Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall & Denver Moore (2006)
An inspiring, emotional, enlightening, and unforgettable true story. It’s written and alternately narrated by two men from completely opposite walks of life. Hall is a wealthy art dealer who owns multiple homes and hobnobs with only the wealthiest people, and Denver Moore is a homeless man who grew up on a plantation as a modern-day slave. Not only does this relate each of their life stories, but, more importantly, it is a loving tribute to Hall’s wife, Debbie, whose unselfish and compassionate generosity helped to bring these two men together.

It opened my eyes to aspects of America that I've never seen: from the lowest levels of poverty and cruel racial discrimination, to the most ridiculous levels of wealth and materialism. It also teaches some great life lessons of pure charity and unselfish, non-judgmental kindness. The world would be a much better place if we all had a little bit of Debbie’s compassion and willingness to give of ourselves for others.

Visit the book's website for more about this inspiring story.

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.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (2010)An inspiring and heartbreaking true story of two men named Wes Moore. They’re about the same age, and grew up in the same area of Baltimore, with similar backgrounds. However, they have ended up in very different places: one became a Rhodes Scholar, White House Fellow, and has a successful professional life; and the other is serving a life sentence for murder. This book explores and illustrates the struggles, temptations, and especially the influential people in each of their lives, from childhood to adulthood, in an attempt to figure out why they took such different paths.

I was really struck by the author’s summation: "The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his." At the end of the book is a “call to action” for each of us to do our part through volunteer work or donations. In that vein, he provides a Resource Guide listing many organizations that provide services and education to parents and children. Wes Moore, the author, knows he can’t save everyone, but he’s determined to do whatever he can to prevent more “other Wes Moore” situations.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Based on the eight pages of acknowledgments by the author, it can take a village to tell a story. And what a powerful, amazing, awesome story it is…

Born in 1917, Louie Zamperini was a precocious child, a prankster, and later a runner. He smashed California track records as a student at USC and raced at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
During World War II, as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, he flew combat missions in the Pacific Theater. On May 27, 1943, his B-24 crashed into the ocean. Louie and pilot Alan Phillips survived 47 days at sea, only to be captured by the Japanese.

Unbroken is the unbelievable story of Louie. The detail is amazing yet not overwhelming. Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit) has a wonderful storytelling ability that makes 400 pages fly by. And her story is fascinating in its own right. For over half her life, she has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. This Newsweek article provides more about Hillenbrand, her relationship with Louie, and the book.

You Don’t Know Jack

You Don’t Know Jack (2010) TV-MA
Al Pacino is outstanding, and completely convincing, in his portrayal of Dr. Jack Kevorkian (known as “Dr. Death”) in this film that traces Kevorkian’s life from 1989, when he performed his first assisted suicide, up to the time he was sent to prison in 1999.

Most American adults have heard of Kevorkian, and many have strong feelings about him, one way or the other. Despite the delicate and controversial nature of the subject, I thought the film handled it with dignity, integrity, and fairness. This film brings us “behind the scenes” with a number of his patients and their families, as well as showing his legal struggles throughout the 1990s. Definitely thought-provoking!

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.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
An engaging and thought-provoking read, this book tells the complicated story of a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s, her cells, and the scientific revolution they spawned. Henrietta Lacks was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where doctors removed some of her cancerous cells without her knowledge.

Known as HeLa (pronounced hee lah), Henrietta’s cells were the first “immortal” human cells. They keep growing – today, 60 years after her death, scientists still perform experiments on HeLa cells. Henrietta’s family had no knowledge of her impact on science until more than 20 years later; and even then, did not fully comprehend.

Skloot skillfully weaves the tragic story of generations of Lackses with understandable scientific information. Check out the author’s website for more on her journey and the book. Named the best book of 2010 by, it’s also a top ten pick of Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.

Attention 20-30somethings! We’re discussing this book at GenLit on Tuesday, January 18 at 6:30. We meet for dinner and discussion at Cooper’s Hawk in the Burr Ridge Village Center. Find us on Facebook to learn more.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis (2006)
Read the incredible true story of Baltimore Ravens lineman Michael Oher (pronounced OAR). One of thirteen children born to a crack addict mother, Oher spent his formative years on the streets of Memphis – times where neither the state nor the schools had any record of his existence.

But through a chance meeting with the Tuohy family at Briarcrest Christian High School, Oher becomes part of a family, attends school regularly, plays sports – and gets a chance in life. It’s a powerful story with many great messages (although I did skim over the lengthy descriptions of the development of the left tackle in the NFL).

Listen to an interview with the author and read an excerpt from the book at Be sure to check out the YouTube video A Diamond in the Rough. And have you heard? The film of the same name has been nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Picture and Best Actress -- Sandra Bullock).

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth (2009)
I adored the whimsical TV show Pushing Daisies, which I think may have suffered an early death under the weight of the writers’ strike. Kristin Chenoweth was one of the main reasons I watched. This vivacious, talented, perky, lovely, versatile, vivacious, sweet as her recipe for Butterfinger Pie – and did I mention vivacious? – singer and actress tells of her life from beauty queen to Tony award winner and beyond. Self-effacing and just plain nice, she writes sweet and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny stories about her life in and out of the limelight.

Listen to an interview with the author and read an excerpt at, read reviews at, and visit the author's website.

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 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 & and read reviews of Depraved at