“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought with breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.” Edward P. Morgan
I am not one to kick the new year off with resolutions but each month I do like to plan some specific activities that I can look forward to with anticipated joy. Reading good books is a pleasure that I don’t leave to happenstance and I work actively to ensure that I always have a good supply of well written interesting books stacked next to reading chair. Note – it doesn’t hurt to be married to a former librarian. Although reading blogs encroaches upon my reading time I still manage to polish off about 8 books a month. I wrote a blog
that outlines my system for finding good books. Here are the books currently residing in the ever growing pile next to my chair. I read mostly non-fiction but occasionally get hooked on a good novel that someone has recommended. Hope you find a good read among the list:
The Tiger by John Vaillant
Outside a remote village in Russia’s Far East a man-eating tiger is on the prowl. The tiger isn’t just killing people, it’s murdering them, almost as if it has a vendetta. A team of trackers is dispatched to hunt down the tiger before it strikes again. They know the creature is cunning, injured, and starving, making it even more dangerous. As John Vaillant re-creates these extraordinary events, he gives us an unforgettable and masterful work of narrative nonfiction that combines a riveting portrait of a stark and mysterious region of the world and its people, with the natural history of nature’s most deadly predator.
One Times Square by Joe McKendry
At the heart of the non-stop bustle of modern Times Square stands One Times Square, the former headquarters of the New York Times and the skyscraper — now all but invisible behind billboards — that gave the square its name in 1904. Around it, a once-humble district of carriage houses and coal merchants at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue evolved into “The Crossroads of the World.” Here impresarios and real-estate moguls vied to outdo each other as they built theaters and hotels, penny arcades and restaurants, dime museums and office towers in an unending cycle of reinvention and reimagination.
More than any other public space in New York City, Times Square is the place where Americans have gathered, in good times and in bad, to catch up on the latest news, to mark historic occasions, or just to meet a few friends. From the Stock Market crash in 1929 — when the building’s iconic “Zipper” provided up-to-the-minute information — to the celebrations marking the end of the Second World War, to annual New Year’s Eve festivities with the iconic descending lighted ball, the square and its tower have been an integral part of our history.
One Times Square explores the story of this fascinating intersection, starting when Broadway was a mere dirt path known as Bloomingdale Road, through the district’s decades of postwar decay, to its renewal as a glittering tourist-friendly media mecca. McKendry’s meticulous, lush watercolors take readers behind the famous Camel billboard to find out how it blew smoke rings over the square for 25 years, to the top of the Times Tower to see how the New Year’s ball has made its descent for over 100 years, and onto construction sites as buildings grow up around One Times Square to dwarf what once ranked among the tallest buildings in the world.
Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”
But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.
With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.
Tears In The Darkness by Micheal and Elizabeth Norman
For the first four months of 1942, American, Filipino, and Japanese soldiers fought America’s first major land battle of World War II: the battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. It ended with the single largest defeat in American military history. This was only the beginning. Until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the prisoners of war suffered forty-one months of unparalleled cruelty and savagery. Michael and Elizabeth Norman bring to the story remarkable feats of reportage and literary empathy. Their protagonist, Ben Steele, is a young cowboy and aspiring sketch artist from Montana who joins the army to see the world and ends up on a death march. Juxtaposed against Steele’s story are the heretofore untold accounts of Japanese soldiers who struggled to maintain their humanity while carrying out their superiors’ inhuman commands.
Tears in the Darkness is an altogether new look at World War II that exposes the myths of war and shows the extent of suffering and loss on both sides.
Sasha and Emma by Paul and Karen Avrich
In 1889 two Russian immigrants, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, met in a coffee shop on the Lower East Side. Over the next fifty years Emma and Sasha would be fast friends, fleeting lovers, and loyal comrades. This dual biography offers an unprecedented glimpse into their intertwined lives, the lasting influence of the anarchist movement they shaped, and their unyielding commitment to equality and justice.
Berkman shocked the country in 1892 with “the first terrorist act in America,” the failed assassination of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick for his crimes against workers. Passionate and pitiless, gloomy yet gentle, Berkman remained Goldman’s closest confidant though the two were often separated—by his fourteen-year imprisonment and by Emma’s growing fame as the champion of a multitude of causes, from sexual liberation to freedom of speech. The blazing sun to Sasha’s morose moon, Emma became known as “the most dangerous woman in America.” Through an attempted prison breakout, multiple bombing plots, and a dramatic deportation from America, these two unrelenting activists insisted on the improbable ideal of a socially just, self-governing utopia, a vision that has shaped movements across the past century, most recently Occupy Wall Street.
Viper Pilot by Dan Hampton
151 combat missions
21 hard kills on surface-to-air-missile sites
4 Distinguished Flying Crosses with Valor
1 Purple Heart
Sure to rank as one of the greatest aviation memoirs ever written, Viper Pilot is an Air Force legend’s thrilling eyewitness account of modern air warfare
From 1986 to 2006, Lt. Col. Dan Hampton was a leading member of the Wild Weasels, the elite Air Force fighter squadrons whose mission is recognized as the most dangerous job in modern air combat. Weasels are the first planes sent into a war zone, flying deep behind enemy lines purposely seeking to draw fire from surface-to-air missiles and artillery. They must skillfully evade being shot down—and then return to destroy the threats, thereby making the skies safe for everyone else to follow. Today these vital missions are more hazardous than direct air-to-air engagement with enemy aircraft. Hampton’s record number of strikes on high-value targets make him the most lethal F-16 Wild Weasel pilot in American history. This is his remarkable story.
Taught to fly at an early age by his father, Hampton logged twenty years and 608 combat hours in the world’s most iconic fighter jet: the F-16 “Fighting Falcon,” or “Viper” as its pilots call it. Hampton spearheaded the 2003 invasion of Iraq, leading the first flight of fighters over the border en route to strike Baghdad. In the war that followed, he engaged in a series of brilliantly executed missions that earned him three Distinguished Flying Crosses with Valor; he notably saved a U.S. Marine unit from certain death by taking out the surrounding enemy forces near Nasiriyah. Two years earlier, on 9/11, Hampton’s father was inside the Pentagon when it was attacked; with his dad’s fate unknown, Hampton was scrambled into American skies and given the unprecedented orders to shoot down any unidentified aircraft. Hampton also flew critical missions in the first Gulf War, served on the Air Combat Command staff during the Kosovo War, and was injured in the 1996 KhobarTowers terrorist attack.
With manned missions rapidly giving way to remote-controlled UAV drones, Viper Pilot may be the last memoir by a true hero of the skies. Gripping and irreverently humorous, it is an unforgettable look into the closed world of fighter pilots and modern air combat.
Last Call by Daniel Okrent
A brilliant, authoritative, and fascinating history of America’s most puzzling era, the years 1920 to 1933, when the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict one of America’s favorite pastimes: drinking alcoholic beverages.
From its start, America has been awash in drink. The sailing vessel that brought John Winthrop to the shores of the New World in 1630 carried more beer than water. By the 1820s, liquor flowed so plentifully it was cheaper than tea. That Americans would ever agree to relinquish their booze was as improbable as it was astonishing.
Yet we did, and Last Call is Daniel Okrent’s dazzling explanation of why we did it, what life under Prohibition was like, and how such an unprecedented degree of government interference in the private lives of Americans changed the country forever.
Writing with both wit and historical acuity, Okrent reveals how Prohibition marked a confluence of diverse forces: the growing political power of the women’s suffrage movement, which allied itself with the antiliquor campaign; the fear of small-town, native-stock Protestants that they were losing control of their country to the immigrants of the large cities; the anti-German sentiment stoked by World War I; and a variety of other unlikely factors, ranging from the rise of the automobile to the advent of the income tax.
Through it all, Americans kept drinking, going to remarkably creative lengths to smuggle, sell, conceal, and convivially (and sometimes fatally) imbibe their favorite intoxicants. Last Call is peopled with vivid characters of an astonishing variety: Susan B. Anthony and Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan and bootlegger Sam Bronfman, Pierre S. du Pont and H. L. Mencken, Meyer Lansky and the incredible—if long-forgotten—federal official Mabel Walker Willebrandt, who throughout the twenties was the most powerful woman in the country. (Perhaps most surprising of all is Okrent’s account of Joseph P. Kennedy’s legendary, and long-misunderstood, role in the liquor business.)
It’s a book rich with stories from nearly all parts of the country. Okrent’s narrative runs through smoky Manhattan speakeasies, where relations between the sexes were changed forever; California vineyards busily producing “sacramental” wine; New England fishing communities that gave up fishing for the more lucrative rum-running business; and in Washington, the halls of Congress itself, where politicians who had voted for Prohibition drank openly and without apology.
Last Call is capacious, meticulous, and thrillingly told. It stands as the most complete history of Prohibition ever written and confirms Daniel Okrent’s rank as a major American writer.
How Children Succeed by Paul Tough
Why do some children succeed while others fail?
The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs.
But in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control.
How Children Succeed introduces us to a new generation of researchers and educators who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the mysteries of character. Through their stories—and the stories of the children they are trying to help—Tough traces the links between childhood stress and life success. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood. And he provides us with new insights into how to help children growing up in poverty.
Early adversity, scientists have come to understand, can not only affect the conditions of children’s lives, it can alter the physical development of their brains as well. But now educators and doctors around the country are using that knowledge to develop innovative interventions that allow children to overcome the constraints of poverty. And with the help of these new strategies, as Tough’s extraordinary reporting makes clear, children who grow up in the most painful circumstances can go on to achieve amazing things.
This provocative and profoundly hopeful book has the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, and how we construct our social safety net. It will not only inspire and engage readers, it will also change our understanding of childhood itself.
The Risk Pool by Richard Russo
A wonderfully fun and perceptive novel in the traditions of Thornton Wilder and Anne Tyler, The Risk Pool is set in Mohawk, New York, where Ned Hall is doing his best to grow up, even though neither of his estranged parents can properly be called adult.
His father, Sam, cultivates bad habits so assiduously that he is stuck at the bottom of his auto insurance risk pool. His mother, Jenny, is slowly going crazy from resentment at a husband who refuses either to stay or to stay away. As Ned veers between allegiances to these grossly inadequate role models, Richard Russo gives us a book that overflows with outsized characters and outlandish predicaments and whose vision of family is at once irreverent and unexpectedly moving.