39. Just My Type, by Simon Garfield. You would think a book on fonts and typeface would be as interesting as a novel on watching grass grow, or a treatise on the qualities of paint drying. This book shows that with the right approach and in the right hands, any topic can be made interesting. It probably helps that with my job, where I do a lot of page layout and graphic design, coupled with having a mother who is a longtime calligrapher, that I would find this topic of interest. Still, I think anyone who has ever used a computer and wondered at all the fonts may find the history behind the font's creators interesting. In addition, the book goes over what fonts seem to work best and where, why some fonts work better for some types of signs, and the controversy surrounding Comic Sans. It's fascinating to me how intent and passionate type designers can get over various typefaces. There are several fascinating, and even a couple sordid, tales regarding a few of the fonts we use and the people behind them, such as Eric Gill (of Gill Sans fame). This is a good book for those who work in design or just like odd, random history.
40. The Family That Couldn't Sleep, by D.T. Max. This is a fascinating book on the history and types of prion diseases, a perplexing and frightening malady that only in the past few decades humanity has really begun to understand. Prion diseases include "mad cow," scrapie, kuru, fatal familial insomnia (where the book takes its name), chronic wasting disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Each of these diseases has its distinctions but all leave a similar mark: a victim -- whether it be a cow, sheep, human or deer -- experiences sleeplessness, hallucinations and aggressive behavior before falling into a coma and expiring. An autopsy of the brain shows holes in the grey matter as well as a spongy consistency. Prion diseases defy what we know about disease. Instead of a bacteria, a living agent that can be killed, or a virus, with a genetic makeup that can be destroyed, prions are proteins that have malformed and cause surrounding proteins to also become deformed. Prions are extremely difficult to destroy since they technically aren't living matter. Prion disease also can be inherited, infectious or sporadic (although the final category is under considerable debate; there is a school of thought that sporadic cases are only cases where the contagion can't be traced. One of the more memorable observations is that "the absence of evidence isn't the evidence of absence.") The book's chapters alternate between the sad story of a family in Venice -- one of roughly forty families worldwide who suffer from fatal familial insomnia, which generally strikes when someone is in their forties or fifties and kills quickly -- and information on infectious prion diseases such as kuru, scrapie and "mad cow," the latter to which came about due to the unintended consequences of human tinkering with biology. There's a lot of science, but the book handles it with easy-to-follow language. Even more interesting are the stories of the scientists, researchers and the history behind the prion diseases. This was a fascinating- if chilling- read.
Currently reading: Wet Work, by Les Roberts. Also just ordered several books from the library.