Thursday, January 26, 2012


Last week's New York Times Book review highlighted the ten bestselling non-fiction books of 2011. Here, I thought, is a good snapshot of America.

Let's start with #10: Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, the story of the presidential assassination and its aftermath. Sounds like the kind of story I'd like to read, except the primary author puts me off. Unfair? Maybe. But I prefer my history from historians without a political ax to grind.

#9: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Read it and wrote about it here. A smart, honest book by an unbiased historian. Three cheers for Jobs; three cheers for America.

#8: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Don't know why I haven't read any of Gladwell's books; he seems to define a genre all by himself. I suppose I should slip one or two on the bottom of the pile, just to be au courant.

#7: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Seems like I read this book a decade ago, and here it is still on the best-seller list. As an author, of course, I'm madly jealous. Give this to Walls; it's a compelling read.

#6: A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard, the girl who was kidnapped at age 11 and held prisoner for 18 years. I'll skip this one, but I'm glad she's getting something to compensate for her lost youth.

#5: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, the story of the US ambassador to Germany and his daughter during the run-up to World War II. Read this on the recommendation of my spouse, and because I'd read and enjoyed Larson's previous outings. A smart book that fumbles to a close.

#4: Bossypants by Tina Fey. I'd probably like it. If Tina had been McCain's running mate last time around, I might have voted Republican. (Just kidding.)

#3: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Blogged this here. A generous, big-hearted book that recounts the history of cell research during the past half-century, along with the story of Henrietta. Amazing, and heartening, to see it here, #3, two years later.

#2: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, "an Olympic runner's story of survival as a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II." I know nothing about this book, but like the others above, it suggests that the American reading public has nothing to be ashamed of.

And then, after 50 weeks on the bestseller list, we come to #1: Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent, "a boy's encounter with Jesus and the angels." I've taken note of this book before. Where's Tina Fey when we need her?