- Journalism, Democracy, & Truth
- Fields Pond
- Tuesday Morning
- Tales of Mystery and Imagination
- No PreReqs
A Matter of Trust: Journalism, Democracy, and Truth
Meeting at 6:00PM Thursday on the corresponding dates below
Sponsored by Maine Humanities Council and facilitated by UMaine's Mazie Hough
News anchor Walter Cronkite once said “journalism is what we need to make democracy work.” Toward the end of his life, ‘the most trusted man in America’ protested rising corporate control over news gathering and its veer towards entertainment. That was over a decade ago. Since then, concerns about journalism have only multiplied. And yet—online or on the page a good hook still pulls readers into the heart of a story. The best newscasters instill confidence. And we keep looking to journalism in its 21st century array of forms to help us understand the world.
In “Journalism, Democracy, and Trust,” we’ll examine books and supplements that address matters of reliability, deception, and journalism’s place in a democracy. We’ll look, too, at how journalism has changed and where it might go. During this series we’ll sample fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, a TED talk, a radio broadcast, and online essays.
We designed the series to foster conversation and avoid polemics. Works of past decades describe what’s come before, while current writings show where we are. At the heart of our inquiry is the question of how (and how much) journalism matters to American democracy now.
Sept 5th: Where Are We, Anyway?
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 paired with Jill Lepore’s “Does Journalism Have a Future?” (The New Yorker, January 28, 2019)
Oct 17th: More Than Fun and Games
Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death paired with David Puttnam’s TED Talk (‘Duty of Care’ in the Media) and Tim Groseclose’s Q&A on freakonomics.com (August 8, 2011)
Nov 7th: How Best To Tell the Story?
Joe Sacco’s Palestine paired with “The Lost Meaning of Objectivity” by Walter Dean (americanpressinstitute.org, October 9, 2013)
Dec 5th: Strange, and Stranger Still...
Brad Schwartz’s Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News paired with “Confessions of a Fake News Writer” (Winston Wordsworth, medium.com, Sept 26, 2018) and Billy Baker’s Boston Globe profile of Christopher Blair (April 7, 2018).
Jan 2nd: What Should We Put in the GPS?
Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days paired with Adrienne LaFrance’s “The Mark Zuckerberg Manifesto Is a Blueprint for Destroying Journalism” (atlantic.com, February 17, 2017); “Journalism Isn’t Dying. It’s Returning to Its Roots,” by Antonio Garcia Martinez (wired.com, February 10, 2019); and Christiane Amanpour’s “No Free Press, No Democracy” (cnn.com, November 14, 2017).
Fields Pond Book Group Reading List, September 2019 to June 2020
Fields Pond Book Book Group meets at Orono Pubic Library at 6:30 pm.
September 12, 2019
Thoreau, Henry David
Walden or Life in the Woods
188 pp (many editions, varying page length)
A reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance. First published in 1854, Walden details Thoreau's experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau used this time to write his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. The experience later inspired Walden, in which Thoreau compresses the time into a single calendar year and uses passages of four seasons to symbolize human development. By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection. Simple living and self-sufficiency were Thoreau's other goals, and the whole project was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, a central theme of the American Romantic Period.
October 10, 2019
Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History
2018. 272 pp
While influenza is now often thought of as a common and mild disease, it still kills over 30,000 people in the US each year. Dr. Brown, currently Director of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health, expounds on the flu's deadly past to solve the mysteries that could protect us from the next outbreak. He talks with leading epidemiologists, policy makers, and the researcher who first sequenced the genetic building blocks of the original 1918 virus to offer both a comprehensive history and a roadmap for understanding what’s to come. Dr. Brown digs into the discovery and resurrection of the flu virus in the frozen victims of the 1918 epidemic, as well as the bizarre remedies that once treated the disease, such as whiskey and blood-letting. He also breaks down the current dialogue surrounding the disease, explaining the controversy over vaccinations, antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, and the federal government’s role in preparing for pandemic outbreaks. Though 100 years of advancement in medical research and technology have passed since the 1918 disaster, Dr. Brown warns that many of the most vital questions about the flu virus continue to confound even the leading experts.
November 14, 2019
Birds by the Shore: Observing the Natural Life of the Atlantic Coast
2019. 224 pp. (revised edition)
For three years, Ackerman lived in the small coastal town of Lewes, Delaware, in the sort of blue-water, white-sand landscape that draws summer crowds up and down the eastern seaboard. Birds by the Shore is a book about discovering the natural life at the ocean's edge: the habits of shorebirds and seabirds, the movement of sand and water, the wealth of creatures that survive amid storm and surf. Against this landscape's rhythms, Ackerman revisits her own history--her mother's death, her father's illness and her hopes to have children of her own.
February 13, 2020
Prothero, Donald R.
The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks: Tales of Important Geological Puzzles and the People Who Solved Them
2018. 368 pp.
Prothero tells the fascinating stories behind the discoveries that shook the foundations of geology. In twenty-five chapters, each about a particular rock, outcrop, or geologic phenomenon, Prothero recounts the scientific detective work that shaped our understanding of geology, from the unearthing of exemplary specimens to tectonic shifts in how we view the inner workings of our planet. He follows in the footsteps of the scientists who asked, and answered, geology’s biggest questions: How do we know how old the earth is? What happened to the supercontinent Pangea? How did ocean rocks end up at the top of Mount Everest? What can we learn about our planet from meteorites and moon rocks? He answers these questions through expertly chosen case studies, such as Pliny the Younger’s firsthand account of the eruption of Vesuvius; the granite outcrops that led a Scottish scientist to theorize that the landscapes he witnessed were far older than Noah’s Flood; the salt and gypsum deposits under the Mediterranean Sea that indicate that it was once a desert; and how trying to date the age of meteorites revealed the dangers of lead poisoning. Each of these breakthroughs filled in a piece of the greater puzzle that is the earth, with scientific discoveries dovetailing with each other to offer an increasingly coherent image of the geologic past.
March 12, 2020
1964 (many editions and page lengths)
First published in 1962, Silent Spring alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides, spurring revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. "Silent Spring became a runaway bestseller, with international reverberations . . [It is] well crafted, fearless and succinct . . Even if she had not inspired a generation of activists, Carson would prevail as one of the greatest nature writers in American letters" (Peter Matthiessen)
April 9, 2020
The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms
1881. (many editions with varying page length)
Darwin had been intrigued by the earthworm for forty years, but it wasn't until 1881 that he produced the volume that would illuminate this “unsung creature which, in its untold millions, transformed the land as the coral polyps did the tropical sea." The volume, which focused on the fascinating behavior and ecology of the earthworm, sold thousands of copies in its first weeks.
May 14, 2020
What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World
2012. 241 pp
A lifelong birder, tracker, and naturalist, Young is guided in his work and teaching by three basic premises: the robin, junco, and other songbirds know everything important about their environment, be it backyard or forest; by tuning in to their vocalizations and behavior, we can acquire much of this wisdom for our own pleasure and benefit; and the birds' companion calls and warning alarms are just as important as their songs. Birds are the sentries and our key to understanding the world beyond our front door. Unwitting humans create a zone of disturbance that scatters the wildlife. Respectful humans who heed the birds acquire an awareness that radically changes the dynamic. We are welcome in their habitat. The birds don't fly away. The larger animals don't race off. No longer hapless intruders, we now find, see, and engage the deer, the fox, the red-shouldered hawk even the elusive, whispering wren. Deep bird language is an ancient discipline, perfected by Native peoples the world over.
June 11, 2020
Kimmerer, Robin Wall
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants
2013. 408 pp.
With deep compassion and graceful prose, botanist and professor of plant ecology Kimmerer encourages readers to consider the ways that our lives and language weave through the natural world. A mesmerizing storyteller, she shares legends from her Potawatomi ancestors to illustrate the culture of gratitude in which we all should live. In such a culture, everyone knows that gifts will follow the circle of reciprocity and flow back to you again. Kimmerer recalls the ways that pecans became a symbol of abundance for her ancestors: Feeding guests around the big table recalls the trees' welcome to our ancestors when they were lonesome and tired and so far from home. She reminds readers that we are showered every day with gifts, but they are not meant for us to keep... Our work and our joy is to pass along the gift and to trust that what we put into the universe will always come back.
September 13, 2018
Pepperberg, Irene. Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process. 2009. 232pp
Alex is the African gray parrot whose ability to master a vocabulary of more than 100 words and answer questions about the color, shape and number of objects garnered wide notice during his life as well as obituaries in worldwide media after his death in September 2007. Pepperberg has previously documented the results of her 30-year relationship with Alex in The Alex Studies. While this book inevitably covers some of the same ground, it is a moving tribute that beautifully evokes the struggles, the initial triumphs, the setbacks, the unexpected and often stunning achievements during a groundbreaking scientific endeavor spent uncovering cognitive abilities in Alex that no one believed were possible, and challenging science's deepest assumptions about the origin of human cognitive abilities. Pepperberg deftly interweaves her own personal narrative with more intimate scenes of life with Alex than she was able to present in her earlier work.
October 11, 2018
Aldersey-Williams, Hugh. The Tide: The Science and Stories Behind the Greatest Force on Earth. 2017. 368pp
Half of the world’s population today lives in coastal regions lapped by tidal waters. But the tide rises and falls according to rules that are a mystery to almost all of us. Aldersey-Williams weaves together centuries of scientific thinking with the literature and folklore the tide has inspired to explain the power and workings of this most remarkable force. Here is the epic story of the long search to understand the tide from Aristotle, to Galileo and Newton, to classic literary portrayals of the tide from Shakespeare to Dickens, Melville to Jules Verne. Aldersey-Williams visits the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, where the tides are the strongest in the world; arctic Norway, home of the raging tidal whirlpool known as the maelstrom; and Venice, to investigate efforts to defend the city against flooding caused by the famed acqua alta.
November 8, 2018
Keim, Brandon. The Eye of the Sandpiper. 2017. 266 pp.
Keim pairs cutting-edge science with a deep love of nature, conveying his insights in prose that is both accessible and beautiful. In an elegant, thoughtful tour of nature in the twenty-first century, Keim continues in the tradition of Lewis Thomas, Stephen Jay Gould, and David Quammen, reporting from the frontiers of science while celebrating the natural world's wonders and posing new questions about our relationship to the rest of life on Earth. The stories are arranged in four thematic sections. Each addresses nature through a different lens. The first is evolutionary and ecological dynamics, from how patterns form on butterfly wings to the ecological importance of oft-reviled lampreys. The second section explores the inner lives of animals, which science has only recently embraced: empathy in rats, emotions in honeybees, spirituality in chimpanzees. The third section contains stories of people acting on insights both ecological and ethological: nourishing blighted rivers, but also caring for injured pigeons at a hospital for wild birds and demanding legal rights for primates. The fourth section unites ecology and ethology in discussions of ethics: how we should think about and behave toward nature, and the place of wildness in a world in which space for wilderness is shrinking.
February 14, 2019
Egan, Dan. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. 2018. 384pp
The Great Lakes―Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior―hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water and provide sustenance, work, and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan’s compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come.
March 14, 2019
Beehler, Bruce M. North on the Wing: Travels with the Songbird Migration of Spring. 2018. 256pp
In late March 2015, ornithologist Beehler set off on a solo four-month trek to track songbird migration and the northward progress of spring through America. Traveling via car, canoe, and bike and on foot, Beehler followed woodland warblers and other Neotropical songbird species from the southern border of Texas, where the birds first arrive after their winter sojourns in South America and the Caribbean, northward through the Mississippi drainage to its headwaters in Minnesota and onward to their nesting grounds in the north woods of Ontario. Beehler describes both the epic migration of songbirds across the country and the gradual dawning of springtime through the U.S. heartland and also tells the stories of the people and institutions dedicated to studying and conserving the critical habitats and processes of spring songbird migration. Inspired in part by Edwin Way Teale's landmark 1951 book North with the Spring, this book is a fascinating first-hand account of a once-in-a-lifetime journey. It engages readers in the wonders of spring migration and serves as a call for the need to conserve, restore, and expand bird habitats to preserve them for future generations of both birds and humans.
April 11, 2019
Goldfarb, Ben. Eager: The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. July 2018. 304pp.
In Eager, environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb reveals that our modern idea of what a healthy landscape looks like and how it functions is wrong, distorted by the fur trade that once trapped out millions of beavers from North America’s lakes and rivers. The consequences of losing beavers were profound: streams eroded, wetlands dried up, and species from salmon to swans lost vital habitat. Today, a growing coalition of “Beaver Believers” recognizes that ecosystems with beavers are far healthier, for humans and non-humans alike, than those without them. From the Nevada deserts to the Scottish highlands, Believers are now hard at work restoring these industrious rodents to their former haunts. Eager is a powerful story about one of the world’s most influential species, how North America was colonized, how our landscapes have changed over the centuries, and how beavers can help us fight drought, flooding, wildfire, extinction, and the ravages of climate change.
May 9, 2019
Wilcox, Christie. Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry. 2016. 256pp
Molecular biologist Wilcox investigates venoms and the animals that use them, revealing how they work, what they do to the human body, and how they can revolutionize biochemistry and medicine today. He takes us from the coast of Indonesia to the rain forests of Peru in search of the secrets of these mysterious animals. We encounter jellyfish that release microscopic venom-packed darts known to kill humans in just two minutes, a two-inch caterpillar with toxic bristles that trigger hemorrhaging throughout the body, and a stunning blue-ringed octopus with saliva capable of inducing total paralysis. How could an animal as simple as a jellyfish evolve such an intricate, deadly poison? And how can a snake possess enzymes that tear through tissue yet leave its own body unscathed? Wilcox meets the scientists who often risk their lives studying these lethal beasts to find out, and puts her life on the line to examine these species up close. She also shows how venom is helping us untangle the complex mechanisms of some of our most devastating diseases.
June 13, 2019
Jasanoff, Alan. The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are. 2018. 304 pp.
To many, the brain is the seat of personal identity and autonomy. But the way we talk about the brain is often rooted more in mystical conceptions of the soul than in scientific fact. This blinds us to the physical realities of mental function. We ignore bodily influences on our psychology, from chemicals in the blood to bacteria in the gut, and overlook the ways that the environment affects our behavior, via factors varying from subconscious sights and sounds to the weather. As a result, we alternately overestimate our capacity for free will or equate brains to inorganic machines like computers. But a brain is neither a soul nor an electrical network: it is a bodily organ, and it cannot be separated from its surroundings. Our selves aren't just inside our heads--they're spread throughout our bodies and beyond. Only once we come to terms with this can we grasp the true nature of our humanity.
The Tuesday Morning Book Group meets at 10:15am the third Tuesday of the month. Please check this page for updates.
The dates and titles for upcoming 2019 meetings:
September: Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly
October: Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover
November: Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
Previously discussed titles for this group include:
September (2017): The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
October (2017): The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
November (2017): Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
December (2017): Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
January (2018): A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
February (2018): A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles
March (2018): The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan
September (2018) : Seed Of Sarah by Judith Magyar Isaacson
October (2018): The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
November (2018): Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold by Michael Benanav
December (2018): Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
January (2019): The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
February (2019): Women of the Dawn by Bunny McBride
March (2019): Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
April (2019): This Time Might Be Different by Elaine Ford
May (2019): Still Life by Louise Penny
No PreReqs will be back in January 2020!