One of my disappointments about struggling to write reviews is that I haven’t gotten to tell you about some of the great nonfiction I’ve read over the last couple of months. It’s been so great! Instead of waiting until my review mojo comes back, I’m just going to share briefly about each of these in the hopes of enticing you to pick one or more of them up.
Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean
I got on a bit of a kick with space books after finishing Commander Chris Hadfield’s memoir An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, and Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean was an absolutely perfect follow up. Dean isn’t an astronaut or expert, she’s just a curious space enthusiast. In the book, Dean offers a history of American spaceflight while also chronicling the last three shuttle flights before the program was shut down. She looks to previous writers on space – Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Oriana Fallaci most deeply – and writes about the experiences of other NASA employees and space fans. It’s really a wonderful, slightly meandering but also very engaging book. Dean asks good questions, looks to many sources for answers, and isn’t afraid to deeply engage with her subject. I loved this one. Good job again, Graywolf Press.
Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel
I read this book over Memorial Day weekend, at a time when I was already thinking about sacrifice and the impact that war can have on people and families. In the book, journalist David Finkel follows several soldiers returning home from a tour of duty on the frontlines in Baghdad. Many of them are suffering from PTSD or other physical and mental injuries, and their struggle to adjust and reintegrate affects their families and the other professionals trying to help them. It’s a really compelling portrait about the sacrifices we ask from soldiers, and the less obvious sacrifices that a deployment can ask from others. I was just blown away at the honesty and depth of this book. While there were moments when Finkel relies on some linguistic flourishes that I didn’t think were necessary, overall this was a compelling, sobering, important book I’d definitely recommend.
The Skies Belong to Us by Brendan Koerner
I picked this book up on a whim because I was feeling grumpy and I wanted some nonfiction that was just going to be fun. And boy, was this book perfect for that. The Skies Belong to Us chronicles the peak of skyjacking (hijacked planes) in the United States, from about 1968 until the mid-1970s. At the time, airline security was nonexistent and airlines implemented policies of compliance for hijackers. The whole crazy facade came tumbling down after “a shattered Army veteran” and “a mischievous party girl” managed to pull off the longest-distance hijacking in history. There are so many bonkers anecdotes in this book, it’s really just fun to read. I thought the end lagged just a bit, but overall it was a perfect book to pull me out of a grumpy reading slump.
Missoula by Jon Krakauer
There are two things that struck me as really important about this book. First, Jon Krakauer goes into every story about a rape victim assuming that she (all of the victims in this book are women) is telling the truth. That shouldn’t be remarkable… but it is. Second, Krakauer doesn’t fall prey to the temptation that you need a “sensational” rape to tell a compelling story about the way the criminal justice system can potentially mishandle a sexual assault (see: Rolling Stone magazine). I listened to this one on audio book and while it was good, I wish I’d had the print copy on hand to get a better sense of sourcing for different conversations and allegations. The reporting in this book matters immensely, and I don’t feel confident I understand how the book was made as well as I want to in order to be able to discuss it intelligently.
BiblioTECH by John Palfrey
I’m on the board for my local public library, and we’re currently in the middle of a process to think about what our library of the future could look like. I picked up this book because I thought it could provide some useful information about the role of libraries in the Internet age. John Palfrey, an editor and technology expert, offers some sound advice on how libraries can adapt their core model – providing access to information – to a time when information is plentiful but understanding and skills for access are lacking. I wouldn’t recommend this to every reader, but it’s certainly an interesting book if you’re curious about the future of libraries in a digital world.