Life in America Would Be Radically Different if These People Never Existed: Most Influential Americans of All Time

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2002 saw a number of people venturing out of their element and into non-fiction and the results are awesome. Whether you’re into mouthy social commentators, dark and creepy stuff or just pure history, 2002 was a good year.

5 Portrait of a Killer

In Portrait of a Killer, Patricia Cornwell takes her extensive experience writing crime novels and brings it into historical reality. Using knowledge and resources that she has spent years cultivating while writing forensic fiction, Cornwell believes she has answered the question “Who was Jack the Ripper?” We won’t give away the answer but we will warn you not to get too excited just yet. Her evidence is mostly circumstantial and Ripper-followers the world over debate her conclusions. Nevertheless it’s a great read. Cornwell is a master of the gruesome crime genre and so she brings the story to life so well that you easily forget that you’re not reading another novel. And after all, if you’re going to read about tragic deaths, wouldn’t you prefer to pretend that it’s fiction?

4 Bush At War

Bob Woodward brings us a fascinating account of what was going on in the Oval Office in the three months after 9/11 with pretty impressive inside access. Of course, he doesn’t risk losing that access by getting into anything too controversial and instead lets the major players speak for themselves. The method gives us a great picture of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and, of course, President George W. Bush. We get to see the president’s best and worst and at the end of the day he doesn’t come out looking like a saint or a demon, but like a human being just like the rest of us. Oh well.

3 A Mind at a Time

Considering how much politicians throw around talk about education, it’s amazing how many more books there are about politics than education. Nonetheless, this one managed to overcome that to make the bestseller list. In it, Dr. Mel Levine discusses posits that children are burdened with an unfair expectation that they excel in all areas, something that nobody expects of adults. He says that children are being labeled learning disabled if they can’t keep up with it all instead of special attention being given to find the specific area where they can excel.He became a very successful lecturer and educator on the topic and his organization helped to train thousands of teachers in New York. Although he later killed himself after charges were brought accusing him of years of sexual molestation of young patients, the theories in A Mind at a Time aren’t worth writing off for any parent or teacher.

2 Leadership

As a result of the events of September 11th 2001, Rudy Giuliani went from being a productive yet controversial mayor of New York City to being one of the country’s favorite heroes. Written with a New Yorker’s straightforward aggression, he sometimes veers into the area of a cold business management guidebook as opposed to the political memoir we would have liked to see. Of course, that switches when he talks about 9/11. Here is where you begin to notice something that is true throughout the book: He never makes mistakes. Sure, he teases and uses light, self-deprecating humor. But if there is anything that Rudy Giuliani regrets, or has done wrong, it is someone else’s fault. At least if you trust Leadership. However that’s not enough to ruin it. No matter whose eyes you look through, New York City is one of the most exciting places in the world and getting the perspective of someone who sat above it all is worth it.

1 Stupid White Men… And Other Sorry Excuses For The State of The Nation

Although Michael Moore is primarily known as a filmmaker, he does periodically crossover into the written word. In this particular case he combines his usual social commentary with a bit of political humor. Although the publisher was hesitant about the books release so soon after 9/11 and didn’t market it as heavily as originally planned, the book managed to make it to the bestseller lists. Although Moore’s usual strident self-righteousness is not at all hidden by the heavy dose of comedy here, it’s actually good to have around to balance out the same thing in the political manifestos that his political opponents have in the works. Although we’ll give him this: He is actually much funnier than they are.

Was there something we missed or do you just think you already know who Jack the Ripper was? Let’s hear what you have to say about it!

Chava Forman-Horovitz is a newlywed History nerd but she’ll actually read anything. Her movie expertise is at the other end of the intellectual spectrum though focusing on romcoms and kids movies. She may sound like the girly geek type but she has a green belt in Kenpo karate and can kick ass.

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