In case you missed Linda & Jenny’s “Stuff We’ve Been Reading” Book Talk on May 11, here are the nonfiction books we recommended. (Stay tuned for a second post about the novels we recommended!) Click on the titles to go to the catalog and request the book. Happy reading!
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
All I knew about the Romanovs before reading this book was that they were an unusual family, the heir to the throne was a hemophiliac, they hung out with some weirdo named Rasputin and they were all killed. I was very vague on the details, but this book brought it all to life so vividly that it read like a crazy, unbelievable novel. You get to know the family quite well, but the author has also included snippets about the lives of Russians who were not royalty to give an idea of the conditions in the country that led to the end of imperialism in Russia. It was written for teens so it’s easy to read and has lots of pictures, and I found it so fascinating I couldn’t put it down. This is the Not-So-Young Adult Book Group book for the June 30 NSYA discussion.
Near the end of WWII, a group of military personnel were on a sight-seeing flight when their plane went down in a remote area known at the time as Dutch New Guinea (it is currently part of Indonesia.) There were three survivors, and two were badly injured. The plane crashed in a valley surrounded by steep cliffs, nowhere a plane could land, and the altitude also made helicopter rescue impossible. They had to hike either in the direction of Japanese troops, or potentially-hostile natives. They ended up at an isolated village, trying to communicate with villagers who had never seen white people before. We get both the story of the survivors in the village trying not to die of gangrene, as well as the story about the military trying to plan a rescue. More than anything it is an adventure story, and I especially liked that there was a strong woman at a time when women were not considered especially capable. The author gives enough background to help us get to know the main characters and the situation, while writing in an easy-to-read style.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
In her 20s, Caitlin Doughty had a degree in medieval history, which wasn’t especially helpful in securing employment. She had always been fascinated by death, so on a whim she took a job at a crematory. This has led her to a career in the funeral industry, and to found The Order of the Good Death, which seeks to educate about death and make it less taboo. In her book she talks a lot about death practices and how, over time, we distanced ourselves more and more from death so that when we are actually faced with a situation like Hurricane Katrina, where bodies were totally visible in a way we aren’t used to, it was a complete shock. There are a lot of gory details here, and her descriptions are quite frank, so this book is not for everyone. But her ideas are important because we will all have to deal with death at some point, and I found her outlook on death both healthy and admirable. This book is short, but very informative and left me with a lot to think about.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Larson is a popular nonfiction author – you probably remember Devil in the White City, about a serial killer in Chicago at the time of the Chicago World’s Fair – and his new book about the sinking of the Lusitania is fascinating and suspenseful. Timed to the hundred-year anniversary of the event, the book is divided into two narratives: one follows the path of the Lusitania and its passengers and crew, and the other follows the crew of the German submarine (U-boat) that eventually torpedoed it. A third narrative explains what the British intelligence service knew about the presence of that particular U-boat in the Lusitania’s path, which inevitably raises questions about whether the sinking could have been prevented and why it was not (to get the U.S. to join the war effort?). A fourth, lesser narrative follows President Wilson during this time period. Like books about the Titanic, Dead Wake is suspenseful even though most readers already know the main events.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
You’ve probably already heard about this unlikely bestseller, but if you’re at all interested in having a peaceful, clutter-free household, this is a must-read book. Kondo’s approach is different from many of the standard organizational tips. For example, instead of going room by room, she recommends going category by category (e.g. all clothes, all books). Rather than the “do a little every day” approach, she recommends a sustained push to go through the whole house in a short period of time. She boils down her method to a single question: when deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, she asks, “Does it spark joy?” If the answer is no, thank the item for its service – yes, really! – and get rid of it.
Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
Fans of the TV shows Doogie Howser and How I Met Your Mother, fans of musical theater (Rent, Cabaret, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), and fans of awards shows, many of which Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) has hosted, will love this inventive autobiography. In print, each section ends with a choice; the audiobook decides for you, but is still entertaining and effective, and with the added benefit of the actor himself narrating. NPH ably sidesteps the name-dropping and humble-bragging pitfalls of celebrity memoirs and expresses deep gratitude for everything he has, from family to career. As a fan of HIMYM and NPH’s opening monologues at the Emmys, Tonys, and Oscars, this is one of the most enjoyable audiobooks I have ever listened to.
What nonfiction have you enjoyed recently? Share with us in the comments below, or become our friend or follow the Robbins Library on Goodreads.