My Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2013

In my previous post, I listed the best fiction books I read in 2013. However, 2013 was also a year that led me to a number of wonderful nonfiction books, and there were so many that I found it very difficult to narrow down my list to just eight. Here are my favorite books from my Goodreads list in 2013, and their descriptions from that site.

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.-C.S. Lewis has retained his position as my all-time favorite author, and The Abolition of Man certainly did not disappoint. The Abolition of Man comes in at fewer than 100 pages, but those 100 pages have the power to transform the way one looks at the vital importance and transformational power of universal ethics.

“C. S. Lewis sets out to persuade his audience of the importance and relevance of universal values such as courage and honor in contemporary society.”

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist–The Facts of Daily Life in 19-century England by Daniel Pool.-The concept behind this book can be summed up by this famous quote-“The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” It’s a book I wish I would have read prior to reading the great works of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and their contemporaries. There are so many cultural references in Austen and Dickens that fly over the heads of modern-day readers, and I’m looking forward to revisiting their novels with the knowledge I gained from this book, and seeing how it might change my interpretation of them.

“Essays provide a view of British life during the nineteenth century.”(Short and sweet, I know)

Ethnic America: A History by Thomas Sowell-I have a long-standing love affair with history and a keen interest in different cultures, so imagine my excitement when I came across this book. It outlines the history of the most prominent ethnic groups in America and how they acclimated to each other, as well as the culture at large.

“This classic work by the distinguished economist traces the history of nine American ethnic groups—the Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians, Chinese, African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans.”

Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans-This is hands-down my most ambitious non-fiction book from 2013. Homans took on the unbelievably arduous task of condensing the entire history of ballet into a mere 672 pages(see, when you look at it from that standpoint, 672 pages isn’t so bad..). I learned a great deal about the origins of ballet and how it was shaped and molded by several different cultures as it progressed into the form we know of today. However, I was a little saddened by the author’s rather bleak view of the future of ballet.

“For more than four hundred years, the art of ballet has stood at the center of Western civilization. Its traditions serve as a record of our past. A ballerina dancing The Sleeping Beauty today is a link in a long chain of dancers stretching back to sixteenth-century Italy and France: Her graceful movements recall a lost world of courts, kings, and aristocracy, but her steps and gestures are also marked by the dramatic changes in dance and culture that followed. Ballet has been shaped by the Renaissance and Classicism, the Enlightenment and Romanticism, Bolshevism, Modernism, and the Cold War. Apollo’s Angels is a groundbreaking work—the first cultural history of ballet ever written, lavishly illustrated and beautifully told.”

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir-Ahh, what more can one say about Henry VIII? Evidently, Alison Weir felt that enough has been said him, as she chose to focus on his wives in the well-researched and wonderfully written book. Ever since I sat in my high school history class and learned about Henry VIII and his rather unfortunate wives, I’ve had a morbid fascination with him. Not only did this book give me a greater understanding of his more famous wives-Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, I also gave me the opportunity to learn more about the wives who have slipped in between the pages of history-such as Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard.

“The tempestuous, bloody, and splendid reign of Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) is one of the most fascinating in all history, not least for his marriage to six extraordinary women. In this accessible work of brilliant scholarship, Alison Weir draws on early biographies, letters, memoirs, account books, and diplomatic reports to bring these women to life. Catherine of Aragon emerges as a staunch though misguided woman of principle; Anne Boleyn, an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance; Jane Seymour, a strong-minded matriarch in the making; Anne of Cleves, a good-natured and innocent woman naively unaware of the court intrigues that determined her fate; Catherine Howard, an empty-headed wanton; and Catherine Parr, a warm-blooded bluestocking who survived King Henry to marry a fourth time.”

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison-This memoir easily wins the most compelling, though-provoking and emotionally touching spot on my list of books this year. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison not only is one of the foremost experts on bipolar disorder in the country, but she’s also longtime sufferer of it. Jamison’s prose is so beautiful that it’s actually poetic in many instances, and the immediacy and power of Hamilton’s experiences and her breathtakingly poignant views on life inspired me in an incredibly profound way.

“In her bestselling classic, An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison changed the way we think about moods and madness.
Dr. Jamison is one of the foremost authorities on manic-depressive (bipolar) illness; she has also experienced it firsthand. For even while she was pursuing her career in academic medicine, Jamison found herself succumbing to the same exhilarating highs and catastrophic depressions that afflicted many of her patients, as her disorder launched her into ruinous spending sprees, episodes of violence, and an attempted suicide.
Here Jamison examines bipolar illness from the dual perspectives of the healer and the healed, revealing both its terrors and the cruel allure that at times prompted her to resist taking medication. An Unquiet Mind is a memoir of enormous candor, vividness, and wisdom—a deeply powerful book that has both transformed and saved lives.”

The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors by Juliet Barker-
I almost cried when I finished this book. I felt like I actually knew them-Patrick, Branwell, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne-Juliet Barker truly brought them all to life for me. If you love Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre or any of the other books the Brontes have written, this book will give you a greater psychological insight into what inspired the characters and themes within their stories.

“The tragic story of the Bronte family is well known, replete with a half-mad father, a wastrel of a brother, and three uniquely gifted – and oppressed – sisters. But beyond these familiar details, the Brontes’ story has remained largely obscure. This landmark book is the first definitive history of this fascinating family. Based on eleven years of research among newly discovered letters by every member of the family, original manuscripts, and the newspapers of that time, it gives a new and fuller picture of the Brontes’ lives from beginning to end and, in the process, demolishes many myths. The father, Patrick, was not, as commonly believed, the cold patriarch of a family of victims. Charlotte, ruthlessly self-willed, ran roughshod over her sisters and went so far as to alter or destroy their manuscripts when she disapproved. Emily was so psychologically and physically dependent on her fantasy life that she could not survive in the outside world. Anne, widely regarded as the gentlest of the sisters, had a core of steel and was a more daring and revolutionary author than Charlotte. Branwell, the adored brother, was a talented poet who provided much of Charlotte’s inspiration.”

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham-““I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.“-President John F. Kennedy. Long before I had even heard of this book, Thomas Jefferson captivated me more than any of the Founding Fathers. There was something so enigmatic and paradoxical about his character-just when you think you might have an idea of what was going on his psyche, he throws you a curve-ball and says or does something that seems completely out of character. Meacham lends flesh and blood to the Jefferson we learn about in history books, and after reading this book you will walk away with a clearer understanding of who Jefferson was-his beliefs, his passions, his dreams and his downfalls-while still leaving Jefferson as intriguing as when you first found him.

“In this magnificent biography, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston brings vividly to life an extraordinary man and his remarkable times. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power gives us Jefferson the politician and president, a great and complex human being forever engaged in the wars of his era. Philosophers think; politicians maneuver. Jefferson’s genius was that he was both and could do both, often simultaneously. Such is the art of power…
The Jefferson story resonates today not least because he led his nation through ferocious partisanship and cultural warfare amid economic change and external threats, and also because he embodies an eternal drama, the struggle of the leadership of a nation to achieve greatness in a difficult and confounding world.”

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