"Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man," by Mark Kurlansky
If young Clarence Birdseye were around today, he'd likely be hunched over a desk in Palo Alto, helming a tech start-up that influences society in imperceptible ways. Instead, being born before the turn of the twentieth century, Birdseye set out to solve the then pressing problems of the day: advanced refrigeration. But biographer Mark Kurlansky's eponymous book uncovers a much larger man, one teeming with ideas beyond the banality of food preservation. Clarence Birdseye, it turns out, was a Renaissance man. A tinkering hobbyist with over 200 patents before passing away. Kurlansky's book becomes a quirky, page-turning case study of an eccentric entrepreneur and the unexpected ways he's changed our world.
“Birdseye” is "a slight but intriguing book that raises far more questions than it answers," writes Janet Maslin of The New York Times. It "coaxes readers to re-examine everyday miracles like frozen food, and to imagine where places with no indigenous produce would be without them." To Brian Thomas Gallagher of Bloomberg, Kurlansky is a "master of the food monograph." Though his previous books have expounded on the impacts of a solitary food source ("Cod", "Salt"), "this book flips that model on its head by studying one extraordinary man and the effect of his innovations on a host of commodities." Marie Arana of The Washington Post is impressed with the broader strokes: "'Birdseye' turns out to be less a biography than a glimpse into an exuberantly inventive time in America." What Kurlansky does so well is bring "a nimble, no-frills journalism" to his subjects, "and the result is a series of eye-opening books on worlds we might otherwise never see."
"Father's Day: A Journey Into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son," by Buzz Bissinger
My dad used to tease his parents by claiming that Father's Day is all about the kids. "Contrary to popular belief," he'd say, "if it weren't for children, the parents would have nothing to be father or mother to!" The smart aleck had a point. Father's Day is about a relationship, not an idol. Daily Beast columnist and author Buzz Bissinger raises this notion to new and heartfelt heights with "Father's Day." Bissinger's name may be a familiar one. He's been buzzing among sports fans ever since he transformed his sports journalism credentials into the bestselling book-turned-movie-turned-TV-series "Friday Night Lights." Now, with "Father's Day," he gives the play-by-play on his own life story, discovering the importance of "character over intellect" in the peace he makes with his disabled son, Zach.
Dwight Garner of The New York Times calls Bissinger's raw storytelling "riveting and a bit frightening." He goes on: "Mr. Bissinger wears his emotions close to the surface. I’m not sure it’s a good book, but it’s a brutal and vivid one, the work of a writer with an unflinching gift for honesty, and impossible to put down. I read it in two short gulps, occasionally through the cracks in my fingers." To Madeleine Blais of The San Francisco Chronicle, "what is most satisfying, finally, is the book's underlying message of joy. For Bissinger, the acknowledgment of happiness, of ordinary the-wind-is-caressing-your-face happiness, is the final act of making himself whole." Yet the discomfiting honesty of Bissinger, about Bissinger, is a turnoff to Scott Martelle of The Los Angeles Times: "While 'Father's Day' offers an unblinking look into the soul of a tortured man, less Buzz and more Zach would have made it a more satisfying book to read."
"Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady," by Kate Summerscale
Diary of the deceased, please meet brilliant biographer of the living. Kate Summerscale brings the past blushing back to life in her new biography of Mrs. Robinson, a Victorian woman whose scintillating diary boils over with lust and scandal. Summerscale draws you into the courtroom, where her diary becomes evidence in a mounting case against her. The crime? Infidelity. The accuser? Her husband.
"Kate Summerscale’s books are a balm to the wary narrative nonfiction reader," writes Laura Miller of Salon, "proof that not every good true story rests on a foundation of tweaked facts." Beyond the engrossing story, Summerscale draws larger social and political points. Mrs. Robinson was ultimately acquitted, the judge not granting her husband the divorce. But the court costs swallowed Mrs. Robinson whole, and the shame of the proceedings permanently disgraced her. "Hers is a sad story," writes Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post, "but Summerscale tells it with sympathy and understanding." She "sees Isabella as a transitional figure in women’s slow and difficult progress from repression and exploitation to the liberation that in time emerged." Finally, Rachel Cooke of The Guardian lands the gavel with concluding approval: "Summerscale's account of this court case is faultless; her seemingly inexhaustible capacity for research renders what could be tedious and dry vividly alive."