Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Astonishing footage from World War II on the Smithsonian Channel, Cape Verde's Billie Holiday on CD, 'Sesame Street' at 40, and more.

Courtesy of University of California Press
Smithsonian Channel
Rock Paper Scissors

Inside Africa

Ivan Bargna's "Africa" ($26.95, University of California Press) panoramically honors the arts and cultures of sub-Saharan Africa as never before. With hundreds of full-color images and pithy interpretations, the political and spiritual foundations of African arts and crafts are illuminated with surprising depth for a travel-sized volume. Where else can you discover how oil-derrick pollution conflicts with water spirits, or see how a tabletop model of utopian Lagos ironically contrasts with the actual city? This volume is the newest entry in the "Dictionaries of Civilization" series, which includes China, Greece, Egypt, Rome, and Mesopotamia.

Scenes nobody saw

"Apocalypse: The Second World War" is a six-part series from the Smithsonian Channel, narrated by actor Martin Sheen and debuting on Veteran's Day, Nov. 11. The story is familiar, but its accompanying footage is nothing less than astonishing – reels once deemed too raw for civilian audiences: entire cavalry regiments massacred, the human faces of Germany's war on Jews, and surreal propaganda footage of German U-boat soldiers tossing bread to British survivors floating to nearly certain death in lifeboats after their ships were torpedoed.

Sesame turns 40

The groundbreaking children's show, "Sesame Street," turns 40 this season. In honor of what is one of the longest-running shows in TV history, the fast-paced program has been given a face lift, adopting not just new graphics and more advanced CGI characters, but integrating a new nature-based curriculum that will take the show around the globe in support of ecofriendly ideas. Bonus guest this season: new first lady Michelle Obama. The season starts Nov. 10.

Sharp lyrics

Maia Sharp's songs grab you from the first line with their honesty and edge, and the singer-songwriter acknowledges there's "a little to a lot of truth in every song" on her latest album, "Echo." Known for penning hits for Bonnie Raitt and the Dixie Chicks, among others, the multi-talented Sharp (she plays the piano, guitar, and saxophone) is taking to the road herself with the cool analysis of ballads such as "John Q Lonely" and the softer, more poignant "The Girl on Her Way."

Mapping sunshine

Ever wonder which part of the globe is splashed in light? You can find a map of current sunlight and cloud cover at

Cape Verde's Billie Holiday

Considered a national treasure, Cesaria Evora sings with a depth and bluesy ease earned through a lifetime of performing – and doing only what moves her, she says. Her new digital CD release "Nha Sentimento" adds a layer of Arabic instruments and style to traditional Cape Verdean rhythms, creating a warm, vibrant sound. Listen to the title song "Sentimento," whose reedy pipes transport you to desert lands – with Latin rhythms.

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