New and Noteworthy in Non Fiction
at the Imperial County Free Library
By Connie Barrington, County Librarian
They do not capture the headlines, even if best-sellers. They are not necessarily by familiar or famous authors, even though several of the authors have won Pulitzer Prizes or other honors. Yet they contribute to our understanding of who we are as Americans, the situations we find our government in and, in some part, our humanity. The "they" in question are works of non-fiction available at the Imperial County Free Library.
The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration deals with the "exodus" of black Americans who moved from the South up north or west, looking for work. It spans the decades from 1915 to the 1970s. It has shown up in multiple "best 10" lists for 2010 and won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award. Pair it with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which is also still on best-seller lists. They both offer slices of 20th century America through personal stories, with Skloot narrating the development of today's gene "industry" from Ms. Lacks' diseased cells.
Another winning science-themed book is the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. All of our lives have been touched by cancer, to one extent or another. Mukherjee never forgets the human impact in looking at this killer disease and our race to eradicate it.
All of our lives have also been touched by post-9/11 security concerns. In what is sure to be a controversial book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David K. Shipler sets out to look at what he perceives as the erosion of the Bill of Rights, specifically the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments. His title states his premise: The Rights of the People: how our Search for Safety Invades our Liberties. Though he concentrates on what he calls "the domestic arena", this book will be very germane as we prepare for potential retaliation over bin Laden's death and to commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11th. Another take on constitutional review of laws comes from Justice Stephen Breyer in Making our Democracy Work, his book from this past fall.
Completing this brief list of fairly recent, but top-notch non-fiction, is Empire of the Summer Moon. Author S.C. Gwynne examines the Comanche empire and the role it played in restricting the nineteenth century push across the middle western area of the continent. He demonstrates the paradox of a loosely organized, "hunter-gather" level society mastering the art of warfare on horses brought to the Americas by the Europeans. For more than half the book, in riveting prose, Gwynne shares the post-Columbian history of the Comanches. He finishes with a biography of Quannah Parker, self-styled "Chief of the Comanches" who was both one of the most effective warriors of the "Indian" wars, as well as an example of a native American who adapted to, and in many ways played, the white power structure.