Monday, August 27, 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

By Mitchell

Not a weather report, but more like a book report. Or perhaps something like, "books, books, everywhere, and not a thing to read."

While researching an unrelated topic, I ran across this list by National Review of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century. The list of names on the selection panel are almost as inpressive as those found in the list. For what it's worth, I can say that we either own or have read 16 of the books on the list. Would anyone care to guess which ones they are?

It's hard to limit this kind of list to 100. I can't comment on the ones I haven't read, but of the ones I have I can't disagree with any of them. Wouldn't it be interesting to find out what books just missed the list? I can think of several I would have added myself - The Making of the President series by Theodore H. White, for example. These books, written every four years from 1960 to 1972, may or may not be good history - White was wrong about some things, naïve about others, and wasn't always as well connected as he thought - but this series is wonderfully evocative of a time and place in history when politics was more interesting, when it was actually fun to be involved. I wonder how many poli-sci majors cut their teeth reading about these campaigns?

Robert Caro's The Power Broker goes on the list, not simply because I've spent most of the summer reading it, but because it presents an unadorned picture of the lust for power and how the rammifications can affect generations to come. If you want a good idea of how our cities wound up the way they are, this volume is an excellent companion to one of the books on the NR list, Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of American Cities.

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn, Ball Four by Jim Bouton, and The Biggest Game of Them All by Mike Celizik are sports books that all deserve mention. The Boys of Summer, the beloved story of the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers, and Ball Four, the first sports tell-all book, present two different yet complimentary views of the national pasttime, and again it seems like an era long past. The Biggest Game of Them All, Celizik's story of the 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State college football showdown, literally comes from a different era, and tells us much about how sports grew into the media monster it is today.

A Night to Remember, Walter Lord's memorable telling of the sinking of the Titanic, has introduced generations to the wonders of the true-life epic disaster. If you're a Titanic buff, you probably already have it. If you aren't, you will be once you've read it. William Manchester's The Death of a President remains one of the definitive tellings of the events surrounding the assassination of JFK. Some will prefer Jim Bishop's The Day Kennedy Was Shot, but Manchester's book should be on the shelf if you have any interest in it at all.

And that's just a sample - I'm sure there are more on our bookshelves that I'm overlooking, but isn't this enough for starters?

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