A year of books

January 03, 1995|By Myron Beckenstein

NOT ALL GOOD books are new books and not all good new books are best-sellers. And libraries are not rest homes for unwanted, aging publications. Here is the annual sample of some books one reader liked in 1994, books you might find good too. The list is a little heavy on nonfiction, but that's the way things turned out. Some of the books are brand new, some are only in libraries.

"Children of Grace, The Nez Perce War of 1877," by Bruc Hampton.

The beauty of history is that wonderful stories are discovered when you look deeper into something that is squeezed into one line in a history book. In this story of a noted Indian uprising, no one comes out looking great, not the famous U.S. soldiers on the one side, not even Chief ("I will fight no more forever") Joseph on the other.

"Dismantling Utopia," by Scott Shane.

Because of their subject matter, some books are important but dull. This isn't one of them; it is both important and readable. The Sun's former Moscow correspondent does a first-rate job of explaining what happened to the former Soviet Union.

"How Does Aspirin Find a Head ache," by David Feldman.

One of a series of books by Mr. Feldman answering questions about everyday puzzles that you'd probably never know the answer to without this book. Such as why are the Muppets left-handed, why aren't green cards green and will Super Glue stick to Teflon?

"The Power of Place," by Winifred Gallagher.

Where people spend their time does make a difference. This book offers more amazing insights into our lives than the mind can quickly absorb.

"A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver," by E.L. Konigsburg.

A little book that makes the fascinating life of Eleanor of Aquitaine even more fascinating.

"Read All About It," by James D. Squires.

The former editor of the Chicago Tribune gives his take on the state of journalism, especially consolidation of ownership and the changes bottom-line journalism can bring.

"Skunk Works," by Ben Rich and Lee Jones.

Mr. Rich tells of his years running the secret Lockheed operation that produced such fabulous planes as the U-2, the SR-71 and the stealth bomber. He also offers some keen suggestions on improving our defense spending, and the answer isn't necessarily more money.

"That's Not What I Meant and You Just Don't Understand," b Deborah Tannen.

A linguist looks at the hidden messages we give as we talk and how these messages affect people's impressions of what we say. Or, put another way, a guide for avoiding unintentional he/she misunderstandings.

"Turning the World Upside Down," by John Trebbel.

We know how the American Revolution turned out, but the colonies' victory was neither preordained nor certain. Touch and go was more like it. This is a highly readable and colorful account of that epic period.

"Vagrant Viking," by Peter Freuchen.

Mr. Freuchen spent a large part of his life wandering around Greenland and other places north, but this is only one of the good parts of this book of a life well and interestingly spent. He also became a member of the anti-Nazi underground and a nonscandalized quiz show winner.

"Zephyr," by Henry Kisor.

If you've ever wondered what it takes for a train to get from Point A to Point B, this is the book for you. Full of detail and people about a run from Chicago to California.


"High Road to China," by Jon Cleary.

This was a movie, and a good one. But the resemblance to the book is limited and while the book lacks the wonderful visuals about a 1920s airplane trip from Europe to China, it is a lot more fun and twice the action.

"The Land God Gave to Cain," by Hammond Innes.

There is no better adventure writer around than Hammond Innes and almost any of his books is a treat. This one involves a British engineer who finds himself, step by minor step, inexorably taken from his homeland and thrust into the frozen wilds of Labrador to look for a wrecked plane.

"Misalliance," by George Bernard Shaw.

His works are such a thought-provoking joy to read. The ideas, the twists, the pithiness. This play deals in large part with the relations between parents and children, but Mr. Shaw always works other topics in too.

"The Thin Man," by Dashiell Hammett.

It is hard to read this without picturing William Powell and Myrna Loy, but why try? While the movie can show Hammett's plot, they can't convey his writing and dialogue.

Myron Beckenstein is assistant foreign editor of The Sun.


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