14 February 2020

6 True Stories to Read in February

It's no secret, I love nonfiction. Give me biography, history, nature and travel writing, science and space, and everything else. The true stories that caught my eye this month cover a variety of topics, from the past to the present. Let's take a look.

Troubled History

REview of 1774: The Long Year of Revolution by Mary Beth Norton1774: The Long Year of Revolution by Mary Beth Norton (Knopf, Feb. 11): Written by a respected historian, this is a focused look the critical months of the birth of new nation: "from the Boston Tea Party and the first Continental Congress to the Battles of Lexington and Concord." Norton relies on much firsthand sources and introduces us to figures who don't often appear in school history texts to show that American colonists felt their independence long before the formal declaration was finally signed. First lines:

During the stormy early morning hours of December 11, 1773, a vessel carrying tea and other cargo to Boston wrecked about two miles southeast of Race Point, the northern tip of Cape Cod. On board the William were fifty-eight chests of East India Company tea, fifty-five of which were successfully salvaged. The three damaged chests, each containing about 350 pounds of Bohea (black) tea, remained on the Cape when the other chests were transported later in the month to the safety of the British headquarters at Castle William, an island in Boston harbor. Responding to the sudden arrival of approximately 1,000 pounds of tea on their shores, Cape residents worked to earn it, bought and sold it, argued and fought over it, and destroyed some of it.
Audiobook: Read by Kimberly Farr (Random House Audio; 16 hr, 26 min)

review of Dressed for a Dance in the Snow: Women's Voices from the Gulag by Monika ZgustovaDressed for a Dance in the Snow: Women's Voices from the Gulag by Monika Zgustova, translated by Julie Jones (Other Press; Feb. 4): This volume collects the memories of nine women who were sent to the Soviet labor camps (one to a psych ward) because they or their families were accused of anti-government crimes. The stories are moving, provide eye-witness accounts, and fill some of the gaps in a history that could easily be lost to time. Among the women interviewed is the daughter of Olga Ivinskaya, the woman behind the character of Lara in Doctor Zhivago. The book includes an insert with black-and-white photos. First lines (from introduction):
When the liberation movement known as the Prague Spring ended in August 1968, suppressed by Soviet tanks, and Czechoslovakia was once again under the aegis of the Soviet Union, Soviet authorities began to persecute by father, an eminent linguist, for having participated in the protests in his native Prague. It was then that my parents started to think about fleeing and settling in the US. It wasn't an easy task, because under communism it was illegal to leave the country.
Audiobook: no information


review of 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics, by Bruce Goldfarb18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics, by Bruce Goldfarb (Sourcebooks, Feb. 4). Written by an investigative journalist who currently works for the chief medical examiner of the state of Maryland, this book introduces us to the woman who, though born in the decade after the Civil War, developed a revolutionary method for investigating crime scenes. Lee, a daughter of Chicago's high society, discovered her passion late in life when she met a medical examiner who told her stories of criminal deaths and bemoaned the fact that most men in his profession were political appointees instead of trained scientists. The book includes photographs. First lines:
Seventeen pathologists and medical examiners, all dressed in dark suits and neckties, sat around a long table in a wood-paneled conference room on the third floor of Building E-1 of Harvard Medical School. It was the autumn of 1944. Thousands of miles away, war ravaged Europe and the Pacific islands. The men had gathered at Harvard to attend a seminar on legal medicine, a field that would later be known as forensic science—the application of medicine to matters of law and justice.
Audiobook: Read by Nan McNamara (Recorded Books, 8 hr, 35 min)

review of American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI, by Kate Winkler DawsonAmerican Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI, by Kate Winkler Dawson (Putnam, Feb. 11): Written by a producer of documentaries, this biography-history mashup tells the story of Edward Oscar Heinrich, who earned the moniker of "the American Sherlock" from his reputation for solving thousand of crimes in the first half of the last century. Based on primary sources, Dawson describes Heinrich's inventions, attention to detail, and "uncanny knack for finding clues." First lines:
His upper jawbone was massive—a long, curved bone with nine tiny holes meant to hold his teeth. The remainder of his skeleton was blackened by a fairly large fire ignited by an anonymous killer. Lifting up the jawbone, I examined the small blades of grass that adhered to its exterior—organic evidence from his hillside grave in El Cerrito in Northern California.
Audiobook: Read by the author (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 43 min)

Our Feathered Friends

review of The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird by Joshua HammerThe Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird by Joshua Hammer (Simon & Schuster, Feb. 11): Who knew that the illegal practice of stealing birds' eggs was a thing? This is the true story of Jeffrey Lendrum, who devoted his life to smuggling falcons and falcon eggs from all over the world to sell to the rich, especially in the Mideast. It's also the story of Andy McWilliam from the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, who was determined to put an end to Lendrum's career. First lines:
The man had been in there far too long, John Struczynski thought. Twenty minutes had elapsed since he had entered the shower facility in the Emirates Lounge for business and first class passengers at Birmingham International Airport, in the West Midlands region of England, 113 miles north of London. Now Struczynski stood in the corridor outside the shower room, a stack of fresh towels in the cart beside him, a mop, a pail, and a pair of caution wet floor signs at his feet. The janitor was impatient to clean the place.
Audiobook: Read by Matthew Lloyd Davies (Simon & Schuster Audio, 8 hr, 23 min)

review of White Feathers: The Nesting Lives of Tree Swallows by Bernd HeinrichWhite Feathers: The Nesting Lives of Tree Swallows by Bernd Heinrich (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb. 18): Written by a naturalist, this book starts with a simple question: Why do the  tree swallows in the author's yard line their nests exclusively with white feathers, even though they're not abundant near his New England home? This led to years of observations and non-intrusive experiments into tree swallow nesting behavior. The book contains photos and drawings and looks perfect for those of us who are curious about birds, animal behavior, and nature. First lines:
There is arguably no bird in the world that combines graceful flight, beauty of feathers, pleasing song, and accessibility, plus tameness and abundance, more than the tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). And just by putting up a nest-box made in minutes from some scrap board and placed on a pole, I had a pair nesting by my door. In early May 2008, I happened to peek into the nest-box and saw five snow-white eggs in a bed of long white feathers. I had peeked into nest-boxes before and seen nest linings of various commonly available materials, but never anything like this. It was no fluke—such white feathers are rare, and it had cost the swallows deliberate effort to search for and acquire them.
Audiobook: Ready by Rick Adamson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 7 hr, 10 min)

*All books (digital, print, and/or audio) provided by the publishers. Descriptive quotes taken from the publisher's summaries; descriptions derived from the publishers, skimming the books, and reading reviews. Some first lines taken from advanced reader copies.


shelleyrae @ book'd out 2/14/20, 6:58 AM  

The two true crime books are on my wishlist.

bermudaonion 2/14/20, 8:15 AM  

I love nonfiction so most of these sound right up my alley.

Tina 2/14/20, 8:24 AM  

Forensics and birds are mything, thanks for the preview of some cool nonfiction for me.

Vicki 2/14/20, 12:04 PM  

I usually read a few nonfiction books each year but this year so far I'm on my 6th book, and 4 of them are nonfiction. I see a few in your list that interest me.

Kathryn T 2/14/20, 12:30 PM  

I usually read a few nonfiction books each year but this year so far I'm on my 6th book, and 4 of them are nonfiction. I see a few in your list that interest me.

rhapsodyinbooks 2/14/20, 2:30 PM  

These look great! I did not know stealing bird eggs was a thing, but little surprises me these days! LOL

Marg 2/14/20, 5:48 PM  

I don't read any where near enough non fiction!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 2/15/20, 9:14 AM  

I'm always on the lookout for Bernd Heinrich books. Thanks for sharing it and the others here.

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