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HISTORY Daniel Walker Howe, “What Hath God Wrought: the Transformation of America, 1815-1848” Howe is emeritus professor of history at Oxford and UCLA. In 900 pages, he creates a panoramic tale of a formative period in American history, as the country expanded and innovations in communication and transportation were created.
Other finalists were Robert Dallek, “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power,” and David Halberstam, “The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War.”
John Matteson, “Eden’s Outcasts: “The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father.” Matteson is an associate professor of English at John Jay College in NYC. The book focuses on Bronson Alcott as well as Louisa; he was a friend of Emerson and Thoreau and a seeker of a utopian community. Says Matteson, “I found him very inspirational; he was almost completely self-taught.”
Other finalists were Martin Duberman, “The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein,” and Zachary Leader, “The Life of Kingsley Amis.”
Junot Diaz, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” An emigre from the Dominican Republic in 1974, Diaz arrived not speaking or reading English. The “riotous” novel tells of Dominican immigrants in the present in New Jersey and in the past in the Dominican Republic. Diaz “kicked around” the idea for his first novel for about four years, then wrote it for seven. “In some ways,” he says, “I think that this book waited for me to become a better person before it wrote itself.”
Other finalists were Denis Johnson, “Tree of Smoke,” and Lore Segal, “Shakespeare’s Kitchen.”
Saul Friedlander, “The Years of Extermination:Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945.” Friedlander’s second volume of his history of the Holocaust interweaves segments from contemporary journals and letters into the more general description of the atrocities. “Usually the history of the Holocaust is written from the viewpoint of German documents and archives,” says Mr. Friedlander. He was born in Prague, escaped to France in 1939 and emigrated to Israel in1948; he teaches at UCLA.
Other finalists were Allan Brandt, “The Cigarette Century,” and Alex Ross, “Listening to the Twentieth Century.”
Tracy Letts, “August: Osage County.” The play was an enormous critical success in New York this year.
Other finalists were David Henry Hwang, “Yellow Face,” and Christopher Shinn, “Dying City.”
Robert Hass, “Time and Materials,” and Philip Schultz, “Failure.” Hass’s sixth book of poetry is about large subjects of international import, as well as more personal verse; he is a former poet laureate and also won the National Book Award last year. Schultz’s book, his fifth, discusses the death of his father when the poet was 18 and the family business fell apart — “a hole that I was digging myself out of the rest of my life.” He runs the Writers Studio in New York.
Another finalist was Ellen Bryant Voigt, “Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006.”
David lang, “The Little Match Girl Passion.” Lang is co-founder of Bang on a Can, the boundary-crossing new music collective; this work is for a quartet of singers, and is an eerie, poignant and tragic melding of the Hans Christian Andersen tale of a poor child who freezes to death and the text of Bach’s “St Matthew Passion.”
Other finalists were Stephen Hartke, “Meanwhile,” and Roberto Sierra, “Concerto for Viola.”
sole source: article in the NY Times on 4/9/08. www.nytimes.com
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