The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

the-first-conspiracy-meltzer-menschThe First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch tells the story of America’s first acts of criminal espionage against the government and the government’s first act of counter espionage.

Meltzer and Mensch follow the development of a plot against the Continental Army prior to the start of the Revolutionary War and follows this plot through to the independence of America from Great Britain. The plan involves bribery, treason, and potential plans for murder, and the plan it seems infiltrated the army itself involving people close to George Washington both professionally and personally. While following this plot, Meltzer and Mensch are also keen to point out the ways in which this first act of counter-espionage came to inform current institutions such as the Secret Service and FBI.

While the book is teeming with fun historical facts and interesting tidbits from America’s cultural past, it too often reads like a textbook. The characters are distant and unreachable, possibly in part because of their historical presence and also because of Meltzer and Mensch’s marriage to telling the truth. It’s arguably challenging to create a compelling character when you can only know that character through Congress notes and an odd journal entry. Similarly, the conflict in the book, while undeniability riveting in its content, is not as much so in its telling.

Throughout the course of the book though, Meltzer and Mensch achieve their goal of telling the history of American counterintelligence and sharing details of American history that might have been glossed over in our grade school textbooks.

Slated for release by Flatiron Books in January of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch from your local bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

 

 

‘Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir’ by Jean Guerrero

crux-guerreroWhat is it that determines definitions: defines something as one thing instead of another? What delimits fiction from reality, sanity from insanity? Borders: the lines that stand between; the lines that distinguish “different” from “same.” Borders that are rarely clear and often obfuscated by our own perceptions, by what we bring to the table, the baggage we carry.

Borders are what Jean Guerrero investigates in her narrative nonfiction release Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir. Guerrero sets out not only to tell her story, but to tell that of her father through both her memories and the investigative work it requires to unravel her family’s troubled and often curricular past.

Guerrero begins by setting the scene, by introducing the reader to her parents, to what life was like growing up as the child of her parents. Her mother, an acclaimed doctor with expectations that reach no lower that straight A grades and flawless chastity, holds one end of the parenting tight rope. Her father, a potential schizophrenic who sees every action as sabotage or a symptom of being spoiled, holds the other. Guerrero finds herself trying to walk between them, seeking desperately to both please and thwart their expectations, wishes, and demands of her.

Most of Guerrero’s life is spent without her father, wondering where he is, thinking he’s dead. The other part of the time, Guerrero spends, at least her childhood, terrified of her father. Terrified of his mania, of his accusations, of feeling like a failure in his eyes. Her mother spends most of Guerrero’s childhood trying to forget her husband, arguing that he’s schizophrenic and telling Guerrero, whenever she acts out of line in her mother’s eyes, that she suffers from the same mental illness. Her father meanwhile, claims he is being targeted by the CIA for mind control experiments, and Guerrero experiences moments that make her question the dubiousness of his statements.

Guerrero finds her way through her troubled childhood to come out an investigative journalist constantly seeking for the truth that alluded her as a child. But the biggest mystery, the biggest truth she hopes to hold is that of her father’s life. Travelling through Mexico to piece together the mystery of her family and her father’s past, Guerrero uncovers a cycle of abuse that has perpetuated her family’s suffering. She learns of the terrors that the women who came before her suffered to give her father life and her. She learns of the terrors her own father suffered and that potentially led him to the depths of his current despair.

A beautifully moving and terrifying memoir, Crux is a book that attempts not to teach, but to learn and keep on learning beyond the pages of its covers. Guerrero brings to the table systemic issues that cannot be eradicated by a single story, but she suggests that maybe through constant inquiry, searching, and an attempt to do better we can break free of the demons of our past.

Slated for release by One World Press on July 17, 2018, you can preorder a copy of Crux: A Cross-Border at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old’ by Parker J. Palmer

on-the-brink-palmerOn the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer, is a collection of essays, poems, and stories that tell the story of Palmer’s coming in to old age. Palmer’s main themes surround issues such as: living a full life, finding your vocation, being grateful, understanding life’s lessons, and making the choice to be happy despite your circumstances.

Palmer breaks his book up into seven distinct parts, each with a different message related to aging. Throughout On the Brink of Everything, Palmer shares personal experiences, mostly revolving around his career, his vocation as a writer, and his spiritual leanings as a devout Quaker.

Many of Palmer’s musing may resonate with people young and old, but readers who are unfamiliar with his work should be warned that On the Brink of Everything is heavily leaden with spiritual and didactic lessons that may also feel burdensome.

Released by Berrett-Koehler Publishers on June 26, 2018, you can purchase a copy of On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘American Wolf’ by Nate Blakeslee

american-wolf-nate-blakesleeLike watching Planet Earth in your mind’s eye, American Wolf, is an adventure that lets you experience moments on Earth that most people haven’t even dreamed exist. Author Nate Blakeslee tells the story of O-Six, one of the most famous Yellowstone wolves. O-Six was shot by a hunter during a brief period in which wolves were removed from the endangered species list. Blakeslee tells O-Six’s story through a variety of lens covering issues of politics, environmentalism, and humanity.

Told is a very Eric Larson style narration, American Wolf is a literary non-fiction work that covers fact with the guise of fiction. Blakeslee’s sources include everything from interviews to field notes, and his method for compiling these facts build beautifully into a narrative form that tells more like a story than an account of history. Part of what adds to the literary element of American Wolf is the multiple points of view that Blakeslee takes up throughout his telling.

O-Six is only one of many characters who makes an appearance in American Wolf. Others include O-Six’s murderer, alias Steven Turnball; wolf expert Rick McIntyre; the wolves of O-Six’s pack and those of rivalry tribes; as well as senators, governors, and even Barack Obama. Blakeslee’s drama weaves between wolves hunting food, humans hunting wolves, humans fighting humans and wolves fighting wolves all the while allowing readers to see all sides, even if one side is clearly preferred.

While Blakeslee advocates strongly for the wolves in American Wolf, he does not do so at the expense of the other players on the field. He very pointedly captures the arguments from all sides: arguments about the controversial reintroduction of the wolf to Yellowstone in the early 1990’s and the debates around when and if to remove the wolf from the engendered species list and thereby open the wolf to being hunted. We hear from ranchers, from hunters, from environmentalist, and politicians, seeing the intricacies of what one act can do to a person, a town, a country.

Blakeslee does a fantastic job of capturing the unique and desolate beauty of Yellowstone from the point of view of a creature few who’ve travelled to Yellowstone have even seen. Barreling through trees, battling against bears, fighting for survival, Blakeslee makes his readers feel like they are there, swooping through the forests and plains of Yellowstone beside the wolves. And when you aren’t in the park, the battles are just as heated in civilization.

A beautiful, moving, and essential piece of literature during a politically heated time, American Wolf was published in 2017 by Crown Publishing. You can purchase a copy of American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Last Girl’ by Nadia Murad

the-last-girl-nadia-muradIt could’ve been me. It could’ve been you, your mother, your wife, your daughter. It could’ve been any woman living in the “wrong” time, the “wrong” place, believing the “wrong” thing. Nadia Murad’s story is the story of every woman who could have been her and wasn’t. Her story is the story of every woman in her tribe who had been her to someone else: a slave, an object, a sabayya.

Nadia grew up in a village outside of Mosul, Iraq called Kocho. Her family lived a simple life of farming, community, and prayer. But they weren’t Muslim. They were Yazidi, an almost dirty word to the leaders and followers of ISIS who were quickly taking over Iraq. And so, when ISIS decided they wanted the Yazidi gone and they needed a collection of dispensable of women to keep them occupied, they began destroying the Yazidi, killing their men, kidnapping their boys, and forcing their women into a slave of sex trade.

But it was still hard for Nadia to believe anything would happen to her village, to her. Nadia was born in 1993, there hadn’t been an attack on the Yazidi in her life time. Even when ISIS came to Kocho, surrounding the borders and denying anyone entrance to and exit from the city, Nadia still had faith that everything would be okay.

And then it wasn’t. And then all of the men were dead. And Nadia was separated from her family. And she was sold. And she was raped. And she was beaten. And every ounce of dignity she had was taken from her. And she didn’t give up.

This isn’t a story about how it all ends. Nadia is the author. We know it has a “happy” ending. She lives. This is a story about what happened. This is a story about what nobody else knows is happening, what nobody is listening to, what happens when one group of people decides another isn’t worthy to be alive. This is a story about genocide and rape as a weapon of war. For Nadia, this is more than just a story, her story, this is the story she hopes will be the last. This is the story, she hopes, that will be about the last girl who was ever sold into slavery, who will ever have everything worth anything taken from her, who will have to survive to ever live again.

The Last Girl is an account of something so terrible and so recent it’s hard not to sit and think about what you were doing three years ago or less when the events of the book were taking place. It’s hard not to be enraged, deflated, encouraged, and hopeless all at the same time. The Last Girl is terrible, beautiful, and absolutely worth every moment of every person’s time. It’s a story that everyone should read, that everyone should be aware of is truth. It’s a story so powerful because it’s history and it’s the news all in one. It’s a story that should be read, that should be listened to, so that Nadia can have her dream, and so that every girl who’s experienced anything even close to Nadia’s story can one day find peace that somebody somewhere was the last girl ever stolen, the last girl ever abused, the last girl ever whose body was not their own, even for a moment.

Published by Tim Duggan Books in November of 2017, The Last Girl by Nadia Murad is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘No Apparent Distress’ by Rachel Pearson

no-apparent-distress-pearsonNo Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine is inspiring, dispiriting, and profoundly informative all at the same time. Author and MD Rachel Pearson tells the story of medicine in America and how it has developed into a skewed system that favors the rich and the white.

Pearson beings her story at the beginning of her own journey into medicine. A former creative writing major and Texas native, Pearson decides to change her career path and pursue a future in medicine. No Apparent Distress catalogues this journey as Pearson attends medical school in Galveston, Texas, a notoriously diverse and poverty ridden area. Volunteering time at a student-run, free clinic, shadowing doctors on procedures she’s only ever read about, Pearson begins to unravel the unethical nature of medical training.

Throughout her training, Pearson is confronted with the reality that she is learning on those who can’t afford to complain or ask for better. She is making mistakes, time and again, as a student and a doctor in training, on patients who don’t have health insurance, who don’t have any other choice but to accept sub-par care at the hands of a learning medical student. Pearson herself comes from a working-class background, and the effects of inadequate, faulty, and often rushed care has affected her family as well. Pearson’s own mother contracted hepatitis-C during an unnecessary blood transfusion after giving birth to her daughter without health insurance.

Pearson has a unique way of weaving her own person experiences into a larger conversation about healthcare, the care of the unhealthy, and the prejudice biases that drive these very American systems.

A beautiful and frightening portray of American medicine, No Apparent Distress, is a book so relevant to our current times that anyone can relate. Whether you are the lucky one standing on the side of the insured receiving adequate care, or you’ve experienced the distress of inadequate care, No Apparent Distress will find resonance with you somewhere.

Published by W.W. Norton and company in May of 2017, No Apparent Distress by Rachel Pearson is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown’ edited by Catherine Burns

the-moth-imageThe Moth is an ongoing, live performance where people, often famous or well established people, get on stage and tell a true story that is relevant to a given theme. Launched in 1997, the Moth is also now a podcast, and they just released their second book All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing The Unknown which is a collection of stories from varying live performances.

All These Wonders takes Moth episodes from different shows and organizes them based on categories that cut across those themes. Some of these categories include: Things I’ve Seen, Grace Rushed In, and To Face The Fear. The one common thread in all the stories though is the message of hope, resiliency, and inspiration. While nearly every story is about a challenging event in the author’s life, none of them end without some movement toward courage and change.

Some of the most outstanding stories in the book were almost unbelievable. One such story was Fog of Disbelief told by Carl Pillitteri, a field engineer at Fukushima when the tsunami hit Japan. Pillitteri’s description of the day is not only terrifyingly real, but his thoughts, his fears, and his observations as the tsunami hit are what bring a sense of humanness and powerlessness to the story. But as with each Moth presentation, Pillitteri finds a way to turn a grossly petrifying event into a story about the power of humanity, of giving, and of everyday experiences.

Another story, Forgiveness by Hector Black, tells the story of one father’s forgiveness of the man who murdered his daughter. A bleak and agonizing tale, Black shows the true capacity of human nature: both the bad and the good. While Black does not necessarily say “go forgive everyone for everything” nor does the story make the reader feel this way, it does encourage readers, especially those who’ve faced trauma at the hands of another person to at least consider the possibility of forgiveness. If someone can forgive their daughter’s murderer to the point of visiting him in prison, writing him letters, and bringing him gifts, why can’t the rest of us get there someday, somehow.

Other stories were not as heavy and included anecdotes about working for Saturday Night Live and the recent NASA mission to Pluto. The sense of self-discovery in the face of terror and confusion is what drives each story forward though: the hope that there’s more than just the moment of now.

A mosaic of beauty, pain, and joy, The Moth’s All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown  was published by Crown Archetype in March of 2017. You can purchase a copy of All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.