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Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior


Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior.

I was captivated by “extraordinary life” of this woman of God, “best-selling poet, novelist, and playwright, friend of the famous, practical philanthropist, and moral conscience of a nation.” Hannah More may be a forgotten woman nowadays, but she was far from unknown in late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England and even throughout Europe and America. She was a protege of the eminent Dr. Samuel Johnson, close friends with the famous actor David Garrick and his wife, a co-laborer with the abolitionist William Wilberforce, and acquainted with almost all of the eminent writers and evangelical gentle women and men of her day. She wrote multiple volumes of letters, essays, tracts, stories, plays, and one best-selling novel. She influenced the abolitionist movement to end the British slave trade, the animal welfare movement, the Sunday School movement, and the efforts of anti-poverty reformers and literacy activists.

In fact, she would be something of a patron saint, if Protestants had such saints, for those interested in the promotion of literacy and reading. She opened Sunday Schools in many poverty-stricken communities and villages where no school of any kind was to be found. These Sunday Schools were not just pretty little Bible story times, but rather full-fledged schools for the poor and illiterate which met on Sundays because that was the only day when poor children and adults did not have to work all day long. She also wrote books and tracts and story papers for the poor and for the burgeoning middle class. Her stories and poems were generally pleas for morality with a neat a little lesson or message embedded therein, a style of writing that’s somewhat out of fashion now but was very much in vogue in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Hannah More was a witty woman with a ready tongue, but tamed somewhat by her allegiance to the Lord Jesus. Here are a few Hannah More quotations that I found delightful:

On the poet Alexander Pope, who is buried, according to his wishes, at St. Mary’s Church in Twickenham instead of at Westminster Abbey: “You will easily believe, madam, that I could not leave Twickenham without paying a visit to the hallowed tomb of my beloved bard. For this purpose I went to the church, and easily found the monument of one who would not be buried in Westminster Abbey. . . . Pope,I suppose, would rather be the first ghost at Twickenham than an inferior one at Westminster Abbey.”

On Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “. . . he is an entertaining and philosophic historian, yet, as Ganganelli said to Count Algarotti, ‘I wish these shining wits, in spite of all their philosophy, would manage matters so that one might hope to meet them in heaven; for one is very sorry to be deprived of such agreeable company to all eternity.’ It requires an infinite degree of credulity to be an infidel.”

On Dr. Samuel Johnson: “In Dr. Johnson some contrarieties very harmoniously meet; if he has too little charity for the opinions of others, and too little patience with their faults, he has the greatest tenderness for their persons. He told me the other day he hated to hear people whine about metaphysical distresses, when there was so much want and hunger in the world.”

On reading and writing: “I read four or five hours every day, and wrote ten hours yesterday.”

On Sir Joshua Reynolds’ painting of Samuel from the Old Testament: “I love this great genius for not being ashamed to take his subjects from the most unfashionable of all books.”

Hannah More is most associated with the literary, artistic, and political community that established itself at a place called Clapham and became known as the Clapham Sect, although they were not a sect and not all of the members actually lived at Clapham. They were a group of evangelical Christians with in the Church of England who worked together to bring about the abolition of the slave trade and the reform of what they called “manners”, what we now would call culture or worldview in action.

The greatest value of this little book, aside from reviving the memory of a forgotten saint, is to give a sort of generalized pattern for Christian community that can begin to change the world, as the often trite phrase is. These people—Wilberforce, his cousin Henry Thornton, preacher John Newton, Hannah More, publisher Zachary Macaulay, abolitionist James Stephen, poet William Cowper, and other perhaps less famous—worked together as a community, each using his or her own special gifts, to promote various causes and reforms that they saw as advancing benevolence and the cause of Christ. They fought against the slave trade by preaching, writing poetry and essays, publishing tracts and pamphlets, promoting the boycott of East Indian slave-produced sugar, producing art and decoration that illustrated the plight of the slaves, making speeches, and introducing legislation to abolish slavery and the slave trade into Parliament again and again and yet again. They took up other causes at the same time, and they endeavored to live out their Christian commitment in relation to one another and to the world at large. They truly “spurred one another on to good works.”

It seems to me that such a group could be an inspiration to those of us today who want to work together to do our own small part in advancing the kingdom of God. The Clapham sect were not a commune. They did not live monastically. They were not exclusive. They worked with others, such as Horace Walpole and Sir William Pitt, who did not share all of their beliefs. And yet they were a force to be reckoned with in merry old Georgian England. If the Inklings are a model of Christian literary community, Hannah More and the Clapham sect are another example to which we can look and from which we can learn. I would love to hear from others who have read the book and who see ways that we in our day and time could use what they did to revitalize our culture and nation.

Ideas anyone?

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North Korea in Books


North Korea is notoriously the most closed society and country in the world. I couldn’t take a trip there even if I wanted to or had the money to go.However, reading these books about North Korea and North Korean defectors made me want to know more —and inspired me to pray for those who are trapped in Kim Jong Eun’s “socialist paradise.”

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden. The man is Shin Dong-hyuk. His story is just about as intense and harrowing as that of Louis Zamperini of Unbroken fame, but Shin’s story of torture, tyranny, and brainwashing begins from the time of his earliest memories. Shin was born in North Korea’s infamous Camp 14 to parents who were matched and allowed by the authorities to reproduce in a very limited way, to parents whom he never learned to love and from whom he received very little love or encouragement himself. He is the only known prisoner to have successfully escaped from a “total-control zone” prison camp in North Korea alive. Here you can hear a taste of Shin’s story in his own words:

Shin Dong-Hyuk’s story is not over, or even near over, and it remains to be seen what God will do in his life.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick follows the lives of six north Koreans (and their families to some extent) over the course of about fifteen years, from the early 1990’s until 2009. All are former residents of the city of Chongjin, located in the northern part of North Korea near the border with China. All six escaped North Korea to go first to China, then to South Korea. Ms. Demick, a journalist who spent some time living in Seoul and covering both Koreas, interviewed these defectors and worked to understand and enter into their lives to write this book about the famine in North Korea that extended through the last decade of the twenty-first century as it was experienced by average people in that country. The title comes from the children’s theme song of the 1970 North Korean film We Have Nothing to Envy in the World. The irony is inescapable as one reads of children eating grass and tree bark to fill their stomachs and old people dying quietly of starvation. The people of North Korea, for the most part, actually do have nothing to envy because information is so tightly controlled and limited that they don’t even know that the rest of the world does not share the harsh conditions that their succession of dictators, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and now Kim Jong Eun, have inflicted upon them.

I plan to read more about North Korea soon, including the following books:

Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick.
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.
The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom by Blaine Harden (the same author who wrote Escape from Camp 14).

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Lone Journey by Jeanette Eaton


Lone Journey: The Life of Roger Williams by Jeanette Eaton. Illustrated by Woodi Ishmael.

Four of Jeanette Eaton’s books received the Newbery Honor (runner-up), but her books, mostly biographies for young adults, never won the Newbery Medal. Lone Journey was published in 1944, and was a Newbery Honor book in 1945.

I found the book quite fascinating in its portrait of a man who was ahead of his times in many ways. Roger Williams began life in an orthodox Church of England family, became a Puritan as a youth, and then moved on to become a separatist and a dissenter who certainly preached and believed in Christ but eschewed all churches and denominations as holding undue sway and authority over the conscience of the individual. Williams, according to the book, made a life study of government and the relationship of church and state, and he came to the conclusion that the civil authority and the church were to be wholly separate, ruling in different spheres, and that the individual conscience before God was to reign supreme in matters of religion.

Betsy-Bee just read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter for her English class, and we had a good discussion of which of God’s laws were to be enforced by the state (laws against murder and theft and others of what Williams would call “civil crimes”), which laws should be enforced by the church upon church members (laws against gossip, profanity, adultery, and other sins, perhaps?), and which laws were up to the individual before God. Or should the church become involved at all when its members sin against one another? How should the church discipline its members, if it does?

The Massachusetts Bay colony and its leaders eventually banished Roger Williams, but his exile turned out to be a blessing in disguise, even though it entailed much hardship, since he was able to found a colony in which:

“We have no law among us, whereby to punish any for only declaring by words theire mindes and understandings concerning the things and ways of God.”

In a letter to a friend, Roger Williams wrote of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations:

” . . . We have long drunk of the cup of as great liberties as any people that we can hear of under the whole heaven. We have not only long been free (together with a New England) from the iron yolk of wolfish bishops, and their popish ceremonies, but we have sitten quiet and dry from the streams of good spilt by that war in our native country.
We have not felt the new chains of the Presbyterian tyrants, not in this colony have we been consumed with the over-zealous fire of the (so-called) godly christian magistrates. Sir, we have not known what an exise means; we have almost forgotten what tithes are, yea or taxes either, to church or commonwealth.”

Williams was a friend to the native Americans of the colony, and he led the colony to accept both Quakers and Jews as full citizens with the rights to vote and own land. He was a preacher and a practitioner of religious liberty for all, and it is from Roger Williams and others who followed in his footsteps that we learned many of the principles that eventually went into the U.S. Constitution and became enshrined in American government and culture. This biography is somewhat fictionalized, with dialog that is obviously made up, but the events of Roger Williams’s life are faithfully chronicled, as far as I could tell.

Jeanette Eaton was a prolific biographer, and she wrote biographies of all of the following persons over the course of her career:

A Daughter of the Seine: The Life of Madame Roland (1929) (Newbery Honor 1930)
Jeanne d’Arc, the Warrior Saint (1931)
The Flame, Saint Catherine of Sienna (1931)
Young Lafayette (1932)
Betsy’s Napoleon (1936)
Leader By Destiny: George Washington, Man and Patriot (1938) (Newbery Honor 1939)
Narcissa Whitman: Pioneer of Oregon (1941)
Lone Journey: The Life of Roger Williams (1944) (Newbery Honor 1945)
David Livingstone, Foe of Darkness (1947)
That Lively Man, Ben Franklin (1948)
Buckley O’Neill of Arizona (1949)
Washington, the Nation’s First Hero (1951)
Gandhi, Fighter Without a Sword (1950) (Newbery Honor 1951)
Lee, the Gallant General (1953)
The Story of Eleanor Roosevelt (1954)
Trumpeter’s Tale: The Story of Young Louis Armstrong (1955)
America’s Own Mark Twain (1958)

Wikipedia calls Eaton a “suffragist” and a “feminist”, but judging from the subjects of her books, she also had an interest in religion and religious leaders.

Woodi Ishmael, whose woodcut illustrations, grace the pages of Ms. Eaton’s book, seems to have been a rather successful World War II era illustrator, producing numerous advertisements and drawings and paintings for the armed forces, especially the Air Force. You can look at some of his Air Force artwork here. And here’s a blog post that shows several of Mr. Ishmael’s illustrations for another Eaton bio, Narcissa Whitman.

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Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin


Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin.

“I survived the war, but then I had to survive myself coming home from the war. Despite the good times and all the attention, I was under a cloud that kept growing darker. I had nightmares about killing the Bird from which I woke up shouting and swearing. My running legs were gone and I couldn’t compete anymore, which broke my heart. I wanted to strike it rich, but lost money instead. I drank and fought. I knew I was on the wrong path—but didn’t know what to do about it.” ~Louis Zamperini

If the movie Unbroken, or even what you’ve heard about the movie or the book by Laura Hillenbrand, is your only acquaintance with Louis Zamperini, then you already know that he was an amazing man with an almost unbelievable life story. What you may not know is what Paul Harvey used to call The Rest of the Story.

I would suggest that anyone who was captivated by Mr. Zamperini’s story in the movie should immediately, without delay, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you just aren’t a reader and can’t bring yourself to read that wonderful biography, then Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In tells the rest of Louis Zamperini’s story in a much shorter format, 224 pages laid out in easy to read chunks or chapter of three or four pages each. If you’ve already read Unbroken, but can’t get your friends or family members to read it, give them a copy of this book. Louis Zamperini’s character, warmth, and wisdom shine through the pages here just as they did in the pages of Unbroken.

David Rensin, who had already worked with Mr. Zamperini on his autobiography Devil at My Heels, met with Zamperini again for about six months to complete this book because Louis said he still had stories he wanted to tell. The stories in the book, which was completed two days before Mr. Zamperini died on July 2, 2014, continue to illuminate the life of this man who not only was a hero, but also a very broken and vengeful man after his return from prison camp. In Unbroken Laura Hillenbrand tells what it was that made Louis Zamperini whole again, in her words. In this book Mr. Zamperini gets to tell us about his recovery in his own words.

“I had nothing left to lose.
That admission itself was the beginning of my recovery. I’d always known that I’d come home from the war with a problem, but I had never been willing to ask for help—from anyone.
But now I had, and my whole body and spirit felt different. Wonderful. Calm. Free.”

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11 Favorite Nonfiction Books I Read in 2014

I read over 200 books in 2014. Of those, if I counted right, only twenty-two were nonfiction. So, when I say the “11 best” or 11 favorite”, I’m including half of the nonfiction books I read this past year. The first two on the list were my favorites; the rest are in no particular order.

The Last Lion 2: Winston Spencer Churchill Alone, 1932-40 by William Manchester. I love Winston Churchill. I would have been afraid or at least disinclined to work for him or to eat at his dinner table; he did not suffer fools gladly and did not treat even his employees and friends with great consideration for their comfort. But reading about him is a delight.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi. Good Christian apologetics, good story.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre.

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller.

Blue Marble: How a Photograph Revealed Earth’s Fragile Beauty by Don Nardo. The story of the iconic picture of earth from space taken by the astronauts of Apollo 17.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. Skip or skim the boring parts, but most of this one is a fascinating look at the rescue of art treasures from Nazi theft and from Allied ignorance.

Rich in Love: When God Rescues Messy People by Irene Garcia. People and relationships are messy, and Ms. Garcia doesn’t pretend that all of the stories of her many foster children and adopted children turn out well. Some are still struggling with bad choices and bad beginnings. But this was ultimately a hope-filled book about the way God uses imperfect, messed-up people to sow His grace into the world.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. Kind of grisly, but fascinating in its detail about a vision of progress and light alongside a serial killer’s vision of deceit and murder.

Everybody Paints! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family by Susan Goldman Rubin. Interesting family, interesting book, written for children but it tells as much as I wanted to know.

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. I just finished this one a few days before Christmas. I laughed, I gasped, I read passages out loud to my unappreciative family. In short, I was captivated by reliving the summer of 1927.

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Christmas in London, 1661

Christmas Day, 1661. In the morning to church; where at the door of our pew I was fain to stay, because that the sexton had not opened the door. A good sermon of Mr. Mills. Dined at home all alone, And taking occasion, from some fault in the meat, to complain of my maid’s Sluttery, my wife and I fell out, and I up to my Chamber in a discontent. After dinner my wife comes up to me and all friends again; and she and I to walk upon the Leads; there Sir W. Pen called us and we went to his house and supped with him.
~Samuel Pepys

Sir William Penn (23 April 1621 – 16 September 1670) was an English admiral, and the father of William Penn, founder of the colony of Pennsylvania.

This bust is of Pepys, showing him as a young man as he was when he wrote his famous diary. I can’t figure out from the above quotation whether it was Pepys himself or his wife who spoiled their Christmas festivities with complaints about the maid’s “sluttery.” Either way, it’s good that they made up in time to sup with Sir Penn.

Everybody Paints by Susan Goldman Rubin

Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family by Susan Goldman Rubin.

This family biography grabbed me enough that I had to go look up some of the paintings and illustrations that were mentioned, even though many of them are included in the text.

N.C. Wyeth, the patriarch of the family, was known mostly for his illustrations for children’s and adult classic books, such as Treasure Island and The Boy’s King Arthur. He always wanted to be a fine artist rather than “just an illustrator” but as he grew older and his work received many accolades, he began to see that his youthful aspirations had been achieved after all.

Andrew Wyeth, the son, was the youngest of five children in the Wyeth family, all of whom painted and drew and dabbled in artistic endeavors to some extent. Henriette, the oldest, became a well-known painter of portraits and still lifes. Carolyn, the second child, was also a painter and taught art classes in her father’s studio. Nat, the third child, was a successful inventor. Ann was a musician and a composer. Andrew “considered himself the least gifted. However, he was the most dedicated.” Andrew Wyeth was homeschooled because of his bad health, and his father taught him both art and self-discipline. Andrew Wyeth’s paintings became some of the best-known artworks of the twentieth century, including the one below called Christina’s World.

Jamie Wyeth, the grandson, is the younger of two sons of Andrew. His art tends toward portraiture, jack-o-lanterns, domestic animals, and tree roots as subjects, more modern but still in the photo-realistic style of his father and grandfather.

I found Ms. Rubin’s book informative and readable. Young people who are interested in artists and their family life and working habits will find a lot to think about in Everybody Paints! Homeschoolers, too, will find the book and the Wyeth family of interest since their aversion to formal education and their near-obsession with the artistic life is compatible with the “unschooling” philosophy of some homeschool families.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

With the (winter) Olympics coming up and my aforementioned current interest in the 1930’s, The Boys in the Boat was just the ticket for reading on a very cold day in January. The nine Americans in the title were: Don Hume, Bobby Moch, Stub McMillin, Johnny White, Gordy Adam, Shorty Hunt, Roger Morris, Chuck Day, and Joe Rantz. They were the crew of an eight-man shell for the University of Washington. Their coach was Al Ulbrickson, and George Pocock, famous for building racing boats for Washington and for many other championship rowing teams, was their mentor and the builder of their shell, the Husky Clipper.

The story focuses on crew member Joe Rantz, since he was the member of the Olympic team that the author first met and from whom he heard the story of the “boys'” journey to the Berlin Olympics. I put “boys” in quotation marks because by the time their story was published last year (2013), the boys in the boat had all passed on. But Mr. Brown got to interview some of them before they died, and he spent a great deal of time researching the backgrounds of the boys, talking to family members, reading journals that some of the boys kept, and preparing to write an inspiring and flowing account of their rise to glory at the Olympics.

One of things that the book emphasizes is that rowing is not easy:

“Competitive rowing is an undertaking of extraordinary beauty preceded by brutal punishment. Unlike most sports, which draw primarily on particular muscle groups, rowing makes heavy and repeated use of virtually every muscle in the body. . . And rowing makes these muscular demands not a odd intervals but in rapid sequence, over a protracted period of time, repeatedly and without respite. . . The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Royal Brougham marveled at the relentlessness of the sport: ‘Nobody ever took time out in a boat race,’ he noted ‘There’s no place to stop and get a satisfying drink of water or a lungful of cool, invigorating air. You just keep your eyes glued on the red, perspiring neck of the fellow ahead of you and row until they tell you it’s all over. . . Neighbor, it’s no game for a softy.'”

I was filled with admiration for these college boys who practiced in rain, sleet, wind and snow to go to a total of two races: one in their own Washington waters against arch rival, the University of California, and the other in Poughkeepsie, competing against California again and against all of the East Coast teams who saw the westerners as country cousins who were out of their league in the East. The persistence and fine-tuning of the team and its precise movements required all that the nine member team could give, mentally and physically–and then, a little more.

The book also made much of the contrast between Depression-era country boys struggling in Washington State to get an education and make the Olympic team at the same time, and Hitler’s desire to make the Berlin Olympics into a showcase for the Nazi regime in Germany and the Aryan youth of Germany who would be competing for the glory of the Reich. The impending war serves as a focus and a frame for the story, even though the boys in the boat were completely unaware of the imminent approach of a world war that would change all of their lives.

Some interesting mentions in the book:

Actor Hugh Laurie’s father, Ran Laurie, was member of the British eight-man crew at the 1936 Olympics.

Louis Zamperini (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand) is mentioned once in this book, as possibly the only athlete on the boat to Europe for the Olympics who had a bigger appetite than rower Joe Rantz.

Swimmer Eleanor Holm was expelled from the U.S. Olympic team for drunkenness on the boat over, after an all-night party with some journalists, who then proceeded to make headlines with The Eleanor Holm Story in newspapers all over the United States.

The coxswain for the team, Bobby Moch, found out for the first time in a letter from his father just before he left to go to the Olympics, that his relatives in Europe, whom he had never met, were Jewish, and therefore that he was of Jewish heritage.

Hitler’s pet filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, made a well-regarded propaganda film about the 1936 Olympics, called Olympia. The film was secretly funded by the Nazi government, and it was shown all over the world to great acclaim.

All in all, The Boys in the Boat is a great book for anyone interested in sports stories in general, rowing in particular, the rise of Nazism, the 1930’s, Olympic history, and just plain inspirational stories of perseverance and courage. If there were a few extraneous details, they were details that I enjoyed learning. And the prose was well above average.

12 Best Nonfiction Books I Read in 2013

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Recommended at Book Diary.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher.

Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with his Father’s Questions about Christianity by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.

Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton by Joseph Pearce.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright, reviewed at Semicolon.

Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent by N.D. Wilson.

The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong, featured at Semicolon.

C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath.

Saving a Life: How We Found Courage When Death Rescued our Son by Charles and Janet Morris.

Beautiful Nate: A Memoir of a Family’s Love, a Life Lost, and Heaven’s Promises by Dennis Mansfield.

Two biographies (Chesterton and Lewis), two autobiographies/conversion stories (Denise Chong and Rosaria Champagne Butterfield), two memoirs of the loss of a son (the last two on the list), a couple of inspirational apologetics titles (Boyd and Wilson), exposes of Scientology and of poverty in Mumbai, a narrative history of the assassination and death of President James Garfield, and a memoir of Rod Dreher’s encounter with death and community in small-town Louisiana: those were my favorite nonfiction reads this year. I recommend any or all of them, if you’re at all interested in the subject matter. Ms. Butterfield’s conversion story and Mr. Wright’s book about the history and inner workings of the Scientology movement were particularly thought-provoking.

Cybils YA Nonfiction Trio

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb.

The Nazi Hunters tells the story of how, in Argentina in May, 1960, a crack Israeli spy team captured the infamous Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews and other people during World War II, and took him back to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. The story could have been an exciting and thought-provoking read, but unfortunately the pacing of the story was uneven and off-putting. I never got to know the members of the Israeli team well enough to remember which was which, and the author was unwilling or probably unable to help to understand the mind and motives of Eichmann and his family members either. This book is adapted from Bascomb’s adult nonfiction book, Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi. Maybe more somehow would have been better, and I would have developed an interest in these characters by reading the adult version.I don’t think teens will be intrigued by this YA abridgment, and I’d point anyone who was interested in another direction.

Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World by Ann Downer.

The author focuses on various animals, one per chapter, that have adapted to living in urban areas and tell the story of how they have managed to co-exist with humans in cities –or not. The animals Ms Downer highlights are: bears, raccoons, mountain lions, crows, coyotes, flying foxes, turtles, and alligators. The alligator chapter interested me the most because the gators in question live and sometimes stroll down the sidewalks in Houston where I live. However, her diagnosis of the “alligator problem” seems inadequate: “For the residents of Houston, the best weapon against gators may prove to be greater understanding and appreciation of these amazing creatures—and a lot of caution and common sense.” Really? I can agree with the “caution and common sense” part, but I plan to follow the Pearland (suburb of Houston) Parks and Recreation Department instructions: “Don’t tease the gators, don’t feed the gators, and if you hear an alligator hiss, you’re too close.” My appreciation for alligators, and other wild animals in cities, will be strictly photographic in nature, thank you. Other people’s photographs.

Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley.

If one were researching the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and/or the French Resistance during World War II, this memoir would certainly be a helpful resource. However, just for reading, it’s a little dry, and the author leaves out key transitions and information that would make her story more understandable. There’s an odd sort of summary at the beginning of each chapter, and then the chapter itself backtracks in time and fills in more detail for each episode in the life of this intrepid heroine. Fans of Code Name Verity might enjoy reading about a real WWII agent and comparing her adventures to the fictional ones. I just wish someone else had written and organized the story of Ms. Cornioley’s life as a resistance fighter to make it more coherent and more evocative of the spirt of the times.