I read some really great stuff this year, so when I decided to put out a Top 5 list for the year, it took some serious mulling over. The books I chose not only held my interest fully, but each of them offers a narrative engaging enough to hold anyone’s interest, history buff or not. So, here are my picks:
1. The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick – a clever conspiracy tale pulls the wool over the eyes of one famous Nazi and pretty much the entire European art community. You don’t need to enjoy art to appreciate this story…it might even be better if you don’t. Consider this book if you are already planning to see the forthcoming movie The Monuments Men.
2. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard – remember President James A. Garfield? Probably not, but you’ll never forget him again after you read this fascinating story about him and the broken nation awaiting him when he took office. Oh, and his delusional murderer is in the book, too, although he is the least interesting part.
3. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan – The “women of World War II” are usually given a nod onlyas hand-wringing mothers and housewives or, at most, Rosie the Riveter. The women of this story were not only relevant to the war effort, but pivotal. This story is not a feminist manifesto: men appear in the book and are depicted as sympathetically as its women, but the real story here does belong to the “girls” in the title.
4. Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent by Gabrielle Walker – the penguins weren’t the best part of the book. The author describes the culture of the scientists from the various national bases. She even overwintered in Antarctica, which is pretty hard-core, even for people who have worked on the continent.
5. The Houseguests by Mark Lijek – this is the story that inspired the film Argo from the point of view of one of the Americans hiding in the home of a Canadian national during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. Lijek ably describes the mood and culture of 1970s Iran, and he creates a tense narrative even though you know he survived to write the book.