Bored? Binge-watching too many old episodes of Downton Abbey, The Office or Band of Brothers? Overloaded by Zoom meetings with friends, family, co-workers and those somewhat hinky neighbors three blocks over? Exhausted from Facebook prowling every single high school and college friend you can remember? Fried out after finally surfing the entire Web? Stop, take a breath, splash some cold water on your face, dry off and pick up a damn book. Any book. There are over 130 million choices out there. Need help? WellWell is here with a starter list of nonfiction works that are worthy of consideration.
Why Time Begins on Opening Day (Thomas Boswell, 1985)
If Thomas Boswell is right, and he probably is, that time really begins on Opening Day then right now we’re all at best stuck in suspended animation or at worst purgatory. Boswell, one of the greatest American baseball writers, lays out the mechanics and magic of baseball in a timeless classic that shows just how the game is woven into the American soul. His book is a much-needed balm for those aching to hear the crack of the bat.
Balkan Ghosts (Robert Kaplan, 1993)
Looking for a modern classic that reads like a contemporary thriller? Balkan Ghosts offers a great option with powerful and painful insights into the people and events that shaped the region’s history and the collective consciousness of the residents of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and the former Yugoslavia. Kaplan’s work may start with the assassination that triggered the First World War, but it carries readers through to the political turmoil that transformed the region after the Soviet Union’s collapse—making it anything but ancient, narrow history.
Washington: The Indispensable Man (James Flexner, 1994)
George Washington was a flawed man—ambitious, seemingly aloof, impatient and, yes, a slaveholder, who spent the last years of his life trying to recover a once-loyal slave who escaped. He was also, perhaps, America’s greatest son: passionate, patriotic, shrewd and enduring—a man who turned down the chance to become a de facto emperor of a new country and, in turn, helped establish a legacy built on the peaceful transfer of power. Flexner’s iconic biography captures all of America’s indispensable man.
The Island at the Center of the World (Russell Shorto, 2005)
Going Dutch takes on a whole new meaning thanks to Shorto’s magnificent and accessible book that deals with New Amsterdam before the British snatched it away in 1664 and turned it into New York. Want to know where the Big Apple got its buzz? Forget the stuffy, prudish, class-obsessed Brits. It was the Dutch 350 years ago who laid the foundation for this multi-ethnic city where residents valued free trade, individual rights and religious freedom. It’s a great read.
Imperial Cruise (James Bradley, 2010)
As the 20th Century dawned, Teddy Roosevelt was determined to stamp U.S. imperial power in Asia by dividing up the region into spheres of influence. His plan, which centered on sending Secretary of War William Taft and others on a cruise to the region to negotiate the spoils, had near-term hits and long-term misses—like eventually helping to ignite a devasting confrontation with Japan, war in Korea and perhaps the Communist takeover in China. Bradley lays out Roosevelt’s mindset and blunders and why we still feel the ripples left by Teddy’s Imperial Cruise.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (Patrick Radden Keefe, 2019)
The Irish may have the longest collective memory of any people and, sadly, so much of their past is painful. Say Nothing underscores this anguish—a country and a people forever trying to reconcile themselves with the seemingly endless consequences of The Troubles and the broken bodies, families and bonds left in its wake.
So what are you reading? Let us know your list of best books to read at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put up a new reading list.