Annal: 2008 National Book Award for Nonfiction

Results of the National Book Award in the year 2008.

Book:The Hemingses of Monticello

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Annette Gordon-Reed

This epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family’s dispersal after Jefferson’s death in 1826. It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings’s siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson’s wife, Martha. The Hemingses of Monticello sets the family’s compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. Much anticipated, this book promises to be the most important history of an American slave family ever written.

Book:The Dark Side

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

Jane Mayer

A dramatic and damning narrative account of how America has fought the “War on Terror”

In the days immediately following September 11th, the most powerful people in the country were panic-stricken. The radical decisions about how to combat terrorists and strengthen national security were made in a state of utter chaos and fear, but the key players, Vice President Dick Cheney and his powerful, secretive adviser David Addington, used the crisis to further a long held agenda to enhance Presidential powers to a degree never known in U.S. history, and obliterate Constitutional protections that define the very essence of the American experiment.

The Dark Side is a dramatic, riveting, and definitive narrative account of how the United States made terrible decisions in the pursuit of terrorists around the world—decisions that not only violated the Constitution to which White House officials…[more]

Book:Final Salute

Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives

Jim Sheeler

They are the troops that nobody wants to see, carrying a message that no military family ever wants to hear. It begins with a knock at the door. “The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know,” said Major Steve Beck.

Marines are trained to kill, to break down doors, but casualty notification is a mission without weapons. For Beck, the mission meant learning each dead marine’s name and nickname, touching the toys they grew up with and reading the letters they wrote home. He held grieving mothers in long embraces, absorbing their muffled cries into the dark blue shoulder of his uniform. He stitched himself into the fabric of their lives, in the simple hope that his compassion might help alleviate at least the smallest piece of their pain. Sometimes he returned home to his own family unable to keep from crying in the dark. …[more]

Book:The Suicide Index

The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order

Joan Wickersham

When you kill yourself, you kill every memory everyone has of you. You’re saying “I’m gone and you can’t even be sure who it is that’s gone, because you never knew me.”

Sixteen years ago, Joan Wickersham’s father shot himself in the head. The father she loved would never have killed himself, and yet he had. His death made a mystery of his entire life. Using an index—that most formal and orderly of structures—Wickersham explores this chaotic and incomprehensible reality. Every bit of family history—marriage, parents, business failures—and every encounter with friends, doctors, and other survivors exposes another facet of elusive truth. Dark, funny, sad, and gripping, at once a philosophical and deeply personal exploration, The Suicide Index is, finally, a daughter’s anguished, loving elegy to her father.

Book:This Republic of Suffering

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

Drew Gilpin Faust

An illuminating study of the American struggle to comprehend the meaning and practicalities of death in the face of the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War.

During the war, approximately 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. An equivalent proportion of today’s population would be six million. This Republic of Suffering explores the impact of this enormous death toll from every angle: material, political, intellectual, and spiritual. The eminent historian Drew Gilpin Faust delineates the ways death changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation and its understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. She describes how survivors mourned and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the slaughter with its belief in a benevolent God, pondered who should die and under what circumstances, and reconceived its understanding of life after death. …[more]

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