Last week, The National Book Foundation announced the 2013 long list for awards in four categories: Young People’s Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction. The foundation describes the awards as follows:
On March 15, 1950, a consortium of book publishing groups sponsored the first annual National Book Awards Ceremony and Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Their goal was to enhance the public’s awareness of exceptional books written by fellow Americans, and to increase the popularity of reading in general.
Since then, The National Book Awards have become the nation’s preeminent literary prizes, and The National Book Awards Ceremony and Dinner the most important event on our literary calendar. Today, the Awards are given to recognize achievements in four genres: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. The Winners, selected by five-member, independent judging panels for each genre, receive a $10,000 cash award and a crystal sculpture.
We’ll be compiling four separate posts, one for each category (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature). Below you’ll find descriptions for each of the ten nominees in Nonfiction. Check back for links to our review of each title as they become available.
Finding Florida: The True Story of the Sunshine State
By T.D. Allman
Over its long history, Florida has been many things: a native realm protected by geography; a wilderness that ruined Spanish conquistadors; a place to start over; “god’s waiting room.” With a native population as high as 900,000 (who all died), it became a pestilential backwater with a few thousand inhabitants, but today is our fourth most populous state, with nineteen million. The site of vicious racial violence, including massacres, slavery, and the roll-back of Reconstruction, Florida is now one of our most diverse states, a dynamic multicultural place with an essential role in 21st century America.
However, the remarkable story of Florida has been distorted and whitewashed. In Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State, journalist T.D. Allman reclaims this remarkable history from the mythologizers, apologists, and boosters.
Allman traces the discovery, exploration, and settlement of Florida, its transformation from a swamp to a paradise. Palm Beach, Key West, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando boomed, fortunes were won and lost, land was stolen and flipped, and millions arrived.
The product of a decade of research and writing, Finding Florida is a highly original, stylish, and masterful work, the first modern comprehensive history of this fascinating place. (from the hardcover edition)
Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami
By Gretel Ehrlich
A passionate student of Japanese poetry, theater, and art for much of her life, Gretel Ehrlich felt compelled to return to the earthquake-and-tsunami-devastated Tohoku coast to bear witness, listen to survivors, and experience their terror and exhilaration in villages and towns where all shelter and hope seemed lost. In an eloquent narrative that blends strong reportage, poetic observation, and deeply felt reflection, she takes us into the upside-down world of northeastern Japan, where nothing is certain and where the boundaries between living and dying have been erased by water.
The stories of rice farmers, monks, and wanderers; of fishermen who drove their boats up the steep wall of the wave; and of an eighty-four-year-old geisha who survived the tsunami to hand down a song that only she still remembered are both harrowing and inspirational. Facing death, facing life, and coming to terms with impermanence are equally compelling in a landscape of surreal desolation, as the ghostly specter of Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power complex, spews radiation into the ocean and air. Facing the Wave is a testament to the buoyancy, spirit, humor, and strong-mindedness of those who must find their way in a suddenly shattered world. (From the hardcover edition)
The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA
By Scott C. Johnson
What happens when a father asks his son to lie for the greater good?
Growing up, Scott Johnson always suspected that his dad was different. Only as a teenager did he discover the truth: his father was a spy, one of the CIA’s most trusted officers. And, as Scott came to realise, his father had been living a double life for so long that his lies were hard to separate from the truth.When an adult Scott embarked on a career as a war correspondent, he found himself returning to many of the troubled countries of his youth. In the dusty streets of Pakistan and Afghanistan, amid the cold urbanity of Yugoslavia, and down the mysterious alleys of Mexico City, he came face to face with his father’s murky past — and his own complicity in it.
The Wolf and the Watchman is a provocative, meditative reckoning on truth, deception, and manipulation, and the fidelities we owe to ourselves and to our families. It is also an intensely personal story of a bond between father and son that endured in the shadow of one of the world’s most secretive and unforgiving institutions. (From the hardcover edition)
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
By Jill Lepore
From one of our most accomplished and widely admired historians, a revelatory portrait of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister and a history of history itself. Like her brother, Jane Franklin was a passionate reader, a gifted writer, and an astonishingly shrewd political commentator. Unlike him, she was a mother of twelve.
Benjamin Franklin, who wrote more letters to his sister than he wrote to anyone else, was the original American self-made man; his sister spent her life caring for her children. They left very different traces behind. Making use of an amazing cache of little-studied material, including documents, objects, and portraits only just discovered, Jill Lepore brings Jane Franklin to life in a way that illuminates not only this one woman but an entire world—a world usually lost to history. Lepore’s life of Jane Franklin, with its strikingly original vantage on her remarkable brother, is at once a wholly different account of the founding of the United States and one of the great untold stories of American history and letters: a life unknown. (From the hardcover edition)
Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
By Wendy Lower
Wendy Lower’s stunning account of the role of German women on the World War II Nazi eastern front powerfully revises history, proving that we have ignored the reality of women’s participation in the Holocaust, including as brutal killers. The long-held picture of German women holding down the home front during the war, as loyal wives and cheerleaders for the Führer, pales in comparison to Lower’s incisive case for the massive complicity, and worse, of the 500,000 young German women she places, for the first time, directly in the killing fields of the expanding Reich.
Hitler’s Furies builds a fascinating and convincing picture of a morally “lost generation” of young women, born into a defeated, tumultuous post–World War I Germany, and then swept up in the nationalistic fervor of the Nazi movement—a twisted political awakening that turned to genocide. These young women—nurses, teachers, secretaries, wives, and mistresses—saw the emerging Nazi empire as a kind of “wild east” of career and matrimonial opportunity, and yet could not have imagined what they would witness and do there. Lower, drawing on twenty years of archival and field work on the Holocaust, access to post-Soviet documents, and interviews with German witnesses, presents overwhelming evidence that these women were more than “desk murderers” or comforters of murderous German men: that they went on “shopping sprees” for Jewish-owned goods and also brutalized Jews in the ghettos of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus; that they were present at killing-field picnics, not only providing refreshment but also taking their turn at the mass shooting. And Lower uncovers the stories, perhaps most horrific, of SS wives with children of their own, whose female brutality is as chilling as any in history.
Hitler’s Furies will challenge our deepest beliefs: genocide is women’s business too, and the evidence can be hidden for seventy years. (From the hardcover edition)
Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865
By James Oakes
The consensus view of the Civil War—that it was first and foremost a war to restore the Union, and an antislavery war only later when it became necessary for Union victory—dies here. James Oakes’s groundbreaking history shows how deftly Lincoln and congressional Republicans pursued antislavery throughout the war, pragmatic in policy but steadfast on principle.In the disloyal South the federal government quickly began freeing slaves, immediately and without slaveholder compensation, as they fled to Union lines. In the loyal Border States the Republicans tried coaxing officials into abolishing slavery gradually with promises of compensation. As the devastating war continued with slavery still entrenched, Republicans embraced a more aggressive military emancipation, triggered by the Emancipation Proclamation. Finally it took a constitutional amendment on abolition to achieve the Union’s primary goal in the war. Here, in a magisterial history, are the intertwined stories of emancipation and the Civil War. (from the hardcover edition)
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
By George Packer
A riveting examination of a nation in crisis, from one of the finest political journalists of our generationOur American democracy is beset by a sense of crisis. Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while leaving the social contract in pieces, bringing the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. In The Unwinding, George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, tells the story of America over the past three decades in an utterly original way, with his characteristically sharp eye for detail and gift for weaving together complex narratives.
The Unwinding journeys through the lives of several Americans, including Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers, who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider who oscillates between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire who questions the Internet’s significance and arrives at a radical vision of the future.
The narrative combines these intimate stories with biographical sketches of the era’s leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and with collages of headlines, slogans, and songs that capture the flow of events and undercurrents. The Unwinding portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation. Packer’s novelistic and kaleidoscopic history of the new America is his most ambitious work to date. (From the hardcover edition)
The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
By Alan Taylor
This searing story of slavery and freedom in the Chesapeake by a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian reveals the pivot in the nation’s path between the founding and civil war.
Frederick Douglass recalled that slaves living along Chesapeake Bay longingly viewed sailing ships as “freedom’s swift-winged angels.” In 1813 those angels appeared in the bay as British warships coming to punish the Americans for declaring war on the empire. Over many nights, hundreds of slaves paddled out to the warships seeking protection for their families from the ravages of slavery. The runaways pressured the British admirals into becoming liberators. As guides, pilots, sailors, and marines, the former slaves used their intimate knowledge of the countryside to transform the war. They enabled the British to escalate their onshore attacks and to capture and burn Washington, D.C. Tidewater masters had long dreaded their slaves as “an internal enemy.” By mobilizing that enemy, the war ignited the deepest fears of Chesapeake slaveholders. It also alienated Virginians from a national government that had neglected their defense. Instead they turned south, their interests aligning more and more with their section.
In 1820 Thomas Jefferson observed of sectionalism: “Like a firebell in the night [it] awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once the knell of the union.” The notes of alarm in Jefferson’s comment speak of the fear aroused by the recent crisis over slavery in his home state. His vision of a cataclysm to come proved prescient. Jefferson’s startling observation registered a turn in the nation’s course, a pivot from the national purpose of the founding toward the threat of disunion. Drawn from new sources, Alan Taylor’s riveting narrative re-creates the events that inspired black Virginians, haunted slaveholders, and set the nation on a new and dangerous course. (From the hardcover edition)
Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington
By Terry Teachout
A major new biography of Duke Ellington from the acclaimed author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was the greatest jazz composer of the twentieth century—and an impenetrably enigmatic personality whom no one, not even his closest friends, claimed to understand. The grandson of a slave, he dropped out of high school to become one of the world’s most famous musicians, a showman of incomparable suavity who was as comfortable in Carnegie Hall as in the nightclubs where he honed his style. He wrote some fifteen hundred compositions, many of which, like “Mood Indigo” and “Sophisticated Lady,” remain beloved standards, and he sought inspiration in an endless string of transient lovers, concealing his inner self behind a smiling mask of flowery language and ironic charm.
As the biographer of Louis Armstrong, Terry Teachout is uniquely qualified to tell the story of the public and private lives of Duke Ellington. Duke peels away countless layers of Ellington’s evasion and public deception to tell the unvarnished truth about the creative genius who inspired Miles Davis to say, “All the musicians should get together one certain day and get down on their knees and thank Duke.” (From the hardcover edition)
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief
By Lawrence Wright
A clear-sighted revelation, a deep penetration into the world of Scientology by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower, the now-classic study of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack. Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with current and former Scientologists–both famous and less well known–and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative ability to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology.
At the book’s center, two men whom Wright brings vividly to life, showing how they have made Scientology what it is today: The darkly brilliant science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, whose restless, expansive mind invented a new religion. And his successor, David Miscavige–tough and driven, with the unenviable task of preserving the church after the death of Hubbard.
We learn about Scientology’s complicated cosmology and special language. We see the ways in which the church pursues celebrities, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and how such stars are used to advance the church’s goals. And we meet the young idealists who have joined the Sea Org, the church’s clergy, signing up with a billion-year contract.
In Going Clear, Wright examines what fundamentally makes a religion a religion, and whether Scientology is, in fact, deserving of this constitutional protection. Employing all his exceptional journalistic skills of observation, understanding, and shaping a story into a compelling narrative, Lawrence Wright has given us an evenhanded yet keenly incisive book that reveals the very essence of what makes Scientology the institution it is. (From the hardcover edition)
Have you read any of the ten nominees for the 2013 National Book Award for Nonfiction Prize? Which was your favorite? Comment below!