It’s that time of the year when I recommend some great books for vacation reading. Here are six of the best that I have recently read…
The Chocolate Wars is Deborah Cadbury’s history of her family’s involvement in the chocolate business. It’s a fascinating story. As the subtitle says, it’s a tale of “200 years of sweet success and bitter rivalry.” You will no doubt recognize some of the players in this contest, namely, the English-Quaker firms of Cadbury, Fry, and Rowntree; the talented European wizards of Peter-Kohler, Lindt, and Nestle; and the powerful American firms of Hershey, Mars, and Kraft. This is about more than diary milk chocolate and Mars Bars. This is an epic tale of how cocoa, the industrial revolution, and a group of forward-thinking Quakers changed the world. This is one of the best business histories I’ve read.
I reviewed the first book in Cliff Graham’s Lion of War series, Day of War, back in March. That one is the beginning of a riveting account of David’s ascendency to the throne of Israel. Judging by the relatively small number of likes that review got, most of you aren’t interested in dramatized Bible stories, but I love them. The latest book in the series, Covenant of War, picks up the story seven years later. David has just been made king and the Philistines are on the march. It’s a ripper of a story and the best bits are the battle scenes. The scene where David deals with cowardly commanders is a stunner as is the one where Eleazar’s hand freezes to the sword while fighting in the barley field. Warning: these stories, like the Bible ones on which they are based, are extremely violent. However, unlike the Biblical accounts of Israel’s warfare Mr. Graham’s versions are graphically explicit. Don’t give these books to your young sons and nephews for Christmas. You have been warned.
I like to run and this year I read a couple of bestselling running books. The first was Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes. Ultramarathon Man appealed to my running flesh – and my appetite for pizza. It’s a story about a man who knocks off work and goes running through the night. He takes his phone and around midnight orders pizza, which he then eats on the run. I have never run through the night but after reading this book I’m tempted to try. Just a little. Since writing Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes has become famous. He subsequently ran 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states so you’ve probably heard of him…
…but you may not have heard of the incredible Tarahumara Indian runners of Mexico. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen is their story and it’s also the story of a mysterious white man who lived among them. The white man organizes a 50 mile race between the Indians and the best ultra runners from the States. The race is set in the torturous Copper Canyons of northern Mexico. Who will win? The barefoot locals or the high-flying Americans? Christopher McDougall’s account of the race is exciting enough but the book is about much more than that. Read it and you’ll learn how the Bushmen of the Kalahari are able to run down gazelles through persistence hunting and you’ll also learn why barefoot running has become such a big thing.
I read No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War by Hiroo Onada in preparation for writing my own book. Lt. Onada is the soldier who refused to come out of the jungle after WWII. At the beginning you think, “How could anyone not know the war was over for 30 years?” But at the end you think, “Boy, those three decades went by quick.” Time flies when you’re laying low, stealing food and trying not to get shot. Lt. Onada and three others refused to believe what they thought was American propaganda announcing the end of the Pacific War. They were utterly convinced about this and dismissed not just leaflets and food parcels but even messages by family members who had come looking for them! When he eventually did come in from the jungle, Lt. Onada became something of a Japanese hero, a living link to a defiant past. An amazing story of survival and stubbornness.
As someone who writes for a living – or do I live to write? It’s one of the two, or maybe both – I enjoy reading about other writers. One of my all-time favorites is Dr. Seuss, the children’s story-teller. Dr. Seuss was an undisputed master of his craft. Some say he even saved a generation of American children from illiteracy. After World War Two, children’s books tended to be preachy, moralizing tales where kids did what they were told and had no fun. Who wants to read books like that? Then along came Theodor Seuss Geisel with classics like If I Ran the Zoo, (1950) and Horton Hears a Who! (1955). Then in 1957, two home runs: The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. These weren’t just clever tales of whimsy; they were brilliant little gems of learning. Given a list of 300 words that every six year old should know, Seuss spent 9 painstaking months crafting a story about a mischievous hat-wearing cat. Kids loved it – and they learned 223 words on that list. Then given a challenge to write a story using just 50 different words, he came up with Green Eggs and Ham (1960). What you may not know about Dr. Seuss is that he had no children of his own and he wrote in a tower in his sea-view home in La Jolla, California. I know all this because I have just finished reading Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel, by Judith and Neil Morgan. It’s an inspiring biography (if you’re a writer) but now I have tower-envy.
So that’s my list; what’s on your’s? I’m going on vacation next week. What do you suggest I read?
– 4 books for Christmas (2011)
– 6 books for Christmas (2010)
– see all E2R’s book reviews here