Sunday, June 21, 2009

The 2009 List: NON-FICTION

After Long Silence by Helen Fremont. "Fremont's memoir is an incredible tale of survival, a beautiful love story and a suspenseful account of how the author's investigation of her roots shattered fiercely guarded family secrets. Raised Roman Catholic in a Michigan suburb, Fremont knew that her parents had been in concentration camps. Her Polish mother, Batya, was interned in Mussolini's Italy, and her Hungarian-born father, Kovik, was sentenced to life in the Siberian gulag. But her parents refused to talk about their past, and they never let on that they had been born Jews. Fremont, a Boston lawyer and public defender, and her sister, Lara, a psychiatrist, pieced together their parents' hidden past by examining archives and tracking down Holocaust survivors."

Being Catholic Now edited by Kerry Kennedy “A just-published collection of short interviews with prominent Catholic Americans, including Peggy Noonan, Cardinal McCarrick, E.J. Dionne, Dan Ackroyd, Bill O’Reilly, Andrew Sullivan and Anna Quindlen on where they see the Catholic Church in the wake of the abuse scandal, what their Catholic upbringing was like and what they’d do if they were Pope for a year. Kerry Kennedy, who is Robert Kennedy’s daughter, tells her own story as well. Fascinating.”

Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King “about the master who built the Duomo in Florence (since I went there in April it was particularly relevant). "This is short, historical, but interesting enough to read like fiction. Was probably more engaging since I was reading it while I was actually viewing the building. So if anyone is heading to Florence this summer, this is the book for them."

Conversations with Kennedy by Ben Bradlee “Ben Bradlee, who was then the White House correspondent for Newsweek, and his first wife and their young kids lived around the corner in Georgetown from Senator Jack Kennedy and his wife and young kids. Then Kennedy won the presidency. The two couples hung out a lot -- many private dinners at the WH just the four of them, often after the switchboard would call the Bradlees at 6 p.m. and ask if they’d be able to come over for a quick dinner. Bradlee kept a diary of every conversation he had with the president, with the promise that it wouldn’t be published until after he’d been out of office for many years. Some of the conversations were pretty unbelievable. The tension builds as the dates of the diary entries progress until November of 1963. Riveting. Plus, you can’t help but think: what would it be like if your friend got elected president?”

A Course Called Ireland: A Long Walk in Search of a Country, a Pint, and the Next Tee by Tom Coyne “The true story of a Sports Illustrated writer who decides to play every links course in Ireland traveling on foot -- he walks the entire coast of Ireland, playing forty courses, carrying a backpack and his clubs and staying in B&Bs along the way. It takes him four months and he meets all kinds of characters. He plays 963 holes of golf at 635 over par, and it seems like he hits every single pub along the way. A very funny, light read with great reviews of all the courses. Makes you want to go play golf in Ireland.”

Clapton: The Autobiography “read it for my book club ... and I really liked it .. interesting.”

Escape: Carolyn Jessop "Hmmm, I’m detecting a theme here – women escaping religions and cultures determined to keep them enslaved. I found this book the most satisfying of the recent books that have been written about the Fundamentalist Mormon Church. It is a sincere and shocking account of the inside workings of the cult of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints and how the church leaders manipulate their members to keep control. Her story (eight children by the age of 30!) and how she persevered, escaped and rebuilt her life is fascinating. Again, a way to understand why those women with the long braids and dresses allow themselves to stay in a culture where they are treated as breeding machines."

Escape From Cubicle Nation by Pam Slim. "Written by my friend, Pam Slim, this is the go-to book if you're considering starting your own business or freelancing. Funny, heartfelt, instructive -- a great book."

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser “If you eat fast food, you owe it to yourself to understand what is behind the burger and fries!”

Freakanomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. “This books applies economic principles (I know, but they make it totally easy to understand) to explain social phenomenon (why decrease in urban crime relates to the Roe v Wade decision, why backyard swimming pools are more dangerous than guns and more).”

The Heminsges of Monticello by Annette Gordon Reed. "I'm not finished with this yet but have enjoyed it thus far. If you are a history buff you will love it. Get past the deep detail in the beginning and it is very readable. You will see a whole new side of Thomas Jefferson.”

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan “an interesting read about what we eat/food/health in America. Not sure it is a beach read, but I enjoyed it.”

Infidel: Ayaan Hirsi Ali What can I say – the story of an intelligent, gorgeous woman who escaped a culture and religion that (personal opinion) completely crushes women. One way to try to begin to understand the Muslim issue and how it affects the “West.”

John Adams David McCullough "it will weigh down your beach bag terribly, but worth every sandy page! Really brings the history to page-turning life!"

The Journal of Helene Berr by Helene Berr: This is the adult version of the Diary of Anne Frank. Helene Berr was an incredibly bright and well-educated young French Jewish woman. She began a journal as the Germans occupied Paris and details what happened to her family and how they were affected by the war and occupation, but also how their normal life was conducted and how they tried to maintain that normalcy. What is so affecting about it is the insight it gives into why she and part of her family decided to stay in Paris rather than trying to escape. It is gripping and heartbreaking and so illuminating of the personal side of the war and its effect on Jewish families. One needs to read about one quarter of the book before it becomes entrancing, but it is well worth it.

A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich “Sort of a Cliff Notes of world history, from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb, written for younger readers (so not a lot of dates and names) with a wry sense of humor. Get the full sweep of human history -- including the rise of fall of civilizations, great works of art and the progress of science -- in forty very short chapters. Gombrich wrote it at age 26 before WWII in Vienna, but then at age 92 updated it to include the rise of the Nazis (who banned the book) and his own escape from the Holocaust. Beautifully written and concise. Originally written in German, now published in twenty-five languages. I read it out loud to our kids a few years ago and am currently re-reading it. Also comes as an audiobook, for long car rides.”

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize-winning author. "Kidder chronicles several year in the life of a doctor who turns his life to helping Haiti’s poor." Annie Dillard writes: “Here is a genuine hero alive in our times. [It] unfolds with the force of gathering revelation. Like all of Tracy Kidder’s books, it is as hard to put down as any good and true story.” Note: This got several positive mentions.

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. "inspirational and educational story of this 37-year-old Harvard brain scientist’s massive stroke."

Oracle Bones, Peter Hessler. “A view of contemporary China and its ongoing changes through the experiences of a journalist (Peter Hessler) living there. It reads like part travel journal, part novel. At times I found the book fascinating and witty through the descriptions of the characters that Hessler encounters, whose lives weave through the book. At other times I found myself skimming through pages to get to something more interesting. In the end, it is an interesting read and one that certainly illuminates why I feel so lucky to have been born in this country.”

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. "I hope everyone has read this by now!" And: "It is a statisticians view of what makes people successful. Hard to describe, but really interesting."

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi “Cartoon style written book about the Iranian revolution through the eyes of a child. Charming and interesting, this book is also inspired me to cherish the freedoms we so often take for granted here. (Being made into a movie)”

A Place of My Own, Michael Pollan. “An interesting read about one man's (author of Omnivore's Dilemma) journey in building his own Walden Pond type house and historically, spiritually and intellectually what makes certain spaces more appealing than others. Good for architecture/design geeks.”

Princess by Jean Sassoon “This book is about the life of a royal Saudi princess. I was so intrigued with Princess Sultana's story, and the insight into the complete lack of freedom for women in this country. It touched me so deeply, I found myself practically touching the ground in gratitude for being born in America.”

Same Kind of Different as Me: : A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.

Second Acts That Change Lives by Mary Beth Sammons "Final book by a friend of mine. If you are at mid-life and want to achieve greater meaning, read these inspiring stories of people who chucked what they were 'supposed' to do in favor of what they love doing -- and creating meaningful, enriching new careers."

Smart Networking by Liz Lynch "Another friend's book -- wonderful for those for whom networking inspires the heebie-jeebies. Liz Lynch hated networking, too, until she found a way to do it, authentically."

Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill. Book Editor (Jean Rhys, Naipaul). “I know it is about death but it is not sad and depressing, just makes us award in captivating language about the adventure of life and death. It is actually a little bit of a fun read...”

When The Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd A perennial favorite of mine from a wonderful writer. Sue Monk Kidd took her journals from her mid-life passage and put them into this thoughtful, inspirational book which is a must read for any woman in mid-life who is seeking. Something. That thing. Y'know. It. With this book's help, my bet is: you'll start finding.

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. “This was a fun non-fiction read. We're through the agricultural, industrial, and now the information age; next up: the Conceptual Age. So says Pink. Creative, right-brain thinkers will rule the world. All the number-crunching analysts are going overseas, so don't think about coaching little Tommy or Suzy toward a business degree without first developing amazing creative talents. I don't think he's 100 percent on the mark, but the book's informative, and it's exciting to think about all the implications, especially for our children.”

Why Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers "A great case for why women should rule the world, with all kinds of examples and research to make the case. Not an attack on men, just what would happen in our society if the women were in charge, and the type of leadership they’d bring to the table. She also draws on her experience in the Clinton White House and tells a few stories.”

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century by Thomas Friedman. “Friedman makes highly accessible an understanding of how the technological revolution is changing our world and how it is not driven by large, anonymous corporations, but by individuals and innovation.”

The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex. By Nathaniel Philbrook. "He lives in Nantucket and is a fabulous writer - I love all his work. This is the true story of a nantucket whaleship attacked by a whale in the 1800s and how the crew survived. It is the story moby dick was based on. Melville came to nantucket to interview the captain. Its a great read - and historical. Always nice to actually learn some history while enjoying the pure ecapism of reading a great book!" I have to get this for Drew. He loves death and dismemberment.

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