Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Review of The Hole Story of the Doughnut, by Pat Miller, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

The Hole Story of the Doughnut

by Pat Miller
illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 36 pages.

Can you imagine a time before doughnuts? I didn’t realize that the world knows who invented them – a ship’s captain named Hanson Crockett Gregory.

But before he was a ship’s captain, he was a sixteen-year-old helping the ship’s cook. They’d fry cakes in lard for the crew’s breakfast – and the cakes were always raw in the middle and heavy with grease. The sailors called them “Sinkers,” because they sat so heavily in the stomach.

Hanson got an idea to help them cook better – and cut holes in the center of each circle of dough with a pepper shaker. Now they cooked perfectly, all the way through.

So that’s about how simple the story is, but the author and illustrator do embellish the tale. They tell about the rest of Captain Gregory’s life and some alternate legends that developed.

There are notes at the back giving more details, enough to convince me that it’s true – We should be thanking Captain Hanson Gregory every time we eat a delicious, well-cooked doughnut.

This light-hearted picture book is especially suited to interest kids. They’ll get a taste of very practical biography.

patmillerbooks.com
vincentxkirsch.com
hmhco.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Nantucket Sea Monster, by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Peter Willis

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

The Nantucket Sea Monster

A Fake News Story

by Darcy Pattison
illustrated by Peter Willis

Mims House, Little Rock, AR, 2017. 32 pages.

What a timely idea! This book tells the story of an actual hoax carried out in 1937 that was reported as news.

For the 1937 Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, Tony Sarg, who created the puppets for the parade, created a giant sea monster puppet. Later, when a group was discussing publicity, they decided to stage a sea monster sighting. They submerged the puppet offshore from Nantucket.

Lots of people were in on the publicity stunt, including the newspapers. Plenty of people were fooled. The eyewitnesses declared, “It wasn’t a whale.” Later, giant footprints were found on the shore.

Finally, the news broke that Tony Sarg had caught the sea monster. He brought it up on shore, and they saw it was a giant balloon. All was revealed. Both Nantucket and the Macy’s parade got lots of publicity.

I like the way the book ends with a spread titled “A Free Press and the Fake News.”

However, when the press is free to print what it likes, sometimes it will print things that are false. Some laws make sure the press doesn’t write slander. Slander means you write a lie about someone. Otherwise, newspapers can print what they like….

From the beginning of the United States, free press has printed both truth and lies. When things are working right, there’s more truth than lies. Sometimes, though, like in the story of the Nantucket sea monster, editors will deliberately print something false. At the time, the editor said the articles were fine because 1) no one was hurt, and 2) Macy’s company didn’t commercialize the event. However, they freely admit that the publicity for Nantucket Island was worth thousands of dollars.

Was the publicity right or wrong?

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Card Catalog, by The Library of Congress

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

The Card Catalog

Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures

The Library of Congress
Foreword by Carla Hayden

Chronicle Books, 2017. 224 pages.

A history of the card catalog – it’s surprising how interesting that turns out to be. Well, okay, it’s interesting to me!

This book traces the development of the idea to put catalog information for libraries on 3 x 5 inch index cards. Originally, the Library of Congress would publish a book listing the books in its collection. So listing the information on cards was much more practical. Eventually, the Library of Congress was producing catalog cards for libraries across America.

But that’s only a small portion of this book. The bulk of the pages are pictures of items in the Library of Congress collection – along with pictures of their catalog cards.

There are many classic books, also interesting memorabilia – and on the facing page you’ve got the catalog card – some of them yellowed and beat up – for that item.

This is a beautifully designed book and is lots of fun to browse through. Because it’s mostly pictures, it doesn’t take too long, either.

loc.gov
chroniclebooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Bessie Stringfield, Tales of the Talented Tenth, volume 2, by Joel Christian Gill

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Tales of the Talented Tenth, Volume 2

Bessie Stringfield

The amazing true story of the woman who became The Motorcycle Queen of Miami!

by Joel Christian Gill

Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado, 2016. 122 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2017.

I think that nonfiction in graphic novel form (okay, necessarily fictionalized a bit) is one of the best things that could happen to education. Joel Christian Gill has started a series about remarkable African Americans, telling their amazing stories in comic book form.

I’d never heard of Bessie Stringfield, but she was the sole woman in the U. S. Army’s civilian motorcycle courier unit during World War II, and the first black woman inducted into the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the Harley Davidson Hall of Fame.

The book begins with her childhood. After her family moved to America from Jamaica, her mother died and her father just abandoned her in their hotel room. The book tells about her unusual upbringing after that and how she grew a passion for motorcycles and traveling.

She traveled across the United States eight times, and ended up doing lots of traveling in the Jim Crow South. (I like the way the author pictures bigoted people in this series as giant crows. It’s disturbing, as it should be.) She had run-ins with people who wanted to harm her, but was always able to outrun them on her motorcycle.

The story of her varied exploits is a quick but very entertaining read. And you’ll learn about someone who deserves to be remembered, the Motorcycle Queen of Miami, Bessie Stringfield.

joelchristiangill.wordpress.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Obama: An Intimate Portrait, by Pete Souza

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Obama

An Intimate Portrait

by Pete Souza
Former Chief Official White House Photographer
Foreword by Barack Obama

Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 352 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve got a crush on Barack Obama.

However, like so many of my crushes, the biggest thing I admire about him is how much he loves his wife and how dedicated he is to her. At this rate, I’ll never fall for someone who’s available.

That sort of crush, though, encourages me by reminding me that faithful men who love and are committed to their wives exist. In this case, I’m also reminded that government leaders who honestly care about the people they’re serving and are trying to help people do exist. Even though he’s out of office, he still gives me hope by providing an example of someone who honestly cared about people and tried to do good things. (I don’t always agree as to what will be good – but it was obvious that’s what he was seriously trying to do. You can see it in these pictures.)

Okay, he’s also a handsome, classy man with a gorgeous family. And he’s adorably cute with small children. And not afraid to show emotion. And, yes, I enjoy looking at a book full of pictures of him.

And Pete Souza is an amazing photographer. Barack Obama says about him:

In fact, what makes Pete such an extraordinary photographer, I think, is something more than his ability to frame an interesting moment. It’s his capacity to capture the mood, the atmosphere, and the meaning of that moment.

Pete Souza has documented 8 years of history in a powerful and moving way. Here are some of his words from the introduction:

But in the 12 years I’ve known him, the character of this man has not changed. Deep down, his core is the same. He tells his daughters, “Be kind and be useful.” And that tells you a lot about him. As a man. A father. A husband. And yes, as a President of the United States.

This book represents the moments I captured of President Obama throughout his Presidency. The big moments and the small moments. Fun moments. Moments of crisis. Moments of laughter. Moments when I had to hide my own tears behind the viewfinder. Intimate family moments. Symbolic moments and historic moments.

I have had the extraordinary privilege of being the man in the room for eight years, visually documenting President Obama for history. This book is the result of that effort; I gave it my all. I hope that the photographs that follow, accompanied by my words, will show you the true character of this man and the essence of his Presidency, as seen through my eyes and felt through my heart.

Reading this book makes me a little bit sad, yes. But it also gives me hope – still – that it’s possible to have dignity and kindness and a servant’s heart in the Oval Office. May that day come again.

petesouza.com
littlebrown.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Quest for Z, by Greg Pizzoli

Monday, March 12th, 2018

The Quest for Z

The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon

by Greg Pizzoli

Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), 2017. 44 pages.

This is a really interesting story about an explorer I’d never heard of – Percy Fawcett – who searched for a lost city in the Amazon, and never returned.

But he had an interesting, successful, and adventurous life before his final expedition.

Right from the start, he was ready to be an explorer:

He was born in 1867 in Devon, England. His father was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and his older brother was a mountain climber and author of adventure novels. Adventure ran in the Fawcett family blood.

He served in the military before he got to devote full time to exploring, but that’s what he went on to do. The book tells about his preparation and training, as well the legends of an ancient city deep in the Amazon rain forest.

When British explorer Percy Fawcett heard these legends, he called the mythical city “Z.” Maybe he chose this name because the lost city seemed to be the most remote place in the world, the final stop, like the last letter of the alphabet. He made finding Z his life’s work.

There’s a map listing the expeditions he made between 1906 and 1924. (Though it’s rather hard to read – the colors of the routes look very much alike.) The book tells about some of his many adventures with giant snakes and hostile natives. I like the story where they stopped an attack by singing a medley of British songs together, accompanied by accordion. They made friends with that group of natives.

The majority of his expeditions were for surveying – to map some of the most dangerous areas of the Amazon rain forest. But he always listened for rumors of the lost city deep in the jungle.

When he finally set off to find the city, the Royal Geographic Society wouldn’t fund his expedition – so he got newspapers to do it. On his journey, he wrote about every step of the trip and sent out “runners” to bring the story to the newspapers as it happened.

But after a month on the trail, the stories stopped, and Percy Fawcett was never seen again.

There’s an interesting section of the book on the aftermath of the expedition.

In the nearly one hundred years since Percy, Jack, and Raleigh went missing, treasure hunters, fame-seekers, and even movie stars have gone into the jungle to find out what happened to Percy Fawcett. None have been successful.

It’s estimated that as many as one hundred people have disappeared or died in the hunt for Percy Fawcett and the blank spot on the globe that he called Z.

This is a fun book. The pictures are cartoon-like, but include some helpful diagrams and drawings. They fill the pages, so that they aren’t too heavy on text, and kids won’t find the story too intimidating.

It’s a fascinating story of a man who is relatively unknown now, but was a famous celebrity in his day – though unfortunately more famous for his failure than for his many successes.

gregpizzoli.com
penguin.com/children

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

Friday, December 29th, 2017

Hidden Figures

The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

by Margot Lee Shetterly

William Morrow (HarperCollins), 2016. 349 pages.
Starred Review

After I saw the movie Hidden Figures, I immediately ordered myself a copy of this book. I knew it was one I’d want to own. I was not wrong. (And I have a small collection of books related to Math.)

Now, the movie is – a movie. It presents a summary of the high points of the lives of three female black mathematicians who made a difference at NASA, especially in getting a man to the moon. It’s told in an entertaining way and makes an inspiring story.

The book has a whole lot more detail. The three women featured in the movie had long careers at NASA that lasted decades. Many black female mathematicians began working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics as far back as World War II.

The book has many more details and a far wider scope. You get hints of all the author will cover in her Prologue. Here are some bits from that.

Even if the tale had begun and ended with the first five black women who went to work at Langley’s segregated west side in May 1943 – the women later known as the “West Computers” – I still would have committed myself to recording the facts and circumstances of their lives. Just as islands – isolated places with unique, rich biodiversity – have relevance for the ecosystems everywhere, so does studying seemingly isolated or overlooked people and events from the past turn up unexpected connections and insights to modern life. The idea that black women had been recruited to work as mathematicians at the NASA installation in the South during the days of segregation defies our expectations and challenges much of what we think we know about American history. It’s a great story, and that alone makes it worth telling….

I discovered one 1945 personnel document describing a beehive of mathematical activity in an office in a new building on Langley’s west side, staffed by twenty-five black women coaxing numbers out of calculators on a twenty-four-hour schedule, overseen by three black shift supervisors who reported to two white head computers. Even as I write the final words of this book, I’m still doing the numbers. I can put names to almost fifty black women who worked as computers, mathematicians, engineers, or scientists at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory from 1943 through 1980, and my intuition is that twenty more names can be shaken loose from the archives with more research….

To a first-time author with no background as a historian, the stakes involved in writing about a topic that was virtually absent from the history books felt high. I’m sensitive to the cognitive dissonance conjured by the phrase “black female mathematicians at NASA.” From the beginning, I knew that I would have to apply the same kind of analytical reasoning to my research that these women applied to theirs. Because as exciting as it was to discover name after name, finding out who they were was just the first step. The real challenge was to document their work. Even more than the surprisingly large numbers of black and white women who had been hiding in a profession seen as universally white and male, the body of work they left behind was a revelation….

But before a computer became an inanimate object, and before Mission Control landed in Houston; before Sputnik changed the course of history, and before the NACA became NASA; before the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka established that separate was in fact not equal, and before the poetry of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech rang out over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Langley’s West Computers were helping America dominate aeronautics, space research, and computer technology, carving out a place for themselves as female mathematicians who were also black, black mathematicians who were also female. For a group of bright and ambitious African American women, diligently prepared for a mathematical career and eager for a crack at the big leagues, Hampton, Virginia, must have felt like the center of the universe.

I must admit, what excited me about this story is that it’s a story about many female mathematicians!

Why is that exciting to me? Well, back in the 1980s, I was a 21-year-old PhD student in Math at UCLA. Out of 120 new graduate students that year, only 5 of us were female, and only one other female was in the PhD program. I did end up dropping out of the PhD program and settling for my Master’s. But while I was there, I felt so much like an exception. The Math department had a long line of portraits on the wall of great mathematicians – and I only remember one woman, Emmy Noether. I always took great pleasure in getting better grades than my male fellow students (as an undergrad, anyway) – but it would have been nice to know about a time when, during World War II especially, the government specifically recruited women to do math.

Now, once they hired them, it was an uphill battle to get the pay or recognition that men with the same qualifications should get. That’s part of the story in Hidden Figures as these brilliant women worked to get the promotions and pay they deserved. Mary Jackson in the book and in the movie overcame obstacles to get the title of “engineer.”

But the book also talks about the history of civil rights as it was played out at Langley. The beautiful thing was that these brilliant women could do the math – and the quality of their work did prevail over the years.

The book begins in 1943, when Dorothy Vaughan began working at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. It continues through landing a man on the moon, and how Katherine Johnson’s equations helped get them there. An epilogue refers to many more years and many more women serving our country with mathematical skills.

This book isn’t a quick summary – watch the movie for that. (And I highly recommend it!) It does give a detailed and epic story of brilliant, unappreciated women who made a lasting contribution to American history.

I like the way the Epilogue puts it:

Katherine Johnson’s story can be a doorway to the stories of all the other women, black and white, whose contributions have been overlooked. By recognizing the full complement of extraordinary ordinary women who have contributed to the success of NASA, we can change our understanding of their abilities from the exception to the rule. Their goal wasn’t to stand out because of their differences, it was to fit in because of their talent. Like the men they worked for, and the men they sent hurtling off into the atmosphere, they were just doing their jobs. I think Katherine would appreciate that.

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

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Review of Bass Reeves, Tales of the Talented Tenth, No. 1, by Joel Christian Gill

Friday, December 1st, 2017

Tales of the Talented Tenth, No. 1
The True Story of Bass Reeves,
The Most Successful Lawman in the Old West!

Black History in Action
True Adventures of Amazing African Americans

words and pictures by Joel Christian Gill

Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, CO, 2014. 126 pages.
Starred Review

Tales of the Talented Tenth is a series of graphic novels about actual African Americans who did amazing things. The first in the series tells the true story of Bass Reeves, who was a sheriff in the old west and whose feats sound like a tall tale. I see this is a 2014 book, but it’s new to our library, and looks like a wonderful series.

The story’s told creatively, using flashbacks from when Bass learned to shoot when he was a child and a slave, paralleling a tight spot he got into later when chasing outlaws. The panels are varied, colorful and striking. This is an exciting story, and will catch anyone’s interest.

It’s a rip-roaring yarn, told with suspense and flair – and all the more amazing because it’s true.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale, by Susan Wood, illustrated by Gÿsbert van Frankenhuyzen

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

The Skydiving Beavers

A True Tale

by Susan Wood
illustrated by Gÿsbert van Frankenhuyzen

Sleeping Bear Press, 2017. 32 pages.

How’s that for a catchy title? I had to find out about the skydiving beavers!

This nonfiction picture book tells about an effort in 1948 to move beavers from a lake where people had settled to Idaho back country wilderness.

The place where they wanted to relocate the beavers was so wild, it didn’t have any roads or railroads. So how to get the beavers there? Horses or mules wouldn’t be too happy to transport angry beavers, and that would take a long time.

A man named Elmo Heter, who worked for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, came up with a plan. They had plenty of parachutes leftover from World War II, and they decided to use them to transport the beavers.

Elmo designed a box that would automatically open when it landed. But he had to test it to make sure. He caught a beaver and named him Geronimo. He used Geronimo to test his design over and over to make sure it worked. I thought this was funny:

After a while, it seemed Geronimo was growing to like all the skydiving. Each time he touched down and the box sprang open, he’d scurry out . . . then crawl right back in for another go.

Eventually, they used the parachutes and self-opening boxes to transport seventy-six live beavers into the Chamberlain Basin region.

A note at the back gives more details, but also explains that today we try to find ways to live with beavers, because beaver communities are great for the environment. The note tells about a successful such effort in Martinez, California. There’s also a list of surprising facts about beavers.

So even though it will probably never happen again, it was fun to read the true story of the skydiving beavers!

susanwoodbooks.com
hazelridgefarm.com
sleepingbearpress.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Her Right Foot, by Dave Eggers, art by Shawn Harris

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

Her Right Foot

by Dave Eggers
art by Shawn Harris

Chronicle Books, 2017. 108 pages.
Starred Review

Dave Eggers has another brilliant children’s nonfiction book about a great American landmark. Like This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, this book has many pages, but not a lot of words on each page. The tone is conversational, but a lot of facts are presented. In both books, the author is not afraid to ask questions.

And this book has a take on the Statue of Liberty that I’d never heard before. In fact, I googled pictures of the statue to make sure he was telling the truth! (He is!)

It’s actually rather difficult to find pictures that show Lady Liberty’s right foot, but Dave Eggers is correct – the statue is walking! Or, as Dave Eggers puts it, “She is going somewhere! She is on the move!”

He goes on about this at some length:

But she is moving. She weighs 450,000 pounds and wears a size 879 shoe, and she is moving. How can we all have missed this? Or even if we saw this, and noticed this, how is it that we have seen and noticed a 450,000-pound human on her way somewhere and said, Eh. Just another 150-foot woman walking off a 150-foot pedestal?

Then he speculates where she might be going.

But especially nice is the idea he presents at the end of this speculation.

If the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom, if the Statue of Liberty has welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States, then how can she stand still?

Liberty and freedom from oppression are not things you get or grant by standing around like some kind of statue. No! These are things that require action. Courage. An unwillingness to rest.

He connects her depiction as moving with the fact that she is still welcoming immigrants today. “It never ends. It cannot end.”

After all, as we’ve learned in this book, the Statue of Liberty is an immigrant herself. She is on the move to meet the immigrants as they arrive.

This book about the Statue of Liberty makes readers look at her with new eyes.

chroniclekids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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