CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

Montebello by Robert Drewe

What a treat this audiobook memoir by Robert Drewe is! I loved his previous memoir, The Shark Net and especially his novel The Drowner. In this one published in 2012 he ranges around his life recounting moments that are enlightening, or nostalgic, or revelatory. Interspersed throughout is his description of a visit to the Montebello Islands with scientists who were reintroducing some species to...

Tête-à-Tête by Hazel Rowley

The subtitle is The Tumultuous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Long as it is, the title could use another word in there somewhere. I would suggest “creepy.” While I learned a great deal about the work of these two brilliant public intellectuals of the 20th century, the book focuses on their unusual relationship and their connections to others, especially...

Robert E. Lee and Me by Ty Seidule

Ty Seidule’s premise, that the lie of the Lost Cause perpetuated from the end of the Civil War is a reflection of White Supremacy that infects the whole country, is not a surprise or new idea. What is different is that a military historian at West Point who grew up in the South idolizing Robert E. Lee has described his beliefs and his coming to understand the facts and reject the myth. As...

River of the Gods by Candice Millard

Years ago I read books about the discovery of the Blue Nile and the White Nile by Alan Moorehead, a great biography of Henry Morton Stanley, and a biography of Richard and Isabel Burton. It was interesting to revisit the European discovery of source of the White Nile and that dramatic struggle between Richard Burton and John Speke. The recent book by Candice Millard is good, but left me more...

The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts

This book was recommended by Dorothy and it gave me hours of pleasure as I listened to it. Annie Wilkins found herself in dire straits financially in the mid-1950s, having just recovered from a serious illness, and was told by her doctor that she would no longer be physically fit to run her farm. She had no family and he suggested she give up the farm that had been in her family for three...

South to America by Imani Perry

Imani Perry has an impressive academic background:  Yale undergraduate, Harvard Ph.D, LLM degree from Georgetown, and she now teaches at Princeton. Her ramble through the South is an informed and wide-ranging trek, with both familiar and new bits of information to digest. The approach to talking to people about Washington, DC used the question, “Is Washington a Southern city?” While...

The Other Madisons by Bettye Kearse

When I read about the recent action by the Montpelier Foundation board to undo their decision to share authority with descendants of the enslaved, I recalled I had purchased a book by Bettye Kearse, one of the descendants and a member of the Foundation Board. Here’s a link to the Washington Post story about it. The subtitle of her book is The Lost History of a President’s Black Family...

The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

Having admired his book about Steve Jobs, I knew I would appreciate Isaacson’s book about Jennifer Doudna. He does a good job of explaining the how scientists learned about RNA and CRISPR, but it’s still a big mystery to me. I now recognize a lot more words on the topic, but wow, it remains an alien world to me. First, CRISPR:  it is a relatively quick and easy way to edit the DNA in...

After by Bruce Greyson

Bruce Greyson, a professor emeritus for psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at UVa,  has been studying near death experiences for much of his career. He begins this book by recounting an experience in the ER with a student who had attempted to commit suicide. She was unconscious when he examined her; the next day, she told him about their meeting, including a detail about a spaghetti stain on...

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach

I’ve appreciated this diverting book about unfortunate interactions between wildlife of all sorts and humans. The phenomenon is increasingly problematic as human habitation grows and overwhelms wildlife habitation. Bears in the mountains of Colorado have more interactions with the humans who also love places such as Aspen. Those tasked with keeping them apart and safe have quite a challenge...

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