By Michael Goldman
December 15, 2014
Last time, I focused on past and current books that explain history as it really was, rather than how we'd like to think it was.
On that list, I mistakenly omitted Zephyr Teachout's Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United. The title explains the subject. Teachout tells the many stories.
This time, I focus on a wider and deeper array of books, all of which I read this year, and now recommend to you.
First up: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette is the latest nonfiction work by one of my favorite authors, Hampton Sides, the author of three previous books I've recommended to readers -- Hellhound on His Trial: The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History, the story of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission; Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, a true story of the important but sadly forgotten role of Carson.
In his newest book, Sides explains both America's obsession with being the first nation to successfully send men to the top of the world, as well as the risks and failures of simultaneously attempting to prove what was then called "the Open Polar Sea theory." In the Kingdom of Ice is about bad science, poor luck and genuine bravery. Simply put, is a riveting read.
Another favorite author of mine is Mark Edmundson, currently a professor of English at the University of Virginia, who has roots in both Malden (my hometown) and Medford.
Mark's earlier works have focused on his understanding of how education helped him escape from a life of predetermined mediocrity as well as why education still matters today.
In his newest book, Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game, we discover how Edmundson "became a tougher, stronger young man, better prepared for life" yet also gain a true understanding of the good values the game of football can instill, and that there can be a dark side that we all have a responsibility to measure and fear. This is the book that lovers and opponents of high-school sports can read and both hopefully use to question their predisposed biases about sport and its impact on students of all ages.
My third favorite author on this year's list of best books of 2014 is the great Michael Connelly, the creator of LAPD Detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, and the only author I've never failed to mention any year I've prepared this list. Harry is, well, like family to those of us who have consumed every one of his creator's novels, and this year as Harry wobbles toward his inevitable forced retirement from the police department, we find him attempting to solve not one, but two cold cases for LAPD.
The book is called The Burning Room and it is the 19th Harry Bosch novel. I recommend them all.
Moving on, other great reads, in no particular order:
If you enjoy true crime, I recommend three books this year: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson; Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist; and Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann.
If music is more your cup of tea rather than mayhem, my suggestions are you pick up Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé by Bob Stanley as well as This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems by John Shaw. Both are terrific.
For lovers of the TV show Criminal Minds, I strongly recommend The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience by Kent A. Kiehl. Real life, it seems, really is scarier than TV fiction.
Lovers of history will revel in A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre; Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson and finally American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church by my old friend and fellow Leonard Cohen obsessive Alex Beam.
Sixteen titles. Sixteen great reads.
Michael Goldman is a paid political consultant for Democratic candidates and president of Goldman Associates in Boston.
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