Shelf Life

January/February 2013

Reading time min

Shelf Life


How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance, MARILYN YALOM; Harper Perennial, $15.99.

It's a reductive observation, but apt: Americans are obsessed with 9 to 5; the French with cinq à sept, the 5-to-7 socializing time slot considered ideal for an extramarital tryst. "How the French love love," writes Yalom, a senior scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, as she launches a chronological exploration of passion that ranges over Abélard and Héloïse, Cyrano and Roxanne, Sartre and Beauvoir, and many more, down to the anonymous couple who adds their padlock to the grille on the Pont de l'Archevêché—and throws the key into the Seine.

Working Theory of Love

A Working Theory of Love, SCOTT HUTCHINS; Penguin Press, $25.95.

A Silicon Valley quest for a computer who can be mistaken for a human is the better half of this debut novel. Hutchins writes about both this Turing test (the classic challenge in artificial intelligence) and the Bay Area singles scene with a specificity that will make Stanford alumni smell the eucalyptus. Sentient or not, the computer that Amiante Systems has created—by feeding it the diary of the protagonist's father, a rectitudinous physician who committed suicide—is a most unforgettable character. Hutchins is a lecturer in creative writing and a 2003-05 Stegner fellow.

Grandmother Power

Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon, PAOLA GIANTURCO, '61; powerHouse Books, $49.95.

The old rocking chair's got no hold on the elders whose good works are showcased in this collection of photography and profiles. Gianturco goes to all corners of the earth to document women's grassroots efforts for cultural preservation, education, HIV/AIDs justice, human rights and more. Her proceeds from the book are being donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation's Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, which helps African women who are raising AIDS orphans.

Pizza Bomber

Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America's Most Shocking Bank Robbery, JERRY CLARK and ED PALATTELLA, MA '90; Berkley Books, $9.99.

Before there was the movie 30 Minutes or Less, there was an actual crime: a 2003 bank robbery in Erie, Pa., in which a deadline-sweating man was blown up by a bomb locked around his neck. Clark, the FBI agent who led the "Collarbomb" investigation, and Erie-Times News reporter Palattella write about the complicated case. The dead pizza delivery guy was revealed to be a hapless conspirator.

Rocks Don't Lie

The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood, DAVID R. MONTGOMERY, '84; Norton, $26.95.

A MacArthur "genius grant"-winning professor at the University of Washington, Montgomery is intrigued by how often, and in what varied places, mythic stories of great floods are confirmed by the geologic record.  "It's hard to see evidence for what you're sure cannot exist," observes Montgomery, as he guides scientists and religious believers—often seen as antagonists—toward a greater understanding of how the earth's surface was shaped.

Fell the Angels

Fell the Angels: The Case of the Priory Murder, JOHN KERR, '70; Robert Hale, $26.95.

An 1876 unsolved poisoning in a landmark London house provides the impetus for this mystery. Victorian celebrities with unsavory secrets are entangled in the demise of lawyer Charles Bravo. Words the author puts in the mouth of society doctor James Gully, a famous proponent of hydrotherapy, summarize: "A dirty business, and likely to lead to ruin." 

'All you have to remember is that the action is always stationary.' 

—a koan-like explanation from The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics, Leonard Susskind, director of the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics, and George Hrabovsky, Basic Books, $27.99 (February).


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