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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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by Laura Hillenbrand |


People PICK


Any one of the threads in Hillenbrand’s monumental new book could be a page-turner all its own. There’s the staggering story of Olympic runner and Air Force bombardier Louis Zamperini, terrifyingly stranded in 1943 on a life raft for 47 days, battling sharks, a typhoon and enemy gunfire. Then there’s the story of his two years in a brutal Japanese POW camp run by the sadistic Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who beats, starves and humiliates the prisoners beyond endurance. And finally there’s the aftermath, when the haunted, broken Zamperini tries to make sense of his life after the war. Zamperini’s story, which Hillenbrand first came across in the sports pages while researching her previous book Seabiscuit, is as mesmerizing as it is gut-wrenching. And Hillenbrand’s writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don’t dare take your eyes off the page. Though the book centers on Zamperini, we meet other WWII heroes as well: POWs who risked their lives and then battled post-traumatic shock. Unbroken is a devastating story of the unforgivable, and of one extraordinary man who forgave.

“Louis’ story is about finding light in the midst of darkness. That’s what drew me to it”

The Mind’s Eye

by Oliver Sacks |



Is there anyone who’s done more to elucidate the ability in disability than Oliver Sacks? Here the neurologist is at it again, with a collection of pieces about the strange diseases that can befall the brain. There is the pianist who loses her ability to read music and to name common objects by sight, though not her musicality or capacity to recognize by touch. There are the aphasics who can no longer express or understand speech but whose intellects remain intact. Most memorably there’s Sacks himself, who loses part of his field of vision and depth perception due to melanoma of the eye, yet retains his scientist’s sense of wonder. “I hate the flatness of everything,” he writes, “yet I occasionally have a sense of appreciation for my two-dimensional world … a new pleasure in looking at paintings or photographs, now that I am more conscious of the art of composition.” In Sacks’ world, even with great loss there are fascinating compensations.

Full Dark, No Stars

Stephen King |



Here’s how King describes his latest offering: “The stories in this book are harsh.” Believe him. The unifying theory is that we’re all capable of horrific acts-like the farmer in “1922” who murders his wife to protect his property’s value-and that we deny this grim reality at our peril. Whether or not you agree, Full Dark is gripping storytelling.

Cleopatra: A Life

by Stacy Schiff |



In her vivid portrait of Egypt’s most powerful pharaoh-and single mom of four-Schiff offers an equally colorful history of Egypt, ca. 30 B.C.: “Alexandria echoed with the sounds of horses’ hooves, the cries of porridge sellers …” Although Schiff’s narrative voice is disturbingly distant at times, she reveals a Cleopatra we’ve not yet seen: a fierce, sensuous and complicated queen who ruled in a time and place as fascinating as she was.