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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.

American Buffalo by Steven Rinella

American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon by Steven Rinella (2008)
When adventure writer Rinella wins a lottery to hunt and kill one buffalo in the wilds of Alaska, the story begins. Rinella has long had a fascination with the American Buffalo. As the story of his hunt proceeds, he stops along to the way to inform us on the natural history of the buffalo, its meaning in Native and European American culture, and its current existence. The adventure aspect of Rinella’s story is amazing. What some people will go through and call it fun! The history of the buffalo and the parallel history of America were fascinating. This is for anyone who likes adventure or natural history written for the interested lay person.

Read the USA Today review and learn more about the author and his adventure.

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 Amazon.com, 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 Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens' a Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford (2008)
Great fun to read about the astronomical success of Dickens' stories. This is an easy read which covers the career of Charles Dickens as well as the history behind The Christmas Carol . The book was published the same year Disney made the story into a great movie.

Learn more about the Christmas Carol and read The New York Times review.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson (2006)
Yes, this book is by the same author as the "Big Read" book, The Devil In the White City – the story of the Chicago's World's Fair of 1893, chief architect Robert Burnham, and infamous murderer H.H. Holmes.

In Thunderstruck, Larson takes us to Edwardian England and intertwines the stories of William Marconi and his invention and development of the radio, and Hawley Crippen, an accused notorious murderer. For most of us, Marconi was merely the answer to a question in history class. Yet this was a real man and his story is an exciting as he must struggle with his invention,  competitors, family and himself. Larson shows us what a dramatic change the radio made to peoples’ lives.

And what of the connection between Marconi and Crippen? Hawley Crippen was no H.H. Holmes in that he was only accused of a single murder, but his story was sensationalized by the press of the 1900s. The story of the murder, the policeman who "solved it," Crippen's flight on the high seas, how the radio was used in his subsequent capture and arrest, his trial and the aftermath make this a great read.

Listen to the author read an excerpt and read the New York Times review.

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco (2009)
How can we take time to learn from the past during a dire and urgent emergency? As both war journalist and cartoonist, Sacco depicts the bleak existence of Palestinians living in the Gaza strip with incredible skill. He documents his interviews and the situation in contemporary Gaza while trying to piece together the events of a massacre in 1956.

The entire investigative tale, with its demolished homes and weathered inhabitants, is illustrated in jaw-dropping, painstaking detail. Sacco captures the omnipresent grief, pain and anger, along with occasional moments of humanity and levity.

Read the New York Times review and watch the author interview.

Over 400 pages long, this is not a mere comic book. This is a hefty, eye-opening read that will tug at your heart.


Vienna 1814 by David King

Vienna 1814: how the conquerors of Napoleon made love, war, and peace at the Congress of Vienna by David King (2008)
After defeating Napoleon in 1814, the European powers convened in Vienna to determine the fate of Europe. The Congress of Vienna turned into the party of the century; royalty and diplomats traveled to represent their countries, but courtesans, tradesmen and others flocked to Vienna to get a piece of the pie.

Instead of being an open meeting of dignitaries, the Congress became a cesspool of backstabbing, underhanded dealings, and romantic liaisons. After six months of squabbling (accomplishing little), Europe had a bigger problem: Napoleon escaped Elba.

Read about how this seemingly unproductive conference led to the Battle of Waterloo, and how that led to a “spirit of cooperation” that remains unsurpassed.

Visit RandomHouse.com to read an excerpt, reviews, and more.

A Narrative of My Captivity Among the Sioux Indians by Fanny Kelly

A Narrative of My Captivity among the Sioux Indians by Fanny Kelly (1871)
Originally published in 1871, this is a great firsthand account of life on the frontier in the latter 19th century. Fanny Kelly describes a wagon train, an attack by the Sioux, her life among her captors, and by extension, their lives, and the story of what happened when she got back. This book has plenty of drama and action. Plus it is a historical snapshot of an America now long forgotten.

Preview the book, read reviews from other readers, and explore other "captivity" narratives.

How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein

How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein (2008)
Ever wonder why the Upper Peninsula of Michigan extends over Wisconsin? Or why so many of the western states have a similar shape and size? Or why Texas is so huge and West Virginia so funny looking? Author Mark Stein explores the reasoning behind the shape of each state.

It’s an interesting book, though not one you’d read start to finish. Stein has chapters on each state – I’d recommend reading a few chapters at a time. The book is filled with trivia and history and political shenanigans (and plenty of maps). Get a fresh perspective on events in American history and learn why Wisconsin always got the short end of the stick.

Browse the book, read reviews and information about the author from HarperCollins.com, and listen to an author interview from NPR's "OnPoint."

Pearl Harbor by Carl Smith

Pearl Harbor: The Day of Infamy by Carl Smith (1999)
This is Campaign Book 62 in Osprey’s superb series of combat histories. It is an extremely detailed yet concise (just 96 pages including appendices and index) telling of the events leading to and including an almost minute by minute account of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the US into the Second World War. It includes thumbnail biographies of US commanders Kimmel, Short, Stark, Marshall, Secretary of State Hull and President Roosevelt, and Japanese commanders Yamamoto, Fuchida, Genda, Nagumo and Ambassador Nomura.

Preview this book and read reviews from Amazon.

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin (2004)
This nonfiction book portrays an important but painful time in the development of the United States. In 1888, when the Great Plains were being settled by European immigrants and Eastern transplants looking for a better life for their children, their biggest battle was against the weather. This book recounts the momentous events when a blizzard swept down out of Canada and caught many schoolchildren on their way home from school.

View the reading guide and author's interview.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller (2001)
Fuller describes her African childhood in detail, from the death of her sibling to playing in the wild. Her British parents rather liked living in remote locations such as Zimbabwe and brought their daughters with them. At some points in the book, it is hard to believe that the story of Fuller’s very amazing upbringing is true.

Visit the publisher's site for more about the book and the author, an excerpt, and a reader's guide. See what The New Yorker says about the book. On Minnesota Public Radio's website, you can listen to an interview with the author and a reading by the author.

The 8:55 to Baghdad by Andrew Eames

The 8:55 to Baghdad: From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie by Andrew Eames (2005)
Author Eames is in Aleppo, Syria, when he hears a reference to Agatha Christie coming regularly to Aleppo to "have her hair done." Knowing nothing of Christie's first visit to the Middle East and her many subsequent trips with her second husband, an archeologist, Eames reads up on Christie and the history of the paths of the Orient Express and Taurus Express that took her on her original trip. The book is full of the trials on traveling by train in the twenty-first century, the many interesting people along the way and the often fascinating history and culture of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It will make you want to come right back to the library and check out the books (or see the DVDs) of Murder on the Orient Express and Murder in Mesopotamia.

Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King

Brunelleschi's Dome: how a Renaissance genius reinvented architecture by Ross King (2000)
This book describes how a fifteenth-century goldsmith and clockmaker, Filippo Brunelleschi, came up with a unique design for the dome to crown Florence's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore.

With the excitement of the Renaissance as a backdrop, author King tells the whole story from Florence. Brunelleschi’s bitter, ongoing rivalry with the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti to the near capture of Florence by the Duke of Milan.

To help you make this journey back to fifteenth century Florence, King includes lots of fascinating detail; the traditions of the brickmaker’s art, the daily routine of the artisans laboring hundreds of feet above the ground as the dome grew ever higher, the problems of transportation and the power of the guilds.

The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn (2006)
Author Mendelsohn searches out the history of his great uncle, aunt, and their four daughters who perished in the Holocaust. His travels take him to the Ukraine, Israel, Australia, and Scandinavia trying to locate survivors of the small town where his family lived. Finally, the author does find out what were the likely deaths of his six relatives, even standing in the root cellar some of them had hidden in. Mendelsohn believes that these personal stories must be told; otherwise these individual lives are lost to us forever.

Read an excerpt, listen to an interview on Boston's local NPR, get more details from NPR's Fresh Air, and read a New York Times review.