By Carolyn Piper

I have not had time lately to do a lot of reading. I have read a few very interesting books though and I thought for this issue I would list a few of them with brief descriptions in hope that some of you will find something of iterest.

First up, as it usually is with me, is history. I recently read for example an enthralling book on Miguel Servetus who lived during the reformation and was burned at the stake for heretical writings. This book, Out Of of the Flames by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone fascinated me because of the many parallels to the 1500s that seem to be rearing their heads in the world today. For those of you interested in history, and a grab bag full of odd facts and happenings, I would certainly recommend it.

Servetus could well have been the title character of the new Spielberg movie "Catch Me If You Can." He first trained as a lawyer, and then switched gears to theology, during which time he wrote his first book, which would eventually earn him his spot at the stake. He, like the Spielberg hero, managed to go on the lam for years during which he trained as a doctor, edited books, wrote more books that got him into more trouble, flirted with disaster by revealing his true identity now and again to argue theology with both the Pope and John Calvin, with whom he eventually went one step too far resulting in him being brought to ground. Despite the fact that he lived in a time in which it was illegal for anyone to study human anatomy using a cadaver--which was rather like trying to learn car mechanics without being able to open the hood--he made one of the premier medical discoveries of all time, being the first to describe the pulmonary circulatory system. His theological theories led ultimately to the Transcendentalist movement of Emerson, Thoreau and Alcott in this country and ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Unitarian religion, which endures to this day. This was quite simply a brilliant and fascinating man, adept at switching gears. He was perhaps too enamored of his own genius, sure that he could, no pun intended, play with fire with immunity and get away with it. But reading his story, and that of his times, is an instructive exercise as we presently play with our own version of fire. As Harry Truman once said: "The only things new in the world is the history you don't know."

Switching gears to a lighter vein, I also recently read Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country, which is the account of his trips to Australia. Bryson is an author many of you may be familiar with from his best seller A Walk in the Woods and is one of my favorite writers. He has a sense of childish wonder and curiosity as well as a terrific sense of humor that reminds me of George Plimpton at his best, which coming from me is high praise. (Those of you who don't know who Plimpton is might want to look him up in the library--especially those of you who enjoy sports and fireworks.)

Bryson loves Australia--actually this man loves life period, which fact alone makes every one of his books worth reading. In his telling of journeys throughout that continent he manages to fill his reader, or at least this reader, with that same capacity for joy. Sharks, jelly fish, foolish people, ex prime ministers who sell books at a card table at jumble sales, and assorted other characters no other country but OZ could produce, are in evidence. So is Bryson--a character every bit as interesting as any he meets along the way. This is an entertaining, fascinating and joyful read. And Bryson shares the characteristic seen in only the very best humor writers of being able to whisk you along merrily and then, without warning, move you onto another track filled with thoughtful musings or tears. I own almost all of his books and can but wish the same fate on all of you.

For those of you debating the pros and cons of our situation with Iraq I have two suggestions, one pro and one con. The first one is The Threatening Storm by Kenneth Pollack. I have not read this as yet as I am on the waiting list at the library, but have heard it is an excellent and balanced treatment. The second one is War is a Force that Gives us Meaning by Chris Hedges. This is an anti war treatise--period. Hedges is a former war correspondent for The New York Times who after years at one front or another came to some very hard won conclusions about the function that war serves in our world--and swore off what he calls the intoxication of it. It may not change your mind if you are for war in our present situation, but it certainly gives food for thought about what is behind humanity's constant tendency to get involved in one dispute or another.


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