Category Archives: Biography

Discussion Questions and Relevant Material for Mark Adams’: Turn Right at Machu Picchu:


This book cover is incredibly beautiful and designed by Nancy Resnick

Published by Penguin in 2011.

Book Review from 5 Minutes for

One hundred years ago on July 24, 1911, explorer and Yale lecturer Hiram Bingham excitedly cabled the US from Peru about his discovery of an ancient site, potentially the “lost city of the Incas.” That site was Machu Picchu, or “the old peak” in the local language of Quechua, a city of architectural grandeur and ancient temples. Now in 2011, his claim is disputed, and he is accused of stealing historical artifacts and trumpeting up a “discovery” of something that was never actually lost. But there’s no question that he turned the world’s attention to South America and Inca history, and that he may have done even more—inspired the Indiana Jones stories.

Mark Adams, working a desk job editing adventure travel stories, decided to find out the truth for himself, at least as much as possible. He set out to the Andes to retrace the famous explorer’s steps and in the process to study Bingham’s life and writings as well as Inca history. The result is Turn Right at Machu Picchu, a fascinating read which combines a history of Inca-Spainard clashes in Peru, Bingham’s adventures in exploring, and a travelogue of Adams’ own adventures in Peru, with an Australian guide right out of Crocodile Dundee and Indiana Jones.


(Hiram Bingham in 1916)

Some articles on NPR regarding the book including a interview with the author:


NY Times Review


Excellent slide show of the Inca Trail from the NY Times:


Mark Adams’ Book Site with some photos and more

A video by a Photographer with John Leivers on the Inca Trail:

Discussion Questions for now: 

1. Have you traveled to Peru? Machu Picchu?

2. Discuss the guide, John Leivers, and his role and how he impacts the author’s trip.

3. Discuss the similarities and differences between Bingham I, II and III.

4. On page 52, John says to Mark regarding hiking and that it will get easier as his body adapts, “ There’s a general law in life. The body and mind only get stronger when they’re traumatized.” Do you agree with this law of John’s? Have you experienced this yourself or not?

5. Discuss the author’s transition from desk editor to adventurer/explorer and how it changes his life.

6. Why does the Inca culture and civilization hold so much fascination for us today?

7. Why was the longer traditional second trip to Machu Picchu more meaningful that the author’s first trip there?

8. Discuss the role and interrelatedness of the different Inca sites and paths.

9. Discuss the Spanish encounters with the Inca civilization and how its effect are evident today.

10. Does this book inspire you to visit Peru? Machu Picchu? If so, why and if not, why?

Map of the Inca Trail from NY Times: 26maccu-map-popup-v2


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Filed under Biography, History, South America, Travel

Dearest Friend, A Life of Abigail Adams: Overview, Review, Letters read aloud and Discussion Questions


Overview:  This is the life of Abigail Adams, wife of patriot John Adams, who became the most influential woman in Revolutionary America. Rich with excerpts from her personal letters, Dearest Friend captures the public and private sides of this fascinating woman, who was both an advocate of slave emancipation and a burgeoning feminist, urging her husband to “Remember the Ladies” as he framed the laws of their new country. John and Abigail Adams married for love. While John traveled in America and abroad to help forge a new nation, Abigail remained at home, raising four children, managing their estate, and writing letters to her beloved husband. Chronicling their remarkable fifty-four-year marriage, her blossoming feminism, her battles with loneliness, and her friendships with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Dearest Friend paints a portrait of Abigail Adams as an intelligent, resourceful, and outspoken woman. (


NY Times Book Review:

John and Abigail’s Letters are read aloud by members of the Mass. Historical Society, including Ted Kennedy and others:


Letter contents:

Miss Adorable

By the same Token that the Bearer hereof satt up with you last night I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O’Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account: This Order, or Requisition call it which you will is in Consideration of a similar order Upon Aurelia for the like favour, and I presume I have good Right to draw upon you for the Kisses as I have given two or three Millions at least, when one has been received, and of Consequence the Account between us is immensely in favour of yours,

John Adams
Octr. 4th. 1762

Discussion Questions created by John:

1. What made the situation in Boston so much more severe before and at the beginning of the revolution than for the rest of the country?

2. How did this play a role in making Abigail and John among the more fervent advocates for the independence?

3. How did John’s role in politics affect Abigail as mother, wife and provider?

4. How did this in turn affect the children and how they developed and the choices they made for careers and the adults they became?

5. Discuss the complicated relationships between the Adams, Franklin and Jefferson.

6. Why has history not treated the Adams better until recently?

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Resources for the Discussion of Just Kids by Patti Smith


On January 10th, we will be discussing Patti Smith’s, Just Kids, where she writes about her artist studded life in NYC during the late 60s and into the 70s and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.


Here, she poses with Robert wearing the Persian necklace:

“The necklace was passed back and forth through the years.

Ownership was based on who needed it the most.” (p. 51)

Here are some discussion questions provided by Scribd:

(July 18, 2011 Prepared by Jennifer Beever, Marketing Consultant and CMO for Hire,

  1. Patti Smith’s father told her she was not attractive enough to marry; Robert Mapelthorpe said he was a parent pleaser making ‘girl art´ against his family’s wishes. How did these affect their relationship, their lives as artists?
  2. Patti Smith served as nurse, caretaker, and money lender to male artists and supported some female artists like Janis Joplin. Who helped Patti Smith?
  3. Victor Hugo described Arthur Rimbaud as “an infant Shakespeare” when in his teens. He was known as a libertine and restless soul, traveling extensively before his death from cancer less at 37. What was the significance of Patti Smith’s love of Rimbaud? Of Bob Dylan?
  4. At the start of the book the nurses were mean to Patti Smith when she gave birth. At the end when she was hiring another guitarist for her band she commented that the men did not like a woman-led band. How did these incidents reflect the times Patti Smith lived in? How were women treated throughout the book?
  5. Patti Smith felt her fame came too quickly and Robert Mapelthorpe couldn’t get his quickly enough. Why the different attitudes?
  6. The book says that Andy Warhol had defaced Madonna and Christ in his art and Robert Mapelthorpe followed in his footsteps. Who else has continued this since the seventies?
  7. There was a lot of loss in the book:  suicide, death, burglary. How did that affect the artists?
  8. Patti Smith writes that people assumed she was a speed freak and a lesbian because of the way she looked. Do you think there was any attempt to re-write or edit history in the book?
  9. Patti Smith felt that Robert Mapelthorpe saw God as universal love when she met him, but the battle between Catholic good and evil took over. Robert gave Patti a Joan of Arc medal on his the opening of his first Polaroid photo show. How did religion affect their relationship and their lives?
  10. What happened to the Chelsea hotel? Does it still exist?
  11. Do you think it’s true (per Patti Smith’s mother’s ‘wives tale´) – that what you do on New Year’s Day sets the tone for the rest of the year?


After a condescending remark from Fred Hughes, Patti cuts her hair and gains more notority becauseof it: “I looked at myself in the mirror over the sink. I realized I hadn’t cut my hair any different since I was a teenager.  . . I studied (the rock mags) for a while and took up the scissors, machete-ing my way out of the folk era. . . . Someone at Max’s asked me if I was androgynous.” (p. 140)

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Al’s Discussion Points for Linda Greenlaw’s: The Hungry Ocean

  1. Why do you think there is so much dread and second-guessing associating with the departure? Have you ever embarked on a trip that you had mixed feelings about? How long did it take to put the feeling behind you?  (Chapter 3)
  2. There is barely one brief mention of the personal hardship that fishing puts on Linda Greenlaw. On page 50, ever so briefly, she lets her guard down and blurts out, “Who knew that I desperately wanted a husband, a house full of children, a boring job?” Do you think she really meant that statement, or was it intended to be just contrast and put perspective on the life that she had so willingly chosen?
  3. Why does Linda Greenlaw even want to be a fisherman? Does it have to do with proving something in a male-dominated industry? Is she different from any other woman you have ever met?
  4. Try and envision yourself in Linda’s shoes. How would you handle crew problems? How would you go about leading a group of hardened men? (Chapter 5)
  5. Learning about the complexity and the uncertainties of the fishing business in general, and sword fishing in particular (including the long- and short-term preparations, and the physical aspects of the job), does that give you any respect for people that choose this career? (pages 173-175)
  6. Have you ever been challenged to apply the persistence that Linda Greenlaw had in her quest for catching halibut (pages 203-206)? Would you have been able to stand up to the crew in a situation like that?
  7. On page 248, she quotes Alden Leema, her mentor, as having quoted his own father as having said, “Anyone who chooses to make fishing his occupation solely for the money is in the wrong business.” After reading this book do you feel that advice was right or wrong? Are there other careers that are similar in that they consume your life and return so little?
  8. Did the payouts depicted at the end of the book surprise you? The captain’s pay is good at $14K for a good trip, but the crew is working for $5,500/month, with a couple days per month actually spent off the boat.
  9. Has this book changed how you will look at seafood the next time you are at Heller’s Seafood staring into the glass case at the swordfish steaks?

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More Photos for Thubron’s Shadow of the Silk Road

Here are some more photos to accompany Thubron’s, Shadow of the Silk Road:

Uzbekistan, Samarkand: (p. 184-)

Shah-i-Zinda (p. 206): “Their colours are turqoise and kingfisher blue, often on a dark blue field,  . . .”

Margilan, Silk capital of the Soviet Union  (p. 189) –

Tamerlane, the Conqueror of the World of the mid 1300s: (p. 197-)

Bukhara (p. 209-)

Tea house of Bukhara: (p. 209)

Friendship Bridge from Termez into Afghanistan:

Mazar-e-Sharif (p. 221) – ”  . . Outside, the few street lights flickered out, until only the twin domes of the Hazrat Ali Shrine – legendary tomb of the caliph Ali – went on shining in a necklace of amber lights.”

 Same shrine during the day:

“But the domes were white with pigeons. Pigeons misted the whole sanctuary like a snowdrift.” (p. 223)

Grim fort of Qala-i-Jangi, north of Mazar – regional headquarters of Dostum, (p. 228-

Abdul Rashid Dostum, leader of NIMA (p. 228-)

Tehran, Iran: (p. 284) – 15 million live here in this not so tourist friendly place:

Gawhar Shad Mosque in Herat, where Shah Rukh’s queen was buried: (p. 254)

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Shadows of the Silk Road – Photos

Colin Thubron beautifully describes his journey along the Silk Road, but I still was curious about what things actually looked like, so here are some photos I found online to accompany the reading:

Xian, The Capital:

“Yongchang: The Last Gate Under Heaven”, pp. 69-; A statue includes a Roman soldier, where it is believed that Roman soldiers settled this area 2000 years earlier – perhaps those who were marched away after Crassus and his Roman army  were defeated in 53 BC – (click on photo for more information):

Traces of Roman Ancestry – see accompanying article by clicking on photo:

The oasis of Dunhuang, p. 87:

Xinjiang – at the edge of the great Taklamakan, one of the largest deserts in the world (p. 100):

p. 102 – ” the earth would smooth to a savannah of bleached grass . . .” (click on the photo for more photos)

Kyrgyzstan: (p.154) – Click on photo for more . . .

Caravanserai of Tash Rabat: P. 155:

This is just a start.

Check back later for more.

Feel free to add some of your own finds!

Hope to see you soon!

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Discussion Points for Shadow of the Silk Road by C. Thubron

Here are some themes for us to discuss at the next meeting:

1. Religions found along the way; Christians, Nestorians, Taoism, Muslims, etc.

2. SARS virus and impact on the author’s journey, p. 84, 86, 104

3. Inventions dispersed east and west, p.15,  78, 103

4. Behaviors and values of the Chinese people, p. 46, 109

5. The Sogdian Trader evoked by the author

6. Caves and objects at Dunhuang, p. 87-

7. Relationship between the Tibetans and Chinese

8. Characters met along the way, p. 58, 115, 124

9. The Tocharians, p. 110

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Discussion Questions for Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton


1. What does food mean to the author? How did your particular attitude toward food develop?

2. What challenges do writers and chefs share? Are they unique to those professions?

3. What saved the author from a life of substance abuse and crime?

4. Gabrielle Hamilton’s mother-in-law is a central figure in her book. Why did she become so important for her? Do you have someone equally important in your own life?

5. Being invited by Misty Callies to prep for a large dinner party and, later, to work at her restaurant were milestones for Gabrielle Hamilton. Why were these experiences significant for her?

6. Gabrielle Hamilton writes about her ambivalence in wedding her husband. Why do you think she married him? Have you ever felt similarly about your own relationships?

7. Getting one’s needs met is a recurring theme. How do you think Gabrielle Hamilton feels about this and how has it influenced her journey?

8. Is Blood, Bones & Butter a funny book?

9. Many have commented on the “honesty” of the book, suggesting that such candor and intimacy are uncommon. Are readers mostly responding to the way Gabrielle Hamilton writes about her own family or does that “honesty” manifest elsewhere? What is her point or objective in being so forthcoming? Do you think you would be so upfront in your own memoir?

10. Did you like/not like the ending and why?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

These questions I found on the Litlovers Site. For their complete reading guide, go to this site:


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Discussion Questions for The Dirty Life and MORE!

On June 21st, we will discuss The Dirty Life. See below for questions, author’s blog information and URL for the NPR interview with Kristin Kimball.

Introduction and Discussion Questions from Simon and Schuster for The Dirty Life:


Single, thirtysomething, working as a writer in New York City, Kristin Kimball was living life as an adventure. But she was beginning to feel a sense of longing for a family and for home. When she interviewed a dynamic young farmer, her world changed. Kristin knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But on an impulse, smitten, if not yet in love, she shed her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a new farm with him. The Dirty Life is the captivating chronicle of Kristin’s discovery of the pleasures of physical work, that good food is at the center of a good life, and ultimately of love.


1. Kristin was a freelance writer in New York City, which gave her the opportunity to travel around the world. When she first met Mark on his farm, she felt like a for­eigner. In what ways do you think this feeling comforted her? Were you surprised when the situation flipped and Kristin felt foreign to the life she used to lead in the city?

2. In what ways did Kimball’s yearning for a home sway her decision to leave the city and start a new life with Mark? If you were put in a similar situation, do you think you would have made the same decision? Why or why not? What is your own personal definition of “home”?

3. Mark and Kristin start a farm that aims to provide a whole diet for their year-round members. If a farm in your area did the same thing, would you become a member? How would it change the way you cook and eat?

4. The first year on Essex Farm was full of trial and error. Kristin had never farmed before and much of her knowl­edge came from her neighbors and from books. In what ways did all of the mishaps shape Kristin and change her perspective?

5. One of the biggest adjustments Kristin has to make when moving to Essex Farm is learning to live with the absence of instant gratification. She finds that a farmer must continuously put forth effort in order to reap bene­fits. How does Kristin respond to this new kind of work? How does her definition of “satisfaction” change? Would you be able to accommodate a similar change?

6. The Dirty Life is segmented into seasons. What are the underlying issues that take place within each season and how do they relate to the year in full?

7. Have your views on sustainable farming changed after reading about the trials and triumphs of Essex Farm? Have your views on farm-fresh food versus supermarket food changed?

8. Kristin repeatedly finds that her prior assumptions about farming and farmers are false. Do you think her stereo­types were the same as those of most Americans or just people who live in urban areas?

9. As a new farmer, Kristin struggles with where she fits in the socioeconomic spectrum. It bothers her when a neighbor brings over some kitchen things because she thinks Kristin is needy. Later, Kristin writes that farming makes her feel rich even though she’s not. What makes people feel poor or rich? How much is the feeling related to money?

10. Why do you think Kristin goes from being a vegetarian to an omnivore after helping Mark slaughter a pig?

11. Kristin writes that there are two types of marriages: the comfortable kind and the fiery kind. Do you agree?

The author’s website and blog are full of interesting information and photos and worth a peak

Check out the NPR interview conducted with the author regarding the book in November 2010 at:

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Pearl S. Buck International

Here is some great information about Pearl S. Buck International:

One Woman. One Vision. Over 2 million lives changed.

Click here to Discover the Legacy on an inspiring free 60-minute tour

Pearl S. Buck International is a nonprofit organization continuing the legacy and dreams of our founder, author, activist, and humanitarian, Pearl S. Buck. For more information, visit our website at

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