Annal: 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2002.

Book:A Problem from Hell

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

Samantha Power

A character-driven study of some of the darkest moments in our national history, when America failed to prevent or stop 20th-century campaigns to exterminate Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Iraqi Kurds, Bosnians, and Rwandans .

Drawing upon declassified cables, private papers, exclusive interviews with Washington’s top policy-makers, and her own reporting from the modern killing fields, Samantha Power tells the story of American indifference and American courage in the face of the worst massacres of the twentieth century.

In this masterful work of social history, Power examines how, in the five decades since the Holocaust, Americans have very rarely marshaled their might to stop genocide and mass terror. Indeed, she shows how the U.S. response to recent genocides bears striking resemblance to the American response to reports of Hitler’s Final Solution. By paying particular attention to the last…[more]

Book:American Ground

American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center

William Langewiesche

Unlike any other reporter, William Langewiesche has had unrestricted access to Ground Zero and the people involved in the cleanup. He has literally followed in the footsteps of engineers, “deconstruction” workers, firemen, and city officials as they tackle the mind-numbing task of bringing order to an instance of chaos unprecedented on our soil.

American Ground is a tour of the interlocking circles of this Dantesque world. With the “knowledge and passion as well as …careful eloquence” for which his reportage is known (New York Times Book Review), Langewiesche anatomizes the physical details of the collapse and deconstruction, capturing in the process the contest of politics and personality that were its aftershock. At the center of the book is the team of engineers, many of them instrumental in building the towers, who now must collaborate in the sad task of disassembling them. Their responses are as dramatic and unpredictable as the shifting pile of rubble…[more]

Book:Brown: The Last Discovery of America

Brown: The Last Discovery of America

Richard Rodriguez

America is browning. As politicians, schoolteachers, and grandparents attempt to decipher what that might mean, Richard Rodriguez argues America has been brown from its inception, as he himself is.

As a brown man, I think . . .
(But do we really think that color colors thought?)

In his two previous memoirs, Hunger of Memory and Days of Obligation, Rodriguez wrote about the intersection of his private life with public issues of class and ethnicity. With Brown, his consideration of race, Rodriguez completes his “trilogy on American public life.”

For Rodriguez, brown is not a singular color. Brown is evidence of mixture. Brown is a shade created by desire-an emblem…[more]

Book:Edison's Eve

Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life

Gaby Wood

A rich and informative exploration of our age-old obsession with “making life.”

Could an eighteenth-century mechanical duck really digest and excrete its food? Was “the Turk,” a celebrated chess-playing and -winning machine fabricated in 1769, a dazzling piece of fakery, or could it actually think? Why was Thomas Edison obsessed with making a mechanical doll—a perfect woman, mass-produced? Can a twenty-first-century robot express human emotions of its own?

Taking up themes long familiar from the realms of fairy tales and science fiction, Gaby Wood traces the hidden prehistory of a modern idea—the thinking, hoaxes, and inventions that presaged contemporary robotics and the current experiments with artificial intelligence. Informed by the author’s scientific and historical research, Edison’s Eve is also a brilliant literary, cultural, and philosophical examination of the motives that have driven human beings to pursue the creation of mechanical life, and the effects of that pursuit—both in its successes and in its failures—on our sense of what makes us human.

Book:War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Chris Hedges

A veteran New York Times war correspondent’s complex, moving, and thought-provoking reflection on how life is lived most intensely in times of war.

General George S. Patton famously said, “Compared to war all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. God, I do love it so!” Though Patton was a notoriously single-minded general, it is nonetheless a sad fact that war gives meaning to many lives, a fact with which we have become familiar now that America is once again engaged in a military conflict. War is an enticing elixir. It gives us purpose, resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble.

Chris Hedges of The New York Times has seen war up close—in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central America—and he has been troubled by what he has seen: friends, enemies, colleagues, and strangers intoxicated and even addicted to war’s heady brew. In War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, he tackles the ugly truths about humanity’s love affair with war, offering a sophisticated, nuanced, intelligent meditation on the subject that is also gritty, powerful, and unforgettable.

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