If there’s a movie called Four Minutes about the quest for the 4-minute
If there’s a movie called Four Minutes about the quest for the 4-minute mile, why not a book called Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon?
James A. Michener had his Tales of the South Pacific. Now comes Simon Winchester—an equally engaging storyteller—with his tales of the vast Pacific, all 64 million square miles of it. To make such a gargantuan subject manageable, he selects specific events which he says symbolize larger cultural, political and scientific truths about the region.
“I was a stranger,” writes Julie Checkoway in her preamble to this nearly lost story of a remarkable Maui swimming coach, “but it seemed to me that someone ought to try to save it.” Save the story she has, through exhaustive research and sparkling prose.
A.E. Hotchner’s Hemingway in Love is a poignant postscript to A Moveable Feast, particularly to Hemingway’s bittersweet last chapter. Hotchner, now 95, was Hemingway’s younger friend and Boswell, notebook at the ready, accompanying Papa to all the iconic haunts: Venice, Paris, Pamplona, Key West. He wrote a full biography of his mentor soon after Hemingway’s suicide. In this late memoir, Hotchner wants finally to give Hemingway his say about his one true love: Hadley, his first wife, the Paris wife.
Home Is Burning is perhaps the funniest book about dying I’ve ever read. Dan Marshall deftly chronicles the months he and his four younger siblings dealt with the terminal illness of not one but both of their parents. His beloved father, Bob, has held the family together for more than a decade while his mom, Debi, fights non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So when Bob is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), it’s a punch in the gut for a family already dealing with bad news.
Subversive historian Sarah Vowell offers another idiosyncratic chronicle of our nation’s coming-of-age with Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. This lively account of the Marquis de Lafayette and the American Revolution is of a piece with Vowell’s previous books, which include Assassination Vacation (2005), a tour of sites dedicated to murdered American presidents, and The Wordy Shipmates (2008), a raucous look at the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These seem like sober subjects, but Vowell enlivens the proceedings with her prickly persona, her thing for slang and her taste for recondite factoids of Americana.
Frederick Forsyth, former RAF pilot and journalist for Reuters, spoke four languages, enjoyed his share of cigarettes and liquor, toyed with members of the East German Stasi, slept with the mistress of a high-powered Communist official and covered a civil war in Nigeria. All before the age of 30. Forsyth shares his adventures in his entertaining new memoir, The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, a fast-paced account of his career from post-World War II Europe through the Cold War and on to the present.
An imposing book by virtue of size alone, the 640-page Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives is also decidedly ambitious. The dual biography explores the profoundly different paths taken by two iconic and influential German artists in the years before and after Hitler’s rise to power.
James Holland’s The Rise of Germany, 1939-1941, the first of a planned three-volume series called The War in the West, is a great example of how a re-examination of historical accounts leads to new insights that urge us to reconsider the common wisdom about one of the most well-documented wars in history.
The stupendously wealthy 5th Duke of Portland had a very weird obsession: building underground. At his order, tunnels, a ballroom, a church and a vast network of chambers were constructed underneath his estate at Welbeck Abbey in England. It might also be said he lived an underground life, avoiding human contact whenever possible. He communicated with his servants by written message and traveled mostly at night, with a lantern attached to his belt.