Tag: Investigative Journalism

The Best Nonfiction Audiobooks I’ve Listened to Lately

May 9, 2019 Annual "Best Books" Lists 11

Nonfiction Audiobooks

 

Nonfiction is my go-to for audiobooks…particularly lighter nonfiction (none of those dense history tomes for me!). I also listen to lots of backlist on audio, which is very different from my print reading habits. And, I’m sharing the best nonfiction audiobooks I’ve listened to lately (meaning in the first half of 2019) with you today.

One book missing from this list is I Miss You When I Blinkby Mary Laura Philpott because my listen was a “re-read” after reading the print version first. I reviewed the print version here, but I have to tell you the audio hit me even harder. I even changed my rating from 4 to 5 stars after listening to the audio. If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend the audio (read by Philpott herself).

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The Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2018 (Second Half)

December 27, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 8

Best Audiobooks I listened to in the second half of 2018

 

My audiobook listening really picked up in the second half of this year…mostly because I balanced it better with my podcast listening. I tend to do this when I’m listening to audiobooks that are catching my interest more.

Here are my best audiobooks I listened to in 2018…the second half (check out my post on the best audiobooks I listened to in the first half of 2018 here)…

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

The Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2018 (Second Half)

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen Waite (Memoir, Released July 11, 2017)
Waite’s memoir of her marriage to a psychopath / sociopath (Marco) is every wife’s nightmare come to life. There’s cheating and then there’s cheating as part of a pattern of psychotic or sociopathic behavior. Jen’s husband does the latter. She discovers Marco is cheating on her soon after having their first child. Then, she discovers a whole web of lies and starts to realize he’s not the man he seemed. I was absolutely riveted to this audio…I ignored new podcasts to listen, something I don’t normally do. Jen chronicles her slow process of realization and recovery, which definitely made me wonder if some people I know are also sociopaths.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury (Memoir, Released October 23, 2017)
Written under a pseudonym for the author’s safety, this is his story of working undercover for an elite counterterrorism unit following 9/11. Elnoury made a career change from going undercover in the drug world to undercover in the terrorism world. And, his story is absolutely chilling. It illuminates terrorism plots that were thankfully thwarted and characters who are the worst of the worst. But, the most interesting part about it for me was the exploration of Elnoury’s version of Islam and how he feels about those that practice the radicalized version of his religion. And, I wondered if the terrorists in this book read it and recognized themselves…and what that means for Elnoury’s safety. Great pick fans of cloak and dagger.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (Business, Released May 21, 2018)
Bad Blood is the true story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the Silicon Valley biotech startup, Theranos. My favorite types of business books are the explosive, behind-the-scenes tell-all kinds and Bad Blood fits the bill. Though I did get lost in some of the science and engineering details, I was fascinated / horrified at the arrogance of Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’s young CEO who viewed herself as the next Steve Jobs, and the lengths Theranos went to to create a “unicorn” whether or not they actually had a viable product.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

From the Corner of the Ovalby Beck Dorey-Stein (Memoir, July 10, 2018)
This quarter life crisis memoir set in the world of politics is my favorite audiobook of the year! It’s like listening to your fun friend who happens to have a White House job (stenographer) with extensive access to the President give you all the very best anecdotes (plus, a good dose of her love life) over a glass of wine! It’s fun, snarky, and heart-felt and Beck is the rare “DC creature” who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Many Goodreads reviewers complained about the focus on her love life (and bad decisions), but I think it made her more endearing and relatable…and let’s get real, many of us (including me) have been there at some point in our lives! This is a great pick if you loved Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastronmonaco or The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close (my review) and would make a great graduation gift.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

How to Be Married by Jo Piazza (Memoir, Released August 18, 2017)
Piazza chronicles her own difficult first year of marriage as she travels to five continents learning about views on marriage in different cultures. This memoir is really part memoir and part travelogue. I’ve been drawn to books about marriage over the last few years (both fiction and nonfiction)…especially those that keep it real. And, Piazza definitely keeps it real, focusing on both the good parts and tough parts of a year of huge adjustment that often gets papered over with “newlywed bliss” expectations. She also explores the cultural rationale for certain types of marriage structures that Americans view as demeaning to women (i.e. polygamy). I can’t say I agree, but I do now have a better understanding of why women in some cultures participate in these types of traditions. Piazza comes across as independent, yet relatable and I loved her narration! Great choice for fans of Kelly Corrigan.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller (Television, Released October 23, 2018)
Yep, you guessed it…a behind-the-scenes history of Friends. This book is one big ball of 90’s nostalgia and, upon finishing it, I immediately started binge-watching Friends on Netflix. Not only do you get all the cute anecdotes you’d expect from a book like this, but there’s some interesting discussion about some ways the show is problematic when viewed through today’s cultural lens. An easy listen and a great gift for fans of Friends!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Memoir, Released September 4, 2018)
This memoir from Steve Jobs’ first daughter that he alternately claimed and refused to claim for many years is first and foremost a coming of age story…it doesn’t read like a celebrity tell-all. It does highlight the incredible juxtaposition of Lisa’s and Steve’s daily lives…Lisa’s mom is a hippy artist and they live a very modest lifestyle. Jobs sporadically helps them out financially, but they can’t rely on any consistency. Jobs comes off as a weird, overly particular, arrogant, prick. He’s incredibly hot and cold with his daughter…almost toying with her. However, Lisa isn’t super likable either…giving the book an overall cold feeling. This inside look is fascinating, but I do think it could’ve been a hundred pages shorter. And, I would’ve liked more focus on the end of Jobs’ life…when Apple truly took off with the iPad, etc. and he was battling cancer, but maybe that’s to be found in a different book.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower (Politics, Released August 7, 2015)
This portrait of life in the White House for the first families is told from the perspective of the residence service staff. I love a good “behind-the-scenes of anything Presidential” book, especially one that doesn’t really get into politics…and I’ve read a lot of them. The household service staff brings a unique viewpoint, since they see the first families at their most unguarded. Perfect if you’re interested in the inner workings of the White House (especially if you liked Ronald Kessler’s books, In the President’s Secret Service and The First Family Detail)!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

What are the best audiobooks you listened to in the second half of 2018?

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Nonfiction Mini Reviews (Nonfiction November 2018) and New Additions to my TBR

November 29, 2018 Blogger Events 11

Nonfiction November 2018

 

Another Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and me) is in the books! And, it was an awesome one. I read/listened to eight books and only one was a stinker. And, my favorite book of Nonfiction November was Dopesick by Beth Macy!

I usually use Nonfiction November to create my Nonfiction TBR for the coming year and I found some great books to get that started!

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Nonfiction mini reviews

2018 Nonfiction November Mini Reviews

Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September 4, 2018)
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Penguin Press)

Plot Summary: Political writer Leibovich switches gears to go deep inside the NFL…with extensive access to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

My Thoughts: Mark Leibovich is the Chief National Correspondent for The New York Times Magazine focusing on politics and the author of This Town (my review), a look at the cultural landscape in Washington, D.C. I didn’t love This Town…but, I did love Leibovich’s dry, sarcastic writing style and his propensity to make fun of self-important big-shots. And, he does all that in Big Game…but, the targets are now self-important NFL owners (and there are some seriously eccentric personalities in this bunch) and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Leibovich covers concussions, Deflategate, owner/player/Commissioner dynamics, and more. It’s full of funny anecdotes about all the looney-tune personalities and hoopla surrounding the game…and doesn’t dig into the actual X’s and O’s of football too much, which I appreciated. There’s a big focus on the Patriots and my favorite person in the book is Tom Brady’s Dad…who seems like a down-to-earth guy who is flummoxed by his son’s somewhat woo-woo lifestyle. If you liked Jeanne Marie Laskas’ Concussion (my review), you’ll like this one!

“You guys are cattle and we’re the ranchers,” the late Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm once told Hall of Fame offensive lineman Gene Upshaw during a collective bargaining negotiation. It is an oft-quoted line that encapsulates the whole setup. Players get prodded, milked for all they’re worth, sold off, put out to pasture, and slaughtered. Implicit also here is that the cattle’s time is fleeting, like Not for Long football careers. “And ranchers can always get more cattle” is how Schramm’s quote concludes.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 1, 1994)
237 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Anchor)

Plot Summary: Lamott’s guide to writing well and living the writing life…based on writing workshops she taught.

My Thoughts: This was my maiden voyage with Anne Lamott and I had some pre-conceived notions about her because she often writes about faith. I thought she’d be wise and heartfelt…and serious. But, she totally surprised me with that last one! She’s relatable and funny…even irreverently funny, which I loved. I don’t have any grand writing ambitions, but I suspect this book would be invaluable to anyone who does. And, in her writing advice, I see many of the things I love to see in the books I read. Her overall message is: listen to your characters, they’ll show you the way. Sometimes she does get overly philosophical about “art,” but I loved it overall and would love to read more by her.

Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers, will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is, by turns, wonderful, willful, terrible, crazed, and adoring. Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal Koran and you should die, infidel. Other times they’ll reach out and touch you like adoring grandparents on their deathbeds, trying to memorize your face with their fingers.

Dopesick by Beth Macy
Nonfiction – Investigative Journalism (Released August 7, 2018)
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: Beth Macy investigates America’s decades long opioid crisis, which is rampant in both rural and suburban areas in Central Appalachia.

My Thoughts: This book scared me sh*tless…there’s really no other way to say it. I knew America had an opioid crisis on its hands, but I had no idea how pervasive it was and that many people originally got addicted via doctor-prescribed painkillers. This book opened my eyes…and, as a parent, got me hoping that this trend will die a hard death by the time my children are old enough to encounter this stuff. Macy chronicles the many levels of failure in dealing with the opioid crisis…from drug companies, to law enforcement, to public policy makers, to doctors. It’s like the cigarette atrocity of this generation. Dopesick is a must read for parents…along with What Made Maddy Run, Girls & Sex, and Missoula…and is a good companion read for Hillbilly Elegy.

He remembered a dislocated coal miner from Grundy, Virginia, confessing that OxyContin had become more important to him than his family, his church, and his children. “It became my god,” the man said.

Driven by Julie Heldman
Nonfiction – Sports Memoir (Released August 22, 2018)
446 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Author (Self-Published)

Plot Summary: The memoir of Julie Heldman, a top-ranked pro tennis player in the 1960’s – 70’s and the daughter of Gladys Heldman, a legendary figure behind-the-scenes of the tennis world (she founded World Tennis magazine and was partially responsible for the formation of the Virginia Slims women’s tour, the precursor to today’s WTA).

My Thoughts: I’m a huge tennis fan, which is why I gave this self-published memoir a shot. There was a ton of fascinating tennis history in this book…the battle for equal treatment of women on the pro tour, the personalities of legendary players from that time (ex: Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert), and the politics surrounding pros and amateurs. Driven also focuses on Julie’s relationship with her mother (Gladys) and Julie’s eventual battle with mental illness. Famous and beloved in the tennis world, Gladys was a bit of a Mommie Dearest behind closed doors. While somewhat interesting, Heldman beats a dead horse for close to 500 pages (an outrageous length for this book). Driven is desperately in need of an editor…to cut repetitions, to craft story arcs, and to improve the writing (some sections felt like she’d copied directly from her childhood diaries). The tennis history is what kept me reading, so unless you’re an avid tennis fan, there’s probably not much in here to make it worth wading through the muck.

I grew up in a family where the youngest and most demanding child was the world’s largest tennis magazine.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
Nonfiction (Released October 2, 2018)
219 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: W.W. Norton)

Plot Summary: Lewis dives deep into the inner workings of murky government agencies (i.e. Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, etc) to explore the obscure risks the government grapples with every day.

My Thoughts: Michael Lewis is a master at making boring, tedious information sound fascinating and he did it again with The Fifth Risk. He shines a light on obscure people with important and interesting, but relatively unknown jobs within the federal government. He exposes risks that regular citizens probably never consider, but that the federal government works to mitigate every day (i.e. the electrical grid). And, he investigates the Trump transition (or lack thereof). There is an incredible amount of information packed into just over 200 pages…so much that the book felt like a brain dump at times. Despite being fascinated by almost everything he shared, I’m still unclear what his overall purpose is: is he trying to educate U.S. citizens about all the things government does for them / saves them from? Trying to expose Trump’s non-existent / unorganized transition? Figure out the biggest risks in government? Publicly recognize unsung government heroes? He seemed to have all these purposes at various times. Mostly, I took from it that I had no idea what certain parts of the government do…and now I know a little more. Also, it’s clear what side of the political aisle Michael Lewis identifies with…and he writes from that perspective.

Another way of putting this is: the risk we should most fear is not the risk we easily imagine. It is the risk that we don’t. Which brought us to the fifth risk. […] The fifth risk did not put him at risk of revealing classified information. “Project management,” was all he said.

Audiobooks

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury
Nonfiction – War (Released October 23, 2017)
9 Hours, 42 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Dutton)

Plot Summary: Written under a pseudonym for the author’s safety, this is his story of working undercover for an elite counterterrorism unit following 9/11.

My Thoughts: Elnoury made a career change from going undercover in the drug world to undercover in the terrorism world. And, his story is absolutely chilling. It illuminates terrorism plots that were thankfully thwarted and characters who are the worst of the worst. But, the most interesting part about it for me was the exploration of Elnoury’s version of Islam and how he feels about those that practice the radicalized version of his religion. And, I wondered if the terrorists in this book read it and recognized themselves in it…and what that means for Elnoury’s safety.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Nonfiction – Business / Investigative Journalism (Released May 21, 2018)
11 Hours, 37 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: The true story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the Silicon Valley biotech startup, Theranos.

My Thoughts: My favorite types of business books are the explosive, behind-the-scenes tell-all kinds (DisneyWar by James B. Stewart, Those Guys Have All the Fun by James Andrew Miller, and House of Cards by William Cohen) and Bad Blood fits the bill. Though I did get lost in some of the science and engineering details, I was fascinated / horrified at the arrogance of Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’s young CEO who viewed herself as the next Steve Jobs, and the lengths Theranos went to to create a “unicorn” despite the absence of a viable product. This one will make a great “Dad” gift for the holidays!

New Nonfiction to My TBR

Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge (November 21, 2017)
Recommended by Reading with Jade (it was her favorite nonfiction read so far this year)…this one caught my eye because I loved Quiet by Susan Cain (my thoughts) and I’ve become more and more interested in introversion as I’ve gotten older. 

A transformative account of an experience that is essential for our sanity and our happiness.

Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert Ressler and Tom Schachtman (May 1, 1992)
Recommended by Kazan at Always Doing…I love true crime and this by two guys that track serial killers.

The man who coined the term “serial killer”, Ressler is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who combines observation and a knowledge of psychopathic personalities to draw profiles of unknown perpetrators that are astonishingly accurate descriptions based on various aspects of the crime itself.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (October 21, 2014)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc…I’ve obviously been hearing about this book for ages from many people, but Tina’s Instagram post was what really made me want to read it.

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (May 1, 1993)
Recommended by Sarah K, one of my blog readers (via my comments section)…I love honest accounts of motherhood and loved my first Anne Lamott this month (Bird by Bird).

The most honest, wildly enjoyable book written about motherhood is surely Anne Lamott’s account of her son Sam’s first year.

Dead Girls by Alice Bolin (June 26, 2018)
Recommended by Kelly at Stacked…she paired this one with Sadie by Courtney Summers, which I liked, in her Fiction / Nonfiction pairings post. More for my true crime TBR list, which is getting longer every minute.

A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips (October 16, 2018)
Recommended by Susie at Novel Visits…I’m all for a juicy celebrity memoir, especially one that’s great on audio!

A memoir by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougar Town who has become “the breakout star on Instagram stories…imagine I Love Lucy mixed with a modern lifestyle guru.”

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber (April 15, 2013)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc.…more for my true crime TBR!

After his December 2003 arrest, registered nurse Charlie Cullen was quickly dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media. But Cullen was no mercy killer, nor was he a simple monster. He was a favorite son, husband, beloved father, best friend, and celebrated caregiver. Implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients, he was also perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history.

What was your favorite read and top TBR add of Nonfiction November?

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Nonfiction November 2018: Be the Expert…Investigative Journalism

November 13, 2018 Book Lists 14

Nonfiction November 2018

 

Today’s Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and me) topic is Be / Become / Ask the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Investigative Journalism

Investigative Journalism

I actually came to my Be the Expert topic by request! I mentioned in my My Year of Nonfiction post that I hadn’t read enough investigative journalism this year and that I was looking forward to reading more during Nonfiction November. Multiple people mentioned in that post’s comments that they were interested in seeing what investigative journalism books I end up reading this month (so far, I’ve read and really liked The Fifth Risk, Big Game, and Bad Blood…all of which I’ll review at the end of the month!). Today, I thought I’d also share some of my past investigative journalism favorites!

But first, I want to share a couple new, investigative journalism podcasts I’ve been loving lately…all from Wondery, who seems to be cornering the market on investigative journalism podcasts these days:

  • Dr. Death
    The story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon who catastrophically hurt a number of patients he operated on…and the flawed medical system that failed his patients.
  • Gladiator
    A deep dive into deceased New England Patriots football star and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez.
  • American Scandal
    Behind the scenes of America’s biggest scandals. Season 1 focused on BALCO and performance enhancing drugs and Season 2 is about New York Governor Elliot Spitzer and his corrupt NY State government.

True Crime

A False Report by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong
True crime (the story of a woman who was charged with lying about being raped and the detectives that worked to uncover the truth) mixed in with a bit of history of rape investigation and would make a great companion read to I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (my review).

American Fire by Monica Hesse (my review)
The story behind the hunt for this arsonist (actually, arsonists), who they were, and why they couldn’t stop burning down abandoned buildings is ultimately about a unique community and a love affair gone very wrong.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (my review)
McNamara, previously a true crime writer and blogger at TrueCrimeDiary.com, investigated the unsolved crimes of a 1970’s-80’s serial rapist and murderer that she dubbed the Golden State Killer (also known as the EAR for East Area Rapist). Before her book could be published, she passed away…and soon after it was published, the Golden State Killer was caught via DNA evidence.

Missoula by Jon Krakauer (my review/discussion)
Krakauer explores rape and the justice system on college campuses through a look at several acquaintance rape cases at the University of Montana in Missoula.

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (my review)
The true story about Christopher Knight, the man who lived alone in the Maine forest for 27 years before finally being arrested for stealing food and essentials from nearby vacation homes. Also, one of my all-time favorite audiobooks!

Medicine

Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas (my review)
The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a native of Nigeria, who immigrated to the U.S. and used his neuropathological research into brain injuries to football players (i.e. CTE) to take on the National Football League (NFL). It’s so much more than a “football book”; it’s a medical mystery, a David & Goliath story, an immigrant’s story, and a story of a big-business cover-up…and, it was one of my favorite books of 2015!

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink (my review)
An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation. Plus, it reads like a thriller.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (my review)
The true story of the woman whose tissue became one of science’s most important discoveries, the “immortal” HeLa cells that enabled countless medical breakthroughs (including the Polio Vaccine). And, the first book I ever read for a book club!

Business

DisneyWar by James B. Stewart
“The dramatic inside story of the downfall of Michael Eisner—Disney Chairman and CEO—and the scandals that drove America’s best-known entertainment company to civil war.” – Amazon

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonette
An in depth look at Ty Warner and the story of the mid-1990’s speculative bubble surrounding his Beanie Babies…and its subsequent crash.

The Middle East

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright
A historical account of how Al Qaeda (and, really, Islamic terrorism in general) grew into what it is now, what motivates the terrorists, and the U.S.’s response to the terrorist threat (and how we could have prevented 9/11).

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (my review)
Investigative journalist Jenny Nordberg exposes the “unofficial” custom of girls pretending to be boys (called bacha posh) in present day Afghanistan.

Religion

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright (my review)
The story behind L. Ron Hubbard’s (LRH) founding of Scientology, its links to the entertainment industry, and the current state of the “religion”…and, a big dose of cray-cray. This book sparked the best book club discussion I’ve ever been a part of…including lots of googling to see which celebrities are Scientologists!

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
An expose-type account of life in extreme Mormon communities that still practice polygamy. Also – one of my all-time favorite nonfiction books!

What are some of your favorite investigative journalism books?

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My Favorite Nonfiction Audiobooks

August 7, 2018 Audiobooks 22

Favorite Nonfiction Audiobooks

 

Audiobooks are a relatively new addition to my reading life, but they’ve enabled me to read 25-30 more books each of the past two years…so, they’re a welcome addition! And, it seems many other readers are figuring out how to work audiobooks into their reading lives as well because audiobooks is the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry.

I initially didn’t think audiobooks worked for me because I tried listening to fiction while exercising and had trouble following the stories. Once I tried listening to nonfiction (generally lighter nonfiction) at other times of day (while driving, getting dressed and ready for bed, doing chores, etc), I was off to the races with audiobooks! So, I thought I’d share my favorite nonfiction audiobooks! And, if you’ve had trouble concentrating on audiobooks, I’d highly recommend trying some light nonfiction before giving up entirely!

And, I’ll continue to update this list as I find more great nonfiction audiobooks!

Latest Addition (September 6, 2018)

The Residence The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower
Nonfiction (Released August 7, 2015)
10 Hours and 16 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A portrait of life in the White House for the first families told from the perspective of the residence service staff.

My Thoughts: I love a good behind-the-scenes of anything Presidential book, especially the ones that don’t really get into politics…and I’ve read a lot of them. The household service staff brings a unique viewpoint, since they see the first families at their most unguarded. Perfect if you’re interested in the inner workings of the White House (especially if you liked Ronald Kessler’s books, In the President’s Secret Service and The First Family Detail)!

The List

Memoirs

Beautiful, Terrible ThingA Beautiful, Terrible Thing by Jen Waite
Memoir (Released July 11, 2017)
6 Hours and 41 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Waite’s story of her marriage to a psychopath / sociopath (Marco).
My Thoughts: There’s cheating and then there’s cheating as part of a pattern of psychotic or sociopathic behavior. Jen discovers her husband is cheating on her soon after having their first child. Then, she discovers a whole web of lies and starts to realize he’s not the man he seemed. I listened to this book on audio and was absolutely riveted…I ignored new podcasts to listen, something I don’t normally do. Jen chronicles her slow process of realization and recover, which definitely made me wonder if some people I know are also sociopaths. 

A Mother's ReckoningA Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
Memoir (Released February 15, 2016)
11 Hours and 31 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold’s mother (Sue) shares her struggle following the shooting and Dylan’s suicide in this poignant memoir.

My Thoughts: I was initially skeptical of this one (would she just try to excuse her son’s actions?) and, while she did search for a “why?”, there was much more to this extremely complex story. I was riveted.

Born a Crime by Trevor NoahBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah
Memoir (Released November 15, 2016)
8 Hours and 44 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s memoir about growing up as a mixed race child in apartheid South Africa.

My Thoughts: Born A Crime is technically a celebrity memoir, but it’s actually not that at all. It is a heartfelt, funny, sad, and warm story about growing up as an outcast in an incredibly oppressive place.

Daring to DriveDaring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif
Memoir (Released June 13, 2017)
10 Hours and 17 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: al-Sharif started the campaign for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and this book is the story of her life as well as a stark portrayal of the oppression women face in Saudi Arabia.

My Thoughts: This is one eye-opening, heart-breaking read and is perfect for anyone who loved The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (my review).

Gift from the SeaGift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Memoir (Released 1955)
2 Hours and 26 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Lindbergh reflects on motherhood and being a woman during her solo vacation in a beach house.

My Thoughts: My Mom gave me this slim book when I was pregnant with my first child seven years ago and it didn’t make much of an impact on me. But, Will Schwalbe made me want to try it again in his Books for Living. The second time, it spoke directly to my core…maybe because I had seven years of motherhood under my belt by then. A must read for every woman trying to balance being a mother with maintaining their own identity.

Glitter and GlueGlitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
Memoir (Released February 4, 2014)
5 Hours and 38 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Corrigan’s shares her realizations about motherhood and her own mother while serving as somewhat of a surrogate mother to two Australian children who had lost their own mother.

My Thoughts: While Glitter and Glue didn’t blow me away quite as much as the first memoir I read by her (Tell Me More), I still relished sinking back into Corrigan’s signature brand of heartfelt, relatable, and sometimes irreverent observations about life and motherhood. Corrigan hadn’t given much thought to what it’s like to mother someone or quite appreciated her mother until she stepped into the role of surrogate caring for two children who had lost their own. If you like women’s life observations-type writing (think Anna Quindlen, Cheryl Strayed), Kelly Corrigan should be next on your list!

Lots of Candles Plenty of CakeLots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Memoir (Released April 24, 2012)
7 Hours and 7 Minutes

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
Anna Quindlen talks about her experience as a woman in her own life and applies it to women everywhere.
My Thoughts:
Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective and this book would have made my overall Best Books of 2017 list had it been published that year!

My Year of Running DangerouslyMy Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
Memoir (Released October 6, 2015)
6 Hours and 27 Minutes

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
After CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman’s daughter challenges him to train for a marathon with her, he ends up running 3 marathons, 4 half marathons, and an ultra-marathon in one year.
My Thoughts:
Not only is this memoir about an impressive running feat, but it’s a sweet story of a father and daughter connecting over a shared hobby.

Tiny Beautiful ThingsTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Memoir (Released July 10, 2012)
9 Hours and 41 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
A compilation of columns from Strayed’s time as the Dear Sugar advice columnist for The Rumpus.

My Thoughts: Strayed blends empathy, truth, bluntness, and humor to form a perfect blend of “yes, that’s exactly how it is” observations about life and useful, non-judgmental advice about how to live it. I’m generally not an advice column type of person, but this audiobook (read by the author) earned 5 stars from me!

Who Thought This Was a Good IdeaWho Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
Memoir (Released March 21, 2017)
5 Hours and 58 Minutes

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
The behind-the-scenes memoir by President Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff.
My Thoughts: 
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is technically a political memoir, but it really doesn’t include any politics. It’s more a juicy, behind-the-scenes look at working in the White House and on Obama’s campaign trail sprinkled with tips on making the most of your career…all told through the voice of someone you’d love to grab a glass of wine with!

Investigative Journalism

False ReportA False Report: A True Story of Rape in America by T. Christian Miller & Ken Armstrong
True Crime – (Released February 6, 2018)
10 Hours and 6 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
The true story of a woman (Marie) who was charged with lying about a rape and the detectives who were responsible for her case.

My Thoughts: A False Report is excellent true crime mixed in with a bit of history of rape investigation and would make a great companion read to I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (my review).

Mockingbird Next DoorThe Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills
General Nonfiction (Released July 15, 2014)
8 Hours and 11 Minutes

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills was improbably accepted by famously private Harper and Alice Lee when she visited Monroeville, AL for a story and ended up living next door to them.
My Thoughts:
This story is as much about Mills’ journey to friendship with the Lees as it as about Lee herself. As I was listening, I almost felt like I was in To Kill A Mockingbird. For a real treat, pair with Episode 172 of From the Front Porch podcast about Annie Jones’ visit to Monroeville and a breakdown of what’s happened with Harper Lee’s estate since she passed away.

Stranger in the WoodsThe Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
General Nonfiction (Released March 7, 2017)
6 Hours and 19 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The true story about Christopher Knight, the man who lived alone in the Maine forest for 27 years before finally being arrested for stealing food and essentials from nearby vacation homes.

My Thoughts: This story is strange, but completely captivating. It’s like a mash-up between a wilderness story and a study of the introverted personality trait and came extremely close to making my overall Best Books of 2017 list.

What Made Maddy RunWhat Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan
General Nonfiction – Sports (Released August 1, 2017)
7 Hours and 36 Minutes
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The story of a seemingly perfect (if you looked at her Instagram account) teenager who commits suicide during her freshman year on the Penn State track team.

My Thoughts: This story is absolutely heart-breaking, but is a must-read for parents of young athletes…and, really, parents of all high-achieving young girls in the social media age.

What are your favorite nonfiction audiobooks?

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Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink: A Nonfiction Page Turner

November 10, 2016 Nonfiction 24

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri FinkNonfiction
Released September 10, 2013
558 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Crown)

Headline

Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on my Page Turners list.

Plot Summary

An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.

Why I Read It

This was the book that got the most votes from my Nonfiction November Reading Options post…plus, it’s been on my TBR for a couple years now and I felt like the last person on earth who hadn’t read it.

Major Themes

End-of-life care, euthanasia, prioritization of medical care, disaster preparedness, aftermath of a disaster

What I Liked

  • I think it’s rare for nonfiction to feel like a fast-paced page turner, but this one did. Particularly in Part 1, which focused on the play-by-play of what happened in the hospital during and immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
  • Comparing Five Days at Memorial to The Martian might seem odd. But, I got the same frantic feeling as I did while reading The Martian; of putting out a fire just to have a new one crop up…and being on the edge of my seat wondering whether they’ll survive each new setback.
  • This book is about so much more than just the events at Memorial. It’s about end-of-life medical decisions, euthanasia, medical ethics, the prioritization of care and evacuation in a disaster, what happens to society when conventional standards break down in the face of disaster (i.e. sometimes a Lord of the Flies environment), bureaucratic incompetence, poor planning, lack of perspective and the wrath of the elements. It’s about how all this conspired to create a horrific situation requiring choices no human should ever have to make.

Memorial wasn’t so much a hospital anymore but a shelter that was running out of supplies and needed to be emptied.

  • Fink wrote the book in a way that, when I was in the heat of the moment (i.e. Part 1), I had sympathy for both sides and could see both sides’ logic. But, in hindsight (i.e. Part 2, which covered the subsequent investigation), the doctors’ actions seemed callous and wrong. This is probably similar to how the real-life situation felt to many who were involved or following it on the news and I appreciated Fink’s ability to make me feel the complexity of the real-life situation.
  • This book is a debate starter. The lack of a clear right answer to what happened at Memorial would make for some fantastic book club conversation.

What I Didn’t Like

  • It was overly long and I could’ve done without a few specific tangents in Part 2 (historical background on euthanasia and the entire Epilogue except what happened at NYU hospital during Hurricane Sandy).

A Defining Quote

Pou would later say that the goal in a disaster must be to do “the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” […]. But what does the “greatest good” mean when it comes to medicine? Is it the number of lives saved? Years of life saved? Best “quality” years of life saved? Or something else?

Good for People Who Like…

Investigative journalism, medical nonfiction, disaster scenarios, emotional gut wrenchers, debate starters

Other Books You May Like

Because of its fast paced, how-will-we-survive-what’s-thrown-at-us-next feel:
The Martian by Andy Weir

Because of its focus on how society responds to disaster:
One Second After by William R. Forstchen

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Read One, Skip One: Never Leave Your Dead and Listen to Me

July 7, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 21

I’m a bit shocked at which books ended up in which slots for this installment of Read One, Skip One. I picked up Never Leave Your Dead thinking I’d take a peek, but probably not end up reading the whole thing. And, I really expected to love Listen to Me based on my feelings about Hannah Pittard’s last book, Reunion.

Never Leave Your Dead, Diane CameronNever Leave Your Dead by Diane Cameron
Nonfiction – War (Released June 7, 2016)
176 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Central Recovery Press)

Plot Summary: The true story of Donald Watkins, a WWII veteran (and the author’s stepfather) who murdered his first wife and mother-in-law long after returning from the China theatre.

My Thoughts: I have to be honest…this book was a total surprise for me. The story sounded interesting, but I had no idea truly how interesting it would turn out to be. I could not stop reading (despite the tiny print of my PDF-formatted ARC) and I ended up taking so much away from these compact 176 pages! Though the writing and story-telling is a bit choppy, the story of Donald Watkins blew my mind. He likely suffered from PTSD 40 years before it was acknowledged by the military and received years of counter-productive treatments. In telling Donald’s story, Cameron explores the history of mental illness as it relates to the military, conditions at an infamous mental hospital (St. Elizabeth’s), and a little known part of WWII (the American pre-Pearl Harbor presence in China and POW Camp Palawan).

I was almost equally enthralled with the story of Cameron discovering and pursuing Donald’s story. The book is structured in the order in which Cameron learned each new piece of Donald’s background, giving the reader a sense of her emotional journey. Never Leave Me Dead is quite an eye-opening read if you’re at all interested in trauma and recovery, PTSD (particularly in returning soldiers), less well-known parts of WWII, and/or the history of mental illness treatment. It’s going on my 2016 Summer Reading, Great Books Under 300 Pages, and Books for Guys lists.

Listen to Me, Hannah PittardListen to Me by Hannah Pittard
Fiction (Released July 5, 2016)
192 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Married couple Mark and Maggie reflect on the state of their marriage and Maggie’s recovery from a recent mugging during a cross-country road trip with their dog, Gerome.

My Thoughts: I’m surprised to be writing this type of review for a Hannah Pittard book, as I loved her last novel, Reunion. Her latest effort is one of those books with a vague (but appealing to me) publisher’s blurb headline: “A modern gothic about a marriage and road trip gone hauntingly awry.” But, I now realize the vagueness probably has more to do with the central premise being fairly unclear. 

Even after finishing the book, I’m still unsure what it was truly about. It’s somewhat about the small resentments and slights of a marriage that accumulate to become big and intolerable and somewhat about recovering from trauma within a marriage…with Mark’s odd obsessions with the environment and the Internet destroying society running through it. These last bits felt like they were included to make some broader points about the world, but they didn’t fit the story.

A meandering book like this can work for me, but the writing needs to sparkle. And this writing was good, but not sparkling. In my June 13 reading update, I said about the prospect of digging into Listen to Me: “I’m hoping she tackles marriage with the same irreverence she applied to death and family in Reunion!” Maybe this is a case of having inaccurate expectations, but I really missed that irreverent tone here.

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Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas is Not Just A Football Book

November 24, 2015 Sports 26

I come from a football-loving family. We watched the NFL every Sunday growing up. My Dad played college football. Both my brothers played high school football and one of them went on to play Division III college football as a linebacker. And, my husband and I are still huge college football fans.

I watched my youngest brother get knocked out during one of his college games. When he came to, he passed the sideline “concussion test” and was cleared to play the remainder of the game, which he did. I recently asked him what he thought about the increasing focus on football players’ risk of brain injury and he said that (had he known the risks when he started) he probably would have played anyway because he loved the game so much. 

And, this issue became front and center for the NFL this weekend (again!), as controversy swirled around why Rams QB Case Keenum was left in the game after he was clearly dazed following a hard tackle (read more here).

Concussion, Jeanne Marie LaskasNonfiction – Medical Mystery/Sports
Released November 24, 2015
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House) via NetGalley

Headline

Concussion is a so much more than a “football book”; it’s a medical mystery, a David & Goliath story, an immigrant’s story, and a story of a big-business cover-up…and, it’s my favorite nonfiction of 2015!

Plot Summary

The story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a native of Nigeria, who immigrated to the U.S. and used his neuropathological research into brain injuries to football players (i.e. CTE) to take on the National Football League (NFL).

Why I Read It

Carmen from Carmen’s Books and Movies Reviews brought this book to my attention. I honestly wasn’t expecting much, but figured I’d give it a shot since I love sports books and I have former football players in my family.

Major Themes

Brain injury to football players, politics of big business sports, whistle-blowing and cover-ups, Nigeria and its civil strife, depression, race, an immigrant’s experience

What I Liked

  • This book was such an unexpected surprise for me! A third of the way through, football had been mentioned only once.
  • The book opens with an intriguing “mentee vs. mentor” situation involving Bennet and his eccentric mentor, Dr. Cyril Wecht (the only member of a 1970’s forensic pathology panel who backed the JFK two bullet theory), which created immediate suspense.
  • Bennet is an incredibly endearing person on the page. His experience growing up in war-torn Nigeria, his childlike wonder at basic features of America, and his incredibly naive view of what it would mean to take on the NFL made me root for him immediately. His experience as an immigrant also made for some unexpected humor:

    Also, in America everyone stayed on his or her side of the road. That was a noteworthy feature right there. The people going west stayed in the westbound land and the people going east stayed in the eastbound lane. This is so organized!

  • Laskas is an engaging writer and story-teller. She skillfully framed this story as a battle between good and evil. She included passages written by Bennet that give the reader a glimpse inside his brain. She captured the highs of the successes and the lows of the setbacks in a frenetic atmosphere that pulls the reader along with it. And, she created a palpable sense of outrage at a multi-billion business that has spawned “athletic men who have turned into suicidal toddlers.”

    A guy spends fifteen years bashing himself in the head repeatedly with more than sixty g’s of force for a living, and then goes insane – well, his workplace owes him something.

What I Didn’t Like

Not one thing.

A Defining Quote

Nigeria was emotion, fire and prayer and hunches, and America was reason, ambition, and wealth. He bounced between those two spheres, not quite in one but not quite in the other. And maybe it was the necessity of having to hang in there, in the uncertainty of transition, pulling forward and getting pushed backward, that enabled him to see what others had not yet seen.

Good for People Who Like…

Medical mysteries, corporate cover-ups, David vs. Goliath stories, investigative journalism, exposés

Other Books You May Like

Other medical mysteries:
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A focus on Traumatic Brain Injury in a different population (veterans):
Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel

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Nonfiction November: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

November 12, 2015 Nonfiction 33

Nonfiction November 2015


This review is part of Nonfiction November hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Becca at I’m Lost in Books, and Leslie at Regular Rumination.

Underground Girls of Kabul, Jenny NordbergNonfiction
Released September 16, 2014
350 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Headline

The Underground Girls of Kabul is an extremely readable, yet heart-breaking and eye-opening immersion in a culture that is brutal to women. It would also make a great choice for book clubs.

Plot Summary

Investigative journalist Jenny Nordberg exposes the “unofficial” custom of girls pretending to be boys (called bacha posh) in present day Afghanistan.

Why I Read It

This book was the darling of last year’s Nonfiction November and I missed out on it then.

Major Themes

Women’s rights, patriarchal societies, the Middle East, Islam, the Taliban, marital dynamics, war, gender identity

What I Liked

  • This is one of those books where you learn a ton, but don’t realize it. I felt like I was just reading a story, but I might as well have been taking a course on life in Afghanistan (particularly for women), Islam, the Taliban, and the effects of war on regular Afghans.
  • The book goes way beyond the Afghan (actually, this custom can also be found in many other countries) custom of girls living as boys. It paints a vivid picture of what it means to be an Afghan woman, the importance Afghans place on every family having a son, gender and sexuality issues, marital dynamics, and patriarchal societies.
  • Nordberg clearly explained why Afghan families sometimes raise their daughters as sons and emphasized that there are a variety of reasons a family might choose this path. Though some of these reasons are inexplicable to a Westerner (i.e. having a bacha posh ensures that, via “magic”, the next child will be a son), Nordberg helped me understand how these people, given their history, customs, and surroundings, could resort to such beliefs.
  • Nordberg focused on a rare female member of Parliament, Azita, to illustrate the broader bacha posh custom. Using Azita as the focal point gave me a specific person to root for.
  • This book was chock full of “did you know” tidbits, which I love in my nonfiction. For example, Afghans idolize Jack Bauer from the TV show 24, Afghan women’s rights actually improved during the Soviet occupation (because the Soviets de-emphasized religion), Thursday nights in Afghanistan are for “conjugal traditions”, and Saudi Arabia first allowed women to participate in the Olympics in 2012.

What I Didn’t Like

  • Nordberg touched on the Afghan population’s general impressions of its various occupiers over the years, but I was particularly curious about this and wished she’d gone a bit deeper. It was fascinating that the Afghans actually viewed the Soviets as liberators from “mujahideen infighting”, but I couldn’t quite get a handle on what they think of the Americans (although, this could probably comprise an entirely separate book).

A Defining Quote

Regardless of who they are, whether they are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, Afghan women often describe the difference between men and women in just one word: freedom. As in: men have it, women do not.

Good for People Who Like…

Investigative journalism, books about marriage, books that make you think, women’s issues

Other Books You May Like

Because of its Afghanistan war (1980’s war with the Soviet Union) theme:
Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile

Because of their similar styles of investigative journalism:
Missoula by Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

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Missoula by Jon Krakauer: A Discussion

November 5, 2015 Crime, Nonfiction 26

Missoula, Jon KrakauerNonfiction
Released April 21, 2015
386 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Headline

Krakauer’s incredibly readable investigative journalism had me turning the issues of rape and the justice system over and over in my head and was almost a 5 star read for me (only a tedious final section prevented me from giving it that last half star). It would make for a meaty book club discussion.

Plot Summary

Krakauer explores rape and the justice system on college campuses through a look at several acquaintance rape cases at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Why I Read It

I’m interested in this particular issue and love Krakauer’s very readable investigative work (particularly Under the Banner of Heaven).

Major Themes

Rape (particularly acquaintance rape), criminal procedure, criminal and university justice systems, rape victim recovery

My Major Takeaways

It was difficult for me to critically review Missoula as a book because my mind was too consumed with the issues that Krakauer raised. So, I’m going with a discussion of those issues rather than a traditional review.

  • Acquaintance rape and stranger rape are vastly different animals…mostly as they pertain to the affects on the victim, her recovery, and the experience she is likely to have if the rape goes to trial. A victim of acquaintance rape could face the prospect of questioning whether a rape even occurred, having her character torn apart publicly, having people not believe her story, having a lower likelihood of putting the rapist behind bars, and blaming herself for what happened. Not to say that victims of stranger rape don’t deal with any of these issues, but I’d say it’s on a much lesser scale than for victims of acquaintance rape.
  • The incentives for prosecutors to take on rape cases are skewed in favor of defendants…prosecutors want to maintain a high win percentage and rape cases are notoriously difficult to win given their he said/she said nature (particularly acquaintance rape cases). So, prosecutors might choose not to press charges in cases that aren’t sure winners (i.e. many rape cases).
  • In fact, the entire justice system is skewed in favor of the defendant…which makes sense given the U.S. is an “innocent until proven guilty” nation. But, it’s tough on rape victims. A rape victim has no lawyer fighting for her personal interests (like a defendant does) and no say in how the prosecutor argues her rape case or if a proposed plea deal is acceptable. Defense attorneys are not bound by as stringent a set of ethical expectations and deterrents for telling the truth in court, and in many cases, will go to whatever length necessary to get their clients off.
  • Feeling empowered again is critical to a rape victim’s recovery and the ability to put the rapist behind bars goes a long way towards a victim regaining her sense of empowerment.
  • Title IX legislation included sexual assault directives for Universities…which required Universities to develop a system for handling sexual assault cases. Then, per a subsequent 2011 directive, Universities were required to use a lower standard of proof when trying rape cases within the campus system. Instead of the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt”, Universities are to use “the preponderance of evidence” (aka “more likely than not”) as the standard of proof, meaning “just 51% of the credible evidence indicated that the accused had committed the offense.”

Lingering Questions

  • How do you balance the police’s responsibility to believe a rape victim’s story with its responsibility to protect the alleged rapist’s right to be “innocent until proven guilty”? The police need to create an accepting atmosphere to encourage terrified rape victims to come forward, but they also need to question the victims’ stories to respect the alleged rapist’s right to be “innocent until proven guilty”. It’s a tough balance.
  • How do you feel about the differing standards of proof for rape cases in the criminal vs. academic justice systems? Do you buy the rationale that the difficulty of putting a rapist behind bars through the criminal system makes it fair to use a lower standard of proof for the academic process given the worst possible punishment is merely expulsion from school (rather than jail time and a permanent criminal record)? 
  • The book doesn’t propose a solution to the the issues Krakauer raised. What type of solution do you think is necessary to ensure victims feel comfortable reporting rapes and that more rape cases get to be decided by a jury?

A Defining Quote

Police and prosecutors are morally and professionally obligated to make every effort to identify specious rape reports, safeguard the civil rights of rape suspects, and prevent the falsely accused from being convicted. At the same time, however, police and prosecutors are obligated to do everything in their power to identify individuals who have committed rape and ensure that the guilty are brought to justice.

Good for People Who Like…

Investigative journalism, exposes, narrative nonfiction, criminal justice system, psychology, books that make you think

Other Books You May Like

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg
Under the Banner of Heaven
by Jon Krakauer

Also check out Tara at Running N Reading’s review for a different style analysis of this book…including links to the real life news stories and pictures of some of the major players.

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