Annal: 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2009.

Book:The Age of Wonder

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

Richard Holmes

A riveting history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science.

When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook on his first Endeavour voyage in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery—astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical—swiftly follow in Richard Holmes’s original evocation of what truly emerges as an Age of Wonder.

Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder investigates the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of “dynamic science,” of an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives…[more]

Book:Fordlandia

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City

Greg Grandin

The stunning, never before told story of the quixotic attempt to recreate small-town America in the heart of the Amazon.

In 1927, Henry Ford, the richest man in the world, bought a tract of land twice the size of Delaware in the Brazilian Amazon. His intention was to grow rubber, but the project rapidly evolved into a more ambitious bid to export America itself, along with its golf courses, ice-cream shops, bandstands, indoor plumbing, and Model Ts rolling down broad streets.

Fordlandia, as the settlement was called, quickly became the site of an epic clash. On one side was the car magnate, lean, austere, the man who reduced industrial production to its simplest motions; on the other, the Amazon, lush, extravagant, the most complex ecological system on the planet. Ford’s early success in imposing time clocks and square dances on the jungle soon collapsed, as indigenous workers, rejecting his midwestern Puritanism, turned the place into a ribald tropical boomtown. Fordlandia’s…[more]

Book:The Hindus: An Alternative History

The Hindus: An Alternative History: An Alternative History

Wendy Doniger

From one of the world’s foremost scholars on Hinduism, a vivid reinterpretation of its history.

An engrossing and definitive narrative account of history and myth that offers a new way of understanding one of the world’s oldest major religions, The Hindus elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds.

Hinduism does not lend itself easily to a strictly chronological account: many of its central texts cannot be reliably dated even within a century; its central tenets—karma, dharma, to name just two—arise at particular moments in Indian history and differ in each era, between genders, and caste to caste; and what is shared among Hindus is overwhelmingly outnumbered by the things that are unique to one group or another. Yet the greatness of Hinduism—its vitality, its earthiness, its vividness—lies precisely in many of those idiosyncratic qualities that continue to inspire debate today. …[more]

Book:Imperial (Vollmann)

Imperial

William T. Vollmann

The Imperial Valley of southeastern California and the U.S./Mexico border is a place with a heavy history and an uncertain future. It is a land of great progress and crushing failure, home to a past that includes migrant workers, Mexican laborers, struggling farmers, corporate exploitation, pollution, the forgotten paradise of the Salton Sea, and underground tunnels that housed illegal Chinese immigrants, brothels, and gambling dens. Even at the turn of the twentieth century, few settled in the Imperial Valley because of its hot desert climate and lack of water. In 1901, the Imperial Land Company recognized the area’s soil potential and diverted the waters of the Colorado River to it, in effect transforming wasteland into productive farmland. Named for the corporation that brought it to life, the Imperial Valley, its surrounding regions (including the Coachella and Mexicali Valleys), and the people who live there are the subjects of the latest work by acclaimed author and now published photographer William T. Vollmann…[more]

Book:Strength in What Remains

Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness

Tracy Kidder

Tracy Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of the bestsellers The Soul of a New Machine, House, and the enduring classic Mountains Beyond Mountains, has been described by the Baltimore Sun as the “master of the non-fiction narrative.” In this new book, Kidder gives us the superb story of a hero for our time. Strength in What Remains is a wonderfully written, inspiring account of one man’s remarkable American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him–a brilliant testament to the power of will and of second chances.

Deo arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, plagued by horrific dreams, he lands at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English, and no contacts. He ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo begins to meet the…[more]

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