Favorite nonfiction of 2009 from the L.A. Times


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There are 25 books in the list of the L.A. Times’ 2009 nonfiction favorites. The books include a story of the search for the painter Tiepolo, the tapes of a president, communities in disaster, crows, Columbine, corruption and California, and many more.
L.A. Times’ 2009 nonfiction favorites

The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election’ by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson
A richly reported, closely observed account of the clash of ideals and gallery of historic candidates leading up to the election of a lifetime.


The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America’ by Timothy Egan
The complex, tragic story of the biggest forest fire in American history, reconstructed at the grass-roots level.

A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.’s Scandalous Coming of Age’ by Richard Rayner
How the noir genre drew from devilish scandals in the City of Angels, written by a regular contributor to Book Review.

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays’ by Zadie Smith
The British writer reflects on Greta Garbo, literary trends, Oscar parties and more in a lively, unself-conscious, rigorous, erudite collection.

Cheever: A Life’ by Blake Bailey
A beautifully woven, deeply researched look at John Cheever’s life (and it is a wild ride) and contributions to American letters.

The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President’ by Taylor Branch
An unusual arrangement between the 42nd U.S. president and a famed historian has resulted in a splendid political chronicle that fills in the gaps of Clinton’s ‘My Life.’

Columbine’ by Dave Cullen
The author, who reported the 1999 school massacre from the day it happened, sticks with the story to sift out its truths.


Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making of Fitzcarraldo’ by Werner Herzog
The director-auteur reveals the diary he kept on the making of the 1982 movie ‘Fitzcarraldo’ and what an arduous journey in the jungle it was.

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom From the Urban Wilderness’ by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Despairing of urban life, a nature writer reconnects with the wild in her backyard.

Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression’ by Morris Dickstein
The author captures America’s literary, artistic, musical and cinematic high points from the 1929 crash to World War II.
Dawn Light: Dancing With Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day’ by Diane Ackerman
Reflections on human interconnectedness with nature and how forgetting this imperils the planet.

Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer
From the author of “Everything Is Illuminated”: a plea against cruelty to animals that draws on his family history and circumstances as a young father.

Imperial’ by William T. Vollmann
Another epic-sized work from an author known for a mix of empathy and distance and for looking at everything with an outsider’s eye.

L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City’ by John Buntin
A dual biography of two dueling figures from Los Angeles’ past: mobster Mickey Cohen and LAPD Chief William Parker.

The Lost Origins of the Essay’ edited by John D’Agata
In praise of the essay: selected dialogues, character sketches, spiritual memoirs and satires, lists of aphorisms and more.


Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town’ by Nick Reding
A chilling account of the demise of a small Iowa farming town because of the proliferation of the methamphetamine culture.

Not Now, Voyager: A Memoir’ by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Not a memoir exactly but a meditation, a series of riffs on the nature of coming and going, on what that offers and what it takes away.

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster’ by Rebecca Solnit
Disasters bring out an altruistic side of people, at least briefly, the author says.

Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen’ by David Sax
The history of a people and their sandwich.

Stitches: A Memoir’ by David Small
An award-winning children’s book illustrator revisits his childhood and how he sought escape from its bleakness in fantasy.

Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness’ by Tracy Kidder
With his most recent book, the author asks readers to walk in the shoes of a refugee from Rwanda who flees to New York City.

Tiepolo Pink’ by Roberto Calasso
A critic’s intoxicating efforts to describe an overlooked European painter.

The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in César Chávez’s Farm Worker Movement’ by Miriam Pawel
A former L.A. Times editor takes an unsettling look at key figures relegated to working in the shadow of labor icon Chávez and how that situation came about.

West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders, and Killers in the Golden State’ by Mark Arax
Much about California doesn’t add up for the author, a former L.A. Times reporter, but he tries to sort it all out by examining those incongruities.


Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector’ by Benjamin Moser
The life of a writer who forged a unique identity in between worlds.
Tiepolo’s ceiling fresco ‘Judgment of Solomon’ decorates the Archbishop’s Palace in Udine, Italy. Credit: Tourism / Udine


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