It's nearly 2011, but before you jump into the new year and a new book, consider checking out some of these titles. The following list is compiled from the most popular titles at PCL and several 'Best Of' lists published by the Morning Call, New York Times, NPR, & the Washington Post. Don't see your favorites on the list? Please add them in the comments section.
At Home : A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson. Bryson strolls from kitchen to cellar, from garden to nursery, the better to show us how Western civilization created domesticity.-Washington Post Review
Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff. Schiff has dug through the earliest sources on Cleopatra, sorted through myth and misapprehension, tossed out the chaff of gossip, and delivered a spirited life.-Washington Post Review
Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow. If you want to understand what's happening in America, you have to start from the beginning. Luckily, books about revolutionary history have been like catnip to publishers in recent years, and 2010 saw the release of acclaimed books about Patrick Henry and John and Abigail Adams, among others. The most impressive of the lot is Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life, a long but never long-winded biography of the first American president. Chernow does an admirable job explaining a president who could be as difficult and contradictory as the nation itself — Washington was reserved and almost shy, but he also had a fiery temper; he was known as a generous and tolerant man to many, but also as a strict and occasionally violent master to the slaves he owned. It's probably true that most Americans regard Washington with, as Chernow writes, "a frosty respect" rather than a "visceral appreciation." While Washington: A Life might not make Americans fall in love with the enigmatic president, it proves to be a fascinating portrait not just of the planter from Virginia, but of a country founded on a promise it's only now beginning to keep.-NPR Review
Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris. The final installment of Morris' trilogy, this covers the last decade of a man larger than life. We begin on a year-long safari in Africa, many passages told in the rich text of Roosevelt's own writing. Returning home and disappointed in his successor, President Taft, Roosevelt becomes the guiding voice of the new Progressive movement. He is revealed not just as a politician, however, but as a man with a voracious appetite for life. His 5th cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, described him as "the greatest man I ever knew." This is a book that will make you yearn for such a man today.-Morning Call Review
The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis. It's probably safe to say that absent some kind of magical holiday miracle, the financial crisis that began in 2007 won't be over in 2010. Even
though it's been three years since the economy started its spiral, most of us still don't understand what "collateralized debt obligations" are, and why they've made our checking accounts dwindle to alarming levels. As a young investor who studied subprime mortgage bonds tells investigative journalist Michael Lewis (Liar's Poker, Moneyball): "[T]here's a reason why it doesn't quite make sense to us. It's because it doesn't quite make sense." In The Big Short, however, Lewis manages the near impossible — he explains the roots of the financial crisis in an absorbing, easy-to-understand way. Lewis' smart, entertaining book follows a handful of mavericks who saw the subprime mortgage crisis coming and, to the tune of millions, profitably shorted –- i.e., bet against — the market. The present economic meltdown has changed everything, of course, from the way Americans vote to the way we conduct wars; The Big Short provides a necessary, if discouraging, explanation of how one of the worst financial crises in history came to pass.-NPR Reviews