Sunday, July 07, 2019

My 5-Star Year (So Far) of Non-Fiction

I'm one of those obsessive-compulsive book-lovers who keeps a diary of everything I read. I'll admit to favoring a good Southern-or-New England-or-England-Scotland-Wales mystery over most anything else, and I've read some darn good ones so far this year that rate a solid 4-stars. But imagine my surprise as I looked over my booklist since January to discover that the only books I've given 5-star ratings are non-fiction.

All of the authors are true storytellers, making complex information very easy to digest. Let me grab you by the collar, give you a good shake, and beg you to read:

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep. This one has everything - insurance fraud, lots of murders, a "preacher" named Willie Maxwell, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, a lawyer/politician named Tom Radney, Alabama politics, writer-struggle, surprises around every corner. It reads like page-turner fiction, and isn't that the best kind of non-fiction? A great story.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. I wasn't sure I would like this one because of the complicated subject matter, but I was sucked in immediately. This is terrific storytelling by author Keefe and really digs into all sides of the "troubles" and people involved. I learned so much in the most - dare I say? - enjoyable way. 

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence by Ronan Farrow. Who is this kid? Forget all the Mia Farrow/Woody Allen kufuffle. Farrow's just a babe (he's 31), but he's served as UNICEF Spokesman for Youth in Dafur/Sudan, a lawyer and member of the NY bar, interned in the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, was recruited by diplomat Richard Holbrooke to help oversee relations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, won a Pulitzer for the Weinstein investigation. And that's not all. But. This book - another easy read -  investigates the weakening of Amerian diplomacy and gutting of the State Department in favor of military solutions. This has been going on for decades but it's certainly been on fast track for the last few years.  The scariest part is that long-honored diplomatic training avenues have been virtually destroyed. This will haunt us for years to come. 

Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Want to know how real leaders do things? Goodwin's book is an excellent case study in how leaders are born, how they think, how they make things happen, and how they lead in the toughest of times. Love 'em or hate 'em, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and LBJ all exhibited profound leadership abilities, albeit in very different ways. Each faced huge, life-altering failures but had the gumption to overcome them. It did, however, leave me sad for where we are with leadership in this country today. 

My conclusion: it's all in the writing. Diplomacy? Insurance fraud? Leadership? The troubles in Northern Ireland? Every one of those topics could've been deadly dull - and I'm sure many deadly dull books have been written about all of the above. But these four books have been written in such a way to make reading them effortless and engaging. Now, go get 'em!