Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: Pirate Hunters

I'm sure many readers can relate -- sometimes, a book catches your eye and finds its way into your hands immediately because you just know you need to read that book right now, while other times a book can catch your eye but has to wait patiently for you to rediscover it. With Pirate Hunters, the latter is true for me. This book first stood out to me as I perused titles for my June Currently Coveting post...last year.

I happened upon it again in a bookstore last week and when I saw it I yelled out, "I've been meaning to read this book!" It went into my stack right then and there (and it didn't hurt that it was on the bargain shelf). I don't reach for nonfiction books often, so when I find one with a premise that interests me, I always want to give it a fair shot so I can (hopefully) recommend it to you!

Thankfully, Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship turned out to be just as enthralling as the title suggests. I love stories of treasure hunting and I was really caught up in the idea that this book told the story of a real life treasure hunt with all of the suspense of a great movie! Pirate Hunters tells the story of John Chatterton and John Mattera, two men who made it their mission to discover a lost Spanish galleon ship that had supposedly sunk off shore of the Dominican Republic. The story behind it takes place in the late 1700's, when a respectable captain-turned-fearsome-pirate named Joseph Bannister had an epic battle with the Royal Navy. In the end, Bannister torched and sunk his own ship, named the Golden Fleece, and both the legend of his pirate career and the ship's treasure were lost to history.

Chatterton and Mattera had both made their names in the diving/treasure hunting business long before this expedition, and reading about their backgrounds and what led them both to this incredibly long and hard search for the Golden Fleece made the stakes feel so real. These men both sacrificed so much of their lives for the chance at discovering this treasure -- failure was not an option that they wanted to consider. Of course, there were plenty of obstacles, both relating to the actual search for the treasure and in terms of funding the trip, dealing with the minimal amenities available in the Dominican Republic, and the long distance relationships that they struggled to maintain. What I loved most about reading this book was the dedication to the discovery -- the personal motivations for both men kept me engaged and wanting to see that their hard work rewarded.

This is a book worth reading, even for those who don't normally read nonfiction. The elements of treasure, history, suspense, danger, and putting-it-all-on-the-line were what drew me in and kept me reading until the very end. Kurson's also written another book featuring Chatterton, Shadow Divers, which I'll be putting on my to-read list.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship
Author: Robert Kurson
Publisher: Random House, 2015
Price: $11 on Amazon
ISBN: 0812973693
Format: Hardcover

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: The Radium Girls

I've been so lucky with the books I've read this year. I already have a bunch of contenders for top ten of 2017 -- and it's only April! I'm not a big non-fiction reader, so it's high praise to say that The Radium Girls is on the short list for best reads of 2017. The Radium Girls is, essentially, the story of a great injustice. I'll freely admit that I had no knowledge of the history behind this book before reading, but now that I know better I can't stop relaying the story to anyone willing to listen.

Incredibly well-researched, and told with a narrative tilt that makes for a captivating read, The Radium Girls tells the story of the women who worked in radium-dial factories across the U.S. during World War I and beyond, carefully painting much-needed military clock faces with a luminous paint made from radium. In that time period, radium was being hailed as a miracle element. It's tumor-blasting powers had recently been discovered, and medical professionals and marketing firms were taking advantage of the public's newfound obsession with its health benefits. The military held contracts with these dial-painting factories so that they could ensure their soldiers and pilots could read their clock faces, as the radium-laced paint shone brightly in the dark. That luminous paint earned these women the nickname "the shining girls," and along with it an elevated status in society. It turns out that working in the radium-dial factories was one of the best jobs that a woman could have in that time -- it paid well, there were social benefits, and there didn't appear to be any downsides. That is, until the girls started to get very sick.

Here's my disclaimer for this book: if you have a sensitive disposition, this might not be for you. The descriptions of the girls' suffering was pretty detailed and graphic. I was chatting with my boss about the history behind the book one day and when I finished relaying just a few of those graphic details he asked me why in the wold I wanted to read about that (valid question, I'll admit) and I replied that it was like watching a train wreck -- terrible, but I couldn't look away.

I might have had a sort of fascination with the medical decline of the girls while reading, but what really kept me interested was the girls' quest for justice. I won't give away the big parts of the story, but I will say that if you have an interest in social justice, this is the book for you. These women were faced with incredible pain, deceptive doctors, greedy corporations -- and yet, they kept fighting for their rights. It's largely thanks to them that we have protections against occupational hazards, because while their jobs were touted as the best out there, their work actually poisoned them. Highly recommended (even for those who don't usually read non-fiction like myself), and absolutely a good pick for a book club read, The Radium Girls is one book that you'll want to put on your to-read list this year.

This title will be released on May 2, 2017.

Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5

Title: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
Author: Kate Moore
Publisher: Sourcebooks, 2017
ISBN: 149264935X
Format: E-book
Source: Net Galley

Note: Top Shelf Text was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!