Places to Bike, New Bios of New Kids on the Block, U.S. Grant, and Explorer Roald Amundsen, plus the Liberation of Paris and a Love Story in the City of LightsThursday, October 4th, 2012
The Life of Roald Amundsen by Stephen Bown (Da Capo, $26)
Just a little more than a century ago, there were four unmapped corners of the world: the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage, the South Pole, and the North Pole. Although there were hundreds of people who had attempted to reach the two poles, none made it.
Roald Amundsen was born in Norway in 1872. During the first decade of the 20th century, he redefined the maps of the world. In 1903, he began sailing the Northwest Passage from east to west. He located the magnetic North Pole and in 1911 reached the South Pole, just ahead of Captain Scott. His pioneering flights toward the North Pole were an effort to explore what Amundsen thought was the last unknown land of the planet. Ironically, he vanished in 1928 while searching for a missing plane piloted by a rival who had been on a mission to reach the Pole. Amundsen crashed into the sea north of Norway, only the wrecked pontoons were ever found.
This is an outstanding biography of an focused, determined man who explored while challenged by such realities as primitive food preservation techniques, less advanced fabrics and clothing designs, poor or non-existent communication, and bitter weather conditions. The areas he explored were truly unknown places. There were literally no maps, no local guides, and so remote, the areas were not just inhospitable but dangerous.
Bown has served up a crisply written book that is exciting, meticulously researched, and an appropriate literary tribute to one of history’s greatest explorers. He is based in the Canadian Rockies and his previous book, “Scurvy,” was published to critical acclaim.
New Kids on the Block: Five Brothers and a Million Sisters by Nikki Van Noy (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $25)
Beginning in the 1980s, New Kids on the Block was the biggest band around. In 1991, they were named by Forbes magazine as the highest-paid entertainers of the year. Jordan, Jon, Joe, Donnie, and Danny helped define the American pop music of the period and set the standards for every boy band that followed.
When the group disbanded in 1994, it sent shock waves through millions of teens and tweens throughout the world. Twelve years later, they reunited, making Time magazine’s list of Best Comebacks of 2011.
This new book offers readers an intimate all access, backstage pass to NKOTB including their incredible rise in the 1980s, the group’s tumble during the following decade and, of course, the triumphant rebirth. The big comeback, sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden combined with the sale of more than 80 million recordings make this a highly readable story.
Nikki Van Noy attended her first NKOTB concert in 1989, and is the author of “So Much to Say,” a biography of the Dave Matthews Band.
Paris: A Love Story: A Memoir by Kati Marton (Simon & Schuster, $24)
Kati Marton, the award-winning author, has had three major loves in her life: newsman Peter Jennings, diplomat Richard Holbrook, and Paris, the City of Lights. Her memoir begins with the sudden death of Holbrook in December of 2010. In an attempt to pull her personal life back together again, she returns to Paris where she and her late husband had fallen in love seventeen years before.
This is more than a personal account of loss, it is a memoir written by a woman who has lived her life fully. She shares her memories with the same grace and warmth as a conversation with an old, cherished friend.
Marton documents her rather complicated life including her fifteen-year marriage of Peter Jennings, with whom she had two children. Following their divorce, she finds herself in Paris and in 1993 that is where she falls in love with Holbrook. Together, they create a new life.
Moving, engaging, and inspiring, “Paris: A Love Story” uses the city as a backdrop, a place where old and new collide, and — as she writes — beauty and seduction comes naturally.
Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die: Biking Experts Share the World’s Greatest Destinations by Chris Santella (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95)
Biking has become one of America’s favorite pastimes. Whether for leisure or extreme exercise activities, millions in this country have turned to cycling.
Chris Santella, a Portland-based writer who is a frequent contributor to such publications as The New York Times and Travel & Leisure, has written eight previous books in his “Fifty Places” series. “Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die” and “Fifty Places to Hike Before You Die” were especially popular with Tucson readers. This latest installment promises to also be a hit in the Old Pueblo.
This guide covers trips for cyclists at every level with an eclectic mix of international and national locations as recommended by such enthusiasts as Andrew Bernstein of Bicycling magazine. U.S. locations include the Eastern Sierras of California, the Big Island of Hawaii, the Casco Bay region of Maine, Crater Lake in Oregon, and even New York City. Regional cyclists will appreciate Jared Fisher’s take on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.
Color photographs are accompanied by essays, making this a recommended book for the bike rider in the family. If that person is you, buy it – you deserve a pretty.
The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944 by Michael Neiberg (Basic Books, $28.99)
The City of Light went emotionally dark following Nazi occupation in 1940. The event even inspired one of our most popular songs of the era, “The Last Time I Saw Paris.” As historian Michael Neiberb points out, no other city so symbolized freedom and liberty as Paris did during the Second World War. Its liberation was, of course, a cause of celebration throughout the world.
Neiberg documents how a group of brave fighters, commanders, and officials liberated Paris in August of 1944, ending four years of German occupation and bringing the Allies that much closer to the end of the war. Drawing on primary documents from French, German, British, and American sources, this book gives a more complete picture of that effort than ever before.
In this military, cultural, and political history, Neiberg draws readers into an account that is incredibly balanced. As strange as it may seem in the light of today, Neiberg reveals that both the American and German high commands had ambivalent feelings about Paris. In fact, the Allies almost bypassed the city completely, thinking it was strategically more important to break German lines west of the city and then fight the Germans to the Rhine. It was the intervention of Swedish Consul General Raoul Nordling that changed Allied thinking.
This is a gripping narrative of one of the war’s defining moments, when ordinary French citizens, daring Resistance fighters, and Allied commanders came together to liberate one of the most remarkable and historically important cities on the planet. Simply put, this is historical reporting at its very best.
Neiberg, who is based in Pennsylvania, has written several previous books including “The Second Battle of the Marne,” “Fighting the Great War,” and “Warfare in World History,” all published to critical acclaim.
The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands (Doubleday, $35)
This is an exceptional Civil War biography documenting the life of a controversial figure who rose from obscurity to the very pinnacles of American military and American power. Despite his many achievements, his legacy has been examined and even challenged by many historians.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist H.W. Brands builds a convincing case that U.S. Grant saved our country from self-destruction, not once but twice.
A word of warning: This crisply written book will keep you up at night. It is that interesting and intriguing. If you react the way I did, you will force yourself to read just one more page before turning out the light for bed.
Grant was a heroic figure, admired by his men in the field, but not afraid to ask them for sacrifices in order to win the war. Following that war, he valiantly fought to protect the rights of freedmen during Reconstruction. Brands claims Grant was the last presidential defender of black civil rights for much of the century that followed.
This is a compelling and intimate story of one of this country’s most courageous and, yes, complicated historic figures. The fact that Grant was resolute and principled is beyond question and in this highly readable account, he finally gets the credit and the respect he deserves.