Rosemary Herbert discusses her New Omnibus of Crime August 26 at the Plaza Branch.

From Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to CSI’s Catherine Willows, crime writing has changed a lot in the past 75 years. A New Omnibus of Crime shows how crime fiction has developed from a genteel genre populated by old ladies solving crimes over tea to a scientific discipline full of cold-blooded killers.

A New Omnibus of Crime was compiled by Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert as a followup to Dorothy Sayers’s 1929 Omnibus of Crime. Just as the original Omnibus sought to represent the developments in the genre, the New Omnibus contains stories that exemplify trends in crime writing that have arisen since its predecessor was published.

Portrait of Jesse James by A.L. Dillenbeck - Missouri Valley Special Collections

Have you met Jesse James? Charlie Parker? How about Amelia Earhart? Last year, these and other local legends barnstormed the Library for Meet the Past with Crosby Kemper. Now you can watch all of KCPT's televised episodes and relive more than a century of KC history without leaving your homestead.

From April through October of last year, a series of top-notch re-enactors conjured the personas of some of the most memorable people in American history, all with ties to the Kansas City area: Harry S. Truman, "Boss" Tom Pendergast, Walt Disney, Thomas Hart Benton and others.

Fielding questions from Library Director Crosby Kemper III, as well as the audience in attendance (usually 450 or more), these denizens of the past brought flesh, blood and a fresh outlook to the stories held in the tomes on the Library’s shelves.

Now you can revisit those conversations in our online media center. Visit our complete episode guide, get the info, and follow the links to the videos on BlipTV.

Page One of the Heilongjiang Daily, April 6, 1968 - Photograph © Li Zhensheng (Contact Press Images)

Imagine President Obama jumping into the Potomac for a swim, in the process signaling a violent youth movement that overturned state and local governments. Hard to believe? Something much like that happened in 1966 when Mao Zedong launched China's Cultural Revolution.

Now, we’re not comparing President Obama to Chairman Mao in terms of political agendas. But imagine, for a minute, watching the leader of the world’s most populous country take a dip in a river, don a white bathrobe and wave happily to the press. Meanwhile, he’s spawning a revolution that will shut down schools and slow industry to crawl as his Red Guard ransacks homes, schools and libraries, persecutes capitalists and religious leaders, and generally makes a mess of the whole country. Kind of an odd picture, isn’t it?

In a two-hour display of vigor, on July 16, 1966, the 72-year-old Mao Zedong swam the Yangtze River. He was reprising a swim he had made ten years earlier, which he’d immortalized in a poem. As the clip below shows, the 1966 swim not only set off a national swimming craze, it also heralded the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. For ten years – until Mao’s death in 1976 – the Cultural Revolution sent China into a tailspin.

Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul

Kansas City is often referred to as the Barbecue Capital of the World – an assertion its citizens take very seriously. Doug Worgul’s new novel, Thin Blue Smoke, offers a fictionalized take on our town’s famous barbecue scene.

Worgul will present his novel at the Kansas City Public Library on Wednesday, August 11 at 6:30 p.m. Join us for some free burnt ends from Oklahoma Joe’s at the reception starting at 6 p.m., and then stay to hear about Worgul’s barbecue-based story of epic redemption.

Worgul’s novel features a variety of characters whose lives intersect at their local barbecue restaurant, called Smoke Meat by its regulars. Central to the plot are LaVerne Williams, owner of Smoke Meat and ex-ballplayer for the Kansas City Athletics (before the team moved to Oakland), and Ferguson Glen, an Episcopal priest and alcoholic who finds his own salvation through the glory of barbecue. A host of other characters round out the cast, including a local blues legend, a big-hearted developer, and a young man adopted into the Williams family through his work in the restaurant.

Moment of Psycho - Thomson

Voyeurism is an acceptable trait in a filmmaker. But sadism? In his new book, The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder, celebrated critic David Thomson shows how Alfred Hitchcock damaged his audiences even more than his actresses.

Real NASCAR - Daniel S. Pierce

No other sport has a history quite like American stock car racing. In his new book, Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay and Big Bill France, Daniel S. Pierce traces the rise of NASCAR from its roots in showdowns between Southern bootleggers to a billion-dollar brand with legions of fans.

Lies My Teacher Told Me - Loewen

Have you ever wondered whether history books were telling the truth? James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me sheds some new light on American history – and how high school textbooks are getting it wrong. Loewen speaks on misconceptions about slavery and the Underground Railroad on Thursday, July 29, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library.

Professor Loewen, a race relations expert and author of five books, opens Lies my Teacher Told Me with a simple assertion: "High school students hate history." From the students' perspective, he argues, history is both too complicated and too simple. Loewen finds that high school textbooks offer a dizzying array of information, with books averaging 4.5 pounds and 888 pages. At the same time, the stories presented in textbooks all feature neat, clean facts imparted with bland patriotism. This method, Loewen argues, reduces history to "a gray emotional landscape of pious duty" rather than a dramatic landscape of interrelated stories and events.

Death of Socrates (detail) by Jacques-Louis David

The good. The bad. The thirsty. In honor of Adrienne Mayor’s arrival on Thursday, July 22, to present her book The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the most famous cases of poisoning in history and literature.

Note: To get sources for this list, we didn’t use Wikipedia or the top results from Google searches. Instead, we used a combination of books from our collection and the research databases that are available for free to anyone with a KCPL library card. Some of the links below will require you to enter your card and PIN in order to view the articles. (All images from Wikimedia Commons.)

And these are just our picks. Can you think of any other noteworthy fictional or historic poison stories? Post them in the comments at the end of this entry!

Without further ado, in chronological order...

10. Hercules
Antiquity (mythical)
Poison: Robe dipped in blood tainted with hydra venom

Poison King Adrienne Mayor

Charismatic, brave and ruthless, the first century B.C. Persian king Mithradates was a master of warfare and toxicology who nearly brought the Roman Empire down. Adrienne Mayor’s The Poison King is a stunning portrait of the greatest ruler time forgot. Mayor will discuss her book this Thursday, July 22, at the Central Library.

With more than 400 million users, Facebook is changing the way the world communicates. David Kirkpatrick’s new book, The Facebook Effect, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the world's biggest social network.

Summer Hours

I’m often pegged as a cynic, but I’ll have you know that I can appreciate some fine art as much as the next guy. Just the other day I was watching Olivier Assayas’s Summer Hours (2008), and I found myself thinking about the nature of art, creative processes, how folks regard items of beauty . . . all that kind of stuff. In a nutshell, the film follows three siblings as they attempt to find a mutually-accommodating way to manage a rather extensive art collection left to them by their recently deceased mother. That’s the gist of Assayas’s script, however through his characters he addresses themes such as how artwork should be used and displayed, its worth across generations, and the differences between old-timey and newfangled what have yous. Thinking of these things caused me to recollect some of my favorite films depicting creative types doing and making stuff that generally makes me happy. Here goes nothing ...

East and Central High School’s Book Clubs and Mary Thompson, Youth Librarian for the Kansas City Public Library - Bluford Branch, participated in YALSA's Great Stories CLUB (Connecting Libraries, Underserved teens and Books). The book club was created to provide teens with an opportunity to read and discuss books that are relevant to the changes in their lives and the lives of their peers. By discussing The Afterlife, Rules of Survival and One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies with each other, students learned that teens of all cultures face the same challenges and decisions they have to make concerning their lives.

Here are some of our reviews for The Afterlife by Gary Soto:

Ernesto said: " At first I choose this book because i've always been interested in ghosts and thought it would be good. However the plot to me was kinda boring while Im not saying it was bad I have say to that I expecting a bit more ot of it. Though I must say the ending did leave me kind of hanging woundering was that it I did however I did like how the author used spanish word throughout the story.It deffinatly make a person think about what comes after death so I'd say it was an ok read overall."

Look, I dislike Nicolas Cage as much as the next guy. Perhaps it’s related to my distaste for so-called "action "films. Maybe it’s more owing to my disinterest in "tear-jerkers." The simple fact is that our friend Nicolas Cage has made a career out of bouncing back and forth between these two extremes.

To illustrate: Leaving Las Vegas (1995), The Rock (1996), City of Angels (1998), and Gone in 60 Seconds (2000). Now, before you go rushing off to fill up your request queue, bear in mind that I can’t be held responsible if your actually watch any of these films. Nay, my purpose here is to cover a sampling of Mr. Cage’s acceptable body of work. However, consider yourself warned, your image of Mr. Cage may be altered forevermore if you should chose to accept this mission.

Chronic City book jacket

Looking for a good book to read or give? Check out these end-of-year “best of 2009” lists for some ideas.

These books at the Library explore the history of African Americans in aviation, with a special emphasis on the Tuskegee airmen who fought in World War II.

Related exhibit:
The Test: Tuskegee Airmen Project, Dec. 12, 2009 – Jan. 31, 2010

Blue Skies, Black Wings: African American Pioneers of Aviation
By Samuel L. Broadnax
Blue Skies, Black Wings recounts the history of African Americans in the skies from the very beginnings of manned flight. From Charles Wesley Peters, who flew his own plane in 1911, and Eugene Bullard, a black American pilot with the French in World War I, to the 1945 Freeman Field mutiny against segregationist policies in the Air Corps, Broadnax paints a vivid picture of the people who fought oppression to make the skies their own.