Books to Get You Thinking

If you’re looking to delve into literary nonfiction you may be interested in three works that recently received prestigious awards from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Harvard’s Neiman Foundation.

Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side: An Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals received Columbia University’s 2009 Anthony Lukas Book Award. Set against the backdrop of America’s war on terror after September 11th, the book focuses on domestic political dynamics in the context of the new American policies on interrogation methods and detentions that were put in place.. The author skillfully weaves a riveting story around the handful of powerful people who circumvented the system of checks and balances put in place by the Constitution, and the group of government lawyers who raised concerns about human rights and adherence to the Geneva Conventions. Mayer, a staff writer for the New Yorker based in Washington, is well known for her political and investigative reporting and has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship in connection with this book.
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A Finalist for the Lukas Book Award was Masha Gessen’s Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene.
The author weaves a fascinating tale of her personal encounter with a looming threat of cancer. Eleven years after her mother died of cancer, a genetic test showed Gessen as a carrier of the deadly genetic mutation BRCA1. Faced with the option of enduring prophylactic surgery with significant side effects or risking fatal cancer, Gessen shares with the readers her innermost thoughts and trepidations as well as her fight to find an answer. Her book is interspersed with a rich array of scientific facts and findings about genes that the author researched through personal interviews with scientists, doctors, counselors and researchers. The author contends that genetic testing needs a supportive educational, medical and moral infrastructure system that currently does not exist. Through her book, Masha Gessen lays out the first few steps towards achieving this objective.
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Timothy Brook received the Mark Lynton History Prize for Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World, an engaging work about seventeenth-century economic history and the growth of commerce. The author takes eight of Vermeer’s most beautiful paintings and provides the readers with fascinating interpretations of these compositions as reflections of the historical era in which they were created. He weaves stories of European explorers procuring beaver fur from American Indians, and Dutch sailors seeking new routes to China in pursuit of fine silks, tobacco and coffee. Through the rich imagery of the paintings, Brook traces the beginnings of the global world, currency and the silver trade, and trade with seventeenth-century China. The book provides a captivating portrayal of the beginnings of the interdependencies of human civilization.
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There are many more exciting titles on our shelves, so be sure to check back for more books to get you thinking!

-Nita Mathur


  1. I like the idea of tying together books by the fact they all share a prize. Very interesting.

  2. These reviews tempt me to read the books. nice choice.


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