Book Buzz: American lives for Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Inspired by the recent visit to Kaua‘i of the National StoryCorps Project to record and preserve the stories of everyday Americans, this week’s Book Buzz features titles that celebrate American lives.

It comes just in time to help commemorate our National Birthday on July 4th. This booklist provides a sampler of the many inspiring and interesting biographies of notable Americans that are available to borrow from your public library.

From athletes to authors and soldiers to socialites, read one of these enriching tales of American Lives or check out StoryCorps’s recent book, Listening Is an Act of Love edited by Dave Isay, a collection of personal stories collected as oral histories during the project.

Happy reading!

Finding Martha’s Place: My Journey through Sin, Salvation, and Lots of Soul Food

By Martha Hawkins

976.14706 H

Soul food is her medium, prayer and faith her support, and hope is her message. Martha Hawkins invites us into her kitchen for a life story full of pain and adversity that she transformed into a story of hard work, willpower, prayer, change and hope. Martha’s Place is a nationally known destination for anyone visiting the Deep South and a culinary fixture of life in Montgomery where Martha only hires folks who are down on their luck just as she once was.  Also look for Breakfast at Sally’s: One Homeless Man’s Inspirational Journey by Richard LeMieux.

Hero Found: The Greatest POW Escape of the Vietnam War

By Bruce Henderson

959.70437 He

In 1966 Dieter Dengler was shot down over “neutral” Laos where he was imprisoned by the enemy and by the jungle itself. Six months later Dengler returned to his ship in the Gulf of Tonkin-emaciated and ravaged with tropical maladies but alive and free. This gripping book of unending optimism, innate courage, loyalty and survival against overwhelming odds tells Dengler’s story for the first time. You may also be interested in Uncommon Valor: The Medal of Honor and the Six Warriors Who Earned It in Afghanistan and Iraq by Dwight Jon Zimmerman, or The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by Andrew Ward.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot

616.02774 Sk

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells-taken without her knowledge in 1951-became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown and her family can’t afford health insurance. This is the fascinating story of the collision between ethics, race and medicine, and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home an Abroad

By Jehanne Wake

941.08109 Wa

Wake delivers a lively portrait of the opinionated sisters, Marianne, Bess, Louisa and Emily Caton, much of it told in their own voices. Descended from prominent first settlers of Maryland, and brought up by their wealthy grandfather Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, they were expected to “marry a plantation.”  Instead, their grandfather made sure that they were well educated, and in turn became charming and independent, fascinated by politics, clever with money and very romantic. Their stories also provide a window on Anglo-American relations and the political, financial and social world of the 19th century. Sweeping in scope, their story is as compelling as any novel.

The True Story of Kaluaikoolau: As Told by his Wife, Piilani

Translated from the Hawaiian Language by Frances N. Frazier

H B Koolau

The extraordinary tale of the last years of the legendary Kauai paniolo, Koolau, who, when betrayed by the medical and police establishments in 1892, chose the life of an outlaw in remote Kalalau Valley. With his wife and son at his side, and aided by the kindness of Kalalau farmers, he remained free until his death in 1896. Look also for the personal story of the book’s dedicated and talented translator, Halia Frazier in Hali’a of Hawai’i: A Legacy of Language, a memoir by Frances Nelson Frazier.

Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage

By Douglas Waller

940.54867 Do

He was one of America’s most exciting and secretive generals-the man Franklin Roosevelt made his top spy in World War II. A mythic figure whose legacy is still debated, “Wild Bill” Donovan was director of the country’s first national intelligence agency and the father of today’s CIA.  Waller mines government and private archives and recently declassified documents to produce this riveting biography of one of the most powerful men in modern espionage. Also look for Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright and a Spy Saved the American Revolution by Joel Richard Paul or The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation by Nancy Rubin Stuart, a biography of the first female historian of the American Revolution which depicts Mrs. Warren’s life and patriotic achievements.

Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend

By James S. Hirsch

796.35709 Mays Hi

One of the most captivating figures in baseball history, Willie Mays thrilled Americans for years with his speed and power, skill and daring. This biography takes you from his humble beginnings in Alabama to his rise in the face of prejudice to become one of Major League Baseball’s early African American players, and his emergence as an American icon. Willie Mays is still revered for the passion he brought to the game and his mind and heart of a champion. For more American athletes try The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood by Jane Leavy, Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World by Glenn Stout or Zero Regrets: Be Greater Than Yesterday by Apolo Ohno.

Wolf: The Lives of Jack London

By James L. Haley

813.54 London Ha

Born poor and illegitimate in San Francisco in 1976, Jack London experienced the economic inequities of the ugly underclass of the Gilded Age America. It made him a lifelong and fiery advocate for social justice.  He became an adventurer and his tales quickly captivated the nation (among them a story about Kaua‘i outlaw, Koolau).   By adulthood London had matured into the iconic American author. In this detailed biography, Haley explores the forgotten Jack London-a man bristling with ideas, whose passion for adventure and social justice roared until the day he died. Also look for the new Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 edited by Harriet Elinor Smith.

• Carolyn Larson, head librarian at Lihu‘e Public Library, brings you the buzz on new, popular and good books available at your neighborhood library. Book annotations are culled from online publishers’ descriptions and published reviews.

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