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The Book of Samson by David Maine (2006)

The story of the Biblical figure Samson is told in a humanizing and darkly humorous way. Samson himself is a womanizing violent religious fanatic, but still manages to be a sympathetic character through his straightforward narration.

Check the catalog for The Book of Samson or for other books by David Maine.

Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy (2011)

In this impressive work, there is one book and 8 CDs, so you can read and listen; I did both. Mostly I read, and then listened to catch a vocal impression of Jacqueline Kennedy.

These first of a kind conversations with Arthur Schlesinger were recorded within a year of President’s Kennedy’s death. Jacqueline Kennedy, with her strong sense of history, documented and preserved her first hand recollections of her husband’s political colleagues, friends, and events as she remembered them. They were sealed and put in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library per her wishes.

Now in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s inauguration, the Kennedy family has released these insightful and revealing tapes. So much has been written and conjectured about this family; it is refreshing to hear the very human memories of Jacqueline.

Reversely, the life of Jacqueline and her perspective are also illuminated. She reveals so much about herself as she expresses her views of her husband. It’s fascinating.

There so many people that the average reader will often refer to the footnotes. I would also add that these are the thoughts of a young woman, steeped in shock and grief, who bravely tried to preserve her husband’s legacy.

Check here to see if the book is available now.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother by Xinran

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran (2011)
This is a powerful book that brings together the stories of several different women, all who gave up their daughter for adoption in China in the 1980s and 90s. The author, Xinran, deals with a terribly difficult subject with profound compassion and realism. Her love for these adopted girls and her understanding of the difficult circumstances of each mother is palpable throughout the book. I would highly recommend it.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011)
Biography fans will devour this in-depth look at the life of a man whose ideas transformed the modern world’s computers, music, phones, digital publishing, and even animated movies by Pixar. Jobs chose Isaacson to be his biographer since he did such impressive work writing bios of other famous men. Jobs gave more than 40 interviews to his approved author and insisted that he would neither read the book nor tell Isaacson to leave anything out. Photos of Steve Jobs’ life help to make the story come alive.

For further reading, see the author’s other biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger.

You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs

You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs (2009)
The holidays have you frazzled and frustrated? Then you can’t miss this Christmas memoir. Burroughs’ witty writing style will have you laughing all the way to 2012!

Looking for more books that will make you laugh out loud here is our list of humorous stories.

The Pacific

The Pacific (2010) TV-MA
This ten part HBO miniseries offers a realistic and horrifying view of World War II in the Pacific. The series is based on the memoirs of two marines who were there, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, and the story of Congressional Medal of Honor winner Sgt. John Basilone. Some episodes are devoted almost entirely to specific battles: Guadalcanal, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. Others show the marines on R&R in Australia, on medical leave, or in basic training.

The producers (who include Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg) purposely used relatively unknown actors so that the viewer wouldn't be distracted by recognizing well-known stars showing up in cameos ala The Longest Day (1962).

Check out the books that served as inspiration:
Did you know? The 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into WWII is Wednesday, December 7.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (2010)
Perhaps this book should be called “The Truth about Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt.” In reality, her life, filled with intrigue, danger, political upheaval, reads like an unbelievable adventure film. She lived by her wits with constant loyalty to Egypt.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff showcases her authentic research  in this remarkable work. The historical truth of Cleopatra’s life demands that she be taken seriously. You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate the way Schiff presents myth versus truth.

The way she saved her skin and her kingdom from Julius Caesar is one story; the way she tried to preserve that same kingdom from another Roman soldier, Mark Antony, is another. The ability to present the truth is Schiff’s strength. She was more than a steamy seductress; she was a power unto herself.

To find about more about the book check out this Q&A with the author.

Seldom Disappointed by Tony Hillerman

Seldom Disappointed by Tony Hillerman (2001)
I enjoyed his straightforward style guiding me through his WWII days, his military career, and how he wrote. It’s hard to imagine anyone would go AWOL from a hospital to go back to the war front.

For more about the renown mystery writer listen to this story about his life on NPR or read an interview with the author in Wild West magazine.

Life, On the Line by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas

Life, On the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (2011)
Famous for both his innovative cooking and beating Stage 4 tongue cancer, Grant Achatz (rhymes with Patches) co-wrote this autobiography with his restaurant business partner. Their five star Chicago culinary mecca Alinea has won many accolades, including Gourmet Magazine’s Best Restaurant in America (2006) while Restaurant Magazine boosted Alinea to No. 6 in the world for 2011. Chef Achatz has won numerous personal awards, including "Best Chef in the United States" for 2008 from the James Beard Foundation.

It’s amazing to read about the untold hours Chef Achatz spends at his restaurant and surprising that anyone can get by on so little sleep. His life experiences ultimately stress the importance of love, friendship, passion for your work and being your own health advocate, even if a fifth medical opinion is what it takes to get the help you need.

The book includes many photographs, but my curiosity led me to look at live footage of Grant Achatz on You Tube.

Attila by John Man

Attila: the Barbarian King who challenged Rome by John Man (2006)
Attila provides an interesting look in on those dark times in history that have not been well documented. The book includes ideas on how the Huns used advanced bow technology and mounted archery to raise havoc. Great insight on who the Nibelungs of Wagner’s ring cycle were. Good illustrations.

Take a look at this fascinating bio.

Jacques Cousteau by Bradford Matsen

Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King by Bradford Matsen (2009)
Fast reading and informative book about Jacques Costeau's 20th century inventions and discoveries. It is startling to learn that the undersea explorations and diving equipment inventions were due to Cousteau's desire to dive deeper and search the world's oceans.

There is enough information in this book to learn about ocean explorations in the 20th century without getting too detailed. Every person should read this book to understand that ocean exploration and space exploration are equally important and that space was done by countries' funding and ocean was done by a few good, curious adventurers! Very interesting insight into the personal life and personality of Jacques.

Learn more about this famous oceanographer and read the Seattle Times review.

Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
A chronicle of a year of grief as Didion’s husband, John dies at the same time their daughter undergoes a life-threatening illness. A story of grief intertwined with a tribute to marriage and motherhood.

Enjoy an NPR interview with the author and read The New York Times review.

Threads by Joseph Abboud

Threads by Joseph Abboud (2004)
Abboud presents a fashion designer’s personal story of life in the rag trade. Abboud redefined menswear by bringing a European look to American clothing. Born in Boston, his desire for affluence was influenced by observing how others dressed. His rise in fashion was a rocky road, and in Threads he tells all.

Check out the author's website as well as a preview of the book.

Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein

Fred Astaire by Joseph Epstein (2008)
Not a biography, but an exploration of what made Fred Astaire the American icon he is. Through an exploration of his sartorial style, his dance and singing technique, and the way in which he partnered each of his of his different female partners, Epstein makes an assessment of Astaire, the master of American dance. One chapter compares him to that other American master, Gene Kelly. A brief, but charming book for anyone who has either dreamed of dancing like or with Fred Astaire.

Read reviews of this book at Amazon.com and Yale University Press.

Depraved by Harold Schechter

Depraved by Harold Schechter (1994)
An excellent companion to Larson’s Devil in the White City, this book tells the almost unbelievable life story of 19th century serial killer and kidnapper Herman Mudgett, a.k.a. H.H. Holmes. He actually confessed to 27 murders, but some of the victims turned out to still be alive later. Others have placed the number at 200 plus. This book is a fast read, mainly because you won’t be able to put it down. H.H. Holmes America’s First Serial Killer, a documentary film by John Borowski, is based on this book. Get them both.

Learn more about the author and his books at Simon & Schuster.com and read reviews of Depraved at Amazon.com.