What Champaign-Urbana Is Reading: Book Picks from Your Neighbors (2009)

Here are more book recommendations from CU neighbors.

Keith E. Fruehling

Keith E. Fruehling recommends
Fabric of the Cosmos

I have always been interested in seeking an understanding of the following: Why are things the way they are? Not so much in an engineering sense but in a more fundamental sense. Such a broad interest welcomes many perspectives. Theology, mythology, cosmology all offer great insights — so does science. The realm of physics has offered evolving answers to this question over the centuries as contemplation and experimentation advance our understanding of the very large and the very small.

Brian Greene‘s Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality tackles the history of the human effort to understand matter, space, and time. Beginning with Sir Isaac Newton, Greene marches through Einstein's theory of relativity, then on to quantum mechanics, and finally, on to string theory. Throughout that journey he takes terribly complex concepts and makes them accessible to all. Not only does he explain the concepts clearly, he also explains why they matter.

Just as any explanation that I could conjure about string theory would pale in comparison to that offered by Greene, the foregoing recommendation does not hold a candle to The New York Times review of the book. Hopefully, this recommendation and the NY Times review will get you wondering why so much of your perception of everyday life is simply inaccurate and why things are the way they are. Fabric of the Cosmos offers a wonderful explanation of the best insights currently offered by state-of-the-art physics.

Keith E. Fruehling
Partner in the Urbana law firm of Heyl Royster Voelker & Allen

Arthur Culver

Arthur Culver recommends
The Invisible Man

While in high school, I read The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. This book presented me with new ideas regarding race and society. The novel won the National Book Award in 1953 and is said to contain many references to Homer's Odyssey. As a high school student in Muskegon, Michigan, I was totally unaware of these accolades. The Invisible Man was an exciting story with themes and responses to the world that I had never seen or understood, and I remember much of it today.

Arthur R. Culver
Superintendent, Champaign Unit 4 School District

Robert J. Steigmann

Robert J. Steigmann recommends
The Private Patient

The Private Patient by P.D. James is the latest in her series of mysteries involving Commander Adam Dagliesh of Scotland Yard. This time, the reader is able to follow Dagliesh and his team as they go about solving a murder case in an English manor house outside London. As with all of her books, Ms. James‘ prose is wonderful, and her in-depth discussion of the many characters in the novel gives the reader a great understanding of their fears and goals. The mysteries are always well constructed, but it is the interesting, intelligent ruminations of the lead characters, particularly Commander Dagliesh, that make all of her books in this series so enjoyable.

Utterly astonishing is the fact that P.D. James is now 89 and finished this magnificent novel last year. I know of no other octogenarian author, much less one who has been able to maintain the tremendously high standards of workmanship she demonstrated in her earlier novels.

Robert J. Steigmann
Appellate Court Justice, Fourth District

Sir Anthony Leggett

Anthony Leggett recommends
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

This is an account by Peter Hessler of two years spent as a Peace Corps volunteer at a teacher’s training college in Fuling, a medium-sized and very un-touristy city in the western Chinese province of Sichuan. The author’s observations both of local life and society and of his own reactions to it are delightful and, I suspect, penetrating. I found this the most unputdownable work of nonfiction that I have read in many years.

Sir Anthony J. Leggett
2003 Nobel Prize Winner
Professor of Physics
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Julie A. Pryde

Julie A. Pryde recommends
The Great Influenza

I recently met author John M. Barry when he came to Champaign to speak at Champaign-Urbana Public Health District‘s second annual Emergency Preparedness Summit. I had been a fan of this book for some time, and it was truly an honor to be able to sit down and discuss it with him, especially as we find ourselves facing a pandemic of influenza.

The Great Influenza is a breathtaking description of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. It is written with a historian's eye for detail that leaves nothing to the imagination. The images in this book will stay with you! I read The Great Influenza at least five times over the past several years. When H5N1 (bird flu) entered the news, I reread it as a guide. When H1N1 emerged this spring, my staff and I were at least emotionally prepared, as we had already stared into the abyss of 1918 through this book. Those who do not learn from history, as they say…

Julie A. Pryde, MSW, LSW
Public Health Administrator
Champaign-Urbana Public Health District

Dr. Lawrence L. Jeckel

Dr. Lawrence L. Jeckel recommends
London: The Biography

Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” London: The Biography is a wonderful, exciting historical tour de force about the life of this great city. Peter Ackroyd, a novelist and biographer of Dickens, has transformed a lifetime of reading and research into a richly textured meditation, replete with countless anecdotes, portraits, and odd historical facts. We come to understand London as deeply layered: Neolithic burial grounds covered by Roman temples, overlaid by churches and monasteries, erased by fires and floods, rebuilt again and again. Every street and neighborhood has a story.

There was a Dark Lane in the medieval city; a tavern later erected on the street was renamed the Darkhouse. Today, there sits Dark House Wharf, towered over by the darkly blue Bank of Hong Kong. A rare open patch of ground off Goswell Road is a remnant of observations of Caesar, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Orwell, to name just a few. Every year, I read chapter 66 to my Law and Psychiatry students. It is a brief history of Bethlehem Asylum, a place that came to symbolize the madness of the city, and the origin of the word bedlam.

The best news is that this book has been followed by a sequel that is almost as good as the original, about the river that originates in western England and flows through the country to London and on to the sea: Thames: The Biography.

Dr. Lawrence L. Jeckel

Brett Stillwell

Brett Stillwell recommends
The Not So Big House

This book, The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live by Sarah Susanka, is something everyone can relate to and is especially applicable to today's green sustainable movement. I have utilized these principles in the design of my own residence.

Brett Stillwell, AIA
Principal, Architectural Spectrum, LLC

Carmela Levy

Carmela Levy recommends
What Is the What

I was searching for something to read on a long flight when the title of this book caught my eye at the airport bookstore. I had no idea that I was in for one of the most moving personal stories that I've ever read. What Is the What by former U of I student Dave Eggers recounts the story of Achak Deng, one of the “lost boys of Sudan” as he struggled to rebuild a life that had barely begun. This book is not a happy read, but certainly one that will move the reader to do something for the benefit of another. The tragedy of Valentino Achak Deng‘s childhood opened my eyes to the daily horrors suffered by millions of poor, powerless, and persecuted masses around the world. His survival and desire to build a better life in America reminded me of all that is possible regardless of our background, disadvantages, and failures.

Carmela Levy
Edison Middle School

Jeff Blue

Jeff Blue recommends
Warrior Girls

Warrior Girls by Michael Sokolove brings to light the epidemic of young female athlete injuries that are occurring more and more frequently as young sport stars specialize in a single sport at very young ages. The statistics are frightening and irrefutable. Young female athletes tear their ACL, the stabilizing ligament in their knee, at rates as high as eight times greater than their male counterparts.

This book shows how girls can train better and smarter to decrease their risk of injury. It also suggests a theory that specializing in a single sport at a very young age may ultimately be the demise of these female athletes. Sokolove encourages young female athletes to stay involved in a variety of recreational activities to help all muscle groups develop and ultimately keep our “Warrior Girls” safer and healthier throughout their entire lives. I would recommend this book to any parent or athlete who wants to make sure that they stay healthy and active as they try to reach for the golden ring in their pursuit of being the best, safest, and healthiest athlete they can be.

Jeff Blue
Champaign County Engineer;
Girls Varsity Basketball Coach,
University Laboratory High School

Brad Dancer

Brad Dancer recommends
We Might as Well Win

Author Johan Bruyneel (with Bill Strickland) details the decision making, goal setting, and tactics of managing the legendary Lance Armstrong and other successes in his career as team director. This book is tremendous for leaders as a reminder of the balance between attention to details while maintaining an emotional IQ.

Brad Dancer
Head Coach, Men's Tennis Team
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

R.T. Finney

R.T. Finney recommends
The Memory of Running

This is a story about one overweight, chain smoking, out-of-shape man's journey across America to find his worth and purpose in life. His journey is full of personal challenges that include addiction, mental illness, and growing older in America. Ron McLarty's The Memory of Running is an easy summer read.

R.T. Finney
Chief of Police
City of Champaign

Alex Ruggieri

Alex Ruggieri recommends
Get Out of Your Own Way

Get Out of Your Own Way, by Robert Cooper, is one of the best business books I have read in years. He has a deep understanding of how the human mind has come to function over the millennia of time. His premises are not only practical but are also backed by significant research and sources.

If you would like to learn why your mind does what it does and how to reprogram it for success, this book is for you!

Alex Ruggieri CCIM, MBA
Senior Investment Advisor
Sperry Van Ness Ramshaw Real Estate

Ray Elliott

Ray Elliott recommends
The Lions of Iwo Jima: The Story of Combat Team 28 and the Bloodiest Battle in Marine Corps History

More ink has probably been spilled about the battle for Iwo Jima in World War II than for any other piece of real estate the size (in square miles) of the sulphur island, or for any other battle in the long history of warfare. And rightly so. AP photographer Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo of the second flag raising did the Marine Corps, the American people, and the war effort a great deal of good when there was a need for good news.

As a young captain with the Fifth Marine Division’s 28th Regiment for all 36 days of the campaign that cost 6,821 American lives, nearly 20,000 wounded, and more than 20,000 Japanese lives, Major General Fred Haynes went up Mt. Suribachi shortly after the first flag was raised. From the top of the mountain, he recalls in Larry Smith’s book Iwo Jima: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific, “We saw the mess on the beach and what we had ahead of us. You could see the real challenge was going to come once we got past the airfields, where we had one hell of a fight.”

Major General Haynes and his Lions of Iwo Jima co-author, James A. Warren, bring the battle waged by Combat Team 28 and its 4,500 Marines through that “one hell of a fight” to the bloody end with a stirring and memorable account of individual courage, sacrifice, and honor that gives you a feeling of having been there — as close as that’s possible. I recommend this book highly to help understand the price that has been paid for our freedom.

Ray Elliott
Writer and editor
Tales Press

Orville Vernon Burton

Orville Vernon Burton recommends
Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel

The book with the most influence on my thinking, both personally and professionally, remains the Bible. I began reading the Bible as a child and continue to learn from it every day. I think you had a different kind of book in mind for the library project, however, so I will go with C. Vann Woodward‘s Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel. That book changed me! That is when I first began thinking about becoming a historian. Because of Woodward, I began to see how history could further understanding, and how new understanding could change the world, especially in terms of race relations.

Orville Vernon Burton
Burroughs Professor of Southern History and Culture, Coastal Carolina University
Emeritus University Distinguished Teacher/Scholar and Professor of History, African American Studies, and Sociology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Linda Katehi

Linda Katehi recommends
Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics

Physics, like so many other fields in the sciences, has been traditionally dominated by male scholarship. Lost in the scientific history are many invaluable contributions of women. Lise Meitner was a ground-breaking researcher whose central role in the discovery of nuclear fission has been overlooked in the literature. Ruth Lewin Sime‘s biography of Meitner has inspired me, as a scientist myself, as well as other countless women in the sciences. Meitner‘s story, a historical low-point in the sciences, reminds us all that discovery ultimately knows no gender.

Linda Katehi
(former) Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Deb Busey

Deb Busey recommends
The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership

Author Steve Farber‘s parable of the “radical leap“ to “extreme leadership” defines that leap as the consistent delivery of Love — Energy — Audacity — and Proof. The message of this parable rings true, while the story engages and entertains the reader. This is a must-read for anyone who seeks to enhance their own leadership experience and impact on those they lead.

Deb Busey
County Administrator, Finance & Human Resources Management
Champaign County

Stephen Rayburn

Stephen E. Rayburn recommends
Great Expectations

Asking an English teacher to pick a favorite or influential book is equivalent to asking a parent which child is the most loved. I am a reader by both vocation and avocation, so choosing one book from the many in my heart is not an easy task. Gatsby? The Scarlet Letter? The Return of the Native? Slaughterhouse Five? Anything by Shakespeare? All those and more jump quickly to mind.

Still, when I look back on the reading journey of my life, one moment actually does stand out for me. When Pip encountered the convict Magwitch in that cemetery on the edge of the marsh in the opening chapter of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, his was not the only life inexorably altered. I, too, fell in love, not only with Estella, but also with a level of literature I had not met before. Certainly the story captured my attention and the characters--Pip, Joe, Estella, Miss Havisham, Herbert Pocket, Jaggers, and all the others--took life in my imagination. Here, though, the language challenged and thrilled me. Before Dickens, I had read good books, but in Great Expectations I met language as Art, and my life has never been the same.

In the years since, I have read most all of Dickens, but Great Expectations still stands at the top of my list. Rereading the book always reinforces for me the reasons I fell in love with it, plus adds the pleasure of seeing the humor I missed as a ninth grader. In the end, that ability to speak to the fifteen-year-old me as clearly as to the fifty-five-year-old me marks Great Expectations as the book that launched me on both my career and my passion.

Stephen E. Rayburn
English Department, University Laboratory High School
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Photo by David Porreca/The Online Gargoyle

Rick Winkel

Rick Winkel recommends
The Last Lion

One of my favorite books is The Last Lion, which I enjoy coming back to time and again. It is the beautifully written and richly detailed biography of Winston Churchill by William Manchester. I first read The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill-Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 (Volume I) and Alone, 1932-1940 (Volume II) in the early 1990s.

Whenever I read Manchester’s life story of Churchill, it reminds me of the soaring potential of the human mind, while poignantly depicting the occasions of despair that dogged Churchill his whole life. Churchill was a genius who could see the big picture and act boldly and brilliantly, yet when he erred, he erred on a grand scale as well. Thus, while his vision and heroic spirit saw him through, his often-turbulent life brought him fame and loneliness.

I knew that Manchester had planned to publish a third volume, and I eagerly waited for the culmination of this extraordinary trilogy by a great writer on one of the greatest leaders who had ever lived. Alas, Manchester suffered strokes following the death of his wife, and could not finish the third volume. He died a few years later in 2004.

Rick Winkel
Director, Office of Public Leadership
Institute of Government and Public Affairs
University of Illinois

Bobbie Herakovich

Bobbie Herakovich recommends
The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives

I have had many favorite books throughout my life, but there are several which I have found unforgettable and would recommend to others.

The Necklace by Cheryl Jarvis is a totally different and refreshing true story. A woman yearns to buy a very expensive necklace and gets twelve other women involved in the purchase because she can’t afford it herself. As the ownership of the necklace becomes a revolving and evolving process, with the thirteen owners, it is a story of each person's reaction to it--their feelings and their abilities to multiply the gift of wearing it, if only for a few minutes. It is a story of hope and joy and what a small group of people can do to support each other -- how they can accomplish much more together than alone. I enjoyed the story because it is such a positive example of what can be done when people join together.

Bobbie Herakovich
Executive Director, Champaign Park District

Gail Rost

Gail Rost recommends
Moyers on Democracy

Working in the non-profit world for an organization that supports one of the foundations of democracy, public education, I found Moyers on Democracy by journalist Bill Moyers particularly relevant, jarring, and motivating. No matter what side of the political fence you may be on, this is an important read. Liberal-minded Moyers has collected 28 of his speeches from 1986 to the present to demonstrate the direction he feels America has been heading for years and why we as a nation face a crisis today. He does not present solutions, but contextual explanations as he reaches back to the times of Lincoln, Wilson, FDR and Humphrey in his speeches to describe current issues in war, the media, religion, education and politics. This is powerful stuff. As ordinary citizens, we need to recognize that we are the only ones who can make changes and that the power is within us. We need to work hard to bring America to an era of social responsibility, to address the inequalities in public education, healthcare, information dissemination and earn the respect of nations around the globe — in essence, we need to take care of ourselves and our planet.

Gail Rost
Executive Director, Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation
General Manager, The I.D.E.A. Store

Frances Jacobson Harris

Frances Jacobson Harris recommends
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

When I finished The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, I found it so compelling I went right back to the beginning and started reading it again. Alexie tells the semi-autobiographical story of Junior (aka Arnold) Spirit, a budding cartoonist who leaves the Spokane Indian reservation to attend an all-white high school 20 miles away. Junior is possessed of a braininess and a variety of quirky medical problems that together conspire to make him unloved by members of his own community as well as the white kids at his new school.

Alexie's writing makes you laugh and cry at the same time. Junior is only 14, but has already attended 42 funerals. He struggles with issues of identity, loss, and poverty. These sober circumstances are counterbalanced by Junior‘s sense of humor, resiliency, and triumphs. The text is accompanied by Junior‘s cartoons, perfectly executed by illustrator Ellen Forney.

Frances Jacobson Harris
Librarian, University Laboratory High School Library

Robert Warrior

Robert Warrior recommends
Miko Kings

I would guess that most readers in CU don‘t know that one of the best and most innovative American Indian writers lives right here in our community. LeAnne Howe, an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation and associate professor of American Indian Studies and English at the U of I, is the author most recently of a terrific novel, Miko Kings, that combines baseball, American Indian history, and reflections on the nature of history and memory. Miko Kings tells the harrowing, touching, and spellbinding story of a Choctaw woman whose world travels bring her back to her family home in Oklahoma. There she finds a pouch of news clippings, a diary, and other materials about the Miko Kings, an all-American Indian baseball team from the turn of the twentieth century. It's a skillful blending of contemporary life and historical writing that provides a stunning glimpse into the modern world of American Indian people.

It might sound complicated, but it‘s highly readable and relies on great twists and turns to keep readers riveted. Read it!

Robert Warrior
Director, American Indian Studies and Native American House
University of Illinois

Dan Hartleb

Dan Hartleb recommends
A Nation of Wimps

Hara Estroff Marano puts into writing many thoughts that I have had during my coaching career. Many of the opinions and examples stated in this book are situations we live with on a daily basis in the coaching profession and the recruiting world. This parenting book is a must-read for anyone in a leadership role whether they are leading our youth or adults in the working world.

Dan Hartleb
Head Baseball Coach
University of Illinois Baseball

Mark Rubel

Mark Rubel recommends
This Is Your Brain on Music

Dan Levitin is a record producer who (as one does) became a neuro-physiologist. As such he has a deep and multi-faceted understanding of why music means so much to people. His investigations into the psychological, physiological, social and personal aspects of music, provide great insight into this powerful vehicle of understanding and communication. It is interesting to find what is being discovered, and conversely how little we really know about many of the mechanisms of creation, perception, learning and emotion. By shining the light of science on the art of music, Professor Levitin illustrates the creativity that is shared by these disciplines. In a fascinating and captivating manner, he shows how more information and illumination only deepens the mystery and marvel of music, very possibly our species’ most noble pursuit.

Mark Rubel
Musician, recording engineer/producer and owner, Pogo Studio
Professor and recording director, Eastern Illinois University
Instructor, Parkland College

Larry Kanfer

Larry Kanfer recommends
Third Wave

Regularly I like to reflect back on this book to remind me of where we are in the history of the world. Alvin Toffler gives us a background from pre-historic times through the industrial world and he was one of the earlier writers to identify the characteristics of today’s information age where change is accelerating.

From this book (and Toffler’s other books) I see embracing education and looking at things outside of our microscale world as very important. Technology has and will so fundamentally change everything. Today, learning how to synthesize information is even more important than having the information itself. This book takes you on a journey reminding you how to step back, and examine the essence of your being, rather than the manifestations of your being.

Larry Kanfer
Photographic Artist
Larry Kanfer Gallery
Photograph courtesy of Community Concierge Magazine, (c) Community Concierge Magazine.

Laura Huth

Laura Huth recommends
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the story of the author’s family living off the land for one year — eating locally and coming to know the land and its systems better. As someone very interested in local food systems, organic agriculture, and healthy eating, I found this book to be a dynamic, fascinating, and often humorous combination of memoir, fact, opinion, commentary, and even great recipes.

Departing Arizona for the old family homestead in southern Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver and her brood take readers on a fascinating journey of the seasons. Chapter by chapter, we are taken through a year on the land, from sourcing local food supplies, to the beauty and intricacies of planting and harvesting, to their youngest’s animal husbandry “business,” to doing without.

Humorous accounts of throwing parties using only local foods and tales of brooding turkeys are intermixed with serious discussions of food policy; they in turn blend seamlessly with the imagery throughout the book, leaving your mouth watering and hungering for more.

Rising above simply preaching and finger pointing about the problem of unhealthy foods grown in an unsustainable manner, Kingsolver, her husband, and two daughters join together to try it themselves and write for readers the story of their journey as they experience it. Kingsolver’s oldest daughter, Camille, plays a strong supporting role in the book, writing significant portions using her perspective as a 19-year-old. Her writing is as strong as her mother’s and her recipes would make the likes of Julia Child or Irma Rombauer proud. It was a fabulous book: educational, political, and entertaining all at once.

Laura Huth
President & CEO | Trainer & Consultant
do good Consulting