Books I Have Read

Barbara McOwen
List Begun in June 2005 and Goes Back a Year or Twa
Last Updated January 16, 2006

Code Name "Mary" by Muriel Gardiner. "The remarkable memoir of the real-life model for Lillian Hellman's Julia."

The Life and Death of St. Kilda by Tom Steel. "The moving story of a vanished island community."

Flyboys by James Bradley. "The author is the son of one of the men who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima." This is the story of Chichi Jima and the World War II Pacific air war. Good brief history of Japan too.

The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan. "Amy Tan gives us a story that is just as wondrous as her fiction. Her own life."

Clara by Janice Galloway. A biographical novel by an award-winning Scottish author about Clara Schumann. "Though music may have bent to Clara's will, love served her far more tragically."

Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton. "The True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History."

Cicero by Anthony Everitt. "The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician."

No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod. "One of the great undiscovered writers of our time." -- Michael Ondaatje. Superb novel about life in Cape Breton and its history.

Edwin Hubble by Gale E. Christianson. Biography of the "Mariner of the Nebulae."

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. "The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex." Possibly the story that was the inspiration for Melville's Moby Dick. The Essex was whaling ship out of Nantucket.

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch. "A comic novel about work and love, wealth and fame." "Jack Donaghue, garrulous artist, meets Hugo Belfounder, silent philosopher."

The Bounty by Caroline Alexander. "Has history been wrong for 200 years? The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty."

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz. "Boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before." The story of Captain Cook as told by a journalist, retracing most of Cook's journeys.

Polly by Roger Hutchinson. "A history of the famous wreck of the S.S. Politician in the outer Hebrides in 1941. The ship was full of whisky, the locals seized it, and the subsequent wrangling pitted the Hebrideans against the ship's owners. ItŐs the event that is the basis for the novel and film Whisky Galore."

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. "A true story of men against the sea." A "perfect storm" strikes a Gloucester fishing boat in October 1991.

The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw. "A swordboat captain's journey." "In his The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger describes Linda Greenlaw as 'one of the best sea captains, period, on the East Coast.'"

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. "A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream."

First Light, The Search for the Edge of the Universe by Richard Preston. First Light is first of all a love letter to the Palomar Observatory and to the astronomers and civilians who are using it to plumb a few of the details of our situation here in the universe. It is one of the finest accounts of scientists at work that I have read."

Voyage To Atlantis, A Firsthand Account of the Scientific Expedition to Solve the Riddle of the Ages by James W. Mavor, Jr. "Demystifying the legend of Atlantis, [oceanographic engineeer and Scottish country dancer] Mavor deftly brings into the realm of objective analysis a phenomenon that has for centureis been a parable for the evolution of human consciousness."

The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith. "Surely it's that quiet even the sheeps themselves on the hills is lonely." A remarkable story of a "rest cure" on a remote Scottish island, told by a master storyteller.

Hide & Seek by Ian Rankin. A murder mystery that takes place in Edinburgh. "A junkie lies dead in an Edinburgh squat ... "

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. "Meet Taylor Greer. Clear-eyed and spirited, she grew up poor in rural Kentucky with two goals: to avoid pregnancy and to get away."

Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin. "An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved."

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. "Thriller readers everywhere will soon realize Dan Brown is a master." The Vatican has a whole person dedicated to handling fallout from this book.

Lucy by Ellen Feldman. The story of Lucy Mercer, secretary of Eleanor Roosevelt and mistress of Franklin Roosevelt, as told in a historical novel.

Bound Feet & Western Dress by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang. The story of the author's aunt, wife of China's preeminent modern poet, a former director of the Shanghai Women's Savings Bank during the 1930s, and who "suffered the anguish of enduring what is considered China's first Western-style divorce."

The Neptune File by Tom Standage. "A Story of Astronomical Rivalry and the Pioneers of Planet Hunting."

Royal Road to Fotheringhay by Jean Plaidy. "The haunting story of the beautiful - and tragic - Mary, Queen of Scots, as only legendary novelist Jean Plaidy could write it."

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. "A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser. "Now one of our leading historians restores these women to human dimensions while unraveliing the web of forces that raised them to the throne and sometimes brought them to the headsman's block."

A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr. "This is the true story of an epic courtroom showdown.." Takes place in Woburn, the town next door to Arlington, Mass.

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx. "A vigorous, darkly comic, and at times magical portrait of the contemporary American family," transplanted to the Newfoundland coast.

Rough Magic. A Biography of Sylvia Plath by Paul Alexander. "Since her suicide at the age of thirty in 1963, Sylvia Plath has become the most widely read poet of her generation, as well as the most misundersood."

The Arabian Nights. Their Best-Known Tales. "For more than five hundred years the Arabian classic Tales of a Thousand and One Nights has fascinated readers all over the world." This is a collection of twelve tales selected by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Smith in 1909, with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish.

Naked in Baghdad. The Iraq War as seen by NPR's Correspondent by Anne Garrels. "One of only sixteen non-embedded American journlists who stayed in Baghdad's now-legendary Palestine Hotel throughout the American invasion of Iraq, she was at the very center of the storm."

Shackleton's Forgotten Men by Lennard Bickel. "The untold tragedy of the Endurance epic." "As Ernest Shakleton and the crew of the Endurance struggled through their now-hallowed odyssey of survival, across the Antarctic continent the men responsible for laying their supplies met a different fate."

Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King. "How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture." "Anyone alive in Florence in August 19, 1418, would have understood the significance of the competition announced that day concerning the city's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, already under construction for more than a century."

Possession by A.S. Byatt. Susan Worland says, "This is one of the most astonishing novels I have ever read." Go ahead and click over to Susan's Website for a wonderful article about this and other great books.

The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway. Conway writes of her childhood and school years in the western plains of New South Wales, Australia.

True North; A Memoir by Jill Ker Conway. "... In 1960 "Conway reached the limits of that provincial society and set off for America, where she became a renowned historian and, in time, the first woman president of Smith College."

Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Berniéres. "Brims with all the grand topics of literature - love and death, heroism and skullduggery, humor and pathos, not to mention art and religion ... A good old-fashioned novel."

The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven. "The doomed 1913 voyage of the Karluk." "In June 1913, the H.M.C.S. Karluk embarked on what was to be the most elaborate Arctic expedition in history ... "

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar. "The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash." There's so much more here than in the movie, which was very good.

Desert Queen by Janet Wallach. "The extraordinary life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, adviser to kings, ally of Lawrence of Arabia." In 1920 she drew the lines of present-day Iraq.

Speaking of Queens ...

Elizabeth, The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey. "David Starkey's brilliant new biography concentrates on Eliabeth's formative years, from her birth in 1533 to her accession in 1558."

I, Elizabeth; A Novel by Rosalind Miles. "Now in this spellbinding novel, Rosalind Miles brings to life the woman behind the myth. By turns imperious, brilliant, calculating, vain and witty, this is the Elizabeth the world never knew. From the days of her brutal father, Henry VIII, to her final dying moments, Elizabeth tells her story in her own words."

The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory. Another biographical novel of the age, this one part of the story of Robert Dudley, one of Elizabeth's favorites at court and elsewhere. Not a very agreeable portrait of Elizabeth.

1215: The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham. "The events leading up to King John's setting his seal to the famous document at Runnymede in June 1215 form this rich and riveting narrative that vivedly describes everyday life from castle to countryside, from school to church, and from hunting in the forest to trial by ordeal."

Will in the World, How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt. "A man from a small provincial town - a man without independent wealth, without powerful family connections, and without a university education - moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time."

On Deck Circle:

MacPherson's Rant and Other Tales of the Scottish Fiddle by Stuart McHardy. "In this book Stuart McHardy reflects the importance of the fiddle in an entertaining and informative selection of stories ancient and modern."

Whisky Galore by Compton MacKenzie. "A classic tale of love, larceny and liquor." A fictional novel based on a true story: the 1941 foundering of the S.S. Politician in the Sound of Eriskay (Outer Hebrides of Scotland), carrying "Fifty Thousand Cases of Whisky."

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