Staff Picks - 2012 March

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Staff Picks March 2012 (2.5MB)
The Dark DefileThe Dark Defile by Diana Preston

Kudos to the author. Preston's research and insights are superb but what gives this compelling book its very special strength is her powerful writing. Few historians are better at placing the reader in the moment, on the scene, and within the story. And this memorable story needs telling because its consequences are still with us. ~ Bill Lewis

The First FrontierThe First Frontier by Scott Weidensaul

Far too often Americans forget (or don't realize at all) that North American "frontier" history began and was contested east of the Mississippi for several brutal centuries before Lewis and Clark, et al. First-rate research and lively writing make this a rousing corrective. Perhaps Hollywood should be famous for its "Easterns". ~ Reviewed by Bill Lewis

The Ice BalloonThe Ice Balloon by Alec Wilkinson

A century ago the public viewed polar explorers as determined heroes who walked, climbed, crawled and dragged themselves over snow and ice. S.A. Andree's 1897 expedition could not have been more different. He would just float across the clouds to glory - or oblivion. An elegant, haunting essay about survival in extremis. ~ Bill Lewis
Barbara Tuchman: The Guns Of August & The Proud TowerBarbara Tuchman: The Guns Of August & The Proud Tower edited by Margaret MacMillan

The late Tuchman's two superb accounts of the people and events in Europe that lead up to World War I. In a fine Library of America edition celebrating Tuchman's centennial year and the 50th anniversary of the The Guns of August. ~ Louise Jones
The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness And We Were Too Distracted By Her Beauty To NoticeThe Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness And We Were Too Distracted By Her Beauty To Notice by M. G. Lord

This truly is an engaging and insightful critique of Elizabeth Taylor and her work. You don't need to be a feminist film scholar to appreciate Elizabeth Taylor's feminist implications in her films and theatre roles. Lord accessibly critiques Taylor's films through the Second Wave Feminist lens; that is, feminism defined as fighting for sexual, economic, and domestic equality... ~ Jess Krawczyk
Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through The Wild Blue WonderPogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through The Wild Blue Wonder by Walt Kelly

Kelly was far ahead of his time for combining fun and poetry with biting social and political satire. Here are Pogo and his pals in the very first cartoon strips, from May 1949-December 1950. More to come. ~ Louise Jones

Red PlentyRed Plenty by Francis Spufford

A unique book about a unique time: the Soviet Union's mad race to deliver on the utopian promise. Spufford uses a winning mix of history, economics, and compassionate fictions to tell the story. In doing so, he's unveiled a broad tapestry of wheeling and dealing--the Communist answer to HBO's The Wire. ~ Charles Bottomley
Preparing for the April TITANIC CENTENNIAL
The title of Walter Lord's 1955 book A Night to Remember was prophetic - never more so than in this centennial year of the sinking of the great ship on April 15, 1912. When the waters of the frigid North Atlantic closed over the liner, she was gone, but the tragedy of her maiden voyage has never been forgotten. The disaster was, however, much more than a fateful encounter of steel and ice. Three important new books, due this month, focus on the stories of the people-from all walks of life-who played a part in the Titanic epic: Voyagers of the Titanic: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats, and the Worlds They Came From by Richard Davenport-Hines, Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson and Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic's First Class Passengers and Their World by Hugh Brewster. ~ Alden Graves
Anatomy of MurderAnatomy of Murder by Imogen Robertson

Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther return in this thrilling sequel to "Instruments Of Darkness". The year is 1781 and the investigation into the death of a London opera company employee uncovers far more than either Harriet or Gabriel expect. Spies, murderers and thieves bedevil them at every turn. An absolute page turner! ~ Sarah Teunissen
The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

A thrilling story of friendship, love and war that takes a fresh look at The Iliad. Drawing on a decade of research, Miller respects the myth while at the same time rendering Homer's immortal heroes as freshly as today's news. Recommended for hardcore Hellenic heads and neophytes alike. ~ Charles Bottomley
The MaidThe Maid by Kimberly Cutter

Well researched, rich with 15 th century period detail, this novel gives a fresh, compelling interpretation of the legendary woman who altered the course of European history. The facts are known, but not the inner longings, conflicts and struggles endured by Jehanne d'Arc. This novel boldly imagines just that ~ Nancy Scheemaker
The O'BriensThe O'Briens by Peter Behrens

This is a grand saga that starts with Irish immigrants to the backwoods of the Canadian north and follows members of the family as they make their way through the brave new world of the Americas in the 19th century. A strong narrative sparkling with finely drawn characters, makes this novel an emotional and satisfying ride. ~ Karen Frank
EnchantmentsEnchantments by Kathryn Harrison

Rasputin's older daughter, Masha, recounts the last day of the Romanovs in a magical, surprising interpretation you may not have read before. Harrison always views history from an intriguing - and enchanting - angle. ~ Louise Jones
Birds of a Lesser ParadiseBirds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman

A wise, beautifully written, hugely appealing debut short story collection from a Vermont writer to watch ~ Mary Allen
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne FrankWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

In these short stories, Englander uses the Jewish experience to uncover profound truths about what's best and worst in everyone. Try "Sister Hills," maybe the best story you'll read this year. ~ Charles Bottomley
SatantangoSatantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Everyone in a godforsaken, rain-soaked Hungarian village is looking for a way out, but escape may only be possible through the devil himself. A mischievous fable in the tradition of Kafka and Gogol. ~ Charles Bottomley

The Last Chinese ChefThe Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones

In The Last Chinese Chef a recently widowed magazine food writer goes to Beijing to settle a claim against her husband's estate. While there, she interviews an American Eurasian chef who lives in China and has entered a prestigious culinary contest. Mones tells the history of the dishes in wonderful detail and her descriptions of the preparation of the banquet dishes left this reader hungry. An entertaining read that successfully combines mystery, grief, romance and good food. ~ Sarah Knight

The Things They CarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

I was first introduced to The Things They Carried as required reading for high school. I reluctantly opened the book expecting another dull account of the horrors of the Vietnam War that would join the mass of facts floating around in my adolescent mind. What I didn't expect was the rich, vivid storytelling and accessibility to the plight of O'Brien's characters. I'm not usually one who reads historical fiction, but when my younger sisters asked me what books to choose for their summer reading, I always (and still recommend!) The Things They Carried. It's been almost ten years since I was forced to read it... and now I revisit it whenever I can. It's that good. ~ Jess Krawczyk