Heroes among Us: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Choices by john Quiñones

Do you have what it takes to be a hero? Author John Quiñones makes a case that even the weakest and most timid of us can have the potential to be a hero under the right conditions. Across the board we learn heroic tales, and not just of people who run into burning buildings and drag out helpless children. There are also tales of people who sacrifice time and money to help out those in need. these are also heroes in Quiñones' eyes.

It's not an easy book to read at times. I defy you to be able to read the whole thing without shedding a tear or two. The story of the Barrios family's efforts to help the young alleged killer of their matriarch, Viola Barrios. So is the memorial to Christa Macauliffe, the teacher who was one of the victims of the explosion of the space shuttle Discovery in 1986.

But death is not the outcome that makes people heroes throughout this book, otherwise it would be an extremely depressing book indeed. There is also the stories of two former Marines who were significant in the rescue of two victims buried under the rubble of the towers after 9/11. And one of the resue of a busload of children on a bus that happened to be in the middle of the 9340 Bridge when it collapsed in 2007.

And that too is not the only way to be a hero. Although tragedy is a central point in many of the stories, there are ones where every day people just do the right thing, such as the wealthy businessman who organized a food drive, and personally handed out sandwiches to the homeless.

Every story in here is inspiring, and makes you feel good. It might even lead you to do something heroic on your own, or at least to not ignore that homeless man next time you pass him on the street.

I give this one 9 stars.


Lost Histories by Joel Levy

What happened to the missing colony of Roanoke? Or Amelia Earhart? What and where is the Holy Grail? These and other intriguing mysteries of times past are discussed within these pages. Did Atlantis really exist, and if so, where was it? Where is this place called El Dorado, the mythical city of gold?

The author covers most of the theories in brief, discussing the possibilities of each being the correct solution, as well as presenting the evidence for each theory being mistaken. I can't say for sure whether he covers every known theory surrounding each mystery, but for the ones in which I was previously well-versed, I can vouch that he does cover all of the theories I knew.

Levy never actually commits to any one theory, although he does debunk a fewof the more outlandish theories surrounding some of the mysteries. For instance, he is convined that the wacky theory that the colony of Roanoke was a victim of alien astronaut kidnapping is not likely the solution.

The writing is interesting, if a bit dry, but for an introduction into the mysteries of disappearances and lost cities, it is a very good place to start. Guaranteed you will be able to hold forth on the subjects should hey come up in conversation,and if they don't well, you can bring them up yourself.

I rate this one 7 stars.


The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson

The story of how one man single-handedly brought down a planet. Well, not entirely so, but it was partially due to the displays that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson worked on at the Hayden planetarium that ended up with the reclassification of Pluto. This is mostly his story, but it also has some background story and history.

Peppered with lots of feedback, mostly from children, decrying the author's decision to not list Pluto among the bona-fide planets at the planetarium, this book is still a bit hard to take. The engaging style of the author does not detract from the fact that much of the story is not very interesting. To be sure, a devotee of astronomy won't be entirely put off by it, especially since the author makes a great case for his decision.

However, I found that it took a bit of an effort to complete the book. The collected cartoons were interesting, as were the letters from Tyson's younger debators. Still, I can only rate this one 5½ stars.


Napoleons Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped by Tony Perrottet

For your you prurient perusal, this provacative publication is presented. You thought history was boring? Not so, says Perrottet and he proceeds to disprove that theory.

Did you ever see the movie Cabaret? Let me tell you, it was Disneyesque compared to the real story of Weimar Berlin's decadence. And the French aristocrats of the 1700's were just as bad as those wacky sex-crazed emperors of Ancient Rome.

Who discovered the clitorus? Which popes exercised their papal priveleges in ways not condoned to the masses? And just how did the condom come into being? These questions and many more are answered within the confines of this book. Not for the faint-hearted, but if you have an open mind and a curiosity, then it is a book you can enjoy, as well as garner tidbits of information to bring up at parties.

I'm giving this one 8½ stars.


Maximum FF: A Visual Exegesis of Fantastic Four #1 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Walter Mosely, & Mark Evanier

From dictionary.com: ex·e·ge·sis (ěk'sə-jē'sĭs) n. pl. ex·e·ge·ses (-sēz)
Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text.

Just wanted to point that out. I don't know what you call this book, but I think exegesis is a pretty lofty term for what is contained within.

For one thing, most of it is just the reproduced story presented in the original Fantastic Four #1. And not very good reproduction either. Many of the frames of the comic are cut off at the top, making you have to decipher what the character in the frame is saying.

Added to this is a reminiscence by author Walter Mosely which doesn't really reveal anything except his fascination for comics stemming from an early encounter with a box of cast off comics in a mom and pop store. Not much there to interest any one except maybe a Walter Mosely fan.

Finally, about three quarters of the way through the book is a history of how Fantastic Four came about as a phenomenon. Included in the essay are the original plot line drawn up by Lee, and a reproduction of the original cover of Fantastic Four #1. What is not here is a "critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text." I guess you could call it an analysis of the history, to put a stretch on it. But the essay, reminiscence and text of the comic took all of 30 minutes out of my life, and I'd really like to have them back.

This one only gets 3 stars. If you just want the original comic book, and can't afford a collector's price, you can find it reproduced in
Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four Vol. 1.


It's Not News, It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass off Crap as News by Dan Curtis

Is Your Next-Door Neighbor A Terrorist? This headline causes people to immediately perk up and read the rest of the article. What is actually in the article is a story about an interview with one of the neighbors who, for a time, lived next door to one of the terrorist cells that attacked the World Trade Center. No need to get out your lie detector and shotgun and force your neighbor to take the test. This is just a made-up example on my part, but it epitomises fearmongering.

Fearmongering is just one the cases where non-news is reported as news , according to Drew Curtis, who is the founder of fark.com, a site devoted to pointing out ridiculous non-news stories. In this book, he points out the different ways that media spices up stories, changes headline content, or just outright invention of so-called news, all in the effort to raise ratings 9for TV news) or sell papers.

One of my favorite chapters was the one on how celebrity quotes were mangled to mean something entirely different from what they actually meant. Case in point Sharon Stone believes kids should have more oral sex. What really was said by Stone was that she tells young people that she believes oral sex is much safer than vaginal sex. Not so shocking is it? Unless you are a pude, I mean.

The interesting thing is how blatant some of these media people are to get a story out, even resorting to witnesses, who are not really witnesses at all. The chapter entitled "Equal Time for Nutjobs". Here whackjob theories are supported by interviews with whackjob "experts". And this is in turn reported as news.

Eye-opening, maybe, but definitely entrtaining, this book is for someone who is tired of all the time he or she has wasted reading an article or watching a news broadcast only to find that the story has nothing to do with the hype that preceeded it.

I give it 6½ stars