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From the 2010 Annual Letter from Bill Gates: Online Learning:

"The foundation has made a few grants to drive online learning, but we are just at the start of this work. So far technology has hardly changed formal education at all. But a lot of people, including me, think this is the next place where the Internet will surprise people in how it can improve things—especially in combination with face-to-face learning. With the escalating costs of education, an advance here would be very timely.

Most of us have had a teacher whose lectures made a subject seem fascinating even though we didn’t expect that it would be. If you are going to take the time to listen to a lecture, you should hear it from the very best. Now that finding and watching videos is a standard part of the Internet experience, we can put great teachers’ lectures online.

A number of universities are already putting lectures online for free....

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From :

On Saturday, January 23, 2010, the National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its book awards for the publishing year 2009 at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in New York.

Blake Bailey, Cheever: A Life (Knopf)
Brad Gooch, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor (Little, Brown)
Benjamin Moser, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector (Oxford University Press)
Stanislao G. Pugliese, Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Martha A. Sandweiss, Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line (Penguin Press)

For the rests of the finalists, click here.

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Rachelle Gardner has a great post up on her blog about why authors (as a group) need agents (as a group):

" You, as an individual author, may or may not require the services of an individual agent. But whether or not you realize it, whenever you deal with a publisher, you're benefitting from the collective work of agents over the years.

For the last few decades, agents have been on the front lines when it comes to advocating for authors in their relationships with publishers. It's interesting to speculate on the state of publishing contracts if agents had never been involved and authors had to fend for themselves or just take whatever the publisher was offering. ..."

Reach Rachelle's entire post here.

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A guest post by author Ronald Florence

Every non-fiction book has a backstory—the choice of the subject, the vagaries of research, the emergence of an individual or group, the search for authentic voices.  I had encountered the story of the effort to ransom the lives of as many as one million Jews in the Holocaust as a footnote to the trial of Adolf Eichmann, described as a Nazi plot, and called a trick played on naïve Hungarian Zionists, but as I read through the secondary literature, I found myself imagining how members of a rescue organization in Budapest would react to the possibility of saving hundreds of thousands of fellow Jews from the fate that befell the Jewish populations of occupied Europe.  The episode, and the reactions it provoked from the Allies, the Nazis, the Zionists, and relief organizations and lobbies also seemed an opportunity to examine the political complexity of the Holocaust in...

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A guest post by author Christopher White
Research for my recently published book, Skipjack: The Story of America’s Last Sailing Oystermen, required going into the trenches, into the ship’s galley if you will, getting my feet wetter than expected. Skipjack celebrates and critiques the lives and legacy of the only commercial fishermen in North America still to employ wind power. The book features a handful of captains in the Chesapeake Bay who dredge for oysters with historic wooden sailboats, called “skipjacks.” These boats are an honored piece of Maryland history; the skippers are keepers of a rich sailing tradition; and sail dredging, itself, is a surprising success for fisheries conservation. The captains, called “watermen,” are known to be shy, independent, and wary of outsiders. So, when I set out to chronicle their livelihood and traditions, I anticipated some resistance. And perhaps occasional rejection. Remarkably, my...
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Last treasure of the Chesapeake

By Ken Ringle, Sunday, December 13, 2009, The Washington Post

"For those of us who love the Chesapeake -- and others merely curious -- the ultimate Bay sourcebook remains the late William W. Warner's wonderfully readable "Beautiful Swimmers," which chronicles the biology of the blue crab and the culture of the watermen who pursue them. Surprisingly, little has been written about the Bay's other edible treasure -- the Chesapeake oyster -- or about the sail-powered wooden workboats that harvested them for more than a century.

The skipjacks are all but vanished today. Last winter only a single one hoisted its sails, and its captain was 88 years old. But 10 years ago as the 20th century drew to a close, author Christopher White moved to Tilghman Island for two years to document the twilight of oystering under sail...

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Martha A. Sandweiss's PASSING STRANGE continues to receive year-end honors as one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2009!

From the Chicago Tribune:

"Mind-boggling tale of a famous white geologist who secretly passes as black in his personal life in order to marry and father children with his true love-to whom he doesn't reveal this secret until his death."

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

"The strange and intriguing tale of a prominent white American from an old New England family who lived a double life in the 19th century, "passing" as an African American in order to marry and live with a black woman. Above all, a love story well told."

The paperback edition of PASSING STRANGE...

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Since today is "Cyber Monday," we want you to remember your local independent bookseller.  Here's a note from one of our favorites...

A Note from Jeff
Friday, November 27th, 2009
Dear Friends,
I thought I'd use...
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From Chesapeake Bay Magazine, December/January 2010:
By Christopher White. 
St. Martin’s Press.
For two years, Christopher White sailed with the last few working Chesapeake skipjacks, accompanying three captains and their crews—and sometimes as crew—as they worked the winter oyster harvest. White writes well, and his story is exciting, frustrating and poignant, as a few aging men and boats struggle to keep a remarkable way of life alive just a little longer.
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'Passing Strange'


A true story that would strain most novelists’ imaginations: the tale of how Clarence King, a blue-eyed, white Newport-bred explorer and cartographer spent part of his life as a sought-after luminary— and part of it calling himself a Pullman porter, living as the patriarch of a black family that knew nothing of his other life. (The Penguin Press, $27.95)
To view the full list, click here.
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