The following are my ten recommendations (in no particular order) for holiday gift giving for those who love to curl up with a great non-fiction read.
SWERVE: HOW THE WORLD BECAME MODERN
By Stephen Greenblatt
One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted "Swerve," an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery in which one manuscript, plucked from 1,000 years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it. The winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction, "Swerve" tells us that nearly 1000 years ago, a short, genial cannily alert man in his late 30's took a very old manuscript from a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient philosophical epic, "On The Nature Of Things," by Lucretius -- a beautiful poem with the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that the religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and serving in new directions.
IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS
By Erik Larson
Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative nonfiction, and in this new book, the bestselling author of "The Devil in The White City" turns his hand to a remarkable story set during Hitler's rise to power. The time is 1933 and the place is Berlin when Wm. E. Dodd becomes America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history. Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Goring and the expectedly charming, yet wholly sinister Goebbels, "In the Garden of Beasts" lends a stunning eyewitness perpective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin -- and Europe -- were awash in blood and terror.
ADAPT: WHY SUCCESS ALWAYS STARTS WITH FAILURE
By Tim Harford
In this groundbreaking book, Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, shows us a new and inspiring approach to solving the most pressing problems in our lives. When faced with complex situations, we have all become accustomed to looking to our leaders to act out a plan of action and blaze a path to success. Harford argues that today's challenges simply cannot be tackled with ready-made solutions and expert opinion; the world has become far too unpredictable and profoundly complex. Instead, we must adapt. Deftly weaving together psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, physics, and economics, along with the compelling story of hard-won lessons learned in the field, Harford makes a passionate case for the importance of adaptive trial and error in tackling issues such as climate change, poverty, and financial crisis - as well as in fostering innovation and creativity in our business and personal lives. Taking us from corporate boardrooms to the deserts of Iraq, ADAPT clearly explains the necessary ingredients for turning failure into success. It is a breakthrough handbook for surviving and prospering in our complex and ever-shifting world.
DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC: A TALE OF MADNESS, MEDICINE, AND THE MURDER OF PRESIDENT GARFIELD
By Candice Millard
This is a staggering tale about the American presidency by a historuan who, as she did in "The River of Doubt," her book about Theodore Roosevelt, zeroes in on what other historians overlook. Millard digs deeply into the turmoil that got James A. Garfield elected, the lunacy that got him shot, and the medical malfeasance that turned a minor wound into a mortal one. Her story is so full of outsize figures, not the least of them the unexpectedly noble Garfield, that Alexander Graham Bell is only a bit player.
THE VOYAGE OF THE ROSE CITY: AN ADVENTURE AT SEA
By John Moynihan
This posthumously published book, from the son of New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, tells the story of how the author left Wesleyan University during the summer of his junior year and joined the merchant marine. He spent four months crossing the Equator on an oil supertanker called the ROSE CITY. This is a young man's book, for sure; it was written when the author was barely twenty. But Moynihan has a good story to tell, one that's flecked with briny bits of Melville and Conrad and Raban. His unpretentious prose has genuine immediacy. Moynihan is never less than frank, funny company on the page.
By Walter Isaacson
This biography is essential reading, though its insights are not particularly intimate or profound. Here is the authorized version of how an astounding array of devices was created, right down to the tinies nuances - and an account of how all of Mr. Job's creations reflect his turbulent nature. Here too is the story of remarkable alchemy: an explanation of how Mr. Jobs fused the 70's-era West Coast cultures of music, microchips, meditation and extreme physical bravado into an ethos of exquisite simplicity. Read this and you'll know how and why he rocked your world.
ROME: A CULTURAL, VISUAL AND PERSONAL HISTORY
By Robert Hughes
The former art critic of TIME magazine gives us a guided tour through the city of Rome, excavating its bloody past and deconstructing its artistic masterpieces even as he creates an indelible portrait of a city that still stands today as "an enormous concretion of human glory and human error."
CATHERINE THE GREAT
By Robert K. Massie
The Pulitzer-prize winning author of "Peter The Great", "Nicholas and Alexandra" and "The Romanovs" returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought to his other great biographies are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.
RADIOACTIVE: MARIE AND PIERRE CURIE: A TALE OF LOVE AND FALLOUT
By Lauren Redniss
This illustrated biography of Marie and Pierre Curie lays bare their childhoods, their headlong love story, their scientific collaboration, and the way their toxic discoveries, which included radium and polonium, poisoned them in slow motion. This book is an unusual and forceful thing to have in your hands. Redniss's text is long, literate, and supple. Her drawings are ambitious and spooky. Her people have elongated faces and pale forms; they're etiolated Modiglianis. They populate a Paris that has become a dream city.
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