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

    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.

     
  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/12/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , memoir, non-fiction   

    The Best Non-Fiction of 2017 

    2017 was a tough year for reality, in the sense that many of us spent the year trying as hard as possible to avoid it. But the only way 2018 is going to be a better year is if we learn a few things, and there’s no better way to improve your understanding of the world than via high-quality non-fiction books. It doesn’t get better than the 25 on this list, which represent some of the best writing of the year, and all of it based on reality—or at least someone’s perception of it.

    You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir, by Sherman Alexie
    As well as a beloved author, Alexie has been a poet, filmmaker, and screenwriter. He’s won praise and generated controversy for his outspokenness, especially when Arizona recently banned his works from schools as part of a cull of Mexican-American studies programs. His first memoir tackles the complex and difficult relationship he had with his mother. Her death Forced Alexie to confront his bond with the intelligent but often abusive woman he left behind.

    Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, by Joe Biden
    Joe Biden, former vice president and possible future presidential candidate, lost his son Beau to brain cancer after a momentous struggle. When Beau was in the midst of his fight against the disease, he made his father promise that he would be all right. Over the next year, Joe Biden served his country while his son slowly lost his battle. In this remarkable memoir, Biden opens up about that period of his life, discussing with disarming intimacy the personal and political struggles he endured while working to make the world a safer place and trying to decide if he would run for president in 2016. Biden’s wisdom and advice for anyone who has lost someone close to them is powerful, and his insights into life’s problems come from someone who has dealt with some of the most difficult challenges in modern times on the world stage.

    Grant, by Ron Chernow
    Pulitzer-winning author Chernow tackles one of our most perplexing presidents with another sharply-written, deeply-researched book. Chernow sets out to prove that Grant, the brilliant general, was a far better president than he’s usually given credit for. Chernow paints a detailed picture of Grant as a man of action who withered in inactivity, a man whose alcoholism followed a unique cycle of binging followed by lengthy periods of sobriety, a man often mistaken for homeless prior to the Civil War who brought a willingness to engage the Confederate armies head on to his tactics that proved to be the key to winning the war. As he did with Alexander Hamilton, Chernow takes a familiar but opaque figure of American history and fleshes him out, revealing the human being under the engravings.

    Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West, by Tom Clavin
    Bringing a level of factual rigor to the legend of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson in Dodge City isn’t an easy task; the story of those pioneering lawmen, and the famed gunfight at the OK Corral is slathered with mythic overtones. In this revealing work, Clavin strips away the unnecessary flourishes to focuses on the facets of the story he can verify—and that unadorned tale turns out to be just as fascinating, especially his telling of the lesser-known Dodge City War, a bloodless affair that saw Earp and Masterson return to the area years later to firmly establish the rule of law, once and for all. You might think you know the story of Dodge City’s most famous gunslingers, but like as not, you only know the Hollywood version. Here’s your chance to fix that.

    We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    This collection of essays are drawn from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing for The Atlantic during the years 2008 to 2016, roughly paralleling the Obama administration and ending on the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. These are the essays that made Coates a figure no serious person could ignore; they trace the evolution of his thought from the optimism of Obama’s first election to the somewhat darker mood of the later years. Coates adds a wealth of background material, including introductions in which he reflects on the essays, notes and background taken from his journals, and even personal stories that expand on and illuminate his themes. Coates is one of our best and most important living writers, and this collection is a must-read for any thoughtful American.

    The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, by Masha Gessen
    Gessen takes a personal approach to tracing Russia’s transformation from collapsed empire into “mafia state,” following four principle figures (herself, Boris Nemtsov’s daughter, Seryozha, scion of a political reformist, and Lyosha, a homosexual in what is rapidly becoming the most homophobic nation in the world). This intimate focus grants a frightening immediacy to the story of a country that was once perceived as a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism but now seems to have reverted back to its fascist roots. Along the way are plenty of insights into the current political situation around the world, making this as much an important work of history as it is a memoir.

    Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann
    Considering how important they were in shaping the modern age, the Osage Indian murders of the 1920s are remarkably little-known today. When the Nation became incredibly wealthy after oil was discovered on their land, more than 20 of its members of were murdered between 1921 and 1926. As public outrage grew, the federal government was pressured into putting the obscure Bureau of Investigation, led by a young Herbert Hoover, in charge of the case. Hoover used the notoriety of these awful crimes to establish what would soon be known as the FBI as the nation’s preeminent investigative body, and himself as its all-powerful chief. Grann, of The Lost City of Z fame, does a marvelous job catching you up on vital history that’s been nearly forgotten.

    Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari
    History normally looks back and attempts to say, with certainty, what did or didn’t happen. Harari takes a different approach: looking forward. While admitting that no one can accurately predict the future, he attempts to take all the information on hand and make bold predictions as to the most likely course of future human history—and his conclusions aren’t very reassuring. While he sees plenty of achievements in store for us, his theory is that humanity’s progress is inevitably making us insignificant, resulting in a future where we won’t be in control of our existence—if we’re even still around (the “post-human future” is certainly in the tea leaves.) It’s up to you to decide if Harari makes his case—but whether you agree or not, the time spent with this book is worthwhile.

    Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
    Isaacson begins with the presumption that Leonardo da Vinci was perhaps the most creative genius in human history and proceeds from there, digesting more than 7,000 pages of notes da Vinci left behind to produce this biography, and the result is unlike anything else you’ve ever read about the most famous artist of the 15th and 16th centuries. Isaacson paints a portrait of a restless mind that exhibited unusual curiosity and made magical connections between disciplines that had never been made before. At the same time, he shows da Vinci as a man whose always-churning mind could leave many projects unfinished as he dashed from idea to idea. When one of our best modern writers tackles one of the most famous minds in history, it’s time to pay attention.

    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 off-planet. 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 orbit. In other words, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s really to head into space, Kelly’s book offers the most up-to-date and informative account ever written.

    Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, by Chris Matthews
    For younger generations, the Kennedy name may no longer be magic, but Chris Mathews does great work to remind everyone just how special the family was at one time. Although JFK gets most of the attention, the Hardball anchorargues Bobby Kennedy was almost as important, and came very close to being president himself—and may well have done so if he hadn’t been cut down in the prime of life, just like his brother. Matthews doesn’t sugarcoat the ruthlessness that made plenty of enemies for Bobby Kennedy, but he also captures the younger Kennedy’s keen intellect and growing empathy for people who were not as fortunate, traits that may have made him a great president.

    The American Spirit: Who We Are & What We Stand For, by David McCullough
    McCullough is one of the most celebrated historians ever. He has written absorbing accounts of the Wright Brothers, John Adams, and the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge—winning two Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards along the way. A thinker like that naturally makes a lot of speeches, and he compiles here some of his best—speeches made before Congress, before academic audiences, before groups of fellow historians. This is stirring stuff, the sort of of clear-eyed, patriotic rhetoric we need more of in these divisive and confusing times. McCullough brings a calm authority to his words, equal parts comforting and energizing. It is an ideal book to read if your faith in our institutions is fading.

    Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas
    If you ever doubt that one person can alter the course of history, look no further than Martin Luther, a young monk who sought only to spark debate when he posted his 95 Theses to a church door. Instead, Luther’s startling moment of protest launched what came to be known as the Protestant Revolution and remade the Christian faith. Metaxas offers up a fresh perspective on a man so famous he’s more myth than reality these days, finding the humanity underneath the history.

    The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore
    Any time someone questions the need for laws protecting workers from the deprivations of profit-seeking companies, this story should serve as a lesson. In the early 20th century, more than a dozen women were employed to paint watches with luminous paint made from the radioactive material radium. These women were fine artists, able to manipulate their brushes expertly, often using their mouths to twist them to a fine point in order to do the detail work. Soon after, many began suffering terrible medical problems, including lost teeth and disease jawbones, sparking a decades-long legal and medical battle that redefined worker’s rights and workplace safety.

    Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy
    Stories of World War II often focus on the heroic deeds of soldiers, but newly declassified documents reveal a shadow army of women who also did their part—the codebreakers. Recruited from colleges and secretarial pools for their math skills, these women were set to the task of breaking enemy codes, but their efforts and achievements were top secret, and their stories largely unknown—until now. Battling the expected sexism and hostile attitudes of their male counterparts and supervisors, tens of thousands of women helped to end the war much more quickly than it would have otherwise, and Mundy rescues their stories from obscurity and gives them the credit they deserve. In fact, she makes a solid case that without these women, we might not have won World War II at all.

    Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem, by Bill Nye
    Nye is something of a modern-day polymath, and in this inspiring book (a combination memoir and textbook) he encourages science- and math-minded folks to use their powers for good. Using his own stories as a starting point, Nye tells the tale of a curious, engaged kid who sopped up information about everything, and argues that if you’re like him, you should spend less energy on comic book trivia and more on solving the world’s problems. It’s also crammed full of interesting information and threaded with an infectious optimism and enthusiasm for knowledge.

    Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, by Condoleezza Rice
    We find ourselves at an unexpected point in history, as several events that seemed unlikely—or impossible—have come to pass within our own democracy. Which is why it’s welcome to see a book from someone as accomplished and experienced as Dr. Rice—an academic and former secretary of state—seeking to analyze the history of democracy around the world, and offer an analysis of its present state. Few people can discuss geopolitical events with the gravitas and authority that Dr. Rice can muster, making this an essential book for getting ready for the year to come.

    Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks
    Context is everything. Although they lived at the same time, were born in the same country, and fought many of the same enemies, Winston Churchill and George Orwell never met, and there’s no evidence they ever even read each other’s work. Ricks places these two remarkable men side-by-side, however, and finds common ground in their shared philosophies and hatred of tyranny. A study of the lives of two men who never interacted might seem like a strange approach to history, but the result is a deeper look at the larger picture of culture and society that shaped their views, and the impact each had on the world around them.

    Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
    Despite the fact that grief and loss are experiences we all share, there is remarkably little structure around our processes for dealing with tragedy. Even for a highly successful person such as Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, the sudden, unexpected death of her husband left her wondering how people deal with such events, leading directly to her collaboration with Adam Grant, professor at Wharton and author in his own right. Option B explores the theory and practical application of techniques to help you not only weather grief and survive life’s swerves, but to move on from it and continue to have a meaningful and fulfilling life despite the void left by those we’ve lost. The combination of Sandberg’s raw, personal experience and Grant’s more academic contributions make this a book many will find incredibly fresh and incredibly helpful.

    Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert M. Sapolsky
    Anyone who’s been around for a while knows that the one rule of human behavior is that it’s often unpredictable and nonsensical—we have plenty of seemingly primitive and instinctive reactions to the world around us. The question of how much free will is a factor in our actions as opposed to how much is ‛programmed’ into us is a fascinating one. Dr. Sapolsky, a professor of biology at Stanford University, explores various scientific disciplines as he tries to answer some of the questions about what rules the often contradictory impulses that rule our behavior. Leavened with humor and written in a clear, easily-digested style, this is a science book that offers plenty of insight into what makes us all tick without numbing you with dense concepts and obscure jargon.

    Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977 – 2002, by David Sedaris
    Any new David Sedaris book is a reason to celebrate. He’s one of our great observers, finding deep meaning and, more importantly, reasons to laugh, in even the most mundane events. For decades now, he’s been celebrating the weirdo in all of us, but he’s doing something different with his latest: presenting excerpts of his own diaries from 1977 to 2002. Fortunately, his past self is every bit as funny and trenchant as his present-day incarnation.

    Basketball (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated, by Shea Serrano
    Serrano, with an awesome assist from Arturo Torres’ illustrations, offers up a deep-dive love letter to the sport of basketball that every fan should have on hand. Exploring the history and minutiae of the sport, Serrano seemingly discusses every possible aspect, from the sort of debates that fans spend hours chewing on (like how many years Kobe Bryant was the best player in the league) to the arguments that never seem to be settled adequately (like what the precise rules of a pickup game should be). Backed by an obvious (and pure) love of the sport, this often hilarious and always gorgeous book is both a source of hours of reading pleasure and a beautiful work of art to have on display in the house.

    Where the Past Begins, by Amy Tan
    Bestselling novelist Tan’s unconventional memoir finds her on a journey through her own past via spontaneous storytelling: using fluid writing to search through her own memories to reveal the inspirations and traumas that have shaped her works. In the process, Tan reveals difficult truths about her childhood, and makes connections and uncovers memories that she herself was shocked by.

    Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
    Tyson is not just one of the smartest men in the world, he’s one of the most personable and charismatic. His book is, therefore, fun. He doesn’t use a lot of scientific terms, but instead explores space, time, and the known universe in simpler ways that even folks who have never had any scientific training will find incredibly easy to understand. It’s like having a conversation with your really smart, really funny uncle.

    We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True, by Gabrielle Union
    Actress Union tells her story with wit and sensitivity, a story that includes her struggles as one of a few black students in a predominantly white high school, the devastating rape at gunpoint that almost broke her, and her recovery and pursuit of a high-octane Hollywood career. Union addresses topics including parenting, raising black kids in a culture often perceived as steeped in racism, and teen sexuality—always with disarming humor and perceptive insights that mark this as much more than a typical Hollywood vanity memoir. Without much of a filter, Union comes across as a nuanced survivor who has managed to keep both her sense of humor and her ability to love despite her experiences.

    The post The Best Non-Fiction of 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2017/12/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , memoir   

    The Best History Books, Biographies, and Memoirs of 2017 

    2017 was a monumental year for the world, and just as great a one for books that look back on how we got to here. These 25 books encompass a wide range of subjects, writing styles, and personalities, but they all have one thing in common—by shedding light on the past (even if only the life and experiences of a single person), they all broaden our understanding of what it means to be living in the world today.

    You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir, by Sherman Alexie
    As well as a beloved author, Alexie has been a poet, filmmaker, and screenwriter. He’s won praise and generated controversy for his outspokenness, especially when Arizona recently banned his works from schools as part of a cull of Mexican-American studies programs. His first memoir tackles the complex and difficult relationship he had with his mother. Her death Forced Alexie to confront his bond with the intelligent but often abusive woman he left behind.

    Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, by Joe Biden
    Joe Biden, former Vice President and possible future presidential candidate, lost his son Beau to brain cancer after a momentous struggle. When Beau was in the midst of his fight against the disease, he made his father promise that he would be all right. Over the next year, Joe Biden served his country as Vice President while his son slowly lost his battle. In this remarkable memoir, Biden opens up about that period of his life, discussing with disarming intimacy the personal and political struggles he endured while working to make the world a safer place and trying to decide if he would run for president in 2016. Biden’s wisdom and advice for anyone who has lost someone close to them is powerful, and his insights into life’s problems come from someone who has dealt with some of the most difficult challenges in modern times on the world stage.

    Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, by Mark Bowden
    The 1968 Tet Offensive changed the course of the Vietnam War, and its startling, shocking success more or less made American defeat there inevitable. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese surprise attack during the New Year holiday was not only a military success, but a success of propaganda as their forces were instructed to “behave like winners” as they fought. Bowden digs in to how, exactly, the surprise was pulled off and traces the many threads of consequences that followed, resulting in one of the best books on Vietnam ever written. Bowden expertly walks the reader through the single but momentous action, using several set-pieces to illustrate what the fighting was like on both sides.

    Grant, by Ron Chernow
    Pulitzer-winning author Chernow tackles one of our most disappointing—and perplexing—presidents with another sharply-written, deeply-researched book. Chernow sets out to prove that Grant, the brilliant general, was a far better president than he’s usually given credit for. Chernow has his work cut out for him, but he paints a detailed picture of Grant as a man of action who withered in inactivity, a man whose alcoholism followed a unique cycle of binging followed by lengthy periods of sobriety, a man often mistaken for homeless prior to the Civil War who brought a willingness to engage the Confederate armies head on to his tactics that proved to be the key to winning the war. As he did with Alexander Hamilton, Chernow takes a familiar but opaque figure of American history and fleshes him out, revealing the human being under the engravings—for better or worse.

    Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West, by Tom Clavin
    Bringing a level of factual rigor to the legend of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson in Dodge City isn’t an easy task; the story of those pioneering lawmen, and the famed gunfight at the OK Corral, is slathered with mythic overtones. In this revealing work, Clavin strips away the unnecessary flourishes to focuses on the facets of the story he can verify—and that unadorned tale turns out to be just as fascinating, especially his telling of the lesser-known Dodge City War, a bloodless affair that saw Earp and Masterson return to the area years later to firmly establish the rule of law, once and for all. You might think you know the story of Dodge City’s most famous gunslingers, but like as not, you only know the Hollywood version. Here’s your chance to fix that.

    It’s Not Yet Dark: A Memoir, 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 hope, but nevertheless chose to take extraordinary measures to stay alive. In the years since, he’s fathered twins and continued to work as a documentarian. 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.

    The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, by Masha Gessen
    Gessen takes a personal approach to tracing Russia’s transformation from collapsed empire into “mafia state,” following four principle figures (herself, Boris Nemtsov’s daughter, Seryozha, scion of a political reformist, and Lyosha, a homosexual in what is rapidly becoming the most homophobic nation in the world. This intimate focus grants a frightening immediacy to the story of a country that was once perceived as a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism but now seems to have reverted back to its fascist roots almost entirely. Along the way are plenty of insights into the current political situation around the world, making this as much an important work of history as it is a memoir.

    Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann
    Considering how important they were in shaping the modern age, the Osage Indian murders of the 1920s are remarkably little-known today. When the Nation became incredibly wealthy after oil was discovered on their land, more than 20 of its members of were murdered between 1921 and 1926. As public outrage grew, the federal government was pressured into putting the obscure Bureau of Investigation, led by a young Herbert Hoover, in charge of the case. Hoover used the notoriety of these awful crimes to establish what would soon be known as the FBI as the nation’s preeminent investigative body, and himself as its all-powerful chief. Grann, of The Lost City of Z fame, does a marvelous job catching you up on vital history that’s been nearly forgotten.

    Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari
    History normally looks back and attempts to say, with certainty, what did or didn’t happen. Harari takes a different approach: looking forward. While admitting that no one can accurately predict the future, he attempts to take all the information on hand and make bold predictions as to the most likely course of future human history—and his conclusions aren’t very reassuring. While he sees plenty of achievements in store for us, his theory is that humanity’s progress is inevitably making us insignificant, resulting in a future where we won’t be in control of our existence—if we’re even still around (the “post-human future” is certainly in the tea leaves.) It’s up to you to decide if Harari makes his case—but whether you agree or not, the time spent with this book is worthwhile.

    Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
    Isaacson begins with the presumption that Leonardo da Vinci was perhaps the most creative genius in human history and proceeds from there, digesting more than 7,000 pages of notes da Vinci left behind and producing this biography. Unlike anything else you’ve ever read about the most famous artist of the 15th and 16th centuries, Isaacson paints a portrait of a restless mind that exhibited unusual curiosity and made magical connections between disciplines that had never been made before. At the same time, he shows da Vinci as a man whose always-churning mind could leave many projects unfinished as he dashed from idea to idea. When one of our best modern writers tackles one of the most famous minds in history, it’s time to pay attention.

    The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors, by Dan Jones
    The Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple, known today as the Templars, began existence as a group of impoverished knights who protected pilgrims to the Holy Land in exchange for charity. From these humble beginnings sprang one of the most powerful and influential knightly orders in history. Gaining patronage, property, and political power, the Templars grew so great they were eventually demonized and destroyed by rival powers in Europe. Jones tells the story of the Templars in brisk writing that makes their rise and fall viscerally exciting, informative, and fascinating.

    The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kiernan
    As the conversation about income inequality ramps up, this book is the ideal historical complement. In the late 19th century, George Washington Vanderbilt II was the world’s richest bachelor, and he chose to put his immense resources into building the largest private home ever constructed, a 175,000 square foot mansion sitting on 125,000 acres of land. Uninterested in romance, Vanderbilt nonetheless married the well-bred but impoverished Edith Dresser, who suddenly found herself queen of a city-sized estate. A spice of schadenfreude comes into play as Vanderbilt’s fortunes decline and the family is thrust into the sort of economic downturn that most people would recognize, even if on a vastly different scale, and Edith emerges as a heroine of sorts as she struggles to save her family and her huge, lavish home.

    The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir, by Ariel Levy
    Celebrated writer Levy tells her life story with verve and gusto, exploring as a central theme the way the universe laughs at our plans. As a young child Levy was taught she could do anything, but also warned not to depend on a man for support. As her star rose as a writer for New York Magazine and elsewhere in the 1990s her life began taking unscheduled detours: she married an older woman with substance abuse problems, she conceived a child using a sperm donor but suffered a miscarriage, and she never lost a burning desire to seek adventure and new experiences. The end result is a compelling and compulsively readable memoir.

    Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, by Chris Matthews
    For younger generations, the Kennedy name may no longer be magic, but Chris Mathews does great work to remind everyone just how special the Kennedy family was at one time. Although JFK gets most of the attention, Hardball anchor Chris Matthews knows that Bobby Kennedy was almost as important, and came very close to being president himself—and may well have been if he hadn’t been cut down in the prime of life just like his brother. Matthews doesn’t sugarcoat the ruthlessness that made plenty of enemies for Bobby Kennedy, but he also captures the younger Kennedy’s keen intellect and growing empathy for people who were not as fortunate as him, traits that would have made him a great president, had he lived.

    The American Spirit: Who We Are & What We Stand For, by David McCullough
    McCullough is one of the most celebrated historians in American history. He has written absorbing accounts of the Wright Brothers, John Adams, and the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge—winning two Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards along the way. A thinker like that naturally makes a lot of speeches in front of a lot of audiences, and he compiles here some of his best—speeches made before Congress, before academic audiences, before groups of fellow historians. This is stirring stuff, the sort of of clear-eyed, patriotic, smart rhetoric we need more of in these divisive and confusing times. McCullough brings a calm authority to his words, equal parts comforting and energizing. It is an ideal book to read if your faith in our institutions is fading.

    Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas
    If you ever doubt that one person can alter the course of history, look no further than Martin Luther, a young monk who sought only to spark debate when he posted his 95 Theses to a church door. Instead, Luther’s startling moment of protest launched what came to be known as the Protestant Revolution and remade the Christian faith. Metaxas offers up a fresh perspective on a man so famous he’s more myth than reality these days, finding the humanity underneath the history.

    The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore
    Whenever someone questions the need for laws protecting workers and everyone else from the deprivations of profit-seeking companies, this story should serve as educational. In the early 20th century, more than a dozen women were employed to paint watches with luminous paint based on the radioactive material radium. These women were fine artists who were able to manipulate their brushes expertly, often using their mouths to twist the brushes to a fine point in order to do the detail work. Soon after, many began suffering terrible medical problems, including lost teeth and disease jawbones, sparking a decades-long legal and medical battle that redefined worker’s rights and workplace safety.

    Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy
    Stories of World War II often focus on the heroic deeds of male soldiers, but newly declassified documents reveal a shadow army of women who also did their part—the codebreakers. Recruited from colleges and secretarial pools for their math skills, these women were set to the task of breaking enemy codes, but their efforts and achievements were top secret, and their stories largely unknown—until now. Battling the expected sexism and hostile attitudes of their male counterparts and supervisors, tens of thousands of women helped to end the war much more quickly than it would have otherwise, and Mundy rescues their stories from obscurity and gives them the credit they deserve. In fact, she makes a solid case that without these women, we might not have won World War II at all.

    Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War, by Lynne Olson
    When Hitler and the Nazis overran much of Europe, Great Britain was flooded with refugees from all nations and walks of life—including people who had implored the British to help them, to no avail, as the German army crashed over their borders. Olson chronicles story after story of heroism, betrayal, heartbreak, and triumph, from the Polish codebreakers who helped Bletchley Park decipher the Nazi codes, to the governments in exile that formed. The experiences and contributions of these dislocated people had a direct impact on the outcome of the war, and many of their stories will be inspirational, even seven decades later.

    The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story, by Douglas Preston
    Preston, also known as one half of the team writing the Agent Pendergrast series of thrillers, details his involvement with a team seeking to prove the existence of a lost city in the Honduran wilderness. Legends tell of a city destroyed by a series of natural cataclysms, abandoned as cursed, and forbidden for centuries. Using a combination of cutting-edge technology and boots on the ground, Preston and his team locate two large sites and a wealth of archaeological treasures to prove that a lost civilization once existed in an area of the world where no human being has set foot in centuries. Preston’s skill as a novelist makes the deep-dive into the past at once entertaining, gripping, and informative.

    Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge, by Helen Rappaport

    History can sometimes seem a bit like looking at a diorama behind glass, leaving you to wonder what it was like to actually be there. Rappaport solves this problem with this fascinating new look at the Russian Revolution, focusing on foreigners from Western nations who were in Petrograd as the powder keg of revolution exploded. Glimpse the beginnings of a violent uprising that transformed an empire (and the world) from the perspective of the confused, scared people who were on hand to witness it. From barricaded offices to views of riots, Rappaport’s lively writing offers a “you are there” approach to history that is sobering in its immediacy.

    Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by, by Thomas E. Ricks
    Context is everything. Although they lived at the same time, were born in the same country, and fought many of the same enemies, Winston Churchill and George Orwell never met, and there’s no evidence they ever even read each other’s work. Ricks places these two remarkable men side-by-side, however, and finds common ground in their shared philosophies and hatred of tyranny. A study of the lives of two men who never interacted might seem like a strange approach to history, but the result is a deeper look at the larger picture of culture and society that shaped their views, and the impact each had on the world around them.

    The Odyssey of Echo Company: The 1968 Tet Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War, by Doug Stanton
    One of the most effective techniques in a history book is to focus on a single event, exploring every facet in order to illuminate a larger related tapestry. Stanton does just this with his exploration of the Tet Offensive, the chaotic attack North Vietnam launched on January 31st, 1968 in an effort to destabilize the south and push American forces out of the country. The forty men of Echo Company of the 101st Airborne Division (an army reconnaissance platoon) had just arrived in country, and found themselves enduring a grueling, seemingly endless battle against a desperate, implacable enemy. The gripping descriptions of endless fighting combined with testimonials about the less-than warm welcome the soldiers received when they returned home help to explain the Vietnam era in terms anyone will understand.

    Where the Past Begins, by Amy Tan
    Bestselling novelist Tan’s unconventional memoir finds her on a journey through her own past via spontaneous storytelling: using fluid writing to search through her own memories to reveal the inspirations and traumas that have shaped her works. In the process, Tan reveals difficult truths about her childhood, and makes connections and uncovers memories that she herself was shocked by.

    We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True, by Gabrielle Union
    Actress Union tells her story with wit and sensitivity, a story that includes her struggles as one of a few black students in a predominantly white high school, the devastating rape at gunpoint that almost broke her, and her recovery and pursuit of a high-octane Hollywood career. Union addresses topics including parenting, raising black kids in a culture often perceived as steeped in racism, and teen sexuality—always with disarming humor and perceptive insights that mark this as much more than a typical Hollywood vanity memoir. Without much of a filter, Union comes across as a nuanced survivor who has managed to keep both her sense of humor and her ability to love despite her experiences.

    The post The Best History Books, Biographies, and Memoirs of 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Lindsey Lewis Smithson 9:30 pm on 2016/02/24 Permalink
    Tags: cost of living, liar, memoir, , more than they could chew, rob roberge, trials and tribulations, working backwards from the worst moment of my life   

    Rob Roberge’s Memoir Liar Offers a Raw and Unfiltered Look at Mental Illness 

    “You are diagnosed as bipolar with rapid cycling and occasional psychotic episodes,” novelist Rob Roberge is told early in his memoir, Liar. Roberge’s fiction, including the novels More than They Could Chew, and The Cost of Living, and the short story collection Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, have dealt with depression, addiction, and darkness before, but this time readers are given a searing inside look at the life of a complex and talented man. Roberge is a college professor, plays in a successful band, and helps support his wife who suffers from debilitating pain. However, he is also a recovering drug addict who struggles with mental illness, has strained relationships with nearly everyone, and is terrified of being alone. At turns while reading his memoir you will find yourself wondering how he is still alive, whether everything he chronicles actually happened, and what will happen next.

    The second-person narration in Liar gives readers little option but to explore up close what it must to be like to live in Roberge’s shoes. Instead of presenting his story in chronological order, as many memoirs do, everything is recounted in correlating snippets, further underscoring the author’s chaotic thought processes and frequent roller coaster of emotions. Add in drugs, sex, rock ‘n’ roll, a stint in jail with Paul Reubens, and AA meetings, and Roberge has created a perfect storm of self destruction meshed with self exploration. Liar isn’t an easy memoir to read, and readers are spared very little, but coping with mental illness or addiction isn’t easy either. Roberge’s fearless look at a life that spirals out of control is all the more compelling because of his unflinching attention to detail.

    “Using addicts know how they’re going to feel in five minutes,” Roberge writes. “Mental illness, on the other hand, is the ultimate loss of control.” As he grapples with the prediction that he will lose his memory as a result of the multiple concussions he has suffered, or that his body may not hold up to the years of abuse he has subjected it to, readers will in turn appreciate the dark humor and warped view Roberge brings to things like his hoarder grandmother and his many failed relationships. Along the way there are events that the reader will question (did he really wake up hungover in Canada?), and there are moments that the author himself questions, which raises interesting questions about the art of storytelling and truth. How can we believe memory? Do our pasts dictate our futures? Can we really rise above our mistakes? More than anything, during the thrilling twists and turns (and highs, and lows) of Liar, readers are given the opportunity to take stock of themselves and their own histories.

    For a book that deals with so much trauma, Liar is beautifully written and thoughtful. It is a challenging memoir to read, but that is part of its indelible power.

    Liar is on sale now.

     
  • Jenny Shank 4:00 pm on 2015/04/03 Permalink
    Tags: , Bernard Malamud, , , , Jim Bouton, memoir, , , , , sports fiction, , w.p. kinsella   

    5 Baseball Books Full of Wonder, Defeat, and Triumph for Opening Day 

    Even if the flowers are blooming and the birds are back, for some of us it just doesn’t feel like spring until baseball’s opening day. And what better way to pass the hours till Sunday night than by reading a baseball-themed book? I’ve read shelves of them—I’ve even written a novel involving baseball myselfbut these are my top five favorite works of baseball literature, because they do the best job of capturing the sport’s hopefulness, humor, interpersonal machinations, darkness, and triumph.

    Underworld, by Don Delillo
    The first 60 pages of Don DeLillo’s Underworld comprise the best work of baseball fiction ever written, and I’ll gladly arm wrestle anyone who contests this. The first time I read it, I did so in a sort of stunned rapture, just barely remembering to swallow every once in a while. “Longing on a large scale is what makes history,” DeLillo writes in the opening section, originally published as novella Pafko at the Wall. In it, a boy sneaks into the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951, to watch the Giants play the Brooklyn Dodgers, a game J. Edgar Hoover is also taking in, which DeLillo conveys through a panoramic vision of the crowd. The Dodgers win the pennant on a three-run homer, “The Shot Heard Round the World,” and for the rest of DeLillo’s circuitous novel, characters seek the game-winning ball.

     “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face,” from Nine Inches, by Tom Perrotta
    Tom Perrotta brings all the angst of suburbia to bear on this story of a Little League championship game that goes awry, from his collection Nine Inches. The life of the home-plate umpire, Jack, fell apart after he punched his son in the face, “the one thing I’ll regret forever,” prompting his wife to divorce him. The meathead coach of one of the teams, Carl, who “had ripped the sleeves off his sweatshirt, the better to display the rippling muscles he worked for like a dog down at Bally,” is also Jack’s neighbor, and a witness to his downward spiral. The animosity between the two men comes to a boil as the kids’ game builds toward its unexpected finish.

     The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, by W.P. Kinsella
    W.P. Kinsella spins stories out of baseball’s sense of magic and connection to its own history. Unlike basketball and football, a baseball game could theoretically last forever, as the rules allow no ticking clock or sudden death overtimes. Kinsella’s 1986 novel concerns the quest of Gideon Clark to prove the 1908 Chicago Cubs visited Iowa to play against a mysterious team called the Iowa Baseball Confederacy, a game that lasted for more than 2,000 innings. Sounds like Iowa heaven—if you’re a baseball fan, anyway.

     Ball Fourby Jim Bouton
    Jim Bouton was a pitcher for the Seattle Pilots in 1969, the only year this MLB team existed. In this zany 1970 book, Bouton gives a behind-the-scenes look at baseball, including the players’ rampant use of methamphetamines, interpersonal squabbles, ogling of women, and Mickey Mantle’s drinking problem. Bouton got into a lot of trouble for writing it—he was ostracized by fellow players—but his witty voice and honesty about his decline as an athlete are what make it still entertaining and insightful today. “Baseball players are smarter than football players,” he writes. “How often do you see a baseball team penalized for too many men on the field?”

     The Natural, by Bernard Malamud
    The movie version of The Natural depicts baseball phenom Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, ending his career in triumph—but the book, Malamud’s 1952 debut, concludes on a darker note. Still, the plot, inspired by the 1949 shooting of Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus by a deranged 19-year-old woman, has an inspiring comeback at its heart, and a bat named Wonderboy that helps Hobbs enter baseball legend by hitting a pitch so hard he rips the cover off the ball: “Wonderboy flashed in the sun. It caught the sphere where it was biggest. A noise like a twenty-one gun salute cracked the sky. There was a straining, ripping sound and a few drops of rain spattered to the ground. The ball screamed toward the pitcher and seemed suddenly to dive down at his feet. He grabbed it to throw it to first and realized to his horror that he held only the cover. The rest of it, unraveling cotton thread as it rode, was headed into the outfield.”

     
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