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Bill Gates’ Summer Read Suggestions

gates This isn’t the first time that billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates has shared his reading suggestions – last December we talked about his five favorite reads of 2014. It’s interesting to see the far reach and impact it has when someone so powerful and successful recommends something with their stamp of approval, as when Gates revealed that Business Adventures by John Brooks was his favorite book, or with the more recent addition of Mark Zuckerberg’s book club, wherein the social media leader recommends a new book every two weeks.

This time, it’s Bill Gates again, and he’s taken to his blog to recommend some summer reading. If your eyebrows just raised on their own, mine did too – summer time is for easy, breezy, pleasant reads, and stories you can pause midway through for a sun-drenched snooze on the beach. That does not jibe so well with what we expect from Gates. However, he swears the choices are light and summer-friendly. I can certainly vouch for the first one – Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is hilarious, and far more relatable than I’m comfortable admitting. The XKCD book would likely be worthwhile and funny, especially for the tech nerds out there (I admit: I love the comic sometimes, but it has gone over my head more than once). On Immunity by Eula Biss is very timely, given the recent resurgence of Measles, and the public clash between vaccinating and non-vaccinating parents. It was also one of Zuckerberg’s book club choices.

Here is Gates’ whole list, with explanations in his own words:

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh. The book, based on Brosh’s wildly popular website, consists of brief vignettes and comic drawings about her young life. The adventures she recounts are mostly inside her head, where we hear and see the kind of inner thoughts most of us are too timid to let out in public. You will rip through it in three hours, tops. But you’ll wish it went on longer, because it’s funny and smart as hell. I must have interrupted Melinda a dozen times to read to her passages that made me laugh out loud.

The Magic of Reality, by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford, has a gift for making science enjoyable. This book is as accessible as the TV series Cosmos is for younger audiences—and as relevant for older audiences. It’s an engaging, well-illustrated science textbook offering compelling answers to big questions, like “how did the universe form?” and “what causes earthquakes?” It’s also a plea for readers of all ages to approach mysteries with rigor and curiosity. Dawkins’s antagonistic (and, to me, overzealous) view of religion has earned him a lot of angry critics, but I consider him to be one of the great scientific writer/explainers of all time.

What If?, by Randall Munroe. The subtitle of the book is “Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions,” and that’s exactly what it is. People write Munroe with questions that range over all fields of science: physics, chemistry, biology. Questions like, “From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?” (The answer, it turns out, is “high enough that it would disintegrate before it hit the ground.”) Munroe’s explanations are funny, but the science underpinning his answers is very accurate. It’s an entertaining read, and you’ll also learn a bit about things like ballistics, DNA, the oceans, the atmosphere, and lightning along the way.

XKCD, by Randall Munroe. A collection of posts from Munroe’s blog XKCD, which is made up of cartoons he draws making fun of things—mostly scientists and computers, but lots of other things too. There’s one about scientists holding a press conference to reveal their discovery that life is arsenic-based. They research press conferences and find out that sometimes it’s good to serve food that’s related to the subject of the conference. The last panel is all the reporters dead on the floor because they ate arsenic. It’s that kind of humor, which not everybody loves, but I do.

On Immunity, by Eula Biss. When I stumbled across this book on the Internet, I thought it might be a worthwhile read. I had no idea what a pleasure reading it would be. Biss, an essayist and university lecturer, examines what lies behind people’s fears of vaccinating their children. Like many of us, she concludes that vaccines are safe, effective, and almost miraculous tools for protecting children against needless suffering. But she is not out to demonize anyone who holds opposing views. This is a thoughtful and beautifully written book about a very important topic.

How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff. I picked up this short, easy-to-read book after seeing it on a Wall Street Journal list of good books for investors. I enjoyed it so much that it was one of a handful of books I recommended to everyone at TED this year. It was first published in 1954, but aside from a few anachronistic examples (it has been a long time since bread cost 5 cents a loaf in the United States), it doesn’t feel dated. One chapter shows you how visuals can be used to exaggerate trends and give distorted comparisons—a timely reminder, given how often infographics show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds these days. A useful introduction to the use of statistics, and a helpful refresher for anyone who is already well versed in it.

Should We Eat Meat?, by Vaclav Smil. The richer the world gets, the more meat it eats. And the more meat it eats, the bigger the threat to the planet. How do we square this circle? Vaclav Smil takes his usual clear-eyed view of the whole landscape, from meat’s role in human evolution to hard questions about animal cruelty. While it would be great if people wanted to eat less meat, I don’t think we can expect large numbers of people to make drastic reductions. I’m betting on innovation, including higher agricultural productivity and the development of meat substitutes, to help the world meet its need for meat. A timely book, though probably the least beach-friendly one on this list.

Here’s the list in video form, by Bill himself.

Miles Franklin Award Shortlist 2015

after-darknessThe Miles Franklin Award Shortlist for 2015 has been announced, and the contending authors consist of a man and four women, one of whom, Christine Piper, is in the running with her debut novel. No small feat.

The Miles Franklin Award is an annual literary prize awarded for the best example of a novel or play published in Australia, depicting Australian Life. The prize is Australia’s oldest and most prestigious literary award, and showcases the strongest literary talent Australia has to offer.

The 2015 Miles Franklin shortlist:

Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett
The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna
The Golden Age by Joan London
After Darkness by Christine Piper
Tree Palace by Craig Sherborne

The winner, to be announced on June 23rd, will take home $60,000 (Australian dollars), while each of the shortlisted runners-up will win $5,000.

Peruse Miles Franklin Award-winners through the years.

Housebreaking by Dan Pope

Dan Pope

As both an author and a bookseller, Dan Pope is well-versed in the world of books. A true bibliophile, Dan has been selling books on AbeBooks for over 10 years. In that time he’s written two novels and a selection of short stories for Postroad, McSweeney’s, Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, Gettysburg Review, Witness, the Iowa Review and more.

His latest book, Housebreaking, is described as powerful, provocative, and psychologically gripping. The novel explores the ways that two families-and four lives-can all too easily veer off track.

When asked what inspired him to write Housebreaking, Dan answered, “A dog.”  Keep reading to find how a dog inspired a novel that The New York Times Sunday Book Review calls a “heartfelt chamber piece of flawed personalities, calamitous decisions and ­unexpected moments of grace.”

“She appeared by the back door of my parents’ house one evening over the holidays, howling.  This happened about twenty years ago. I was home from university.  She was a malamute, a bit overweight, with heavy gray and white fur.  She had somehow escaped from her home by breaking the link of her thirty-foot vinyl dog-line, which was trailing behind her.

Instinct – well, love – brought her, to seek out my brother’s Akita.  We let him outside to romp around with her for ten or twenty minutes, which ended with him making a half-hearted attempt at mounting her.  She growled and hissed and they had to be separated.  Then he came inside and happily went about his business, while the malamute stayed outside, sleeping on our front porch, apparently lovelorn. We let her into the house to warm up, but she immediately ate all the cat food and started on the dog bowl, which didn’t sit well with our Akita.  So we had to put her out again.  She stayed all night.

The next morning, her owner appeared, a lovely woman with her son, who was in his teens. They lived two streets over.  They’d been searching the neighborhood for their runaway.  They gathered their dog and took her home.

Housebreaking by Dan PopeA few days later, the malamute was back.  The same interactions occurred: dog-roughhousing, attempted humping, separation, reunification the next morning with rightful owner.  This happened often – more than a handful of times, over a few years.  The malamute had a talent for escape.

As I said, this happened a long time ago. I would see this woman and her son when I came home to visit my parents.  The mother and son would take walks around the neighborhood after dinner. The boy was blessed with a wonderful nature, intelligence, good looks.  I never really got to know him or his mother.  But we exchanged phone numbers, and whenever the malamute would appear, we would let the dogs play, then call to inform the mother or son of her escape.

A few years later, the story appeared in the newspaper.  The son had died in tragic circumstances overseas. It seemed impossible that this young man could be so suddenly gone. The dog disappeared around that time, too.  I don’t know what became of her.

That experience – the dog, the tragedy of the son – was the first germ for the book, although I had no intention of writing this novel back then. But much later, when I began to form an idea for a novel that took place in my hometown, that episode came to mind and became, in some way, the spine of the novel.

I started work on the book when I was 42 years old, when I returned to my childhood home in Connecticut after the death of my father, to help care for my mom.  The town, West Hartford – particularly the north side of town – is a quiet, comfortable place. After dark the neighborhood shuts down, even in summertime.

I would go out for walks at odd times of night – midnight, 2am – and I’d be more likely to see deer than people.  Once, a pack of coyotes ran past me, jumping over a split rail fence and disappearing across a lawn, as nimble as thieves.  The houses were silent and dark.  Once in a while you would see a blue glow of a TV or computer monitor through an upstairs window.  I got stopped by policemen more than once on these light-night jaunts:  “Do you live around here?”  I couldn’t blame them.  Anyone in the suburbs out that time of night is suspicious.  “Trouble sleeping,” I would tell the cops.  I didn’t want to admit the truth, that I stayed up to four in the morning writing this novel, every night, and that the air cleared my head when I get blocked.

Writers are, in a way, weirdos; they don’t really fit into the suburban vibe.

Being back there, in the rooms where I grew up, summoned, of course, a host of old memories.  But what struck me, more than the past, was the danger and tragedy that managed to find its way into this peaceful, affluent place.  A car crash on a sleepy side street took the life of a high school boy.  A troubled kid from the next street got his hands on a handgun and shot it off on his front lawn. Someone started breaking into garages and vandalizing homes.

All of this stuff, in some way, shaped the book I was writing and the feeling that came upon me, so different from how I used to view my neighborhood as a child, that the beautiful houses, the fine lawns, the orderly streets – it was all an illusion, a false promise that things would never change, that life was indefinite.”

Find signed copies of Housebreaking by Dan Pope on AbeBooks.com

The New Naturalist Series

Today’s gorgeous find on the site is this 14-volume set of leatherbound volumes from the New Naturalist Series, offered by UK bookseller Halewood and Sons, ABA, ILAB. Signed by the author, this set begs to be in the spot of honor on a favorite bookshelf.




nd talk about your beautiful books. A fascinating collection of books about Britain’s natural history, the Collins’ New Naturalist Series is informative but also eye-catching thanks to cover art depicting the magic of hedgerows, woodlands, lakes and the seaside. All manner of beasts and birdies, beetles and bushes – they’re all here.

With more than 100 titles in the series, many with small print runs, the New Naturalist books are adored by collectors with a love of flora and fauna, as well as anyone with a mind to learn more about the science and wonder behind the natural world.

A Visual Quiz: 30 Classic Children’s Books


Do you think you know children’s books? How well? Would you say the images of book covers from childhood are embedded in your brain?

Well, here’s a chance to find out. Test your mettle with this quiz of 30 classic childhood book covers. We chose the most iconic kids’ books we could think of, took a snippet from the cover, and enlarged it. Go on, take the quiz. Be sure to let us know how many you recognize correctly!

14 Collectible Star Wars Books: May the Fourth Be With You

May the Fourth be with you! Let it never be said that we at AbeBooks shirk our nerdly duty or don’t contribute to the joyful geekery or the culture at large.

Here are 14 delicious and collectible Star Wars books and collectible Star Wars memorabilia and ephemera, to ooh and ahh over, or possibly even make your very own.


STAR WARS: Limited Edition Pop-up by Matthew Reinhart

STAR WARS: Limited Edition Pop-up by Matthew Reinhart


1978 Dynamite Magazine featuring Chewbacca (fine, and Shaun Cassidy)

1978 Dynamite Magazine featuring Chewbacca (fine, and Shaun Cassidy)

Signed copy of Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

Signed copy of Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

Signed copy of Star Wars - Attack of the Clones by Matthew Stover

Signed copy of Star Wars – Attack of the Clones by Matthew Stover

 Star Wars - Original Soundtrack by John Williams, on two vinyl records, 1977

Star Wars – Original Soundtrack by John Williams, on two vinyl records, 1977

Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker by Alan Dean Foster writing as George Lucas

Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker by Alan Dean Foster writing as George Lucas

Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars by Trish Biggar

Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars by Trish Biggar

Selections from Star Wars for Guitar - Music by John Williams

Selections from Star Wars for Guitar –
Music by John Williams

Harrison Ford Still Photograph Collection - ncluded are three stills from "Star Wars"

Harrison Ford Still Photograph Collection – ncluded are three stills from “Star Wars”

Marvel Special Edition of Star Wars, 1977

Marvel Special Edition of Star Wars, 1977

Fifteen blueprints for the sets and effects of the original Star Wars movie.

Fifteen blueprints for the sets and effects of the original Star Wars movie.

Star Wars #1 (Marvel Comics 2015) by Jason Aaron

Star Wars #1 (Marvel Comics 2015) by Jason Aaron

Inscribed first edition of The Little Prince goes on sale for $237,000

A remarkable early copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic children’s story featuring a drawing and a note of thanks to Dorothy Barclay, the reporter’s assistant who helped the author estimate the number of stars visible from Earth, has gone on sale for $237,000 (£150,000).

The inscribed copy of The Little Prince

Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince, published in 1943, while living on Long Island in the United States. He asked a friend, Helen Lazeroff, a reporter on the New York Times, to help him find out how many stars can be seen from Earth. Her assistant, Dorothy Barclay, phoned the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan and reported back to the author.

In the book, the Little Prince meets a businessman who is counting the stars – 501,622,731 – which he claims he owns. The grateful author inscribed this copy to Barclay and drew a picture showing a disappointed Little Prince after landing on Earth.

In the sketch, the downcast Prince says (written in French): “You’d have to be completely crazy to have chosen this planet. It is only pleasant at night when the inhabitants are asleep.”

However, below the figure Saint-Exupéry has added (again in French): “The Little Prince was wrong. There are on Earth some inhabitants whose straightforwardness, sweetness and generosity of heart make up for the avarice and egotism of the others. For example, Dorothy Barclay …”

The book, an English language first edition published by Reynal & Hitchcock, is offered for sale by London-based bookseller Peter Harrington (check out their video below about the book). This copy of The Little Prince is by far the most expensive one for sale on the AbeBooks marketplace.

The book for sale also includes a typed note from Barclay to Saint-Exupéry saying she thought the book was “movingly beautiful.”

The Little Prince remains one of the most iconic books published in the 20th century. Translated into dozens of languages, it tells the story of a crashed pilot who meets a young prince who has fallen to Earth. Saint-Exupéry, a pilot himself, died when his plane disappeared over the Mediterranean in 1944 so collectible copies of this nature are extremely rare.

Saint-Exupéry’s inscription to Dorothy Barclay in The Little Prince

This particular copy is around $237,000 out of my personal price range but I can recommend The Little Prince 70th Anniversary Gift Set which includes an audio CD of the fable narrated by Viggo Mortensen.

Amazon’s Top 10 Books: May 2015

The first day of the month is always dangerous. Not only have I been paid the day before, but our friends at Amazon.com release their Top 10 Book Picks for the month, and it somehow always seems to be a list curated exactly for me. This month, for example, includes a true story of a fishing crew struggling to survive in the icy waters of the Antarctic sea, a tense, riveting novel about betrayal, treason and the quest for freedom in a brutal world reminiscent of ancient Rome, and a book whose cover art features a grenade disguised as a cupcake.

Tailor-made for me, I tell you.  That’s okay Amazon, I don’t need to pay my mortgage – I’ll just build a cozy book shack, a literary lean-to of sorts, out of all my books.

…at least I’ll die happy.

If you missed last month, you can still see April’s Top 10 here.  And in the meantime, without further ado, here’s this month’s list, including the Amazon debut book of the month, The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora.



1. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir


2. Dietland by Sarai Walker


3. Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation by Dean Jobb


4. A God in Ruins: A Novel by Kate Atkinson


5. Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann


6. Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster and Survival on the Antarctic Seas by Matt Lewis


7. My Struggle: Book Four by Karl Ove Knausgaard


8. On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sachs


9. Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson


10. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough


And the Amazon debut of the month, The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora.


Found this gem hidden amid the creased romance novels in a thrift store

The Penguin 1972 paperback edition of A Clockwork Orange

I found this 1972 Penguin paperback edition of A Clockwork Orange in a thrift store at the weekend. I could see row after row of creased romance novels and then spotted some orange spines, so I reached in to see what the books were.

This came out. At the counter, the volunteer – a lady who would have been in her prime when this novella was first published in 1962 – could not remember whether she had to charge me 50 cents or 75 cents, so I bargained her up to 75 cents.

The book is slim but that eye-catching cover design is truly memorable.

Seventy five cents isn’t really a bargain because you can find copies for $1 plus shipping on the AbeBooks marketplace.

I started to read it within minutes and, frankly, it’s not easy. Anthony Burgess’ language is difficult to grasp and the reader has to keep referring the glossary at the back. The story is set in the future but Burgess was probably thinking 2015 would be radically different to how it has turned out.

I have always been mildly amused that the story begins in a milk bar. I remember visiting milk bars during family holidays to Wales in the 1970s when they could still be found before McDonald’s took over. You cannot imagine a less threatening location (unless you have a dairy allergy).

31 Matted Japanese & Indonesian Costume Prints

Today’s amazing book find: Not a book at all, this collection of 31 matted Japanese & Indonesian costume prints is just gorgeous. The 31 prints come from Emile Gallois’ 1920 French book Costumes Japonais et Indonésiens and were manually printed and matted in pochoir by M. Henri Hus in Paris in 1930. See five here: