Annal: 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1999.

Book:Time, Love, Memory

Time, Love, Memory: A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior

Jonathan Weiner

Looking over the shoulder of some of the premier scientists in the filed, Jonathan Weiner takes us into their laboratories to show us how pieces of DNA actually shape behavior. He focuses on the work of Seymour Benzer, who, decades ago, with James Watson and Francis Crick, helped to crack the genetic code. Then, in a simple experiment using a few test tubes, a light bulb, and 100 fruit flies, Benzer invented the genetic dissection of behavior. Now we see how he and his students find and study genes that build our inner clocks, genes that shape the way we love, and genes that decide what we can (or cannot) remember. These breakthroughs help explain secrets of human behavior and may lead to advance treatments for behavioral disorders ranging from rage to autism to schizophrenia.

In a narrative that sweeps from the first years of the century to the present, Weiner makes the process of scientific discovery and understanding almost tangible on the page. Time, Love, Memory is a brilliant work of scientific reportage.

Book:The Black Room at Longwood

The Black Room at Longwood: Napoleon's Exile on Saint Helena

Jean-Paul Kauffmann, Patricia Clancy

From 1815, the year of his defeat at Waterloo, to 1821, the year of his death, Napoleon was exiled, a prisoner of the British on the island of St. Helena. Although Napoleon was free to move about the island, as his time in the tropics wore on, he increasingly chose seclusion. Napoleon tried to survive on a diet of memories, which he recounted to the few people left around him. But, as Jean-Paul Kauffmann discovered, Napoleon had been poisoned—by nostalgia for his days of glory and grief for the past. Part travelogue, part history, The Black Room at Longwood is informed by a grimly personal element—the author’s own three-year captivity as a hostage in Beirut.

Book:Embracing Defeat

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

John W. Dower

The first definitive history of the transformation of Japanese society under American occupation after World War II. This major new work by America’s foremost historian of modern Japan draws on a vast range of Japanese sources to offer an extraordinarily thorough, complex, and rich analysis of how shattering defeat in World War II followed by over six years of military occupation by the United States affected every level of Japanese society-in ways that neither the victor nor the vanquished could anticipate. Here is the history of an extraordinary moment in the history of Japanese culture, when new values warred with old, and when early ideals of “peace and democracy” were soon challenged by the “reverse course” decision to incorporate Japan into the cold-war Pax Americana. Embracing Defeat chronicles not only the material and psychological impact of utter defeat but also the early emergence of dynamic countercultures that gave primacy to the private as opposed to public spheres-in short, a liberation from totalitarian wartime control. John Dower shows how the tangled legacies of this intense, turbulent, and unprecedented interplay of conqueror and conquered, West and East, wrought the utterly foreign and strangely familiar Japan of today.

Book:Five Thousand Days Like This One

Five Thousand Days Like This One: An American Family History

Jane Brox

Amid the turmoil after her father’s death—family decisions to be made, the future of their farm to be settled—Jane Brox begins a search for her family’s story. The search soon leads her to the fascinating and quintessentially American history of New England’s Merrimack Valley, its farmers, and the immigrant workers caught up in the industrial textile age. At the Center of Brox’s journey through family history is a poignant question: How can her own family identity—language, food, a grandfather’s wish for “five thousand days like this one”—be recovered, when so few traces of former lives are left? And she brings extraordinary attention, lyricism, and respect for real voices to her story—we hear, for instance, her father’s words in a stunning evocation of the influenza epidemic of 1918, a harrowing event that came so very close to home.

When Five Thousand Days Like This One returns to the present, along with decisions on how the orchards and farm stand will or won’t change, the author must make her own discoveries about those aspects of family identity she can cherish and those she must let go.

Book:I Could Tell You Stories

I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory

Patricia Hampl

One of our most elegant and thoughtful memoirists reflects on memory and imagination. Memoir, that landscape bordered by memory and imagination, has become the signature genre of our age. In this timely gathering, Patricia Hampl moves back and forth between a series of story-like recollections and essays in which she considers how she has been “enchanted or bedeviled” by autobiographical writing —her own and that of others. Subjects engaging Hampl’s attention are her family’s response to her personal writing; a secret that an old Czech migr tries to confide in her; reflections on reading Whitman during the Vietnam War; the ethics of writing about family and friends; and the experience of reviewing Anne Frank’s diary. In a wholly original conception of Sylvia Plath, Hampl —recalling her review as a young person of Ariel —writes her way out of the confines of memory and into the expansive province of the imagination. “A writer is first and last a reader,” she says, and makes it clear that, for her, reading is a passion not a pastime. The word that unites the impulse within all the pieces is “Remember!” —a command that can be startling. For to remember is to make a pledge: to the indelible experience of personal perception, and to history itself.

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