In 1973, Tracy Kidder was a young freelancer, looking for his first assignment at the prestigious The Atlantic Monthly in Boston. Fortuitously, Kidder was paired with editor Richard Todd to guide his story about a murder trial — a story Kidder naively thought of as the next In Cold Blood but other editors were ready to dismiss — from early drafts to publication.
I tried, really, to get this list down to five books… but, you guys, I read a lot of fabulous nonfiction this year. So instead of ignoring some deserving books I decided to highlight 10 of my favorites in 140 characters or less each. The links with each title go to posts with my full reviews, if you want to learn more.
I have wanted to read Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers since it came out in January, but didn’t make the effort to request it from my local library until it received the 2012 National Book Award in November. It’s a real shame I didn’t pick up the book sooner, as it has easily been one of the best books I’ve read this year.
The thing about a book like Born to Run is that the main story is one of those amazing and weird and interesting tales that can carry itself, and the journalist who stumbles across it just sort of has to get out of the way and let the story do the work. For the most part, McDougall does that, mentioning himself only as much as he needs to in order to provide some evidence that an average person can achieve the ultra-running feats that seem to come so naturally to the Tarahumara and the other ultra-runners he profiles.
Although the name “Alexandre Dumas” is probably most recognized as the name of the author of such great works as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, the novelist Dumas actually shares the name with his father, General Alex Dumas, a mixed-race military leader in revolutionary France.
Alex — as he preferred to be called — Dumas was born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white Frenchman hiding out in Saint-Domingue. However, Alex was raised the son of an aristocrat, and eventually made a name for himself because of his dashing good looks and skill with a sword. Much to his luck, Alex found himself in France during a revolutionary time, one of the earliest civil rights movements, which allowed him to advance through the ranks of the French army until the Black Count commanded more than 50,000 men and became a threat to the great Napoleon.
In an effort to maybe, perhaps, hopefully get caught up on all the books I haven’t reviewed, I’m planning to start doing mini-reviews every couple of weeks for books that I read but didn’t have much to say about. If you have more specific questions about any of this week’s titles, leave them in the comments! In this post, How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran and Murder in Peking by Paul French.
When Kristen Iversen was a child, she and her family moved to a small subdivision just outside of Denver. Their neighborhood was downwind from Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons facility that produced plutonium bomb components. At one time, Rocky Flats was identified as the most contaminated site in the United States. Neither Iversen nor her family nor her neighbors knew what was produced at the factory. When asked, Iversen’s mother often guessed cleaning supplies. Besides, Iversen and her family had more important things to worry about — paying the bills, dealing with boys, and surviving their father’s alcohol-induced neglect.
I have struggled for more than a month now to write a review of Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone, and I haven’t managed to write a single word. The only cause I can come up with for this reviewing writer’s block is that I’m feeling pressure to write a review that expresses just how totally delightful this book is and will convince everyone to go pick up a copy as soon as you can.
Our July topic for the BAND comes from a new host, Marilyn (Me, You and Books). Marilyn asks,
When is an author’s subjective response to a subject not a bias but a legitimate perspective? What nonfiction have you read where an author’s feelings enhance your understanding?
I think this is a fascinating topic, especially as more and more authors of new nonfiction have started to play more with incorporating their own voices and stories into their books. These types of nonfiction accounts aren’t really memoirs, even though the author will often write in the first person and incorporate their experience of reporting and researching a book into the account.
Given that quirky history is basically my bread and butter, I think it’s no surprise that I was totally into The Ball by John Fox. The Ball begins with a question from Fox’s seven-year-old son, one of those deceptively complicated questions that can only lead down a super-awesome rabbit hole of research: Why do we play ball?
To answer the question, Fox digs into the history of many of today’s most popular sports — baseball, tennis, soccer, football, rugby and others — and the plaything they have in common. In his quest, he looks into the evolutionary purpose of play and, more specifically, the evolutionary purpose of playing with a ball, and then goes off to try early inspirations for some of today’s sports.