Honor roll: National Book Award for Nonfiction

Each of these books has been nominated for a National Book Award for Nonfiction. They are ranked by honors received.

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:Master of the Senate

Master of the Senate: Volume 3 of The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Robert A. Caro

Book Three of Robert A. Caro’s monumental work, The Years of Lyndon Johnson—the most admired and riveting political biography of our era—which began with the best-selling and prizewinning The Path to Power and Means of Ascent.

Master of the Senate carries Lyndon Johnson’s story through one of its most remarkable periods: his twelve years, from 1949 to 1960, in the United States Senate. At the heart of the book is its unprecedented revelation of how legislative power works in America, how the Senate works, and how Johnson, in his ascent to the presidency, mastered the Senate as no political leader before him had ever done.

It was during these years that all Johnson’s experience—from his Texas Hill Country boyhood to his passionate representation in Congress of his hardscrabble constituents to his tireless construction of a political machine—came to fruition. Caro…[more]

Book:Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Manning Marable

Years in the making—the definitive biography of the legendary black activist.

Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

Manning Marable’s new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of…[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:The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Erik Larson

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is…[more]

Book:Lincoln at Gettysburg

Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America

Garry Wills

The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead, he gave the whole nation “a new birth of freedom” in the space of a mere 272 words. His entire life and previous training, and his deep political experience went into this, his revolutionary masterpiece.

By examining both the address and Lincoln in their historical moment and cultural frame, Wills breathes new life into words we thought we knew, and reveals much about a president so mythologized but often misunderstood. Wills shows how Lincoln came to change the world and to effect an intellectual revolution, how his words had to and did complete the work of the guns, and how Lincoln wove a spell that has not yet been broken.

Book:The Making of the Atomic Bomb

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Richard Rhodes

Here for the first time, in rich, human, political, and scientific detail, is the complete story of how the bomb was developed, from the turn-of-the-century discovery of the vast energy locked inside the atom to the dropping of the first bombs on Japan.

Few great discoveries have evolved so swiftly—or have been so misunderstood. From the theoretical discussions of nuclear energy to the bright glare of Trinity there was a span of hardly more than twenty-five years. What began as merely an interesting speculative problem in physics grew into the Manhattan Project, and then into the Bomb with frightening rapidity, while scientists known only to their peers—Szilard, Teller, Oppenheimer, Bohr, Meitner, Fermi, Lawrence, and yon Neumann—stepped from their ivory towers into the limelight. …[more]

Book:Common Ground

Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families

J. Anthony Lukas

The climax of this humane account of 10 years in Boston that began with news of Martin Luther King’s assassination, is a watershed moment in the city’s modern history—the 1974 racist riots that followed the court-ordered busing of kids to integrate the schools. To bring understanding to that moment, Lukas, a former New York Times journalist, focuses on two working-class families, headed by an Irish-American widow and an African-American mother, and on the middle-class family of a white liberal couple. Lukas goes beyond stereotypes, carefully grounding each…

Book:Gulag: A History

Gulag: A History

Anne Applebaum

The Gulag—the vast array of Soviet concentration camps—was a system of repression and punishment whose rationalized evil and institutionalized inhumanity were rivaled only by the Holocaust.

The Gulag entered the world’s historical consciousness in 1972, with the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s epic oral history of the Soviet camps, The Gulag Archipelago. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, dozens of memoirs and new studies covering aspects of that system have been published in Russia and the West. Using these new resources as well as her own original historical research, Anne Applebaum has now undertaken, for the first time, a fully documented history of the Soviet camp system, from its origins in the Russian Revolution to its collapse in the era of glasnost. It is an epic feat of investigation and moral reckoning that places the Gulag where it belongs: at the center of our understanding of the troubled history of the twentieth…[more]

Book:The Passage of Power

The Passage of Power: Volume 4 of The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Robert A. Caro

Book Four of Robert A. Caro’s monumental The Years of Lyndon Johnson displays all the narrative energy and illuminating insight that led the Times of London to acclaim it as “one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age.  A masterpiece.”

The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career—1958 to1964.  It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as Senate Majority Leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a Vice President in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the moment it took an assassin’s bullet to reach its mark. …[more]

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