I’ve decided to take up my five-books-a-week donation to the local library. I think it got derailed a while back when I came down with pneumonia. I never got my act back together. I intend to post this on August 25 and donate the books on September 1. If anyone wants any of these books, let me know before September 1, and I’ll try to get one to you.
The Stuff: The title refers to a book by Krakauer’s fellow mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea. In Mortenson’s book, he claims that he started a charity to build schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan to repay villagers who befriended him after he got lost descending K2 in Pakistan.
This short (<100 pages) work says most of Mortenson’s stories are fabrications, and the finances of the charitable organization that he founded, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), are in a tangle. Was any school built at all? Were those buildings that were built used as schools?
I read Mortenson’s original books and swallowed them hook, line, and sinker. After reading this, I was angry. As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between. The attorney general of Montana wrote of the controversy:
“Our investigation centered on whether CAI’s officers and directors satisfied their legal duties with regard to Mortenson’s books and speaking engagements, and in managing the financial and operational affairs of the organization. We concluded that the board of directors failed to fulfill some of its important responsibilities in governing the nonprofit charity. Further, Mortenson failed to fulfill his responsibilities as executive director and as a member of the board.
Despite policies that committed him to do so, Mortenson failed to make contributions to CAI equal to the royalties he earned on the books the organization purchased. Nor did he and CAI devise an equitable way to split the costs to advertise and promote the book, as required by his 2008 employment agreement. Mortenson also accepted travel fees from event sponsors while CAI was paying his travel costs. Moreover, he had significant lapses in judgment resulting in money donated to CAI being spent on personal items such as charter flights for family vacations, clothing, and internet downloads.”
Bio: Jon Krakauer (b. 1954) is an American writer and mountaineer. He wrote for Outside magazine and has written several nonfiction books, including Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air. The last was written for Outside magazine and took place during the disastrous 1996 Everest ascent. His books have not been without controversy.
Title: Three Cups of Deceit
Author: Jon Krakauer (b. 1954)
First published: 2011
The stuff: This is a nonfiction work describing the role astronomers and those who read portents in the skies played in ancient societies. The author describes the worldview of peoples as diverse as ancient China to the prehistoric Americas. This heavy, hardback book is illustrated throughout with black-and-white drawings and photographs, many original to the author. “Astronomical knowledge confers power,” Krupp writes in his introduction. “The calendar must be kept. The omens must be read. The ceremonies must be performed.”
This is not a technical book, but it can get a little dry for the layperson. Nevertheless, this was an interesting and rewarding read. May it find a good home.
Bio: Edwin Charles Krupp (b. 1944) has been the director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles since 1976 and taught at El Camino College, USC, and UCLA. His area of expertise is archeoastronomy, the astronomy of ancient cultures. He has written books for adults and children in addition to academic works.
Title: Skywatchers, Shamans, & Kings: Astronomy and the Archaeology of Power
Author: E. C. Krupp (b. 1944)
First published: 1997
The stuff: This is a nonfiction work examining the 1925 Scopes trial regarding the teaching of evolution in Tennessee. In the popular imagination, the trial was settled as depicted in Inherit the Wind. (Produced in 1960, the play was not about the Scopes trial as much as it was a metaphor about McCarthyism.)
Real life was more complex. John Scopes, the history teacher charged with violating the Butler Act (which forbade teaching evolution), was convicted and fined $100—a bit more money in 1925 than in 2022. Author Larson sees the trial not as resolving the issue of science and religion but as an opening shot in a battle that continues under different guises. Instead of forbidding evolution, fundamentalists may try to include aspects of “creationism” such as “intelligent design” or “teaching the controversy” in public school curricula, for example.
This book was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in history.
I found this an interesting, if sad, read. However, it has the ugliest and most off-topic cover—an out-of-focus close-up of a chimpanzee’s face. It’s hard to look.
Bio: Edward J. Larson (b. 1953) is an American historian and legal scholar. Currently a professor at Pepperdine University, he formerly held a professorship at the University of Georgia. He makes frequent television appearances on outlets such as NPR and PBS. His articles have been published in Nature, Scientific American, The Nation, American History, Time, and various academic history and law journals.
Title: Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion
Author: Edward J. Larson (b. 1953)
First published: 1997
The Stuff: Leakey begins his discussion by referring to Darwin’s arguments about the origins of humans. Some of them—humans originated in Africa—have held up well for statements made without fossil remains. Others, not so well. Leakey emphasizes humans’ unusual bipedalism and the development of large brains and language. While the book misses out on some DNA developments of the last decade or so, it is a concise, accessible discussion of human origins.
Bio: Richard Erskine Frere Leakey (1944-2022) was a Kenyan paleoanthropologist, conservationist, and politician. He was the son of renowned paleoanthropologists, Louis and Mary Leakey. Leakey and his team discovered an unprecedented 1.5-million-year-old skeleton dubbed the Turkana Boy. Leakey lost both legs as a result of a plane crash in 1993 and wrote such books (in addition to the present work) as One Life: An Autobiography (1983), The Sixth Extinction (with Roger Lewin) (1995), and Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa’s Natural Treasures (with Virginia Morell) (2001).
Title: The Origin of Humankind
Author: Richard Leakey (1944-2022)
First published: 1994
The Stuff: This is a memoir about losing religious faith and building a life afterward. Lobdell writes that at 27, he had made a mess of his life. A friend advised him he needed God. He became a Christian, started a family, and got married. Things are sometimes complicated. With patience and some finagling, he landed his dream job: writing a religion column for the Los Angeles Times. But there were scandals. When he and his wife were about to convert to Catholicism, the priest sex abuse scandal broke. The memoir is honest and heartbreaking. The material can be hard to read emotionally, but it is candid and important.
Bio: William Lobdell: I couldn’t find much current bio info on the author. His LinkedIn profile listed him as the content manager of Pacific Funds. He seems to have been active—at least for a while—with the Center for Inquiry, a skeptic organization. He is (or was) a visiting faculty member at UC Irvine but was not listed on the UCI directory when I checked. He wrote the “Getting Religion” column for the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times from 1998 to 2008 and was a journalist for about 25 years. This is the only book I could find published by this author.
Title: How I lost My faith Reporting Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace
Author: William Lobdell
First published: 2009