In the world of books, there are years that yield harvests of brilliant writing ( as well as photography and illustration) shaped into works that inform, touch and inspire us. We’ve looked back in Green News Update and found plenty from the more than 200 books we’ve suggested over the past five years. Whether your interest is photography, history, nature or people – we’ve got generous samplings of nonfiction for you to dive into — with book reviews, excerpts, TED talks, etc.
Part I of our two-part World of Books features Heroes & Heroines, Questing and Cities You Can’t Forget. Part II looks at Photography, Natural History, and the Human Condition.
Don’t forget: You can view all of our selections by using the Category of “Books” on our homepage, or scroll down and use the “Search” function for a more specific search (for example, Dickens, Sherry Turkle, The High Line, etc.)
Heroes and Heroines
Some figures live on—in time and in our imagination– long after they’ve passed the mortal life. Think no further than Thomas Jefferson –his contradictions as slave owner, U.S. president, and father of a half-dozen biracial children; or Ulysses S. Grant, the man whose bloody campaigns won the Civil War for the Union and then was reviled for his presidency.
Charles Dickens lived amid the horrors of Victorian life, with heroic tales of young boys who prevailed despite the work houses;
and Alexandre Dumas (the son/ le fils) modeled the ever-popular fictional account of the Count of Monte Cristo on his biracial father (Pere Alexandre) who languished in an Italian jail at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte. We featured all four of these exceptional books in our December 2012 issue .
Questing: The Beautiful and the Fearsome
Extraordinary people, in search of the beautiful and fearsome, have produced page-turners in recent years that we gladly featured on the Green News Update site. These works promise an adventure—or deep insight into the human experience. You’ll be whisked away by renowned writer Dr. Oliver Sacks’s 2002 tale Oaxaca Journal, of the ferns he obsessively sought in Mexico that led to many other insights about Pre-Hispanic people.
Cheryl Strayed’s solo adventure and personal quest —Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail— actually took place 17 years before she published her unique story. What does it mean? Good stories are timeless. See a remarkable book lineup from 2012
Katherine Boo’s first book in 2012–and award winner — Behind All the Beautiful Forevers, took guts and stamina to live in a Mumbai slum for four years, despite her own ill health, to capture the story of life, death and hope among those who have the least. She won multiple awards including the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Kevin Fedarko’s fascination with the Grand Canyon began with signing up as an apprentice river guide, and then plowed into masterful storytelling of the 1983 flood that threatened the Glen Canyon dam, in The Emerald Mile. “…the runoff on the
Colorado achieved a size and a level of savagery that had not been witnessed in generations.”
Veteran British cyclist and travel writer Tim Moore tackled the entire EuroVelo 13 Iron Curtain Trail—some 10,000 kilometers through 20 countries – and then penned The Cyclist Who Went out in the Cold, Adventures Riding the Iron Curtain, to share his experience on a two-gear bicycle from the former GDR (formerly East Germany) that began in the frigid Artic.
You’ll also find a half-dozen other travel adventures mixed in this Summer 2017 lineup. If you’d like some backstory, see our lengthy 2016 Green News Update piece on the Iron Curtain Trail.
James Balog’s Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, with Terry Tempest Williams, photography in book version (300 pages) of the Extreme Ice Survey, which is like watching a planetary train wreck through time-lapse photography – breathtaking, bizarrely beautiful, shocking and worrisome.
Balog (a National Geographic alum) is like a great war photographer – on the scene while the fray is going on.
Questing: Seeking the Truth
What the self refuses to share — or time buries—gets mined in memoirs, historical nonfiction and biography.
In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, first-time author Rebecca Skloot is the ultimate truth-seeker: 10 years of research and passionate commitment produced a magnum opus on the mystery and darker story surrounding African-American Baltimore resident Henrietta Lacks, and the cancer cells she unknowingly furnished that sparked a revolution in medical research while she was being unsuccessfully treated at Johns Hopkins Medical Center for cervical cancer. Miraculously, Henrietta’s cells, which came to be known as HeLa cells, were so successful they never stopped being capable of reproducing.
Is there a way to ferret out the prodigious talents – and gifts – of Alexander Von Humboldt, a man whose 100th anniversary of his birth in 1869 was celebrated in cities all over the world (New York, Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, Dresden, Melbourne and Moscow) and who, today, is largely unknown . Von Humboldt (1769-1859 )is mostly a mystery to 21st century readers. Andrea Wulf unmasks the man and the mysteries in The Invention of Nature : Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World— an intrepid explorer who climbed volcanoes, the highest peaks in South America (Chimborazo, the Andes), traveled to Cuba, wrote about his prolific discoveries, was hugely popular in his time.Von Humboldt was the first to really consider the interconnectedness of life. He even predicted human-induced climate change.
Von Humboldt’s 20th century counterpart: Dr Edward O. Wilson has written 32 books in his 80+ years– 13 of them in a 13-year period, and awarded two Pulitzer Prizes — almost everything he produces offers deep insights into his exploration of the natural world. Wilson’s search to fight catastrophic extinction of the planet’s species is the focus of his newest book Half Earth. Reviewer Claudia Dreifus writes “[Wilson envisions]…a reimagined world in which humans retreat to areas comprising one half of the planet’s landmass. The rest is to be left to the 10 million species inhabiting Earth in a kind of giant national park. In human-free zones, Wilson believes, many endangered species would recover and their extinction would, most likely, be averted.”
In A Window on Eternity: A Biologist’s Walk through Gorongosa National Park (Liveright) Ed Wilson looks at the future of the Earth through a scientist’s lens. This time his quests take him to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique – one of the most biodiverse places on the planet – to see what was nearly destroyed and how it is being restored.
Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter penned The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, a page turner thanks to a small, spectacular “band of British and American art scholars who took to the battlefields of Europe to rescue thousands of cultural treasures from Nazi pillagers and the collateral damage of armed conflict.” The movie that followed (Monuments Men) featured George Clooney and an all-star cast.
Cities You Can’t Forget
Our recommended books are a feast for anyone who loves world cities. Our combined 2013 and ’14 holiday gift selections comprise some 50 books: from the Paris of gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, to Berlin after the Wall, to the afterlife of Pompeii, the buried city. Check out our offerings for December 2014
Mosey on over December 2013 for two dozen books on cities that include Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, New York, DC, Rome, Paris, London, Naples and Beijing.
A few of our selections include A History of New York in 101 Objects, Empire of Sin (New Orleans) and Empire of Mud (Washington DC), Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, the High Line (NYC) , Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris, Rome Day One, Beijing Welcomes You.
COME BACK!: For Part II books on Photography, Natural History, and the Human Condition.