Monday, July 14, 2014

new kings on the block

I finished another great book this afternoon by the pool. The New Kings of Nonfiction is an anthology of the best nonfiction writers of our time, according to Ira Glass, who wrote the introduction. If This American Life had a collection of Greatest Hits in writing, it would be this book. Featured writers include: Jack Hitt, Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, James McManus, Dan Savage, Chuck Klosterman, David Foster Wallace, Coco Henson Scales, Mark Bowden, Lawrence Weschler, Bill Buford, Susan Orlean, Lee Sandlin and Michael Pollan. This book covers a range of topics from talk radio, the cattle industry, poker, Saddam Hussein and other unrelated people/places/things. Every single story was well-done and I learned a few or many things about a new topic. I have read books by several of these authors and their pieces were some of my favorites, including Malcolm Gladwell's "Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg," which explains how we know everyone and how you get to know everyone. My two favorite pieces were by authors I had never read until this book- Mark Bowden and Lee Sandlin. Mark Bowden wrote a fascinating article on the life of Saddam Hussein- his daily routine and his rise to power. Here is an excerpt from his piece: 

Walls define the tyrant's world. they keep his enemies out, but they also block him off from the people he rules. In time he can no longer see out. he loses touch with what is real and what is unreal, what is possible and what is not- or, as in the case of Qanbar and the wall, what is just barely possible. His ideas of what his power can accomplish, and of his own importance, bleed into fantasy

Secondly, Lee Sandlin wrote what was surprisingly my favorite story in the whole anthology. Entitled, "Losing the War" Lee Sandlin wrote about the effects of World War II on veterans and how the war was viewed in the United States. I'm not a big history buff, and rarely enjoy pieces about war, fiction or non, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Sandlin's article. I found it extremely thought-provoking and Sandlin wrote how I feel we feel about war:

People my age and younger who've grown up in the American heartland can't help but take for granted that war is unnatural. We think of the limitless peace around us as the baseline condition of life. all my life I've heard people say "war is insanity" in tones of dramatic insight and final wisdom.

also loved: 

Whenever people talk about the meaning of history somebody brings up that old bromide from Santayana, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But that's nonsense. the circumstances that created an event like World War II couldn't be duplicated no matter how many millennia of amnesia intervened.
Besides, even if we did want to follow Santayana's advice and remember the war, how could we do it? too much of its detail and complexity is already gone, even at this narrow distance. As Thomas Browne wrote, "There is no antidote to the opium of time." there are warehouses of secret wartime documents still scattered in nondescript factory districts all over the world- stacks of debriefings from some nameless Pacific island that fifty years ago was swallowed up in an artillery barrage. No one will ever unearth them all and produce a final accounting of the war- any more than the world will finally achieve justice for the war's innumerable, officially sanctioned crimes. Oblivion has always been the most trustworthy guardian of classified files.

I don't know about you but I always feel a great sense of accomplishment when I finish a solid nonfiction book. You will feel that sense of accomplishment after this one, I promise! I learned so much but was entertained and interested the whole time. Read this and learn something. And get a Goodreads account.

1 comment:

  1. sounds like such a cool & interesting book. thanks for sharing, definitely will need to check it out!