National Book Award Non-Fiction Finalists

November 8, 2011 – 4:35 PM

Deborah Baker, The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism
Main Library 6th floor, BP170.5.M3 B35 2011

What drives a young woman raised in a postwar New York City suburb to convert to Islam, abandon her country and Jewish faith, and embrace a life of exile in Pakistan? The Convert tells the story of how Margaret Marcus of Larchmont became Maryam Jameelah of Lahore, one of the most trenchant and celebrated voices of Islam’s argument with the West. A cache of Maryam’s letters to her parents in the archives of The New York Public Library sends acclaimed biographer Deborah Baker on her own odyssey into the labyrinthine heart of twentieth-century Islam.

Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution
On order for stacks

Love and Capital reveals the rarely glimpsed and heartbreakingly human side of the man whose works would redefine the world after his death, as well as a vivid account of the woman who gave him the strength to follow his dangerous course. Karl Marx was a student without wealth or certain future when Jenny von Westphalen, the captivating daughter of a Prussian baron, fell in love with him. Together they would journey through Europe, on the run from governments and shadowy foes increasingly alarmed by Marx’s revolutionary ideas. Through decades of desperate struggle, Jenny’s love for Karl would be tested again and again as she waited for him to finish his masterpiece, Capital.

Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
On order for stacks

In the winter of 1417, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties plucked a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. The man was Poggio Braccionlini, the greatest book hunter of the Renaissance. His discovery was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.
The copying and translation of this ancient book fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.

Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
Main Library 6th floor, BP223.Z8 L57636 2011

Of the figures who tower over twentieth-century American history, few are as complex, multifaceted, and controversial as Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and eventually an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at the age of thirty-nine.

Manning Marable’s biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement, the culmination of years of research and dogged pursuit of Malcolm’s friends, enemies, and fellow travelers, many of whom have rarely or never before spoken about him on the record. Filled with startling revelations and new information from long-suppressed private and government files, it presents the most complete picture ever set down of the man Ossie Davis memorialized as “our living, black manhood.”

Lauren Redniss, Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout
Available through GIL Express

In 1891, twenty-four-year-old Marie, née Marya Sklodowska, moved from Warsaw to Paris, where she found work in the laboratory of Pierre Curie, a scientist engaged in research on heat and magnetism. They fell in love. They took their honeymoon on bicycles. They expanded the periodic table, discovering two new elements with startling properties, radium and polonium. They recognized radioactivity as an atomic property, heralding the dawn of a new scientific era. They won the Nobel Prize. Newspapers mythologized the couple’s romance, beginning articles on the Curies with “Once upon a time…” Then, in 1906, Pierre was killed in a freak accident, and Marie continued their work alone. She won a second Nobel Prize in 1911, and fell in love again, this time with the married physicist Paul Langevin. Scandal ensued. Duels were fought.

In the century since the Curies began their work, we’ve struggled with nuclear weapons proliferation, debated the role of radiation in medical treatment, and pondered nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. In Radioactive, Lauren Redniss links these contentious questions to a love story in nineteenth-century Paris.

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