Books To Get You Thinking

Published by authors from widely disparate walks of life who through their words and writings share some of their deepest thoughts, reflections and significant moments, memoirs make for truly fascinating reads. Going through the pages of a memoir, I find myself drifting to another world, a different place in time that is rich with the images, experiences and challenges surrounding the author. This month’s column highlights memoirs penned by prominent persons who have influenced the social, economic and political landscapes of their countries. Next month the focus will be on other notable memoirs that tell personal stories of courage and hope.

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou
On May 28, 2014, Maya Angelou died at age 86 and the world lost an acclaimed writer, poet, playwright, performer and civil rights activist.  The many different facets of her personality are depicted through her prolific writings and powerful words which have inspired and touched millions all over the world. Angelou has written several memoirs, each of which reflects a different phase in her life - the newest and last book Mom & Me & Mom was published in 2013 and is a beautiful memoir about her life, and deep relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter. Her early childhood was spent away from her mother as she and her brother were sent to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. Reunited with her mother at age thirteen, the young Angelou’s initial resentment towards her mother and the deep seated feelings of abandonment gradually fade away. This is a story of healing and reconciliation, of the strength and courage Angelou derives from her mother’s love, support and unwavering faith in her. Angelou’s personal stories provide a window into her extraordinary life, to her struggles and triumphs, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter.

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor has authored this eloquent memoir of her life and her extraordinary journey from the streets of the Bronx to becoming the first Latina Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Deeply contemplative and inspiring, the book focuses not so much on the judicial views and vision of a United States Supreme Court judge, but instead provides readers with glimpses of the personal life of the author, her relationship with her parents and family, and the many hardships, failures and triumphs that she encountered along the way. The type-one  diabetes with which she was diagnosed when she was eight, the constant disagreements and quarrels between her parents, the poverty surrounding her and her alcoholic father’s death when she was very young made a lasting impression that had a profound effect on her as she grew up. While others might have been crushed under the burden of such adversities,  these hardships instead helped  shape her into the hard working, independent, determined and empathetic individual that she grew up to be. Readers will find an underlying message of hope and inspiration in Sonia Sotomayor’s absorbing and fascinating story.

Stress Test: Reflections On Financial Crisis by Timothy Geithner
Authored by Timothy Geithner, former US Secretary of Treasury, this engrossing memoir focuses on the critical period when the country was in the throes of the devastating economic and financial crisis of 2008.  In the book, Geithner provides a riveting insider’s account of the crisis, its origins and complexities, the agonizingly difficult choices that the administration faced and the actions taken to avert the collapse of the financial institutions that relied on short term loans made against mortgage backed securities (shadow banks).  Geithner reflects on how a collapse of these banks would have had a cascading and cumulatively regressive effect on the entire economy and how innovative measures and the sizeable infusion of funds introduced by the government successfully bailed out of the big financial institutions.  This helped avert a catastrophic destruction of the nation’s financial system and what would very likely have been a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The book coherently navigates through the hotly debated discussions and meetings behind the tough decisions that faced policy makers.  It chronicles and analyzes an important piece of American economic history and preserves it for future generations.

A Daughter's Tale: the Memoir of Winston Churchill's Youngest Child by Mary Soames
Mary Soames, the youngest and only surviving child of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill passed away on May 31, 2014 at age 91. An author and philanthropist, she left behind a legacy in the form of a fascinating collection of books, the most recent one being a memoir published in 2012 that documents her life growing up in the Churchill household, set against the backdrop of World War II in Great Britain.  Based on her meticulously written diaries, research and interviews, Mary Soames takes readers back in time to the 1930s and 1940s, to life in England during the tumultuous period that preceded and followed World War II. Through her memoir, Mary Soames shares her idyllic life in Kent, the thriving social life of the privileged during that period, as well as her wartime experiences once she enlisted as a private in Britain’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She traveled frequently with her father, and was witness to several historical moments of that era.

- Nita Mathur


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