Back in June I wrote about the books I'd most enjoyed reading so far in 2012. It is only natural this time of year to complete the list with my "best-of" for the past six months.
- The Woman Behind the New Deal, by Kristin Downey. A page-turner about Frances Perkins, who served as Secretary of Labor under FDR from 1933 to 1945 and championed many policies of the New Deal, including the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which introduced the minimum wage. That lady was a pioneer by any definition of the word, and thrived in spite of many personal and professional challenges. An inspiration.
- Stalin and his Hangmen, by Donald Rayfield. Another page-turner, in a very different (and very grim) category. Extremely well researched, and without the plodding writing that characterizes so many academic volumes, the book highlights the doings of the men who headed Stalin's secret police and the speed with which they ascended to power and later fell from grace, one after the other. The unpunished crimes, systematic use of lies and staggering number of lives destroyed make for a harrowing and yet indispensable read: this coming March will mark only sixty years since Stalin died.
- Selected and Last Poems, by Czeslaw Milosz. For my readers who love poetry, an anthology of Nobel Prize winner Milosz about exile and memory. I've written more about this remarkable man here.
- How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu. Great second novel by an acclaimed writer about personal estrangement and the pull of family.
- Life Itself, by Roger Ebert. Memoir by the movie critic Roger Ebert, who describes vividly his career and the people who have shaped his life, and inspires us by his resilience to great adversity after he lost his lower jaw to cancer.
- Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. A classic that analyzes folk tales in the context of women's personal development. Amazing insights.
- Free for All, by Kenneth Turan and Joe Papp. An oral biography about theater producer Joe Papp, which I reviewed here. He was certainly a visionary leader with a large ego and a passion for social causes. We owe Papp the Public Theater, the New York Shakespeare Festival, and a commitment to affordable, meaningful theater that has touched the lives of many.
- Soul of a Citizen, by Paul Rogat Loeb. An important book for social activists. It is not a how-to manual and it is not a memoir either, yet Loeb successfully inspires those of us who care about a greater purpose to challenge ourselves for the greater good and live with conviction.
Best wishes for 2013! There will be no new post next week. The blog will resume on January 7.