Best of Nonfiction 2010 - Book Profiles


View the Complete List of Best of Nonfiction 2010


2010 Best Books: Composed, by Rosanne Cash

by Don McLeese on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

The starred Kirkus review praised Rosanne Cash’s memoir for its “beautifully written meditations on love, death, family and redemption from the celebrated songwriter.” As the daughter of Johnny Cash, she not only attempts to correct whatever misimpression remains from the success of the 2005 biopic, Walk the Line, which she calls “an egregious oversimplification of our family’s private pain, writ large and Hollywood-style,” while exploring the complicated and very loving relationship she shared with her iconic father. Cash also charts her own musical progression and personal journey, from a California girl who didn’t know or care much ...

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2010 Best Books: The Publisher, by Alan Brinkley

by Laura Kennelly on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

Henry Luce (1898-1967) revolutionized the way information was made available, writes Alan Brinkley (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 2009, etc.). “Each magazine Luce started, Time [1923, with Brit Hadden], Fortune [1930], Life [1936], Sports Illustrated [1954], became the premiere magazine in the field. It was a movement toward national news organizations which hadn’t existed before.” While his previous five books focused on 20th-century politics (FDR, Huey Long, Father Coughlin, the Depression and the New Deal), Brinkley said that he chose to write a biography (his first) because Luce was a “real innovator, one who had a very impressive life, a life ...

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2010 Best Books: The Last Stand, by Nathaniel Philbrick

by Gregory McNamee on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

It’s a story that has been burned into American memory since it first went down on that hot summer day in 1876, when the 650 soldiers under the command of George Armstrong Custer came under attack by untold thousands of allied Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Best known for popular books about maritime history (Sea of Glory, 2003; Mayflower, 2006), Nathaniel Philbrick steps onto dry land with his vivid account of the Battle of Little Big Horn and the many missteps and personality clashes that led to it. “It was daunting from a research point of view in that I ...

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2010 Best Books: Madison and Jefferson, by Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg

by Anna Weinberg on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

“Popular biographers tend to elevate and glamorize the Founders, seeing them through a nostalgic haze,” says Nancy Isenberg (Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, 2007, etc.), a history professor at Louisiana State University who co-wrote the dual biography of the third and the fourth presidents with her partner Andrew Burstein (The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving, 2007, etc.), also a professor of history at LSU. “As professional historians, we take issue with nonhistorians who are unfamiliar with the literature in this field and misconstrue the past,” says Isenberg. Indeed, their monumental and lucid work, which received a ...

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2010 Best Books: Travels in Siberia, by Ian Frazier

by Gregory McNamee on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

“Officially, there is no such place as Siberia,” writes New Yorker correspondent Ian Frazier. Yet the fact that the place doesn’t exist is the merest of inconveniences, for there’s a lot of out there out there in Russia’s version of the Wild West. Frazier has spent good parts of the last two decades traveling to Russia’s far eastern extremes, hearing the stories of river rats, oil wildcatters, trappers, truckers, apparatchiks and other residents of the vast land. “On my first trip I spoke no Russian,” says Frazier. In time, he learned enough to keep himself out ...

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2010 Best Books: The Fiddler in the Subway, by Gene Weingarten

by Laura Kennelly on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

Gene Weingarten started as a print journalist, but he’s comfortable on the Web. “I actually like Twitter better than Facebook. Facebook is too ‘hamish,’ ” says Weingarten, using the Yiddish term to emphasize Facebook’s essentially friendly nature. “I’m hugely competitive.” Although the author says that he’s never been “a household name,” at last count, he has 3,126 followers on Twitter who tune in to read his latest ruminations, one-liners and haikus. He’s even twittered his autobiography: “Gene Weingarten is 59. He has never used the term ‘life’s journey’ except in derision.’” And yet, the ...

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2010 Best Books: Last Call, by Daniel Okrent

by Michael Alvarez on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

Carry A. Nation was 6-feet tall, “had the face of a prison warden” and liked to smash up bars with a hatchet. She was also a well-published leader of one of the most profound movements in American history—the era of prohibition. Daniel Okrent, the first public editor for the New York Times and a former managing editor of Life magazine, brings a fresh, comprehensive look at this unique time in U.S. history with Last Call, a book that will also be featured in a Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary about prohibition that is to air in 2011 ...

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2010 Best Books: Showtime, by Larry Stempel

by Gordon West on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

After two and a half decades, Larry Stempel has composed the first comprehensive history of one of the most shape-shifting, gluttonously consumed art forms—Broadway musical theater. From early Vaudevillian spectacles, to destined-for-revival classics of the ’50s, to record-breaking mega-musicals of the ’80s and onward, Stempel reveals the common thread between each tier to be “how deeply collaborative the musical theater is as a medium.” In its dawning days, the art form was looked on as a workhorse to be exhausted and discarded—script, lyrics and all—once the money stopped rolling in. Yet with much of musical theater’s ...

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2010 Best Books: There is Power in a Union, by Philip Dray

by Anna Weinberg on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

“It troubled me that the great struggle of organized labor, and the value of that struggle, have largely been forgotten or marginalized as history,” says Philip Dray (Capitol Men, 2008, etc.), of his motivation for writing a comprehensive history of the American labor movement. His narrative traces the progress of the movement from the first signs of organization in the early industrializing Republic to the height of organized labor’s power in the postwar years. “Labor unions have and can be a dynamic force for economic and social justice,” he says. “And society as a whole is better served when ...

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2010 Best Books: Reality Hunger, by David Shields

by Don McLeese on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

In one of the year’s most audacious nonfiction titles, the author (a novelist, essayist and creative writing professor at the Univ. of Washington) argues that a new age demands the obliteration of traditional categories and values in writing. “The subtitle of David Shields’ Reality Hunger categorizes it as ‘a manifesto,’ which is a little like calling a nuclear bomb ‘a weapon,’ ” said Kirkus. “In a series of numbered paragraphs, Shields explodes all sorts of categorical distinctions—between fiction and nonfiction, originality and plagiarism, memoir and fabrication, reality and perception. It’s a book designed to inspire and to infuriate ...

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2010 Best Books: Joe Louis, by Randy Roberts

by Gregory McNamee on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

Joe Louis could throw a punch so hard that, as boxers say, he could kill you and your entire family. At midpoint between Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali, he was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world for a dozen years, from 1937 to 1949, a time of depression, war and the first stirrings of the modern civil rights movement. In that last regard, Louis became a hero to millions of African-Americans, representing dignity and hope in a time when both were in short supply, commanding respect with his fists. As historian Randy Roberts observes in his biography of Louis ...

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2010 Best Books: Charlie Chan, by Yunte Huang

by Perry Crowe on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

“On the one hand, [Charlie Chan] embodies the racist legacy of American culture, which is racial ventriloquism,” says Yunte Huang. “On the other hand, embedded in this racial ventriloquism is also some kind of amazing, creative genius.” Huang, who came to the United States in ’91 with a bachelor’s degree in English from Peking University, first encountered Earl Derr Biggers’ “honorable detective” at an estate sale where he picked up two volumes of a Charlie Chan collection for a dollar a piece. He was earning his doctorate from SUNY Buffalo’s Poetics Program at the time and was drawn ...

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2010 Best Books: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

by Jamie Engle on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the debut novel from science writer Rebecca Skloot, is taking on a life of its own. Henrietta Lacks was a poor African-American tobacco farmer diagnosed with cervical cancer in the 1950s and treated at John Hopkins Hospital. Unknown to her, doctors harvested the cells for research purposes. Those cells proved to be “immortal”—and invaluable—to researchers, leading to important medical advances (the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping and more) and generating a multimillion-dollar industry. Skloot was first introduced to Lacks’ story by her high school biology teacher. That same year, Skloot’s ...

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2010 Best Books: Chasing the Sun, by Richard Cohen

by Peter Lewis on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

Supercolossal yellow dwarf, terrible and sublime, cosmology unto itself—the sun. What’s not to love? Richard Cohen is certainly smitten, and Chasing the Sun is a brilliant labor of love, a heady synthesis of the star’s influence on science, art, religion, literature, mythology and politics. “I had no idea of the enormity of the undertaking, nor did my wife, agent or publisher, and took almost eight years to complete it,” says Cohen. There is boggling range to his fascination and wonder with our solar system’s central star. Here, Cohen covers the art of navigation and the art ...

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2010 Best Books: Play Their Hearts Out, by George Dohrmann

by Sean Gibson on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

At the end of George Dohrmann’s grassroots exposé—the heartbreaking tale of Demetrius Walker, a talented young player led astray by his cutthroat coach—there’s little question that the system, a sullied morass of shady shoe company-funded coaches, confused and greedy parents, and ambitious but naïve boys, is broken. “I would never have guessed that [shoe companies’] viral marketing goals would involve kids in middle school, that executives at Adidas would be discussing…ways [Demetrius] could help them move product,” says Dohrmann, adding that “current reform efforts are a joke because they don’t curb the influence ...

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2010 Best Books: The Grace of Silence, by Michele Norris

by Molly Brown on December 13, 2010 | Question and Answer

Michele Norris wrote one of the best nonfiction books, The Grace of Silence, of 2010. Inspired in part by Barack Obama's presidency, the NPR journalist investigates race in America through the experiences of her family's, especially her father's, history. Here, Norris shares her five favorite must-reads about race in America:

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Michele Norris, Beyond The Grace of Silence

See the Kirkus Reviews interview with Michele Norris here.