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Donna N. Murphy
General Book Recommendations

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King, 2002. The first novel in a wonderful series by King pairing Sherlock Holmes with Mary Russell, a young, female cohort who is just as brilliant as he is. Other books in the series, from earliest to latest, are: A Monstrous Regiment of Women; A Letter to Mary; The Moor; O Jerusalem; Justice Hall; The Game; Locked Rooms; The Language of Bees; The God of the Hive; Pirate King; and Garment of Shadows.


The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam, 2007. This eye-opening work about the Korean War (1950-53) discusses why the U.S. entered (we had recently “lost” China to communism), and the hardships involved in fighting it. These difficulties were compounded by the imperious attitude of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who ran the war from Japan and never slept one night in Korea. He surrounded himself with “yes” men who told him nothing except what he wanted to hear—that it would be O.K. to march up to the border with China—despite evidence to the contrary. An extremely well researched and written work. Also recommended: The Best and the Brightest, about the war in Vietnam.


The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson, 2004. This book tells the story of the against-all-odds making of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and of serial killer H. H. Holmes, who quietly murdered numerous people who attended it. Also recommended: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, about U.S. Ambassador to Germany William Dodd, his family, and the early years of Hitler's reign; and Thunderstruck, which juxtaposes the activities of Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the wireless telegraph, with those of murderer Hawley Crippen.

Forks Over Knives, 2011, is a paradigm shattering DVD about the health benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet. I can't recommend it highly enough! There are also two companion books: Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health (explanation plus recipes), and Forks Over Knives-The Cookbook.


Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, 2005. Why did the crime rate plummet after 1990, what is the impact of a child’s name, and why do teachers and sumo wrestlers cheat? An economist employs regression analysis to answer questions about society. Also recommended: SuperFreakonomics: Global Warming, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, 2005. Her first memory is at the age of three, when she is making hot dogs by herself and gets burned by boiling water. Why Walls’ mother lets her make hot dogs by herself is at the crux of this memoir of a journalist who grows up living in poverty with partly brilliant, mostly crazy “white trash” parents. That Walls becomes educated enough to write this well-told tale is nothing short of a miracle.


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 2012. This can't-put-down novel starts when Amy disappears. Did her husband, Nick, kill her? He's an unreliable narrator who's not to be trusted. Just when you think you have things figured out, the story takes an incredible twist!



The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran, 2003. Based on a late-night call-in radio show for women that Xinran hosted in China in the late 1980’s, this book contains personal, tragic stories of women’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution. She published it after moving to Great Britain.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows, 2008, novel. Seeking a topic for her next book, London author Juliet Ashton begins an exchange of letters in 1946 with residents of the island of Guernsey, which had been occupied by Germans during the war. Her correspondents convince her to visit, changing her life forever. I loved this warm, charming and funny book, which receives an A+ for originality.



Hot, Flat and Crowded. Why We Need a Green Revolution-And How it Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman, 2008. Global warming, the worldwide expansion of the middle class, and a rapidly growing population is causing a world that is hot, flat, and crowded, according to this globe-trotting New York Times columnist. His solutions entail clean energy, energy efficiency, and conservation. Also recommended: The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century; and The Lexis and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization.

Imagine a Day by Sarah L. Thomson, 2005. This is a children's book with pictures by Rob Gonsalves that everyone will enjoy. Gonsalves' two-perspective paintings are intriguing: breeze-blown drapes become couples dancing; kites in the sky morph into sailing ships. Also recommended: Imagine a Night, and Imagine a Place


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sloot, 2011. Henrietta Lacks was an impoverished black tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer. Her cells grown in culture, known as HeLa, are “immortal” and have been employed by researchers worldwide to achieve break-throughs like the polio vaccine. This fascinating book moves back and forth between the uncompensated Henrietta and her poor descendants, and the researchers who built their fortunes and reputations upon her cells.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, 2013. Why are there more women than men in college, but relatively few at the upper levels of corporations and government? Sandberg, the no. 2 at Facebook and mother of two young children, encourages women to look at the barriers to success in their own minds as well as in society, and work for change. She hopes to jump-start a new feminist movement where women respect each other's choices and act for the benefit of themselves and fellow females.


Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas, 1929. This novel about the effect of the death of a respected brain surgeon upon a young, wealthy ne’er-do-well mixes mystery, romance and inspiration in an irresistible blend!



My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolt Taylor, 2009. It took Taylor eight years to recover from a massive stroke in her left hemisphere. But this brain scientist claims it’s the best thing that could have happened to her, because she learned that nirvana and inner peace are available to everyone. This is a remarkably easy-to-read book about scientific and metaphysical phenomena.


A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, 2005. A follow-up to his inspirational The Power of Now, this book discusses timeless spiritual teachings. Oprah Winfrey thought it so important that she conducted ten consecutive live webcast interviews with Tolle, one for each chapter of his book.


Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, 2010. LA Times reporter Demick follows the lives of six North Koreans over the course of fifteen years. Although all are eventually able to defect, their tales are heartbreaking.


Nudge. Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass Sunstein, 2008. Nudge is about how we make decisions, and how people can be “nudged” to make decisions that are better for themselves and for society without restricting freedom of choice.


Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, 2008. An entertaining, educational book about geniuses, from Mozart, to the Beatles, to Bill Gates. It discusses the factors behind why certain people excel. Also recommended: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference; and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.


Persepolis by Marjane Satrape, 2004. In comic book form, told from a child’s point of view, Persepolis is a memoir about the contradictions of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.


Richard III by Paul Murray Kendall, 1955. A highly readable biography about a much maligned historical figure. It turns out that King Richard III was a far better leader and man than Shakespeare’s play has led countless to believe.


The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: a Hmong Child, her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman, 1997. An insightful story about the clash of traditions and values when Laotian hill-tribe parents living in California seek hospital treatment for their severely epileptic daughter. A must read to help sensitize anyone working between two cultures.


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, 2011. Isaacson’s biography pulls no punches in documenting the strengths and weaknesses of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs. It’s fascinating to read about how the intensity of Jobs’ personality created a “reality distortion field” around him, and about his visionary views on design. Also recommended:  Einstein: His Life and Universe.


Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, 2006. This book had been sitting on our bookshelf for quite some time. Learning that Spielberg’s movie Lincoln was partly based upon it inspired me to begin turning its pages. Arguably one of the best biographies of the past few decades, it brings the fascinating president to life before our eyes. This man of wit and immense wisdom is well worth getting to know, especially when Goodwin is the one telling us about him.


Truman by David McCullough, 1993. McCullough won the Pulitzer Prize for this detailed portrait of President Harry S. Truman, a man of humble beginnings for whom Freemasonry was an important part of life. Also recommended: John Adams; The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge; and The Johnstown Flood.


The White Tiger by Avarind Adiga, 2008. This mischievous novel tells the tale of a poor Indian villager and how he is able to get ahead in a caste-oriented society---by cheating. It is a darkly comic portrayal of social and economic inequalities in India.




Copyright 2017 by Donna N. Murphy