The third installment in our 50 Books / HT50 project features books from the first half of the 1990s, a period that saw the opening of the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, a record-breaking blizzard in East Tennessee, and the election of a Tennessean, Al Gore, to the vice presidency.
Speaking of Al Gore, he’s one of the five authors on this list, joining a pathbreaking Black journalist, an astrophysicist turned novelist, an acclaimed chronicler of American music, and a writer who devoted his career to the politics and culture of the South.
Learn more about the 50 Books / HT50 project here, and go here to see all the project posts to date.
Breaking Barriers: A Memoir by Carl T. Rowan, who was born in Ravenscroft, Tennessee and raised in McMinnville. Rowan was a journalist, author, and nationally syndicated opinion columnist. He also served in the State Department during the Kennedy administration and directed the United States Information Agency during the Johnson administration. (Little, Brown and Comoany., 1991)
Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit by Al Gore Jr., the son of U.S. Senator Al Gore Sr. with family roots in Carthage, Tennessee. The younger Gore, who turned to politics after a brief stint as a journalist, was Tennessee’s junior senator when Earth in the Balance was published in June 1992, and he would be elected vice president later that same year. (Houghton Mifflin, 1992)
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, who was born and raised in Memphis. Lightman is a physicist as well as a writer and published Einstein’s Dreams, his debut novel, when he was in his mid-40s. The book, an international bestseller, has been the basis of numerous stage and musical adaptations. (Pantheon Books, 1993)
Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick. This first volume of Guralnick’s two-part biography of the iconic singer covers Elvis’ life until age 24, when he was at the peak of his early stardom. (Little, Brown and Company, 1994) The second book, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, was published in 1999.
Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South by John Egerton, a Georgia-born, Kentucky-raised journalist and historian who spent much of his life in Nashville, where he died in 2013. The book explores the little-known history of the struggle for civil rights in the South prior to 1954. (Knopf, 1994)
"If Mr. Rowan's anecdotally rich memoir is self-serving, so be it. Although there is hardly a scene where he does not give himself either the last word or the best line, that's all right, because the interests of a whole spectrum of readers are well served, too — from subway riders looking for a quick read to serious students of contemporary American culture, who will treasure his vignettes for what they reveal about the state of race relations in this country during a half-century of convulsive change." ~ Roy Larson in The New York Times, January 20, 1991
"No longer content to flaunt his command of information, and impatient with quick-fix solutions, Gore writes compellingly about the complex roots of the environmental crisis in economics, psychology, philosophy, and religion. Needless to say, environmentalists weary of specious jobs-versus-owls debates are ecstatic that an ecologically literate politician is making the fundamental link between our economic and environmental security." ~ Susan Reed in Entertainment Weekly, August 7, 1992
"By turns whimsical and meditative, playful and provocative, 'Einstein's Dreams' pulls the reader into a dream world like a powerful magnet. As in Calvino's work, the fantastical elements of the stories are grounded in precise, crystalline prose. As in Jorge Luis Borges's ficciones, carefully observed particulars open out, like doors in an advent calendar, to disclose a magical, metaphysical realm beyond. In moving from science writing to fiction, Mr. Lightman has made an enchanting, delightful debut." ~ Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, January 5, 1993
"Guralnick perfectly captures Elvis's mixture of naivete and shrewdness. ... This volume ends in 1958, when Elvis was inducted into the Army and his beloved mother died. The year marked the end of a youthful innocence and the beginning of a long and sorry decline. A serious, musically literate, and historically attuned biography. An American epic that belongs on every bookshelf."
~ Kirkus Reviews, October 3, 1994
"Make room on your library shelf — the one that holds books like W. J. Cash's "Mind of the South," Lillian Smith's "Killers of the Dream" and Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters" — for John Egerton's magnificent 'Speak Now Against the Day.' His book is a stunning achievement: a sprawling, engrossing, deeply moving account of those Southerners, black and white, who raised their voices to challenge the South's racial mores during the years from 1932 to 1954 when the brackish currents of Jim Crow were running at flood tide. ~ Charles Dew in The New York Times, March 19, 1995
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Tagged: 50 Books / HT50, Features