Mendelsohn’s Odyssey, Ward/Burns on Vietnam, & More | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Sept. 2017

Blum, Ben. Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime. Doubleday. Sept. 2017. 432p. ISBN 9780385538435. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538442. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR
Why would an upright young man, determined to become a U.S. Army Ranger, join with two fellow soldiers and two strangers the day before his deployment to Iraq and commit armed robbery at a bank in Tacoma? Blum’s cousin Alex claimed that he thought the robbery was simply part of the Ranger program’s push-to-the-edge training. But with the family shattered by his crime, Blum pushed further to examine Alex’s charismatic leader, Luke Elliot Sommer, whose demand for loyalty seemed absolute. Blum, who has an MFA in fiction from NYU, should offer gordonmichaelnarrative shape as well as personal insight. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

Gordon, Michael R. Degrade and Destroy: The Inside Story of the War Against the Islamic State. Farrar. Sept. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780374279899. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374714451. POLITICAL SCIENCE
Even as awful violence erupted in Syria after U.S. combat troops left Iraq in 2011, President Obama remained steadfast in his commitment to minimize America’s military presence in the Middle East. Meanwhile, we’ve seen the rise of ISIS—and the ongoing struggle to combat its presence without boots on the ground. Gordon, the New York Times national security correspondent, also a best-selling author (e.g., The Endgame), explains the issues President Trump will face. Originally scheduled for April 2017.

McPhee, John. Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. Farrar. Sept. 2017. 208p. ISBN 9780374142742. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374712396. REFERENCE/WRITING
A Pulitzer Prize winner in general nonfiction, George Polk Career Award winner, and longtime staff writer at The New Yorker, McPhee continues to define American journalism today; many of the students who have taken his course at Princeton, where he is Ferris Professor of Journalism, have gone on to significant roles in media. Here, McPhee gathers together everything he’s learned from decades of writing and teaching to analyze the writing process—which, as his title suggests, is all in the rewriting.

Mendelsohn, Daniel. An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic. Knopf. Sept. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780385350594. $26.95. ebk. ISBN 9780385350600. Download: Random Audio. MEMOIR/LITERARY
At age 81, retired research scientist Jay Mendelsohn decided to return to the classroom to mendelstudy the great literature that passed him by in his youth. To tackle The Odyssey, he opted for an undergraduate seminar at Bard College, not coincidentally taught by son Daniel, a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books whose international best seller, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. All was not smooth sailing, with Jay challenging his son’s interpretations in class, but on a Mediterranean journey retracing Odysseus’s voyages, Daniel came to learn secrets that clarified why his father was so demanding.

Parry, Richard Lloyd. Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone. Sean McDonald: Farrar. Sept. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780374253974. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374710934. HISTORY
Parry is perfectly placed to chronicle the aftermath of the earthquake-inspired tsunami that devastated northeast Japan on March 11, 2011. Not only did he win a Foreign Correspondent of the Year award in the UK for his previous coverage of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami but as the Asia editor and Tokyo bureau chief of the Times (London) he lived through the earthquake in Tokyo and spent six years reporting from the disaster zone. Here he examines the consequences of the tragedy and the sometimes unexpected ways that the Japanese have responded. He encountered, for instance, a priest who exorcises ghosts and returned repeatedly to a village where schoolchildren were not evacuated, a tragedy that for a time was covered up.

Sweet, Victoria. Slow Medicine. Riverhead. Sept. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781594633591. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698183711. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. MEMOIR/HEALTH
A physician at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital and associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Sweet came to our attention a few years back with God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. Here she recalls a time when she and her colleagues were physicians practicing medicine, not providers offering healthcare managed by too many administrators with a drive toward efficiency and the bottom line. And she makes a case for “slow medicine,” the kind that she has continued to practice, which focuses on bodies rather than data and leads to a kinder, gentler, more personalized and sustainable type of care.

Ward, Geoffrey C. &  Ken Burns. The Vietnam War: An Intimate History. Knopf. Sept. 2017. 528p. ISBN 9780307700254. $60; ebk. ISBN 9781524733100. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORY
Another big collaboration from Ward, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Parkman Prize, and celebrated filmmaker Burns, this work serves as the companion to a ten-part, 18-hour PBS documentary to be aired in September 2017. The authors interviewed U.S. and South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, and Viet Cong soldiers and their families, high-level officials in America and Vietnam, antiwar protestors, POWs, and more to show how America became involved in Vietnam and how that involvement split the nation. The authors aim not to take sides in what was a battlefield at home as well as abroad, but doubtless dust will rise. With 450 color and black-and-white photographs.

Waters, Alice. Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook. Clarkson watersPotter. Sept. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780307718280. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101906651. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR/FOOD
In 1971, Waters, who attended Berkeley during the fateful Free Speech Movement, did something revolutionary by opening a little French restaurant. Called Chez Panisse, it featured a single fixed-price menu that changed daily to take advantage of the best seasonal organic produce, something unheard of at the time that helped change how America cooks, eats, and thinks about food. Both a personal story—lots of anecdotes, recipes, photographs, and letters—and a larger account of seismic cultural change.

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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