It feels like there are few books anymore that “most people” seem to have read, but when I was asking around for recommendations, this one kept getting mentioned. On the surface, the subject (the senseless murder of the Clutter family in Kansas family in 1959) didn’t appeal to me, but there’s no gratuitous violence in the book, and the author’s voice throughout was somehow reassuring in its authority. The book felt well rounded, introducing us to the family and their community and also following the fortunes of the two perpetrators, who display odd flashes of vulnerability and compassion along with their reckless disregard for human life. It felt much more like a well made black and white movie than, say, an Investigation Discovery show, and it conveyed a vivid sense of the time and place.
Availability: SMCM, COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Eric Blomquist
Rating: Highly Recommended
Krakauer is usually more of an adventure writer. The story of his ascent of Mt. Everest is riveting. This is more of an interwoven tale of the evolution of the Mormon religion and flash forwards to a splinter faction that practices polygamy in Utah, Idaho and British Columbia and how one of its members conspires to kill a woman and her child because of a perceived slight against their sect. There are a lot of footnotes showing that Krakauer did a lot of research going into this.
Review Submitted by: J. Tyler Bell
Rating: Recommended with reservations
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War.
This work of historical nonfiction reveals the courageous feats of four female Civil War spies, all from a variety of social backgrounds, and the lengths to which they go in amassing top-secret information for their respective factions. Working for the Confederate cause are Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a prominent Washington socialite who uses her charms to woo high enemy officials into divulging Union secrets, and the headstrong Belle Boyd, a teenager desperate to earn a name for herself in this tempestuous era. Spying for the Union are Emma Edmunds, a Canadian woman who disguises as a man to enlist in the Union army as a courier, and wealthy abolitionist Elizabeth Van Lew, who organizes a Union spy ring and manages to conceal runaway prisoners-of-war in her Richmond mansion right under the noses of rebel detectives.
What I appreciate most about Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is the determination with which the four strong women protagonists carry out their espionage despite the tremendous risks. Though they may not see eye to eye regarding secession and slavery, all share a fervent dedication to their mission and refuse to crumble under the danger of discovery by the enemy. These four women help shape the outcomes of various Civil War battles with the intelligence they glean, and after reading about their unique legacies I cannot help but feel a great sense of awe.
Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Xuejie Kimball
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: a book with a number in the title
I can’t argue the thoroughness with which Cornwell approached Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed, plus her expertise as a medical examiner in real life certainly lends extra weight to her conclusions, but I wasn’t left absolutely convinced that Cornwell had identified Jack the Ripper any more than anyone else has in other attempts. Much wordier than necessary (IMHO), but with interesting photographs, the book walks the reader through the author’s reasoning. Not light reading, by any means!.
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko