Reads For The Road: "The Rise and Fall of The Dinosaurs" by Steve Brusatte

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Did you know that T Rex lived ONLY in the western part of North America? That there were pygmy dinosaurs living on islands in what is now Europe? And that most dinosaurs had feathers?! 

What we know about the age of the dinosaurs has changed A LOT since I was in school, which became very apparent when I started reading paleontologist Steve Brusatte's book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World.

I have been fascinated with dinosaurs for as long as I can remember (my favorite is the pterodactyl in case you were wondering) — even volunteering at the paleontology department at my alma mater to help with the cleaning of extracted fossils. So, I jumped at the chance to read an updated history on the subject! 

Brusatte, an American paleontologist, is one of the foremost researchers in the field and has created this new history of the dinosaurs through extensive research, collaboration with paleontologists around the world, and cutting-edge technology. But don't expect a dry, scientific book, Brusatte has created a page-turning history spanning 200 million years going through the evolution of dinosaurs from small, inauspicious creatures, to their dominance of the earth, to their mass extinction when a massive asteroid hit the earth in modern-day Mexico. 

Full of photos, illustrations, and fascinating stories, you are sure to be as gripped by this new history as I was! 

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Reads For The Road: "The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu" by Joshua Hammer

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,

I'll admit it.

I definitely judged this book by its cover.

And man, oh man, did the cover make me want to read it! 

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race To Save The World's Most Precious Manuscripts — it sounds like a Dan Brown historic thriller!! But, the coolest thing about this book written by journalist Joshua Hammer, is that this crazy story is one hundred percent true.

Yup, you read that right. 

This is a true story about how thousands of priceless ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts were rediscovered and saved from the elements and human influence in Western Africa.

The book recounts the journey that archivist Abdel Kader Haidera took through the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River to discover these ancient texts that had been passed down in families for generations. He often found these tomes disintegrating in old trunks and had to find ways (often monetary) to convince the owners of these texts to donate them to a library he was building so that they could be preserved. 

His discoveries had shocked the Western World (who, at this point largely considered most of the history out of Africa to be oral and discounted the idea that there could be written texts), and as a result he was starting to receive grants and funding that would help with preservation and with sharing these manuscripts with the rest of the world. 

Everything was going great — and then Al Qaeda showed up. 

Using first-hand accounts from Haidera, former high-ranking officials, the American military, and first-hand witnesses, Hammer tells the captivating true story of how all 350,000 manuscripts in the collection were smuggled to safety in southern Mali under the nose of terrorists who were ready to seize and burn them, not to mention kill anyone who was caught with them. 

It's a dramatic adventure that will have you captivated from cover-to-cover! 

Reads For The Road: "The Spy" by Paulo Coelho

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Since the first time I read a book by Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist), I've been hooked — and The Spy does not disappoint. 

The book is based on the life and death of the fascinating Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" MacLeod, also known as Mata Hari.

Escaping a terrible marriage to become one of the most powerful exotic dancers in Paris, Mata Hari became a woman with connections and means. She moved in influential circles and managed to keep herself lavishly clothed, covered in jewels, and living in luxury thanks to the generosity of rich men who were intrigued by her. 

I am a woman who was born at the wrong time and nothing can be done to fix this. I don’t know if the future will remember me, but if it does, may it never see me as a victim, but as someone who moved forward with courage, fearlessly paying the price she had to pay.
— from page 15 of "The Spy"

But an independent woman was suspicious in the early 1900s, and in 1917 — at the height of paranoia during World War I, Mata Hari was arrested for espionage. 

This page-turning story gives insight into who she was, the world that she existed in, and the choices she made that ultimately led to her execution. 

Reads For The Road: "Mossad" by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

You can't turn on the TV without coming across fictional shows about the FBI, CIA, NCIS, MI6 or some other covert organization operating somewhere in the world. I have to admit that I am definitely a sucker for these shows (who doesn't love Homeland?), and while I have managed to figure out generally what these organizations do in the real world, the one that I have always been a bit confused about is the Mossad. Who are they fighting for? Are they good guys? Bad guys? (The TV shows are pretty vague on this organization — and yes, I realize that fictional TV shows are not the best source of real-world covert agency information.) 

Well if, like me, you are interested in learning more about this organization, Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal's Mossad: The Secret Missions of The Israeli Secret Service will be a fascinating read. 

Not only does it give — in graphic, unflinching detail — descriptions of some of the organization's secret operations, it also gives a history of how this organization came to be and some real insight into conflicts that are going on in the Middle East in the present day. 

This is one incredible intelligence agency. 

Warning: There are some pretty graphic descriptions in this book about assassinations, torture, and war-related genocide. Be prepared for a real, raw account of events.

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Reads For The Road: The Lost City of Z by David Grann

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

Everyone loves a swashbuckling, edge-of-your-seat adventure tale, but a true one? Even better! 

One of the greatest exploration mysteries of our time, finding The Lost City of Z has claimed the lives and minds of scientists and adventurers from all over the world. The ancient city — with complex networks of roads, bridges, temples, and treasures — is believed to be hidden deep within the dark, unmapped depths of the Amazon. 

In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett decided to go in search of Z.

He never returned.

I had lost my guide. I was out of food and water. Putting the map back in my pocket, I pressed forward, trying to find my way out, as the branches snapped in my face. Then I saw something moving in the trees. “Who’s there?” I called. There was no reply. A figure fluttered among the branches, and then another. They were coming closer, and for the first time I asked myself, What the hell am I doing here?
— "The Lost City of Z", page 5

In this fascinating biography/detective story/travel tale, journalist David Grann takes readers on the same journey that Fawcett took, following his footsteps into the heart of the Amazon and the history of obsession, discovery, and mystery.

And trust me, the book is better than the recently released film of the same name. 

Reads For The Road: "Loot — The Battle Over The Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World" by Sharon Waxman

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,

In most of the bookstores I walk into, the art history section is pretty lean. There are a lot of large-scale glossy photo books with the standard famous works of art in them, but not much that is critical, new, or honest.

So, when I came across Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, on the shelf one afternoon, I snapped it up without even reading the back cover.

Author Sharon Waxman had me from the first line, "It was just like Zahi Hawass to toss a bomb into the middle of someone else’s well-laid plans…"

For centuries, the Western world has plundered priceless treasures from the ancient world in order to fill their museums and galleries. Now, the countries where many of these ancient civilizations originated are fighting back.

Countries like Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and Italy are taking on powerhouses like the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The British Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum causing everyone to ask the question; Who does history belong to?

In Loot, Waxman uses historical accounts and candid contemporary interviews to give readers insight into the complicated issues surrounding the antiquities trade. Full of mystery, intrigue, and conspiracy, she does a great job of making history accessible and interesting to even those who know very little about the world of cultural plunder.

A must read for any traveler — or anyone interested in art, culture, and human history.