The best books to drop the hook and read at anchor

James N. McKean Author Of Quattrocento
By James N. McKean

The Books I Picked & Why

Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures

By Nick Pyenson

Book cover of Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures

Why this book?

Everyone loves whales, right? But almost no one knows anything about them (I didn't). As a paleobiologist, Pyenson gives us a compelling view of their world, dating back over ten million years. Using vivid detail and rich narrative prose he shows us just how essential they are to marine ecology, and how our fate is inextricably linked to theirs. I've rarely read a book that so transformed my view of the world. 


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Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris

By A.J. Liebling

Book cover of Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris

Why this book?

Some books are worth reading just because the writing is so wonderful. But combine that with the subject matter - dining out in Paris - and you are in for a treat. Liebling, a longtime staff writer for the New Yorker, shares with us the sublime art of enjoying a good meal. He also wrote some of the best reporting on the Second World War, landing with the Allies in Morocco and accompanying the troops on the front line through Europe (available as WW2 Writings, Library of America).


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Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63

By Taylor Branch

Book cover of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63

Why this book?

In this trilogy, Taylor Branch does a masterful job of illuminating the long and hard post-war struggle for racial justice in America. He brings an immensely diverse cast of characters to life, most of them ordinary people called upon to do extraordinary things. He puts us right in the midst of the action: riding buses, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, gathered in the Oval Office, standing on a motel balcony in Memphis. Gripping, personal, tragic, and heroic: a monumental account of the most important social movement of our time (Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, At Canaan`s Edge).


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Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War

By Robert K. Massie

Book cover of Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War

Why this book?

In these two volumes, Massie shows how the naval arms race Kaiser Wilhelm undertook with his grandmother Queen Victoria led inexorably to the Great War and a century of conflict. The rise of a young power, contesting control of the seas with the established global empire: sound familiar? The stakes could not have been higher - as Churchill said of Admiral Jellicoe, commander of the British fleet: "He is the only man who could lose this war in a single afternoon." Jellicoe prevailed when that fateful afternoon came at Jutland, but Massie shows us the long drift to war that started decades before on a different afternoon: a yacht race at Cowes.


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The Odyssey

By Homer, Emily Wilson

Book cover of The Odyssey

Why this book?

To be a sailor without The Odyssey is to be lost at sea. My copy, dogeared and salt-stained, goes with me everywhere. When you’re cruising, it becomes more than an epic poem: a world that you’re a part of. Anyone who’s seen the last light on the ocean waves knows what a wine-dark sea looks like, or the very real peril of Scylla and Charybdis. And how important it is not to anger, (or even draw the attention of) Poseidon, the last of the true gods. Mythical, perhaps, but as real as the sound of the surf breaking on the distant shores.


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