CategoryReviews of Non-fiction Books

Robin by Dave Itzkoff

This qualifies as the perfect audiobook for me:  it maintained my interest throughout, made me laugh, and was a poignant story. Robin Williams first became famous for the TV show Mork and Mindy which came at a time (1978 to 1982) when we only watched IU basketball and old movies on tv. We all probably remember him from appearances on late night shows like Johnny Carson, where he first appeared in...

My Year of Dirt and Water by Tracy Franz

Years ago, I read a book by a woman who spent two years in Japan learning about pottery. From it, and from my friend Pat, I learned about Japanese woodblock prints, so it was an important book for me. I read this book to revisit that one I loved so much. The subtitle of this one is Journal of a Zen Monk’s Wife in Japan. The author and her husband had been in Japan for a few years when in...

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...

Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead by Thornton McCamish

This unconventional ramble through the life of the author of two popular history books that I dearly loved (The White Nile and The Blue Nile) was a pleasant walk indeed. It was a few months before our trip to Australia that I read another of his books, Cooper’s Creek, about the ill-fated exploration of the interior of Australia. He was an ambitious journalist who left Australia as soon as...

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...

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