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  • Jeff Somers 2:00 pm on 2018/04/06 Permalink
    Tags: Biography, sargento, treated like family   

    Behind a Famous Brand Name, a Quiet Hero 

    One day Tom Faley, a three-decade employee of Sargento, the food company known nationwide for its natural cheese, overheard a group of younger coworkers wondering about the identity of a man in an old photo. Faley was shocked the didn’t know who the man, Leonard Gentine, was—though, as the co-founder of Sargento, he was responsible for the existence of their jobs. He was also Faley’s personal hero. It was unacceptable to Faley to consider Gentine’s legacy might fade into obscurity. So he decided to do something about it.

    The result is Treated Like Family:How an Entrepreneur and His “Employee Family” Built Sargento, a Billion-Dollar Cheese Company, a new book that tells the inspiring story of Leonard Gentine’s life, his business vision, and his dedication to the basic values that made his company great. It’s a book that reminds us that not all heroes are household names, and that sometimes, heroism is about steadfastly sticking to your beliefs and always doing the right thing, even when it hurts.

    The Man behind the brand

    Chances are you’re familiar with Sargento and its cheese. Leonard Gentine—the “gen” in Sargento—was the driving force behind the company from its inception in 1953 until his retirement in 1984, and Faley’s book is as much a story of Gentine’s life—and his family—as it is an American success story. Remarkably, Gentine managed to build a business empire without stepping back from his commitment to family, his support of his community, or his dedication to fundamental concepts of decency, equality, and fairness that sometimes seem in short supply in modern American life.

    The crash

    Gentine’s story begins with a crash—a car accident that saw him damage the vehicle of a local mortician. Unable to pay for the repairs, Gentine proposed an arrangement: he would work for the funeral home for free until he’d paid off the bill. This sort of creative, restless thinking would mark Gentine for the rest of his life—and, impossibly, the arrangement inspired Gentine’s first business: that’s right, the man behind one of the most famous cheese brands in the U.S.  started off as the owner of a funeral home.

    Restless innovation

    The Gentine Funeral Home never quite took off, even as it provided a living for Gentine and his growing family. Faley paints a portrait of a man driven not by greed—Gentine was generous to a fault and famously unconcerned about profits—but by a desire to provide for those he loved. That noble dedication to family drove Gentine to experiment with several businesses, always working feverishly to understand their products and markets and find ways to innovate.

    Sargento has its roots in a humble cheese counter Gentine started when he hit on the idea of selling cheese gift baskets, one of several businesses he launched in his search for the sort of success that would offer his family security.

    Even Sargento, formed in partnership with Joe Sartori (the “sar” in Sargento; the “o” was added to make the name sound Italian), took many years to flourish. In the interim, Gentine concentrated on coming up with new products and taking care of the people who worked for and partnered with him. He spent months perfecting a vacuum-sealable plastic container in order to introduce the first prepackaged sliced cheese, and developed packaged grated cheese by repurposing a pasta making machine, spending long hours to get just the right results and achieving innovations larger companies had failed to perfect. But despite these incredible achievements, Sargento was only modestly successful—until he hit on the supermarket peg.

    Pegged to success

    Today, the sight of products on a metal peg in the supermarket aisle is so common we barely notice, but in 1969, it was an innovation. While Gentine didn’t invent the concept, he happened upon one of its earliest implementations, and immediately saw the potential. He developed a peg system and accompanying packaging, and before long, Sargento was on its way to becoming the household name we all know today. Gentine had help in all of these endeavors—something both he and Faley never hesitate to underscore—but it was the man’s quest to ensure his family’s comfort that drove the ultimate success of the company.

    Family above all

    Gentine’s true legacy is his family. Sargento remains a family-run business, and his five children all went on to be the sort of kids anyone would be proud of. Gentine often stated he was most proud of the corporate culture he created, one in which all the employees are treated like family.

    Leonard Gentine passed away in 1996, after battling Parkinson’s Disease. We tend to think of heroes as people who run into burning buildings or defeat the bad guys, but there’s a different kind of hero who often gets overlooked: the quiet heroes, who stick to their values no matter what, always do the right thing, and never quit. Leonard Gentine was one of them—an American who loved his family and strove only to offer a quality product at a good price , and make his corner of the world a better place.

    Treated Like Family is available April 10.

    This post is sponsored by Triad Retail Media.

    The post Behind a Famous Brand Name, a Quiet Hero appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Ross Johnson 2:00 pm on 2018/04/02 Permalink
    Tags: Biography, ,   

    The Best Biographies & Memoirs of April 2018 

    The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table, by Rick Bragg
    Pulitzer Prize-winner Rick Bragg combines a love of cooking with the history of his family and of a region for this memoir/cookbook. Focusing on his mother’s recipes, never before recorded, he tells the stories behind each dish and of the family traditions that accompanied meals passed down in his family since before the Civil War. Alabama and family history aside, the book contains recipes for southern classics like corn pudding, redeye gravy, pinto beans and hambone, stewed cabbage, short ribs, and more.

    My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food, by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
    Celebrity chef, restauranteur, and cookbook author Bastianich grew up in Pula under Tito’s regime in Yugoslavia. Lidia’s family ultimately was forced to flee to a refugee camp in Italy before being granted visas to to the United States.  The beloved TV star tells the story of her life, from learning Italian cooking at her grandmother’s knee, to the family’s the flight to America, to her teenage years spent working in restaurants, and the great success that she’s achieved in the years since.

    The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery, by Barbara K. Lipska and Elaine McArdle
    Barbara Lipska found herself at the beginning of a harrowing, but remarkable journey in early 2015: the renowned expert on the neuroscience of mental illness was herself diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to her brain. Short months later, she developed symptoms of dementia and schizophrenia that resulted from the shutdown of parts of her frontal lobe. She found herself descending into madness—but fortunately, a course of immunotherapy worked, and restored her physical and mental health. Not only that, but the neuroscientist remembers every detail of her ordeal. Her memoir of the experience provides extraordinary insight into the working of the human brain, told as it is by an expert who came back from the brink.

    Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World, by Eileen McNamara
    While the Kennedy boys were being groomed for political power, Joe Kennedy’s daughter Eunice was pursuing a Stanford education as a preliminary to a lifetime of work with the disabled. For this thoroughly researched biography, Pulitzer Prize-winner Eileen McNamara gained access to never-before-seen private documents from the life of the formidable, cigar-smoking founder of what became the Special Olympics. She makes a very convincing case that it’s wasn’t just the Kennedy men who changed America.

    The Geraldo Show: A Memoir, by Geraldo Rivera
    Whatever your feelings about this news personality and talk show host, there’s no question his long career in the public eye has been quite the wild trip, from his early days as a lawyer and promising young reporter, to the guy who opened Al Capone’s vault, to talk show host and Fox News commentator. He’s been on the scene for some of the biggest news moments of the past five decades and has met many of modern history’s heavy hitters. He’s got plenty of stories to tell in his first memoir since 1992.

    Every Day I’m Hustling, by Vivica A. Fox
    During her 30 years in showbiz, Fox has learned plenty, and she’s ready to share. According to the actress, you never wait for the call. You go out and make life happen. Including stories and anecdotes from her own life and career in movies like Kill Bill and shows like Empire, Fox ‘s memoir offers success strategies for business and love, and even tips about looking good after 50.

    True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness: A Feminist Coming of Age, by Christine Lahti
    She’s won almost every major showbiz award over the course of her decades in the business, and has been an activist and blogger. This collection of personal essays focus on three periods in her life: her childhood, her early days as an actress, and the realities of life as a middle-aged woman in Hollywood today. The stories range from funny and self-deprecating to personally painful, but she’s always honest about her achievements and tragedies.

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After, by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
    At the age of 15, Clementine and her sister fled the Rwandan massacre. Over the next six years, they moved through seven different countries before gaining refugee status in the United States. The two sisters came to live very different lives as their paths diverged in Chicago: one a struggling single mother, the other taken in by a generous and loving family who supported her through Yale. Still, both carried the scars of years of inhumanity. Clementine Wamariya tells a story that’s heartbreaking but, ultimately, one of hope and of the power to transcend even the most horrific events.

    Hang Time: My Life in Basketball, by Elgin Baylor and Alan Eisenstock
    Baylor’s long career spans years of incredible change for the NBA and America itself. In 1958 he became one of the very first black superstars of the game, and receives credit for saving the (then) Minneapolis Lakers from extinction while simultaneously serving as an Army Reservist. Fourteen exceptional years later, he retired from playing and went onto a decades-long career as a coach and executive. Throughout, he was a witness to and agent of change, fighting to break down color barriers as a player and manager.

    American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, by Leslie Carroll
    Carroll has an extensive bibliography when it comes to works of historical non-fiction (and fiction, as well) centered around the loves, marriages, and affairs of European royals. With the story of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and a relationship that would have been scandalous not so long ago, she’s taking on a rather more contemporary courtship. Grounding the story in the history of royal marriages that broke rules, Carroll dives into the story of the couple, as well as into the impressive background of Markle herself.

    Whose story intrigues and inspires you?

    The post The Best Biographies & Memoirs of April 2018 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Ross Johnson 5:00 pm on 2018/03/01 Permalink
    Tags: Biography, , ,   

    The Best Biographies & Memoirs of March 2018 

    The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, by Anthony Ray Hinton, Bryan Stevenson, and Lara Love Hardin
    “I don’t care whether you did it or not. You will be convicted.” That’s what a Birmingham detective told Anthony Ray Hinton after he was arrested for robbery and murder in 1985. Hinton had an alibi, and no evidence linked him to the crime, but testimony suggesting that a gun owned by his mother might have been the same type as was used in the shootings was enough to send the black man to death row. Outside ballistics experts proved conclusively, in 1995, that the bullets weren’t a match for his mother’s gun, but the state refused to reexamine the evidence. Hinton spent almost 30 years were in prison before the state released him in 2015, rather than hold a new trial. The story is tragic and compelling, but also one of hope—of a man who never succumbed to bitterness.

    I’ll Never Change My Name: An Immigrant’s American Dream from Ukraine to the USA to Dancing with the Stars, by Valentin Chmerkovskiy
    Chmerkovskiy grew up in Odessa before his Jewish family immigrated to the United States. Outsiders in their often anti-semitic homeland, Valentin felt like a stranger in the United States, even while honoring the opportunities that America has provided him. His memoir talks about his life, family, and rise to fame as a ballroom dancer on Dancing with the Stars alongside his brother Maks. Additionally, the book includes 16 pages of photographs from on and off the dance floor.

    Gator: My Life in Pinstripes, by Ron Guidry, and Andrew Beaton
    During the so-called “Bronx Zoo” era, the New York Yankees of the late ’70s and ’80s were one of the most celebrated teams in baseball history, and a legendary crew of big personalities. Under manager Billy Martin and owner George Steinbrenner, the team included names like Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson. Ace pitcher Guidry was there for it all, making and being witness to sports history for over a decade, and shares his (and the team’s) fascinating journey here.

    Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family, by Kathy McKeon
    The Kennedy family continues to fascinate, perhaps none more than the glamorous, mysterious first lady turned book editor. Even given her later reclusiveness, we still feel as though we’re on a first-name basis with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Kathy McKeon grew up on a remote farm in Ireland with neither running water nor electricity, but was hired by the recent widow when McKeon moved to America in 1964. For 13 years, she was Jackie’s personal assistant and sometimes nanny to the children. Now in paperback, McKeon’s memoir provides a behind-the-scenes look at life with one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century, while also telling the story of a young immigrant who grew up under Jackie’s mentorship.

    A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir, by Ian Buruma
    Writer and historian Buruma travelled to Tokyo in 1975, inspired by the rawness of Japanese theatre performances he’d experienced in his native Netherlands. What he found was a city in the middle of an economic and cultural boom, all neon and J-pop, where hints of life before the war survived as scattered fragments amidst a vivid new backdrop. Buruma’s memoir is the story of his time in Tokyo as an outsider in a city in the midst of radical transformation.

    Would You Rather?: A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out, by Katie Heaney
    Novelist and memoirist Heaney’s warm and poignant collections of essays about growing up and searching for Mr. Right have been well-received, but her life’s changed since the release of her last: for one thing, she realized at the age of 28 that she’s gay, so Mr. Right became Ms. Right. Here, she chronicles the journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance that led her to where she is now, and shares stories of her coming out to friends, family, and acquaintances, and her new adventures in dating in New York City.

    Unsuccessful Thug: One Comedian’s Journey from Naptown to Tinseltown, by Mike Epps
    Growing up in a rough part of Indianapolis, Mike Epps seemed destined for a life of crime, until he realized he had neither the sensibilities nor the aptitude for the thug life. So it was off to New York, where he made a splash in stand up, and then to Hollywood, where he parlayed a role in the later Friday movies into a solid film career. From growing up black, to Hollywood racism, to capturing stand-up success, Epps discusses his life and career.

    My Days: Happy and Otherwise, by Marion Ross
    With a career spanning more than six decades, Marion Ross has plenty of stories to tell. After growing up in rural Minnesota, she went to Hollywaood where, by the late ’50s, she had already worked with entertainment luminaries like Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart, and Noel Coward. In the ’70s, she became a television star, and for 11 seasons of Happy Days, she was one of America’s favorite moms. In addition to her own life story on- and off-screen, this memoir includes candid interviews with most of the cast of that enduring sit-com.

    It’s Not Yet Dark, by Simon Fitzmaurice
    A doctor gave filmmaker Fitzmaurice four years to live following an ALS diagnosis in 2008. By 2010, he was at death’s door, and given little reason to hope. Nevertheless, he chose to take extraordinary measures to stay alive. In the years since, he’s fathered twins and continued to work as a documentarian. Now in paperback, and released alongside his wife’s own memoir, Fitzmaurice talks candidly about his daily struggles, but also about the family that sustains him in a life that’s radically different from the one he’d planned for.

    I Found My Tribe: A Memoir, by Ruth Fitzmaurice
    The “Tragic Wives’ Swimming Club” is what Ruth Fitzmaurice calls her tribe of friends, who have banded together in the face of life’s challenges, and regularly make a pilgrimage to a lake together to throw themselves into the frigid waters—a symbol of their resiliency and camaraderie in the face of hardship. Ruth is the wife of Simon, a filmmaker with ALS (whose own memoir is out in paperback this month; see above); caring for a husband who can now only communicate with his eyes taught her love and live as hard as she can. Her story is heartbreaking, but ultimately inspiring.

    Whose story inspires you?

    The post The Best Biographies & Memoirs of March 2018 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • BN Editors 6:00 pm on 2018/02/01 Permalink
    Tags: Biography, ,   

    This Winter’s Best New Biographies & Memoirs 

    Educated, by Tara Westover
    A well-written memoir can make a mundane life fascinating, but Tara Westover’s life was anything but mundane, and she tells her own story with gripping, clear-eyed ferocity. Raised in the rural Idaho mountains by a family of fundamentalist Mormon survivalists, Westover never went to school until she turned 17, and lived out her days preparing for the worst:helping her fathersalvage scrap to sell, canning food with her mother to get them through the looming apocalypse, packing and repacking her bag of emergency supplies. She never saw a doctor, despite some serious injuries, including violence inflicted upon her by a sibling. Another brother did make it out, however, and came back to the mountain one day with tales of college, and a better life. Determined to follow in his footsteps, Westover taught herself enough math and science to gain admittance to Brigham University, where her life changed forever. This is the fascinating story of the strange ties that bind a family together, and the strength it takes to sever them and strike out on your own.

    All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murderer’s Row, by James Patterson and Alex Abramovich with Mike Harvkey
    One of the most shocking and sad sports stories of the past five years, the murder conviction and subsequent suicide of NFL superstar Aaron Hernandez left sports fans reeling. A young man who seemed to have it all was implicated in multiple killings, and thriller writer Patterson and company promise a thorough and unvarnished true-crime look at the real Hernandez, with accounts from those who knew him, a look at his hometown, and an account of his final days.

    When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
    Advocate, artist, and queer activist Patrisse Cullors was one of the principal founders of the Black Lives Matter movement following the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. It’s hard to overstate the influence that movement has had on our culture in the years since, both as inspiration and flashpoint. She’s joined by author and fellow activist asha bandele to tell her personal story of BLM and to talk about the culture that necessitated it.

    Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, by Kelly Corrigan
    Corrigan structures a series of essays around some of the seemingly simple words and phrases that serve as gateways and barriers to communication. In her human and self-deprecating style, she examine the power of saying “no,” or “I don’t know,” or even “I was wrong.” If there’s ever been a need to think thoughtfully and compassionately about the ways in which we communicate, it’s now.

    The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers
    McSweeney’s founder Eggers tells the true story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a San Franciscan child of Yemeni immigrants who became fascinated with Yemen’s rich history of coffee production. Traveling to his parent’s homeland, he became a student of coffee, visiting farms all of the country to collect samples and discover new means of cultivation with a goal of restoring a proud tradition and global market for Yemeni coffee. It was going well until 2015, when the Yemeni civil war broke out overnight, forcing Alkhanshali to attempt a daring escape. Those are just a few of the many layers to a fascinating true story.

    BRAVE, by Rose McGowan
    McGowan was born to members of the notorious Children of God cult before running away as a teenager and finding her way to Hollywood, where she quickly discovered that the sexism and exploitation of celebrity culture was a cult of its own. She’s been inspiration and provocateur ever since, unapologetically and controversially speaking her mind about Hollywood and her life as a female star. In the wake of her recent revelations about her abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein comes this frank memoir, which pulls no punches, and then some.

    Single State of Mind, by Andi Dorfman
    Bachelorette star Dorfman is back with a new memoir of life as a single celebrity in New York, pulling back the curtain on living as a reality star as well going behind the scenes on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Described as a real-life Sex and the City, Dorfman’s book has everything that her legions of fans crave.

    Jackie, Janet & Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill, by J. Randy Taraborrelli
    There are plenty of biographies about Jackie Kennedy Onassis, mostly centered around her marriages to JFK and Aristotle Onassis and her extraordinary and tragic term as First Lady. Taraborelli’s book shifts the focus to the family, particularly the mother who taught Jackie and her sister Lee to walk in the most rarified circles. A socialite, a First Lady, and a princess, these three women walked the corridors of power in the 20th century.

    Whose story intrigues you most?

    The post This Winter’s Best New Biographies & Memoirs appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2018/01/22 Permalink
    Tags: , Biography, expert accounts   

    20 Books by People Who Actually Know What They’re Talking About 

    Fiction can show us lives and worlds that don’t exist, or that we have no access to. History can help us understand our world. Biographies can help us understand the people in it. But many books are written at a remove—no matter how well-researched or how well-written, the author didn’t actually experience what they’re writing about, so there’s always a tiny piece of the puzzle missing. That’s not the case with these 20 books, all written by people who experienced something few others have. In other words, these are books by people who know what they’re talking about.

    Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, by Scott Kelly
    Unless you’ve spent a year in space being studied, you have nothing on Scott Kelly, who holds the current American record for consecutive days in space. As a result, Kelly’s thoughts on our space program—including its necessity and utility—are worth reading, as is his description of the challenges that face anyone intending to spend a long time in space. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s really to head into orbit, Kelly’s book offers the most up-to-date and informative account ever written.

    Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
    It’s the eternal conflict: you’re curious what it’s like to climb Mount Everest, especially under less-than-ideal conditions, but you just microwaved a burrito and you don’t feel like flying out to Nepal to find out. Read the next best thing: Krakauer’s classic book details a disastrous expedition to the summit of the mountain in 1996—an expedition he experienced firsthand, and one that six experienced climbers didn’t come back from. If this book doesn’t cure you of any lingering curiosity about climbing mountains, you’ll just have to go climb one.

    Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
    Ever wondered what it’s like to be declared a danger to yourself and placed in a mental hospital? Wonder no more, as Kaysen’s memoir (the basis for the film of the same name) details the events when that precise scenario happened to her in 1967, when she was 18. Although Kaysen committed herself, she describes the bullying techniques of the psychiatrist who pushed her to do so, and explains what life is really like in one of those places.

    Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea, by Steve Callahan
    The title says it all. While competing in a race across the Atlantic Ocean in 1981, Callahan got caught in a storm and lost his boat. Luckily, he managed to grab his emergency kit and get into the six-person raft he’d taken along as a precaution. For the next 76 days he drifted on the ocean, teaching himself how to catch fish, make repairs, and generally stay alive. If you’ve ever drifted during a stressful meeting and wondered what it might be like to be lost at sea, Callahan’s epic memoir will tell you.

    No Easy Day, by Mark Owen
    Written by one of the SEAL team members on hand when Osama Bin Laden was killed, you won’t get a clearer idea of what it’s really like to be a member of the elite special forces unit than the one you’ll find in this book. Owen’s career spans many headline-grabbing moments, as well as several that were never publicized. By the end, you’ll understand a bit better what it takes to be a Navy SEAL from someone who’s actually been one.

    Blue Latitudes, by Tony Horwitz
    What was it like to be an explorer in the age of the sail, out on the ocean in a rickety wooden ship? Horwitz decided to find out. He worked as a crew member on a replica of Captain Cook’s ship as it followed the famous explorer’s route into the unknown. We may not be able to quiz Cook or his crew on what it was really like to sail into the unknown in the 18th century, but Horwitz provides a pretty close account, because he actually did it. Except for the “18th century” part.

    Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
    This is a fictionalized account of real events, and Roberts’ account of his own life is contested by some, but in general, the facts are right: the author was sentenced to prison in Australia, escaped to Bombay, and lived there for a decade. Whether or not every single thing in Shantaram is true doesn’t matter; what you get from it is a sense of what it’s really like to live on the sketchier side of one of the world’s most crowded cities, a view most tourists will never see.

    Kon-Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl
    Say you want to know what it might have been like to be ancient Perusians crowding onto balsa wood rafts and sailing west to settle the Polynesian islands. Thor Heyerdahl found out, by building his own raft and sailing from Peru, arriving three months later at Puka Puka. Proving that it was possible for primitive people to travel incredible distances, he also saved you the trouble of building your own flimsy raft and finding out what that adventure might be like.

    And the River Flowed as a Raft of Corpses, by Yamaguchi Tsutomu
    Ever wonder what it’s like to directly experience an atomic blast? Mr. Tsutomu actually experienced it—twice. He was in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped in 1945, and then in Nagasaki when the second bomb dropped three days later. That kind of luck will kill you, but Tsutomu survived both incidents, and went on to become a writer and poet. While adapting some of those poems, translator Chad Diehl includes a translation of Tsutomu’s account of the bombings as well, so you can scratch “experience atomic destruction (twice)” off your bucket list.

    Ice Bound, by Jerri Nielsen
    This is a twofer: Dr. Nielsen was both trapped at an isolated South Pole facility and forced to perform surgery on herself and treat herself with chemotherapy when she diagnosed herself with cancer. Unable to be transported out and unable to get anything in, Nielsen—the only doctor on staff—had to perform her own biopsy and then administer her own treatment for four months before weather conditions allowed rescue. So, if you’re wondering what it’s like to be at the South Pole and/or what it’s like to perform surgery on yourself, this is the book for you.

    Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
    Bourdain offers a surprisingly rare glimpse into the world of restaurant kitchens, both high-end and beyond sketchy. If you’ve ever been curious what it’s like to be a chef or to work in a professional kitchen, prepare to be beyond surprised at what actually goes on in some of the most famous kitchens in the world. Since he’s a world-famous chef who worked in those kitchens, he sure knows what he’s talking about.

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean Dominique Bauby
    Wondering what it’s like to be paralyzed may not be on you list of things to do today, but it offers the sort of calibration most of us need—after all, how bad are your troubles if you can still move? Bauby, the hugely successful editor of French Elle, suffered a stroke at the age of 43 that left him completely mute and paralyzed—except for his left eye. He dictated this book by working out a system of blinked code. If you want to gain a new appreciation of simply being in control of your body, read this book.

    Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup
    Northup’s famous memoir of slavery in 19th century America lays out the brutality, racism, and insanity of the practice in stark terms. Tricked and kidnapped, Northup’s decade lost in the plantation system will turn stomachs and shame anyone who wants to talk about the Civil War being about “states’ rights.”

    Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah
    Most people in the West are dimly aware of the phenomenon of child soldiers in Africa, but Ishmael Beah was a child soldier, sucked into the army at age 12. His candid depiction of the drug-fueled brutality he was forced to enact is harrowing, and his rescue at age 15 likely saved not just his life, but his soul. As clear a depiction of the evil that men do as you’ll ever read—from someone who was there.

    West with the Night, by Beryl Markham
    What’s it like to fly solo across the ocean? Beryl Markham can tell you. The first pilot to go nonstop from Europe to America, as well as the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic, Markham’s memoir describes a life that was pretty fascinating even before she got into the cockpit. These days it might seem as if there are no new worlds to explore and no new records to set, but reading Markham’s book will at least let you know what it was like when an individual could just decide to do both.

    Night, by Eli Wiesel
    With fascism somehow back in the air like a virus, this is the ideal time to learn what experiencing the final destination of such thinking is like. Wiesel’s firsthand account of surviving the Nazi Holocaust is not easy reading. It is disturbing, and frightening, and necessary, because Wiesel was there, and he tells you in unflinching terms what it was like to survive a genocide.

    The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller
    Most of us take our senses for granted, and we live in a world designed around our ability to see and hear. Keller, rendered deaf and blind before she was two years old, managed to communicate somewhat with her family. At the age of six she began working with Anne Sullivan, who patiently broke through Keller’s isolation, teaching her how to interact with the world. Keller’s autobiography is a remarkable glimpse into what it’s like to exist without the basic senses most of us use to navigate our world.

    New Jack: Guarding Sing Sing, by Ted Conover
    What’s it like to be a prison guard? If you think you know from TV shows, you’ll be surprised to find out what it’s really like from Ted Conover. A journalist, Conover tried to shadow guards but was denied permission, and so he simply applied for a job, then spent a year working at the prison. His account is eye-opening, showing how the brutality of our prison system affects not just the prisoners, but the guards as well.

    Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member, by Sanyika Shakur
    Shakur, formerly Kody Scott, was so brutal as a member of the Crips, he earned the nickname Monster—this from his fellow gang members, who weren’t exactly gentle themselves. Locked up in solitary confinement for his crimes, Scott became Shakur, a convert to Islam and a reformed human being. His account of what it’s like to be in the L.A. gangs so often depicted in movies is sobering, as is his exploration of the societal failures that drove him into that life in the first place.

    When Breath becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
    What’s it like to die? We can’t know, Kalanithi’s memoir describing his terminal diagnosis and final years of life is a firsthand account of living with the sure knowledge that your time on Earth is limited. Our mortality is something we often avoid contemplating, but Kalanithi had no choice. His memoir should be required reading, if only for the perspective it offers.

    The post 20 Books by People Who Actually Know What They’re Talking About appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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