The best books about tobacco

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13 authors created a book list connected to tobacco, and here are their favorite tobacco books.
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Book cover of The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge

Craig Fehrman Author Of Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote

From the list on written by American presidents.

Who am I?

Craig Fehrman spent ten years writing Author in Chief, his book on presidents and the books they wrote. When readers would learn about his research, they'd always ask -- "Are any of them worth reading?" The answer turned out to be a definitive yes! Presidential books have won elections, redefined careers, and shaped America's place in the world. It's easy to eye-roll at modern political volumes, but for most of American history, books have been our popular culture -- and presidential books have changed our nation. Here are a few of the books that will reward readers today. 

Craig's book list on written by American presidents

Discover why each book is one of Craig's favorite books.

Why did Craig love this book?

This book is the forgotten classic of presidential writing—a blockbuster in its own time and a model for how modern political memoirs could be better. Coolidge was a stunningly good writer. (The New York Times called him “the most literary man who has occupied the White House since 1865.”) In his autobiography, he included many memorable stories, including one about his son, Calvin Jr., and his summer job picking tobacco. “If my father was president,” one of the laborers told him, “I would not work in a tobacco field.” “If my father were your father,” Calvin Jr. replied, “you would.” Yet the most memorable passage comes later, when the president describes Calvin Jr.’s shocking death. “In his suffering,” the most powerful man in the world wrote, “he was asking me to make him well. I could not.”

By Calvin Coolidge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Amity Shlaes reclaimed a misunderstood president with her bestselling biography Coolidge. Now she presents an expanded and annotated edition of that president's masterful memoir.

The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge is as unjustly neglected as Calvin Coolidge himself. The man caricatured as 'Silent Cal' was a gifted writer. The New York Times called him 'the most literary man who has occupied the White House since 1865.' One biographer wrote that Coolidge's autobiography 'displays a literary grace that is lacking in most such books by former presidents.'

The Coolidge who emerges in these pages is a model of character, principle, and humility…

Book cover of The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night

Catherine Ann Cullen Author Of The Song of Brigid’s Cloak

From the list on children’s stories with a song connection.

Who am I?

I’m a poet, children’s writer, and songwriter from Drogheda, Ireland. Ballads were always part of my family life. My favourite uncle, Gerry Cullen, is a song collector and singer who was central to the revival of folk singing in Drogheda. It was only when I embarked on a Creative Writing PhD in 2015 that I fully recognised the influence of ballads on my work. This has brought me deeper into ballad studies and I have just begun a postdoctoral fellowship at University College Dublin to reclaim lost street poets and tenement balladeers of 19th-century Ireland. For me, the ballad is a peerless narrative form: compact, rhyming, rhythmic, and memorable.  

Catherine's book list on children’s stories with a song connection

Discover why each book is one of Catherine's favorite books.

Why did Catherine love this book?

In 1961, American illustrator Peter Spier won a Caldecott Honor for his version of this ancient song, and in 2014 he revisited his book, turning the black and white illustrations into glorious colour. As a scholar of ballads, I’m thrilled by their persistent popularity. The first evidence of “The Fox” is in a manuscript in the British Library from the second half of the fifteenth century, with its chorus—“Pax vobis, quoth the fox, for I am going to the town.” It’s clearly the same song, just missing the ‘o’ after town. What’s the attraction? Besides Spier’s shimmering double spreads of Americana, there’s tight storytelling with great visual details, a tune, a chorus, and a hero’s journey with a happy ending—for Fox and his family, at least! 

By Peter Spier,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This Caldecott Honor book from beloved illustrator Peter Spier is a spirited take on a classic American folk song.

"[Spier's] finely detailed, action-packed New England autumn vistas are almost startlingly beautiful."—The New York Times 
Over fifty years after he won a Caldecott Honor for The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, legendary illustrator Peter Spier went back to this time-honored favorite in 2014 to paint the half of the book that was originally printed in black and white. In this glowing, restored vision of Spier’s beloved classic, follow the wily fox as he roams a sleepy New England town…

Merchants of Doubt

By Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway,

Book cover of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Change

Michael Smithson Author Of Uncertainty and Risk: Multidisciplinary Perspectives

From the list on ignorance, uncertainty, and risk.

Who am I?

My interest in ignorance and uncertainty was sparked when I was an undergraduate mathematics student. I was taking my first courses in probability and then reading about Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, realizing that even mathematics contains untamed unknowns. Later, as a PhD student in sociology I read theories about how knowledge is socially constructed, the foundation of the “sociology of knowledge”. I wondered why there wasn’t also a “sociology of ignorance”. That ignited my interest, and the social construction of ignorance became my life-long research topic. I have since seen it grow from my solo efforts in the 1980s to a flourishing multidisciplinary topic of research and public debate.  

Michael's book list on ignorance, uncertainty, and risk

Discover why each book is one of Michael's favorite books.

Why did Michael love this book?

Raising doubt is a way of producing uncertainty or ignorance. 

There have been several books on how various industries and lobbying organizations have used the production of doubt about scientific research as a strategy for profit-making or advancing political interests. 

Merchants of Doubt is my favorite among them because it is very well written and thoroughly researched, covering the history of this kind of doubt-mongering from its genesis in the tobacco industry to its maturation and key roles in the climate-change wars.

The authors also highlight the involvement of some scientists in eroding the scientific consensus on issues such as DDT or global warming, thereby cautioning readers not to believe every “expert” who presents a contrarian message. 

The 2014 documentary based on this book also is worth a look. 

By Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Merchants of Doubt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers. Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific…

The Gospel Truth

By Caroline Pignat,

Book cover of The Gospel Truth

Glen Huser Author Of Firebird

From the list on historical fiction featuring journeys.

Who am I?

As a child, I was an avid reader and particularly fell in love with historical fiction. My favourite corner for reading was on top of the woodbox by my grandmother’s cookstove. Warm and cozy, I delved into such books as Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason and Jack Schaeffer’s Shane. How wonderful to land for a few hours in the world of Shakespeare’s London or the grasslands of the frontier west. When I worked as a children’s librarian and then began writing books myself, this early love has remained with me—so it factored into the books I chose for schools—and some of the novels I wrote such as The Runaway and Firebird.

Glen's book list on historical fiction featuring journeys

Discover why each book is one of Glen's favorite books.

Why did Glen love this book?

This verse novel primarily sets the stage for a crucial journey Phoebe, a sixteen-year-old slave, living on a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858, decides to make that will take her north to freedom. I like to write poetry myself and have favourites among verse novels that have proliferated in recent years. This is one of them. The poetry here is beautifully-crafted and underlines the power of language Phoebe has discovered, having taught herself to read. Pignat alternates viewpoints as she presents a cast of characters that includes a Canadian doctor posing as a birdwatcher who helps slaves escape. Bird imagery is a motif throughout the book—so apt in detailing a flight to a new world.

By Caroline Pignat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gospel Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning author Caroline Pignat’s new historical novel recreates the world of a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858. Through the different points of view of slaves, their masters and a visiting bird-watcher the world of the plantation comes to live in this verse novel. Phoebe belongs to Master Duncan and works in the plantation kitchen. She sees how the other slaves are treated – the beatings and whippings, the disappearances. She hasn’t seen her mother since Master Duncan sold her ten years ago. But Pheobe is trying to learn words and how to read and when she is asked to show…

Under the Influence

By Rebecca Shannonhouse,

Book cover of Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction

James Brown Author Of The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir

From the list on addiction and recovery from someone who has been there.

Who am I?

I took my first hit of marijuana when I was 9. I had my first drink at 12 and my first shot of heroin at 14.  My brother and sister were also alcoholics and ended up taking their own lives. I abused drugs and alcohol for over 30 years, and after many failed attempts to turn my life around, I now have 15 years of continuous sobriety. I’ve also read almost ninety books on the topic of substance abuse and have written several myself about my personal struggles to get clean and sober and stay that way.  Addiction, sadly, is a subject I know all too well.

James' book list on addiction and recovery from someone who has been there

Discover why each book is one of James' favorite books.

Why did James love this book?

Using short stories, essays, and memoir selections from such authors as Poe, Tolstoy, Dorthey Parker, and Cheever, this book is an anthology of literature on addiction. Poe’s short story, “The Black Cat,” captures the madness that comes of alcoholism. Tolstoy’s essay offers sage advice about the nature of addiction. A lesser-known but standout story by Donna Steiner, “Sleeping with Alcohol,” teaches us what it’s like to be in love with an alcoholic and watching that person self-destruct. I’m a professor of English, and I used this book in a class I taught called “The Literature of Addiction,” alongside Dirk Hanson’s The Chemical Carousel as a primer for better understanding addiction before launching into stories, essays, and memoirs about it. The short stories in Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction are entertaining as well as enlightening, and its other selections are just as informative as the books I previously mentioned.

By Rebecca Shannonhouse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Under the Influence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on two centuries of important literary and historical writings, Rebecca Shannonhouse has shaped a remarkable collection of works that are, in turn, tragic, compelling, hilarious, and enlightening. Together, these selections comprise a profound and truthful portrait of the life experience known as addiction.

Under the Influence offers classic selections from fiction, memoirs, and essays by authors such as Tolstoy, Cheever, Parker, and Poe. Also included are topical gems by writers who illuminate the causes, dangers, pleasures, and public perceptions surrounding people consumed by excessive use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Recent provocative works by Abraham Verghese, the Barthelme brothers,…

The Business of Captivity

By Michael P. Gray,

Book cover of The Business of Captivity: Elmira and Its Civil War Prison

Derek D. Maxfield Author Of Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp - Elmira, NY

From the list on Civil War P.O.W. camps.

Who am I?

The Civil War has been a passion of mine since I was seven years old. This was inflamed by a professor I met at SUNY Cortland—Ellis Johnson, who first told me of the POW camp at Elmira, New York. Even though I grew up just thirty miles from Elmira I was astounded at this revelation. Later I learned that I had a third great-grandfather—William B. Reese—who served in the Veterans Reserve Corps after being wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and was assigned to the garrison in Elmira, where he may have stood guard over the very prison his great grandson would write about.

Derek's book list on Civil War P.O.W. camps

Discover why each book is one of Derek's favorite books.

Why did Derek love this book?

The definitive work on the Elmira POW Camp, Michael Gray’s book is a captivating account of life inside the pen on the Chemung River. Especially valuable is Gray’s account of Elmira’s management by the post commanders, commandants, Commissary General of Prisoners and its supervision by the War Department. It is a web of intrigue and even conspiracy. Another important aspect of this path-breaking book is the micro-economy that was created by the prisoners, who kept themselves busy by catching and selling rats, making jewelry, and other ornaments, and fostering a marketplace where tobacco was the primary medium of exchange.

By Michael P. Gray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Business of Captivity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the many controversial issues to emerge from the Civil War was the treatment of prisoners of war. At two stockades, the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, and the Union prison at Elmira, New York, suffering was acute and mortality was high.

During its single year of existence, more money was expended on the Elmira prison than in any of the other Union Stockades. Even with this record spending, a more ignominious figure was attached to Elmira: of the more than 12,000 Confederates imprisoned there, nearly 3,000 die while in captivity - the highest rate among all the Northern…

The Sensational Past

By Carolyn Purnell,

Book cover of The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses

Ai Hisano Author Of Visualizing Taste: How Business Changed the Look of What You Eat

From the list on a new understanding of your sensory experience.

Who am I?

I’m a historian of the senses. When I first traveled to the United States, I was fascinated and overwhelmed by the smell and sound of the streets entirely different from my hometown in Japan. Since then, every time I go abroad, I enjoy various sensory experiences in each country. The first thing I always notice is the smell of the airport which is different from country to country. We all have the senses, but we sense things differently—and these differences are cultural. I wondered if they are also historical. That was the beginning of my inquiry into how our sensory experience has been constructed and changed over time.

Ai's book list on a new understanding of your sensory experience

Discover why each book is one of Ai's favorite books.

Why did Ai love this book?

The Enlightenment is often associated with intellectual changes. But the book sheds a new light on this “Age of Reason” by showing how emotions and feelings played a crucial role in this intellectually and sensorially dynamic period. Purnell tells this change by providing many interesting, and funny, episodes. My favorite, among others, is the seventeenth-century vogue for perfumes made of the excretions of the civet cat or the musk deer, and it was only in the mid-eighteenth century that floral scents became popular. This shift had to do with people’s ideas about health, cleanliness, and naturalness that changed over time. You will learn how and why people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries thought about the senses, how they experience their sensory world, and how our sensory experience came about over the course of a few hundred years.

By Carolyn Purnell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sensational Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blindfolding children from birth. Playing a piano made of live cats. Using tobacco to cure drowning. Wearing "flea"-coloured clothes. These actions seem odd to us but in the eighteenth century they made sense.

As Carolyn Purnell persuasively shows, while our bodies may not change dramatically, the way we think about the senses and put them to use has been rather different over the ages. Journeying through the past three hundred years, Purnell explores how people used their senses in ways that might shock now. Using culinary history, fashion, medicine, music and many other aspects of Enlightenment life, she demonstrates that,…