What We Are Reading Today: Riverman by Ben McGrath

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Updated 06 May 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Riverman by Ben McGrath

This book contains everything: Adventure, mystery, travelogue, and unforgettable characters.

Ben McGrath’s first book elegantly relates the true story of Dick Conant, a troubled and charismatic man who disappeared on a long-distance canoe trip from New York to Florida.

Riverman “is a portrait of an America we rarely see: a nation of unconventional characters, small river towns, and long-forgotten waterways,” said a review on Goodreads.com.

For decades, Conant paddled the rivers of America, covering the Mississippi, Yellowstone, Ohio, Hudson, as well as innumerable smaller tributaries.

These solo excursions were epic feats of planning, perseverance, and physical courage.

At the same time, Conant collected people wherever he went, creating a vast network of friends and acquaintances who would forever remember this brilliant and charming man even after a single meeting.

Conant was fortunate to experience the benefits — and the occasional hardships — of being immersed in both worlds.

“It is our great fortune that his story landed in the hands of someone who cared to tell his story well,” said the review.

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

Updated 12 August 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

Authors: Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins

In Salmon Wars, investigative journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins bring readers to massive ocean feedlots where millions of salmon are crammed into parasite-plagued cages and fed a chemical-laced diet.
The authors reveal the conditions inside hatcheries, and at the farms that threaten our fragile coasts. They draw colorful portraits of characters, such as the big salmon farmer who poisoned his own backyard and the American researcher driven out of Norway for raising the alarm about dangerous contaminants in the fish.
Frantz and Collins document how the industrialization of salmon threatens this keystone species, and they show how it doesn’t need to be this way.

What We Are Reading Today: African Democracy and Development

Updated 02 August 2022

What We Are Reading Today: African Democracy and Development

Authors: Cassandra R. Veney and Dick Simpson

Various African nations have undergone conflict situations since they gained their independence. This book focuses on particular countries that have faced conflict (civil wars and genocide) and are now in the process of rebuilding their political, economic, social, and educational institutions.

The countries that are addressed in the book include: Rwanda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In addition, there is a chapter that addresses the role of the African Diaspora in conflict and post-conflict countries that include Eritrea, Liberia, and Somalia. The book includes an examination of the various actors who are involved in post-conflict rebuilding and reconstruction that involves internal and external participants. For example, it is clear that the internal actors involve Africans themselves as ordinary citizens, members of local and national governments, and members of non-governmental organizations. This allows the reader to understand the agency and empowerment of Africans in post-conflict reconstruction, according to a review on goodreads.com.

What We Are Reading Today: Forgotten Continent by Michael Reid

Updated 01 August 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Forgotten Continent by Michael Reid

Latin America has often been condemned to failure. Neither poor enough to evoke Africa’s moral crusade, nor as explosively booming as China, it has largely been overlooked by the West. Yet this vast continent, home to half a billion people, the world’s largest reserves of arable land, and 8.5 percent of global oil, is busily transforming its political and economic landscape.

This book argues that Latin America’s efforts to build fairer and more prosperous societies make it one of the world’s most vigorous laboratories for capitalist democracy, according to a review on goodreads.com.

In many countries —including Brazil, Chile and Mexico — democratic leaders are laying the foundations for faster economic growth and more inclusive politics, as well as tackling deep-rooted problems of poverty, inequality, and social injustice. They face a new challenge.

Failure will increase the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants to the US and Europe, jeopardize stability in a region rich in oil and other strategic commodities, and threaten some of the world’s most majestic natural environments.


What We Are Reading Today: The Mind of a Bee by Lars Chittka

Updated 27 July 2022

What We Are Reading Today: The Mind of a Bee by Lars Chittka

Most of us are aware of the hive mind—the power of bees as an amazing collective. But do we know how uniquely intelligent bees are as individuals?

In The Mind of a Bee, Lars Chittka draws from decades of research, including his own pioneering work, to argue that bees have remarkable cognitive abilities.

He shows that they are profoundly smart, have distinct personalities, can recognize flowers and human faces, exhibit basic emotions, count, use simple tools, solve problems, and learn by observing others. They may even possess consciousness.


What We Are Reading Today: Agent Josephine by Damien Lewis

Updated 22 July 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Agent Josephine by Damien Lewis

This is a remarkable story about the exploits and dangers of Josephine Baker as a secret agent during the Second World War. Prior to World War II, Baker was a music-hall diva renowned for her singing and dancing and her beauty.

She was the highest-paid female performer in Europe.

When the Nazis seized her adopted city, Paris, she was banned from the stage.

In Agent Josephine, bestselling author Damien Lewis uncovers this little-known history of the singer’s life. 

Drawing on a plethora of new historical material and rigorous research, including previously undisclosed letters and journals, Lewis upends the conventional story of Baker, explaining why she fully deserves her unique place in the French Pantheon.

During the war years, as a member of the French Nurse paratroopers — a cover for her spying work — Baker participated in numerous clandestine activities and emerged as a formidable spy.

In turn, she was a hero of the three countries in whose name she served—the US, France, and Britain. 

Baker “was a very interesting woman who did a lot with her life and it makes for a long, but informational read,” said a review in goodreads.com.