The “staff picks” shelf in any good independent bookstore is a treasure trove of book recommendations. Unmoored from media hype and even timeliness, these books are championed by trusted fellow readers. With many bookselling alums in our ranks, we offer our own “Staff Picks” in a feature appearing irregularly.
The Island Of The Colorblind by Oliver Sacks recommended by Andrew
About fourteen years ago, neurologist and author Oliver Sacks made not one but two separate journeys to Micronesia. Published in 1996, The Island of the Colorblind contains accounts of both journeys. His 1993 visit to the island of Guam took him on an exploration of a disease called lytico-bodig, endemic to the island and which in different manifestations could resemble ALS, Parkinson’s, or dementia. An account of this visit, “Cycad Island” forms half of this marvelous book.
A few months later, Sacks was back in Micronesia, this time to the islands of Pohnpei and Pingelap – the latter an atoll on which an astonishing minority of the population is achromatopic. Completely colorblind, achromatopes see the world in various shades of grey, but with an ability to detect differing luminances which are almost invisible to people without this condition. “The Island of the Colorblind” is Sacks’ account of his visit.
Part travelogue, part scientific journal, part autobiography, The Island of the Colorblind reveals oceanic islands as completely independent from continental mainland, and from each other. Volcanic islands which rose from the ocean floor, each is insulated, and each has adapted to a unique set of obstacles over countless generations. It’s a fascinating read.
Wittgenstein’s Poker by David Edmonds and John Eidinow recommended by Timothy
There is great entertainment value in listening to two people engage in a philosophical debate, even if the participants are inebriated university students blathering on for hours. But what happens when the intellectual battle lasts a mere ten minutes between two of the world’s most renowned philosophers? That was the scene in Cambridge, England, in 1946, when Ludwig Wittgenstein met Karl Popper for the first time, with Bertrand Russell on hand to witness the heated exchange between two great 20th century thinkers. Wittgenstein’s Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers offers a detailed account of that moment and why so much confusion arose from a discussion about the role language plays in philosophy. While it may seem disproportionate to spend 300 pages to describe an event that lasted a mere ten minutes, authors David Edmonds and John Eidinow, both BBC journalists, offer a dense but readable explanation of the culture at Cambridge University, the biographies of these two great men and how a war-torn Europe factored into the debate.
Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek recommended by Emre
Nearly fifteen years ago, I trashed all my Bon Jovi tapes, stopped listening to my mother’s Beatles records and embarked on my own quest for music. Previously I had been inclined toward Twisted Sisters, Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction,” some classical music, Turkish pop and my mom’s ’60s folk music. Now, I was discovering Nirvana, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and most importantly Jimi Hendrix. I was obsessed with Hendrix like any adolescent boy who though a Fender Stratocaster was greater than god and could make the mountains tremble. At this point, my most revered possessions were that famous poster of Hendrix conjuring up flames from his burning guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival in ’67 and Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek. Shapiro and Glebbeek’s incredibly well-sourced, well-researched book provides an account of this guitar god’s life that escapes hero-worship, yet does not shy away from glorifying the man where he merits it. Electric Gypsy remained my bible for a long time, I would whip it out to argue points on who is a better guitar player and cite it religiously. And, 15 years on, I still want to revisit the book, with a 200-page appendix that provides a perplexing chronicle of the equipment Hendrix used, including minute details like what guitar he used on each song (if memory serves me right). There are also great background stories, love stories and drug stories. Not to mention a ton of pictures. If you like Rock ‘N Roll – in which case you must, by default, love Hendrix – you are most likely to get a serious thrill from the Electric Gypsy.