Best Non-Fiction 2009
Book List Category:
By Ben Mezrich.
"The high-energy tale of how two socially awkward Ivy Leaguers, trying to increase their chances with the opposite sex, ended up creating Facebook."--Jacket.
By Richard Holmes.
"The Age of Wonder" explores the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of "dynamic science": an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives dominate the book: William Herschel, his sister Caroline, and Humphry Davy.
Alex & me : how a scientist and a parrot discovered a hidden world of animal intelligence--and formed a deep bond in the process
By Irene M. Pepperberg.
This story of Alex, a famous African Gray parrot, documents his thirty-year relationship with his trainer and the ways in which his life has changed scientific understanding about language and thought.
By Bruce Feiler.
An exploration of how the story of Moses has influenced American history traces the biblical figure's role in inspiring change, from the Pilgrims' journey and the visions of the Founding Fathers to the ideologies of the civil rights movement.
By Adam Gopnik.
On February 12, 1809, two men were born an ocean apart: Abraham Lincoln in a one-room Kentucky log cabin; Charles Darwin on an English country estate. Each would see his life's work inspire a stark change in mankind's understanding of itself. In this bicentennial twin portrait, Adam Gopnik shows how these two giants, who never met, altered the way we think about death and time--about the very nature of earthly existence.
By Michael Burleigh.
This book is a sweeping and deeply penetrating work of history that explores the nature of terrorism from its origins in the West to today's global threat fueled by fundamentalists. The author, a distinguished historian emphasizes the lethal resentments and the twisted morality that spawn terrorism rather than the ideological or religious justification that routinely accompanies it. He reveals who the terrorist groups are, how they organize and operate, what motivates their violence, and how wider support encourages them. This book takes us from the roots of terrorism in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Russian Nihilists, and the London-based anarchists of Black International to the various terrorist campaigns that exist today. It also explores the lives of people engaged in careers of political violence and those who are most affected by terrorism.
By Simon Critchley.
In this collection of brief lives--and deaths--of nearly two hundred of the world's greatest thinkers, noted philosopher Simon Critchley creates a register of mortality that is tragic, amusing, absurd, and exemplary. From the self-mocking haikus of Zen masters on their deathbeds to the last words of Christian saints and modern-day sages, this irresistible book contains much to inspire both amusement and reflection.--From publisher description.
By Frank Bruni.
Bruni, restaurant critic for "The New York Times," tells his heartbreaking and hilarious account of his lifelong, often painful struggle with food.
By Christopher McDougall.
McDougall reveals the secrets of the world's greatest distance runners--the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico--and how he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of super-athletic Americans.
By Edmund L. Andrews.
Busted weaves together the author's own ride to the edge of bankruptcy with the tragicomic stories of his lenders, the Wall Street pros behind them, and the policymakers in Washington who were oblivious until it was too late.
By Charlie Todd and Alex Scordelis.
Shares behind-the-scenes accounts of pranks by the internationally popular improvisational group, describing the efforts behind some of their endeavors from the annual "No Pants" subway ride to their synchronized swimming show in a public fountain.
By Blake Bailey.
John Cheever (1912-1982) spent much of his career impersonating a perfect suburban gentleman, the better to become one of the foremost chroniclers of postwar America. Written with unprecedented access to essential sources--including Cheever's massive journal, only a fraction of which has been published--Blake Bailey's biography reveals the troubled but strangely lovable man behind the disguises, an artist who delighted in the everyday radiance of the world while yearning, above all, "to be illustrious." Cheever's was a soul in conflict: a proud Yankee who flaunted his lineage while deploring the provincialism of his Massachusetts family; a high-school dropout who published his first story at eighteen; a pioneer of suburban realist fiction who continually pushed the boundaries of realism; a dire alcoholic who recovered to write the great novel Falconer; a secret bisexual who struggled with his longings and his fierce homophobia in a revolving door of self-loathing and hedonism.--From publisher description.
By Dave Cullen.
"On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school and to leave 'a lasting impression on the world.' Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence ... Dave Cullen delivers a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology. He lays bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold, who went to the prom three days earlier and obsessed about love in his journal. The result is an account of two good students with lots of friends, who were secretly stockpiling a basement cache of weapons, recording their raging hatred, and manipulating every adult who got in their way. They left signs everywhere. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boys' tapes and diaries, he gives a complete account of the Columbine tragedy ... A close-up portrait of violence, a community rendered helpless, and police blunders and cover-ups, it is a human portrait of two killers"--From publisher description.
By James McManus.
From the Publisher: From James McManus, author of the bestselling Positively Fifth Street, comes the definitive story of the game that, more than any other, reflects who we are and how we operate. Cowboys Full is the story of poker, from its roots in China, the Middle East, and Europe to its ascent as a global-but especially an American-phenomenon. It describes how early Americans took a French parlor game and, with a few extra cards and an entrepreneurial spirit, turned it into a national craze by the time of the Civil War. From the kitchen-table games of ordinary citizens to its influence on generals and diplomats, poker has gone hand in hand with our national experience. Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama have deployed poker and its strategies to explain policy, to relax with friends, to negotiate treaties and crises, and as a political networking tool. The ways we all do battle and business are echoed by poker tactics: cheating and thwarting cheaters, leveraging uncertainty, bluffing and sussing out bluffers, managing risk and reward. Cowboys Full shows how what was once accurately called the cheater's game has become a mostly honest contest of cunning, mathematical precision, and luck. It explains how poker, formerly dominated by cardsharps, is now the most popular card game in Europe, East Asia, Australia, South America, and cyberspace, as well as on television. It combines colorful history with firsthand experience from today's professional tour. And it examines poker's remarkable hold on American culture, from paintings by Frederic Remington to countless poker novels, movies, and plays. Braiding the thrill of individual hands with new ways of seeing poker's relevance to our military, diplomatic, business, and personal affairs, Cowboys Full is sure to become the classic account of America's favorite pastime.
By Daniel Tammet.
The author of Born on a Blue Day combines meticulous scientific research with detailed descriptions of how his mind works to demonstrate the immense potential within us all. He explains how our natural intuitions can help us to learn a foreign language, why his memories are like symphonies, why there is more to intelligence than IQ, how our brains turn light to sight, why too much information can make you stupid, and more.
By Greg Grandin.
The stunning, never-before-told story of the quixotic attempt to recreate small-town America in the heart of the Amazon, "Fordlandia" depicts a desperate quest to salvage the bygone America that the Ford factory system did much to dispatch.
By Molly Haskell.
Haskell keeps both novel and movie at hand, moving from one to the other, comparing and distinguishing what Margaret Mitchell expresses from what obsessive producer David O. Selznick, directors George Cukor and Victor Fleming, screenplaywrights Sidney Howard and a host of fixers (including Ben Hecht and Scott Fitzgerald), and actors Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel, and others convey. She emphasizes the contributions of Selznick, Leigh, and in an entire chapter, Mitchell, drawing heavily and analytically on existing biographies, the literature of women and the Civil War, Civil War films (especially Birth of a Nation and Jezebel), and film criticism to such engaging effect as to not just revisit GWTW but to revive and intensify the enduring fascination of what Selznick dubbed the American Bible. --Olson, Ray Copyright 2009 Booklist.
By Thomas E. Ricks.
"The Gamble," the story of Gen. David Petraeus and the American military, reveals that many high-level officials were opposed to the 2003 invasion.
By Ken Auletta.
A revealing, forward-looking examination of the outsize influence Google has had on the changing media landscape, telling the story of how it formed and crashed into traditional media businesses--from newspapers to books, to television, to movies, to telephones, to advertising, to Microsoft. Also discusses Google's innovative web influence: Gmail, Google Maps, Google Earth, YouTube.
By David Finkel.
In the tradition of "Black Hawk Down," The Good Soldiers takes an unforgettable look at the heroes and the ruined soldiers fighting in the Iraq War.
By Molly Wizenberg ; illustrations by Camilla Engman.
Author of the internationally famous blog, Orangette, Molly Wizenberg recounts a life with the kitchen at its center. From her mother's pound cake, a staple of summer picnics during her childhood in Oklahoma, to the eggs she cooked for her father during the weeks before his death, food and memories are intimately entwined.
Horse soldiers : the extraordinary story of a band of U.S. soldiers who rode to victory in Afghanistan
By Doug Stanton.
Documents the post-September 11 mission during which a small band of Special Forces soldiers captured the strategic Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif as part of an effort to defeat the Taliban, in a dramatic account that includes testimonies by Afghanistan citizens whose lives were changed by the war.
By Adrian Goldsworthy.
"In AD 200, the Roman Empire seemed unassailable. Its vast territory accounted for most of the known world. By the end of the fifth century, Roman rule had vanished in Western Europe and much of northern Africa, and only a shrunken Eastern Empire remained. What accounts for this improbable decline? Here, Adrian Goldsworthy applies the scholarship, perspective, and narrative skill that defined his monumental Caesar to address perhaps the greatest of all historical questions - how Rome fell. It was a period of remarkable personalities, from the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius to emperors like Diocletian, who portrayed themselves as tough, even brutal, soldiers. It was a time of revolutionary ideas, especially in religion, as Christianity went from persecuted sect to the religion of state and emperors. Goldsworthy pays particular attention to the willingness of Roman soldiers to fight and kill each other. Ultimately, this is the story of how an empire without a serious rival rotted from within, its rulers and institutions putting short-term ambition and personal survival over the wider good of the state." -- Publisher description.
By Jonah Lehrer.
Offers a fascinating look at the new science of decision-making--and how it can help us make better choices.
By Matthew Amster-Burton.
A food critic and writer shares his experiences as a stay-at-home parent to his young daughter, Iris, who he endeavored to expose to the richness of his culinary world, in an account that describes how he came to understand the wonder of tasting foods from a child's first-time perspective.
By Helen Rappaport.
A brilliant account of the political forces swirling through the remote Urals town of Ekaterinburg at the bitter end of the First World War. Challenges the view that the deaths of the Romanovs were a unilateral act by a maverick group of Bolsheviks, and identifies a chain of command that stretches to Moscow-- and to Lenin himself.
By Liaquat Ahamed.
With penetrating insights for today, this vital history of the world economic collapse of the late 1920s offers portraits of four men--Montagu Norman, Amile Hilaire Emile Moreau, Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht, and Benjamin Strong--whose personal and professional actions as heads of their respective central banks changed the course of the twentieth century.
By David Grann.
After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": what happened to British explorer Percy Fawcett. In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization. For centuries Europeans believed the world's largest jungle concealed the glittering El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions, he embarked with his 21-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization--which he dubbed "Z"--Existed. Then he and his expedition vanished. Fawcett's fate--and the clues he left behind--became an obsession for hundreds who followed him. As Grann delved deeper into Fawcett's mystery, and the greater mystery of the Amazon, he found himself irresistibly drawn into the "green hell."--publisher description.
By Justin Fox.
Examines the rise and fall of the efficient markets theory, the development of modern finance, and the rise of behavioral economics, in an account that draws on interviews with top thinkers while demystifying the ideas that forged the modern market.
By Dan Baum.
"Nine Lives" explores New Orleans through the lives of nine characters over 40 years, bracketed by two epic hurricanes. It brings back to life the doomed city, its wondrous subcultures, and the rich and colorful lives that played themselves out within its borders.
By Martha A. Sandweiss.
Clarence King is a hero of nineteenth-century western history. Brilliant scientist and witty conversationalist, bestselling author and architect of the great surveys that mapped the West after the Civil War, King hid a secret from his Gilded Age cohorts and prominent Newport family: for thirteen years he lived a double life--as the celebrated white Clarence King and as a black Pullman porter and steelworker. Unable to marry the black woman he loved, the fair-haired, blue-eyed King passed as a Negro, revealing his secret to his wife Ada only on his deathbed. Historian Martha Sandweiss is the first writer to uncover the life that King tried so hard to conceal. She reveals the complexity of a man who, while publicly espousing a personal dream of a uniquely American amalgam of white and black, hid his love for his wife and their five biracial children.--From publisher description.
By Winifred Gallagher.
Acclaimed behavioral science writer Gallagher makes the radical argument that the quality of a life largely depends on what and how one chooses to pay attention. "Rapt" yields fresh insights into the nature of reality and what it means to be fully alive.
By Mike Micallef ; with Julie Hatch and John DeMers ; photography by Laurie Smith.
A destination restaurant and local favorite, Reata serves up a menu that would make any food lover--cosmopolitan or cowboy--hungry for dinner. Signature dishes like Chicken-Fried Steak and Rodeo Rib-Eye share the spotlight with fancier fare, such as the Tenderloin Tamales with Pecan Mash and Sun-Dried Tomato Cream and the Shoot-Your-Own Maple Duck Breast in Sage Brown Butter Sauce. Evocative photography captures the lively and convivial atmosphere of this Fort Worth legend. -- From publisher's description.
By Greg Kot.
"Ripped" tells the story of how the laptop generation created a new grassroots music industry, with the fans and bands rather than the corporations in charge. In this new world, bands aren't just musicmakers but self-contained multimedia businesses; and fans aren't just consumers but distributors and even collaborators.
By Christopher Dickey.
The NYPD is the best and most ambitious antiterror operation in the world. Its seat-of-the-pants intelligence is the gold standard for all others. Drawing on unparalleled access to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and other top officials, Dickey explores this metropolitan police department's intelligence operation and its methods, some of which are highly worrisome.
By Matthew B. Crawford.
In this wise and often funny book, a philosopher/mechanic systematically destroys the pretensions of the high-prestige workplace and makes an irresistible case for working with one's hands.
By Patrick Radden Keefe.
The rise and fall of an unlikely international crime boss--Sister Ping--and the intricate human trafficking network she created from her business in New York City's Chinatown, together with a panoramic tale about the gangland gunslingers who worked for her, the immigration and law enforcement officials who pursued her, and the generation of penniless immigrants who risked death to realize their own version of the American dream.
By Graham Farmelo.
From the Publisher: Paul Dirac was among the great scientific geniuses of the modern age. One of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, the most revolutionary theory of the past century, his contributions had a unique insight, eloquence, clarity, and mathematical power. His prediction of antimatter was one of the greatest triumphs in the history of physics. One of Einstein's most admired colleagues, Dirac was in 1933 the youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel Prize in physics. Dirac's personality is legendary. He was an extraordinarily reserved loner, relentlessly literal-minded and appeared to have no empathy with most people. Yet he was a family man and was intensely loyal to his friends. His tastes in the arts ranged from Beethoven to Cher, from Rembrandt to Mickey Mouse. Based on previously undiscovered archives, The Strangest Man reveals the many facets of Dirac's brilliantly original mind. A compelling human story, The Strangest Man also depicts a spectacularly exciting era in scientific history.
By Tracy Kidder.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder returns with the extraordinary true story of Deo, a young man who arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life. After surviving a civil war and genocide, he ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores until he begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing.
By Huston Smith and Jeffery Paine.
Documents the world religion scholar's life and experiences with people who shaped the twentieth century, including Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Ram Dass, in an account that also traces the adventures he had in pursuit of his influential research.
Too big to fail : the inside story of how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system--and themselves
By Andrew Ross Sorkin.
Presents a moment-by-moment account of the recent financial collapse that documents state efforts to prevent an economic disaster, offering insight into the pivotal consequences of decisions made throughout the past decade.
By Carol Leifer.
Comedy veteran Leifer tells hilarious stories about herself, in her laught-out-loud literary debut that looks at life, love, family, and the aging process.
By by Dave Eggers.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, longtime New Orleans residents Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun are cast into an unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water. In the days after the storm, Abdulrahman traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. A week later, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared-- arrested and accused of being an agent of al Qaeda.