Annal: 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2012.

Book:Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity

Andrew Solomon

In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than…[more]

Book:Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Katherine Boo

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful…[more]

Book:Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

Steve Coll

In Private Empire Steve Coll investigates the largest and most powerful private corporation in the United States, revealing the true extent of its power. ExxonMobil’s annual revenues are larger than the economic activity in the great majority of countries. In many of the countries where it conducts business, ExxonMobil’s sway over politics and security is greater than that of the United States embassy. In Washington, ExxonMobil spends more money lobbying Congress and the White House than almost any other corporation. Yet despite its outsized influence, it is a black box.

Private Empire pulls back the curtain, tracking the corporation’s recent history and its central role on the world stage, beginning with the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989 and leading to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The action spans the globe, moving from Moscow, to impoverished African capitals, Indonesia, and elsewhere…[more]

Book:Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

David Quammen

First, a horse in Brisbane falls ill: fever, swelling, bloody froth. Then thirteen others perish. The foreman at the stables becomes ill and the trainer dies. What is going on?

It takes months to establish that the cause is a virus which has travelled from a tree-dwelling bat to horse, and from horse to man. The bats had lived undisturbed for centuries in Queensland’s eucalyptus forests. Now the forests are being cut down and the colonies of bats are roosting elsewhere…

Spillover tells the story of such diseases. As globalization spreads and as we destroy the ancient ecosystems, we encounter strange and dangerous infections that originate in animals but that can be transmitted to humans. Diseases that were contained are being set free and the results are potentially catastrophic.

In a journey that takes him from southern China to the Congo, from Cameroon to Kinshasa, David Quammen tracks these infections to their source and asks what we can do to prevent some new pandemic spreading across the face of the earth.

Book:Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story

Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

Jim Holt

In this astonishing and profound work, an irreverent sleuth traces the riddle of existence from the ancient world to modern times.

Whether framed philosophically as “Why is there a world rather than nothing at all?” or more colloquially as “But, Mommy, who made God?” the metaphysical mystery about how we came into existence remains the most fractious and fascinating question of all time. Following in the footsteps of Christopher Hitchens, Roger Penrose, and even Stephen Hawking, Jim Holt emerges with an engrossing narrative that traces our latest efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. As he takes on the role of cosmological detective, the brilliant yet slyly humorous Holt contends that we might have been too narrow in limiting our suspects to God vs. the Big Bang. Whether interviewing a cranky Oxford philosopher, a Physics Nobel Laureate, or a French Buddhist monk, Holt pursues unexplored and often bizarre angles to this cosmic puzzle. The result is a brilliant synthesis of cosmology, mathematics, and physics—one that propels his own work to the level of philosophy itself.

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