Goodreads Best of 2013 History & Biography Finalists

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Everything you need to know about -- and vote on -- the best historical and biographical books of the year. Handouts

As part of a partnership with GoodreadsNewsweek is outlining information from Goodreads Choice Awards 2013 finalists in five separate categories, providing summary and review details on everything from the latest hot memoir to the most critically acclaimed piece of historical fiction. 

Here are the Goodreads Top 10 history and biography finalists, plus a Goodreads review and some entertaining reviews from Amazon. Go vote for your favorite!

 

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT - Daniel James Brown

Goodreads Top Review:

"If I told you one of the most propulsive reads you will experience this year is the non-fiction story of eight rowers and one coxswain training to attend the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, you may not believe me. But you’d need to back up your opinion by reading this book first, and you will thank me for it. Daniel James Brown has done something extraordinary here. We may already know the outcome of that Olympic race, but the pacing is exceptional. Brown juxtaposes descriptions of crew training in Seattle with national races against the IV League in Poughkeepsie; we see developments in a militarizing Germany paired with college competitions in depression-era United States; individual portraits of the “boys” (now dead) are placed alongside cameos of their coaches; he shares details of the early lives of a single oarsman, Joe Rantz, with details of his wife's parallel experiences." -Trish
Read the full review.

Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“In a perfect world, this would be #1 on the bestseller lists, Daniel James Brown's name would be a household word, and this would be made into an Academy Award winning movie. It is that good... I should mention that even the bibliography is incredible.” (Babbo)

 

THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY - Denise Kiernan

Goodreads Top Review:

"Most of the adult non-fiction I have read in recent years has been pretentious, badly written and highly overrated by reviewers. And this one is outstanding. From the first page, it reads like a well written novel--only it tells a true story. It's the story of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a city created by the government to develop the atomic bomb program. Thousands of men and women come to live and work in Oak Ridge from all over the country, but only a few actually have any sort of idea of what their work is about. It is not until the first atomic bomb is dropped on Japan that the secret comes out--security is that fierce." -The Library Lady
Read the full review.

Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“This book is a perfect example of the sorry state of book publishing these days. The author has done great research and has lots of interesting information, but her book is in desperate need of editing. Lots of things are repeated 2 or 3 times. A tighter organization would have helped a lot. OK, I know editing is expensive and that publishing's profits are rapidly diminishing, but the demise of editing is a great loss to the reading public.” (Kathleen W Shepherd)

 

DIRTY WARS - Jeremy Scahill

Goodreads Top Review:

"[R]egardless of stripe, if you want to read a clear and documented (sometimes too documented, at the cost of pacing) look at how America has come to be on a 'perpetual war footing', where the entire world is the battlefield, grab this book. There is plenty of outrage to go around." -Elmwoodblues
Read the full review.

Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“The good: this is extremely well researched, detailed, and informative. The bad: the subject matter is depressing. I lean to the left and I have to say my opinion of Obama took a big hit while reading this.” (S. Bowman)

“The book will scare the hell out of you. This book discusses many dirty secrets the US Government has employed in the war on terror.” (Allen Smith)

 

MANSON - Jeff Guinn

Goodreads Top Review:

"The most striking quality of this book was its tremendous readability; it proved a real page turner. I am a fan of true crime journalism, stories, etc., but I had no real interest in the Manson case beforehand. The author, Jeff Guinn, sure converted me quickly." -Kara
Read the full review.

Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“This is the story of a pathetic little man who would have been nothing but another deadbeat freeloader had the stars not aligned, had he not found pathetic gullible followers. But he did, and he became both infamous and famous, and more lives were destroyed than only those murdered by Manson and the family.” (Just My Op)

 

THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT  - Rick Atkinson

Goodreads Top Review:

"This book continues Atkinson’s monumental study of the Allied armies in North Africa and Europe. Here we see the planning of the Normandy invasion to the capitulation of German forces. There are judgments as to generals. Patton gets high marks. Eisenhower is shown as a work in progress, a man who would grow into the job. Montgomery’s own words paint him in buffoonerous hues but Atkinson still offered that Monty, while “careless with the truth,” nevertheless “was as responsible as any man for victory in Normandy.” -Tony
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Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“Sing song. Lots of it. Accompanied by the increasing presence of obese sentences - usually in the form of one or two lengthy complete sentences, illogically conjoined with an "and" to form a monstrosity. I haven't seen anything this bad since Adam Zamoyski's "Moscow 1812, Napoleon's Fatal March" (HarperCollins 2004).” (Don Reed)

 

JIM HENSON - Brian Jay Jones

Goodreads Top Review:

"Jones' biography abounds with details like the challenges of recording scenes with Muppets on locations away from the studio, or re-designing a puppet's eyes so she looks softer, or re-creating a whole character, like one pig (just like many others in the batch) who becomes Miss Piggy. Stories within stories. Fascinating. ou bring your own memories to this book, and you find yourself saying, "I remember when...." -Ken Bronsil
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Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“I did quite a lot of youtube searches while reading this book. I had so much fun reading about the birth of the characters I know and love so well, that I had to pause and watch them. My Netflix queue has ballooned considerably as a result of reading this book. And I'm not ashamed one bit about being a 30-something supposed adult checking out Sesame Street Old School DVDs from the library yesterday.” (Jessiqa)

 

FROZEN IN TIME - Mitchell Zuckoff

Goodreads Top Review:

"Mitchell Zuckoff seems to be making a habit of looking into the travails of crash victims. His prior book, Lost in Shangri-la , followed three survivors of a WW II era plane crash in New Guinea. They faced the usual sorts of dangers, a step back to the Paleolithic, and a diverse assortment of possible ways to die; cannibals, elements of an enemy army, all sorts of predatory and/or poisonous critters, microscopic invaders that could ruin your day, and help see that it is your last. The whole world was watching and cheering for their safe return. Reversing his orientation a bit this time Zuckoff, in his latest WW II opus, Frozen in Time, has substituted brutal cold, and a particularly unwelcoming landscape for those other hazards." -Will Byrnes
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Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“The descriptions of the downed airmen in Greenland's icy landscape were enough to make a person shiver; likewise the descriptions of what the crew did to stay alive were vivid and well-explained. I would have given it five stars but I didn't love the subject matter or the subject place.” (Looking for the Rainbow)

 

EMPTY MANSIONS - Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

"Huguette Clark was born to nearly unimaginable wealth and privilege. Her father, William A. Clark, was a copper baron who made several fortunes, particularly in mining and railroads, booming industries during America's Gilded Age. At the time of his death in 1925, he had a huge fortune to leave to his heirs, including his youngest child, Huguette Marcelle Clark. Huguette married once, but got divorced after approximately a year. She then turned to a very private life, far from the social whirl of New York's elite. Over time, fewer and fewer people heard from her, and hardly anyone saw her. She lived in a grand apartment on New York's Fifth Ave., with her mother, an extremely valuable art collection, as well as her beloved collection of dolls, miniature houses, and Stradivarius violins. She owned extensive properties, including a mansion with an estate in New Canaan, CT that she never lived in or furnished, and a grand mansion and grounds in Santa Barbara, CA." -Kris
Read the full review.

Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“As a miniaturist, I am anxious to learn the outcome of Huguette's doll houses and I do wish this book had gone into more details of the houses and their contents.” (Martha Bates)

 

ONE SUMMER - Bill Bryson

Goodreads Top Review:

"I suppose Bill Bryson’s latest effort is a piece of historical journalism. It digests and packages a slice of American history for the idly curious (which is Bryson’s readership –I never miss a book). With the advantage of historical distance we are made nostalgic for a moment we never experienced. Indeed, almost no one alive can actually remember it. To people Bryson’s age (which is roughly my age plus a nickel or a dime) the names and events from the late 1920’s buzzed around our childhood ears in the conversations of our now departed parents and grandparents. But to anyone younger than 40, most of this stuff is completely unfamiliar. I don’t know exactly why the period from April to early October of this particular year suggested itself to Bryson –he might as easily have chosen any six-month period between 1925 and 1929. Yet, as he says, it was 'one hell of a summer.' It compares with other famous summers in American history, little epochs in which we see Americana in high tide. 1942 and 1967 come immediately to mind." -Randy Auxier
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Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“This book is so filled with interesting trivia about the years in and around 1927 that it makes your head swim. But it is engaging and interesting stuff filled with Americana that I never really knew much about. A great read. We're proud to call Bill an 'Iowan'!” (William Kuhlman)

 

EIGHTY DAYS - Matthew Goodman

Goodreads Top Review:

"On November 14, 1889, muckraking reporter Nellie Bly left New York City on the first leg of a round-the-world race to beat Phileas Fogg's time of eighty days. Fogg, you will remember, was a fictional character created by French author Jules Verne. Bly would not know until she reached Hong Kong that she was also in a race with a real person, another American writer named Elizabeth Bisland. Bly had three days to get ready, Elizabeth about twelve hours, Bly was traveling east, Bisland west. Bly's trip was funded by her employer, Joseph Pulitzer's The World newspaper, Bisland's by The Cosmopolitan magazine, for which she wrote freelance. The two women could not have been more unlike, as the trip was all eager Bly's idea and reluctant Bisland was fairly dropped in it by her editor. Both publications were in it to raise circulation." -Dana Stabenow
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Our Favorite Amazon Review:

“I learned that before the railroads, there were 27 times zones in the state of Illinois and 38 in Wisconsin. Boston was 12 minutes ahead of New York. It was the railroad companies, not the government, who got together and instituted the four time zones we have today which happened on November 18, 1883.” (Alan A. Elsner)

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