107 NE Monroe Peoria, Illinois 61602-1070

Biography/Non-fiction Book Club

The Biography and Nonfiction Book Club meets the second Sunday of each month (unless re-scheduled because of holidays/weather).  We meet at the North Branch of the Peoria Public Library, 3001 West Grand Parkway, from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.  For more information, please call Roberta Koscielski at 309-497-2186.  New members are always welcome!

2018 Calendar

January 14

Judah, Tim

Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence, becoming the seventh state to emerge from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. A tiny country of just two million people, 90% of whom are ethnic Albanians, Kosovo is central-geographically, historically, and politically-to the future of the Western Balkans and, in turn, its potential future within the European Union. But the fate of both Kosovo, condemned by Serbian leaders as a "fake state" and the region as a whole, remains uncertain. In Kosovo, Tim Judah provides a straight-forward guide to the complicated place that is Kosovo. Judah, who has spent years covering the region, offers succinct, penetrating answers to a wide range of questions: Why is Kosovo important? Who are the Albanians? Who are the Serbs? Why is Kosovo so important to Serbs? What role does Kosovo play in the region and in the world? Judah reveals how things stand now and presents the history and geopolitical dynamics that have led to it. The most important of these is the question of the right to self-determination, invoked by the Kosovo Albanians, as opposed to right of territorial integrity invoked by the Serbs. For many Serbs, Kosovo's declaration of independence and subsequent recognition has been traumatic, a savage blow to national pride. Albanians, on the other hand, believe their independence rights an historical wrong: the Serbian conquest of Kosovo in 1912. For anyone wishing to understand both the history and possible future of Kosovo at this pivotal moment in its history, this book offers a wealth of insight and information in a uniquely accessible format.

 

February 11

Grann, David

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history. In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances. In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.

 

March 11

Gonzales, Laurence

Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resiliency

Gonzales looks deeply into the mental processes that enable us to cope with the trauma that often sets in during and after a challenge to our survival. Gonzales narrates plenty of grim and gruesome tales, not all of them elective; his survivors are those who have suffered war and terrorism as well as falls off mountains and into choppy surf. The best parts are not those harrowing stories, though, but instead the author’s contemplative explanations of the science behind, for instance, how the amygdala works, a blend of inheritance and hard-won education. Pity us poor primates and our amygdalae, for, as he writes, “[w]hen bad things happen, this system can be the source of much sorrow.” One manifestation is the “rage circuit,” which so often afflicts soldiers returning from combat. Those who adapt well to the post-traumatic stress share points in common. One characteristic of success, writes Gonzales, is the ability to step outside oneself to help others, which is “one of the most therapeutic steps you can take.” Survivors of traumatic events often do not recover without help from others, and Gonzales’ excellent book is an education for those wishing to be of use in a stressful, often frightening world. Drawing on gripping cases across a wide range of life-threatening experiences, Laurence Gonzales fashions a compelling argument about fear, courage, and the adaptability of the human spirit.

 

April 8

Traister, Rebecca

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

In 2009, award-winning journalist Rebecca Traister started All the Single Ladies about the twenty-first century phenomenon of the American single woman. It was the year the proportion of American women who were married dropped below fifty percent; and the median age of first marriages, which had remained between twenty and twenty-two years old for nearly a century (1890–1980), had risen dramatically to twenty-seven. But over the course of her vast research and more than a hundred interviews with academics and social scientists and prominent single women, Traister discovered a startling truth: the phenomenon of the single woman in America is not a new one. And historically, when women were given options beyond early heterosexual marriage, the results were massive social change—temperance, abolition, secondary education, and more. Today, only twenty percent of Americans are married by age twenty-nine, compared to nearly sixty percent in 1960. “An informative and thought-provoking book for anyone—not just single ladies” (The New York Times Book Review), All the Single Ladies is a remarkable portrait of contemporary American life and how we got here, through the lens of the unmarried American woman.

 

May 20

Subramanian, Meera

A River Runs Again: India’s Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka

Crowded, hot, subject to violent swings in climate, with a government unable or unwilling to face the most vital challenges, the rich and poor increasingly living in worlds apart; for most of the world, this picture is of a possible future. For India, it is the very real present. In this lyrical exploration of life, loss, and survival, Meera Subramanian travels in search of the ordinary people and microenterprises determined to revive India's ravaged natural world: an engineer-turned-farmer brings organic food to Indian plates; villagers resuscitate a river run dry; cook stove designers persist on the quest for a smokeless fire; biologists bring vultures back from the brink of extinction; and in Bihar, one of India's most impoverished states, a bold young woman teaches adolescents the fundamentals of sexual health. While investigating these five environmental challenges, Subramanian discovers the stories that renew hope for a nation with the potential to lead India and the planet into a sustainable and prosperous future.

 

June 10

Frank, Robert H.

Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy

How important is luck in economic success? No question more reliably divides conservatives from liberals. As conservatives correctly observe, people who amass great fortunes are almost always talented and hardworking. But liberals are also correct to note that countless others have those same qualities yet never earn much. In recent years, social scientists have discovered that chance plays a much larger role in important life outcomes than most people imagine. In Success and Luck, bestselling author Robert Frank explores the surprising implications of those findings to show why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in success―and why that hurts everyone, even the wealthy.

 

July 8

Fagone, Jason

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies

Joining the ranks of Hidden Figures and In the Garden of Beasts, the incredible true story of the greatest codebreaking duo that ever lived, an American woman and her husband who invented the modern science of cryptology together and used it to confront the evils of their time, solving puzzles that unmasked Nazi spies and helped win World War II. In The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone chronicles the life of this extraordinary woman, who played an integral role in our nation’s history for forty years. After World War I, Smith used her talents to catch gangsters and smugglers during Prohibition, then accepted a covert mission to discover and expose Nazi spy rings that were spreading like wildfire across South America, advancing ever closer to the United States. As World War II raged, Elizebeth fought a highly classified battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German spies. Meanwhile, inside an Army vault in Washington, William worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma—and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life. Fagone unveils America’s code-breaking history through the prism of Smith’s life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence.

 

August 12

Kodas, Michael

Megafire: The Race to Extinguish a Deadly Epidemic of Flame

A brilliant exploration of the rising phenomenon of megafires—forest fires of alarming scale, intensity, and devastation—that explains the science of what is causing them and captures the danger and heroism of those who fight them. In Megafire, a world-renowned journalist and forest fire expert travels to the most dangerous and remote wildernesses, as well as to the backyards of people faced with these environmental disasters, to look at the heart of this phenomenon and witness firsthand the heroic efforts of the firefighters and scientists racing against time to stop it—or at least to tame these deadly flames. From Colorado to California, China to Canada, the narrative hopscotches the globe and takes readers to the frontlines of the battle both on the ground and in the air, and in the laboratories, universities, and federal agencies where this issue rages on. Megafire describes the profound impact of these fires around the earth and will change the way we think about the environment and the essential precariousness of our world.

 

September 9

Vance, J.D.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

To understand the rage and disaffection of America’s working-class whites, look to Greater Appalachia. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance confronts us with the economic and spiritual travails of this forgotten corner of our country. Here we find women and men who dearly love their country, yet who feel powerless as their way of life is devastated. “A beautifully and powerfully written memoir about the author’s journey from a troubled, addiction-torn Appalachian family to Yale Law School, Hillbilly Elegy is shocking, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and hysterically funny. It’s also a profoundly important book, one that opens a window on a part of America usually hidden from view and offers genuine hope in the form of hard-hitting honesty. Hillbilly Elegy announces the arrival of a gifted and utterly original new writer and should be required reading for everyone who cares about what’s really happening in America.”

 

October 14

Michaeli, Ethan

The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America From the Age of the Pullman Porters to the Age of Obama

Giving voice to the voiceless, the Chicago Defender condemned Jim Crow, catalyzed the Great Migration, and focused the electoral power of black America. Robert S. Abbott founded The Defender in 1905, smuggled hundreds of thousands of copies into the most isolated communities in the segregated South, and was dubbed a "Modern Moses," becoming one of the first black millionaires in the process. His successor wielded the newspaper’s clout to elect mayors and presidents, including Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, who would have lost in 1960 if not for TheDefender’s support. Along the way, its pages were filled with columns by legends like Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King. Drawing on dozens of interviews and extensive archival research, Ethan Michaeli constructs a revelatory narrative of race in America and brings to life the reporters who braved lynch mobs and policemen’s clubs to do their jobs, from the age of Teddy Roosevelt to the age of Barack Obama.

 

November 11

Egan, Timothy

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero

In this exciting and illuminating work, National Book Award winner Timothy Egan delivers a story, both rollicking and haunting, of one of the most famous Irish Americans of all time. A dashing young orator during the Great Hunger of the 1840s, Thomas Francis Meagher led a failed uprising against British rule, for which he was banished to a Tasmanian prison colony for life. But two years later he was “back from the dead” and in New York, instantly the most famous Irishman in America. Meagher’s rebirth included his leading the newly formed Irish Brigade in many of the fiercest battles of the Civil War. Afterward, he tried to build a new Ireland in the wild west of Montana—a quixotic adventure that ended in the great mystery of his disappearance, which Egan resolves convincingly at last.

 

December 9

 

Maddow, Rachel

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power

Written with bracing wit and intelligence, Rachel Maddow's Drift argues that we've drifted away from America's original ideals and become a nation weirdly at peace with perpetual war. To understand how we've arrived at such a dangerous place, Maddow takes us from the Vietnam War to today's war in Afghanistan, along the way exploring Reagan's radical presidency, the disturbing rise of executive authority, the gradual outsourcing of our war-making capabilities to private companies, the plummeting percentage of American families whose children fight our constant wars for us, and even the changing fortunes of G.I. Joe. Ultimately, she shows us just how much we stand to lose by allowing the scope of American military power to overpower our political discourse. Sensible yet provocative, dead serious yet seri­ously funny, Drift will reinvigorate a "loud and jangly" political debate about our vast and confounding national security state.