Let me just preface this by saying that I am not typically a nonfiction reader. Which, if you're a readeReview posted at www.topshelftext.blogspot.com
Let me just preface this by saying that I am not typically a nonfiction reader. Which, if you're a reader of Top Shelf Text, you probably know by now. I have trouble getting hooked by nonfiction because I crave the types of stories that pull you in on the first page and keep you guessing (or holding your breath) the whole time. So not only is it unusual for me to be writing about a nonfiction book, it's even more rare that I am telling you to go.read.this.book. In the Heart of the Sea is the story of the shipwreck of the whaleship Essex, a captivating tale of survival and tragedy. Essentially, the story goes that the Essex set out from Nantucket in 1820, hoping to make a routine two-year voyage in which the crew would hunt whales. At the time, the oil from whales was a primary source of energy, and the reason why the island of Nantucket was growing richer while the rest of the country grew poorer. After 15 disappointing months of capturing only a few whales, the Essex was attacked by an unusually large sperm whale. There had never before been a report of a whale purposefully attacking a whaleship before, but this whale was clearly angry as he repeatedly slamming his body into the hull of the ship. The Essex sank in less than ten minutes, leaving the crew to drift at sea in three tiny whaling boats. What happens next is heartrending and tragic: starvation, survival, and yes, even cannibalism. Philbrick did an excellent job in both giving his readers information and a feel for how the crew of the Essex felt as they struggled to rescue themselves. The book read like fiction, it was captivating and suspenseful and full of great characters. I also loved how much I learned about the culture of Nantucket in the 19th century, which was brought to life through Philbrick's extensive research. I live in a small seaside town, so I felt a strong connection to these men, who spent their lives at sea, and their families, who spent their days with their eyes trained on the horizon. I would absolutely recommend this to both lovers of fiction and nonfiction, and especially to those who admire Moby Dick, as Herman Melville's early days as a whaler led him to the story of the Essex. His great whale was inspired by the very whale that sunk the Essex, and at least one of his characters was largely inspired by a member of the crew. In the Heart of the Sea is also set to be released as a movie this year! It's decidedly overdramatic, but I will definitely be in line to see it!...more
Empty Mansions is the story of one of America's wealthiest men, W.A. Clark, and his daughter, Huguette.Review posted at www.topshelftext.blogspot.com
Empty Mansions is the story of one of America's wealthiest men, W.A. Clark, and his daughter, Huguette. Dedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, stumbles upon Huguette's story while perusing the real estate listings during his own house hunt. He comes across a beautiful, ornate mansion, unoccupied for decades and up for sale. The property belonged to the daughter of a self-made billionaire and copper industrialist, W. A. Clark, Huguette. Huguette grew up with the same fairytale life as the children of the Vanderbilt and Rockefeller families, but rather than become a household name, she disappeared into obscurity early on in life. The heiress to a staggering fortune and owner of several incredible properties, Huguette limited her social interaction to her employees and select family friends. At the time of her death, at age 104, she had been living in a hospital room for twenty years, despite being in perfect health. After her passing, her family and employees engaged in a high-tension battle for her fortune, arguing blood versus service. Dedman deftly navigates the almost-surreal world of wealth and privilege and draws in readers with his narrative of Huguette's tale.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. There are very few nonfiction stories that can draw me in with the same force as a novel, and this is one of them. I wouldn't hesitate to read it again in the near future, because it was just that good. I recently watched a series on the Smithsonian channel called Million Dollar American Princesses, and although this book had been sitting on my to-read shelf for over a year, loving the Smithsonian's show was the trigger for me to seek this out at my local library. (I'd also recommend the show, for those who are interested.) It's difficult to wrap your head around a fortune like Huguette's, but her story had a lot more to it than just her money. She had an incredible penchant for generosity and a genuine care for others, and was eccentric almost to a fault. I loved reading about her life in general, but it was the descriptions and photos of her properties that had me reading passages out loud to anyone who would listen. The everyday opulence was something that I just could not get over, so I devoured every page with disbelief-- certainly her story had to be the product of someone's imagination? The fact that everything was true only added to my shock, but in the end, I came out with an admiration for Huguette, for her humility and her quirkiness. Were it not for her aversion to notoriety, she could have been one of the biggest celebrities of her time. I'd recommend this for fans of nonfiction, of popular American history, and for anyone interested in learning more about the Gilded Age of the late 19th century....more
John Gilkey is a criminal, but not the kind that you would normally find behind bars in the San QuentinReview posted at www.topshelftext.blogspot.com
John Gilkey is a criminal, but not the kind that you would normally find behind bars in the San Quentin prison. He's a rare book thief, one whose managed to steal a number of books, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, from dealers all over the country. Bartlett, a journalist, hears of his crimes and finds herself immersed in the world of rare book collections as she follows his story, in which priceless copies can be found in the most unexpected places and collectors will pay high dollar for the titles they covet most. While the rare books themselves are alluring, Bartlett discovers that the motivation behind collecting differs from person to person, and while some thiefs may steal to eventually profit, Gilkey steals for the love of books. As Bartlett follows Gilkey in and out of jail and accompanies him as he retraces his steps and relishes his past crimes, she finds that navigating between the rare book dealers themselves and their greatest enemy gives her an awkward, yet fascinating, perspective of the crimes.
While I expected to love reading about rare book theft (as I already love books about art theft), this was not the book I was hoping for, as Gilkey was not the type of thief that should be receiving literary attention (or any attention for that matter). It's clear from the interview excerpts included in the book that Gilkey needs some type of psychological evaluation, but in his many cycles of incarceration and parole, none have been conducted. I initially picked up this book because rare books are fascinating to me, though from the first chapter I read it more from the perspective of a psychology student than from the perspective of a bibliophile. Though I was more disturbed by Gilkey's behavior than interested in his story, I did enjoy the anecdotes about other examples of rare book discoveries or theft. I also learned a lot about the details of the rare book trade itself, which is what kept me reading until the end and will lead me to look for other books on this subject....more