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Nobel Prizes in Literature for 2018 and 2019

The Swedish Academy has announce the winners of both the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prizes in literature today (October 10, 2019). 

Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 award for her book Flights 

  • It's not a novel exactly. It's not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel through space and also through time and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. 
  • Read a review in the New Yorker.

Peter Handke won the 2019 award for his book The Moravian night : a story 

  • An unnamed writer invites friends to a houseboat docked in the Balkans, where he regales them with stories of his travels across Europe. The writer's personal history is bound up with that of Central Europe, including stops in places irrevocably changed by time.
  • Read a review in Kirkus.


(MI Library members please click on the titles above to read additional summaries/reviews and/or to place a hold on the book). You can also read more about these authors and their works in the Washington Post.

Last year a scandal involving sexual assault and financial malpractice led the Swedish Academy to decide not to award a prize for literature in 2018 but to award the prize for 2018 at the same time as the one for 2019. 


Posted on Oct. 10, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

True Crime Roundup October 2019

For all our true crime readers we have six new titles we acquired in the last couple months that you may enjoy. (Click on a title below to place a hold). 

The ghosts of Eden Park : the bootleg king, the women who pursued him, and the murder that shocked jazz- age America / Karen Abbott.

  • In the early days of Prohibition, long before Al Capone became a household name, a German immigrant named George Remus quits practicing law and starts trafficking whiskey. Within two years he's a multi-millionaire. The press calls him King of the Bootleggers," writing breathless stories about the Gatsby-esque events he and his glamorous second wife, Imogene, host at their Cincinnati mansion, with party favors ranging from diamond jewelry for the men to brand-new Pontiacs for the women. By the summer of 1921, Remus owns 35 percent of all the liquor in the United States. Pioneering prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrandt is determined to bring him down. Willebrandt's bosses at the U.S. Attorney's office hired her right out of law school, assuming she'd pose no real threat to the cozy relationship they maintain with Remus. Eager to prove them wrong, she dispatches her best investigator, Franklin Dodge, to look into his empire. It's a decision with deadly consequences. -- Provided by publisher.

Know my name : a memoir / Chanel Miller.

  • Not a typical true crime book. We include it here because this important book describes a crime and its aftermath. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting "Emily Doe" on Stanford's campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral, was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress. It inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Now Miller reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words.She tells of her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial, reveals the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios, and illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators.


My friend Anna : the true story of the fake heiress who conned me and half of New York City / Rachel DeLoache Williams.

  • The From a photo editor at Vanity Fair comes the true account of her friendship with Anna Delvey--a woman posing as a German heiress who conned her out of $62,000--and her quest to obtain justice. 


Savage appetites : four true stories of women, crime, and obsession / Rachel Monroe.

  • In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a bored heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the "Mother of Forensic Science," she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate's guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own. A combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Savage appetites is a journey into obsession, scrupulously exploring empathy, justice and the persistent appeal of crime. 


Without a prayer : the death of Lucas Leonard and how one church became a cult / Susan Ashline.

  • The horrifying true story of a killing inside the secluded Word of Life Christian Church, a parish-turned-cult in upstate New York. Teenager Lucas Leonard made shocking admissions in front of the altar―he'd practiced witchcraft, conspired to murder his parents, and committed unspeakable crimes. The confessions earned him a brutal beating by a gang of angry church members, including his parents and sister. Lucas was brought to the hospital dead, awakening the sleepy community of Chadwicks, New York, to the horror that had been lurking next door.


Moneyland : the inside story of the crooks and kleptocrats who rule the world / Oliver Bullough.

  • Another title atypical of the true crime genre but an important and engaging read nonetheless. From ruined towns on the edge of Siberia, to Bond-villain lairs in London and Manhattan, something has gone wrong. Kleptocracies, governments run by corrupt leaders that prosper at the expense of their people, are on the rise. Investigative journalist Oliver Bullough traveled around the world to find Moneyland--the secret country of the lawless, stateless superrich. (His unsucessful attempt to visit the physical address of a shell company on the island of Nevens reads like a Kafka novel). Learn how the institutions of Europe and the United States have become money-laundering operations, attacking the foundations of many of the world's most stable countries. Meet the kleptocrats. Meet their awful children. And find out how heroic activists around the world are fighting back.


(Note: all summaries in this post adeapted from publisher descriptions and/or dust jackets except for Without a prayer, adapted from the summary).

Posted on Oct. 9, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

Pico Iyer's new book about Japan

PIco Iyer has written books that many Mechanics' Institute members have shown they like: our records show his books have had numerous check-outs, in particular his 1991 book about Japan, The lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto. Iyer has returned to this subject with his newest work A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations. Given interest by MI members in Japan and travel, as well as this author's popuarity, we expect this one to be another well-read addition to our collection. Click on this link to place a hold.

British born of Indian parents, Iyer is best known for his writings on culture and philosophy inspired by his extensive travels. He started out in his youth bouncing back and forth several times a year between California, where his parents lived, and England, where he attended college. His early sense of "rootlessness" led him to feel comfortable with being an outsider where he lives despite having lived in Japan for almost 30 years. In addition to his travellogues and philosphical works, he has also published two novels, Cuba and the Night (recently ordered), and the one already in our collection, Abandon: A Romance, which has also proven very popular here. As a consequence of his life-long fascination with Graham Greene, Iyer once ventured into literary criticism with The Man Within My Head in 2012.

Please note: we cannot see who has checked out a given book after a member has returned it and paid the overdue fine (if any). We can only see a total number of times a book has been checked out. 

Posted on Sep. 29, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

President Trump Impeachment Primary Sources

We have the "Whistleblower" complaint that originated from somewhere within the Dept. of Homeland Security on August 12, 2019 that the U.S. House Intelligence committee released on September 26, 2019, available as .PDF or as an eAudiobook. Penguin has very quickly turned around a free audiobook for streaming or download from its blog, and read by an award winning e-book narrator, Saskia Maarleveld. 

  • Click here for The .PDF format, available via the U.S. Government Printing office.
  • Click here for the eAudiobook format, available from Penguin. 

The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community's (ICIG) report about this complaint is available via a number of news outlets. This "report about the complaint" is not available for download to date, but can be read on the WWW from the following sites. (Advertisements and entreaties to register will pop-up. None are endorsed by the Mechanics Institute). 


Posted on Sep. 27, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

How Not to Fall for a Scam

Many people know about Frank Abignale from having watched the movie Catch Me If You Can (starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hanks). The real-life Frank Abignale has spent his post-criminal life working to prevent the sort of crimes he used to commit. Contrary to the movie version, he never accepted money from law enforcement, providing his consulting services and classes to law enforcement agencies for free. He has made his living advising corporations and banks. For example, the forgery deterent measure that we typically see on machine-generated checks -- the black box of "negative space" that shows the numerals in the white of the paper -- was his invention. In his earlier book, The Art of the Steal, he explained various cons that affect businesses and indivduals, along with advice for how to avoid them. Now as many of us grow older and plan for or have already started living on our investments, reading his newest book takes on a great deal of importance. 

Abignale writes in a clear, direct style that communicates his advice very effectively. His use of colorful examples and anecdotes to illustrate his points makes his books a pleasure to read. In addition, he has kept up with technological progress. Abignale provides advice about what photo not to post on social media, the best way to protect your phone from being hacked, and the only conditions under which you should use the WIFI networks at the airport, to name a few. Most importantly, much of his advice proves a bit counter-intuitive, making it all the more necessary to read up on the latest cons because the counter-measures would not occur to most of us.

To place a hold, Log into your library account then click on this title: Scam Me if you Can : Simple Strategies to Outsmart Today's Rip-off Artists

FYI, another book by Frank Abignale on this topic, published in 2007: Stealing Your Life : The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan. (Online version available free from the Internet Archive; you must register for a free account to access). 

Posted on Sep. 19, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

The Hugo Winners -- Science Fiction Update

The winners of the Hugo Awards for best science fiction of the year, announced at the 77th World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland on August 18th, include some titles in our collection, print, e-book and DVD:

Best Novel: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

  • An alternate history in which a meteorite obliterates most of the East coast of the U.S. in 1952, leading to a climate cataclysm that will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity. The accellerated space program to colonize the solar system includes women, but only on the ground. A woman pilot and mathematician works to overcome the obstacles of 1950s American society to become the first woman astronaut.

Best Novella: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

  • "Murderbot" wants to know about the massacre. Teaming up with a research transport vessal named ART (you don't want to know what the A stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue. What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks. 

The library also has the 4 books in the Murderbot Diaries series, but some only as e-audiobooks. Please let us know if you would like us to order the print format as these books have proven very popular with MI members. 

Best Series: Wayfarers by Becky Chambers

  • Reviewers have noted the similarities to Firefly, (Joss Whedon), Mass Effect, and Star Wars. Serious and comedic, the books in this series examine questions of identity and inter-species communication/cooperation with a light touch. An upbeat and optimistic antidote to dystopias and alien invasions. The library has the first two novels of this series: The Long Way to a Small, Angry planet and A Closed and Common Orbit.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse [DVD]

  •  Miles Morales is the new Spider-Man but must also walk the balance between his personal high school & family life and his life as a superhero. While being Spider-Man, he becomes familiar with the Spider-Verse, where there are endless variations on Spider-Man. One of the Spider-Man variations living inside the Spider-Verse is Spider-Man, Peter B. Parker, who guides Miles in his journey as the new Spider-Man and introduces him to the multitude of other Spider-Men, including Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Ham. All of the various Spider-Men will have to band together when villains threaten the safety of the Spider-Verse and of the world itself.

Posted on Sep. 15, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

True Crime Roundup August 2019

For all our true crime readers we have nine new titles we acquired in the last couple months that you may enjoy. (Click on a title below to place a hold). 

The five : the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper / Hallie Rubenhold.

  • The untold story of the women killed by Jack the Ripper. Few people even know their names. For more than a century newspapers have been keen to tell us that 'the Ripper' preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, but it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told.

Kingdom of lies : unnerving adventures in the world of cybercrime / Kate Fazzini.

  •  A nineteen-year-old Romanian student stumbles into a criminal ransomware ring in her village. Soon she is extorting Silicon Valley billionaires for millions. A cynical Russian only leaves his tiny New Jersey apartment to hack sports cars at a high-performance shop in Newark. A hotel doorman in Shanghai once served in the People's Army, stealing intellectual property from American companies. They all come together in a tangled web connecting small-time criminals, multi-billion-dollar corporations, and global superpowers.

The last pirate of New York : a ghost ship, a killer, and the birth of a gangster nation / Rich Cohen.

  • The story of Albert Hicks, the most notorious criminal on the New York waterfront, unfolded in the course of three bloody months in the summer before the Civil War.

American predator : the hunt for the most meticulous serial killer of the 21st century / Maureen Callahan.

  • Israel Keys was a predator who struck all over the United States. He buried "kill kits"-- cash, weapons, and body-disposal tools-- in remote locations across the country and over the course of fourteen years would fly to a city, rent a car, and drive thousands of miles in order to use his kits. He would break into a stranger's house, abduct his victims in broad daylight, and kill and dispose of them in mere hours. And then he would return home, resuming life as a quiet, reliable construction worker devoted to his only daughter. Callahan examines the chilling, nightmarish mind of a relentless killer-- and the limitations of traditional law enforcement. 

The Queen : the forgotten life behind an American myth / Josh Levin.

  • Biography of a career criminal named Linda Taylor, the woman who inspired Ronald Reagan's "welfare queen" mythology of that started in the 70s. Yes, she did scam welfare and food stamp benefits, but she also scammed a whole lot more. Levin, a reporter for Slate "presents Linda Taylor not as a parable for anything grand, but as a singular American scoundrel who represented nothing but herself." (For more information we recommend Sam Dolnick's review of this book in the New York Times). 

Gotti's boys : the Mafia crew that killed for John Gotti / Anthony M. DeStefano.

  • [I]n his short reign as the head of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti wracked up a lifetime of charges from gambling, extortion, and tax evasion to racketeering, conspiracy, and five convictions of murder. He didn’t do it alone. ... Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anthony M. DeStefano takes you inside Gotti’s inner circle to reveal the dark hearts and violent deeds of the most remorseless and cold-blooded characters in organized crime. Men so vicious even the other Mafia families were terrified of them.

Chasing Cosby : the downfall of America's dad / Nicole Weisensee Egan.

  • Bill Cosby's decades-long career as a sweater-wearing, wholesome TV dad came to a swift and stunning end on April 26, 2018, when he was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting one of more than 60 women who have come forward to accuse him of similar crimes. Egan shares her firsthand account of Cosby's 13-year run from justice. She tells us how Cosby planned and executed his crimes, and how Hollywood alliances and law enforcement knew what Cosby was doing but did nothing to stop him. She also explores the cultural and social issues that influenced the case. 

Rectify : the power of restorative justice after wrongful conviction / Lara Bazelon.

  • The author appeared at a recent event to talk about her book at the Mechanic Institute. Bazelon puts a face to the growing number of men and women exonerated from crimes that kept them behind bars for years, sometimes decades, and that devastate not only the exonerees but also their families, the crime victims who mistakenly identified them as perpetrators, the jurors who convicted them, and the prosecutors who realized too late that they helped convict an innocent person.

Formation : a woman's memoir of stepping out of line / Ryan Leigh Dostie.

  • Sadly this is not the first story of a woman in the military who suffers from a disbelieving command hierarchy after she reports a rape by another soldier. Dostie finds herself fighting through her isolation amid the challenges of an unexpected war. What follows is a sweepingly beautiful, riveting, and inspiring story of one woman's extraordinary journey to prove her worth, physically and mentally, in a world in which the odds are stacked against her.

(Note: all summaries in this post come from publisher descriptions and/or dust jackets except for The Queen, adapted in part from the NYT book review).

Posted on Aug. 19, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

New in Chess Yearbooks have arrived

At long last we have our 2018 back volumes of New in Chess Yearbook, plus the 2 that have come out in 2019 so far (vols. 126-131). The Library apologizes for the delay and we are pleased to announce that all volumes will be on the new books table by the week of August 19th. 

Chess players will find of particular interest vol. 129 "Mamedyarov's Surprise," a survey based on Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's use of an old line of the Ruy Lopez in the 5th round of the Olympiad in Batumi (p.105). We had the good fortune to have Mamedyarov and Rauf Mamedov give a clocked tandem simul at the Mechanics Institute on August 7th. 

To place a hold on one of these books, members please log into your library account then click here. To select a volume to place a hold on start by clicking on the "Request this item" button, then at the last step the system will ask you which volume you want.  

Vol. 126, 2018, Anish Giri sovereign in the 1.c4 labyrinth.

Vol. 127, 2018, Caruana crushes Winawer with 9.h4!? from YB 126

Vol. 128, 2018, McShane paints the Ruy Lopez in KID colours

Vol. 129, 2018, Daredevil win by Shakh in the Open Ruy Lopez

By the way, in addition to the New in Chess Yearbook we have received a donation of a large number of new chess books. You can expect to see these on the new books table on the 3rd floor in the weeks to come. Be sure to check out Cherilyn's new books blog posts for new chess titles as these often fly off the new books table soon after they arrive. 


Posted on Aug. 14, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

Here be dragons! Or not. -- Science Fiction Update July 2019

We need to weed our collection quite aggressively in order to make room for new books. This brings up some questions that only our science fiction and fantasy reading members can answer. We have noticed authors whose books have fallen out of popularity -- earlier titles have lots of circulations (no one tracks the identity of the borrowers, we only know that some person(s) borrowed a given title x number of times) but then interest in those titles drops. We have seen interest in science fiction and fantasy series die off recently. 

For example, we have noticed that any book with the word "Dragon" in the title does not budge. MI members used to check out books of "Tolkienian" fantasy -- elves, dwarves, magic and armoured knights armed with swords, etc. But not for some years. For example, our books by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., who writes in the "sword and sorcery" fantasy genre, used to circulate quite well. Then around 2015 interested dropped off. Did the readers who enjoyed his books leave? We've seen barely a trickle of interest in Modesitt's work. Due to lack of interest in the 4th books of his Corean Chronicles series, Alector's Choice, we never purchased the remaining 4 titles in that series. Does anyone read Modesitt anymore? Does anyone care whether we remove all of his books from our collection? Please let us know ( 

"Space opera" has not fared much better. Writer Alastair Reynolds book Redeption Ark enjoyed quite a lot of popularity, but then our readers dropped that title along with all his others around 2015. His most recent book that we have, Slow Bullets, has had lackluster performance, although the last time someone borrowed it was 2018. Does anyone care whether we remove all of his books from our collection?

What science fiction and/or fantasy books would you like to read? Are there authors you look for? What subgenre would interest you most? For fantasy:

  • Magical realism
  • Alternate history 
  • Epics
  • Ghosts, vampires, demons
  • Sword and sorcery
  • Other? 


How about Science Fiction subgenres? 

  • Apocalyptic / post apocalyptic
  • Astronauts/Exploration
  • Dystopia
  • Space Operas
  • Star Wars/Star Trek 
  • Steampunk
  • Time travel
  • Other?

Please let us know  ( 

Posted on Jul. 22, 2019 by Steven Dunlap

Chernobyl: Real vs. Reel

In the autumn of 1986 my mother called me. We typically spoke over the phone about once or twice a month during this time. During this call the subject quickly came around to the recent nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union. "Steven," my mother asked me, "what the hell happened at Chernobyl?" She asked me that question for a specific reason: my brother is the writer, but I am the historian. I studied Russian history for 2 years in the Ph.D. program at Columbia University before switching to its library school. While I attended library school part-time I worked full-time in Slavic book acquisitions in the university's library, and also rented a room in an apartment from a Russian emigre. From this circumstance I found myself doubly "linked in" to the Russian emigre community in Washington Heights. I lost count of the hours I spent sitting at the kitchen table of a Russian family, drinking tea and eating cookies* while listening to them tell me about life in the Soviet Union. They knew I had an interest in their history, that I respected and wanted to hear about their lived experience, and they shared their stories with me. My mother knew this, and therefore asked me to explain the inexplicable to her. 

I knew the analogy that would work. Shortly after her younger son left for college, my mother decided to go to college too. She graduated a year or two after I did. She and I did not always give our best effort for every class. We had that in common. My mother in particular detested some of her required classes and typically did a little as possible to muddle through them. 

"You know, Mom, when you're taking a class you don't like and really do not want to spend much time on the term paper?" 

"Yes, of course." 

"Well, you know how some papers you are really just 'whipping it off' and not really doing all the work that, ideally, you should?" 

My mother laughed and admitted that yes, indeed, she had written more than one such paper.

"Now, try to imagine an entire society, a whole Nation/State, with almost everyone, including the people who run nuclear power plants, everyone just 'whipping it off.' "

Long silence. Finally, my mother said, in an unusually hushed voice, "You mean to tell me that at Chernobyl, they were just ..." Her voice trailed off. 

"Yes, they were doing a safety check the same way that you crank out a C paper in a class you don't care about, just to get it out of your stack of crap you don't want to do but have to anyway. They were "whipping off" a safety check and the reactor blew." 

The recent HBO mini-series about the Chernobyl disaster captures life in the 1980s in the Soviet Union in a very hit and miss sort of way. Some details they got right, but the essence of Soviet society and the underlying causes of the nuclear meltdown they completely mischaracterized. 

Masha Gessen noticed many of the same disconnections from the reality of life in the Soviet Union as I did. She describes these in her excellent column in the June 4, 2019 New Yorker magazine What HBO’s “Chernobyl” Got Right, and What It Got Terribly Wrong. In particular, she points out the final episode's courtroom scene as an example of something that would never have happened -- the "hero" delivers a cathartic (for us) speech about truth and lies that does not look even remotely believable if you understand that place and time. For me, I remember what many of my emigre friends told me they used to say to each other, often in response to small talk questions about their jobs: "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us."  To paraphrase dialog from the mini-series, this should be "printed on [The Soviet Union's] money." Gessen and I agree that this "un-work un-ethic," not the mountain of lies that the communist bureaucracy cranked out, best explains how Chernobyl not only happened, but had to happen. Nuclear power in the hands of a nation like the USSR is like giving a live hand grenade to a monkey -- you know the explosion will happen, it's only a matter of where and when. Unfortunately for television docudramas, this does not make for great dramatic conflict, truth-telling heroes, rousing speeches about truth and lies or a satisfying narrative. By making Chernobyl about lies, the HBO mini-series missed the actual truth: that the State's official lies served only as a threadbare blanket to conceal the rotting corpse of a damaged society and its failed state, not as the primary cause of the failures.

In addition to Gessen's article above, to learn more about the Chernobyl disaster you can read the following books we have in the MI Library: 

At the top of Gessen's list of recommended readings we have Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl : The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. Alexievich is a historian whose work has close similarity to the books of Cornelius Ryan -- gathering then organizing and presenting personal narratives by the first-hand participants in the events described. We also have in our collection: 

Midnight in Chernobyl : the untold story of the world's greatest nuclear disaster by journalist Adam Higginbotham. 

The truth about Chernobyl by Soviet physicist Grigori Medvedev, published as the regime fell in 1991.

And lastly, we have on order Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe by historian Serhii Plokhy.

* Note on Russian hospitality: I met many sweet, kind, gracious and wonderful Russian people during my time living in New York City. Entertaining a guest in a Russian home entails everyone sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea and eating cookies. I discovered that every Russian family has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cookies, and that they have various imaginative and inventive ways they employ to emotionally arm-twist you into eating yet another one. I adopted as my delaying tactic eating half a cookie then holding the remaining half, nibbling on it until I could no longer escape having to take another one from the mountainous pile on the plate in front of me.


Posted on Jun. 10, 2019 by Steven Dunlap