The Best Non-Fiction of 2010

by PopMatters Staff

23 January 2011

 

The Korean War: A History and more...


cover art

The Korean War: A History

Bruce Cumings

(Modern Library)

The Korean War: A History
Bruce Cumings


Bruce Cumings’ short, whip-fast history of this bloodily unresolved war isn’t just revisionist, it’s insurrectionary. With a directness that’s disarming for the field—which is riddled with writers who approach their subjects in slow and circling accretion of detail—Cumings wastes no time limning many long-ignored facts and striking down sheaves of clichés and shibboleths of received learning about this “forgotten” war. It’s an insurrectionary work of history that leaves few preconceptions intact. Cumings begins with a tellingly acerbic note, referencing the “lessons” that Robert McNamara, architect of much of the Vietnam War (and the carpet bombing campaign of Japan during World War II) claimed to have learned afterwards, concluding that “we were blind prisoners of our own assumptions.” Cumings adds, “in Korea we still are.“Not only was this one of the century’s most devastating wars (up to four million Korean dead), but one of the most unheralded and least-understood. Cumings has done great service to changing the latter.
Chris Barsanti

 

 


cover art

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

Iain McGilchrist

(Yale University Press)

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World
Iain McGilchrist


Check your head: This insightful, erudite and thought-provoking examination of the brain’s hemispheres can change how you see (or think you see) the world. Like the brain, this book is divided into two parts. The first explores the medical evidence for how each hemisphere seems to “see” the world. Reminiscent of books by Oliver Sacks and V.S. Ramachandran, this section is based on clinical research and studies, including detailed examinations of subjects who experienced injuries to a particular hemisphere, thereby isolating the other half and revealing to researchers that hemisphere’s particular modus operandi. The book’s second half is nothing less than a history of western civilization in the context of the left vs. right brain ways of being. It’s ambitious, philosophical and ultimately convincing, if at times intimidating in the breadth of its topics and conclusions. Oliver Ho

 

 


cover art

Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields

Charles Bowden

(Avalon)

Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields
Charles Bowden


“No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum,” Charles Bowden writes in his furious indictment of the bloody morality-free zone that modern-day Ciudad Juarez has become, “because if the U.S. government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights.” Bowden’s book shows what an understatement that is, in its impressionistic chronicling of the steady drumbeat of limitless, seemingly purposeless violence that has swamped civil society in northern Mexico. With his lie detector on full, Bowden goes behind the curtain to write with scorching, Hunter S. Thompson-like rage about the real story of Mexico, not the one that tends to be reported on a war between the federal government and drug cartels, a conflict that Washington pours billions of dollars into assisting. In a land where the police are routinely kidnapped and butchered by the army, everybody with a gun and a badge battles for their piece of the drug trade, and nobody, nobody is ever convicted for murder, humanity and any semblance of a clearly delineated conflict seems far away. Chris Barsanti

 

 


cover art

The Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever

Joe Kane

(Citadel-Kensington)

The Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever
Joe Kane


Fans of World War Z, Zombieland and The Walking Dead need to know their history. Joe Kane has written the definitive guide to the Night of the Living Dead, a must read for dead-heads everywhere. In a world of zombie books), Kane is really the perfect author for a critical tribute such as this one. Although the author certainly explores every dark nook and cranny of the zombiemeister’s masterpiece, this book is very good general guide to all things Romero. Early chapters on casting and filming the horror classic are followed by a full discussion of the film’s reception and its larger meaning in American culture.If you are a George Romero fan, you’ll keep this book by your bed. If you are a zombie lover who doesn’t know their history, read this before you head out to your next zombie prom or pub crawl. W. Scott Poole

 

 


cover art

Nothing Happened and Then It Did: A Chronicle in Fact and Fiction

Jake Silverstein

(W. W Norton & Company)

Nothing Happened and Then It Did: A Chronicle in Fact and Fiction
Jake Silverstein


Most books about writing fail miserably because nobody wants to hear about how tortured a novelist or screenwriter’s life is. A journalist’s attempts to write, though, are something different—because they deal with life and not the imagination, a failure to be a journalist is almost a failure at life. Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein’s sun-baked account of five years spent trekking around northern Mexico and the American Southwest on “lonesome highways and wide quiet main streets and bone-white caliche roads, seeking to gain a livelihood” are fascinating for their slacker sadness and hard-won wisdom. Silverstein divides the book into “fact” and “fiction” pieces, which eventually blur into the other with their matching tone of low-key magic-realism, whether he’s hanging around and watching a Mexican town’s first McDonalds being built or searching for Ambrose Bierce’s grave. Just as truth and fantasy melt into a sharply rendered whole, so too does the division between writing and life; watching the two become one is a singular joy of this exceptional work. Chris Barsanti

 

 


cover art

The Phone Book: The Curious History of the Book That Everyone Uses but No One Reads

Ammon Shea

(Penguin)

The Phone Book: The Curious History of the Book That Everyone Uses but No One Reads
Ammon Shea


Ammon Shea, author of the popular, Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,739 Pages. is a rarity: a true bibliophile, a “collector of words” (his description), a lover of dictionaries. If you were to read the phone books of your childhood, he says in The Phone Book, you’d no doubt feel a Proustian rush of memories. Reading the current phone book will not be as moving, for the thing is crammed with advertisements for doctors, lawyers (who were banned from advertising in the phone book until 1977), and carpet cleaners. Consider, too, Shea’s observations about phone numbers: some carry great cache, such as the New York City area code 212, or, where I live, 510 (there is even slang for this: “I live in the 510.”).  He describes the stunningly complex San Francisco Chinatown phone book, for years meticulously handwritten in Chinese characters, which Chinese operates then memorized. Finally, for all of us who hate cell phones, there is the wondrous Finnish Cell Phone Throwing event, a yearly gathering anyone may participate in. The phone book, and by extension (no pun intended) the telephone, are artifacts of American history, and may be read that way. Without writers like Shea, we would continue to take the phone book for granted, a flimsy, ultimately disposable collection of pages—a greatly overlooked cultural artifact—that merits a closer look. After reading Shea’s entertaining take on the book that no one reads, you’ll never overlook another phone book, again. Diane Leach

 

//related
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.


//comments
//Mixed media