Becoming Steve Jobs – by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli (2015)

Becoming Steve Jobs

Although this biography has two authors listed, the “I” in the story is Brent Schlender, a journalist who visited and interviewed Steve Jobs many times over a period of twenty-five years. The book traces the journey of an egotistical, overbearing young man who gradually becomes a more thoughtful, mature person in his later years. The thing that never changed was his passion to bring top-quality personal computers to everyone, not just companies and office work-places. He went on to release laptops, iPods, iPhones, and iPads in addition to desktop computers.

This is the story of a guy who never, ever stopped trying. He experienced many failures and disappointments, but that didn’t stop him from jumping into yet another endeavor. Some projects took years to bear good results, but paid off in the long run. Other projects were total failures. The book shares the recollections of a myriad of people, including his family, executives from Apple and Pixar, and friends. When you put all their memories together, you get a picture of a very complex man who changed the world.



Ice Bound – by Dr. Jerri Nielsen (2001)

Ice Bound.jpg

Ready for a true story that will chill you to your bones? It doesn’t get much chillier than Antarctica. At a low point in her personal life, Jerri Nielsen made the decision to apply for the position of doctor at a South Pole research station. The continent was entirely covered with ice, and had temperatures that sank to 100 degrees below zero. It was owned by no country, was inhabited only by scientific teams, and was impossible to land a plane on for two-thirds of the year. While Jerri’s father was doubtful about the job, her mom thought it was a great idea:

“My mother, typically, was excited. She thought I needed an adventure at this time in my life. She believed that when things were really in the dumps, you were better off not going down the same path repeatedly, trying to make small adjustments. You needed a total paradigm shift, a new hypothesis, in order to make discoveries. And, speaking as a psychologist, she felt that if my kids saw me strong and in a new life, they might have the courage to come back to me. She believed that children instinctively ally themselves with the more powerful parent. It all added up, and Mom was very clear: You’d be nuts not to go, Duff.”

So Jerri went to the South Pole. It was exciting work, but also exhausting. Because the air was so thin, it took some time for her body to adjust. She was the only doctor in the compound, and she had other duties on top of her medical ones. Just about the time she felt acclimated to Antarctica, she found out she had cancer. What happens when the only doctor on the continent needs a doctor?

What I enjoyed most about this book were the descriptions of everyday life, of how they rationed water and electricity, and how they managed to keep themselves warm in the coldest place on earth.

Body Battles – by Rita Golden Gelman (1992)

Body Battles a

This is a great little science book for elementary-age kids. It explains some of the inner workings of our bodies. Stuff like viruses and bacteria, earwax, mucous, stomach acid, and the immune system. The book is written with humor and colorful illustrations, so kids won’t find it boring.

Body Battles c

It isn’t overly long, and parents will find this book to be a good introduction to the science of the human body.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks – by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

When I read this book years ago, it seemed too strange to believe. As I re-read it, it had the same effect. A poor black woman living in rural Virginia named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She went to Johns Hopkins hospital, which was one of the few hospitals in those days that would care for black patients. Instead of doing a hysterectomy to remove the entire tumor, the doctor gave her an internal radium treatment. Although her condition temporarily improved, the cancer spread to the rest of her body.  Henrietta died in October of 1951, leaving behind five children, the youngest one a baby.

While treating her, the doctor had saved a sample of her tumor, which he sent to his cancer research lab. All the tissue samples from other patients had died in his lab within days, but Henrietta’s cells divided and multiplied and continued to live. Eventually there was so much tissue that the doctor shared it with other ¬†labs that wanted a sample. It ended up all over the world, and is still being used by medical researchers today.

Until this biography was written in 2010, there was very little information about the woman behind the HeLa cells, as they came to be known. The author spent a lot of time with Henrietta’s children so that she could properly document Henrietta’s life, both before the cancer struck, and while she was in treatment. Her childhood was one of poverty, abuse, and inappropriate family relations. To say the family was dysfunctional would be an understatement. It was hard to read those chapters.

The book describes in great detail how Henrietta’s cells were used. Some of the research was good and gave good progress to cures for various diseases. But along the way, there were many things that were immoral, such as injecting living people with the cancer cells to see if they would develop cancer or build up an immunity to it. This was done, once again, without informed consent. And as time went by, Henrietta’s medical history was revealed to the world, something that is considered illegal today.

Although there were many medical benefits from the HeLa cells, this book reveals the shady side of cancer research history. Everyone wants to find a cure for debilitatng illnesses and diseases, but it needs to be done in a way that is open and honest while protecting privacy, and that does not put innocent people at risk.

Choosing To See – by Mary Beth Chapman (2010)

Choosing To See

Mary Beth Chapman is married to Steven Curtis Chapman, the award-winning Christian music artist. Together they had three children, but their family was not complete. When their oldest child Emily was in high school, she became convinced that her parents should adopt an orphan girl from China. After some thought and much prayer, Steven and Mary Beth became convinced that God did indeed want them to adopt. Over the course of a few years, they adopted three little girls from orphanages in China. The youngest child was named Maria.

The book covers how the Chapmans met and married, Steven’s struggle to make it in the music industry, and their growing family. There are good times and bad times. But nothing compares in tragedy to the day when little Maria dashes in front of their son Will’s car, and is run over. She is rushed to the hospital, but is too badly injured to survive. The entire family experiences almost unbearable grief, as well as feelings of guilt.

This was an extremely difficult story to read. I had to stop and start back up several times to finish the book. The very randomness of Maria’s death gives the reader the uneasy realization that this could happen to any family. All it takes is one small thing to happen, and your child can be gone. For most people, this is a disturbing thought. But Steven and Mary Beth leaned on their deep faith in God, and their family slowly was able to heal. Their testimony reminds us that no matter what terrible things may happen in life, God will carry us through our darkest days.

The Power Of Small – by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval (2009)

The Power Of Small

The title of the book says it all. When we look at the problems in life, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, to feel helpless to do anything. But the authors of this book ask us to look at the small things that we are able to do, instead of the impossible larger tasks. The book gives example after example of people doing small acts of consideration and kindness, and making a difference.

I love this quote near the end of the book:

“Each and every one of us has the power to leave this world a better place than we found it. But we would argue that we do so not by creating grandiose plans, or imagining ourselves as some part of a vast movement, but by the small day-to-day actions and decisions that, together with the actions of millions of others, can transform the world.”

Stuff You Missed In History Class

stuff you missed in history class

If you find your time or attention too short for books, try listening to some online podcasts. One of my favorites is “Stuff You Missed In History Class”. The hosts of the podcast research and share interesting historical facts that didn’t make it into traditional textbooks. History is so much more interesting when it’s just two people talking about what they learned about someone, instead of a dry, boring account in school-books. You can download podcasts to your smart-phone, put the phone in your pocket, and learn a lot while you’re working around the house, driving, or walking.

Today I listened to podcasts about Sojourner Truth, the famous slave who became a preacher and an advocate for the rights of black Americans. Some cool things I learned about her:
-Her first language was Dutch, as she was owned by a Dutch slave-owner.

-In 1827, she started having religious visions and became a preacher.

-She was part of two different communes, one called “The Kingdom” in 1933, and the other a utopian group that operated a silk factory.

-She got to meet President Lincoln in 1864, although when she later tried to attend his second term inauguration ceremony, she was turned away because she was black.

-After the Civil War ended and all slaves were freed, she helped many field slaves to adjust to freedom and learn to live independently.

-She was also a care-taker in the hospital after the war was over.

-Rosa Parks was not the first person to defy the rules of segregation on public transportation. Sojourner would get on “white” streetcars and stay seated as long as possible before being thrown off.

During the 1850s, she went on a 22-state lecture tour, speaking about the importance of equality among the races, women’s rights, religion and politics.

-Her biography is the only written account of an enslaved person in Dutch New York.
Her last recorded words were: “Be a follower of Jesus.”

The great thing about podcasts is that it gives you a little taste of whatever they are talking about, and then you can decide if you want to delve deeper into that person’s history.