CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

It will not be possible to fit all I want to remember about this book in one short post. So I’ll start by saying that listening to the author read her essays was educational and entertaining, but even more, it was uplifting and brought me joy. It was as wonderful as her first book H is for Hawk. From childhood she has always been a lover of the natural world and her essays reflect that. She...

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I appreciated hearing the author read this audiobook, a personal message to his 15-year-old son.  It was beautiful, moving, and brilliant by turns, so I honor it best by quoting some passages. He writes about the false concept of “race” and refers often to those who “believe they are white.” Someone he knew from his time at Howard University was killed by police. It was...

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger by Lisa Donovan

Is it a mistaken perception that people who run, own, or work in high end restaurants are more likely than a person successful in some other endeavor to write a book about it? Books in this category that occur to me begin with George Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris (those kitchens were disgustingly dirty), to Alice Waters’ writing about Chez Panisse, Anthony Bourdain’s...

Clutter: An Untidy History by Jennifer Howard

Like Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller, this is both a dive into an important topic and a deeply personal book. I have followed Jen Howard on Twitter for her professional interest in higher education and libraries for some years. She may have lived in my town for her first five years until her parents divorced; I have met her father, the eminent constitutional scholar, several times at...

This Land by Rebecca Nagle

After the Supreme Court decision this summer that affirmed that land in eastern Oklahoma remains tribal land of the five tribes who walked the Trail of Tears, I knew I wanted to know more about this. Somehow I landed on a podcast by Rebecca Nagle that is hosted by the Crooked Media group. There are 10 episodes that last about 30 minutes each. This series began in 2019 when the Supreme Court was...

Carville’s Cure by Pam Fessler

The subtitle, “Leprosy, Stigma, and the Fight for Justice,” signals this is the story of the only leprosarium in the continental US. Its history and the history of the treatment of Hansen’s Disease, commonly known as leprosy, makes for a dramatic read. The unwarranted fear of the disease has resulted in tragically mistaken public health policy; I appreciated learning the truth...

A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan wrote a history of the Dust Bowl (The Worst Hard Time) that I greatly admire so I wanted to read his recent book about his 1000-mile pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome on the Via Francigena. This book is the tangible outcome of his love of history (and recounting it), his abiding connection to the Christian faith, and the appeal for him of a good walk/drive/train ride. Given the...

A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage

Having loved Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet, I was sure this was a good time to read this book written in 2005. And yes, it was as wonderfully interesting and informative about these beverages as his earlier book was about the telegraph. The six glasses have beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola in them. Rather than recount here a history of the world as it relates to these...

Hunting Mister Heartbreak by Jonathan Raban

First, the title. Perhaps I encountered Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (Heartbreak), the author of Letters from an American Farmer in school, but I have no memory of him. His book, a series of 12 letters with different styles and topics purporting to be to an English gentleman, was published in 1782. Jonathan Raban, himself an English gentleman, says though the letters seem to be factual, Mr...

The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman

My book choices have been unusual in this strange time and perhaps this is the strangest of them all. I have always had a strong dislike of birds. As I child, I was terrified the chickens would touch me. As an adult I am keenly aware of birds as disease carriers. They have not endeared themselves to me in recent years when they come in flocks and drunkenly eat berries from our holly trees...

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