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Robert Kolker’s Recommended Reading List

Robert Kolker’s Recommended Reading List – 2021
Shared during a One Book — One Lincoln author discussion on Zoom, October 26, 2021
Robert Kolker — Author (Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family; Lost Girls; and more…)

On Tuesday, October 26, 2021, a One Book — One Lincoln event took place online via Zoom meeting software — a discussion with Robert Kolker, the author of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, the winning title selected by popular public vote for the 2021 One Book — One Lincoln community reading project. During the hour-long discussion, Kolker was prompted for his own reading recommendations, and he provided the following five titles.

View the video interview on YouTube (coming soon)

East of Eden
by John Steinbeck (1952) (Steinbeck)

In his journal, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck called East of Eden “the first book,” and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families — the Trasks and the Hamiltons — whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

The masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. Adapted for the 1955 film directed by Elia Kazan introducing James Dean, and read by thousands as the book that brought Oprah’s Book Club back, East of Eden has remained vitally present in American culture for over half a century.


Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx
by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)

This New York Times bestseller intimately depicts urban life in a gripping book that slips behind cold statistics and sensationalism to reveal the true sagas lurking behind the headlines of gangsta glamour.

In her extraordinary bestseller, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immerses readers in the intricacies of the ghetto, revealing the true sagas lurking behind the headlines of gangsta glamour, gold-drenched drug dealers, and street-corner society. Focusing on two romances — Jessica’s dizzying infatuation with a hugely successful young heroin dealer, Boy George, and Coco’s first love with Jessica’s little brother, Cesar — Random Family is the story of young people trying to outrun their destinies. Jessica and Boy George ride the wild adventure between riches and ruin, while Coco and Cesar stick closer to the street, all four caught in a precarious dance between survival and death. Friends get murdered; the DEA and FBI investigate Boy George; Cesar becomes a fugitive; Jessica and Coco endure homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and, throughout it all, the insidious damage of poverty.

Charting the tumultuous cycle of the generations — as girls become mothers, boys become criminals, and hope struggles against deprivation — LeBlanc slips behind the cold statistics and sensationalism and comes back with a riveting, haunting, and true story.

(not currently in the Lincoln City Libraries’ collection — consider ordering it through our InterLibrary Loan service!)


Moneyball
by Michael Lewis (2003) (796.357 Lew / YA (Non-Fiction) Lewis)

Moneyball is a quest for the secret of success in baseball. Following the low-budget Oakland Athletics, their larger-than-life general manger, Billy Beane, and the strange brotherhood of amateur baseball enthusiasts, Michael Lewis has written not only “the single most influential baseball book ever” (Rob Neyer, Slate) but also what “may be the best book ever written on business” (Weekly Standard).

I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story. The story concerned a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. But the idea for the book came well before I had good reason to write it — before I had a story to fall in love with. It began, really, with an innocent question: how did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland Athletics, win so many games?

With these words Michael Lewis launches us into the funniest, smartest, and most contrarian book since, well, since Liar’s Poker. Moneyball is a quest for something as elusive as the Holy Grail, something that money apparently can’t buy: the secret of success in baseball. The logical places to look would be the front offices of major league teams, and the dugouts, perhaps even in the minds of the players themselves. Lewis mines all these possibilities — his intimate and original portraits of big league ballplayers are alone worth the price of admission — but the real jackpot is a cache of numbers — numbers! — collected over the years by a strange brotherhood of amateur baseball enthusiasts: software engineers, statisticians, Wall Street analysts, lawyers and physics professors.

What these geek numbers show — no, prove — is that the traditional yardsticks of success for players and teams are fatally flawed. Even the box score misleads us by ignoring the crucial importance of the humble base-on-balls. This information has been around for years, and nobody inside Major League Baseball paid it any mind. And then came Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics.

Billy paid attention to those numbers — with the second lowest payroll in baseball at his disposal he had to — and this book records his astonishing experiment in finding and fielding a team that nobody else wanted. Moneyball is a roller coaster ride: before the 2002 season opens, Oakland must relinquish its three most prominent (and expensive) players, is written off by just about everyone, and then comes roaring back to challenge the American League record for consecutive wins.

In a narrative full of fabulous characters and brilliant excursions into the unexpected, Michael Lewis shows us how and why the new baseball knowledge works. He also sets up a sly and hilarious morality tale: Big Money, like Goliath, is always supposed to win…how can we not cheer for David?


There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America
by Alex Kotlowitz (1991) (307.76 Kot)

This national best-seller chronicles the true story of two brothers coming of age in the Henry Horner public housing project in Chicago over a two-year period. Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers are eleven and nine years old when the story begins in the summer of 1987. Living with their mother and six siblings, they struggle to survive gun battles, gang influences, overzealous police officers, and overburdened and mismanaged bureaucracies.

Through extensive research, Kotlowitz brings us this classic rendering of growing up in the ‘jects’, selected by the New York Public Library as one of the 150 most important books of the twentieth century.


Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
by Katherine Boo (2011) (954.053 Boo)

In this breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport.

As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. 

With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds — and into the hearts of families impossible to forget. 


Added to BookGuide in October 2021 | CL/Robert Kolker