Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, I feel there is so much I don't know about huge parts of the world that are mentioned in the news every day. Could you recommend a book that might help me, but is also entertaining? Searching for Knowledge in All the Right Places

Dear Searching, I know just what you mean- it seems the more I read, the more I realize how little I know about so much. Last month I read a wonderful book that helped me understand the world a little better: MONSOON by Robert D. Kaplan. The title has multiple meanings in that, while it is a type of storm, it is also a life-changing force that expedites travel and trade. Its secondary title is "The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power." Kaplan skillfully introduces us to the countries and major cities that border the Indian Ocean- yes, there are oceans other than the Atlantic and Pacific. We learn the long history of Kolkata (Calcutta) and its dynamic present; we visit Oman whose ruling family has been in power since before the founding of the United States; we learn about Somalia's centuries' old history of piracy, and the multiculturalism of the gritty, colorful island of Zanzibar. Sometimes Kaplan focuses on a literary figure to illuminate a country's history; other times he details a piece of history to explain a country's present political affiliation. Often we feel as if we are being taken on a Grand Tour by an accomplished guide and storyteller. We come away with a warm affection for the subject matter and, yes, knowing far more about this part of the world than we imagined possible.

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