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Hidden Gems - H.M.S. Ulysses

The "big name" in action adventure writing in the mid-20th century, Alistair MacLean, enjoyed considerable success writing best-sellers that Hollywood often turned into movies, such as The Guns of Navarone and Ice Station Zebra. His very first book, however, has an immediacy and authenticity that his later works do not quite match. He wrote  H.M.S. Ulysses in three months while teaching school, based on his own experiences serving on a Royal Navy Cruiser in the disastrous Convoy PQ 17 during the Second World War. Although a work of fiction, his writing gives the impression of a true story told by an active participant. He works into the narrative the harsh conditions of arctic sailing in wartime – small details about which an armchair sailor would not even dream. MacLean created a unique and unusual blend of reality and fiction that you do not often find. 

H.M.S. Ulysses / by Alistair MacLean   Fiction - 2nd Floor  Fic MacLean  

List of all works by Alisair MacLean in the MI Library collection (including movies).

Posted on Mar. 3, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

Hidden Gems - The Wire

Former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon teamed up with former Baltimore Police Department Homicide Detective Ed Burns to create a police procedural series that looks at both police and criminals and everyone caught in between. Simon and Burns also chose to employ former criminals and police detectives who grew up in Baltimore as actors in this series. Of special note: the 4th season breaks with the preceding three to focus on four boys growing up in poverty and each coping with his life’s circumstances somehow differently. This shift in focus from the police versus criminals perspective also takes a hard look at Baltimore politics featuring a Mayoral election and a subplot involving government corruption.

You do not need to have seen the preceding 3 seasons in order to follow what happens in The Fourth Season of The Wire.

(All five seasons of The Wire available in the MI Library on DVD). 

Homicide : a year on the killing streets, Simon's book based on the year he spent with the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide Unit, remains the best true crime book I have ever read. This book served as the basis for the television show Homicide's first few seasons. After these incredible seasons based on the book, subsequent seasons of the series deteriorated rapidly.

Posted on Feb. 21, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

Two very similar men who could not be more different

Purely by coincidence, I read Mel Brooks' autobiography, All about Me, right after I read Gerald Durrell's semi-autobiographical My Family and other animals. In many respects the two men could not be more different, although I cannot escape noticing some striking similarities. Born within a year of each other but on opposite sides of the world, they grew up without their fathers. Both of them the youngest of four children, each had an eldest brother who took on the role of father. Both had highly intelligent mothers with charismatic personalities. And, obviously, both produced works of great humor and intelligence. Both men had uneven formal educations, relying on mentors to help them learn and develop. Their childhood and early adult years turned them into autodidacts.

They both took big risks, fighting for something they believed in. While Brooks' risk-taking behavior paid off, launching him into a wildly successful Hollywood career, Durell's risks had, at times, the opposite effect.

Gerald Durrell grew up on the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s, a small, rustic, and remote place. He loved studying plants and animals, spent his days exploring the fields and forests of his homeland, learned from first-hand observation, and from the mentoring of a kind-hearted Greek scientist and tutor. He became a self-taught naturalist and kept a mini-zoo starting from his time in Corfu and continuing through most of his life.

Brooks grew up in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, returned after WWII with ambitions of working in show business, and made connections that led him to write for Sid Ceasar on the 50s comedy T.V. show Your show of shows. He then made the transition to working on movies. When first released,his movie The Producers proved only moderately successful, but then Blazing Saddles launched his career as a writer/director and started him on the path to making genre satires for which he is best known, but the success of Blazing Saddles looks certain only in hindsight. He made a decision to break boundaries and not to worry about the consequences, telling his team of writers "We're all going to jail for making this film, so write anything you want." Taking on racism, racist tropes, and stereotypes in the 1970s did not look like a safe way to make a living in show business, but it paid off. Many people came to see Mel Brooks as a visionary.

Durrell loved animals above all else, which led to conflict with many of the zoo keepers he encountered. Looking at Durrell's vision of what zoos should be, I find it striking that zoos in the 21st century have nearly universally adopted his principles. In the mid-20th century the philosophy of most zoos emphasized making money by entertaining people -- the needs of the animals only secondary. Durrell believed that zoos should focus on conservation, saving species from extinction, and returning animals to the wild as much as possible. Secondary to this was education, while entertainment and profit did not enter into his philosophy. As a result of his conflict with "mainstream" zookeepers, the British Zoo community blackballed Durrell, making it impossible for him to find employment at any zoo in the U.K. However, with the success of his first book, My family and other animals, he was able to fund his own expeditions and set up his own zoo. Starting in the late 1950s, he finally gained attention for his efforts and by the 60s, he had become a popular television personality in the UK, appearing in numerous nature and conservation documentaries through the 70s and 80s. Belatedly, many people came to see Gerald Durrell as a visionary as well.

Gerald Durrell's three books about his childhood in Corfu contain a compilation of many hilarious stories -- all greatly exaggerated and embellished I'm sure. His books proved so popular, humorous and entertaining that they have inspired 2 television series and a T.V. movie.

I have to wonder what might have happened had these two men, with very similar lives, childhoods and senses of humor, had met. What would a movie directed by Brooks about Durrell’s life in Corfu have looked like?

Books and movies by Mel Brooks in the MI Library collection.

All of the Books by Gerald Durrell in the MI Library collection.

A collective biography of the Durrell family by Michael Haag: The Durrells of Corfu

Posted on Feb. 21, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

Hidden Gems - Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV show)

Showcasing a guilty pleasure from the turn of the century. Show creator Joss Whedon wondered why horror movies always had to make teenage girls into victims. He created a new mythology for the vampire genre involving a supernaturally strong and capable teenager who, with training and support from her “watcher,” can do battle with vampires and other demons. Buffy the Vampire Slayer,  part “demon of the week,” and part high school soap opera, throws in some screwball comedy along with the overall campiness. A word to the wise: the first three seasons are a blast but the fourth season has both the best and worst episodes of the series – don’t be put off by the bad so much that you miss out on the good. Perhaps Whedon & Company should have stopped after the fifth season (maybe the best one), but they  continued with two more.

The Mechanics’ Institute Library has the first four seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD.

The series also continued after season seven as graphic novels.

Posted on Feb. 9, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

New Chess books in the MI Library

Jimmy Adams, Editor. Gyula Breyer : the Chess Revolutionary 794.1092 B848a

About a lesser known pioneer of the hypermodern school of chess. Brings translations of Hungarian archival material into English translation for the first time. Includes 242 games annotated by Breyer and others.

Luc Henris The complete Albin Counter-Gambit : a dangerous weapon against the Queen's Gambit 794.1225 D09 H519

The MI Library only has one book about the Albin Counter-Gambit -- this is it.

Sergey Kasparov Doubled pawns : a practical guide 794.14 K192

Theoretical work on the ways to take advantage of doubled pawns -- as a strength in your position or as a weakness in your opponent's. Organized thematically (e.g.: Isolated Double pawns, In the middle of the board, on the c-file, etc.)

P. A. Romanovskiĭ Selected games Peter Romanovsky 794.15 R75

Includes a biography that covers the Russian Civil War, World War II and Romanovsky's chess championships in the Soviet Union. The Second half of this book comprises Romanovsky's own chess autobiography first published in 1954 in Russian, including 72 of his best games, his annotations updated with computer analysis by IM Grigory Bogdanovich.

Frank Brady Profile of a prodigy; the life and games of Bobby Fischer 794.1 F52bb

A comprehensive biography of Bobby Fischer that contains material about his life and career never before published.

J. H. Gelernter Captain Grey's gambit : a novel eAudiobook

A historical novel in which chess and a chess tournament play a part. A member of Napoleon's inner circle contacts the British naval intelligence service in hopes of defecting to London. His escape plan calls for a rendezvous at an international chess tournament in Frankfurt, a rare opportunity for him to travel outside France.

Laura Sherman Chess is child's play : teaching techniques that work U 794.1 S55 

Teaches parents to teach their young children (ages 2-7) to play chess. Laura Sherman and Bill Kilpatrick have created a simple step-by-step system that any parent can follow. Whether the parents know how to play chess or not, they can learn to teach their children through this book.

Murray Chandler How to beat your dad at chess U 794.124 C45

This book explains the best way to beat a stronger opponent (whether a friend, a clubmate, or even Dad) in the opening stages of the game and shows the fifty most effective opening traps that chess masters use to win games.

(U=Universal, or children's section)

Posted on Jan. 20, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

Beta testers needed for new catalog!

The Mechanics’ Institute Library has plans to upgrade and improve our online catalog, providing members with a new and better way to find the materials they seek. Our current catalog allows one to search by author, title, and subject, but trying to "fine tune" a search has proven difficult to figure out and use. This new version will address those challenges by allowing users to narrow their search interactively and intuitively. Or so we hope. Before we introduce this as the primary way to find physical materials and electronic resources in our collection we would like to test the functionality through our users first. This is where you can help. If you are interested in "beta testing" our new online catalog, please send an email message to our Head of Technical Services, Steven Dunlap at [email protected]. He will reach out to you with instructions and the steps that can help us make this service a value to all members.

Posted on Jan. 17, 2023 by Steven Dunlap

New Titles List for the Week Sept 14, 2020


Elin Hilderbrand 28 summers : a novel  
Brigitte Benkemoun Finding Dora Maar : an artist, an address book, a life  
Ernest Hemingway In Our Time  
Marie-Helene Bertino Parakeet  
Brit Bennett The vanishing half  

Mystery, Suspense, Thrillers, Espionage & Intrigue
William Shaw Play with fire 
Donna Leon Trace elements 


Arts, Architecture & Crafts
Louise Fili Grafica della strada : the signs of Italy 686.2 F476

Biography & Genealogy
Mary-Lou Weisman Intensive care : a family love story 618.92 W435

Business & Economics
Michael Lewrick The design thinking playbook : mindful digital transformation of teams, products, services, businesses and ecosystems 658.4 L59
Jared A Ball The myth and propaganda of black buying power 330.9 B21
Rob Larson Bit tyrants : the political economy of Silicon Valley 338.47 L329

Computer Science
Chinmoy M Cracking the coding interview : 190 programming questions and solutions 005.1 M138x

Health & Medicine
Neal D Barnard Your body in balance : the new science of food, hormones, and health 612.3 B253

Literature & Writing
Duncan Minshull Beneath my feet : writers on walking 808.8 B434

Social Sciences & Current Events
Melissa Korn Unacceptable : privilege, deceit & the making of the college admissions scandal 378.1 K842
Matthew Hennessey Zero hour for gen X : how the last adult generation can save america from millennials 305.2 H392


Hilary Mantel The mirror & the light CD Fic Mantel
Lisa Jewell The family upstairs : a novel CD Fic Jewell


Elena Ferrante The lying life of adults
Christina Baker Kline The exiles : a novel

Sherry L (Sherry Lynn) Smith Bohemians West : free love, family, and radicals in twentieth-century America
Neil S Price Children of ash and elm : a history of the Vikings
Eula Biss Having and being had
Seyward Darby Sisters in hate : American women on the front lines of white nationalism
D L (Darryl L) Hughley Surrender, white people! : our unconditional terms for peace
Adam Hart Unfit for purpose : when human evolution collides with the modern world


Mario Giordano Auntie Poldi and the handsome Antonio
Lynne Hugo The Book of CarolSue
Francine Mathews Death on Tuckernuck
Fern Michaels Fearless Fern Michaels.
G S (Gabriel) Denning The finality problem
Jude Deveraux A forgotten murder
Lucy Foley The guest list : a novel
Guillermo del Toro The hollow ones
Laura Childs Lavender blue murder Laura Childs.
Christine Feehan Lethal game Christine Feehan.
Fiona Davis The lions of Fifth Avenue : a novel
Catherine Ryan Howard The nothing man Catherine Ryan Howard.
Danielle Steel The numbers game : a novel
Ellen Marie Wiseman The orphan collector
Jenny Milchman The second mother.
Ali Smith Summer : a novel
Donna Leon Trace elements.

Charles Conn Bulletproof problem solving the one skill that changes everything
Jessica Garrison The devil's harvest : a ruthless killer, a terrorized community, and the search for justice in California's Central Valley
Julien Cayla Inside marketing practices, ideologies, devices
Alan Chambers Lead yourself to success ordinary people achieving extraordinary results through self-leadership
Linda Cruse Leading on the frontline remarkable stories and essential leadership lessons from the world's danger zones
William A Adams Mastering leadership an integrated framework for breakthrough performance and extraordinary business results
James Manktelow Mind tools for managers 100 ways to be a better boss
Kerry Hannon Never too old to get rich the entrepreneur's guide to starting a business mid-life
Frank J Rumbauskas Sales badassery kick ass. take names. crush the competition.
Brian Tracy The science of influence how to inspire yourself and others to greatness
David King Six days in august : the story of stockholm syndrome
Christopher Mulligan Talent keepers how top leaders engage and retain their best performers
Mitchell Kusy Why I don't work here anymore a leader's guide to offset the financial and emotional costs of toxic employees
Tacy M Byham Your first leadership job how catalyst leaders bring out the best in others

Posted on Sep. 14, 2020 by Steven Dunlap

Demystifying the Serial Killer

Avid mystery fans are undoubtedly familiar with the image of a serial killer as an eccentric genius, expertly leading police on dark, wild chases fed by premeditated clues designed to  result in endless detours. The highly intelligent murderer also tantalizes us in countless television series and blockbuster films. But if you're in the mood for a clever new twist on serial killer novels, check out the latest title by Irish writer Catherine Ryan Howard and reviewed by Mechanics' Institute staffer Steven Dunlap:

"The Nothing Man is an offbeat thriller about Eve Black, the only survivor of a killing spree who writes a book about that experience thirty years later. The novel becomes a bestseller, piquing the interest of readers everywhere, including the still-at-large killer. As Black gets closer to the truth, the 'Nothing Man,' as he has come to be called because he leaves no trace of himself at the crime scene, is forced out of hiding.

"Howard's novel does much to challenge the cultural obsession of a serial killer as a 'dark magician.' In an essay on, the Edgar-nominated author explains how her research for this book led to her realization that our cultural construct of what she calls "the serial killer as dark magician" falls apart when examining case histories of actual criminals. In studying case files for The Nothing Man, Howard said she discovered how little intelligence or expertise serial killers actually had or needed in previous decades. Historically, criminals simply took advantage of institutional failures, the lack of sophisticated DNA testing and a faulty system of shared information between police jurisdictions, making getting away with murder as easy as crossing county or state lines."

If you are a fan of psychological thrillers such as The Nothing Man, you may also enjoy these (all titles can be reserved and checked out through MI's To Go express library service):

The Alienist by Caleb Carr - Dark, atmospheric 19th century murder investigation by Dr. Lazlo Kreizler, a brilliant psychologist with rather unconventional methods. Gaslit New York City never looked or felt so foreboding in the TNT television series by the same name. 

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsey - Mild-mannered Dexter Morgan works as a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami police by day. By night, Morgan roams the streets in his secret life as a murderer of other criminals. You'll never look at shipping containers or plastic wrap in the same way after reading Lindsey's novel or watching the book-based TV series called Dexter. 

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock - Gritty and brutally violent, Pollock unflinchingly serves up a cast of depraved yet compelling characters, starting with tormented veteran Willard Russell, newly returned from World War II, a husband-and-wife team who troll the highways for victims and a spider-obsessed preacher. Optioned by Netflix in 2018, Pollock's novel was made into a film premiering in September. 

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff - Pulp storytelling at its finest, impudently stirring up H.P. Lovecraft's characters as well as his grand supernatural visions but reinvented in a Jim Crow era escapade, Matt Ruff-style. The brand new TV series by the same name serves up monsters and adventure, all the while exploring racism and prodding the legacy of slavery in America.

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell - A former reporter who worked in a medical examiner's office, Cornwell proves that male authors aren't the only ones who excel at serial killer investigations. Phyllis Nagy, screenwriter for the 2015 movie Carol has been signed on to adapt Cornwell's book and more importantly, the character of Kay Scarpetta, medical examiner into a film.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn - Troubled reporter Camille Preaker returns to her hometown to investigate the murders of two young girls. Camille's twisted family dynamics along with sharp, stylish depictions of a small southern town's backstabbing, bored females are fabulous fodder for the TV series by the same name. Not for Mary Poppins fans. 

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo - It's comforting to know that authors like Nesbo will carry on the Nordic noir legacy of Henning Mankell (Wallander) and Steig Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Exceptional characterization and chilling suspense tell the story of Inspector Harry Hole, who must break the pattern of eleven women who go missing, all on the day of the first snow. 

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith - Bad boy sociopath Tom Ripley is a handsome, extremely likable character, not at all the type you'd even suspect of murder. Entertaining yet darkly unsettling, the story provided the basis for the excellent 1999 psychological thriller by the same name.

Posted on Aug. 25, 2020 by Steven Dunlap

All eAudiobooks New Titles List for the Week of August 17


Kristan Higgins Always the last to know
Lindsay Ellis Axiom's end : a novel
Christina Chiu Beauty
Matthew Carr Black sun rising
Kristin Harmel The book of lost names
P W (Peter Warren) Singer Burn-in : a novel of the real robotic revolution
Bree Baker A call for kelp
S A Chakraborty The city of brass
Rennie Airth Cold kill
Amita Trasi The color of our sky
Roy Freirich Deprivation : a novel
Shari Lapeña The end of her : a novel
Alexander McCall Smith The geometry of holding hands
Jonathan Kellerman Half Moon Bay : a novel
Rebecca Taylor Her perfect life
Jill McCorkle Hieroglyphics : a novel
Rebecca Kauffman The house on Fripp Island
Laura Lippman Lady in the lake : a novel
Eliza Casey Lady rights a wrong
Elly Griffiths The lantern men : a Ruth Galloway mystery
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov Lolita
Alice Miller More miracle than bird : a novel
Brad Thor Near dark : a thriller
Spencer Quinn Of mutts and men
Jenn McKinlay Paris is always a good idea
Jim Butcher Peace talks : a novel of the Dresden files
JP Delaney Playing nice : a novel
Emma Donoghue The pull of the stars : a novel
Laurie R King Riviera gold : a novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes
Keith Rosson Road seven
Erica Bauermeister The scent keeper
Kevin Kwan Sex and vanity : a novel
Charlie Donlea The suicide house
David (David Stephen) Mitchell Utopia Avenue : a novel


Bill Buford Dirt : adventures, with family, in the kitchens of Lyon, looking for the origins of the French cooking
Jonathan Metzl Dying of whiteness : how the politics of racial resentment is killing America's heartland
Bill Buford Heat [an amateur's adventures as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany]
Madeleine Korbel Albright Hell and other destinations : a 21st-century memoir
Jax Miller Hell in the heartland : murder, meth, and the case of two missing girls
Baynard Woods I got a monster : the rise and fall of America's most corrupt police squad
Hope Jahren Lab girl
Greta Thunberg Our house is on fire : scenes of a family and a planet in crisis
Stacey Abrams Our time is now : power, purpose, and the fight for a fair America

Posted on Aug. 19, 2020 by Steven Dunlap

Kanopy for streaming cinema

The Mechanics Institute now offers streaming video! The Kanopy online video streaming platform offers thousands of classic films, educational videos, documentaries, indie, art house, foreign films, and more. 

After clicking on this link you will need to authenticate using your Mechanics Institute barcode (the long number on the back of your membership card). This will lead you to an online form to set up your account on Kanopy. After this initial set-up, you will use your email address and a password of your choosing to access Kanopy. If you encounter any difficulties, please email us at [email protected] then we will set up a time for us to call you to talk you through the process. Once you have done the initial set up, bookmark the link to return to Kanopy to watch great films and videos. 

What can you find on Kanopy? Try a search to find out. Have a favorite writer? I searched for mine and found a wonderful documentary about her. Have a favorite topic, maybe cooking? You will discover Kanopy includes The Great Courses series, among many others, The Everyday Gourmet.  Explore Kanopy to find a video about whatever interests you. 

Our Friday's CinemaLit program will continue with members viewing the selected movie on Kanopy then participating in a group discussion (Click here for more information and to register for the discussion on Zoom).

[The picture for this post, Buster Keaton 29c (from the National Postal Museum, Scott Catalogue USA 2828, April 27, 1994.) comes from Smithsonian Open Access provided by the Smithsonian Institution, which has made over 3 million of its ditiized images freely available.]

Posted on Apr. 28, 2020 by Steven Dunlap