The older I get, the more interested I am in nonfiction. I especially like biographies and memoirs and narrative nonfiction. I also like an occasional gossipy book (I confess!). Here are five nonfiction books I’d like to read this year. All descriptions are from Amazon.
Greed in the Gilded Age: The Brilliant Con of Cassie Chadwick by William Elliott Hazelgrove (Feb 15)
‘Millionaire’ had just entered the American lexicon and Cassie Chadwick was front page news, becoming a media sensation before mass media, even eclipsing President Roosevelt’s inauguration. Using these newspaper articles, Hazelgrove tells the story of one of the greatest cons in American history.
Combining the sexuality and helplessness her gender implied, Chadwick conned at least 2 million dollars, equivalent to about 60 million today, simply by claiming to be the illegitimate daughter and heir of steel titan, Andrew Carnegie. Playing to their greed, she was able to convince highly educated financiers to loan hundreds of thousands of dollars, on nothing more than a rumor and her word.
She was a product of her time and painting her as a criminal is only one way to look at it. Those times rewarded someone who was smart, inventive, bold, and aggressive. She was able to break through boundaries of class, education, and gender, to beat the men of the one percent at their own game.
Hedged Out: Inequality and Insecurity on Wall Street by Megan Tobias Neely (Jan 25)
Who do you think of when you imagine a hedge fund manager? A greedy fraudster, a visionary entrepreneur, a wolf of Wall Street? These tropes capture the public imagination of a successful hedge fund manager. But behind the designer suits, helicopter commutes, and illicit pursuits are the everyday stories of people who work in the hedge fund industry—many of whom don’t realize they fall within the 1 percent that drives the divide between the richest and the rest. With Hedged Out, sociologist and former hedge fund analyst Megan Tobias Neely gives readers an outsider’s insider perspective on Wall Street and its enduring culture of inequality.
Hedged Out dives into the upper echelons of Wall Street, where elite white masculinity is the standard measure for the capacity to manage risk and insecurity. Facing an unpredictable and risky stock market, hedge fund workers protect their interests by working long hours and building tight-knit networks with people who look and behave like them. Using ethnographic vignettes and her own industry experience, Neely showcases the voices of managers and other workers to illustrate how this industry of politically mobilized elites excludes people on the basis of race, class, and gender. Neely shows how this system of elite power and privilege not only sustains itself but builds over time as the beneficiaries concentrate their resources. Hedged Out explains why the hedge fund industry generates extreme wealth, why mostly white men benefit, and why reforming Wall Street will create a more equal society.
Heiresses: The Lives of the Million Dollar Babies by Laura Thompson (Feb 15)
Heiresses: surely they are among the luckiest women on earth. Are they not to be envied, with their private jets and Chanel wardrobes and endless funds? Yet all too often those gilded lives have been beset with trauma and despair. Before the 20th century a wife’s inheritance was the property of her husband, making her vulnerable to kidnap, forced marriages, even confinement in an asylum. And in modern times, heiresses fell victim to fortune-hunters who squandered their millions.
Heiresses tells the stories of these million dollar babies: Mary Davies, who inherited London’s most valuable real estate, and was bartered from the age of twelve; Consuelo Vanderbilt, the original American “Dollar Heiress”, forced into a loveless marriage; Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress who married seven times and died almost penniless; and Patty Hearst, heiress to a newspaper fortune who was arrested for terrorism. However, there are also stories of independence and achievement: Angela Burdett-Coutts, who became one of the greatest philanthropists of Victorian England; Nancy Cunard, who lived off her mother’s fortune and became a pioneer of the civil rights movement; and Daisy Fellowes, elegant linchpin of interwar high society and noted fashion editor.
Sentence: Ten Years and a Thousand Books in Prison by Daniel Genis (Feb 22)
In 2003 Daniel Genis, the son of a famous Soviet émigré writer, broadcaster, and culture critic, was fresh out of NYU when he faced a serious heroin addiction that led him into debt and ultimately crime. After he was arrested for robbing people at knifepoint, he was nicknamed the “apologetic bandit” in the press, given his habit of expressing his regret to his victims as he took their cash. He was sentenced to twelve years—ten with good behavior, a decade he survived by reading 1,046 books, taking up weightlifting, having philosophical discussions with his fellow inmates, working at a series of prison jobs, and in general observing an existence for which nothing in his life had prepared him.
Genis describes in unsparing and vivid detail the realities of daily life in the New York penal system. In his journey from Rikers Island and through a series of upstate institutions he encounters violence on an almost daily basis, while learning about the social strata of gangs, the “court” system that sets geographic boundaries in prison yards, how sex was obtained, the workings of the black market in drugs and more practical goods, the inventiveness required for everyday tasks such as cooking, and how debilitating solitary confinement actually is—all while trying to preserve his relationship with his recently married wife.
Shackleton by Ranulph Fiennes (Jan 4)
An enthralling new biography of Ernest Shackleton by the world’s greatest living explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
In 1915, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to traverse the Antarctic was cut short when his ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice. The disaster left Shackleton and his men alone at the frozen South Pole, fighting for their lives. Their survival and escape is the most famous adventure in history.
Shackleton is a captivating new account of the adventurer, his life and his incredible leadership under the most extreme of circumstances. Written by polar adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes who followed in Shackleton’s footsteps, he brings his own unique insights to bear on these infamous expeditions. Shackleton is both re-appraisal and a valediction, separating Shackleton from the myth he has become.
Do any of these look good to you? What nonfiction books are you looking forward to reading in 2022? Leave a comment!
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