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Friday, December 26, 2008

beST BOOKS of 2008

Song of Haiti: Barry Paris ('00) In one of the finest acts of noblesse oblige imaginable, bank heir Larry Mellon set out to be an American Albert Schweitzer; in place of Africa he built his hospital in Haiti. More of a great story than a great book, it's still a story that needs to be celebrated.

In the Time of the Butterflies: Julia Alvarez ('94) An equally inspiring true story set on the other side of Hispaniola. If Haiti is the poorest nation in the Americas, the Dominican Republic under the dictator Trujillo was perhaps the most repressively right-wing. It took the brave Mirabel sisters to initiate a Castro-style revolution.

Coffee: H.E. Jacob ('35) & Uncommon Grounds: Mark Pendergrast ('99) Since I drink so much of the stuff, I decided to educate myself. These two books complement each other well. Jacob is the better of the two, presenting the story of coffee in a way that reads as great history. Pendergrast picks up where Jacob's Euro-centric account leaves off, focusing on the American coffee industry in excruciating detail up to the Starbuck's era. At over 400 pages, it was a long, hard slog, somewhat redeemed by interesting facts.

The Cactus Eaters: Dan White ('08) This true life account of a couple's attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail is not a great book but a highly entertaining one. The author by his own admission is somewhat of an idiot. For anyone who takes an interest in the great outdoors, west coast geography, and human nature, there is plenty of good material.

The Hearing Trumpet: Leonora Carrington ('74) I read this impenetrably indulgent surrealist novel on the train while drinking a Bloody Mary. Peculiarly entertaining with flashes of wit that had me laughing out loud, the ending is almost brilliant but adds a few too many layers of weirdness, resulting in a queasy David Lynch feeling.

Banana: Dan Koeppel ('08) Another book about another one of my favorite comestibles. The author could have put bananas in better perspective with other cash crops (such as sugar cane or coffee), but on balance this account of this unique industry is fascinating.

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