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Guest Blogger: Alan Weisman, author of "Countdown"

CountdownAlan Weisman is the author of several books, including The World Without Us: an international best-seller translated in 34 languages, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Wenjin Book Prize of the National Library of China.

Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? addresses a question I’d left dangling at the end of my last book, The World Without Us, a thought experiment that imagined what would happen if people vanished from our planet. The idea of theoretically wiping us from the Earth was to show that, despite colossal damage we’ve wreaked, nature has remarkable healing powers. When relieved of the pressures we humans daily heap upon it, restoration and renewal commence with surprising swiftness.  My hope was that readers, seduced by the gorgeous prospect of a refreshed, healthy Earth, might ask themselves how we could add Homo sapiens back into the picture—only in harmony, not mortal combat, with the rest of nature.

The question I’d left them to ponder was how many people can this planet really hold without capsizing it? A million more of us every 4½ days didn’t sound sustainable– was it time for us to consider gradually bringing ourselves down to a workable equilibrium with our Earthly habitat, before nature brutally did that for us?

This delicate, potentially explosive notion generated so much subsequent discussion that I realized I should investigate it fully.  It’s easy to grasp why populations of prey, predators, and forage plants have to be kept in balance in a national park, but much harder when your own species is in question.  Anticipating the cultural and emotional pitfalls, I’d need to apply objective tools of journalism to learn if the optimum number of humans could actually be determined, and if there were something we could realistically and humanely do about it.

I also had to confront three corollary questions: How much ecosystem is required to preserve human life – what species or ecological processes are essential to our survival?  And if, in order to survive, we have to avoid growing beyond 10 billion—or even reduce our numbers from our current 7+ billion—is there an acceptable, nonviolent way to convince a majority of the world’s religions, nationalities, and political systems that it's in their best interest to do so, or is there anything in their liturgies, histories, or belief systems that might embrace the seemingly unnatural idea of limiting ourselves? Finally, how might we design an economy for a shrinking population, and then for a stable, optimal one—meaning, a way to prosper without constant growth?

My research ended up taking me to 21 countries, starting in Israel and Palestine, ending in Iran, with much of Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Far East in between. More than one expert I met commented that I was asking the most important questions on Earth—but they were probably impossible to answer.

My reply was that if these are the most important questions on Earth, we’d damn well better try.

--Alan Weisman

Guest Blogger: Paul Bogard, author of "The End of Night"

The End of NightPaul Bogard's The End of Night is a deeply panoramic tour of the night, from its brightest spots to the darkest skies we have left.

People are often surprised to hear me admit that I’m afraid of the dark. I mean, I’m the guy who wrote the book on the importance of natural darkness, right? Absolutely. But it’s true—ever since I was a little kid I have been afraid of the dark.

What’s changed for me, especially over the three years I worked on The End of Night, is how much respect I have gained for the dark. I’ve learned so much more than I ever knew about how valuable darkness is for so many aspects of life: for human physical and mental and spiritual health, for the health of the ecosystems on which we rely. One theme that runs through the book is that all life on earth evolved in bright days and dark nights, and we need both for optimal health. It’s not that artificial light at night is bad—to the contrary, it can be beautiful and helpful—it’s just that we are using so much more of it than we need, and we are using it in ways that are irresponsible, wasteful, and even harmful.

The reason we do this—use more light than we need to—has a lot to do with our fear of the dark. Because we are afraid of the dark, we avoid, ignore, and know little about it. Our knee-jerk reaction to darkness is to turn on a light, and most of us never spend any time in the dark. One idea that never fails to impress me is how it’s estimated that 8 of 10 children born in the US today will never live where they can see the Milky Way. And unfortunately, the vast majority of these children will never even visit areas where they might experience a truly dark night. Our fear of the dark is a natural human reaction—we have long feared the dark. But when you add the fact that most of us never spend any time in real darkness, our fear of the dark festers, and all too often we then use it as an excuse to light our nights more brightly than we need to.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t things to fear at night. And no one I talked to for The End of Night argued that we ought to get rid of our lights. But people told me again and again that just because some light can help improve our safety and security, that doesn’t mean more light will improve our safety and security more. In fact, solving light pollution—which is readily in our ability to do—goes hand in hand with improving our safety at night. The way we tend to use light at night—spraying it in all directions, including into our eyes, into the sky, and even into our bedrooms—makes it harder for us to see, creates shadows where the “bad guys” can hide, and gives us the illusion of safety. Lights alone do not make us safe, and darkness alone does not endanger us.

And so that brings me back to being afraid of the dark. I can’t really help it—my fear of the dark is part of me, as it has been part of humanity since time began. But it’s not really the darkness that scares me, but what is sometimes in the darkness. Darkness alone is vitally important to us, and we actually harm ourselves and our beautiful world by chasing it away with too much light.

“Learn to reverence night and to put away the vulgar fear of it,” wrote Henry Beston in 1928. He was writing from Cape Cod, where his nights were very dark, but where he could already see “lights and ever more lights” diminishing the natural darkness he loved. I wanted to write a book that would help make readers aware of the artificial light all around us, and the many costs of that lights. But I especially wanted to write a book that would help readers to begin to reverence night.

Even if, like me, they have always been afraid of the dark.

--Paul Bogard

Guest Blogger: Author Richard Ellis on Shark Week

Guest blogger Richard Ellis is one of America’s leading marine conservationists and the author of more than twenty books on marine life, including "The Little Blue-Eyed Vampire from Hell," "No Turning Back: The Extinction Scenario," and his most recent, "Shark Attack: Maneaters and Men."

Each August, Shark Week takes over our lives. Unfortunately, the message of Shark Week doesn't do much to remedy the poorly deserved reputation of sharks. When my co-author John McCosker and I first published our book Great White Shark in 1991, we hoped to dispel the untruths that have beleaguered the shark. Yet, despite massive evidence to the contrary, sharks continue to be portrayed as mindless killers lurking off shore—or in the surf, or in the wake of boats—awaiting the hapless human who enters their territory, intentionally or accidentally.

SharkAttack_ReviseOf course, very few of these misconceptions have any real basis in science and are mostly propagated by popular culture. In my book Shark Attack, I point out that the great white shark was not even at the forefront of our collective nightmares until the release of Jaws in 1975. Yet, nearly 40 years later, this fear persists. We have even been warned about the threat posed by the giant Megalodon—a species of shark that has been missing from our oceans for millions of years! Sensational novels and movies, though entertaining, have unfortunately also contributed to our collective misunderstanding of sharks, producing a culture of fearful viewers who are ignorant of the true nature of sharks.

Sure—sharks are dangerous. But those of us who have studied them realize that they are also beautiful, mysterious, fascinating creatures.

There are bioluminescent sharks; sharks that hunt with their tails; sharks that live five thousand feet down in perpetual darkness. They come in all shapes and sizes, from minute to monstrous. There are angel sharks, Atlantic sharpnose sharks, basking sharks, blue sharks, bramble sharks, bronze whaler sharks, bull sharks, carpet sharks, catsharks, cow sharks, crocodile sharks, dogfish, epaulette sharks, frilled sharks, goblin sharks, gray sharks, great white sharks, horn sharks, kitefin sharks, lemon sharks, leopard sharks, mako sharks, nurse sharks, reef sharks, salmon sharks, saw sharks, silky sharks, sleeper sharks, soupfin sharks, swell sharks, thresher sharks, tiger sharks, whale sharks, zebra sharks, bonnetheads, hammerheads, porbeagles, and wobbegongs.

But for many, there is only one type of shark: the vicious, violent maneater shark. We are all familiar with Shark Week. Perhaps it is time for Shark Appreciation Week instead.

Continue reading "Guest Blogger: Author Richard Ellis on Shark Week" »

October's Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less

For great books at a low price, browse this month's 100 Kindle books for $3.99 or less, a diverse offering available all month. These deals expire on October 31, 2012. Here's a selection of our favorites from October's great collection:

 

Literature & Fiction 

When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald, $3.99

When It Happens to You--A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald

General Nonfiction 

All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, $2.99

  All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

Kids & Teens 

The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick, $1.99

  The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick

Mysteries & Thrillers

77 Days in September by Ray Gorham, $1.99

  77 Days in September by Ray Gorham

Romance

Wild Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series) by Debra Holland, $1.99

  Wild Montana Sky (The Montana Sky Series) by Debra Holland

Science Fiction & Fantasy 

American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Enhanced Edition) by Neil Gaiman, $3.99

American Gods--The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Enhanced Edition) by Neil Gaiman

Biography & Memoir 

The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez, $0.99

The Master of Disguise--My Secret Life in the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez

One Big Deal for a Limited Time

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The Big Deal is back. More than 500 Kindle books are now available for as low as $0.99, including literature, nonfiction, thrillers, romance, cookbooks, books for kids and teens, and more. Shop for yourself, or give Kindle books--delivered when you want--to anyone with an e-mail address. (No Kindle required. Books can be read on Kindle or one of our free reading apps.) But hurry--these deals expire on August 23.

The Big Deal's diverse range of categories includes:

Literature & Fiction as Low as $0.99

Literature and Fiction as Low as $0.99

 

 

 

  

 

Romance as Low as $0.99

The Big Deal--Romance as Low as $0.99

 

Nonfiction Books as Low as $0.99

Nonfiction Books as Low as $0.99

 

 

 

 

 

Biographies & Memoirs as Low as $0.99

 Biographies and Memoirs as Low as $0.99

 

 

 

 

 

Teen Books for $2.99 or Less

The Big Deal--Teen Books for $2.99 or Less

 

 

 

 

Children's Books, $2.99 or Less

The Big Deal Children's Books, $2.99 or Less

 

 

 

 

 

Health, Mind & Body Books: $3.99 or Less

Health, Mind & Body Books $3.99 or Less


Top 10 Kindle Books for August

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This month's editors' picks include cheerleaders, double agents, and a trio of marvelous debuts, as well as more new choices for every reader in the dog days of summer.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between OceansWhen a childless couple in an isolated Australian lighthouse discovers an infant on the beach, the choices they make have a profound impact on their lives, hearts, and souls.

 

 

 

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog StarsHig survived the flu that killed most everyone else. Now this solitary pilot must follow his instincts to survive in a world where nature--not human connection--is the only real solace.

 

 

 

Double Cross by Ben Macintyre

Double CrossThe story of D-Day has been told from the point of view of soldiers, tacticians, and generals. Now a master of nonfiction offers a new take on this epic event: How did a band of oddball spies pull off the greatest double cross in history?

 

 

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Dare MeAward-winning novelist Megan Abbott explores the dark side of the all-American girl in this taut, suspenseful tale of a head cheerleader knocked unceremoniously off her throne.

 

 

 

When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald

When It Happens to YouThis smart, moving series of eight interlinked stories captures the rupture of a marriage, the onset of an affair, and the eminently breakable bonds between loved ones.

 

 

 

Winter Journal by Paul Auster

Winter JournalAt nearly 64, one of our greatest modern writers is feeling his age. As he chronicles shifts in his body, mind, and passions, Auster paints a vivid, intensely personal portrait of what it means to experience the passage of time.

 

 

The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

The Double GameIn Dan Fesperman's sensational new thriller, a failed writer turned PR man finds himself on the trail of a fellow novelist who once hinted at a side career in Cold War espionage.

 

 

 

Dreamland by David K. Randall

DreamlandJournalist David K. Randall's unexpected foray into sleepwalking inspired this thoughtful, entertaining exploration of what happens to us when we slumber.

 

 

 

We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen

We SinnersTwo flawed parents, nine quirky kids, and one extreme sect of evangelical Lutheranism--what could possibly go wrong in this debut story of an exceptional family?

 

 

 

City of Women by David R. Gillham

City of WomenIn World War II-era Berlin, most men have joined the fight. One woman left behind faces desperate choices, finding new lovers and friends as she makes an attempt at salvation.

 

August's Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less

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Looking for great books at a low price? Browse this month's 100 Kindle books for $3.99 or less, a diverse offering available all month. These deals expire on August 31, 2012.

Literature & Fiction 

The Magic Kingdom by Stanley ElkinThe Magic Kingdom by Stanley Elkin, $2.99

Written with deadpan humor and poignancy, this striking and honest portrayal of life and death follows a grieving father's epic trip to Disney World with seven terminally ill children.

 

 

General Nonfiction

Desert Solitaire by Edward AbbeyDesert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, $2.99

First published in 1968 and written while Abbey was working as a ranger at Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah. It's a rare view of one man's quest to experience nature in its purest form.

 

Kids & Teens 

Favorite by Karen McQuestionFavorite by Karen McQuestion, $1.99

After young teenager Angie Favorite narrowly escapes a kidnapping attempt, the culprit's mother seeks to apologize. Angie allows the gesture and learns this woman may hold the key to her mother's disappearance.

 

Mysteries & Thrillers

Solo by Jack HigginsSolo by Jack Higgins, $1.99

This classic thriller follows piano virtuoso and skilled assassin John Mikali. After he kills a young woman while fleeing a murder scene, the woman’s father, a British special-forces soldier, seeks vengeance and begins hunting down Mikali.

 

Science Fiction & Fantasy 

Anno Dracula by Kim NewmanAnno Dracula by Kim Newman, $3.99

Acclaimed novelist Kim Newman explores the darkest depths of a reinvented Victorian London in his best-selling novel, a vampire tale that deftly combines horror, politics, mystery and romance.

 

 

Biographies & Memoirs

Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn JourdanHeart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan, $2.99

Carolyn Jourdan, an attorney on Capitol Hill, thought she had it made, but when her mother has a heart attack, she returns to the mountains of Tennessee where her father is a country doctor. With great humor and great tenderness, Jourdan shows that some of our biggest heroes are the ones living right beside us.

 

Cooking

The Healthy College Cookbook by Alexandra NimetzThe Healthy College Cookbook by Alexandra Nimetz, $2.51

Written by students for students, this collection offers hundreds of simple and healthful alternatives to dreary cafeteria fare. Even the most discerning young palates are sure to appreciate these tried and true recipes.

 

Be sure to browse August's entire selection of 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less to discover great fiction and nonfiction titles catering to all tastes.

 

Note: Deals expire on the last day of each month. Individual books may have additional territory restrictions, and not all deals are available in all territories.

Top 10 Kindle Books for July

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This month's editors' picks include astronauts and cyclists and violinists (oh my!), as well as more new fiction and nonfiction for every summertime reader:

 Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia NetzerIn this singularly powerful love story that balances between two worlds, an astronaut on a perilous mission tries to save his fraying marriage to his soul mate.

 

 

 

The Long Walk by Brian Castner

The Long Walk by Brian CastnerBrian Castner served three tours of duty in the Middle East. When he came home, he fell apart. This is his unflinching account of the toll war exacts on those who fight.

 

 

 

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night by Deborah HarknessPicking up where her sensational debut left off, the second volume in Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy transports you to a land of alchemy, time travel, and magical

 

 

 

The Absolutist by John Boyne

The Absolutist by John BoyneSet in the trenches of World War I, this wrenching tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal explores the deep connections--and rifts--that form during times of trial.

 

 

 

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters

The Last Policeman by Ben WintersWhy bother solving crimes during the countdown to the apocalypse? Detective Hank Palace may be the only one left who cares, but he refuses to let anybody get away with murder.

 

 

 

Office Girl by Joe Meno

Office Girl by Joe MenoOn the cusp of the 21st century, two frustrated artists find each other. Their chemistry warms a brutal winter, sparks creativity, and gives them hope--for a few minutes, anyway.

 

 

 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel JoyceHarold Fry, recently retired, decides one morning to walk across England. Along the way, he redefines his own strength, his failings, and what it means to truly remember.

 

 

 

Gold by Chris Cleave

Gold by Chris CleaveCyclists Kate and Zoe met at 19 in a national training program. Now 32, they're facing their biggest race. Each wants to win gold--and each has more than a medal to lose.

 

 

 

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken Harbor by Tana FrenchIn her mesmerizing fourth novel about the Dublin murder squad, best-selling author Tana French delivers her signature blend of police procedural and psychological thriller.

 

 

 

The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean

The Violinist's Thumb by Sam KeanSam Kean unlocked the mysteries of the periodic table in "The Disappearing Spoon." Now he turns his scientific storyteller's eye to DNA, the tiny building blocks that map our talents, our physicalities, and our future.

July's Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less

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It's the middle of summer, and July's selection of 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less promises to help you make the most of the season. Here are some of our favorites:

 

Literature & Fiction 

Night of Knives by Ian C. EsslemontNight of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont, $2.99

The small island of Malaz is a sleepy backwater port, expect when the Shadow Moon appears. It's an occasion that brings forth demon hounds and other, darker things.

 

 

History and Biographies & Memoirs 

Born on the Fourth of July by Ron KovicBorn on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic, $2.99

Kovic's best-selling anti-war story features a new introduction that puts his powerful and moving Vietnam War experience in a contemporary context.

 

 

Mysteries & Thrillers 

Box Nine by Jack O'ConnellBox Nine by Jack O'Connell, $1.99

Gritty narcotics detective Leonore Thomas, with a few addictions of her own, wages war against a deadly new stimulant that induces giddiness, confidence, and sexual euphoria—with a side effect of murderous rage

 

Romance 

The Frog Prince by Elle LothlorienThe Frog Prince by Elle Lothlorien, $1.99

Sex researcher Leigh discovers the handsome “someone” at her great aunt’s wake is Prince Roman Habsburg von Lorraine of Austria. What will she do with this European noble living in self-imposed exile in Denver, Colorado?

 

Kids & Teens 

Garbage Pail Kids by Art SpiegelmanGarbage Pail Kids by Art Spiegelman, $3.99

Garbage Pail Kids - a series of collectible stickers produced by Topps in the 1980s - combined spectacular artwork and over-the-top satire. This collection includes 206 rare and hard-to-find images.

 

General Nonfiction 

Lives of the Trees by Diana WellsLives of the Trees by Diana Wells, $1.99

Diana Wells has a remarkable ability to dig up curious and the captivating facts and stories about our deep-rooted relationship with trees, reminding us of just how innately bound we are to these protectors of our planet.

 

Self-Help 

We Are All Weird by Seth GodinWe Are All Weird by Seth Godin, $2.99

This book is a refreshing celebration of choice and recognizing that everyone deserves the dignity and respect that comes from being heard.

 

 

Cooking/Home & Travel 

Veggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas VolgerVeggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas Volger, $2.24

Whether you already subsist on veggie burgers or just enjoy them occasionally, Volger's cookbook is the one you'll use over and over again.

 

Be sure to browse July's entire selection of 100 Kindle Books for $3.99 or Less to discover great fiction and nonfiction titles catering to all tastes.

 

Note: Deals expire on the last day of each month. Individual books may have additional territory restrictions, and not all deals are available in all territories.

Top 10 Kindle Books for May

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May's editors' picks include new books from iconic American novelists John Irving and Toni Morrison, plus more great new novels and nonfiction from established writers and newcomers alike.

 

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben FountainBilly Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Poignant, funny, and heartbreaking, the new novel from this winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award and the O. Henry Prize is being called "the Catch-22 of the Iraq War."

 

 

 In One Person by John IrvingIn One Person by John Irving

A compelling story of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, John Irving's newest novel explores unfulfilled love--tormented, funny, and affecting--and the impassioned embrace of our differences.

 

An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth PercerAn Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer

A young woman tries to save three people she loves in this insightful coming-of-age debut, which artfully captures the complicated ties of family, the inevitability of loss, and the importance of learning to let go.

 

The Passage of Power by Robert A. CaroThe Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro

The fourth book of the monumental "Years of Lyndon Johnson" series displays all the narrative energy and insight that has led to its being hailed as among "the truly great political biographies of the modern age."

 

Home by Toni MorrisonHome by Toni Morrison

In Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison's newest novel, an angry and self-loathing Korean War veteran is back in racist America after enduring trauma that left him with more than just physical scars.

 

Season of the Witch by David TalbotSeason of the Witch by David Talbot

Best-selling author David Talbot's gripping story of San Francisco examines the turbulent years between 1967 and 1982 and the men and women who led to the city's rebirth.

 

 

Trapeze by Simon MawerTrapeze by Simon Mawer

Out of school and helping the British war effort, Marian Sutro goes to WWII Paris to persuade a friend--a research physicist--to join the Allies. The outcome could affect the course of the war.

 

 

This Is How by Augusten BurroughsThis Is How by Augusten Burroughs

With black humor and in-your-face advice, best-selling author Augusten Burroughs challenges the notion of self-help books with a "proven aid in overcoming shyness... spinsterhood, grief, disease, lushery, decrepitude & more."

 

Private Empire-ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve CollPrivate Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll

In a narrative driven by larger-than-life characters, Steve Coll investigates the largest and most powerful private corporation in the United States and Big Oil's place in American politics and foreign policy.

 

I Suck at Girls by Justin HalpernI Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

Fans of the best-selling Sh*t My Dad Says will recognize the always patient voice of Justin Halpern's dad as it crackles through the pages of this hysterical new quasi-memoir.