Thursday, May 30, 2013


After Visiting Friends: A Son's Storyby Michael Hainey.  “I really enjoyed this intriguing memoir about GQ Deputy Editor Michael Hainey. When Michael was six, his thirty-five year old journalist father was found dead on a Chicago street, apparently of a heart attack. The story his family told never made sense to Michael. Now an adult, Michael used his journalism skills to research the death and surrounding events that happened decades earlier. The memoir covers the path he took to solve the mystery and tells the honest and surprising story of his family.

The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Serviceby Gordon Corera. "One of the more riveting spy histories I've read in a while.  It actually lives up to the cliche about being a true story so exciting it reads like fiction."

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercityby Katherine Boo.  This was a top pick in 2012, and it continues to get nominations.  “This is a nonfiction book about the slums of Mumbai.  It reads like fiction though since she follows several families for a period of time and relays the stories of their lives. This books make you want to go straight to Mumbai and do whatever you can to give these people the chance for a better life.”

Bombshell: Explosive Medical Secrets That Will Redefine Agingby Suzanne Sommers.  Loved ‘Bombshell.’ Suzanne has gone from a complete TV ditz to an alternative health guru. Her book is informative and on the cutting edge of all things natural medicine.”

The Brave Escape of Edith Whartonby Connie Nordhielm (One of many selections from a contributor who shared her Barnard College alum book list).  Edith Wharton, author of Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, and other acclaimed novels, was born into a wealthy family. Beginning in childhood, Edith found ways to escape from society’s and her family’s expectations and follow an unconventional, creative path. Unhappily married and eventually divorced, she surrounded herself with male friends. She spent much of her life in Paris and was recognized by the French government for her generosity and hard work during World War I. Her literary and personal life, her witty and incisive correspondence, her fondness for automobiles and small dogs—all are detailed in this warm and sparkling account of a woman well ahead of her time.” 

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hourby Lynn Olson.  The behind-the-scenes story of how the United States forged its wartime alliance with Britain, told from the perspective of three key American players in London: Edward R. Murrow, the handsome, chain-smoking head of CBS News in Europe; Averell Harriman, the hard-driving millionaire who ran FDR’s Lend-Lease program in London; and John Gilbert Winant, the shy, idealistic U.S. ambassador to Britain. Each man formed close ties with Winston Churchill—so much so that all became romantically involved with members of the prime minister’s family. Drawing from a variety of primary sources, Lynne Olson skillfully depicts the dramatic personal journeys of these men who, determined to save Britain from Hitler, helped convince a cautious Franklin Roosevelt and reluctant American public to back the British at a critical time.”

Conquering Gotham: Building Penn Station and Its Tunnels by Jill Jonnes.  “Modern Manhattan is a miracle in many ways, but all of its imports, commuters included, must traverse at least one river to get there. In 1900, the New York Central, owned by the Vanderbilts, already gave Manhattan a northern connection over the narrow Harlem River. A southern connection over the mile-wide Hudson would be a whole different story. Alexander Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was the visionary on the project. But how to do it? A bridge plan fell through due to expense; a tunnel would lack the oxygen needed for steam engines. The breakthrough lay in the cutting-edge electrified locomotives developed in Paris. This is a vivid story of hardball Tammany Hall maneuvering and mind-boggling engineering. Once construction began, the two-track narrative settles on the daunting construction of the tunnels and Charles McKim's much-admired design of the terminus at Pennsylvania Station, prized by New Yorkers only after its ill-considered demise in 1963.”  (Barnard Book Club) 

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown. “What I love about Brene Brown is her sense of humor. No, I love her insight. Wait, maybe what I love is how she tells a story. Gah! I guess I love all of it! In this book, Brown uses her research into vulnerability and shame to help people move beyond fear toward authentic and purposeful action. It’s inspiring, and hopeful yet eminently doable. A great book." Another contributor writes: “I belong to the holy church of all things Brene. Her books should be required for all parents, teachers and employers. Only Brene could make shame research riveting. Trust me, read this book. I pass it out like potato chips.”

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundlandby Jim DeFede.  On 9/11, when the United States shut down its airspace, many planes were forced to land in Canada, including in Gander.  The town is tiny – only about 10,000 people – but the airport is massive, a vestige of WWII when it was a refueling site for transatlantic flights.  The story of the hospitality the quirky people of Gander showed their nearly 7,000 displaced visitors makes for wonderful, heartwarming reading.  Because the book is a series of stories about various passengers, it is also evocative of the reactions on that horrible day.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. "A very different and much richer Julia Child biography than the Julie and Julia Project of several years ago. Dearie presents Julia as the complex, intelligent, energetic woman she was but also delves into the relationships and personal challenges that strongly influenced her choices throughout her life. In addition, it is an interesting case study of an incredibly successful business born out of a passion, but striking all the right notes in skill, luck and timing."

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by AJ Jacobs. "If you've read any of AJ Jacobs' books, this follows the same formula: pick a topic and live it to the letter for a year.  The difference is that the health topic seems more universally appealing.  Drop Dead Healthy is, if nothing else, amusing.  It is also quite certainly a reminder that it's easy to get carried away with so many different and conflicting health messages, but in the end (as perhaps mom always said), 'balance is the key to life.'"

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identityby Andrew Solomon.  “What can I say? This is a masterpiece on compassion. This author is brilliant and one of the best and most thorough researchers around. Don't let the massive size of the book discourage you. There is far too much to learn from this masterpiece.”

An Exclusive Love: A Memoirby Johanna Adorjan, translated by Anthea Bell.  "This book tells the story of Vera and Istvan, Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust, fled during the 1956 uprising in Budapest to Denmark, and in 1991 in Copenhagen took their own lives. They were found in their bed, hand in hand. It is the story of an unusual love.  The story of my grandparents."  (Barnard Book Club)

Fierce Attachments: A Memoirby Vivian Gornick.  "In this deeply etched and haunting memoir, Gornick tells the story of her lifelong battle with her mother for independence.  There have been numerous books about mothers and daughters, but none has dealt with this closest of filial relationships as directly or as ruthlessly." (Barnard Book Club).

Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World's Fittest Men, and Discovering Myselfby Rich Roll.  About to turn forty, Rich Roll was fifty pounds overweight and unable to climb the stairs without stopping.  So he made a vow to himself and his family.  He changed to a plant-based diet and worked himself up to ultraman triathlons, which are three-day endurance events.  (FTR, Roll is a graduate of Landon School).  

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlinby Erik Larson. “Tells the story of the unlikely American Ambassador to Germany in 1933. William Dodd is a political outsider when Roosevelt chooses him for the post and it haunts him throughout his tenure in Berlin. We see the rise of Hitler and the spread of the Nazi mindset through the eyes of Dodd and his daughter Martha. Martha is very taken with the Nazis at first, enjoying many relationships with Nazis and communists in positions of power. I enjoyed the sense of being in Germany at this pivotal time. Larson immerses you in the setting, the atmosphere, the tension of prewar Germany." 

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayersby Anne Lamott. “It's Anne Lamott,'nuf said! Also, the title says it all.”

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Workby Shawn Achor.  "This books turns upside down commonly held notions -- that hard work, success, losing weight or getting another promotion will make us happy.  Turns out happiness causes success, not vice versa." 

The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEALby Eric Greitens.  “Eric Greitens may be one of the most amazing and inspirational people on earth.  While in college at Duke, he took his first overseas trip, which started a love of visiting war-torn areas as a photographer and humanitarian.  He then won a Rhodes scholarship researching these areas, and came to the conclusion that much tragedy and genocide could be avoided by the use of, or threat of, military force.  From this privileged background and opportunities, he joined the NAVY seals program, joining in peacetime of early 2001 and ending with full knowledge that he would go to war.  Just reading about the unbelievable training of our SEALS makes it worth the read, but his attitude on the world turns it into a must-read.  A true American hero.”

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle"Written by the current (8th) Countess of Carnarvon, about the 5th who married into the house (aka Downton Abbey) in 1898. Almina was the illegitimate but loved and spoiled daughter of Alfred Rothschild, and came to the house with endless supplies of money for parties and renovations.  She was a humanitarian, and turned the house into a state of the art hospital during WWI and personally paid for the best doctors and care for all the patients.  Her husband was the co-discoverer and complete funder of the search for King Tut, and she joined him on most of his trips to Egypt, throwing lavish parties there.  Many details from the show were lifted from her life and the house.  A great read for an Downton fans."

Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Cultureby Andy Cohen. “Andy Cohen is my favorite tv talk show host. This book is a back stage pass to all things Andy. Both his show and his book are must see/read entertainment. He is pop culture incarnate.”

My Turn to Make the Teaby Monica Dickens. “Monica Dickens (Charles' great-grand daughter) spent a few years post WWII as a reporter for a English small town local paper. When she wasn't making tea (which of course she had to do as the "girl" in the office!) she was reporting the various petty small town dramas, vying for a spot at the paper's only typewriter and making a life for herself at the boarding house where she rented a room. Semi-autobiographical, the story doesn't really have a plot but describes the quaint old fashioned life of a journalist in the 50's and is wholly entertaining when describing the antics of the boarding house clan. Every chapter is some new escapade and seen through Monica's eyes there is a bit of golden nostalgia about the shared bath, the suspected haunted room and the suspected communist neighbor making me wish that I could have rented the front room and spent nights drinking with the girls while we washed our nylons in the sink.”

Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Timeby Rick Hanson. "Neurological research is fascinating, and in this book Rick Hanson gives one daily practice you can institute to achieve a healthier brain and a less-stressed you."

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Koreaby Barbara Demick. “Award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population. Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. Demick takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them. This is nonfiction that reads like fiction. Fascinating read ...and depressing.”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talkingby Susan Cain.  “A must read for everyone, introverts and extroverts alike!”

Rod: The Autobiography “The best book I read all year. I liked Rod but was by no means a Rod fanatic. Now I am a HUGE Rod fan. His book is cheeky and so much fun. Rod is totally in on the joke. By not taking himself seriously, he opens up and gives his readers a very entertaining and honest back stage pass.”  (That's Rod Stewart, by the way).

Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games“Before he became an American Olympian, Lopez Lomong was one of the 'lost boys' of Sudan.  He spent years fending for himself in a refugee camp, running 18 miles daily just so the big kids would let him play soccer.  He came to the United States having never seen a light-switch or owning a pencil, and through grit and determination graduated from high school and college.  He has gone on to represent the United States in multiple Olympics.  His story of rising from truly nothing is an amazing one.”  (ED:  My 13 year-old read this and was riveted, so this is a good choice for young adults, too.)

Shakespeare's Common Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Ageby Daniel Swift. “Yes, I am a Shakespeare freak (and, yes, I do have an authorship theory which I am not going to share with you at this moment). And this book – which reads more like a graduate level textbook than anything – chronicles the development of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and illuminates how Shakespeare used this volume to add nuance and color to the plays and the sonnets. Fascinating."  H/T  Michelle Woodward book list.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed.  Strayed, who wrote for the website Rumpus under the pseudonym “Dear Sugar,” is not your grandmother’s advice columnist.  Weaving in stories from her own life (and she has lived an awful lot), she gives raw, fierce and honest advice.  The book can be read as much as a collection of short stories as a collection of advice columns, and need not be read at one sitting.   

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