Category Archives: Nonfiction

“The Last Photographic Heroes : American Photographers of the Sixties and Seventies”

Gilles Mora

This brought back a lot of memories of the work of photographers I studied from the time I picked up a 35mm camera in high school till I graduated from college with a photojournalism degree in 1976. The photos are well chosen and nicely reproduced and the commentary is opinionated in a good way.

As with the songs of that era, there’s work in the book that I didn’t like then, but that I very much like now.

“Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth”

John Garth

The title of this book should be “Tolkien: A Biography Through World War I”, because it’s not just about his wartime experiences, but about his life up till about age 26. It focuses on his closest boyhood friends and their fates in the war.

Garth He goes into detail about the development of Tolkien’s languages and the associated world building. He traces elements of Tolkiens legendarium to his experiences in the trenches, but it’s not a simplistic one-to-one mapping.

This is a great book that should be read by anyone interested in Tolkien. My only complaint is that it stops in 1918.

“Preparing to Make the Most of Your Free Time After Retirement”

by Bob Lowry

This is a very short book on the non-financial aspects of retirement. It’s thought-provoking, but not as useful as Lowry’s excellent blog (happily active again after a hiatus) and its equally valuable comments section. I’d recommend reading the blog and Lowry’s previous book before reading this one.

“The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation”

Bill Morgan

I’ve read a lot about the Beat Generation. To some extent this book repeats what I’ve read elsewhere. The valuable thing about it is that it tracks all of the Beats through decades so the reader gets a good sense of who was where when and doing what with who. The “doing what with who” isn’t limited to literary efforts, thus the subtitles’s “uncensored”. It’s less salacious that it sounds; mostly the account proves that the Beats behaved pretty horribly towards the women in their lives.

Though the author (an archivist for Ginsberg and other Beats) doesn’t explicitly state it, he makes a good case for an argument that the Beat Generation is best defined as “friends of Allen Ginsberg”. It’s also clear from Morgan’s account that Ginsberg was a better friend to his friends than they often were to him.

“The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump”

Andrew G. McCabe

I think it was David Frum who said “there is no bottom” to the misdeeds of the Trump administration. If anyone needed more proof of that statement, this book would provide it. McCabe writes about his entire career focusing on the way the FBI works and the essential nature of its tasks. The professionalism and dedication to the rule of law that he portrays is in sharp contrast to what the president wants: unquestioning loyalty.

The book would probably be better if McCabe weren’t constrained by security restrictions, but it’s a memoir, not a journalistic account. It’s chilling enough as it stands.

“The Spy and the Traitor”

Ben Macintyre

From 1982 to 1985 the KGB’s top man in London, Oleg Gordievsky, was working for Britain’s MI6. “The Spy and the Traitor” is the story of Gordievsky’s life, his career working for the KGB and MI6, and his dramatic 1985 exfiltration from the USSR as a result of CIA agent Aldrich Ames’ betrayal. Ames, the “traitor” of the title — though from the Soviet perspectivve Gordievsky was also a traitor — had sold information to the KGB.

Macintyre is a good story teller and this story, told with Gordievsky’s cooperation, is a good one.

“Spain: The Centre of the World 1519-1682”

Robert Goodwin

The story of Spain from the reign of Charles V to that of Phillip IV is a big subject. Goodwin does a good job of telling that story by using the lives of several famous figures to frame his tale.

I enjoyed reading this book on my recent trip to Spain. Thanks to Goodwin I knew more about Velázquez and El Greco than I otherwise would have while enjoying their paintings. And I appreciated my visit to the University of Salamanca more because of what I read in the book about Francisco de Vitoria and his defense of the sovreignity of native peoples.

“The Life of Hinduism”

John Stratton Hawley and Vasudha Narayanan

My recent trip to India left me with a curiosity about Hinduism as it’s lived, probably because religion is lived very publicly in India. This book — a collection of mostly academic pieces by various authors — helped me satisfy that curiosity a little. It is less personal than I had hoped it would be (I was hoping for something more journalistic, like ““Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India”“). Also, some of the pieces are surprisingly old, given the book’s 2006 publication date.