The Bookworm: ‘Why’ is a good place to start

And a big book on the big life of Bobby Kennedy

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The Science of Why 2”

By Jay Ingram

c. 2017, Simon & Schuster

$24.99, $29.99 Canada; 175 pages

How come? It’s a common question, rather informal, with roots that go back centuries: how did something come to be? In other words … why? Why is this, that?  How come you can or can’t?  Or, as in “The Science of Why 2” by Jay Ingram, how do various branches of science explain things?

“The Science of Why 2” by Jay Ingram.

News flash: you don’t know everything. You might think you do but, no, you don’t, and that’s where “The Science of Why 2” comes in. Jay Ingram is about to school you on the things you didn’t learn in school.

Is it possible, for instance, to bring back dinosaurs, like in the movies? The why not is interesting but what’s better is why woolly mammoths may be a different story. So is the tale of why ancient people might not have had blue in their color wheel.

Closer to home – real close, in fact – did you ever wonder why you hiccup? Yep, the answer’s in here, and so is a good remedy for them. You’ll also learn why you can’t tickle yourself and why you really shouldn’t want to.

In “The Science of Why 2” author Jay Ingram is about to school you on the things you didn’t learn in school.

On the topic of your body and its weirdness, Ingram explains what two things you have in common with pretty much every mammal over seven pounds. He also explains why you should wash, wash, wash your hands after using the restroom and why (ew) you’ll never want to go into a public pool again after you’ve read a certain chapter.

Did you ever get lost in the woods? There’s a reason for that, and it’s in this book. So is the ultra-cool reason why your knuckles go snap when you crack them. And while you’re at it, take a v-e-r-y deep breath when you read about Julius Caesar and molecules …

How do electric eels shock their prey? It’s an important question, solved by this book. So is the deep mystery of why toast always falls butter-side down. You’ll learn how humans fly, in a way; why you should never drop a wood frog in the wintertime; and why your average elephant would lose at Double Dutch.

Did you ever notice how one idle thought usually leads to another one? That’s what you get inside “The Science of Why 2” – a few answers to things you’ve deeply contemplated, followed by a whole lot of fun facts about things you’ve never heard until now.

Yes, it’s presented in a lighthearted, sometimes funny manner, but author Jay Ingram’s solutions to the questions posed are serious, science-based things you’ll want to drop into conversation. The best, perhaps most enjoyable part is that this book feels like a free-wheeling, mind-wandering exercise: dinosaurs lead to DNA leads to cloning leads to ostriches leads to the preservation of wildlife.

Science can be lively that way, and never boring.

You can give this book to your older teen, but keep in mind that there’s a chapter in here on hangover cures. It’s otherwise perfect for any adult who appreciates serious fun, and you know you want “The Science of Why 2” yourself. So come and get it.

“Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit”

By Chris Matthews

c. 2017, Simon & Schuster

$28.99, $38.99 Canada; 397 pages

You have other plans. That’s your excuse for trying to get out of doing something you don’t want to do, but good luck with that. Sometimes, fate just steps in and changes things. Sometimes, your plans are weaker than your duty. Or sometimes, as in the new book “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” by Chris Matthews, you may have been born to it.

“Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” by Chris Matthews.

Known by his mother as a “vulnerable,” devout, compassionate boy, Robert Kennedy grew up with a handicap: his father’s disdain and dismissal. Kennedy was his parents’ third son, but he was preceded by several sisters and overshadowed by his big brothers, who were clearly Joseph Kennedy’s favorites; being ignored by his father colored Bobby’s life forever.

Even so, he adored his brothers, Jack and Joe, Jr., and he always wanted to be with them. “He wasn’t clever or bookish like Jack,” says Matthews, and he wasn’t as “well-rounded” as was Joe, Jr., but what Bobby lacked in charm and smoothness, he made up in morals and steadfastness. At private schools – and he attended several of them over the years – Bobby was known as a trustworthy guy.

In “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit”  author and MSNBC Chris Matthews also adds personal notes and, with relevance and good storytelling, re-introduces a few important players to history and shares fresh anecdotes about a time that still holds meaning.

Years later, after Joe, Jr. was killed in a plane crash, after Jack fell ill and received last rites multiple times, and after Bobby had learned to “handle” his father, he proved his loyalty once again by giving up a growing career to work to put Jack into office. Doing so also required internal sacrifices: by design, Bobby became the “bad guy” to preserve the good-natured reputation that Jack had cultivated. Bobby was the deliverer of bad news. He was the guy who had to say “no” when “no” needed saying.

And it worked, but barely. By just a few thousand votes, John Kennedy became President of the United States and he appointed Bobby, his attorney general. For the rest of Jack’s life, Bobby continued to be Jack’s most faithful bad-news bearer, but his compassionate nature ran strong: on issues of poverty and civil rights, Bobby’s eyes and mind were opened.

“Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” is a big book – almost as big as its subject.

Truly, it’s impossible to write a biography about a historical figure without including the influential people who surrounded him so, in addition to background on Bobby Kennedy, you’ll also read about others, politically-minded and not, who were in his sphere. Books about JFK are legion but here, readers see what drove Bobby before the 1960 election and afterward, how he was essential to JFK’s win in 1960, and why he turned his attention to poverty and equality after Jack’s death.

Author and MSNBC Chris Matthews also adds personal notes and, with relevance and good storytelling, re-introduces a few important players to history and shares fresh anecdotes about a time that still holds meaning. 

This April will be the 15th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination, so there’s time to get this book and get filled in. If past-current events are important to you, “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” should be in your plans.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.