Hello, comrades, colleagues, Canadians, and other groups starting with “c.”
2022 was quite an interesting year. Elon Musk made me inform people that our 7-year-old was not named after him but because it means “oak tree” in Hebrew. “Goblin mode” was voted the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries, which I presume refers to behavior that is required to run for political office.
By the way: I’m Jewish, not Jew-ish. Except when I eat the bacon jam at Unconventional Diner.
Anyway, 2022 could have been worse if not for the following books that kept me reading and wondering through the night. For the 5th consecutive time, I am reviewing five of the best non-fiction books I have read between January 1st and December 31st last year. (You can find my 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 reviews here, here, here, and here.)
And I will review my five favorites in five sentences apiece. Because this is 5tern.com.
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, Tony Horwitz
John Brown was endowed with the unfettered zeal and the blazing steel gray eyes of moral righteousness. Despite warnings from Frederick Douglass that his plan to lead a raid at Harper’s Ferry and end slavery within two years was a suicidal mission with no chance of succeeding, Brown persisted with a ragtag group of 19 men.
As it turned out, Brown was captured and hanged.
However, Tony Horwitz’s book reminds us that the line between recklessness and courage is fluid, and that there are no straight lines in history. In this case, borne out of Brown’s ‘failed’ raid was the eruption of the Civil War which eventually abolished slavery.
The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life, Robert Goolrick
Robert Goolrick writes about his formative years with the sharp pain of somebody growing up in a picture-perfect family that was actually ravaged by alcoholism and trauma.
A line lingering in the innards like love lost:
“[I have] an ache in my heart for the imagined beauty of a life I haven’t had, from which I had been locked out, and it never goes away.”
And a story etched in the mind as if it were on white rock tombstone:
“We’re pretending we’re drunk,” Goolrick recalls telling his mother, as he and his brother mimicked the grown-ups at one of his parents’ parties. “We’re pretending we’re not,” she replied.
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, Johann Hari
In his book, Johann Hari discusses the tragedy of the war on drugs such as the story of Billie Holliday, a legendary singer who was hounded to her death by the FBI for her drug use. In contrast, Judy Garland of “Wizard of Oz” fame received compassionate care for her drug addiction at the same time.
The war on drugs continues to be unjust, uncompassionate, and ineffective policy. If we think it reduces violence and crime, we should ask why we do not see gunfights between Heineken and Corona distributors, and if we think it stops addiction, we ought to remember that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but connection.
Therefore, as Hari writes, we should not sing war songs about addicts, but rather love songs to them.
The Point of it All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors, Charles Krauthammer
We do not need to agree with Charles Krauthammer to appreciate his wit and genius. His columns provoke deep thought and laughter, which is all you can ask from a columnist.
Additionally, as someone who became paralyzed from waist down in his 20s, Krauthammer’s reflections (and lack thereof) as a ‘person with disabilities’ are of particular interest to deaf people. His rejoinder, for instance, to William Buckley’s naive claim about the emptiness of people with disabilities experiencing events nominally for able bodied people is worthy of reading.
The world would benefit from having more writers like Krauthammers today who prize logic, clarity, and argumentation over sentiment, buzz words, and sermon-making.
Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP, Mirin Fader
Giannis Antetokounmpo is known for his octopus arms and his kitchen mitt hands. But if the biography illuminated one thing, it is that Giannis is special because of his experience and character.
Growing up, he had to beg for money, share basketball shoes with his brothers, and battle vicious racists from an ultranationalist far-right political party in Greece. Today, he is a superstar who never expected to be a superstar and does not act like a superstar, somebody who still mops floors, makes conversation with janitors, and swears by his family.
If the Knicks have to lose to any team in 2023, let it be Antetokunmpo’s Bucks.
On the Trail of the Serpent: The Epic Hunt for the Bikini Killer, Julie Clarke and Richard Neville
Charisma combined with narcissism is a deadly beast.
Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s Knicks, Chris Herring
I miss the 1990s.
Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, David French
As polarized as we are, it will get worse unless we commit to courage and tolerance.
Coach K: The Rise and Reign of Mike Kryzewski, Ian O’Connor
In leadership, relationships are far more important than tactics.
Food: A Love Story, Jim Gaffigan
Who knew food could be this hilarious?
What about you? Have you read these books? If so, what did you think? Do you have a book to recommend? If so, let me know.
Until next time, wishing you a peaceful and hopeful 2023.