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Charles Lindbergh launched his famous flight at the beginning of the same season that Babe Ruth put the home run record out of sight and the first talking picture was released. If you think of American history, you're likely to picture that summer, and the ever-engaging Bill Bryson is the perfect person to show it to you.
When we compile our yearly Best Nonfiction lists, we're not above handing out a hometown bonus. We never claimed to be unbiased, so there's no shame in giving a special boost to a book that celebrates our corner of the world.
When we put The Boys in the Boat on this year's list, though, we weren't grading on a curve. Whether or not you're from Washington, you can't help rooting for the plucky crew of rowers that overcame the Depression, vanquished the established teams of the Eastern seabord, and ultimately triumphed over Hitler's squad at the 1936 Olympics. Character, drama, and history combine in this gripping narrative that's an absolute must-read.
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Yes, it’s 928 pages. But if you’re familiar with Goodwin’s work, you
know that she’s going to give the complexity and scope of her subject
its due. In this case, for the first decade of the 20th century, a short
book just won’t cut it. Goodwin’s books are known for covering
momentous events in American history through the eyes of great leaders.
In The Bully Pulpit, Teddy Roosevelt and his chosen successor,
William Taft, take center stage. The rupture of their relationship
(culminating in the election of 1912, which Roosevelt won in a landslide
after deciding to run against his protégé) had a tremendous ripple
effect, both on the press—who stopped glossing over the news and became muckrakers during that time—and the public—who received their first glimpse into the behind-the-scenes politics, thanks to the press.
The surprise here is Taft, who Americans know little of beyond the
fact that he was so fat he once got stuck in a White House bathtub.
Readers will almost feel sorry for him.
The most acclaimed history series in recent memory comes to a conclusion, with the Allies finally freeing Europe from Nazi control. Monumental, magisterial, impeccable--it's all those things, and it's unmissable for any history buff.
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This is a book that has something to say to everyone, not just those who are already besotted with the Netherlands. It’s really a fascinating story.
Amsterdam is younger than most other European capitals and even many
other Dutch cities, with less auspicious beginnings. It sits on
relatively inhospitable coastland that had to be partly reclaimed from
the sea, so it took a good long while for people to figure out how to
live there at all, let alone build a city. By 1300, though, it had
turned into a real municipality and later grew into a significant center
of trade. Having been an undesirable location for so long, the city
wasn’t dominated by the traditional feudal nobility that controlled the
rest of the continent; its people were mostly self-sufficient, pragmatic
merchants who cared more for the bottom line than for hierarchy and
status. Accustomed to dealing with the exotic people and products that
arrived on sailing vessels from around the world, Amsterdam wasn’t
threatened by new ideas. While the rest of Europe chose sides in bloody
battles between Catholicism and Protestantism, the city tried to forge a
middle path, where it didn’t matter what you believed as long as the
economy was good and you got along with your neighbors. Modern notions
of good government and equitability that are implemented worldwide have
their seeds in the society that only Amsterdam could have created, and
that continues to the present day, despite all the war and deprivation
that the intervening centuries could throw at it.
Shorto covers this history briskly, drawing examples and anecdotes
from all eras. Erasmus, Rembrandt, Spinoza, Anne Frank, and figures from
the here and now all play roles, as does Shorto himself. His own
experiences as an expatriate resident intermingle with those of the
native Dutch, past and present, so that the lessons of this history feel
personal, vivid, and relevant. The book doesn’t describe something
frozen in amber, but an ongoing experiment in living. You’ll be amazed
at how much it will make you think about your own culture and values,
which is probably what Shorto had in mind all along. (As a side note,
I’m glad that he didn’t shy away from using the word “liberal” in his
subtitle. It’s a loaded word in current American politics, but its real
meaning transcends any left/right dichotomy. Liberalism can encompass
everything from free love to the free market.)
This entertaining, eminently readable book should be enough to make you fall as much in love with Amsterdam as I have.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Sotomayor's account of her life, one that began with a difficult childhood and has taken her all the way to the Supreme court, is that it was obviously written by a real person. Most celebrity memoirs add another layer to their authors' masks, but hers is a rare and revealing exception.