CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw by Theodore Rosengarten

It was the list of the 50 best memoirs of the last 50 years according to a recent article in The New York Times that took me to this book. I expect it to be my own Book of the Year. How this exceptional book came to be is a story in itself. Theodore Rosengarten went with his friend Dale Rosen to interview Ned Cobb about his experience in the 1930s as a member of the Alabama Sharecropper’s...

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss

Anita Heiss compiled these 50 short pieces by Aboriginal people in Australia and has gathered a pleasingly varied anthology of voices. I read that some of the stories are by well-known figures, but they were all unknown to me. Some were successful in sports, some are musicians, some were quite young. I loved them all and grew addicted to the six readers. Many spoke of their parents’...

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

This short book came out of a series of interviews Hurston had done as an anthropology student several years before she wrote the book in 1931. She interviewed a man brought to the US on the last ship importing enslaved men and women which had been illegal for 50 years by that time. The account of her conversations with Cudjo Lewis about his life in Africa, his time as an enslaved person, and his...

A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin

What a wonderful book this has been. Claire Tomalin is a British biographer of such august and challenging subjects as Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and Jane Austen. Now in her 80s she undertook her own biography and seems to have applied the skills and thoroughness to her own life as to her other subjects. And fortunately her life has been biography-worthy. Her early life was affected by her...

Joy Enough by Sarah McColl

If you were writing a book about your mother dying just at the time your marriage was ending, it seems you wouldn’t use the word “joy” in the title. But joy, beauty, and pleasure somehow seep out of the book and I was happy as I read it. The author lets out lovely–and difficult–bits about her life with her mother and about her husband. Episodes that are not told in...

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

One of Lynne Olson’s previous books about World War II, Citizens of London, was terrific, so I didn’t hesitate when I learned about this one. It is the wonderfully informative story of the woman who ran the biggest and most effective resistance movement in France during the war. The focus of the network, Alliance, was to provide intelligence for British MI6 for their work against the...

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I was fortunate to have this book to read during that endless travel day to Malta last week and it has been a good companion as I recover from jet lag. Though I knew the reviews for this book were positive, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. I especially loved reading about her childhood and her modest, fun-loving, and hard-working family background. Throughout the book the...

Heartland by Sarah Smarsh

The subtitle A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth describes Sarah Smarsh’s family background.  She tells of escaping the poverty that engulfed multiple generations in her family in Kansas. Two pieces of advice I took away from this book:  1) Don’t live in a country whose economic system makes it very hard for those in poverty to change their...

Island Home: A Landscape Memoir by Tim Winton

It was such a treat to read a book that lovingly describes Tim Winton’s unique home, “the world’s largest island,” as he has it. For me the best part is being reminded of the sense memories of my own childhood, though my Virginia countryside couldn’t be more different from Australia. One topic he wrote about that resonates with me begins this way:  “Like most...

The Road Through Miyama by Leila Philip

Recently I read a book by an American woman living in Japan who wrote about her experiences there including taking a pottery class. That moved me to look for this book which I read many years ago and I found it to be as wonderful to read again as the first time. It is the story of a college-age woman who spent 1983 to 1985 in a “folkcraft” village, Miyama, in Japan apprenticed to a...

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