On Point Staff's Favorite Books Of 2014

It's that time again, friends: the end of a calendar year, and the beginning of the 'end of year' book lists web-wide. We here at On Point Radio are no different — see our Friday, December 5 program on just that topic — but we also have our own collection of great books from the past year lining all of our bookshelves (and in some cases, desks). See some of our favorite books this year here, and add to your own book piles before 2015 comes around the corner.
-- The On Point Staff

We think of the Jimmy Carter who titled his autobiography “Why Not the Best?” as a self-confident man, but who knew he was a great one? That is the Jimmy Carter Lawrence Wright presents in “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David,” a moving, often thrilling account of Carter’s personal triumph—the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the only U. S. success in 40 years of Mideast diplomacy. It was the eleventh day of President Carter’s marathon between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. Sadat had just announced that he was abandoning the talks. “[Carter] was angrier than he had ever been in his life. It came rushing in on him that Sadat had deceived him.” Carter found him at his cabin; his luggage was on the porch.“I understand you’re leaving,” Carter said flatly. “Yes,” Sadat said defiantly. “Have you really thought about what this means?” Carter asked… “Then let me tell you. It will mean first of all an end to the relationship between the United States and Egypt. There is no way we can ever explain this to our people. It would mean an end to this peacekeeping effort, into which I have put so much investment. It would probably mean the end of my presidency because this whole effort will be discredited. And last but not least, it will mean the end of something that is very precious to me: my friendship with you. Why are you doing this?” That personal appeal, buttressed with a diplomatic concession, swayed Sadat: “… I will stick with you to the end.”At the eleventh hour, just ahead of the White House signing ceremony, Begin threw in the towel. “The prime minister was sitting on the porch…obviously distraught because of the failure of the talks. When Carter appeared, Begin was cool and distant.” Begin had asked Carter for some of the photos taken by the White House photographer over the past thirteen days. “Mr. Prime Minister, I brought you the photographs you asked for,” Carter said. “Thank you, Mr. President.” Carter handed Begin the photographs and the prime minister coolly thanked him again. Then he noticed that Carter had signed the top photograph, “”To Ayelet.” Begin froze. He looked at the next one. “To Osnat.” His lip trembled and tears suddenly sprang into his eyes. One by one, he said their names aloud, weeping openly. “Orit.” “Meirav.” “Michal.” There were eight of them altogether. Carter also broke down. “I wanted to be able to say, ‘This is when your grandfather and I brought peace to the Middle East,’” he said. The scale of their failure had never been more evident.” “[D]esolate and hopeless,” Carter walked back to his cabin. Sadat was waiting for him, dressed for the  ceremony. “Carter had to break the news…that Begin was not going to sign.”  Just then the phone rang. “I will accept the letter you have drafted on Jerusalem,” Begin said. He would sign. Edward Gibbon tells a story about the Capitoline geese. Under cover of darkness the barbarians are approaching the legion camp on the Capitoline Hill when the flock of geese kept at the Temple of Jupiter honks the alarm. The sleeping guard awakes. The legion stirs. The barbarians are defeated. The geese saved Rome, Gibbon writes, “not because they were they, but because they were there.” Jimmy Carter saved the peace between Egypt and Israel because he was he. Lawrence Wright shows that it would not have happened without his sensitive leadership. -- Jack Beatty

I read "Nora Webster" by Irish writer Colm Toibin at a very busy time this fall when my children were just starting up school again.  Nora’s husband dies and she must find a new path for herself and her two sons.  It’s a beautifully quiet book. Not a page-turner, about a woman coming into her own, struggling with parenthood, bumbling but also succeeding to find a new path.  She takes up singing and finds joy in it and in classical music.  The language is impeccable.  Her solidness admirable.  I loved stepping back from the chaos of my life into the unembellished steadfastness of hers. -- Julie Diop

A lot of my daily reading is spent with my almost 2-year-old with old classics like “The Runaway Bunny” and “Make Way for Ducklings” and new classics like “The Pout Pout Fish” and “Little Blue Truck”.  Novelty is not always easy to work into the rotation, but the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems are always a good bet.   This year’s new release “Waiting is Not Easy!” is a charming take on a topic that will resonate with both kids and parents.  Piggie has a surprise.  Gerald needs to wait.  It’s hard.  Really hard.  But in the end it’s worth it.   It’s more fun if you read it to a little person, but the ending is so wonderful it’s worth checking out, even if you don’t. — Eileen Imada

The never-ending game of politics is messy in America, as it is everywhere. But political gamesmanship and struggle of an entirely different time and place was made especially real for me this year in Frederick Brown's masterful and elegant "The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914 - 1940." France in heady early days of the 20th Century seemed like a place where political change and social upheaval could make a positive difference in the lives of ordinary people. The next 40 years showed that possibility to be a distant one, and Brown's rich research and expert tone details how all that came to be. I'll admit: I'm a history nerd with specific interests, but this wonderful and surprising book works for people who aren't just me. Trust me on that one. — Nick Andersen

Amy Poehler’s memoir, “Yes Please,” was by far my favorite book of 2014. It’s Amy Poehler in book form and had me laughing-out-loud on many lonely train rides. She writes about her early days in a college comedy group, her starving-artist days in Chicago, her eventual rise to "Saturday Night Live," and her move to the sitcom Parks and Recreation. Reading “Yes Please” was like getting invited to a party at Tina Fey’s house, hosted by Seth Meyers while Nick Offerman is on his way with the chips – an inside look into their exclusive comedy friendship club. It’s mostly, but not all, laughs. “Yes Please” is about family, making mistakes, feminism, and being really, really funny (and some other stuff too). — Abigal Collins


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