55. Inside Syria, by Reese Erlich. Anyone wanting a detailed primer on the history of Syria (which explains the mess over there now) should seriously consider reading this book. Erlich, a longtime journalist who has visited the country on numerous occasions over several decades, gives a multifaceted account of Syria's roots, particularly the time between World War I to present day. This probably hit the press just before ISIS rose to power. There's a lot of material; I generally read about half a chapter a day to let it sink in. Erlich includes his interviews with the people in Syria, from ordinary citizens to members of the many rebel factions to government officials. There are chapters devoted to the power play and alliances between Syria, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Russia and other countries. Also included is a timeline, plus a Whos-Who, to help readers keep track of the many factions and people involved in this bloody conflict. It gives yet another illustration how meddling by the United States and Europe have had far-reaching repercussions.
56. Readicide, by Kelly Gallagher. This should be required reading by anyone involved in education - especially policy makers. Gallagher's book is a quick read and very focused on the schools. From the beginning, the author acknowledges that the problem of "readicide" has several facets but his book centers on the problem with the schools and how the problems can be resolved. Readicide (as I'm sure people can figure out) is the killing of the love of reading. This slaughter is not intended (at least, the optimist in me hopes it is not), but is the result of a curriculum that focuses heavily on passing tests. I'm sure teachers who have read this were cheering in several places- but his book is preaching to the choir when it comes to the dedicated educators. He brings up many points I've heard before, but provides many concrete examples of why today's education policies are so flawed, and on so many levels. I can only hope his message gets to the right ears, or I truly fear for the future.
57. Dr. Mutter's Marvels, by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. Anyone wishing to learn more about early medicine really needs to read this book. It was just fascinating, from beginning to end. Aptowicz gives us a look at one of the pioneers of plastic surgery, Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter. He performed delicate and dangerous operations without anesthesia, which included repairing cleft palates and performing skin grafts on burn victims (which he perfected). One procedure, taking a flap of skin from an amputation to seal the opening -- is still done today and called The Mutter Flap. Mutter also started using anesthesia on a regular -and successful- basis with his patients, and championed its use. It seems hard to believe today, but he faced an uphill battle from many doctors on the issue. Many of his contemporaries viewed anesthesia with skepticism due to the uneven results and the difficulties with measuring the amounts needed. Mutter also was known for being tidy, insisting on cleanliness even before germ theory was an accepted fact. He also was a respected and beloved teacher, and several of his students went on to make their own mark in history. There's an extensive museum in Philadelphia which houses Mutter's vast collection of oddities, specimens and casts. I really want to visit that museum, especially after reading this.
58. Bloodfire Quest, by Terry Brooks. The second book in The Dark Legacy of Shannara series. This was a great follow-up to the first book. There was one twist I saw coming since book 1, but there were a couple of developments that caught me by surprise. Like most trilogies, this has a few ongoing threads. In one thread, you have Khyber Elessedil and Redden, who have all but abandoned the quest for the Elfstones and are desperately trying to escape the Straken Lord after the all but abandoned search for the legendary Elfstones goes horribly wrong. In another story, Arlingfant and Aphenglow are on a mission to find a way to reseal the Forbidding after the Ellcrys- a magical tree that blocks the demons from entering the Four Lands- tells Arling that it is dying. The third main story concerns Railing, the twin brother of Redden, who is trying to find a way to rescue his brother. This is a fast read and hard to put down. A couple elements seemed a bit Deus Ex Machina, but all in all I enjoyed it. My one big concern is how the heck is Brooks going to wrap everything up in just one more book? There's a lot unresolved by the second book's end.
59. Cleveland TV Tales, by Mike and Janice Olszewski. Television enthusiasts and local history buffs will enjoy this book, which is full of stories and anecdotes from the early days of television. A lot of the personalities and shows were before my time, but I gave this book to my parents as a Christmas gift. For the most part I liked this book; it's a quick read, with a lively narration style. I do wish some things had been fleshed out. People from my parents generation and older will probably be able to connect the dots but I was left scratching my head over some things (for example, the book describes Dottie West, a Cleveland housewife turned Country singer and star "with a tragic past." So... what was tragic about her past? (I looked it up- abuse as a child and a lot of money problems as an adult, from what I found). But there are many things to enjoy. The chapter on Linn Sheldon (best known for his character of Barnaby) was my favorite. There were a couple times I had to put down the book I was laughing so hard, such as one tale where someone off the street walked right into the studio- while they were recording- to ask Sheldon for directions to the restroom (this was in the days before the doors were closed and locked). Also loved the chapters on feisty television personality Dorothy Fuldheim and horror host Ghoulardi. One thing I didn't realize was that the show Gilligan's Island had two actors with Cleveland connections, one of the many bits of trivia shared.
60. Charlie the Flatulent Christmas Angel and Other Poetic Stories of Joy
by Steve Case, with illustrations by Brian Scoop Diehl. I can see parents cringing a bit at the title of the book (while their kids snicker in glee)- but there should be no qualms in purchasing this book for kids (and kids at heart- I got this for my dad for Christmas.) It's very light-hearted and fun. The poems here are very sweet, like Charlie's toots, with a good moral message and just a hint of mischief. Also, I never knew there were so many words for "fart" - which, by the way, is never used. The illustrations are well done, too, adding to the whimsy and amusement.
Currently reading: Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style, by the Smithsonian.