Annal: 1996 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1996. Due to multiple honors from a single award, the following titles received no points in this category: Ashes to Ashes.

Book:Love Thy Neighbor

Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War

Peter Maass

From the center of the nightmare in Bosnia, a war correspondent’s flaming montage of images—eerie, grotesque, ironic, angry, absurd. A Serb and a Muslim, friends before the war, exchanging gossip via shortwave radio only hours before they will try to kill each other. A Sarajevo couple passionately refusing to go anywhere together for fear a mortar shell might orphan their children. A battlefield doctor performing miracles of surgery without anesthetics.

In episode after episode, Peter Maass takes us with him into the minefields of modern war: a whole country is the battleground, every living being in it a combatent. His fierce, vivid, truth-telling and deeply personal book makes us see the devil under the skin—and the thinness of the line between civilization and chaos.

Book:All God's Children

All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence

Fox Butterfield

Considered by many to be the most dangerous inmate in the history of the New York penal system, Willie Bosket is a brilliant, violent man who began his criminal career at age five. His slaying of two subway riders at fifteen led to the passage of the first law in the nation allowing teenagers to be tried as adults. Yet sadly, Willie is not an aberration within the Bosket family—but rather the latest in a long line of brutal, exceptionally intelligent malefactors who were driven by circumstances, racism, and a distinctly American craving for respect by any means necessary.

In this groundbreaking work, award-winning journalist Fox Butterfield traces a troubled family’s history back to the days of slavery in an attempt to get to the roots of the violence endemic in our society.

Book:Ashes to Ashes

Ashes to Ashes: America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris

Richard Kluger

No book before this one has rendered the story of cigarettes—mankind’s most common self-destructive instrument and its most profitable consumer product—with such sweep and enlivening detail. Here for the first time, in a story full of the complexities and contradictions of human nature, all the strands of the historical process—financial, social, psychological, medical, political, and legal—are woven together in a riveting narrative. The key characters are the top corporate executives, public health investigators, and antismoking activists who have clashed ever more stridently as Americans debate whether smoking should be closely regulated as a major health menace.

We see tobacco spread rapidly from its aboriginal sources in the New World 500 years ago, as it becomes increasingly viewed by some as sinful and some as alluring, and by government as a windfall source of tax revenue. With the arrival of the cigarette…[more]

Book:A Civil Action

A Civil Action

Jonathan Harr

Two of the nation’s largest corporations stand accused of causing the deaths of children. Representing the bereaved parents, the unlikeliest of heroes emerges: a young, flamboyant Porsche-driving lawyer who hopes to win millions of dollars and ends up nearly losing everything—including his sanity.

A Civil Action is the searing, compelling tale of a legal system gone awry—one in which greed and power fight an unending struggle against justice. Yet it is also the story of how one man can ultimately make a difference. With an unstoppable narrative power reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, A Civil Action is an unforgettable reading experience that leaves the reader both shocked and enlightened.

Book:Moving Violations

Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence

John Hockenberry

It is a story of obstacles—physical, emotional, and psychic—overcome again and again. Whether riding a mule up a hillside in Iraq surrounded by mud-stained Kurdish refugees, navigating his wheelchair through intractable stretches of Middle Eastern sand, or auditioning to be the first journalist in space, John Hockenberry, ace reporter, is determined not only to bring back the story, but also to prove that nothing can hold him back from death-defying exploits. In this moving chronicle—so filled with marvelous storytelling that it reads like a novel—John Hockenberry finds that the most difficult journey is the one that begins at home, as he confronts the memories of his beloved one-armed grandfather, and finally meets his institutionalized Uncle Peter, whose very existence was long a secret buried in the family history.

Book:The Song of the Dodo

The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

David Quammen

Thirty years ago, two young biologists named Robert MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson triggered a far-reaching scientific revolution. In a book titled The Theory of Island Biogeography, they presented a new view of a little-understood matter: the geographical patterns in which animal and plant species occur. Why do marsupials exist in Australia and South America, but not in Africa? Why do tigers exist in Asia, but not in New Guinea?

Influenced by MacArthur and Wilson’s book, an entire generation of ecologists has recognized that island biogeography—the study of the distribution of species on islands and islandlike patches of landscape—yields important insights into the origin and extinction of species everywhere. The new mode of thought focuses particularly on a single question: Why have island ecosystems always suffered such high rates of extinction? In our own age, with all the world’s landscapes, from Tasmania to the Amazon…[more]

Book:Turning Stones

Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk

Marc Parent

An 8-year old boy holding a knife to his younger brother’s throat. Three small children who watch their older sister jump out of a twenty-third story window, following their mother’s orders. Two boys whose mother believes they are all victims of a hex laid on them by her ex-husband. An eleven-year-old boy at a fashionable Manhattan address whose mother is so drunk she can’t keep her robe closed when child welfare workers come to visit.

These are the heroes of Marc Parent’s Turning Stones, small and unsuspecting victims of a society, and of a bureaucracy, that do not know what to do with them.

For three years, Marc Parent was a respected caseworker in New York City’s Emergency Children’s Services, a city agency created to investigate cases of abused children during the evening and nighttime hours. Parent applied himself to his work with…[more]

Book:The Very Best Men

The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA

Evan Thomas

Thomas has drawn on his original research in CIA archives and interviews with scores of old agency hands to evoke the urgency and uncertainty, as well as the giddiness, of the shadow wars of the 1950s and early 1960s when the country, with reason, felt itself in danger from Soviet-led Communist aggression. Frank Wisner, Richard Bissell, Tracy Barnes, and Desmond FitzGerald embodied the confidence, daring, and arrogance of the WASP elite that dominated the CIA at its founding.

Thomas brings these men to life as they move boldly, and a bit innocently, into the corrosive life of secrets. He portrays the improbable scene of Bissell, of Groton and Yale, hiring the Mafia to eliminate Fidel Castro, and the terrible drama of Frank Wisner, the first chief of covert operations, slowly succumbing to suicidal mania. He follows Barnes and FitzGerald as they run covert operations from Berlin to Burma. These men, said one of their wives, “went to war every day.” They felt that it was their…[more]

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