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Non-fiction picks in 2017

GAYS MILLS - Last week’s column was about fiction, this week it’s non-fiction, in other words reality.

‘Table of Contents’

by John McPhee

I have become a huge fan of John McPhee.  It’s hard to pigeon hole this endlessly curious man, a pioneer of the creative non-fiction field, and New Yorker staff writer.  He writes interestingly about whatever strikes his fancy after obsessively researching it to within an inch of its life.  This book has chapters on bears living in proximity of humans, mini-hydro electrical generation, general medical practice (as compared to the specialization and industrialization of it), a former atomic bomb designer who is making and using ice to conserve electrical energy, and a day spent with Senator Bill Bradley.  Like I said, hard to pigeonhole.  My goal is to read all of his 32 books.

‘My War’

by Andy Rooney

Andy ‘have you ever wondered about’ Rooney of 60 Minutes fame had sort of a Forrest Gump experience during WWII.  He seemed to be everywhere and saw and wrote about practically the whole thing as an Army war correspondent.  Rooney writes clearly and honestly and brings an everyman perspective to this major event.

‘Deer Hunting With Jesus’

 by Joe Bageant

That title got me right away.  Huh? Bageant moved back to his home town, Winchester, Virginia, in his 50s after wandering widely. He wanted to understand where he came from, to understand his people. Subtitled ‘Dispatches from America’s Class War’ and published in 2007, this a raucous, truth-telling book about white, working-poor people and how they learned to hate liberalism.  It’s amazing how well it reads 10 years after being published.

‘The Shepherd’s Life’

by James Rebanks

This book made me want to go buy a few head of sheep. It’s written by a sheep farmer who comes from generations of sheep farmers in the beautiful hilly Lake District of Northern England.  Rugged Herdwick and Swaledale sheep are raised much like they have been since before recorded history. Rebanks takes you through a year of the ancient enterprise as he struggles to hold on to a disappearing way of life.

‘Hillbilly Elegy’

by J. Vance

A book similar to ‘Deer Hunting’ above, but newer.  It’s a best seller this year and soon to be a movie. It’s also a memoir of family and culture in a crisis.  This is the author’s personal story of how he rose above his humble background to become a lawyer and gives a knowing explanation of the struggles of the working poor.

“The Moth, All These Wonders’

by Catherine Burns and Neil Gaiman

The Moth is a show on National Public Radio where people get up and tell personal stories to a live audience. This book puts some of the best stories from the show’s 20-year history in written form. Moving stories about risk, courage, and facing the unknown.

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

by David Grann

American history you didn’t hear in school. In the 1920s, the Osage Indians of Oklahoma became the richest people per capita in the world.  Oil was discovered on the previously thought God-forsaken reservation where they wound up. The book describes a tragic chapter in our history of how the tribe was horn-swaggled out of their riches. The case was one of the first major homicide cases handled by the newly organized FBI. 


by Sam Quinones

A story as scary as any Stephen King could come up with.  A well-researched and thorough exploration of the opioid epidemic that has this country by the throat and is killing thousands of people each year. The book details how Big Pharma has gotten millions of Americans hooked on supposedly non-addictive painkillers and how a small town in Mexico developed into a heroin super-supplier using brilliant, cartel-beating marketing techniques. A frightening read.