Annal: 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1997.

Book:The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Anne Fadiman

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia’s parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run “Quiet War” in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia’s pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could…[more]

Book:American Scripture

American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence

Pauline Maier

Pauline Maier shows us the Declaration as both the defining statement of our national identity and the moral standard by which we live as a nation. It is truly “American Scripture,” and Maier tells us how it came to be—from the Declaration’s birth in the hard and tortuous struggle by which Americans arrived at Independence to the ways in which, in the nineteenth century, the document itself became sanctified. Maier describes the transformation of the Second Continental Congress into a national government, unlike anything that preceded or followed it, and with more authority than the colonists would ever have conceded to the British Parliament; the great difficulty in making the decision for Independence; the influence of Paine’s Common Sense, which shifted the terms of debate; and the political maneuvers that allowed Congress to make the momentous decision.

Book:The Bible As It Was

The Bible As It Was

James L. Kugel

This is a companion to the Bible like no other. Leading us chapter by chapter through key biblical stories—from Creation and the Tree of Knowledge through the Exodus from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land—James Kugel shows how a group of anonymous ancient interpreters radically transformed the Bible and made it into the book that has come down to us today. Here, for the first time, we can witness the development of the Bible “As It Was” at the start of the common era—the Bible as we know it.

Book:How the Mind Works

How the Mind Works

Steven Pinker

In this book, Steven Pinker explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life. How the Mind Works explains many of the imponderables of everyday life. Why does a face look more attractive with makeup? How do “Magic-Eye” 3-D stereograms work? Why do we feel that a run of heads makes the coin more likely to land tails? Why is the thought of eating worms disgusting? Why do men challenge each other to duels and murder their ex-wives? Why are children bratty? Why do fools fall in love? Why are we soothed by paintings and music? And why do puzzles like the self, free will, and consciousness leave us dizzy?

The arguments in the book are as bold as its title. Pinker rehabilitates unfashionable ideas, such as that the mind is a computer and that human nature was shaped by natural selection. And he challenges fashionable ones, such as that passionate emotions are irrational, that parents socialize their children, that creativity springs from the unconscious, that nature is good and modern society corrupting, and that art and religion are expressions of our higher spiritual yearnings.

Book:Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Jon Krakauer

When Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10,1996, he hadn’t slept in fifty-seven hours and was reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion. As he turned to begin the perilous descent from 29,028 feet (roughly the cruising altitude of an Airbus jetliner), twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly to the top, unaware that the sky had begun to roil with clouds…

Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed Outside journalist and author of the bestselling Into the Wild. Taking the reader step by step from Katmandu to the mountain’s deadly pinnacle, Krakauer has his readers shaking on the edge of their seat. Beyond the terrors of this account, however, he also peers deeply into the myth of the world’s tallest mountain. What is is about Everest that has compelled so many poeple—including himself—to…[more]

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