‘I Am Malala’ and the Other Best History and Politics Books of 2013
The year’s best history and politics books included several memoirs, among them Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s “My Beloved World”—one of our editor Nathan’s favorites of 2013—and girl hero Malala Yousafzai’s inspiring “I Am Malala.” We’ve highlighted Yousafzai’s triumphant debut, as well as nine other reads we loved and learned from: excellent new presidential biographies by Pulitzer Prize winners Doris Kearns Goodwin and A. Scott Berg, a National Book Award-winning look at a country still clawing its way out of the financial crisis, a gossipy post-mortem on last year’s presidential election and more. Learn why they moved us with our list of the year’s best below.
“Team of Rivals” author Doris Kearns Goodwin returned this year with another smashing presidential biography, “The Bully Pulpit.” Having tackled FDR and Lincoln, this time Goodwin examines the lives of back-to-back presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, whose broken friendship resulted in the demise of both men’s political careers. Bringing ghosts back to life is Goodwin’s strength, and she’s at it again: Roosevelt, Taft, their wives and confidantes practically leap off the page.
Goodwin sets the stage for fellow Pulitzer-winner A. Scott Berg’s latest, a sweeping biography of Roosevelt and Taft’s successor, Woodrow Wilson. Berg does an expert job at shedding new light on the life and character of the man who led America into and out of World War I and proposed the League of Nations.
Author Jill Lepore lends her considerable research and writing talents to telling the life story of a lesser-known member of the Franklin family, Benjamin’s younger sister, Jane, in “Book of Ages.” Jane, a mother of 12, was just as feisty and politically astute as her brother but, of course, limited in what she could accomplish due to the gender norms of her era. Until now, her tale hadn’t been told. By revealing her to the world, Lepore weaves an alternate history of the founding of America that’s both intriguing and important—a story that young girls learning about the birth of America ought to know.
Like Lepore, Pulitzer-winner Joseph Ellis takes on the era of America’s founding in “Revolutionary Summer.” Ellis dissects the decision to secede from England and the ensuing war while sketching biographies of the famous figures at the center of the scene: Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. Ellis’s laser focus on the climactic summer before America won independence—a period when key conversations took place about how the colonies would fight and what America would stand for--sets this history apart.
Rick Atkinson’s “The Guns at Last Light”--the final installment of his celebrated World War II Liberation Trilogy--recounts the end of the war in Europe. Atkinson tells the story through the eyes and experiences of the extraordinary and ordinary, quoting from Eisenhower’s letters but, also, from letters by average soldiers written to their families. It’s as vivid an account of the last days of the war as any.
In her eagerly anticipated memoir “I Am Malala”—released, incredibly, on the one-year anniversary of the Taliban shooting that nearly claimed her life—Pakistani teen crusader Malala Yousafzai tells her remarkable life story and reaffirms her goal: ensuring the right to education for children—particularly girls—worldwide. Considering what she’s endured, it’s impossible not to marvel at her resolve to stir change. We’ll be hearing Malala’s name for years to come.
Highfalutin tastemakers might sniff at the notion of including this one on their best-of lists, but here at Bookish, we’re not afraid of giving credit where it’s due: Of all the Obama-Romney post-presidential election digests to hit shelves this fall, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s sinful “Double Down” was by far the most fun to read. The guys who wrote “Game Change” served up all the dirty details, from Obama’s self-doubt and Mitt Romney’s Chris Christie fat jabs to Bill Clinton’s Svengali-esque backstage behavior. We were scandalized! We were riveted! What’s not to love?
George Packer traveled cross-country to craft his sobering, National Book Award-winning portrait of the United States after the recession, “The Unwinding.” By stitching together the stories of Americans from all walks of life--rich ones, poor ones and folks in between—Packer turns an unforgiving spotlight on the harsh realities of life in our country today, where wealth remains concentrated in the hands of the few while many go without.
“Fast Food Nation” author Eric Schlosser offered up one of the year’s other toughest but most important reads, “Command and Control,” a grave account of America’s nuclear weapons program. Schlosser recalls narrowly averted nuclear disasters most folks probably don’t know much about—and the stories are shocking.
In her fantastic “Five Days at Memorial,” Sheri Fink investigates the terrible days following Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’s Memorial Medical Center, where dozens of patients died after receiving fatal injections from health workers. Without power and with dwindling resources, doctors and nurses were faced with an impossible dilemma: Try to keep everyone alive or focus on the likeliest ones to live. Fink—a trained physician herself--does a top-notch job of reporting the facts impartially and in bold detail.
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