 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4234-6275-0

This big, beautiful book, filled with stunning photos, illuminates the lives and works of America's finest songwriters. Each biographical sketch is expertly written, and describes the personal and creative struggles of the women and men behind our classic songs and shows. More than a reference book, this is a pure joy to read. Included are portraits of Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Hoagy Carmichael, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Howard Dietz, Edward "Duke" Ellington, Dorothy Fields, George Gershwin, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, Jerry Herman, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Jerome Kern, Alan Jay Lerner, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, Stephen Sondheim, Charles Strouse, Jyle Styne, Thomas "Fats" Waller, Harry Warren, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kurt Weill, Meredith Wilson, and Vincent Youmans. For one author to research and then write all these biographies seems to be a near superhuman literary feat. Yet Keyser manages this work admirably, finding the essential and interesting aspects in the lives of each of the subjects portrayed.

For more information, visit the book's web site:

Learning Python, Fourth Edition
by Mark Lutz
Paperback, 1,160 pages
Ebook available in 3 formats: PDF, MOBI, EPUB
ISBN: 9780596158071

On the back cover of this book you'll see a line that displays the level of the book rated as "Introductory". And the author writes that no previous experience (with Python, or with programming) is needed to use this book. Furthermore, "... compared to other programming languages, the core Python language is remarkably easy to learn. In fact, you can expect to be coding significant Python programs in a matter of days (or perhaps just in hours, if you're already an experienced programmer)."

The book claims to be "Introductory", but by the time you complete its almost 1,200 pages, you will not be a beginner anymore.

The book is written for all the major platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac. The focus is on Python version 3.0 (which the author recommends), but there is ample material about version 2.6, for those Python users who need to work with that earlier version.

Quizzes are provided at the end of each chapter, and the quiz answers are smartly situated immediately after the questions. Exercises are given at the end of each section, with answers in the back of the book.

I found the book interesting reading, as well. There are comments about the great debate that compares the features of Python and the features of Perl. There's a lucid explanation about the difference between compiled languages (such as C and C++) and interpreted languages, such as Python. There is a list of common Python mistakes, and common beginner traps. And all the geeky jargon is well explained: I might have been intimidated by the term "modules", but not after the author tells us that "Modules are simply text files containing Python statements" -- and I'm not afraid of modules anymore.

I was in the middle of page 100 when I realized that I was reading a book about computer programming: everything to that point seemed so straightforward and easy to grasp. I said to myself: "This is not a typical programming book: it is better."

Read the full review at Epublishers Weekly, here:

Head First PHP & MySQL
by Lynn Beighley and Michael Morrison
Paperback, 774 pages
ISBN: 978-0-596-00630-3

Last year, when I reviewed another book in the fine Head First series, by Lynn Beighley, I wrote:

Now and then I discover a teacher or a leader who is truly inspired; a product that evokes creativity; or a book that conveys its subject with an approach that is thoroughly unique. Head First SQL is just that kind of book.

And how is this miracle of pedagogy accomplished? … The book is filled with illustrations, lots of white space, and eye-catching text. Humor and a light touch is rarely absent. Most importantly, the essential ideas are presented in small easy-to-grasp chunks, presented at just the right time.

Good writing never happens by accident. The book’s philosophy of “metacognition” (as the editors call it) is explained in the introduction. And the implementation of these subtle educational ideas is flawless. The book never leaves you wondering “what’s going on here?”. The book just works.
Fortunately, the very same praise applies to this book, Head First PHP and MySQL. PHP and MySQL are the foundations of every major blogging platform, and if you want to customize your blog (and of course, you should want to!), then this knowledge is indispensable. Here's a book that lets you learn at your own pace, and makes a difficult subject comprehensible and fun.

Statistics in a Nutshell
by Sarah Boslaugh and Paul Andrew Watters
Paperback, 452 pages
ISBN: 978-0-596-51049-7

Statistics are everywhere. In a recent football game where the Indianapolis Colts defeated the New England Patriots by one point, Patriots coach Bill Belichick gambled on fourth down. Needing only one yard for the first down, but deep in his own territory, he told his quarterback to go for it -- the attempt failed, the Colts took possession of the ball, and then quickly scored the winning TD. Defenders of the losing decision cited statistics, and a computer model named ZEUS, to claim that Belichick made the correct choice. In former times, you needed statistics for your school class or your work; now, in our era of unending information, a basic knowledge is required for Monday morning quarterbacks everywhere.

When I first spotted Statistics in a Nutshell in a bookstore, I wondered about the sub-title "A Desktop Quick Reference." This book can be used as a reference book; but it is also an extremely effective introduction to the baffling world of statistics. My book shelves contain more than 30 books about statistics, yet my doctorate-laden wife, who uses statistics every day at her work, found this volume especially clear and useful. To the question of "Why another book on this subject?", the authors answer:

"Our focus, throughout Statistics in a Nutshell is not on particular techniques, although many are taught within this work, but on statistical reasoning. you might say that our focus is not on doing statistics, but on thinking statistically. What does that mean? Several things are necessary in order to be able to focus on the process of thinking with numbers. More particularly, we focus on thinking about data, and using statistics to aid in that process."

If could I take one book only about statistics to a desert island, this book would be the one.

Ebooks Without DRM

The year 2009 proved to be the year of the ebook. Ebooks are poised for tremendous growth in 2010. Unfortunately, we are now experiencing not only format wars (which may be conquered by the excellent format called EPUB), but a great wall dividing the ebook industry. This is the problem of Digital Rights Management. DRM, which comes in a number of varieties, is a technology that a publisher can apply to ebooks that attempts to protect the ebook from piracy or theft. Unfortunately, DRM adds cost to the ebook production; and often restricts not only ebook sharing, but other features that one would expect from ebooks: to process text, to read aloud, to read on all platforms and devices, and more.

You can find free ebooks, without DRM, from many sources, including Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, Google Books (many but not all here are free),, and

Some publishers who sell ebooks without DRM are listed on Liza Daly's page:

For more information, see my article about DRM:

To keep up with the latest about DRM and ebooks, visit, and the forums.

— Michael Pastore