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Three Rs for the New Year

January is the time when many of us like to make New Year's resolutions. If books about change are in your wheelhouse -- whether they involve revitalization, reflection, or redemption -- MI Library has a title list to address those three Rs for 2021.

It's quite possible these inspiring books could change your life, too.

Becoming by Michelle Obama - While this isn't exactly a "rags to riches" story, Michelle Obama's memoir of how a girl from the south side of Chicago became America's First Lady while raising a young family during her White House years is truly an amazing story. Brimming with wit and sincerity, the former presidential spouse shares her experience of what it's really like to have the nation watching your every move. Also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook, read by Ms. Obama herself, this memoir is worthy of a second read. So if you have read the book, it's a treat to listen as Michelle delivers a graceful rendering of her own written words. 

Better Than Before: mastering the habits of our everyday lives by Gretchen Rubin - Full of  insight and practical tips to help you procrastinate and stress less, "The Happiness Project" author's 2015 book examines how understanding habits can make change possible. At the very least, Rubin's easy humor will open your eyes to new possibilities and plant a seed for self-improvement. 

Celebrations by Maya Angelou - A second pandemic year is certainly reason enough to seek hope and peace. Angelou's graceful, eloquent poems, including "On the Pulse of Morning," read at President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration and "A Brave and Startling Truth," which marked the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, will revitalize your spirit and restore optimism for the coming year. 

Goodbye Things: the new Japanese minimalism by Fumio Sasaki - Getting rid of things we don't absolutely need isn't for everyone but devotees of "less is more" swear by the sense of freedom decluttering brings. Susaki's humble vision of true happiness just might open your eyes to minimalism's potential. 

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey - This Academy Award-winning actor's unconventional memoir is an appealing portrayal of McConaughey at 50, taking stock of his life and marveling at all the ways life's "yellow and red lights" will eventually turn into green lights. Read by the author, McConaughey's easy, laconic voice carries the listener along with his accomplished storyteller's charm. 

Hope in the Dark: untold stories, wild possibilities by Rebecca Solnit - This second edition of Solnit's first book, written post-9/11, still resonates today in the challenging COVID-19 era. A lifelong activist, Solnit makes a compelling and articulate case for how hope and action feed one another. Solnit's enlightening and encouraging writing style will bolster flagging hopes for social justice. Readers will come away believing the world may indeed become a better place. 

I Am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai - The youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai has been fighting for girls' education since she was an adolescent. In 2012, she survived the Pakistani Taliban's assassination attempt and has since gone on to become a leader for female education. This accomplished young woman and her amazing story will renew your hope in the next generation's ability to change the world. 

Just Mercy: a story of justice and redemption by Bryan Stevenson - Highly recommended reading for these turbulent times, Stevenson's book will help readers understand how unfairness in the justice system continues to infect America and penalize the poor. A memoir to inform, enlighten and inspire the country to improve a system that fails marginalized people who cannot pay for proper legal representation, this book will give you hope for a better future. Also available as an eBook and as an eAudiobook. In 2019, this title was adapted into a film by the same name starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan. 

The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: live well by throwing away less by Amy Korst - What better way to start the new year than by reducing your carbon footprint. Korst, a teacher and blogger who launched www.greengarbageproject.com, has been featured on CNN and in USA Today for her ideas on recycling and reducing trash. Practical and environmentally sound, this is a read to make you feel like a good steward of the earth. 


Posted on Jan. 21, 2021 by Celeste Steward

Your Next Great Read

Often finishing a beloved book is a bittersweet experience. How can one possibly find another title equally engaging? With the scarcity of open bookstores and recent library closures, it's a challenge to browse and ponder which books to read. There is always Amazon, which directs readers to related titles with its "customers who viewed this item also viewed" and "frequently bought together" capabilities, but discerning readers may crave a curated and more personalized experience.

Fortunately, there are many places to turn for book recommendations on the Internet. Here are a few of Mechanics' Institute Library's favorite user-friendly websites to help you find your next great read. While there are many other websites offering book recommendations, this list will serve as a basis for fine-tuning and personalizing your reading experience. 

Remember, if you can't locate a desired title in our catalog, please let us know using the online suggestion form on our website. We can't promise to purchase everything, but we'll consider each title carefully based on MI's readership.

Goodreads - If you're an avid reader, you probably already know about this site. Goodreads is a reader's advisory paradise as well as an online community for readers. You'll find a wide variety of recommended genre and subject book lists here. You'll also be able to scan other users' reading lists, share your own reading lists, create a wishlist, and catalog, rate, and review books you've read. You may join an established book group, create a group with friends, or get advice on how to run a book group. Now owned by Amazon, Goodreads' powerful search capabilities yield personalized suggestions that more closely align your literary tastes. The site is searchable without an account but signing up is free and gives you more privileges such as adding friends, creating lists, and participating in book discussions.

LibraryThing - While this site is not quite as user-friendly as Goodreads, it does give you the ability to create and track a library-quality catalog of your media -- books, movies and music -- you own, have read or want to read. LT's social media capabilities allow you to tag, rate and review and connect with other people based on the books they share. Accounts are free and allow you to follow friends and other users as well as other libraries. You will discover book recommendations from LT and other users. You can also connect with local libraries and bookstores and find book events in your area. If you peruse LT's privacy statement, it does not appear to be actively harvesting and sharing your data for commercial purposes. 

What Should I Read Next? - This site allows you to create booklists, keep track of books you've read and want to read, and get recommendations based on your reading tastes. If you enter an email address, your list of favorites will be remembered the next time you visit. Unlike Amazon, WSIRN's recommendations are based on collective taste rather than buying patterns. As an Amazon affiliate, WSIRN links to Amazon for title information and it earns money from qualifying purchases but that is not its main goal. 

Library Reads - If you're looking for a public library staff channel regarding books, LR offers a nationwide monthly "staff picks" list for adult fiction and nonfiction. Since LR draws upon nationwide public library staff recommendations, you'll get a broad, inclusive list of titles that may not be an exact duplicate of bestseller lists. Since LR is run by librarians and its mission is to merely connect books and readers, you'll find both reviews of bestselling titles and lesser known titles that may be your next great read. What's lovely about LR is that the site is devoid of ads and you can search without entering any personal information.

Posted on Jan. 11, 2021 by Celeste Steward

January Reading Forecast

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, many have turned to books for safe, stay-at-home entertainment and enjoyment. Your Mechanics' Institute membership makes it easier than ever to procure a mile-high stack of books or pack your digital shelf with eAudiobooks or eBooks. As always, reading continues to sustain and nourish us through these uncertain times.

So what film and television adaptations can we look forward to in 2021? Plenty. Producers have been busy harvesting literature and developing scripts for adaptations. For us, that means a fresh slate of new titles and a host of book-based binge watching to look forward to.

If you love reading it forward as much as we do, MI Library has all these titles and more, available for check out through its "To Go" service

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot - First published in 1970, James Herriot's series of books about a country veterinarian has had several film and television adaptations, including a 1975 film All Creatures Great and Small and a TV series by the same name. You may want to re-read Herriot's classic story, as Masterpiece begins airing an all-new seven-part series based on Herriot's books this month.

Cherry by Nico Walker - This novel garnered much buzz as the author was incarcerated at the time of its 2018 publishing. The story follows an unnamed narrator as a college student, a soldier during the Iraq war, and as a drug addict and bank robber after his return from the war during the midst of the American opioid epidemic. The film is scheduled to release in theaters in late February, then set to stream on Apple TV in March. 

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey - Healey's 2014 story follows an elderly woman descending into dementia who becomes convinced her best friend is missing. Glenda Jackson stars in the film which aired in the United Kingdom in 2019. This month, PBS Masterpiece will stream it for viewers in the United States. 

French Exit by Patrick DeWitt - Sony Pictures' film adaptation of DeWitt's 2018 darkly comic novel about a wealthy widow and her adult son who flee New York for Paris in the wake of scandal and disintegration is scheduled for release in theaters next month. DeWitt, a Canadian author, also wrote the screenplay for the 2020 film. 

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness - Lionsgate will release a film adaptation entitled Chaos Walking this March. Set in a dystopian world where there are no women, Ness' 2018 sci-fi novel is a coming-of-age story about a boy who can hear others' thoughts in a stream of images, words and sounds. A British-American author, Ness is best known for his young adult novels, including the Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls

The Long Song by Andrea Levy -  Levy's 2010 novel about July, a young slave on a British-ruled sugar plantation in Jamaica during the early 1800s airs as a three-part series on Masterpiece this month. Levy was born in London to Jamaican parents. She passed away in February 2019 and leaves a legacy of five novels, each exploring -- from different perspectives -- the problems faced by black, British-born children of Jamaican emigrants. 

News of the World by Paulette Giles - A Civil War veteran, Captain Kidd agrees to deliver a 10-year-old girl, captured by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle against her will. Over the long journey, the captain realizes he must hand the girl over to a couple who sees her as an unwanted burden. The film, starring Tom Hanks, is expected to stream on Netflix at an unspecified date in 2021.

Without Remorse by Tom Clancy - First in the John Clark series, Clancy's 1993 novel serves as an origin story for the Navy SEAL Vietnam veteran character. The film, starring Michael B. Jordan has had a bumpy ride amidst pandemic scheduling. However, it is expected to be released in February but this too may change. 


Posted on Jan. 5, 2021 by Celeste Steward

Northern Exposure

The winter solstice has arrived, and the night sky beckons. Cold, clear evenings bode well for constellation viewing -- Canis Major, Canis Minor, Gemini, Orion, and many more. In addition to the star-studded canopy, Jupiter and Saturn will pass each other closely this week in an especially vibrant display, viewable about an hour after sunset. This rare planetary conjunction hasn't happened since medieval times. 

If you're like many skywatchers, perhaps you also pine for a Northern Lights experience. You're not alone. The best locations to view the Aurora Borealis are Scandinavia, Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, and the Arctic circle. Many have gone in search of this unpredictable phenomenon. But travel is not appropriate now. So, why not chart an imaginary course to the far north with a seasonal booklist created by MI Library staff?

The following titles are available for checkout through either "To Go" pickup service or to download from MI Library's eResource database.


The Absolution  by Yrsa Sigurdardottir - A teenager is found murdered and child psychologist Freyja is brought in to lead the investigation. An Icelandic crime thriller by the "Queen of Nordic Noir."

The Collector of Lost Things by Jeremy Page - In 1845, a young researcher is paid to join an Arctic expedition to find the remains of an extinct great auk, a large, flightless bird of mythical status and is trapped on a hunting ship where the crew and passengers are not what they appear to be. 

The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan - A scientific expedition team discovers the frozen body of a man last seen in 1906, buried deep in the Arctic ice. He is brought back to the lab and reanimated with unexpected results. 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah - It is 1974, and a former Vietnam POW moves his family to Alaska in search of a better future. Completely unprepared for the long, cold winters, the family struggles to survive. Also available as an eBook.

Hold the Dark by William Giraldi - At the start of another pitiless winter in the isolated Alaskan village of Keelut, children have begun to fall prey to the wolves there. One family, whose 6-year old child has gone missing, consults nature writer and wolf expert Russell Core to investigate. 

The North Water by Ian McGuire - The Volunteer, a nineteenth-century Yorkshire whaling ship becomes the stage for a confrontation between brutal harpooner Henry Drax and the ship's medic, ex-army surgeon Patrick Sumner, during a violent, ill-fated voyage to the Arctic.

The Sacrament by Olaf Olaffson - A haunting, vivid tale of a mysterious death and child abuse scandal set in an Icelandic Catholic school. 

The Sea Wolf by Jack London - Humphrey Van Weyden is thrown overboard while unsuccessfully investigating a smuggling ring. The ship's captain, Wolf Larsen, puts Humphrey through a series of violent tests, but nothing can prepare him for the final confrontation with Larsen himself. 

The Terror by Dan Simmons - Horror novel based on an ill-fated 19th-century polar expedition. The story is told through the eyes of several characters, including the expedition's leader, the co-commander and the ship's surgeon. Simmons 2007 novel was adapted into a TV series in 2019. 

Typhoon by Robin White - An Arctic-set techno-thriller in which a cold war breaks out when two submarines, one U.S. and one Russian take each other on. 

White Heat by M.J. McGrath - McGraths first work of fiction follows the story of half-Inuit Arctic female guide Edie Kiglatuk, who teams up with a police sergeant during an unusual murder investigation. 


Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez - Much more than a travel book, Lopez' 1986 classic eloquently describes four years of wandering in the Arctic, from Baffin Island to the Bering Sea.

Arctic Obsession: the lure of the far north by Alexis Troubetzkoy - An epic history of the explorers and adventurers who risked -- and sometimes lost - their lives in the quest to conquer and claim the Arctic. 

Ghosts of Cape Sabine : the harrowing true story of the Greely expedition by Leonard F. Guttridge - Journal entries, letters, diaries, and other documentary material help reconstruct the experiences of the twenty-five men who attempted to establish a scientific base in the Arctic region of Lady Franklin Bay in July of 1881.

The Ice Museum by Joanna Kavenna - British journalist Kavenna searches for the lost world of of Thule in the northern landscape -- Norway, Shetland, Iceland, Estonia and others. 

In the Kingdom of Ice: the grand and terrible Polar voyage of the USS Jeanette by Hampton Sides - A spellbinding tale of heroism and survival in the most unforgiving territory on Earth. Also available as an eBook.

Northern Lights by Lucy Jago - The story of the Aurora Borealis, first explained by Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland. 

True North: Peary, Cook, and the race to the Pole by Bruce Henderson - The fascinating story of the friendship and rivalry between Robert Peary and Frederick Cook and the vitriolic feud surrounding the race to the North Pole. 

True North: travels in Arctic Europe by Gavin Francis - A blend of travel writing, history and mythology beginning in the Shetland Isles and continuing to the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, etc. and culminating in Lapland. 

Kanopy Viewing

Auroras - Light Shows on the Edge of Space - Investigate a stunning atmospheric phenomenon caused by events both inside the Earth and in outer space. Episode 33 of The World's Greatest Geological Wonders available on MI's streaming service.

Posted on Dec. 22, 2020 by Celeste Steward

Listen With Libby, the One-Tap Reading App

Starting Thursday, Dec. 17, MI members will notice a new and improved change in the eAudiobook listening experience. That's because the RB Digital platform is moving to OverDrive. What this means for you is that going forward, you will need to install and use Libby, OverDrive's app for downloading and listening to eAudiobooks instead of the RB Digital app. With Libby, you will also be able to listen to books on your web browser. What's more, MI's entire collection of eAudiobooks is moving to the Libby listening app.

Not to worry though, here are few things to remember as we improve your listening experience:

  • The books you have previously checked out on the RBDigital app will remain usable on RBDigital until the end of the loan. Users will not have to switch until they want to check out a different title.

  • Users have the option of abandoning a currently checked out title on RBDigital and checking it out again on OverDrive. The choice is optional and not essential.

  • Unlike RBDigital, the OverDrive website has a browser version to allow MI Library users who do not have mobile devices to be able to listen to the books using their desktop computer.

  • Holds placed in RBDigital must be requested again through OverDrive's Libby app.

  • The Libby app, created by OverDrive, is available for Android, IOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and Windows 10 devices.

  • Be patient, we are all learning about the new platform. It may be helpful to view a short, informative video to become better acquainted with Libby: https://resources.overdrive.com/library/how-to-videos/libby/#getting-started-with-libby-how-to-libby

  • You will need your MI Library card and an email address to place holds on Libby.

Getting Started With OverDrive's eAudiobook Collection

  1. If you listen to eAudiobooks through MI Library's website, simply install the LIbby app through your device's app store. 

  2. Open the app and find Mechanics' Institute Library. You can also search for the MI library by name, city or zip code. 

  3. Browse MI Library's collection and choose a title. When prompted, sign in with your library card number.

  4. Borrowed titles appear on your digital Shelf and download to the app automatically so you can listen to them offline (without wi-fi).

  5. From your Shelf, tap Start Listening to open a title.

  6. While Libby will guide you through the setup process and get you connected to MI LIbrary in just a few minutes, you can find a helpful video and more detailed information about using Libby here

  7. For more information and frequently asked questions about the RBDigital to OverDrive transition, click here


Posted on Dec. 17, 2020 by Celeste Steward

Home for the Holidays

Staying home for the holiday season offers a superb chance to catch up on that TBR (To Be Read) pile -- those books you've been wanting to read but can never find the time. The shorter days and chilly evenings are just right for curling up with a good book. Toss in a pandemic curfew, and you've got more reading time than ever before. 

If wintertime makes you feel bookish, we can help! Here is a list of upcoming book-based films and television series in development right now. Get ahead on reading those titles before they move to television and film. Check them out through MI Library'sTo Go service. 

The Book of Gutsy Women by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton - This mother-daughter team will host and produce a docu-series on Apple TV, featuring a selection of gutsy women, including  Harriett Tubman, Wangari Maathai, Malala Yousafzai, Rachel Carson, Edie Windsor, Diana Nyad, and many others whose biographies appeared in their best-selling 2019 book. The show is expected to stream sometime in 2021. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine: a life and Captive Queen by Alison Weir - As part of its "Extraordinary Women of History," Starz will adapt Weir's impeccably-researched historical biography and its companion book, Captive Queen into a television series. The project, written by Susan Conklin, is in development now with Lionsgate TV. 

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian - Cassandra Bowden awakens in a Dubai hotel room after a night of binge drinking to find a dead body in bed with her. A single woman alone in a hotel room far from home, Cassandra covers up her discovery and begins to lie. The television miniseries based on the book by the same name began airing on HBO in November. 

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell - The BBC recently purchased the TV rights to O'Farrell's historical fiction novel about the tragic death of Shakespeare's young son during the bubonic plague in England. Hamnet won the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction. According to news sources, the BBC is hoping to create a series as opulent as "Wolf Hall."

Leading Men by Christopher Castellani - Playwright Matthew Lopez will write the screenplay for the film adaptation of Castellani's 2019 novel that explores the romance between Tennessee Williams and his long-time partner, Frank Merlo. Director assignment, casting and production schedule have yet to be released by Searchlight Pictures. 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - Hannah's best-selling 2015 novel follows two sisters on the eve of World War II as they struggle to survive the German occupation of France. Real life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning will portray the two siblings. Parts of Hannah's novel, such as one of the sisters helping downed Allied pilots escaping the Germans are inspired by actual historical events. The film adaptation, directed by Melanie Laurent, will air sometime in 2021.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - Apple will produce a TV series of this absorbing saga of 20th-century Korean experience as seen through four generations of a Korean immigrant family. The series is in pre-production now but may be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic so there's plenty of time to read before you watch. Also available in a Large Print edition.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts - Apple TV was planning to adapt Roberts' 2003 novel about a heroin-addicted Australian bank robber who escapes prison and feels to the slums of India. According to news sources, this lavishly funded project has halted for a variety of reasons but filming is expected to resume at a later date. 

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan - The author announced recently that her 1992 bestseller about four Black female friends is being adapted into a TV series by 20th Television. The timeline is unclear so add this one to your TBR list for sure.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates - Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey are producing Coates' novel about the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors, a young slave named Hiram Walker. While guiding slaves to safety, Walker discovers he has a mysterious power to transport himself. The Water Dancer is in production now with Coates writing the adaptation and MGM producing the film.


Posted on Dec. 10, 2020 by Celeste Steward

Meet Bill Newmeyer, MI Board of Trustee VP

Dr. William "Bill" Newmeyer III has been a member of the Mechanics' Institute Board of Trustees for ten years. A retired surgeon, he is currently one of three Vice Presidents on MI's Board. Bill's interests include travel and reading. Dr. Newmeyer graciously agreed to an interview by phone.

How did you come to join the MI Board of Trustees?

During the 1980’s my medical practice was at 450 Sutter. Since the Mechanics’ Institute was close I decided to join so I could enjoy the library - specifically to take advantage of the audiobooks to listen to while walking my dog at Mountain Lake Park. On one of my walks, I happened to  meet someone who worked in the MI library. We got to chatting, and I learned more about the organization. I also got to know the librarian at that time, and she encouraged me to consider becoming a Board member. I enjoy the personal relationships I have made over the years at MI. 

You are quite the intrepid traveler and have been to all seven continents. Do you have a favorite destination?

I love the Mediterranean area. It's such a colorful place and there's so much history. There is so much to see there. 

Looking back on my travel experience I realize that I didn’t have a “plan” to “see the world.” I had the very good fortune to marry Nancy, who liked to travel, and we were fabulous travel companions. 

North America 

I was born in Colorado. One memorable US trip was taken in my senior year in medical school. Along with a fellow medical student, we traveled to the Navajo Reservation (the “four corners”) for an 8-week elective study focusing on public health and modern medicine for Indigenous people. 


After graduating from medical school in 1961, I decided to celebrate this milestone by traveling to Europe on a 14-hour prop plane flight to Amsterdam. My friend Peter, who’d sailed to Rotterdam, met me in Cologne. Together we traveled to Rome where we bought Vespa motor scooters and headed north through Europe to Austria, Germany, France, England and Scotland. The 1957 book Europe on $5 a Day by Arthur Frommer was our guide, leading us to many hostels, low-cost hotels and affordable tasty meals.


In 1966, courtesy of the US Army, I worked for 13 months at a MASH hospital as Chief of Surgery in South Korea. My wife, Nancy, got a visa and joined me for the duration. Together we were able to travel to Japan, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and several countries in South East Asia including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, and Myanmar. At a later date we visited India twice and Turkey. Separately, for a medical conference, I visited Israel.

South America

Some of my trips to South America were made for medical purposes - twice to Columbia and once to Venezuela. Other trips included Chile, Ecuador, Central America, and Mexico.


This journey included a very interesting train trip across the continent from Sydney to Perth where I participated in a medical conference.


Our travels in Africa included a safari which we thoroughly enjoyed seeing more than a dozen varieties of animals in Kenya & Tanzania. We also toured Egypt & Morocco.


This trip began at the tip of So America, Ushuaia, Argentina, where I took a 3-day trip on a ship to reach the continent. There we traveled by zodiac to the “land” to view explorer/scientific establishments that had existed for 50+ years. The wildlife was fascinating to observe including a variety of penguins, seabirds, seals & whales. 

What are a few of your reading interests?

Well, I've been reading a lot during the pandemic. I love both nonfiction and fiction. Right now, I'm reading Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, a historical fiction novel about William Shakespeare's marriage and family. I'm really enjoying it. Bill added for those who are interested to view “All is True,” starring Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench, about the death of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet. (The TV and film rights to O'Farrell's novel were optioned by Hera Pictures before its March, 2020 publication).

Posted on Dec. 8, 2020 by Celeste Steward

Meet Richard Laiderman, MI Board of Trustee VP

Mechanics' Institute Board of Trustee member Richard Laiderman has been with MI since 2001. He is the co-founder and Chairman of StandardC, a San Mateo-based software company. Richard is a semi-retired financial executive and holds a master's degree in Finance and Information Systems from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A voracious reader, Richard enjoys nonfiction, especially history and science fiction. 

Since coming to the MI Board of Trustees, what do you enjoy most about being here?

I enjoy the friends and relationships I have made at the Mechanics. I enjoy playing a part in the Mechanic’s mission, which is part of San Francisco’s history and is education and book centric.

Do you enjoy chess? How did you learn to play?

I played chess until I learned Go (strategic board game) in college. I still love chess, but I’m nervous to play at the MI because they are all such great players. I like to play Go at the MI with Paul Whitehead.

Would you like to share some of your hobbies or interests with members and colleagues?

I love to travel with my wife.  We have been to about 100 countries and traveling is one of the things we miss the most in the pandemic. We also hike a lot. One of our favorite hikes is The Wave in Arizona.

Tell me a little about your reading interests...what kinds of books do you prefer and why?

I love science fiction. One of my prized books is a leather bound, signed edition of The Collected Stories of Philip K Dick (5 vols). I like so-called “hard science fiction” because it exemplifies the power of imagination and how imagined things can anticipate or inspire future reality.

Three history books profoundly surprised, disturbed and educated me. All are scholarly and, as far as I know, factually undisputed. I learned that:

  • In 1492, more people lived in the Americas than in Europe and they had a better standard of living.

  • IBM knowingly and actively directed its German subsidiary to carry out critical racial census and sorting work for the Third Reich.

  • The value of unpaid, forced labor from slavery (in the US) equates today to a staggering $97 trillion - calculated at minimum wage through 1865.

These Truths by Harvard’s Jill Lepore is a history of the United States from the genocidal tragedy of Native Americans to the role of slavery, not as an aberration, but as the engine of the industrial revolution. Here is a sample quote: “Between 1500 and 1800, roughly two and a half million Europeans moved to the Americas; they carried twelve million Africans there by force; and as many as fifty million Native Americans died, chiefly by disease.”

IBM and the Holocaust by investigative reporter Edwin Black tells the shocking story of IBM’s role in enabling the Nazi genocide. All in the name of profit, IBM supplied the punchcards and machines that produced lists of Jews and numbers for tattoos. IBM’s president, Thomas Watson, was personally decorated by Hitler with the German Eagle award. He returned the award at the start of the war but never stopped supplying punch cards and sorting machines --- one of which remains in the United States Holocaust Museum.

The Divide by anthropologist Jason Hickel explains the ongoing extraction of wealth on a stunningly vast scale from the southern hemisphere since 1500. It describes the growing global inequality - both among countries and individuals. We are told that even so, the world is richer and the trickle down makes life better for all. Hickel shows that the numbers tell a different story. Today over 70% of the world’s population lives on less than $10/day.

I highly recommend these books. They are all long and at times, difficult -- but truly worth the effort. Perfect reading for a pandemic and for our times!


Posted on Dec. 2, 2020 by Celeste Steward

Swimming in the Bay

Mechanics' Institute Board of Trustee President Lindsey Crittenden is a San Francisco-based writer. She also loves to swim, and she shared her recent experience about swimming in the San Francisco Bay.  

My exercise of choice has been, for some 30 years, swimming.  Lap swimming, in a pool, up and back, some sixty times.  I like the security of seeing where I’m going, of that black line on the bottom.  Since passing the pool on my way to the Y locker room after fleeing another two-left-feet, headache-inducing aerobics class and thinking, Swimming, hm now doesn’t that look appealing?, I’ve sought out pools wherever I’ve lived or traveled.  Mostly indoors, often over-chlorinated; from the gorgeous Julia Morgan pools of Berkeley City Club and Hearst Gym to the small, overheated hotel pools on business trips – I’ve been happy to find any pool clean and (relatively) spacious enough to immerse myself in water, the only place my body feels completely free.

I’ve been lucky enough, since UCSF opened its facility at Mission Bay, to swim outdoors in the Schwab Aquatic Center Pool.  Six lanes, and usually one to myself if I time it right, this pool offers fresh air, 81-degree water temperature, and (for the most part) other swimmers who know what circle lane means.

And then the pandemic hit.  For the first few weeks I was OK.  It was winter, after all, and walks in the rain felt cozy, a way to wave to shop owners and neighbors in this strange new era of social distancing.  Social distancing and Sheltering at Home long ago lost any novelty, and my neighborhood streets and staircases became all-too-familiar, predictable, even tedious.  I started to move my arms in circles and sweeps as I walked, the only way I could pretend (sort of) that I was doing crawl and breaststroke while upright.  

One day, it hit me:  San Francisco has water on three sides.  Aquatic Park lies less than a mile from where my husband and I live.  So one day I did it.  I put on my suit, asked a friend to meet me for a walk, and when we ended at the bleachers outside the Maritime Museum at the foot of Polk Street, asked her to watch my stuff while I took a dip.  (Yes, I had warned her.)  I’ll last about 30 seconds, I told her.  I just have to get in the water.

I did.  And as soon as the wet bay hit my bare knees, I was a convert.  A few more steps, and I dove in.   And swam, blissfully, for 10 minutes.  It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see through the opaque gray-green of the water.  It didn’t matter that the water was some 20 degrees cooler than at my pool.  That’s what insulated caps are for, and I had one (even if I had only used it once). That was in mid-August, and I’ve been swimming at Aquatic Park many mornings since, now for up to 45 minutes.

Temperatures have dipped – my teeth often chatter not only during the 5-minute drive home but even after I get out of a hot shower – and I took a week’s break after a close encounter with a friendly harbor seal, but I’m hooked.  I’m going to need a wet suit soon, especially since UCSF – subject to separate guidelines than those for fitness centers, because it is an academic institution – just announced that it can’t reopen its pool any time soon.  But to keep moving in the water, even if I can’t see that black line on the bottom, has helped me stay afloat both in the water and out of it during these dark, difficult times.


Posted on Nov. 24, 2020 by Celeste Steward

Native American Voices

Native American Heritage Month is an ideal time to learn about the rich cultural heritage and the many contributions of our first people. Our national narrative has been greatly enhanced by a diverse cast of Native American voices, including Louise Erdich, Sherman Alexie, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko and many others. As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, let's honor and remember the Native American people who helped shape our country's heritage. 

MI staff has compiled a timely list containing both fiction and nonfiction that better reflects historical accuracy on and about Native Americans. Many of these titles are written by Native American authors. All print titles are available for check out through MI's "To Go"express service, our downloadable E-books collection, or Kanopy, MI's online streaming service from the website


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie - Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Native American is the school mascot. 

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko - Poet-novelist Silko's dazzling saga of two elderly sisters and a motley crew of desperadoes who occupy a fortified ranch in Tucson, Arizona.

The Beadworkers: stories by Beth Piatote - A poignant and challenging look at the way the past and present collide. Piatote, a Nez Perce, teaches Native American studies at UC Berkeley. 

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko - Tayo, a young Native American prisoner of war returns to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation after serving in World War II.

Fools Crow by James Welch - It is 1870 and the Lone Eaters, a small band of Blackfeet Indians in the Two Medicine Territory of Montana struggle to preserve the Pikuni way of life. 

Grass Dancer by Susan Power - A multilayered portrait of a North Dakota Sioux community told through interlocking stories. 

The Heartsong of Charging Elk by James Welch - Based on actual historical events, a young Lakota, Charging Elk, is stranded in France and forced to live in the streets of Marseille. 

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday - A Pulitzer Prize-winning classic about a young Native American man living in two worlds. 

How a Mountain Was Made by Greg Sarris - Native American stories inspired by Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo creation tales about Northern California's Sonoma Mountain.

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth - It's 1975 and seventh grader Lewis "Shoe" Blake from the Tuscarora Reservation meets a new friend, George Haddonfield from the local Air Force base. But racial tensions in upstate New York are strained and Lewis is not sure he can rely on friendship alone to survive at school. 

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight  in Heaven by Sherman Alexie - A darkly comic short story collection of 22 interlinked tales. 

Love Medicine by Louise Erdich - A multigenerational portrait of two Chippewa families in North Dakota. 

Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline - In an apocalyptic future Canada, indigenous people have been forced to live on the run to avoid capture by the Recruiters, government military agents who kidnap Indians and confine them to detention facilities called "schools." 

There, There by Tommy Orange - A kaleidoscope view of Native American life in Oakland, California through the experiences and perspectives of 12 characters. 

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger - Fleeing the Depression-era school for Native American children who have been taken from their parents, four orphans share a life-changing journey marked by struggling farmers, faith healers, and lost souls.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey - In the winter of 1885, Colonel Allen Forrester leads an exploratory expedition up the Wolverine River into the vast, untamed Alaskan territory. 

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse - A dark fantasy follows Maggie Hoske, monster-slayer and protector of the Navajo Nation as she fights her next battle. Action-driven novel from a Hugo-award winning author. 

The Translation of Dr. Apelles by David Treuer - A Native American academic who translates Native American texts, stumbles across a manuscript only he can interpret.

Winter in the Blood by James Welch - An unnamed Blackfeet narrator returns to his family's ranch on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana to come to terms with his past and rearrange his present. 


Crazy Horse Weeps: the challenge of being Lakota in white America by James Marshall III - A historical overview and hopeful plan for the future for South Dakota's Lakota Americans. 

Deer Trails by Kim Shuck - Native American poetry by San Francisco's poet laureate.

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful tribe in American history by S.C. Gwynne - A vivid historical account of the 40-year battle between the Comanche and white settlers for control of the American West. 

1491: new revelations about the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann - A generation of new researchers has drawn unheard of conclusions about America before the arrival of the Europeans. 

The Girl in the Photograph by Byron L. Dorgan - The author, former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan tells the story of the Native American community through the experiences of a young girl from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee; native America from 1890 to the present by David Treuer - Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, Treuer tells the story of a resilient people  in a transformative era. 

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthieson - A highly controversial investigative account of the 1975 fatal shootout between FBI agents and Native Americans near Wounded Knee, South Dakota. 

Indians on the Move: Native American mobility and urbanization in the twentieth century by Douglas K. Miller - An exploration of Indigenous communities and mobility in terms of its benefits and not merely its costs. 

Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage murders and the birth of the FBI by David Grann - Presents a true account of the early twentieth-century murders of dozens of wealthy Osage and law-enforcement officials, citing the contributions and missteps of a fledgling FBI that eventually uncovered one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history. 

The Other Slavery: the uncovered story of Indian enslavement in America by Andres Resendez - New evidence suggests that a key piece of American history, Native American enslavement, has been missing from history books. 

Petroglyphs, Pictographs, and Projections: Native American rock art in the contemporary cultural landscape by Richard A. Rogers - An examination of the contemporary implications of Native American rock art. 

Shapes of Native Nonfiction: collected essays of contemporary writers - An engaging anthology introducing readers to the true range of Native American nonfiction work. 

The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman and Beth Dooley - A Lakota American chef shares his approach to creating boldly seasoned foods that are vibrant and healthful. 

Surviving Genocide: native nations and the United States from the American Revolution to bleeding Kansas by Jeffrey Ostler - A recent investigation on how American democracy relied on Native American dispossesion and use of force for western expansion. 

The Three-Cornered War: the Union, the Confederacy and native peoples in the fight for the West by Megan Kate Nelson - An exploration of the connections between the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and the western expansion.

This Land is Their Land: the Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the troubled history of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman - A well researched, objective look at Plymouth colony's founding events.

Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo and the Pacific Coast Culture by Andrew Schelling - The story of ethnographer and author Jaime de Angulo.

Unworthy Republic: the dispossession of Native Americans and the road to Indian territory by Claudio Saunt - A powerful, moving argument that the state-sponsored expulsion of the 1830s was a horrendous turning point for Native Americans. 


Language Healers (streaming on Kanopy) - A fascinating documentary on Native Americans striving to revitalize their languages. 

Our Fires Still Burn: the Native American Experience  (streaming on Kanopy) - An exciting and compelling one hour documentary about contemporary Native American role models in the US Midwest.

Posted on Nov. 20, 2020 by Celeste Steward