April’s Simply Held Nonfiction Picks

Have you joined Simply Held? If not, you’re missing out! Ten different nonfiction titles are chosen four times a year by our librarians and automatically placed on hold for you. Those selections come from the following categories: biography, body mind spirit, cookbook, explore your world, poetry, self-help, social justice, strength through struggle, theologies, and true crime. Join Simply Held to have any of the new nonfiction picks automatically put on hold for you four times a year.

Biography pick

Untold Power: The Fascinating Rise and Complex Legacy of First Lady Edith Wilson by Rebecca Boggs Roberts

A nuanced portrait of the first acting woman president, written with fresh and cinematic verve by a leading historian on women’s suffrage and power

While this nation has yet to elect its first woman president—and though history has downplayed her role—just over a century ago a woman became the nation’s first acting president. In fact, she was born in 1872, and her name was Edith Bolling Galt Wilson. She climbed her way out of Appalachian poverty and into the highest echelons of American power and in 1919 effectively acted as the first woman president of the U.S. (before women could even vote nationwide) when her husband, Woodrow Wilson, was incapacitated. Beautiful, brilliant, charismatic, catty, and calculating, she was a complicated figure whose personal quest for influence reshaped the position of First Lady into one of political prominence forever. And still nobody truly understands who she was.

For the first time, we have a biography that takes an unflinching look at the woman whose ascent mirrors that of many powerful American women before and since, one full of the compromises and complicities women have undertaken throughout time in order to find security for themselves and make their mark on history. She was a shape-shifter who was obsessed with crafting her own reputation, at once deeply invested in exercising her own power while also opposing women’s suffrage. With narrative verve and fresh eyes, Untold Power is a richly overdue examination of one of American history’s most influential, complicated women as well as the surprising and often absurd realities of American politics.

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Body, Mind, Spirit pick

After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Live and Beyond by Bruce Greyson, MD

The world’s leading expert on near-death experiences reveals his journey toward rethinking the nature of death, life, and the continuity of consciousness.

Cases of remarkable experiences on the threshold of death have been reported since ancient times, and are described today by 10% of people whose hearts stop. The medical world has generally ignored these “near-death experiences,” dismissing them as “tricks of the brain” or wishful thinking. But after his patients started describing events that he could not just sweep under the rug, Dr. Bruce Greyson began to investigate.

As a physician without a religious belief system, he approached near-death experiences from a scientific perspective. In After, he shares the transformative lessons he has learned over four decades of research. Our culture has tended to view dying as the end of our consciousness, the end of our existence—a dreaded prospect that for many people evokes fear and anxiety.

But Dr. Greyson shows how scientific revelations about the dying process can support an alternative theory. Dying could be the threshold between one form of consciousness and another, not an ending but a transition. This new perspective on the nature of death can transform the fear of dying that pervades our culture into a healthy view of it as one more milestone in the course of our lives. After challenges us to open our minds to these experiences and to what they can teach us, and in so doing, expand our understanding of consciousness and of what it means to be human.

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Cookbook Pick

6 Spices 60 Dishes: Indian Recipes that are simple, fresh, and big on taste by Ruta Kahate; photographs by Ghazalle Badiozamani

A collection of 60 Indian recipes that are fresh and healthy, easy to prepare, and full of flavor.

Using just six spices—cayenne, coriander, cumin, turmeric, mustard seed, and asafetida—chef Ruta Kahate presents 60 delicious recipes that are easy to prepare and deliver rich, complex flavor. These dishes—including tons of nourishing veggies, raitas, grains, and dals—are fresh, healthy, and versatile enough to mix and match, plus they feature Instant Pot variations for maximum ease.

Serve up a quick lunch of Mustard Shrimp alongside a cool lettuce and citrus salad. Short on time after a busy day? Instant Pot your supper with a comforting Coconut Beef Stew. Prep a double batch of Parsi-Style Rajma on Sunday and enjoy it throughout the week—the flavors only get better over time.

With stories from Ruta Kahate’s culinary life around the world, plus vibrant, colorful photography that reflects the lively recipes within, 6 SPICES, 60 DISHES is a must-have for anyone who wants super-tasty, healthy meals that come together in a flash.

EXPERT AUTHOR: Ruta Kahate was a teaching cook for many years in the Bay Area before moving to Goa. She is adept at explaining step-process cooking to amateur home cooks, and her recipes are clearly written and well tested, coming out perfect every time.

AUTHENTIC RECIPES: Ruta Kahate was born and raised in India, and has since lived in California, Hong Kong, Goa, and Wisconsin. Her food is authentic and healthy, drawing on the Ayurvedic principles she lives by and her experience living in India and abroad.

Perfect for:

Home cooks of all levels
Anyone looking to expand their weeknight cooking repertoire
Busy people who need easy recipes but still want them to taste good
People who love Indian food
People who bought books like INDIANISH, MADE IN INDIA, and 5 SPICES, 50 DISHES

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Explore Your World pick

Looking Up: The True Adventures of a Storm-Chasing Weather Nerd by Matthew Cappucci

An energetic and electrifying narrative about all things weather—by one of today’s rising meteorological stars.

Get in—we’re going storm-chasing!

Imagine a very cool weather nerd has just pulled up to you and yelled this out the window of his custom-built armored storm-chasing truck. The wind is whipping around, he’s munching on Wawa, it’s all very chaotic—yet as you look into his grinning face, you feel the greatest surge of adrenaline you have ever felt in your life. Hallelujah: your cavalry is here!

Welcome to the brilliance of Looking Up, the lively new book from rising meterology star Matthew Cappucci. He’s a meteorologist for The Washington Post, and you might think of him as Doogie Howser meets Bill Paxton from Twister, with a dash of Leonardo DiCaprio from Catch Me If You Can. A self-proclaimed weather nerd, at the age of fourteen he talked his way into delivering a presentation on waterspouts at the American Meteorological Society’s annual broadcast conference by fudging his age on the application and created his own major on weather science while an undergrad at Harvard.

Combining reportage and accessible science with personal storytelling and infectious enthusiasm, Looking Up is a riveting ride through the state of our weather and a touching story about parents and mentors helping a budding scientist achieve his improbable dreams. Throughout, readers get a tutorial on the basics of weather science and the impact of the climate.

As our country’s leaders sound the alarm on climate change, few people have as close a view to how serious the situation actually is than those whose job is to follow the weather, which is the daily dose of climate we interact with and experience every day.

The weather affects every aspect of our lives (even our art) as well as our future. The way we think about it requires a whole-life overhaul. Rain or shine, tropical storm or twister, Cappucci is here to help us begin the process.

So get in his storm-chasing truck already, will ya?

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Poetry pick

Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds, artwork by Jason Griffin

Jason Reynolds and his best bud, Jason Griffin, had a mind-meld. And they decided to tackle it, in one fell swoop, in about ten sentences, and 300 pages of art, this piece, this contemplation-manifesto-fierce-vulnerable-gorgeous-terrifying-WhatIsWrongWithHumans-hope-filled-hopeful-searing-Eye-Poppingly-Illustrated-tender-heartbreaking-how-The-HECK-did-They-Come-UP-with-This project about oxygen. And all of the symbolism attached to that word, especially NOW.

And so for anyone who didn’t really know what it means to not be able to breathe, REALLY breathe, for generations, now you know. And those who already do, you’ll be nodding yep yep, that is exactly how it is.

This title is available in the following formats:

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Self-Help pick

The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness by Robert Waldinger, MD and Marc Shulz, PhD

What makes for a happy life, a fulfilling life? A good life? According to the directors of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest scientific study of happiness ever conducted, the answer to these questions may be closer than you realize.

What makes a life fulfilling and meaningful? The simple but surprising answer is: relationships. The stronger our relationships, the more likely we are to live happy, satisfying, and overall healthier lives. In fact, the Harvard Study of Adult Development reveals that the strength of our connections with others can predict the health of both our bodies and our brains as we go through life.

The invaluable insights in this book emerge from the revealing personal stories of hundreds of participants in the Harvard Study as they were followed year after year for their entire adult lives, and this wisdom is bolstered by research findings from this and many other studies. Relationships in all their forms—friendships, romantic partnerships, families, coworkers, tennis partners, book club members, Bible study groups—all contribute to a happier, healthier life. And as The Good Life shows us, it’s never too late to strengthen the relationships you have, and never too late to build new ones.

Dr. Waldinger’s TED Talk about the Harvard Study, “What Makes a Good Life,” has been viewed more than 42 million times and is one of the ten most-watched TED talks ever. The Good Life has been praised by bestselling authors Jay Shetty (“Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz lead us on an empowering quest towards our greatest need: meaningful human connection”), Angela Duckworth (“In a crowded field of life advice and even life advice based on scientific research, Schulz and Waldinger stand apart”), and happiness expert Laurie Santos (“Waldinger and Schulz are world experts on the counterintuitive things that make life meaningful”).

With warmth, wisdom, and compelling life stories, The Good Life shows us how we can make our lives happier and more meaningful through our connections to others.

This title is also available in the following format:

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Social Justice pick

A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for my Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till by Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr and Christopher Benson

In 1955, Emmett Till was lynched when he was fourteen years old. That remains an undisputed fact of the case that ignited a flame within the Civil Rights Movement that has yet to be extinguished. Yet the rest of the details surrounding the event remain distorted by time and too many tellings. What does justice mean in the resolution of a cold case spanning nearly seven decades? In A Few Days Full of Trouble, this question drives a new perspective on the story of Emmett Till, relayed by his cousin and best friend—the Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., a survivor of the night of terror when young Emmett was taken from his family’s rural Mississippi Delta home in the dead of night.

In a hypnotic interplay between uncovered facts and vivid recall, Rev. Parker offers an emotional and suspenseful page-turner, set against a backdrop of reporting errors and manipulations, racial reckoning, and political pushback—and he does so accompanied by never-before-seen findings in the investigation, the soft resurrection of memory, and the battle-tested courage of faith. A Few Days Full of Trouble is a powerful work of truth-telling, a gift to readers looking to reconcile the weight of the past with a hope for the future.

This book is also available in the following format:

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Strength Through Struggle pick

Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation by Hannah Gadsby

“There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself,” Hannah Gadsby declared in their show Nanette, a scorching critique of the way society conducts public debates about marginalized communities. When it premiered on Netflix, it left audiences captivated by their blistering honesty and their singular ability to take viewers from rolling laughter to devastated silence. Ten Steps to Nanette continues Gadsby’s tradition of confounding expectations and norms, properly introducing us to one of the most explosive, formative voices of our time.

Gadsby grew up as the youngest of five children in an isolated town in Tasmania, where homosexuality was illegal until 1997. They perceived their childhood as safe and “normal,” but as they gained an awareness of their burgeoning queerness, the outside world began to undermine the “vulnerably thin veneer” of their existence. After moving to mainland Australia and receiving a degree in art history, Gadsby found themselves adrift, working itinerant jobs and enduring years of isolation punctuated by homophobic and sexual violence. At age twenty-seven, without a home or the ability to imagine their own future, they were urged by a friend to enter a stand-up competition. They won, and so began their career in comedy.

Gadsby became well known for their self-deprecating, autobiographical humor that made them the butt of their own jokes. But in 2015, as Australia debated the legality of same-sex marriage, Gadsby started to question this mode of storytelling, beginning work on a show that would become “the most-talked-about, written-about, shared-about comedy act in years” (The New York Times).

Harrowing and hilarious, Ten Steps to Nanette traces Gadsby’s growth as a queer person, to their ever-evolving relationship with comedy, and their struggle with late-in-life diagnoses of autism and ADHD, finally arriving at the backbone of Nanette: the renouncement of self-deprecation, the rejection of misogyny, and the moral significance of truth-telling.

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Theologies pick

Uncultured: A Memoir by Daniella Mestyanek Young with Brandi Larsen

Behind the tall, foreboding gates of a commune in Brazil, Daniella Mestyanek Young was raised in the religious cult The Children of God, also known as The Family, as the daughter of high-ranking members. Her great-grandmother donated land for one of The Family’s first communes in Texas. Her mother, at thirteen, was forced to marry the leader and served as his secretary for many years. Beholden to The Family’s strict rules, Daniella suffers physical, emotional, and sexual abuse—masked as godly discipline and divine love—and is forbidden from getting a traditional education.

At fifteen years old, fed up with The Family and determined to build a better and freer life for herself, Daniella escapes to Texas. There, she bravely enrolls herself in high school and excels, later graduating as valedictorian of her college class, then electing to join the military to begin a career as an intelligence officer, where she believes she will finally belong.

But she soon learns that her new world—surrounded by men on the sands of Afghanistan—looks remarkably similar to the one she desperately tried to leave behind.

Told in a beautiful, propulsive voice and with clear-eyed honesty, Uncultured explores the dangers unleashed when harmful group mentality goes unrecognized, and is emblematic of the many ways women have to contort themselves to survive.

This title is also available in the following format:

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True Crime pick

Who Killed Jane Stanford?: A Gilded Age Tale of Murder, Deceit, Spirits and the Birth of a University by Richard White

A premier historian penetrates the fog of corruption and cover-up still surrounding the murder of a Stanford University founder to establish who did it, how, and why.

In 1885 Jane and Leland Stanford cofounded a university to honor their recently deceased young son. After her husband’s death in 1893, Jane Stanford, a devoted spiritualist who expected the university to inculcate her values, steered Stanford into eccentricity and public controversy for more than a decade. In 1905 she was murdered in Hawaii, a victim, according to the Honolulu coroner’s jury, of strychnine poisoning. With her vast fortune the university’s lifeline, the Stanford president and his allies quickly sought to foreclose challenges to her bequests by constructing a story of death by natural causes. The cover-up gained traction in the murky labyrinths of power, wealth, and corruption of Gilded Age San Francisco. The murderer walked.

Deftly sifting the scattered evidence and conflicting stories of suspects and witnesses, Richard White gives us the first full account of Jane Stanford’s murder and its cover-up. Against a backdrop of the city’s machine politics, rogue policing, tong wars, and heated newspaper rivalries, White’s search for the murderer draws us into Jane Stanford’s imperious household and the academic enmities of the university. Although Stanford officials claimed that no one could have wanted to murder Jane, we meet several people who had the motives and the opportunity to do so. One of these, we discover, also had the means.

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