My colleague teases me about my liking for books about disasters, terrorism, wars and various other horrors. But the National Book Critics Circle Award feeds my habit … The National Book Critics Circle consists of nearly 700 active book reviewers, and their annual literary prizes have some brilliant non-fiction of a doomy nature.
- Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone by Joshua Clark
- Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet Washington
- The World Without Us byAlan Weisman
- Russian Diary: A Journalist’s Final Account of Life, Corruption and Death in Putin’s Russia by Anna Politkovskaya
Winners in past years have included the following essentials if you like your non-fiction emotionally weighty:
- 2005 winner: Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral history of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich relies on hundreds of interviews with those involved to convey the enormity of this 1986 disaster.
- 1998 winner: We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch. This is a phenomenal book about the genocide in Rwanda. Gourevitch’s book “captures the immense sadness and emptiness of a country that lost a tenth of its population in a single spasm of political violence, as well as the pervasive dread that Rwanda will likely experience such bloodshed again”.
Two other books I recommend if you want to read something sad and well written: Five minutes past midnight in Bhopal is the story of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal in 1984 when a cloud of toxic gas escaped from the American pesticide plant and killed16,000-30,000 and injuring half a million people. This book explores the processes that lead to this industrial disaster and human tragedy.
Heroic behaviour saves books like these from being utterly depressing, and the story of the Kursk disaster A Time to die: the Kursk disaster certainly demonstrates bravery and the triumph of the human spirit. In 2000, one of the largest and most technologically advanced nuclear subs in the world, carrying a crew of 118 Russian sailors, crashed to the ocean floor in the Barents Sea.