Annal: 1994 National Book Award for Nonfiction

Results of the National Book Award in the year 1994.

Book:How We Die

How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter

Sherwin B. Nuland

There is a vast literature on death and dying, but there are few reliable accounts of the ways in which we die. The intimate accounts of how various diseases take away life offered in How We Die, is not meant to prompt horror or terror but to demythologize the process of dying. Though the avenues of death—AIDS, cancer, heart attack, Alzheimer’s, accident, and stroke—are common, each of us will die in a way different from any that has gone before. Each one of death’s diverse appearances is as distinctive as that singular face we each show during our lives. Behind each death is a story. In How We Die, Sherwin B. Nuland, a surgeon and teacher of medicine, tells some stories of dying that reveal not only why someone dies but how. He offers a portrait of the experience of dying that makes clear the choices that can be made to allow each of us his or her own death.

Book:Fatheralong

Fatheralong: A Meditation on Fathers and Sons, Race and Society

John Edgar Wideman

In the tradition of his best-selling Brothers and Keepers, which was about himself and his imprisoned brother, John Edgar Wideman (“our most powerful and accomplished artist of the urban black world” - Los Angeles Times Book Review) gives a searingly honest meditation on “fathers, color, roots, time, and language.” Certain to galvanize national attention, Fatheralong is a fiercely lyrical and revealing memoir that attempts all the while, “among other things, to break out, displace, replace the paradigm of race [America’s enduring malaise].” As Wideman puts it: “Teach me who I might be, who you might be - without it.”

From affluent Amherst to blue-collar Pittsburgh to rural South Carolina, here is the story of an American family. Wresting himself free from the shackles of racial ideology, Wideman bravely engages not only the living but also the “ghostlier demarcations” of his family’s past, the better to understand who he is today and to heal familial wounds. Fatheralong is a triumphant book of reckoning, an inspiring celebration of homecoming.

Book:In Pharaoh's Army

In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War

Tobias Wolff

In Pharaoh’s Army is Tobias Wolff’s unflinching account of his tour in Vietnam, his tangled journey there and back. Using his old wiles and talents, he passes through boot camp, trains as a paratrooper, volunteers for the Special Forces, studies Vietnamese, and—without really believing it himself—becomes an officer in the U.S. Army. Then, inexorably, he finds himself drawn into the war, sent to the Mekong Delta as adviser to a Vietnamese battalion. More or less innocent, self-deluded but rapidly growing less so, he dedicates himself not to victory but to survival. For despite his impressive credentials, he recognizes in himself laughably little aptitude for the military life and no taste at all for the war. He ricochets between boredom and terror and grief for lost friends; then and in the years to come, he reckons the cost of staying alive. A superb memoir of war, In Pharaoh’s Army is an intimate recounting of the central event of our recent past. Once again Tobias Wolff has combined the art of the best fiction and the immediacy of personal history - with authority, humanity, and sure conviction.

Book:Strange Justice

Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas

Jane Mayer, Jill Abramson

After almost three years of intensive research, two superb journalists shed much light on the explosive issues that arose during the confirmation hearings: Did Thomas indeed harass Hill? How did Hill’s allegations leak to the press? Why was the Senate Judiciary Committee unable to solve the mysteries surrounding the case?

But as Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson show, the story of Thomas’s ascension to the Court goes far beyond what emerged during the hearings. Over the course of their investigation, the authors conducted hundreds of interviews—including the first on-the-record interview with Anita Hill about her role in the controversy—and uncovered many documents that were never shared with the public. For the first time, we learn about Thomas’s ten-year campaign for the high court and the doubts about him that haunted the White House from the start. We see the profound cynicism behind the administration’s campaign for Thomas: its canny manipulation…[more]

Book:The Unredeemed Captive

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America

John Demos

Early on the morning of February 29, 1704, before the settlers of Deerfield, Massachusetts, had stirred from their beds, a French and Indian war party opened fire, wielding hatchets and torches, on the lightly fortified town. What would otherwise have been a fairly commonplace episode of “Queen Anne’s War” (as the War of the Spanish Succession was known in the colonies) achieved considerable notoriety in America and abroad. The reason: the Indians had managed to capture, among others, the eminent minister John Williams, his wife, Eunice Mather Williams, and their five children. This Puritan family par excellence, and more than a hundred of their good neighbors, were now at the mercy of “savages”—and the fact that these “savages” were French-speaking converts to Catholicism made the reversal of the rightful order of things no less shocking.

In The Unredeemed Captive, John Demos, Yale historian and winner of the Bancroft Prize for his book Entertaining…[more]

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