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Best of 2014: Non-Fiction

Updated: February 2, 2015

The best books of the year, as selected by LAPL staff.  Perfect for holiday gift-giving!

Against football : one fan's reluctant manifesto
Almond, Steve.
Call Number: 796.271 A452

Almond, a journalist and lifelong Raiders fan, takes issue with the rampant misogyny, racism, and homophobia that is prevalent in his favorite sport. In this polemic, Almond posits that football has become America’s shared culture and epitomizes American machismo. Sadly, many former NFL stars have suffered serious brain injuries as a result of concussions they experienced on the playing field, where violence has more value than self-preservation.

Bad feminist : essays
Gay, Roxane,
Call Number: 301.412 G2855
Being a feminist isn’t about being a perfect, platonic ideal of womanhood. Instead, Roxane Gay writes a series of essays about a feminism that acknowledges (and frequently examines) the individual pieces of her life and her experiences, allowing for inconsistencies and rough edges that grind against other aspects of her life and identity. The result is an autobiographical exploration of life and culture that is honest, compelling, and very, very funny.

Blood will out : the true story of a murder, a mystery, and a masquerade
Kirn, Walter, 1962-
Call Number: 364.92 G368Ki


This bizarre amalgam of true crime and memoir chillingly details a fifteen-year-long con game masquerading as a friendship between the writer--a respected journalist--and the man he knew as “Clark Rockefeller.” As author Walter Kirn finally discovers, to his horror, that his wealthy, high-society friend is actually a liar, a serial imposter, and an accused murderer, he is forced to examine why he allowed a psychopath to manipulate and deceive him for so many years, and how his own character flaws made him the perfect victim for the man he calls “a cannibal of souls.”




Blues all day long : the Jimmy Rogers story
Goins, Wayne E,
Call Number: 789.14 R7267Go

This is a long overdue appreciation and history about a blues guitar great. Based on numerous hours of interviews with family members and musicians, and in-depth research that includes information about Chess Records and other musicians of the day.

Breakfast at Sotheby's : an A-Z of the art world
Hook, Philip,
Call Number: 706.9 H781 2014
A fresh and funny look at the art market from the perspective of a 35-year veteran. An alphabetical guide to the myriad reasons people like and/or buy art, ranging from subject and style to trends and provenance. Topic headings such as Spoofs, Creative Block, Jail (Artists in), etc. make for a fun read.

The broken road : from the Iron Gates to Mount Athos
Fermor, Patrick Leigh.
Call Number: 940.55 F361-1

This is the last volume about Fermor's great walk, which began in the Hook of Holland, written about in A Time of Giftsthen continued in Between the Woods and the Water.  The final part of the trip was long over, but Fermor never completed the last book which was then edited by a friend and world-class adventurer, Colin Thubron, and another friend and author/Fermor biographer, Artemis Cooper.  The text is there with Paddy's spirit, and the two writers have done him justice and provided his followers with the final touch.  Fermor died in 2011.


Capital in the twenty-first century
Piketty, Thomas, 1971-
Call Number: 330.1 P636

French economist Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data about wealth and income inequality from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century showing an increasing concentration of wealth and offering possible global solutions.  This huge, data-dense and provocative 700-page book has been a surprise sensational best seller and has been widely covered and discussed in business and popular media.


The David Foster Wallace reader
Wallace, David Foster.
Call Number: 813 W188-2

This hefty collection has selections with Wallace's fiction, non-fiction, teaching materials, and numerous selections have commentaries about Wallace's writing by other fine writers. The Teaching Materials section is useful, inspiring, and hilarious with an introduction from Sally Foster Wallace, David's mother and retired Professor of English.

The divide : American injustice in the age of the wealth gap
Taibbi, Matt.
Call Number: 323.41 T129

A well-researched, gripping depiction of the increasing discrepancy between how justice is meted out on the streets of America - harshly, often indiscriminately and erroneously - versus inside the boardrooms of the wealthiest financial institutions - essentially not at all. Taibbi makes no bones about his outrage; his tone is straightforward and informal, but his import is serious. He articulates how harsher penalties for petty crime and the criminalization of poverty itself are correlated and necessary to the mass accumulation of wealth by a tiny percentage of stakeholders at the heads of a shrinking number of corporate conglomerates.

A fighting chance
Warren, Elizabeth.
Call Number: 92 W287
The story of Elizabeth Warren’s life and career is not simply about her journey from a penniless childhood to the heights of political power in Washington, D.C. Throughout the book one thing is clear, and that is Warren’s understanding and appreciation of the hard work that people use to try to carve out lives for themselves and their children in America.

Flash boys
Lewis, Michael.
Call Number: 330.973 L675-1

Michael Lewis exposes the darker side of Wall Street by presenting compelling evidence that the stock market is rigged by the extremely sophisticated computer code used in high-frequency trading (HFT). He chronicles the construction of a secret cable network, explains the phenomena of private trading transactions known as dark pools, introduces people in the investment world who uncover questionable HFT practices, and recounts the trial of Sergey Aleynikov, the former Goldman Sachs computer programmer accused by the company of stealing their trade secrets. Fast-paced and well-written, this book provides an important exploration of the inner workings of Wall Street.

Amoruso, Sophia.
Call Number: 658.31242 A524
Founder and CEO of Nasty Gal, Sophia Amoruso enthusiastically shares her story of entrepreneurial success and also offers helpful career advice to young women in the workplace. With no college degree and a series of unfulfilling jobs, Sophia decided to link her two passions of buying vintage clothes and photography to launch an eBay store. With dedication and hard work her business eventually outgrew eBay, and she now runs a thriving multi-million dollar online clothing business. She discusses some of her secrets to business success such as knowing your customer, how to get free marketing, and how to use social media to promote a brand and to engage with customers.

I'll drink to that : a life in in style, with a twist
Halbreich, Betty, 1927-
Call Number: 746.52 H157

 Betty Harbreich is well known for her book Secrets of a fashion therapist:  what you can learn behind the dressing room door which offers practical fashion advice for every woman, gleaned from her years of experience at Bergdorf Goodman as a personal fashion advisor. Snappy, direct and funny she recounts her life and how she came to be known as the first personal shopper--a name she does not like at all. She is in Bergdorf's every day before the doors open, walking and looking for clothes for her clients, but Harbreich does have her limits and boundaries, "The door of my office is where I draw the line.  I'm not part of the package--I don't go home with the pants. . . There is a cutoff period to my involvement, but with me at least one gets an hour or two."


The improbability principle : why coincidences, miracles, and rare events happen every day
Hand, D. J. (David J.), 1950-
Call Number: 519 H236
Have you thought that winning the lottery is pretty unlikely? (Hint: it is.) What about winning it twice? That must never happen... but it has happened. And it will again. Why? Because the Law of Very Large Numbers says that given enough chances, an event will happen. That law is just part of Hand’s Improbability Principle, a principle that makes miracles seem not so miraculous.

The invisible bridge : the fall of Nixon and the rise of Reagan
Perlstein, Rick, 1969-
Call Number: 973.924 P451-1

The third in a series about the conservative movement in the United States written by a liberal historian who examines how Ronald Reagan became the champion of the right after Nixon was brought down by Watergate.

J.D. Salinger : the escape artist
Beller, Thomas,
Call Number: 813 S165Bel
Beller grew up in the milieu of Salinger’s fiction, and his is the first biography that puts J.D. Salinger’s work in the context of the New York literary scene of the 1930s and 1940s.

The Keillor reader
Keillor, Garrison.
Call Number: 818 K27-4

A compilation of Keillor's work which has stories, essays, poetry, photographs, selections from The Prairie Home Companion, and never before published pieces.

Killing Patton : the strange death of World War II's most audacious general
O'Reilly, Bill.
Call Number: 92 P322Or
An exciting history of World War II and the suspicious circumstances surrounding General George Patton's accident at the end of the war.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
Copeland, Misty.
Call Number: 793.324 C782

Misty Copeland overcame the odds of a dysfunctional home, racism, and a late start with ballet lessons to became a star and soloist with American Ballet Theatre.  No matter what the odds, obstacles or pain, in life and in ballet, her autobiography conveys her indomitable spirit and passion for dance.

Mademoiselle : Coco Chanel and the pulse of history
Garelick, Rhonda K., 1962-
Call Number: 746.52 C456Gar

The name Chanel is iconic and eponymous for a fragrance and a jacket, both created by a woman from a poor, socially undesirable background. Based on new research, this book analyzes the woman and her achievements within the context of the historical periods in which she lived. Heartbroken by a first great love, she became completely absorbed and driven to succeed on her own merits, and nothing, definitely not an ethical code, stood in her way.

Minding the manor : the memoir of a 1930s English kitchen maid
Moran, Mollie, 1916-
Call Number: 640.92 M829 2014

Mollie Moran describes the human side of working “downstairs” in a 1930s mansion house in London’s Knightsbridge and a Tudor manor in Norfolk. Mollie became a scullery maid at age 14, scrubbing floors and steps and polishing doorknobs, promoting to kitchen maid; at age 20 cooking for the Earl of Leicester’s niece. Leading the life of an independent young woman in London, Moran describes running into Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII before his abdication in 1936, seeing the future Queen Elizabeth II at the age of ten playing outside with her sister, as well as the entertainments single women with little money could enjoy in London. Moran also describes how World War II changed the lives of those living “upstairs” even more than those living “downstairs."

My life as a foreign country
Turner, Brian, 1967-
Call Number: 811 T9447T

He comes from several generations of military men, and as a soldier honors but does not glorify various types of war service. In this autobiography, Turner, a veteran of our most recent wars, suffering the effects of PTSD, sees the enemy, and himself through the enemy's eyes, and even through the imagined vision of a greviously injured cook. This book and  Redeployment by Phil Klay, listed on the Best of 2014:  Fiction, speak of the pain and truth of war.



Plenty more : vibrant vegetable cooking from London's Ottolenghi
Ottolenghi, Yotam.
Call Number: 641.65 O91

Another wonderful book from Ottolenghi, who brought us Plenty : vibrant vegetable recipes from London's Ottolenghi, and an LAPL  2012 Best Non-Fiction pick, Jerusalem : a cookbook. He and his staff surpass themselves with more tasty vegetarian dishes with different and unusual flavors.


Pola Negri : Hollywood's first femme fatale
Kotowski, Mariusz.
Call Number: 812.092 N388Ko
An excellent, detailed examination of the life of the colorful and underrated silent film star Pola Negri. Pola arrived on our shores in 1922 via Poland and Berlin, having had a successful stage and film career in Europe, most notably under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch, who brought out her sultry histrionic abilities. She immediately set about taking Hollywood and its male population by storm. Her conquests included Chaplin, Valentino, and Rod La Rocque, as well as a Count and a Prince. But by 1938 it was pretty much over, although she did make a final film in 1964 - Walt Disney’s The Moon-Spinners, playing (what else?) a vampy villainess.

The republic of imagination : America in three books
Nafisi, Azar.
Call Number: 801 N146

Afar Nafisi once again brings her perception, knowledge, insight and memories to  the importance of fiction.  This time it is about three American novels which she states show the unique attributes of the United States.  The introductory essay is an appreciation and examination about the special aspects of fiction,  American freedom of speech (in all media), and the importance of reading all types of books. The vitality, joy and understanding expressed in this introduction should be widely read.

The Roosevelts : an intimate history
Ward, Geoffrey C.
Call Number: 92 R781War

More than a companion to Ken Burns' recent PBS documentary about three pivotal members of the Roosevelt family, this volume brings fresh research and analysis to the personal and the political lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor. In their early lives each was an unlikely contender for any type of public notice, let alone the acclaim and controversy which would mark them as oustanding figures in United States history.

A spy among friends : Kim Philby and the great betrayal
MacIntyre, Ben.
Call Number: 351.74 M152

The enigmatic Kim Philby was a master spy, a British double agent who for years got away with fooling his colleagues in Great Britain and the United States as he passed information to the Soviet Union.   He courted and maintained friendships from early on, then used and abused them, fooling wives, lovers, friends, and most egregiously colleagues in the West.  A committed Communist who never veered from his beliefs much like a hunting dog, faithful to the hunt and his master.

The tale of the dueling neurosurgeons : the history of the human brain as revealed by true stories of trauma, madness, and recovery
Kean, Sam,
Call Number: 612.82 K24

A history of the strange cases that progressed our understanding of the human brain which is mapped, in part, through the study of traumatic brain injury. With people who range from kings to presidential assassins, and the catalysts from unbelievable accidents to strange diseases, each is presented with a detailed and humanizing view.  This book examines not only a careful history of this mapping, but also the human cost for the people dealing with these injuries.


Tennessee Williams : mad pilgrimage of the flesh
Lahr, John, 1941-
Call Number: 812 W727La

A big read, over 700 pages, which fly by in this freshly researched biography of one of our great playwrights.  Williams led a life that was troubled, from his early years and continued until his death. Despite all of his anguish, fears, and self-doubt, he produced some of the most beautiful and illuminating plays which are hallmarks and classics of the modern American theatre.

Things a little bird told me : confessions of the creative mind
Stone, Biz.
Call Number: 338.4C67 T974St

The co-creator of Twitter tells his life story and gives many ideas on how  to develop one's own creativity.

Turn up the radio! : rock, pop, and roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972
Kubernik, Harvey, 1951-
Call Number: 789.1 K95 folio

There was a time when radio ruled new rock and pop music, and Los Angeles had dueling DJs and stations. Filled with a who's who of the rock and pop scene, lots of photographs, Kubernik gives us nostalgia and history.

The underground girls of Kabul : in search of a hidden resistance in Afghanistan
Nordberg, Jenny.
Call Number: 301.41570958 N828

For anyone who thinks the struggle for women’s rights and freedom, domestically or internationally, has been won, then read this book.  In Afghanistan there is a secret tradition of disguising young girls as boys so they may be educated and have a fleeting sense of freedom.

What if? : serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions
Munroe, Randall,
Call Number: 500 M968
If mankind's long struggle to understand the universe through physics, math and really inventive diagrams couldn’t be used to help us answer questions like “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball at 90% the speed of light?” then the world would be a sadder place. Luckily this book is here to answer at least some of those strange and burning questions.

What makes this book so great
Walton, Jo.
Call Number: 813.09 W239

Jo Walton loves science fiction and fantasy and has read a great deal of it. Here, she shares everything she loves about these books. If she’s writing about a book you recognize, it’s like talking to a friend. If she’s writing about something you haven’t read, it’s your lucky day. You now have a chance to discover a new favorite!

When Paris went dark : the City of Light under German occupation, 1940-1944
Rosbottom, Ronald C., 1942-
Call Number: 940.5344 R789
And when the lights came back on, they revealed a stain that can never be removed. The author details daily life in Paris under the Nazi occupation.

A year in the life of Downton Abbey
Fellowes, Jessica,
Call Number: 809.2954 D751Fe-2

The perfect gift for Downtown Abbey fans with authentic recipes, behind-the-scenes information about the actors and many of the people who produce the program. There are color photographs on every page.

Yes please
Poehler, Amy, 1971-
Call Number: 812.092 P7435
Part memoir, part advice tome, Poehler brings her trademark wit and surprising insight to explorations of her own foibles.