2006's interesting reads: Iraq, terrorism set the tone for year's nonfiction

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The final installment in "the most interesting books of the year" focuses on nonfiction.

Within that category there developed a subset of titles growing from the United States' troubled occupation of Iraq and war on terror. Those will be listed separately.

The most interesting nonfiction books of 2006

"The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright -- Smoothly written with novelistic details, Wright's history of how the murderous terrorist movement developed gives the background Americans have needed.

"Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War" by Nathaniel Philbrick -- The Pittsburgh native is a savvy historical writer who knows how to draw his readers into what otherwise might seem like dull stuff. His point here is that it's what happened after the landing of the Pilgrims that really mattered.

"A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan" by Michael Kazin -- Reduced to a bloated caricature in the play and film "Inherit the Wind," Bryan was the rarest of politicians: a Christian fundamentalist liberal with principles, except toward African-Americans. His pivotal role in the Progressive movement is recognized at long last.

"Breach of Faith" by Jed Horne -- The author is a newsman with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and he brings a reporter's flair for setting the scene and capturing the characters in recounting the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

"Mellon" by David Cannadine -- A long-needed history of how Andrew Mellon initiated the National Gallery of Art, including an accounting of his art acquisitions.

"At Canaan's Edge" by Taylor Branch -- The third and final volume of Branch's epic biography of the Rev. Martin Luther King portrays the civil rights leader as both ambitious and fatalistic while factions within and outside the FBI plot against him. A magisterial accomplishment.

"Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran -- A firsthand account of the American "imperialists" who lorded over Baghdad's Green Zone like Brits in Raffles Bar, fiddling as Iraq burned. What went wrong? Check here first.

"The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina" by Frank Rich -- A sweeping list of stage-managed history by the Bush administration from a former New York Times drama critic.

"Untold Stories" by Alan Bennett -- Cozy and bracing like a mug of English tea with lots of milk on a cold night, this collection by a gentle, yet sharp observer of British life is a treat.

"Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War" by Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss -- More war atrocities, these from Vietnam, told without sugar coating by two Pulitzer-winning reporters.

Iraq, terrorism

President Lyndon Johnson said he knew he had lost the hearts and minds of Americans when Walter Cronkite denounced the Vietnam War.

Did President George W. Bush have similar thoughts when Bob Woodward questioned his conduct of the Iraqi occupation in "State of Denial" this year?

Clearly the electorate did. Whether the spate of well-reasoned and researched books on Bush and his problem-plagued policies on Iraq and terrorism swayed the nation is impossible to determine, but readers of these texts were given compelling reasons to question those policies.

To recap the most interesting books on Iraq, terrorism:

"State of War: The Secret History of the B" by James Risen.

"Fiasco: The American Military Adventure In Iraq" by Thomas E. Ricks.

"One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11" by Ron Suskind.

"Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq" by Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor.

Post-Gazette book editor Bob Hoover can be reached at bhoover@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1634.


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