December 21, 2016

  1. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger

I didn’t have a slam-dunk favorite non-fiction book this year, but Betsey did. Sebastian Junger’s Tribe was far and away her top book. I found it an engaging, thoughtful, and honest combination of personal experience and cultural analysis. Here’s what Betsey has to say: “While I think everyone can appreciate the experiences of lost community and seeking acceptance, this book has helped me personally understand what happened to my brother, who killed himself a year and a half ago. It is a must read for anyone with a loved one who suffers from PTSD. Plus it’s less than 200 pages, like all books should be!”

  1. The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation, by Jonathan Hennessey, Aaron McConnell, and Tom Orzechowski

If you’re looking for a quick recap of this country’s struggles with the ideas of freedom and unity, Hennessey’s graphic novel is one of the best and most accessible summaries of history that I’ve ever read. The title refers to the Gettysburg Address, but the subtitle is actually more revealing of the book’s scope: “Using Lincoln’s words to tell the whole story of America’s Civil War, 1776 to the present.” If you have a few hours and want to better understand our current societal fractures, this might help explain them.

  1. The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, by Joseph J. Ellis

How did the United States get from the Articles of Confederation to the U.S. Constitution? That transition is the “second American revolution” this book describes. Good history scholarship brings historical figures to life and elucidates the way ideas, social trends, and individual motivations come together into choices and actions with wide-reaching impact. This book does all of that.

  1. Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, by Robert Reich

From the book review on my blog: “Saving Capitalism For the Many, Not the Few, by Robert Reich, is a succinct and scary look at the forces driving increasing economic inequality in the United States. Filled with clear, accessible examples and frequent pauses to recap and clarify key points, it is explanatory social science writing at its most effective.” See the whole review here:

  1. In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey, by Samuel Fromartz

This was one of Betsey’s favorites. She says, “In Search of the Perfect Loaf is a perfect book for a food lover looking for something on the lighter side. An unemployed journalist finds a niche market writing about his passion, bread baking. Ever wonder what this ‘gluten’ thing is that everyone’s talking about? Or have you ever wondered why bread rises (or in my case, why it doesn’t)? If so, this book is for you!”

  1. Yes Please, by Amy Poehler

If you are a fan of Amy Poehler from Parks and Rec, Saturday Night Live, or any of her other work, you’ll enjoy this memoir. She is her clever, honest, insightful, and hilarious self—and she’s joined by a few special guests if you listen to the audio version!

  1. Girl In a Band, by Kim Gordon

Betsey read many memoirs this year, and this was one of her favorites. She says, “This is Kim Gordon’s heartfelt and entertaining memoir about her struggles and successes as a musician (she was a member of the band Sonic Youth). She followed her dream, worked her butt off, and pretty much kicks ass. This book is an inspiration for everyone.”

  1. The Human Odyssey: 1400-1914, by John T.E. Cribb Jr., Mary Beth Klee, and John Holdren

This is, simply, one of the best textbooks I’ve ever used. If you’re a teacher or home school parent looking for a great history text for middle schoolers, give it a try. You’ll probably get engrossed and learn a lot yourself!

  1. March: Book 1, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

This is the first in a trilogy of well-drawn and historically accurate graphic novels telling the story of the Civil Rights movement and one of its most important protagonists, activist and congressman John Lewis. I’m very much looking forward to reading books 2 and 3.

  1. Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, by Ann Petry

This is another great resource for teaching history to middle schoolers. It’s a well-researched, accessible, and fast-paced biography of Harriet Tubman. You see true courage in the pages here and understand why this woman deserves to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the 20-dollar bill.

  1. Have Glove, Will Travel, by Bill Lee and Richard Lally

Bill “Spaceman” Lee is one of the most interesting, quirky, and honest figures in American sports history. He once ran for President on the Rhinoceros Party ticket and recently received almost 9,000 votes in his bid for the Vermont governorship. I expected this book to be just a straightforward collection of stories showcasing his trademark kookiness, but it is much more than that. Many passages stick with me for their insights, sensitivity, and depth. There are also plenty of fun baseball stories—and, yes, kookiness in spades.

  1. Brain Pickings, by Maria Popova

This is a blog, not a book, but it has been one of my favorite things to read this year. Maria Popova, its creator, says, “I’m a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large.” If you want to expose yourself to what the world’s greatest thinkers have learned and said about life, this has to be one of the best resources available anywhere.