Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009: Non-Fiction

The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal (McClelland & Stewart/Harmony) 291 pages
If half the things Dutch-born biologist and bestselling authors Frans de Waal posits in The Age of Empathy is true, it might just break your heart, even while it lifts it up. The world-renowned primatologist argues that, like all animals and despite societal evidence to the contrary, humans are wired for empathy. de Waal takes it all a step further, saying that, with a new American president and a new agenda, “Greed is out, empathy is in.” Whether or not you buy what de Waal is selling, The Age of Empathy is a thoughtful and even joyous book. “The emphasis is on what unites a society,” de Waal writes in his preface, “what makes it worth living in, rather than what material wealth we can extract from it.” I want to live in the world in which de Waal believes. Read this book and you will, too. -- Linda L. Richards

Along the River that Flows Uphill: From the Orinoco to the Amazon by Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt (Haus Publishing) 257 pages
“I’ve nearly died three times in my life -- which is funny in an ironic way, since I was once accused of never taking any risks.” This first line of Along the River that Flows Uphill sets the tone completely. We understand, just from that, that we’re about to embark on an adventure. The other thing that we understand is that we’re in the hands of a storyteller or, as it turns out, a couple of them. In 2005, the authors were commissioned to write an article for Geographical, the magazine of the London-based Royal Geographical Society. Their assignment was to travel the length of the Casiquiare River in Venezuela, the river that joins the Amazon and the Orinoco by apparently flowing uphill. One can see, however, where the material the pair were assembling might have overflowed from the article they’d been assigned. The book the two produced is both enjoyable and informative: and so much beyond the travelogue one might expect. It is creative non-fiction. It is literature. It is history. It is geography. It is adventure. And it is cracking good fun. -- Aaron Blanton

An American Trilogy by Steven M. Wise (Da Capo) 304 pages
I think it’s possible that the publication date of Steve M. Wise’s latest book was unfortunate. The best laid plans. An American Trilogy: Death, Slavery & Dominion on the Banks of the Cape Fear River was published about a week before the strain of influenza most popularly known as swine flu started getting a lot of ballyhoo from CNN and other experts in the art of the sensational. That is to say that the book was published at a time when even staunch animal activists weren’t feeling especially compassionate about the fate of pigs. And, really that’s a shame because, once again, Wise has written a trenchant and important book. Wise is a lawyer who has taught at Harvard, Lewis and Clark and other places. He is president of the Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights. And he cares very deeply about both human and animal rights, as he demonstrated in several previous books, including Though the Heavens May Fall and Rattling the Cage. In An American Trilogy Wise trains his sharp eye on Tar Heel, North Carolina, home of the largest slaughterhouse in the world, once the site of atrocities to African American slaves and before that home to indigenous Americans. At times, An American Trilogy is a difficult book to read. There are some things here a lot of people don’t really want to know. In the book’s prologue, Wise explains that he was deeply affected by the material that moved him to write the book. That passion shows up on every page, as he tells us, “In this book, I do not recite the atrocities we perpetuate on pigs. Instead, I discuss why we think it’s okay to inflict them. And that discussion will bring us to the study of history.” In that study, Wise examines why Americans accept the type of cruelty he shows us in Bladen County, North Carolina. More: he connects it with cruelty to native Americans as well as African American slaves. He does all of this with the style and grace that always marks his work. An American Trilogy is a remarkable book. -- Monica Stark

Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg (Hyperion) 401 pages
The say everyone has a story. Not everyone has the talent to tell that story well. Fewer still have the skill and experience to tell it both well and properly. Editor and journalist Steve Luxenberg has all that stuff and in Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into A Family Secret he invites us into the hidden places in his own family history. It really is a great journey. “The secret emerged without warning or provocation, on an ordinary April afternoon in 1995,” Luxenberg writes in his prologue. “Secrets, I’ve discovered, have a way of working themselves free of their keepers.” Those first lines hint at the magic that Luxenberg will weave with his tale, a story as compelling as anything found in fiction. After Luxenberg has written his mother’s obituary describing her as an only child, he discovered she’d had a sister who had been institutionalized. And not, as one might expect, when they were small children, but when the sisters were in their early 20s. Annie’s Ghosts is a meticulous reporter’s journey to put all the pieces in their proper place. But it is with a storyteller’s panache that he leaves us breathless while he spins his tale. -- Sienna Powers

Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller (Nan A. Talese) 592 pages
Ayn rhymes with “mine,” and that about sums up everything you need to know about the author and this wonderful biography of her. Though a few Rand bios have appeared before, Heller went farther and dug deeper to create Ayn Rand and the World She Made, specifically into long-closed Russian archives. (Rand was a nice Russian Jewish girl before she became a global phenomenon.) Through her girlhood poverty, to her early work as a Hollywood screenwriter, to her first novel, Anthem, then the ones that made her name forever -- The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged -- Ayn Rand and the World She Made deconstructs the author as never before, laying bare her writing process, her abominable extra-marital love life, which ended her own marriage and another, and the struggle to keep control of Objectivism, the philosophy that gives her books their scaffolding. Love or hate her, there’s no denying that Ayn Rand was a force of nature, and this book is like reading an amazingly detailed account of the storm. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown by Jennifer Scanlon (Oxford University Press) 288 pages
Bad Girls Go Everywhere is not quite the sexy tell-all of author and journalist Helen Gurley Brown’s life that the cover might hint at, but in some ways, it is a great deal more. Author Jennifer Scanlon is Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College, an award-winning teacher and scholar as well as the author of books with titles like Significant Contemporary American Feminists and The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader. In some ways this authorship -- as well as Scanlon’s academia-informed approach to the former Cosmo editor’s life -- makes Bad Girls Go Everywhere the definitive work on Gurley Brown. One can not imagine anyone exceeding it. Even though the book lacks the puerile tone and surface facts of biographies written with a more popular readership in mind, Bad Girls Go Everywhere is a very interesting book. Even without the author’s obvious passion and knowledge of her subject, Gurley Brown’s life provides plenty of fuel for a well-stuffed biography. Most surprising of all -- at least, for this reader -- was the fact that, despite her reputation as a tough-as-nails professional women who never ate enough, Gurley Brown emerges Scanlon’s portraiture as a second wave feminist. Someone whose contributions to the women’s movement and to her gender’s real-world emancipation are perhaps too great to calculate. Other books on 87-year-old Helen Gurley Brown’s life may well emerge over the years, but I imagine Bad Girls Go Everywhere will remain the definitive record of a remarkable journalist’s life. -- Aaron Blanton

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 336 pages
Until reading New York Times writer Timothy Egan’s latest work, I had never even heard of the Great Fire of 1910, which consumed 3 million acres of Pacific Northwest timberlands (an area slightly smaller than Connecticut) in only two days, and killed more than 80 people. But the drama and humanity Egan brings to that history make it hard to forget. The best-recognized players here are recently retired U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his friend and sparring partner, Yale-educated forester Gifford Pinchot, who together created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 and fought to strengthen its authority after Egan’s “big burn.” And the villains are embodied in U.S. Senator Weldon Heyburn, an Idaho Republican who “stood in the way of nearly all Roosevelt’s progressive initiatives,” and who sought to defund and destroy the Forest Service and turn all of the forests it managed back to industrial use. However, the real heroes in The Big Burn have to be the Forest Service rangers who, outmanned and outgunned at every turn, nonetheless fought valiantly to stop a disastrous blaze that had been wind-whipped and stampeded across acreage grown dry after months of sunny summer. While thousands of residents fled the danger zone, racing away on trains that threatened to tumble from charred and wrecked trestles, the rangers found help from prisoners released for the onerous duty of firefighting and a segregated U.S. Army unit that, against tremendous odds, managed to save one town and safely evacuate another. Although the final chapter of this book is a bit too reportorial, not quite matching the pace of what precedes it, Egan (best known until now for his 2006 book, The Worst Hard Time) shows that he has mastered the fine art of fetching new color and life even from history that never lacked for vividness. The Big Burn is nothing if not a scorcher. -- J. Kingston Pierce

Eiffel’s Tower: And the World’s Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count by Jill Jonnes (Viking) 368 pages
One French critic called it “an inartistic ... scaffolding of crossbars and angled iron” with a “hideously unfinished” appearance. Another denounced it as an “odious column of bolted metal.” Hard as it is to believe, the 1,000-foot Eiffel Tower -- built as the centerpiece of Paris’ 1889 Exposition Universelle -- was considerably less appreciated at the time of its raising than it is nowadays. In her entertaining new history, Eiffel’s Tower, Jill Jonnes recounts the myriad difficulties that engineer Gustave Eiffel encountered in finishing his monumental erection. But she also offers a three-ring circus of contemporaneous characters. Prominent among those is Buffalo Bill Cody, who brought his Wild West Show -- complete with stampeding Indians and sharpshooter Annie Oakley -- to the Paris world’s fair at the start of what would be a highly profitable European tour. Appearing here, too, is bad-boy newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett Jr., who lorded over what had been his father’s New York Herald, while also establishing a Paris edition of that broadsheet, which promoted the ’89 expo -- and eventually became part of today’s International Herald Tribune. Further animating this volume’s narrative are artists (including the tortured Vincent van Gogh and the mercurial James McNeill Whistler), and inventor extraordinaire Thomas Edison, who delighted Parisian dignitaries with his new talking phonographs. Jonnes notes here, as well, that the Paris fair was important in educating the French about their colonial empire’s foreign acquisitions. Quoting from one newspaper account, she writes that “Fairgoers were lured by the ‘smell of Oriental spices and north African couscous, the sound of Senegalese tom-toms, Polynesian flutes and Annamite [Vietnamese] gongs, the sight of Moslem minarets and Cambodian temples. In the bazaars of the large Algerian and Tunisian pavilions craftsmen fashioned jewelry, finely tooled leather and brightly colored tapestries.’” Amid such exotic enticements, it’s a wonder that anyone found time to scale Eiffel’s tower -- then the tallest manmade structure in the world. -- J. Kingston Pierce

The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names by Andrew Scott (Harbour Publishing) 661 pages
Though The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names has a very tight focus and thus would be of interest to only a narrow band of January Magazine’s readership, it is an absolutely splendid -- perfect? -- example of what a book like this one should look like and how it should be. The book celebrates the 100th anniversary of a landmark work by one Captain John T. Walbran called British Columbia Coast Names. Andrew Scott’s new book takes Walbran’s seminal work and expands upon it... exhaustively. “We navigate the world with names,” Scott writes in his introduction. “Names familiarize the world, make it intelligible to us, help us live in it.” And, as Scott also points out -- in words and deed -- the names that places are given are often a key to their history and so, in entry after entry, we cover the nooks and crannies of Canada’s southwestern coast and get to know it in a much more intimate way. Scott is a journalist, photographer, editor and the author of several books on the history of British Columbia. -- Linda L. Richards

Farewell, My Subaru by Doug Fine (Villard) 224 pages
One of the things that’s struck me about the green movement: it can be a little dour. And, actually, I get it. Really, I do. There’s a lot of serious stuff going on, after all. Climates changing. Polar icecaps melting. Food supplies dwindling. It’s all enough to put you in a really bad mood. As a result, a lot of Earth save-related stuff is strident. Unsmiling. You get the feeling you better put up or shut up: the planet is not going to save itself. If you’re not going to do something about it, you’d better stand aside or get trampled in the angry green parade. Farewell, My Subaru isn’t like that. The first hint, of course, is that title. A perfect title, when you think about it. A little bit romantic. A little bit evocative (the whole fossil fuel thing). Certainly a little bit fun. The title hints at all the things this book is and means and accomplishes. But it’s not an idle reference either. In fact, you meet the late, lamented Subaru at the very beginning of the book. The car is dying. And it’s not dying well. Author Fine watches it happen while wondering how much he actually cares. The opening lines of Farewell, My Subaru: “As I watched my Subaru Legacy slide backward toward my new ranch’s studio outbuilding, the thought crossed my mind that if it kept going -- and I didn’t see why it wouldn’t -- at least I would be using less gasoline.” NPR contributor Fine’s print work has appeared in The Washington Post, Wired and Salon. His voice is gentle, his humor sharp, his message clear. Farewell, My Subaru is an easy, enjoyable read. And that’s a good thing, because this is a book that everyone needs to read. -- Lincoln Cho

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter (P
enguin) 288 pages
When I heard Novella Carpenter call chickens “the urban farming gateway animal” on a local radio show, I cringed. I’d about had it with the twee artisanal food revolution here in Oakland, California. And now this person with the strange name had not only created a farm in an area of the city I wouldn’t drive through, she’d written a book about it. I bought Farm City with a sneer in my canning, confit-making heart, expecting my disgust with all the moneyed folks slumming it for cheap real estate and restaurant-level cookery to be validated. Instead I was charmed. Novella Carpenter is fiercely dedicated to farming her plot, a formerly vacant lot in what locals call “Ghostown.” Further, she is vehement in her defense of Oakland’s poorest, whom she lives among. People are free to pick her greens; she teaches the local children rabbit husbandry. Her pig-raising adventures will make you laugh aloud; the shrine to a young gangster’s death will make you weep. Along with her steadfast boyfriend, Bill, Carpenter raises chickens, turkeys, a couple pigs, rabbits, and enough vegetables to feed half her impoverished neighborhood. Written with humor, sweetness, and honesty, Farm City stands transcends the foodie genre. It’s just a plain terrific book. -- Diane Leach

The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser (Smithsonian) 272 pages
Art lovers and Bostonians know the significance of St. Patrick’s Day, 1990. That was the evening two men dressed as police officers talked their way into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and emerged 90 minutes later with art that is estimated to be worth over $600 million in today’s market. Stolen were Rembrandt’s only known seascape, Storm on the Sea of Galilee, and 12 other masterpieces by artists such as Vermeer and Degas. In his book The Gardner Heist, Ulrich Boser picks up the trail left by the thieves, interviewing the police assigned to the investigation, federal officials, and more than a few shady underworld types to try and find out what happened to the stolen art. Boser categorically rejects the “Dr. No” theory, espoused by many, that the theft was commissioned by a rich art collector wanting to hoard the works for himself. Instead, Boser believes that the heist was perpetrated by Boston-area gangsters and makes a credible circumstantial case in support of his theory. Still, the treasures remain missing, as evidenced by the empty frames still on the walls of the Gardner Museum. -- Stephen Miller

The Last Founding Father by Harlow Giles Unger (Da Capo) 400 pages
Harlow Giles Unger is one of those authors with the talent and skill -- not to mention passion -- to breathe life into history. You don’t have to read very far in his 16th book, The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness, to understand this. In The Last Founding Father, Unger builds a case for the importance of a vastly overlooked and underrated figure, America’s fifth President, James Monroe. Unger delivers his material on a wave of adventure and a compelling sense of importance. You won’t ever see the early history of America in quite the same way. -- Aaron Blanton

Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley (Twelve) 272 pages

Despite the fact he died in 2008, William F. Buckley, Jr. became the subject of two memoirs in 2009. The first and more prominently reviewed book was this one by his son Christopher Buckley, who is best known for satirical novels set in Washington, as well as for not necessarily espousing the conservatism of his famous family. Losing Mum and Pup is young Buckley’s story of the 11 month period of time between the death of his mother, the dowager socialite Patricia Buckley, and the force of nature that was WFB. In this affectionate but by no means artificially sweetened remembrance, Christopher Buckley shows many sides of his parents that are notably cringe-worthy: Patricia’s outright lies about her connections to British royalty and her family’s upbringing; William’s habit of urinating in public (and out the door of a moving limousine, to boot), and the fact that Christopher’s upbringing was largely subcontracted by his globe-trotting parents to servants. However, despite the occasional whiff of dirty laundry being aired, “Christo” as he was called by his father, manages to send his parents on a fond and moving farewell, noting that they were flawed but loving and highly entertaining. -- Stephen Miller

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen (Henry Holt) 363 pages
It wasn’t until I sat down to read Harriet Reisen’s biography of Louisa May Alcott that I realized, A/ How little I had known about this writer and B/ How deeply interesting her story might be. Because, when you think about it, it only stands to reason that her journey through life will have been an interesting one or, at least, that an author as well loved as Alcott has been in the 140 years since Little Women was published would merit at least one really great book about her life. Then I got more deeply into the book and my jaw dropped: there was so much more to Alcott than I could ever have imagined. Like a lot of people, I suspect, I really just had no idea. Here Reisen shows us Alcott the pulp fiction author (!), the poet and playwright. Alcott the actress, the activist, the Civil War nurse. Alcott the drug user who, as a teenager had crushed on both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau, who walked with the young Alcott on Walden Pond. Reisen, known more for her screenwork than for other types of writing, wrote and produced a documentary on Alcott that premiered on PBS during December. This is a remarkable book. -- Adrian Marks

Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line by Martha A. Sandweiss (Penguin Press) 384 pages
Clarence King was a famous 19th-century geologist and mountaineer, the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey, and the man who exposed the notorious (and, really, incredible) Great Diamond Hoax of 1872. Born in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1842, a confidante of the privileged, a friend of onetime presidential aide and future U.S. Secretary of State John Hay, and a bestselling author to boot -- “the best and the brightest of his generation,” as Hay pronounced -- King also led a secret life. For 13 years, while his real name was featured in newspapers and rode the lips of government officials in need of scientific expertise, the unmarried King engaged in a parallel existence as “James Todd,” a supposedly light-skinned black Pullman porter with a much younger common-law spouse, Ada Copeland, the daughter of former Georgia slaves, and a home and family in Brooklyn, New York. Feeling confined by the upper-class life into which he’d been born, King first studied and toured, and then daringly leapt the border between white and African America -- but never told his closest friends, or even his aged mother, what he’d done. Only after his death in 1901 were the facts of his double life revealed, thanks to a court case brought against his dubious estate by his black wife. Author Sandweiss, a Princeton University history professor, uses the story of Clarence King and Ada Copeland to explore the bigotry, economic disparities and racial “passing” pervasive in post-Civil War America, and raise the question of whether even King -- for all of his intelligence -- could admit “the paradoxes of his life.” She presents here a haunting tale, made all the more intriguing by a mystery raised in its later pages: Who was responsible for maintaining the payments on Ada King’s residence even after husband Clarence/James died? In other words, who knew about his secret life before the newspapers made it a sensation? -- J. Kingston Pierce

Right Place, Right Time: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement by Richard Brookhiser (Basic Books) 272 pages
William F. Buckley’s protégé at the National Review, Richard Brookhiser, produced his own remembrance of Buckley in Right Place, Right Time: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley. Jr. and the Conservative Movement. While Brookhiser lacks Christopher Buckley’s wit (not to mention a checklist of possible grievances), it’s Brookhiser’s book that comes off as more of a score-settling work. Hired by National Review at age 22 (his first piece appeared at age 15), Brookhiser was informed by Buckley that he would be the successor editor-in-chief upon the latter’s retirement. That promise was broken several years later, leading to Brookhiser’s decision to leave National Review’s full-time staff and begin work as a freelance writer (he has gone on to write a magnificent series of short historical works on subjects such as Alexander Hamilton and the Adams family dynasty). Brookhiser is smart enough to realize that things worked out for the best, but the sting of rejection by one’s mentor still clouds what is otherwise an interesting look inside the premier publication of American conservatism. The two Buckley books published in 2009 should serve as appetizer to the main course currently being prepared -- a full length biography of Buckley coming from New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus. -- Stephen Miller

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (McLelland & Stewart/W.W. Norton) 336 pages
David Small’s Stitches: A Memoir is fantastic. As good or better than the most celebrated graphic novels that it has been compared to. Stitches is all the more compelling because it is not a novel at all. Rather, it is a graphic telling of author and illustrator David Small’s early life. This is David through the Looking Glass as seen by David Lynch or perhaps Tim Burton, a dark and often disturbing graphic glimpse at a childhood that many of us might have thought was best left alone. Small takes us through the dark corridors of growing up in Detroit in the 1950s, the son of a radiologist father whose constant x-raying ultimately gives the boy cancer. And things go downhill from there. Stitches is a huge distance from the work Small is best known for. He has illustrated over 40 children’s books and won the most prestigious awards available to him in the process. It’s not hard to see why: Small is hugely talented and his understanding of visual storytelling is complete. -- David Middleton

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 480 pages
A horrible, brave, compelling and some ways awful book. And a brilliant one. You want to stop reading. You can’t look away. The topic has been covered before and it’s been covered well. But Tears in the Darkness is an expertly wrought passion play. One part history, one part journalistic retelling, one part literary non-fiction, Tears in the Darkness is likely the best (or worst, depending upon perspective) account of the Bataan Death March of 1942 when more than 76,000 troops under American control laid down their arms. “The single largest defeat in American military history,” the authors tell us. “The sick, starving, and bedraggled prisoners of war were rounded up by their Japanese captors and made to walk 66 miles to a railhead for the trip to prison camp, a baneful walk under a broiling sun that turned into one of the most notorious treks in the annals of war, the Bataan Death March.” -- Aaron Blanton

We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill (Ballantine) 480 pages
When a biography is very good and is also big and muscular, it’s common to compare the book to a novel. And what makes such a comparison valid? Certainly not -- or hopefully not -- a strong element of fabrication. Rather, how the book impacts the reader draws compare. A very good biography -- well researched, written with passion and competence, on a subject worthy of close examination -- will sweep the reader away. Take him or her to the special place in the imagination that good books inhabit. The characters -- or in the case of biography, the subject -- seem emotionally to leap off the page. They become real. If, in fact, this is what is necessary for a biography to be crooned over as novel-like, then We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals will be. Author Gillian Gill is that rarest of combinations: an academic who knows just how to spin a tale. She demonstrated same with earlier biographies of Florence Nightingale, Agatha Christie and Mary Baker Eddy. In We Too she tells the story of one history’s most important and complicated royal couples: Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort, Albert. Gill reveals a relationship much more complex than has popularly been thought. A passionate marriage, but one fraught with power struggles as well as a family trying to find its way through the confounding corridors of a life lived on center stage. -- Linda L. Richards

Why Does E=mc2?: (And Why Should We Care?) by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw (Da Capo) 264 pages
Exactly what does Einstein’s famous equation mean? How does time work? Are time and space the same thing? And how about mass and energy? What would happen if we could travel at the speed of light? If you have ever tried to find out the answers to these questions but thought the explanation would either put you in a boredom-induced comma or cause irreversible brain damage due to overly deep thinking, then you need to read Why Does E=mc2? Written by a couple of brainiacs with the propper creds to perhaps even outwit Albert, the book explains in simple, but not patronizing language, the whys and whatnots of particle physics and why it is -- or should be -- important to all of us. Can I even begin to explain a portion of some of the theories and scientific principles covered in this book? Not a chance. But if you read Why Does E=mc2? it’ll all be deciphered for you in nice, elegant, and often humorous prose. -- David Middleton

Where Underpants Come From by Joe Bennett (Overlook Press) 252 pages
New Zealand-based educator, journalist and travel writer, Joe Bennett, explores the intricate path a five-pack of underwear take from the cotton fields of China to his own suburban supermarket. It’s a humorous journey in some ways, and Bennett is a very good and often funny writer. But it also becomes a very interesting a comment on how much the West has come to depend on the East. It also inevitably raises some ethical questions about why, first of all, underwear should be required to make such a perilous journey in the first place and why, when they do, they’re much, much less expensive than if they were made across town. Every aspect of the book is riveting: the back country travel Bennett does in China in search of the roots of his underpants; his visits to various factories and, most importantly in many ways, his exploration in and observations of the new China, how it works and how we all fit together. Frightening, funny and fiercely interesting. -- Adrian Marks

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Blogger Pat said...

Always curious to know who makes up the lists of "best of" published books for a year - is that by popularity of being sold, or publisher's favoritism for profit making, or simply those that need to be "pushed" into the market for sales?

Or is it by customer curiosity?

Friday, July 30, 2010 at 10:05:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Linda L. Richards said...

None of the above: as you can read in the lead in to this feature, these were the books our writers liked best. Full stop.

Friday, July 30, 2010 at 11:50:00 PM PDT  

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