Category: Nonfiction

Hamilton: the Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter

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This wonderful coffee-table book is for both fans of the Broadway musical Hamilton, and for those who don’t get it or haven’t spent time with the lyrics. The “Hamiltome” tells two stories, one of the play’s journey from conception to development to joyous opening night and beyond. The other tells the story of the play through its lyrics, annotated by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer, lyricist, and creator of the show.

It is in the annotations where the real nuggets lie for those who are as swept away by Miranda’s genius as I am. For those annotations cover which scene is tough for him to act, where many of his theatre and hip-hop references stem from, which internal rhyme scheme he loves the most, along with many other tidbits that deepen the theatrical love affair that so many of us have with the man and the show. A treasure.

 

The Short Life and Tragic Death of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man who left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs

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An extraordinary look at the life of one young man, born in a rough part of Newark, educated at Yale, and dead at 30. Author Hobbs (Peace’s roommate at Yale) makes us so intimately acquainted with Peace’s East Orange neighborhood that we care deeply about not only Rob Peace, but also about his relatives, his best friends, and his small prep school that caters to young men of color. Rob’s tragic flaw is his investment in his neighborhood, and his inability to leave it contributes to his death.

It has taken me several days to write this review, because I genuinely grieve for the loss of Rob, not only because he is exceptional, but also because he represents so many other young black men who don’t even make it that far, but all of whom are cut down too soon.

The musical Hamilton says it is those who are left behind who determine “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” Rob Peace will never die because Jeff Hobbs told his story.
A must-read.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris

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A first-rate book for grammar sticklers, spelling fiends, pencil fanciers, etymologists, punctuation junkies, and fans of The New Yorker. Mary Norris has copy-edited that magazine for over 30 years, and her book is a combination of grammar reference, apologia for the inimitable New Yorkerstyle, and memoir. She has a dry wit that she deploys well, and her stories of grammar and punctuation arguments at work bring her colleagues to life on the page. A joy to read.

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow

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I read this book due to my obsession with Broadway’s Hamilton, and it has more than rewarded the three weeks it took me to finish it. Through this sensational, eye-opening view of our founding fathers, the brilliant, verbose, and fatally flawed Alexander Hamilton stands out for his prescience, his passion for his adopted nation, and his work ethic. At the end of the book, I actually wept over his loss to our country. A triumph for Chernow, this book showed me history in a light in which I’d never considered it, filled with flawed men, gutter politics, and a genuine amazement that we had the gifts of these people at this time in our national life. Highly recommended.

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte

An exceptional work of nonfiction that documents our descent into the hamster-wheel of busyness that has swept up so many in American society. Focusing on the three main areas of her title, Schulte tracks the rise of the Ideal Worker (who has no personal life), and the Ideal Mother (who devotes herself, to her own detriment, to her child), and the decline of Play, particularly for women, who, too often, don’t allow themselves to do anything that’s not on their To-Do lists. More importantly, she finds bright spots, where people are breaking out of the mold to work more flexibly, to parent collaboratively, and to find time, even as adults, to play. Mandatory reading.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

This tiny book has been revolutionary in many lives through its idea of only keeping in your home what sparks joy for you. If you ever feel weighed down by all your stuff, I recommend to you. I’m part way through Kondo’s process of “tidying up one time and never again”, and it has already made a difference in the way I look at the things around me. The book is an easy read, and if you are interested in stories of how people are making it work in their lives, I recommend the FB group Konmari Adventures to you as well.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, by Maya Van Wagenen

A terrific 2014 memoir of a shy, geeky, 8th-grade girl who decides, on the advice of a 1950s book called Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide, to make herself over and become popular. And she follows the directions, from facials to pearls and girdles, and discovers a remarkable truth. Other people are shy too, and many of them respond positively if you reach out. The author was 15 when she wrote the book and she has a wry sensibility that makes this a joy to read. For 12 and up.

Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money, by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze

A really thought-provoking book, targeted at parents and guardians, about how to make your children, teens, and young adults make smart financial choices. Like any how-to book, there may be things you disagree with (including the author’s Christian influences), but there is sharp, focused advice in here on issues from allowances to first checking accounts to paying for college to paying for weddings. And you don’t have to have a lot of money to follow this advice – Dave and his daughter, Rachel, give you options regardless of your personal financial history or status.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown

Absolutely fantastic nonfiction book about a boat of young men from the University of Washington who row crew in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As the book tracks one young man through the story, it also relays the historical context around him, from the Depression and the Dust Bowl, to the Hitler’s rise and Germany’s preparation for the Games. Informative, inspirational, and a riveting read, I cannot recommend it more highly.