Non-Fiction

The Emerald Mile

The Emerald Mile

Summary:

From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983.

In the tradition of “The Perfect Storm” and “Seabiscuit”, the engrossing tale of the fastest boat ride ever down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

In the winter of 1983, the largest El Niño event on record—a chain of “superstorms” that swept in from the Pacific Ocean—battered the entire West. That spring, a massive snowmelt sent runoff racing down the Colorado River toward the Glen Canyon Dam, a 710-foot-high wall of concrete that sat at the head of the most iconic landscape feature in America, the Grand Canyon. As the water clawed toward the parapet of the dam, worried federal officials desperately scrambled to avoid a worst-case scenario: one of the most dramatic dam failures in history.

In the midst of this crisis, beneath the light of a full moon, a trio of river guides secretly launched a small, hand-built wooden boat, a dory named the “Emerald Mile”, into the Colorado just below the dam’s base and rocketed toward the dark chasm downstream, where the torrents of water released by the dam engineers had created a rock-walled maelstrom so powerful it shifted giant boulders and created bizarre hydraulic features never previously seen. The river was already choked with the wreckage of commercial rafting trips: injured passengers clung to the remnants of three-ton motorboats that had been turned upside down and torn to pieces. The chaos had claimed its first fatality, further launches were forbidden, and rangers were conducting the largest helicopter evacuation in the history of Grand Canyon National Park.

An insurgent river run under such conditions seemed to border on the suicidal, but Kenton Grua, the captain of that dory, was on an unusual mission: a gesture of defiance unlike anything the river world had ever seen. His aim was to use the flood as a hydraulic slingshot that would hurl him and two companions through 277 miles of some of the most ferocious white water in North America and, if everything went as planned, catapult the Emerald Mile into legend as the fastest boat ever propelled—by oar, by motor, or by the grace of God—through the heart of the Grand Canyon.

Grua himself was already something of a mythic figure, a fearless boatman obsessed with the mysteries of the canyon. His quest embraced not only the trials of the speed run itself but also the larger story of his predecessors: the men who had first discovered the canyon and pioneered its exploration, as well as those who waged a landmark battle to prevent it from being hog-tied by a series of massive hydroelectric dams—a conflict that continues to this day.

A writer who has worked as a river guide himself and is intimately familiar with the canyon’s many secrets, Kevin Fedarko is the ideal narrator for this American epic. The saga of “The Emerald Mile” is a thrilling adventure, as well as a magisterial portrait of the hidden kingdom of white water at the bottom of the greatest river canyon on earth. This book announces Fedarko as a major writing talent and at last sets forth the full story of an American legend—the legend of “The Emerald Mile”. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This book is so much more than just the story of the fastest run down the Grand Canyon.  What makes the book so wonderful is the history and time devoted to explaining the circumstances that culminated in the fastest run down the Grand Canyon.  There is a huge difference between the facts written down on paper and the story laid out by a passionate guide, outdoor enthusiast and writer.

As someone who did their undergraduate studies in engineering, I absolutely adored getting to know the details behind the damn, what was going on and why it was such a big deal.  Purely engineering books can sometimes be a bit dry so alternating between the events building up on the river with the ones at the damn kept the story moving quickly while also imparting a lot of interesting information.  This was a fantastic book that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Any adventure fan with an interest in the wild, national parks or white-water rafting.

The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New

The Abundance

Summary:

In recognition of this Pulitzer prize–winning author’s lauded career as a master essayist, a landmark collection, including her most beloved pieces and some rarely seen work the abundance includes the best of Annie Dillard’s essays, delivered in her fierce and muscular prose, filled with absorbing detail and metaphysical fact. Intense, vivid, and fearless, her work endows the true and seemingly ordinary aspects of life—a commuter chases snowball-throwing children through backyards, a bookish teenager memorizes the poetry of Rimbaud—with beauty and irony. These essays invite readers into sweeping landscapes, to join Dillard in exploring the complexities of time and death, often with wry humor. On one page, an eagle falls from the sky with a weasel attached to its throat; on another, a man walks into a bar. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Please note: I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher and I voluntarily chose to write a review

Review:

I tried on this one, I really did, but after 100 pages I was done.  Trying to read this book felt like reading the journal of the high school girl who thought she was artsy.  Each essay dragged on and seemed to be fascinated both with its own language and over describing each aspect of the scene.  The dead flies in the bathroom confirmed to me that I do not think I’d get along with Dillard in real life.  I just don’t think I can see the same level of philosophy in her observations.

I don’t know what Dillard’s other writing is like and I’d probably give it a shot, but these essays just were not for me.

Rating: 1 stars!

Who should read it? Only people who know they’re fans of Anne Dillard.

Measure of a Man

Measure of a Man

Summary: 

He's been called "America's greatest living tailor" and "the most interesting man in the world." Now, for the first time, Holocaust survivor Martin Greenfield tells his incredible life story. Taken from his Czechoslovakian home at age fifteen and transported to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz with his family, Greenfield came face to face with "Angel of Death" Dr. Joseph Mengele and was divided forever from his parents, sisters, and baby brother.

In haunting, powerful prose, Greenfield remembers his desperation and fear as a teenager alone in the death camp—and how an SS soldier's shirt dramatically altered the course of his life. He learned how to sew; and when he began wearing the shirt under his prisoner uniform, he learned that clothes possess great power and could even help save his life.

“Measure of a Man” is the story of a man who suffered unimaginable horror and emerged with a dream of success. From sweeping floors at a New York clothing factory to founding America’s premier custom suit company, Greenfield built a fashion empire. Now 86 years old and working with his sons, Greenfield has dressed the famous and powerful of D.C. and Hollywood, including Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, celebrities Paul Newman, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jimmy Fallon, and the stars of Martin Scorsese's films.

Written with soul-baring honesty and, at times, a wry sense of humor, “Measure of a Man” is a memoir unlike any other—one that will inspire hope and renew faith in the resilience of man. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Please note: I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher and I voluntarily chose to write a review

Review:

This was a short, but fascinating book that I couldn’t put down.  Martin Greenfield is a larger than life character that immediately brings you into his world.  He speaks candidly about his time in Auschwitz and doesn’t hide harsh realities.  In some ways, it was hearing his stories immediately after being liberated from the camp shows more insight to his character than the time up to that point.  One of the things that I appreciated most about him as a person is his matter of fact approach to problems, one day at a time.

I do have to say that towards the end of the book I was a little frustrated with the tone of congratulations that seeps in, but I also struggle to begrudge that from someone who managed to be so successful.  I both dislike and liked the celebrity anecdotes because of that angle.  Nonetheless this is a book I’d highly recommend!

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone who has any passing interest in World War II or tailoring.

Rejected Princesses

Rejected Princesses

Summary:

Blending the iconoclastic feminism of “The Notorious RBG” and the confident irreverence of “Go the F**ck to Sleep”, a brazen and empowering illustrated collection that celebrates inspirational badass women throughout history, based on the popular Tumblr blog.

Well-behaved women seldom make history. Good thing these women are far from well behaved…

Illustrated in a contemporary animation style, “Rejected Princesses” turns the ubiquitous "pretty pink princess" stereotype portrayed in movies, and on endless toys, books, and tutus on its head, paying homage instead to an awesome collection of strong, fierce, and yes, sometimes weird, women: warrior queens, soldiers, villains, spies, revolutionaries, and more who refused to behave and meekly accept their place.

An entertaining mix of biography, imagery, and humor written in a fresh, young, and riotous voice, this thoroughly researched exploration salutes these awesome women drawn from both historical and fantastical realms, including real life, literature, mythology, and folklore. Each profile features an eye-catching image of both heroic and villainous women in command from across history and around the world, from a princess-cum-pirate in fifth century Denmark, to a rebel preacher in 1630s Boston, to a bloodthirsty Hungarian countess, and a former prostitute who commanded a fleet of more than 70,000 men on China’s seas. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This book is fantastic in every way, shape and form.  Porath manages to imbue history with humor and relevant examples of heroines throughout history that rarely get discussed.  I was introduced to the book through the “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast and I am so glad I picked up the book.  Porath goes out of his way to try to portray diverse historical figures from all around the world with thoughtful research.  The stories are bite size (perfect before bed!) and it’s an easy book to pick up and put down.

If I had kids, I would love to read this to them before bed (although maybe skipping over some of the grisly parts).  Porath does a very good job indicating the rating of the stories and letting readers known if there may be sensitive content.  I’d highly recommend this book for anyone interested in history!

Warning: Contains violence and sexual content, but there are ratings on each page.

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone looking for some badass non-traditional heroines with some lesser-known history mixed in.