CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

True North by Jill Ker Conway

Jill Ker Conway’s second autobiographical book follows The Road from Coorain and recounts her experience upon arrival from Australia as a graduate student at Harvard through her time at the University of Toronto. It ends with the beginning of her presidency at Smith College in 1975. She tells the charming, sometimes quite touching stories of her life in this period beginning in 1960. The...

Chesapeake Requiem by Earl Swift

The subtitle A Year With the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island explains a lot and brings up more questions that are entertainingly answered by Earl Swift. The island is in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay and has been a curiosity for years. We visited for an afternoon more than 25 years ago with other tourists taking the ferry from the Eastern Shore. Tangier is so small people bike or drive...

Looking for The Stranger by Alice Kaplan

In 2012 I read Camus’ book The Stranger in French and The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud in 2015. First, here’s a short summary of The Stranger. Meursault, a French Algerian, begins the tale with the announcement of his mother’s death. He shows disrespect by drinking cafe au lait, smoking, and dozing as he sits by her coffin. A few days later he shoots a man he...

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Having heard the author, a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Berkeley interviewed on Terry Gross, I listened to his book. While there was an element of “a hammer sees everything as a nail” to the book, I found much in it that was persuasive. He is able to trace all manner of bad outcomes for individuals and society as a whole to the lack of sleep. It became rather depressing...

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

It is hard to connect the comedian we know from The Daily Show to the story of the person born in 1984 who is the subject of this autobiography. Noah’s mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah was always an independent person. She learned secretarial skills, although those jobs were not available to black women. She lived in the city of Johannesburg, though black women were forbidden to live there...

American Fire by Monica Hesse

The subtitle of this book is Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, and what a fascinating story this is. It is set in Accomack County on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a 70-mile long peninsula with the Chesapeake Bay on one side and the ocean on the other.  The area experienced great wealth from agriculture at the turn of the 20th century with the early building of railroads that gave...

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes

I have had in mind to read this weighty book (600 pages) about the arrival of Europeans in Australia written by an art historian for a long time. Between the original landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay in 1770 and the arrival of the first wave of transported convicts in 1788, no British ships came to the area. The Botany Bay area would not have supported them; if Captain Phillip hadn’t...

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

As a child I was terrified of the flock of chickens on my family’s small farm. I’m not sure which worried me most: their horrible feet, their scary beaks, their alien feathery bodies, or the apparently random movement of the noisy flock. So a book about training a raptor as a grief healing mechanism is incomprehensible to me and it languished on my Books to Read list for nearly three...

The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton

I found this audiobook of essays written and read by Tim Winton so heartening that when I finished it, I listened to it again immediately. I have never done that before, either listening or reading a book, so what is different about this one? First he writes so beautifully, using such a literate vocabulary with the bonus of the vernacular of Australia, perhaps in particular, working class...

Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville, Virginia by Timothy Heaphy

In the last few days I have been focused on the novella-length report of the summer’s awful events, especially the one I wrote about that occurred on August 12. Though I was skeptical about the report, given that Heaphy seemed to be buddies with various people in City government and that he requested to undertake this project paid for by the City. I believe he did a creditable job. As I...

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