Books Behind the Headlines

Dive deeper into this week's top stories.

Books Behind the Headlines

Photo: #Mecca_Live. Courtesy of @aly_husein / Twitter.

“Landmark Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program” from CNN

“Today after two years of negotiation, the United States, together with the international community, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” President Obama announced on Tuesday morning. He added that the deal was “not built on trust” but “on verification.” The hope for this newly minted deal, for which negotiations spanned twenty months, is that it will ultimately improve relations between Iran and the West, and, hopefully, eventually spread its sentiments across the entire Middle East. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seems hopeful, too: “Our prayers have been answered,” he noted in regard to the deal.

Further Reading: Understanding Iran, by William R. Polk (St. Martin’s Griffin)

William R. Polk’s Understanding Iran is an enlightening, readable history of a country on its way to becoming the dominant power and culture in the Middle East. Polk, a former member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Council, provides a detailed account of a nation misunderstood by so many in the West. Important, insightful and steeped in fact, Polk’s book is an essential read for anyone hoping to get an accurate look at the history of Iran.


“New Horizons Finally Makes It to Pluto, Sees Craters and ‘Great Mounds’” from The Washington Post

After a nine-and-a-half-year mission, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft finally reached Pluto on Tuesday morning. At precisely two seconds before 7:50 a.m., the spacecraft came closest to Pluto’s surface and was able to capture a brand-new photo of Pluto’s surface. NASA workers had hoped to have a full account of what happened as New Horizons passed the dwarf planet at around 8:53 p.m. on Tuesday night—as The Washington Post reports—“That’s when the New Horizons team hopes to receive a bulletin from the spacecraft saying that it has survived its close encounter with Pluto and is steadily making scientific observations.”

Further Reading: Martian Summer, by Andrew Kessler (Open Road Media)

Ever dreamed of getting an in-depth look at the inner workings of NASA? For one lucky space lover, that dream became a reality. Andrew Kessler spent the summer of 2008 in NASA’s mission control with 130 of the world’s best planetary scientists and engineers as they carried out this ambitious operation. He came back with a story of human drama and modern-day pioneers battling NASA politics, temperamental robots, and the bizarre world of daily life in mission control.


“Snapchat’s Live Stream of Ramadan Prayers from Mecca Hailed for Its Portrayal of Islam” from BuzzFeed

On Monday night, popular social media outlet Snapchat broadcasted Ramadan prayers from Mecca, the holiest place for Muslims. The app, which allows users from all over the world to submit their own videos and photos to its live stories, dedicated a portion of its geographically based “stories” (live-streamed collection of user-submitted content) to Mecca and the large group of Muslims who had gathered in prayer together. BuzzFeed notes that “According to the BBC, more than 300,000 people tweeted the stream, using the hashtag #Mecca_live.” It’s also noted that many Muslims took to Twitter to thank Snapchat for both recognizing the Muslim holiday, as well as portraying it in such a positive light.

Further Reading: The Wisdom of Muhammad, by Philosophical Library (Open Road Media)

If you’re looking to better understand Ramadan, Islam, or anything in between, the best place to start is with the words of its founder. The Wisdom of Muhammad is a compelling examination of the life and sayings of the prophet and offers the modern reader both a historical context for and a spiritual guide to the principals at the heart of the world’s second-largest religion. Drawing on the Koran and the Sunnah, this collection of quotes is organized by topic from A to Z and provides a window into the eloquence, practicality, and ethical fortitude with which Muhammad preached to his followers.


“‘Superhero’ Teen Who Survived Plane Crash Slept on a Sandbar in the Forest” from ABC News

Over the weekend, a 16-year-old girl went missing after her plane was suspected of crashing over Washington State. On Monday, after two days in the wilderness, Autumn Veatch, of Montana, was found by highway motorists. Veatch said that in order to survive, she hiked down a mountain in a Washington forest, following a stream and sleeping overnight on a sandbar for safety. Though she suffered from dehydration and some abrasions, Veatch is expected to be okay. “She’s kind of like a superhero,” Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, says. “It’s just amazing what she went through, especially at 16.”

Further Reading: The Ultimate Survival Manual, by Rich Johnson (Simon & Schuster)

Boasting a total of 333 skills “that will get you out alive,” OutdoorLife’s The Ultimate Survival Manual is guaranteed to equip readers with the skills needed to survive in a time of crisis. The detailed how-to book provides readers with alarming scenarios and exactly how to deal with them—ranging from fending off a mountain lion to confronting a deadly tornado. Once you’ve read Johnson’s ultimate survival guide, you’ll be ready to tackle anything the great outdoors throws your way.


“Family: Settlement Isn’t Victory in NY Police Chokehold Case” from The Washington Post

Civil uproar ensued when unarmed black civilian Eric Garner was choked to death by a white NYPD officer. This week, the city of New York announced a $5.9 million settlement in the wrongful death claims filed by Garner’s family. Though the wrongful death case has been settled, the family still plans on leading a protest to advocate for charges against the officers involved. “The victory will come when we get justice,” Garner’s mother said the day after the settlement was announced. “Justice,” Emerald Snipes, one of Garner’s children, noted, “is when somebody is held accountable for what they do.”

Further Reading: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau)

Heralded as “required reading” by author Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is a dynamic, eye-opening look into race relations of both the past and the present. Focusing on the lives of black men and women, the stories in Coates’ work reach as far back as the Civil War and span the globe, offering a diverse, eye-opening narrative of race’s power to define us. Expanding on the past, focusing on the hard truths of the present and envisioning a different future, Coates’ work is truly nothing short of essential.


“‘Bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ Gets Four Years in Jail for His Role in 300,000 Murders” from BuzzFeed

Oskar Groening, the 94-year-old man known as the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” has been sentenced to four years in prison by a German court for his participation in the 300,000 murders perpetrated at Auschwitz. Groening, who sorted money taken from those killed or enslaved in the camps, has been on trial since April of this year for his aiding in the killing of deported Hungarian Jews in 1944. He admitted to feeling “morally guilty” for his actions and apologized as well, noting, “No one should have taken part in Auschwitz.”

Further Reading: Auschwitz Belongs to Us All, by Marta Ascoli (Open Road Media)

When Marta Ascoli was just 17, two Nazi soldiers broke into her house and took her and her family to the only Nazi camp in Italy. From there, Marta was separated from her mother, and her nightmare journey to Auschwitz began. Suffering at the hand of snow, forced labor, starvation, disease, and torture, Marta’s strength proved both incredible and unbelievable. Through her testimony, Ascoli reminds us of the tragedy experienced by one family, by all Jewish people—and, with the force of a shout, she explains that Auschwitz belongs to us all, as a symbol of the open wound in the history of the 20th century.

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