5 Books That Make You Glad to Be Where You Are

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Non-Fiction November is in full swing. This second week is hosted by Leslie of Regular Rumination, and the topic is Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert. When it comes to non-fiction, I read very widely, and I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on anything. But after staring at my pile of books for a while, I finally came up with a way to bundle some of them for this post. While my list doesn’t exactly fit into one of the three Expert categories, these books will probably help you put your everyday problems into perspective.

224379Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union’s gulags in their more than 60 years of operation. During its peak in the early 1950s, there were camps in every part of the country, and the slave labor provided by prisoners was important to every aspect of the USSR’s economy. Applebaum provides ample details about life in a gulag, from strategies for survival and the experience of children to the relationships between prisoners and attempts at rebellion and escapes.

20897517In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
In 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail on a naval expedition financed by the owner of The New York Herald. Its mission: Explore the unmapped areas around the North Pole. When the ship became trapped in pack ice and sank, the crew was faced with marching across Siberia, with only minimum supplies.

6178648Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
This book focuses on the chaotic period in North Korea’s history that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population. It chronicles the lives of six people as they navigate everyday life until they realize that their government has betrayed them.

95784The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
In December 1937, the Japanese army invaded the ancient city of Nanking. Within weeks, they had looted and burned the city, raped and tortured its citizens, and murdered more than 300,000 Chinese civilians. This book tells the story from three perspectives: of the Japanese soldiers who performed it, of the Chinese civilians who endured it, and of a group of Europeans and Americans who refused to abandon the city.

1132808Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West by Ethan Rarick
In October 1846, a wagon train heading west got trapped by a fearsome storm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In order to survive the brutal winter, members of the Donner Party have to make heartbreaking decisions. Ethan Rarick offers a fresh look at the harsh realities people had to face in their search for the American dream.

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31 comments

  1. The Kingdom of Ice was fascinating — I couldn’t put it down. Hampton Sides has written several other wonderful books as well. The Rape of Nanking was certainly a difficult read — especially knowing about the author’s suicide — but very important. I’m adding Desperate Passage to my TBR — thanks! (I had a hard time getting through Gulag — passed it along to my husband, who thought it was excellent.)

  2. I’ve read Nothing to Envy and The Rape of Nanking. Interesting I had never heard of the atrocities of Nanking before reading this book. Will have to check out the others.

  3. I haven’t read them myself, but some family members have read Gulag and Nanking, and gave me the general idea that they are quite intense and sad. Without a doubt, these books puts things in perspective.

  4. What a creative way to approach this topic! I’m fascinated with North Korea and just finished Without You, There Is No Us…which made me want to read more about the country, particularly about regular people (Without You focuses on the sons of the elite). Adding Nothing to Envy to my TBR.

    I posted books about the Kennedys for this topic.

  5. I’ve got to get my hands on Nothing To Envy–I just finished Without You There Is No Us over this past weekend and really want to try to learn more (as much as an outsider can, anyway) about North Korea.

  6. Excellent list! I have heard of all of these books, although unfortunately I haven’t read any of them. I just read Suki Kim’s memoir of her time teaching in North Korea, Without You, There is No Us. I have a different book on the Donner Party right here on my shelf that I was thinking of reading soon: Daniel James Brown’s The Indifferent Stars Above. Any thoughts on whether the Brown or the Rarick is the better Donner Party book?

    • Oh, I’ve had Without You, There Is No Us on my radar. Is it good? I don’t know The Indifferent Stars Above, so I can’t compare it to Desperate Passage. They seem to be ranked about the same, and since Brown’s newest book The Boys in the Boat has received such high praise, I would read his account of the Donner Party, since you already have that book.

  7. I read Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin (fiction) a couple of years ago, and at the time I had planned to read The Rape of Nanjing, but I never got around to it. I must read that book.

    • I hope you’ll get to read it, and I’ll check out Nanjing Requiem. I like to read in groups like that sometimes. I read Nothing to Envy after The Orphan Master’s Son, which went together pretty well.

  8. Great list! I’ve read and would really recommend both Gulag and Nothing to Envy. Will probably therefore be adding your other books to my endlessly growing TBR nonfiction list!

  9. It’s always hard for me to read on disturbing topics like these, but I can’t recall ever finishing a book like these and regretting reading it. Many years ago I read Alexander Solzynetsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and kind of “lost my innocence” in a way. Courageous list!

  10. Thanks for these recommendations! I had heard of Gulag and Desperate Passage, but had not read them. They all look like they could be fascinating books. I liked the way you tied them together. I have no doubt they would make me thankful for being where I am.

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