Book bits

Female Nobel Peace Laureates, three books about poets, our reviews of Pulitzer prize winners, and readers' picks.

Champions for Peace, by Judith Hicks Stiehm

The Nobel Peace Prize was established by the inventor of dynamite. Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist, felt that his explosive would be so destructive to humanity that nations should give up war entirely. To promote peace, he provided support in his will for an annual prize to be given to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

Since its introduction in 1901, 12 women have won the Nobel Peace Prize. The paths and pursuits of these individuals make a remarkable study in Champions for Peace. In chronological order, each chapter is devoted to a different winner. What they have in common is their gender. All were female in a century in which more women entered the public sphere and globalization sent out its first shoots. But their circumstances and efforts are unique. Stiehm's compelling profiles reveal lives that span national boundaries, religious beliefs, and economic backgrounds. These women, at the sacrifice of their own comfort, extended the olive branch instead of the sword.

They are as follows: Bertha von Suttner, an Austrian aristocrat turned prolific and fearless peace activist; Jane Addams, a social worker and founder of Chicago's Hull House for poor women; Emily Greene Balch, a New England professor and peace activist committed to teaching her students to think globally; Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, an Irish Protestant and an Irish Catholic who reached across a violent divide to spark a peace movement; Mother Teresa, a nun from Macedonia who worked tirelessly to care for the forgotten and shunned in India; Alva Myrdal, a Swedish politician and champion for nuclear disarmament; Aung San Suu Kyi, who lived for years under house arrest for protesting the military's long rule in Burma; Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchú Tum, who stood up for victimized Mayans; Jody Williams, an American working against the global use of land mines; Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian defense lawyer committed to human rights; and Wangari Muta Maathai, a Kenyan who birthed a tree-planting movement.

If you seek inspiration for instigating change, Stiehm's book will deliver. The earlier profiles are especially insightful, with the advantage of historical perspective. But the examples of all of these healers, writers, and peacemakers prove once again how one individual committed to goodness can lead civilization forward.

Three books about poets

T.S. Eliot is sometimes known the most enigmatic of English-language poets, but in a new biography scholar and poet Craig Raine finds unity and coherence throughout his works. T.S. Eliot is the eighth book in Oxford University Press's "Lives and Legacies" series, examining the lives of great writers.

He was a shy man, child of a wealthy Maine family and today he is often overlooked. But in his time (he lived from 1869 to 1935) Edwin Arlington Robinson was considered one of America's finest poets. In Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life, literary biographer Scott Donaldson relies on newly available personal correspondence of Robinson's to assemble a perceptive portrait of this reticent literary figure.

Their friendship was, at its peak, both a meeting of great minds and a true union of hearts. But the bond between English Romantic poets Williams Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge did not last. In The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge, National Book Critics Circle award winner Adam Sisman tells the story of this remarkable partnership, from its idealistic beginnings – which produced the seminal work "Lyrical Ballads" – to its painful conclusion. Sisman brings both men alive in his portrayal.
Marjorie Kehe

2007 Pulitzer Prize winners

Monitor reviews of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning books can be found on the following dates:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The Monitor review calls the father-son bond "one of the most profound relationships McCarthy has ever written." (10/3/06)

The Race Beat by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. This book "reminds us of the potential of the press to serve as a powerful tool for democracy." (1/9/07)

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. The Monitor reviewer labels this book "required reading for every American." (9/5/06)

The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate. This biography of abolitionist and preacher Henry Ward Beecher is "impressively written and painstakingly researched." (7/11/06)

Readers' picks

I'm rereading the Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. trilogy The Age of Roosevelt, trying to understand the workings of the stock market and the biases of the Supreme Court to see how they relate to today's organizations and their current workings. Martha L. Willis, Portage, Ind.

I've just finished Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution by Thomas McNamee. It reads almost like a novel. Alice Waters provided the impetus for the move away from classic, stuffy French "haute cuisine" to a more relaxed way of cooking and eating based on locally grown, very fresh ingredients. She opened Chez Panisse in 1971 with no idea of how to run a business and no formal chef's training. She shouldn't have succeeded, but she did.
Jane Beck, Atlanta

I have just finished A Student of Living Things by Susan Richards Shreve. It takes place in Washington, D.C., post 9/11. In a way the book is a mystery: A family tragedy takes place and impacts everyone left in the family. Beautifully and movingly written.
Nick Royal, Santa Cruz, Calif.

Right now I'm reading Reality: The Novel by stand-up comic Jeff Havens. Not only is the book a hilarious satire of reality TV, but it really exposes the absurd vices of American pop culture.
Laura Schroeder, Chicago

I came late to Neil Simon's 1996 memoir Rewrites. Once started, I couldn't put it down. The book is crammed with theater stories and personalities – and humor! Simon tore my heart out with his reminiscences of his life with his first wife, Joan, who died in 1973. I didn't want the book – or the love story – to end.
Art Scott, Flagstaff, Ariz.

What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe .

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