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Non-Fiction Run-Off • March 2013
Help us choose the March 2013 selection to read for the MR Literary Club! The run-off poll will be open for one day.
The run-off vote is single-choice. A discussion thread will begin shortly after a winner is chosen.
In the event of a tie, the tie will be resolved in favour of the selection that received all of its initial nominations first.
Select from the following works:
The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming
The blurb from Goodreads:
On 25 September 1513, a force of weary Spanish explorers cut through the forests of Panama and were confronted by an ocean: the Mar del Sur, or the Pacific Ocean. Six years later the Spaniards had established the town of Panama as a base from which to explore and exploit this unknown sea. It was the threshold of a vast expansion.
The Conquest of the Incas, John Hemming's masterly and highly acclaimed account of one of the most exciting conquests known to history, has never been surpassed. From the first small band of Spanish adventurers to enter the mighty Inca empire to the execution of the last Inca forty years later, it is the story of bloodshed, infamy, rebellion and extermination, told as convincingly as if it happened yesterday.
The 2012 e-book edition includes an extensive revision and update of the text, bibliography, notes and other end-material, to report the latest theories and discoveries. It also has a new appendix about recent finds of Inca ruins in Vilcabamba.
The Amazon blurb cites several reviews:
“Distinguished by an extraordinary empathy, a feeling of one’s way into the minds of the sixteenth-century Spaniards and Indians . . . Provocative.” — New York Times
“An extraordinary book. Combining rigorous historical research and profound analysis with stylistic elegance, this work allows the reader to appreciate the tragic and fabulous history of the Incan empire in all its richness and diversity. It reads like the most skillful novel.” — Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature
In 1532, the magnificent Inca empire was the last great civilization still isolated from the rest of humankind. The Conquest of the Incas is the definitive history of this civilization’s overthrow, from the invasion by Pizarro’s small gang of conquistadors and the Incas’ valiant attempts to expel the invaders to the destruction of the Inca realm, the oppression of its people, and the modern discoveries of Machu Picchu and the lost city of Vilcabamba. This authoritative, wide-ranging account, grounded in meticulous research and firsthand knowledge and told from the viewpoints of both protagonists, “keeps all the complex issues to the fore . . . the deeper wonder of the conquest and the deeper horror of its results” (Washington Post).
“The bible for historians and archaeologists studying the final days of the Inca. For the past thirty years, The Conquest of the Incas has remained the most influential book for Inca scholars. There is no other book which is even in the same class.” — Brian S. Bauer, professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, leading archaeologist of the Inca
Doitsu the formatter gives the following description:
"When Edward William Lane (1801-1876) translated the "1001 Nights" he often added long notes at the end of the stories. His grandnephew Stanley Lane-Poole (1854-1931) basically recycled these footnotes for this book. Of course he continued the family tradition by adding his own elaborate footnotes.
The title is somewhat misleading, because even though the book contains many quotes from medieval Arab writers, Lane often interspersed his notes with entertaining anecdotes from his years in Egypt.
The book contains 11 chapters: Religion, Demonology, Saints, Magic, Cosmography, Literature, Feasting and Merrymaking, Childhood and Education, Women, Slavery, Ceremonies of Death.
IMHO, it's a treasure trove of Arabian trivia. Not only will you find out about the prophet's favorite drink and fruit, you'll also learn about naked saints and why Muslims aren't supposed to pray in bath houses."
fantasyfan has the Lane translation of the 1001 Nights in three volumes and can testify to the quality and interest of those utterly wonderful footnotes and thinks that this book is far more interesting than the title perhaps indicates.
South by Sir Ernest Shackleton
By the legendary Anglo-Irish explorer.
The book is of great historical interest, literate, exciting and accurate. Shackleton himself was a remarkably charismatic leader. As time has gone on his star has risen while that of his great rival, Scott, has dimmed.
Here's the review by Susan Paxton on Amazon.
"Although there have been a number of new books and reprints recently focusing on the Endurance expedition, this is the one book everyone should read, Sir Ernest Shackleton's own story of the tragedy he turned into a triumph. Shackleton fully covers the expedition from its inception, through the loss of the Endurance, the stranding of the men on desolate Elephant Island, the majestic small-boat journey in search of rescue to South Georgia, the many attempts to evacuate the men from Elephant Island, and the little-known story of the Ross Sea Party of the expedition, who established a base on the opposite side of the Antarctic continent to lay depots for the planned Antarctic crossing and in spite of horrible deprivation caused when their ship was swept out to sea in a storm, managed to complete all their work laying the groundwork for a trip that never happened. After rescuing his men on Elephant Island, Shackleton had to rescue this party as well, something pretty much ignored in most modern books about the expedition. Very much worth reading. . . . "
And here's an extract from the preface to give you an idea of his style. He discusses the attempt to cross the Antarctic continent:
"We failed in this object, but the story of our attempt is the subject for the following pages, and I think that though failure in the actual accomplishment must be recorded, there are chapters in this book of high adventure, strenuous days, lonely nights, unique experiences, and, above all, records of unflinching determination, supreme loyalty, and generous self-sacrifice on the part of my men which, even in these days that have witnessed the sacrifices of nations and regardlessness of self on the part of individuals, still will be of interest to readers who now turn gladly from the red horror of war and the strain of the last five years to read, perhaps with more understanding minds, the tale of the White Warfare of the South. The struggles, the disappointments, and the endurance of this small party of Britishers, hidden away for nearly two years in the fastnesses of the Polar ice, striving to carry out the ordained task and ignorant of the crises through which the world was passing, make a story which is unique in the history of Antarctic exploration."
It's in the public domain and available right here in the Mobile Read Library.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
It's available as an ebook and at libraries via Overdrive. It won the National Book Award in 2012.
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century's great, unequal cities.
In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees "a fortune beyond counting" in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter--Annawadi's "most-everything girl"--will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call "the full enjoy."
But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths,the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.
With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century's hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.
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I'll be almost equally happy with any of them winning, but I'm pulling for Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
Its abstract mentions a few of these, but it is a very highly regarded book. Boo has won the Pulitzer and received the MacArthur "Genius" grant, the book won the National Book Award and it was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. In addition it's also appeared on numerous best-of lists:
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times • The Washington Post • O: The Oprah Magazine • USA Today • New York • The Miami Herald • San Francisco Chronicle • Newsday
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New Yorker • People • Entertainment Weekly • The Wall Street Journal • The Boston Globe • The Economist • Financial Times • Newsweek/The Daily Beast • Foreign Policy • The Seattle Times • The Nation • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Denver Post • Minneapolis Star Tribune • Salon • The Plain Dealer • The Week • Kansas City Star • Slate • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly
And here's another review of the book:
Katherine Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling, cockeyed settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport. From within this “sumpy plug of slum” Boo unearths stories both tragic and poignant--about residents’ efforts to raise families, earn a living, or simply survive. These unforgettable characters all nurture far-fetched dreams of a better life. As one boy tells his brother: “Everything around us is roses. And we’re like the s**t in between.” A New Yorker writer and recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “Genius” grant, Boo’s writing is superb and the depth and courage of her reporting from this hidden world is astonishing. At times, it’s hard to believe this is nonfiction. --Neal Thompson
I read Behind the Beautiful Forevers and really wanted to like it, but I didn't agree with all the praise...Its well written, but it might be that I live in India so know a bit more on its realities than the obviously targeted US readers... but here is a quote from Economist
JOURNALISTS delight in metaphors that sum up an entire story with one striking image. In Mumbai, itself a neat nutshell of India's extremes, this image is served on a platter: the shiny towers that rise from a sprawl of squalid slums, the two inevitably “jostling for space” in globalising India. This picture is deployed for all sorts of stories, whether social, political or economic, and in any number of publications including this one.
Katherine Boo, a staff writer at the New Yorker and winner of the Pulitzer prize, has written about poverty for two decades. She is not immune to the power of this image of extremes. But instead of using it as a backdrop, her first book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”, makes the metaphor the story. Why, she wonders, is this juxtaposition of wealth and poverty considered a moral problem and not a practical one? How does it persist? “Why don't more of our unequal societies implode?”
review at http://www.economist.com/node/21547767
Phew - that was tough! I am fascinated by the Hemming book but haven't been able to locate a copy, so I finished up voting for South. I have downloaded Arabian Society from the library as well for reading whether it wins or not, as it sounds very interesting too.