Category Archives: Nonfiction

“Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India”

William Dalrymple

Dalrymple profiles nine Indians who participate in the several religions — Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, etc. — of India in different ways. It’s an interesting peek into the colorful but opaque-to-oustsiders worlds of Indian faith and practices.

I read this before my recent trip to India, and I may reread parts now that I’ve experienced the country.

“The Habsburg Empire: A Very Short Introduction”

Martyn C. Rady

The Habsburgs are an endlessly fascinating topic (I can hear readers’ eyes rolling), a topic that’s probably too large for the “very short introduction” format. It’s not a bad book, but, like “The Habsburgs” didn’t quite scratch my Habsburg itch.

“Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi”

Piers Moore Ede

Varanasi (formerly Benares) is a city on the Ganges in northern India. It’s an ancient city, continuously inhabited for thousands of years, and is considered a holy city by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. The previous sentence is a pretty dry description; this book — which I read before visiting Varanasi — reveals a lot about the life of the city. But nothing can compare to being there: it’s chaotic, colorful, dirty, loud, and beautiful. From a boat on the Ganges you see people doing laundry, people engaged in ritual bathing, and cremation fires, all over a fairly short distance. I’d recommend “Kaleidoscope City” to anyone with the least interest in India or its religions. Now that I’ve been to the city, I may read the book again.

“Fishing Bamboo”

John Gierach

I don’t think I’ve cast a fly since I was 14 (a half century ago!), but I remember how I used to pour over the Orvis catalog — before Orvis was a fashion brand — yearning for a bamboo fly rod, all of which were far beyond my limited budget. “Fishing Bamboo” is a pleasant book about bamboo rods, their use, and the people who build them, enhanced by Gierach’s anecdotes and slightly curmudgeonly personality.

“Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World”

Roger Crowley

This is a good, not-too-detailed book about the struggle between the Ottoman Empire and the Christian West between the Siege of Rhodes in 1522 and the Battle of Lepanto in 1572 as it played out in the Mediterranean. To me the story of the Siege of Malta of 1565 was the most interesting part of the book, not just because it’s a dramatic tale of victory despite overwhelming odds, but because I read it just before visiting Malta.

Ft. St. Angelo (center across the water), which played an important role in the Great Siege, as it looks today.

“Fear: Trump in the White House”

Bob Woodward

This should have been titled “Fear: Trump’s White House Is Everything You Were Afraid It Would Be.” It’s an interesting, depressing read, and I’m sure Woodward’s reporting is accurate. However, it’s apparent that Woodward didn’t have enough sources to provide a very complete picture, so it’s more like looking at Trump’s White House through a keyhole than from above. It’s not nearly as good as his books on the Bush administration.

“Preparing For Your Active Life After Retirement: A Guide to The Most Exciting Journey of Your Life, The One That Takes Place After Retirement”

Bob Lowry

A little over three years ago I wrote a blog entry about Bob Lowry’s book “Living A Satisfying Retirement“. Now I’ve been retired just under two years and I’ve just read another of his books. I can see where this one would help someone approaching retirement. As for me, it’s helped me to take stock and given me some things to think about.

(Note in my earlier review I said his blog, “Satisfying Retirement” was no longer being updated. Currently it is being updated and I recommend it highly, not least for the quality of the moderated comments.)

“Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs”

Jeffrey Brouws

After a good introductory essay on collecting, railroads, and photography, Brouws presents vernacular photos of trains, railroaders, and the railroad landscape. The black and white photos, which range from the early 20th century to the early 1960s, were taken by raifans, railroad employees, and that most prolific of artists, “anonymous”. There’s a lot of variety in the collection, and a lot of quality.