Annal: 1996 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1996.

Book:Bad Land

Bad Land: An American Romance

Jonathan Raban

In 1909 maps still identified eastern Montana as the Great American Desert. But in that year Congress, lobbied heavily by railroad companies, offered 320-acre tracts of land to anyone bold or foolish enough to stake a claim to them. Drawn by shamelessly inventive brochures, countless homesteaders—many of them immigrants—went west to make their fortunes. Most failed. In Bad Land, Jonathan Raban travels through the unforgiving country that was the scene of their dreams and undoing, and makes their story come miraculously alive. In towns named Terry, Calypso, and Ismay (which changed its name to Joe, Montana, in an effort to attract football fans), and in the landscape in between, Raban unearths a vanished episode of American history, with its own ruins, its own heroes and heroines, its own hopeful myths and bitter memories. Startlingly observed, beautifully written, this book is a contemporary classic of the American West.

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:Great Books

Great Books

David Denby

In Great Books, Denby lives the common adult fantasy of returning to school with some worldly knowledge and experience of life. A gifted story-teller, he leads us on a glorious tour—by turns eloquent, witty, and moving—through the works themselves and through his experiences as a middle-aged man among freshmen. He recounts his failures and triumphs as a reader and student (taking an exam led to a hilarious near-breakdown). He celebrates his rediscovery or new appreciation of such authors as Homer, Plato, the biblical writers, Augustine, Boccaccio, Hegel, Austen, Marx, Nietzsche, and Virginia Woolf. He re-creates the atmosphere of the classroom—the strategies used by a remarkable group of teachers and the strengths and weaknesses of media-age students as they grapple with these difficult, sometimes frightening works. And all year long he watches the students grow and his own life and memories break out of hiding.

Book:Hitler's Willing Executioners

Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

This groundbreaking international bestseller lays to rest many myths about the Holocaust: that Germans were ignorant of the mass destruction of Jews, that the killers were all SS men, and that those who slaughtered Jews did so reluctantly. Hitler’s Willing Executioners provides conclusive evidence that the extermination of European Jewry engaged the energies and enthusiasm of tens of thousands of ordinary Germans. Goldhagen reconstructs the climate of “eliminationist anti-Semitism” that made Hitler’s pursuit of his genocidal goals possible and the radical persecution of the Jews during the 1930s popular. Drawing on a wealth of unused archival materials, principally the testimony of the killers themselves, Goldhagen takes us into the killing fields where Germans voluntarily hunted Jews like animals, tortured them wantonly, and then posed cheerfully for snapshots with their victims.

From mobile killing units, to the camps, to the death marches, Goldhagen shows how ordinary Germans, nurtured in a society where Jews were seen as unalterable evil and dangerous, willingly followed their beliefs to their logical conclusion.

Book:Middle East

Middle East

Bernard Lewis

As the birthplace of three religions as and many civilizations, the Middle East has for centuries been a center of knowledge and ideas, of techniques and commodities, and, at times, of military and political power. With the histoical—and still growing—importance of the Middle East in modern politics, historian Bernard Lewis’s cogent and scholarly writing brings a wider understanding of the cultures of the region to a popular audience.

In this immensely readable and broad history, Lewis charts the successive transformations of the Middle East, beginning with the two great empires, the Roman and the Persian, whose disputes divided the region two thousand years ago; the development of monotheism and the growth of Christianity; the astonishingly rapid rise and spread of Islam over a vast area; the waves of invaders from the East and the Mongol hordes of Jengiz Khan; the rise of the Ottoman Turks in Anatoia, the Mamluks in Egypt and the Safavids…[more]

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