On The Shelf: Thought-provoking new nonfiction titles

Published 8:00 am Sunday, October 15, 2023

This column was submitted by Evangeline Cessna, Local History Librarian at the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library.

This week, we are featuring New Nonfiction titles for you to enjoy.

Social scientist Dan Ariely looks at why otherwise rational people would adopt irrational beliefs in his book “Misbelief: What Makes Rational People Believe Irrational Things.” Ariely makes the argument that to understand the irrational appeal of misinformation, we must first understand the behavior of “misbelief” — the psychological and social journey that leads people to mistrust accepted truths, entertain alternative facts, and even embrace conspiracy theories. Misinformation seems to appeal to something psychologically innate in all humans no matter your political or religious beliefs. This comprehensive look at the psychological drivers that cause otherwise rational people to adopt irrational beliefs uses the latest research to reveal key elements that drive people down the rabbit hole of false information and mistrust: namely, emotional, cognitive, personality, and social factors. There is hope even in the face of things like fake news stories generated by artificial intelligence. Ariely shows that awareness of these forces fueling misbelief makes us—individually and as a society—more resilient to its allure.

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“The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel,” by Douglas Brunt explores the puzzling disappearance of the inventor on the eve of World War I. On Sept. 29, 1913, the steamship Dresden was a hallway between Belgium and England. On board was one of the most famous men in the world, Rudolph Diesel whose internal combustion engine was set to revolutionize global industry. When he vanished from the ship during the night, headlines around the world wondered if it was an accident, suicide or murder. Diesel had become the enemy of two extremely powerful men: Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil and the richest man in the world. The Kaiser wanted Diesel’s engine to power his fleet of submarines that would allow him to challenge Great Britain’s Royal Navy, but the inventor was determined his engine would better mankind and made his technology available for any nation. Because Diesel’s engine does not require expensive petroleum-based fuel, Rockefeller felt the engine was a threat to his bottom line.

“The League of Lady Poisoners,” by Lisa Perrin brings together the stories of more than 25 accused women poisoners, exploring the circumstances and skills that led them to their lives of crime. Some you may root for — like Sally Bassett, who helped poison her granddaughter’s enslavers in Bermuda, or Giulia Tofana, who sold her concoction to women wanting to rid themselves of abusive or undesirable husbands. Other, less palatable stories include that of Yiya Murano, one of Argentina’s most notorious con women and serial killers, or the terrible Nurse Jane Toppan. Organized based on the women’s motives, the book includes an illustrated primer that looks at the origins and effects of common poisons throughout history. This is a thoroughly researched and insightful look at the lives of these women poisoners as well as the events that put them in the spotlight, their deceptive methods and the substances, and their legacies.

“The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts,” by Loren Grush tells the remarkable true story of the six extraordinary women making history going to orbit aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle. When NASA sent astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s, women were excluded from the corps, arguing that only military test pilots — exclusively made up of men — had the right stuff. Eventually, though, NASA recognized its mistake and opened the application process to a wider array of hopefuls from different races and genders. In 1978, six elite hopefuls were selected from a pool of 8,000 — Sally Ride, Judy Resnik, Anna Fisher, Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid and Rhea Seddon. These brilliant and courageous women endured the claustrophobic and sometimes deeply sexist media attention, underwent rigorous survival training, and prepared for years to take multi-million-dollar payloads into orbit. Together, these six women helped build the tools that made the space program run. One of the group, Judy Resnik, made the ultimate sacrifice when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded at 46,000 feet. Everyone knows of Sally Ride’s history-making first space ride, but each of these six women made their mark.

Sportswriter Joe Posnanski is back with his latest, “Why We Love Baseball.” This volume is a countdown of 50 of the most memorable moments in baseball’s history, to make you fall in love with the sport all over again. Posnanski includes major moments that created legends, as well as forgotten moments almost lost to history. Included are Willie Mays’s catch, Babe Ruth’s called shot, and Kirk Gison’s limping home run; all the slickest steals; biggest bombs; and the most triumphant no-hitters. But there are also the raw moments with the humanity of the game, the unheralded heroes, the mesmerizing mistakes, and every story, from the immortal to the obscure is told from a unique perspective — whether a real fan who witnessed it or a pitcher who gave up the home run, the umpire, the coach, the rival player. From nineteenth-century pitchers’ duels to breaking the sport’s color barrier, all the way to the greatest trick plays of the last decade, Posnanski will help you rediscover our National Pastime.