Robert loves books on politics, history, and sports as well as science fiction and graphic novels. He is a different breed of cat.
I've read much of what Thomas Frank has published (What's the Matter with Kansas; Pity the Billionaire; & Listen, Liberal) and his latest collection of essays didn't disappoint. I laughed out loud at "The Animatronic Presidency" (a look at recent presidential libraries), and "Academy Fight Song" (about the changing nature of American universities). But it's political essays like "Bully Pulpit", "The Powers That Were", and "America Made Great Again" that I'll remember most. Read it and get angry!
Humanity has always been fascinated with other worlds. From Edgar Rice Burroughs to H. G. Wells, Mars has topped the list of planets to explore. In How We'll Live on Mars by Stephen L. Petranek, the author lays out his vision of interplanetary migration and why it will be necessary in the not so far-off future. Short and engaging, this work of non-fiction reads more like a novel from Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) or Andy Weir (The Martian). It's a fun read and I highly recommend it.
When I was in high school, I was a fan of Ed Abbey. I enjoyed The Monkey Wrench Gang and Desert Solitaire as well as many of his essays and short stories. So of course I read this new book by David Gessner about Abbey and Wallace Stegner. It is both a literary biography of arguably the two greatest figures in American environmental writing, and an entertaining memoir of one man's journey to reconnect with his own roots in the arid American desert. It also features other counter-cultural/environmental writers like Henry David Thoreau, Bernard DeVoto, Wendell Berry, and Ken Kesey (a classmate of Abbey and student of Stegner--he reportedly based the Nurse Ratched character from Cuckoo's Nest on Stegner's authoritarian teaching methods), and examines how the west and the environmental movement have changed since their passing. It inspired me to re-read my Abbey books, as well as begin Stegner's Beyond the Hundreth Meridian. If you care anything about the land you live in, read these books now.
I have always rooted for the underdog. In A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts describes her life championing the less fortunate in American society. From her lower middle-class upbringing in Oklahoma to becoming one of the first female professors at Harvard Law School, to becoming the senior adviser to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, Senator Warren has been a tireless advocate for the nation's economic disadvantaged. Her book is part memoir, part call to action. It is both an engaging, humorous look at the life of a full-time politician, wife, mother and grandmother (the description of the family dog's passing is particularly moving) as well as a angry indictment of American politics/business as usual. It is a quick read, entertaining & informative, and a look into the mind (and heart) of someone who should be part of the presidential rumor mill for years to come.
I have always thought that politics is the ultimate sport. As a casual basketball fan, I love watching the Phoenix Suns, but I know my life will continue in much the same way it has before whether the Suns win or lose. Politics is the only sport where the outcome can actually affect your life. Just think about the different approaches Democrats and Republicans have to taxation, job creation, gun control, abortion rights, and the environment, just to name a few hot-button issues facing America. Presidential politics are the Superbowl of American politics, and it has never been captured better than in Mark Haperin and John Heilemann's new book Double Down: Game Change 2012. A sequel to their 2010 book Game Change, which covered the historic 2008 race between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin, Double Down covers the nation's first African-American president running for re-election against Governor Mitt Romney, the first Mormon presidential candidate nominated by a major political party. The details of their day to day campaigning, with their victories and defeats, are riveting to a political nerd like me. This book belongs next to What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer and The Making of the President book series by Theodore White as classics of political journalism.
The 1980s were the decade of Magic. From 1979, when Earvin "Magic" Johnson first joined the Los Angeles Lakers, to his retirement in 1991 after acquiring the HIV virus, the Lakers dominated basketball in the U.S. with 9 trips to the NBA Finals and 5 championship rings. In Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman, I learned about the intriguing rivalries between Magic's Lakers and Larry Bird's Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons as well as the unlikely friensdships between these three men. Even a casual basketball fan (like me) will find this engaging history of sporting excellence and celebrity excess hugely entertaining.