Local Author Spotlight

Our community is home to a large number of outstanding authors. To celebrate them, we will offer – every two months – an introduction to a different children's or adult author who resides in one of the four towns in our school district and who has published a new book within the past year. The selection shall be made by a vote of our librarians. Happy reading!

Authors previously spotlighted in this series include: Aaron Becker, Charles Mann, Holly Black, Lewis Mainzer, Nicole Blum & Catherine Newman, Michael Ponsor, David Hyde Costello, William Taubman, Rich Michelson, Madeleine Blais, and Cammie McGovern
See More Books by Local Authors!
March – April 2019

Bruce Watson


How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

After I had written four unpublished novels, Amherst revived my writing when I moved here in 1988. First, we lived in a little room near the university, within walking distance of the many bookstores downtown back then. Next, my future wife saw that the Amherst Bulletin was seeking columnists. I sent in a column and was soon hired to do a weekly. A UMass class on freelance writing taught me to write a query and pitch ideas and I was soon writing for Smithsonian. I suppose being near Emily D had something to do with it, too.
Local Author Spotlight - Bruce Watson - Photo Credit - Greenfield Recorder
What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

You’ll think I’m “just saying this” but the Jones Library is my local literary Mecca. When I became a freelancer, I worked most days in the Jones. I still go once a week and write downstairs, surrounded by all those books.

Do you have a favorite book that is set in or is about the Pioneer Valley or New England?

Walden. ‘Nuff said.

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

I am usually listening to one book on my phone (while walking) and reading one or two in print. At the moment, I have hit the Daily Double. I’m listening to Their Eyes Were Watching God, as read (performed really) by Ruby Dee. Simply an amazing book with a stunning performance. And I’m reading A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul, which is a grim but masterfully told tale of a poverty-stricken life in Trinidad.

What was your favorite book growing up?

The first and only book I could not put down was The Phantom Tollbooth. I’m still amazed to have come to Amherst and met its author, longtime resident Norton Juster.

Do you have a website for your books which you would like us to share?

The books' website is brucewatsonwriter.com but I put far more energy and writing into theattic.space, which is my weekly magazine of short articles (100+ and counting) in hopes of finding “a kinder, cooler America.”

Recent Books by Bruce

  (see all his books)

Bruce's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

"The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky — because it explores the human psyche — good and evil — better than any other book

White Noise by Don DeLillo — because it nailed the inanity of American pop culture

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac — because On the Road is mostly a soap opera. THIS is what it’s like to be young, free, and on the road

These Truths: A History of the United States (or just about anything) by Jill Lepore. Because she’s the fairest, the most inquisitive, and the most readable historian working today.

The King Years by Taylor Branch — this is an abridgment of Branch’s three-volume MLK bio which gives vivid descriptions of the key moments from the Civil Rights Movement."

January – February 2019

Aaron Becker


What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

The Montague Bookmill is my go-to escape. No matter the season, it’s always inspiring and the burger at the Alvah Stone is hard to beat.

Why did you write your new book?

A Stone for Sascha was written after my family and I came back from living in Granada, Spain, for the year. I was trying to get a handle on civilizations, time, culture — all that good stuff, and somehow came into this tale of a girl and her dog. There’s also a stone in it. Promise.

Learn more about Aaron Becker and his books at www.storybreathing.com.
Aaron Becker

Recent Books by Aaron

  (see all his books)

Aaron's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

I’ve recently become a big fan of all things Adam Gidwitz, especially his Inquisitor’s Tale. He has a gift for narrative voice and crafting surprising and entertaining children’s literature.

Anything illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Her Jane, the Fox, and Me is a masterpiece of visual storytelling, and her picture book Virginia Wolf (by Kyo Maclear) is a favorite in our house too.

Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho series is hysterical but smart without the dumbed-down humor of so many of the more popular chapter books out there today. Great for 1st-3rd graders (and their parents).

The illustrator of Alvin Ho, LeUyen Pham, is also famous for illustrating Shannon Hale’s Princess in Black series. That’s a great one too, but for something for a bit older audience (4th-7th graders), Shannon’s new Real Friends (also illustrated by Pham) is hard to beat.

November – December 2018

Charles Mann


How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

This is going to sound like I'm apple-polishing, but it's true. The biggest effect that Amherst has on my writing is that the area has a whole bunch of good libraries, the Jones among them. The resources here are tremendous, and far easier to use than, say, the New York Public Library, amazing as that place is. I used to live in New York City. There's something about the ease of living here — not to mention the clean air and beautiful seasons — that seems to make me more productive than I was there.

What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

When I get tired of pushing pixels around the screen I take my dog on the trails near my house. When I want to work someplace different, I usually head to Amherst Coffee.
Charles Mann - Photo by Michael Lionstar
Do you have a special library memory or story?

My great-grandfather was a trustee of the Boston Public Library. According to my grandfather, trustees got to have a basket by the front door where they could leave their borrowed books. Somebody from the library would come by once a week to pick them up. My grandfather said that this was the origin of his lifelong habit of leaving library books by the front door and forgetting to return them. My father got the habit from his father. You see where this is going. I'm doing the best that I can to shake this hereditary curse.

Why did you write your new book?

When my daughter was born, it suddenly occurred to me that when she was my age, there would be ten billion people on Earth. I thought, how is that going to work? I'm a science journalist. I began asking questions to researchers. The Wizard and the Prophet represents my best attempt to lay out how researchers think about the future. I hoped it would be a book that people her age could read in school, explaining the situations they will face — but not telling them what to do.

Recent Books by Charles

  (see all his books)

Charles's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

The first book that I read as a young person that I recognized as having the vibrations of contemporary life, even though it is set in the past.
Cousine Bette
by Honore de Balzac

This book, about the cataclysmic consequences of doing good, was my introduction to irony.
The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton

The first book that made me understand how social rules can crush individuals. Chilling and remorseless.
Truth and Method
by Hans-Georg Gadamer

A book that powerfully influenced how I think about writing.
Ecological Imperialism
by Alfred Crosby

A book that inspired several of my books. And I'm not the only writer in Crosby's debt.
The Flamethrowers
by Rachel Kushner

A book, like Pynchon's in the 1970s, that spoke to me powerfully of life today, even though it, too, is set in the past.

September – October 2018

Holly Black


How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

Before living in Amherst, I never lived near other writers, but here I have a wonderful community of literary friends to share in my struggles. I meet up almost every day with Kelly Link and Cassandra Clare and I am so lucky to have them to read my works in progress and to commiserate with about our strange job.

What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

I love swimming in Puffer’s Pond. I grew up near the ocean, so being able to swim out to the middle of a lake, with trees on all sides, is magical.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

I remember that in middle school, after reading Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, I spent a lot of time in the library, reading vampire (and werewolf, and faerie) folklore. It was a great time!
Holly Black Photo with credit
Is there a member of this community who has been instrumental to your writing?

I am lucky that in addition to the writers with whom I work pretty much every day, my long-time collaborator on Spiderwick, Tony DiTerlizzi, also lives locally. And just outside of Amherst are Jane Yolen, Mo Willems, Grace Lin and so many other wonderful writers and illustrators. That community is really significant to me — something I always dreamed of having and am immensely grateful for.

Why did you write your new book?

I had the idea to write what is sort of a reverse changeling story — a mortal girl finds herself growing up in Faerie, being raised by the murderer of her parents, who is also her sister’s father. And since Faerie is what she knows, she wants to make a place for herself there, although she’s thwarted by the youngest and worst of the princes of Elfhame. I was interested in Jude because I wanted to write about someone with an upbringing that made them good in a ridiculous spy-and-swordfight crisis, but not so great at being okay when nothing was going wrong. [NOTE: The Cruel Prince was published in January 2018 and is due out in paperback in December.]

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

Alex London’s Black Wings Beating

What was your favorite book growing up?

Probably Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles

Recent Books by Holly

  (see all her books)

Holly's Favorite Books

  (with her comments)

"Here are two, one young adult and one adult:

Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, which has such wonderful twists and turns and sets up the books that come after perfectly.

Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, a high fantasy without magic and with everything else that I like."

July – August 2018

Lewis Mainzer


What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

Actually I am still reading, and enjoying, Matthew Zapruder’s 2017 book, Why Poetry. It helps me to ask the right questions, maybe even to find an answer or two. He teaches that the purpose of poetry is to stir a poetic state of mind in a reader, and that poetry is language freed from all other purposes, such as story-telling or argument or political gain or factual description. Language freed from utility. What a noble purpose his is, to help the reader or writer to understand poetry, as we seek to find the truth buried in our language. For explanation, for advocacy, he says, prose has the advantage; for beauty, to explore the possibilities of language itself, we need poetry.

Why did you write your new book?

When I retired from UMass in 1997, I had begun work on a scholarly, theoretical book. I thought that this project was to be the core of my post-retirement writing. But I had been writing poetry for forty years or more, and I went back to my folders, became absorbed in the old poems, kept at work on new ones as inspiration visited me, and set aside the plan to do scholarly writing. No need now to prove each year that I had been a diligent, productive fellow, so poetry conquered prose, beauty outmuscled scholarship. My first poetry book was heavily dependent on poems written over the years. Thereafter I have published three more volumes, because I had accumulated enough poems each time so that it seemed the thing to do. I have not sought a single theme or other obvious unifying element for each book; if I am a wanderer as I write, so be it, and the books only claim to be footprints of the same author, who is free to go where he will, seeking neither fame nor fortune. I write poetry because that is my chosen, most rewarding activity when the spirit moves me.
Lewis Mainzer

Recent Books by Lewis

  (see all his books)

Lewis's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

Go ahead, call me a romantic. I fell in love with Elizabeth so thoroughly that I have published a love poem to my wife titled “Elizabeth Renounced,” which begins: “I will not leave you, even for Elizabeth Bennet.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt for the story to have a happy ending, just as I root for one in real life. And I assured my wife, at the poem’s ending, “Nothing less than death will tear me from your side.”
It is so damned hard to lead a good life and a happy one. Not all good times underneath the glitz of the jazz age, we see. If Fitzgerald had written only this and had not had a role, along with other greats, in a wonderful Woody Allen movie, his reputation would be secure in my keeping.
Another one that stirred me to poetic praise. We know that it is fiction, but he makes us believe, “till we wake with a start and confess it’s not true, it is but invention — oh! but the wonder of storying art.” I read slowly and forget quickly, so it’s hard to get on my list of fun-to-read greats, but I would take these three with me when I go.

May – June 2018

Nicole Blum & Catherine Newman

Interview with Nicole Blum

Why did you write your new book?

Writing Stitch Camp seemed like the logical outgrowth of my long friendship with Catherine and how that friendship has always been a super fun place for learning and sharing new skills — with each other and with our kids. We share the basic fundamental philosophy that it is deeply satisfying and indeed important to make things with your hands — and to do so without the worry of perfection or the insecurity of being a beginner. It is a “go for it” philosophy as skills will be accumulated through experimentation and, lucky for us, we both see great beauty in imperfection. We really hope that message came through alongside the detailed instructions.
What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

I recently finished a book that caught my eye on the return rack at the library while I was waiting to borrow books — The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today's America by Mark Sundeen. It was excellent. Mark Sundeen traces the search for a simpler life — one intentionally separated from a corporate and war based economy — by telling the stories of 3 very different couples forging unique and radical lives in America. The book is steeped in American social history and reflects on the lessons and examples of his subjects and other creative people who are seeking lives that look very little like those living in the mainstream of our society. The window in was deeply inspiring and made it much easier to imagine not just a better life but a better world. In addition to all of that, it was written so well — with humor and humbleness. I was trying to scheme ways to read during the work day.

Interview with Catherine Newman

What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

The Amherst Survival Center. Not for peace and quiet! Or relaxation. But definitely for inspiration. I’ve been serving lunch there weekly for five years, and I always leave feeling deeply soul-nourished by our community of guests and staff and volunteers. It makes me feel like I’m in love with the whole world.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

The library is special to me, period — from the old days when I sat around reading the fabulous Becoming the Parent You Want to Be while my babies read board books and played with the train set and contracted norovirus from stuffing the caboose into their mouths*, to these days, when I borrow upwards of ten trillion books a year. My daughter Birdy was in last week (she participates in your tutoring program), and when she went up to the circulation desk, they said, “Oh, we’ve got a book on hold for your mom.” She thought it was so funny that they recognized her as the kid of the person who checks out so many books. Thank goodness you're there to enable my extreme reading habit. (And I’m also grateful to Amherst Books for being such a warm and wonderful local resource for authors and readers.)

* Library note: ask us for a disinfecting wipe!

Recent Books by Nicole and/or Catherine

  (see all of Nicole's books; see all of Catherine's books)

Nicole's Favorite Books

  (with her comments)

Heroes of the Frontier
by Dave Eggers

I read this book last year and it is still on my mind – and in the part of my mind that is holding all of the stories and critiques of life in our current social landscape. This is the story of a mother who drops everything and heads out on a hapless road trip around Alaska with her two young children. A lot goes wrong, and she is a bit of a mess, but Eggers is clearly soul searching the middle-class American experience and through her struggles and spiritual awakening, there is a good shot of hopefulness the reader is left with – at least this reader was.
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein

This is probably one of the most eye opening and important books I have ever read. Thoroughly researched and with Klein’s very clear and thoughtful voice, the book exposes the “thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades” that led to the exploitation of the people most affected by them – Bush’s post 9/11 “War on Terror”, a tsunami in South East Asia, Hurricane Katrina, and more. It explains how neoliberal policy has been shaping (and failing) our society and is highly relevant today. I felt armed with knowledge that helped me better understand the “shock and awe” politics of disasters and how things are likely to play out after – including our most recent hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico. And, of course, the more we all know, the better prepared we are to demand better and see our role in the way we hope to see social change. I love Naomi Klein for her vision, but also for her encouragement to envision a world we want to live in and policies and commitments we should make that will help us achieve that.
The Star of Kazan
by Eva Ibbotson

My family has listened to this epic story no fewer than 3 times as an audiobook – starting when the kids were pretty young on roadtrips, but spanning into the teenage years. It is so beautifully written (and so well read by Patricia Connolly) that you will drive around a little extra to finish a chapter, if necessary. It is the story of a girl named Annika who was left as a baby in a mountainside church and discovered by two women who work as a cook and maid in the Vienna household of three eccentric professors. They live a good life that gets very complicated, very quickly. The story shows the ugly side of class, uplifts the value and satisfaction that comes with a strong work-ethic, and celebrates those who are most deeply kind and brave. It is great to listen to mostly because of the excellent names such as Edeltraut von Tanenberg, Bad Huchenfeld, and Spittal. The character development is magnificent, like with many of Ibbotson’s novels, and the story will leave you deeply satisfied.

Catherine's Favorite Books

  (with her comments)

This is one of my favorite novels of all time. It makes me laugh and cry and want to be a better person and read lines out loud to anyone who happens to be nearby — and those are all things I look for in a novel! So even though the book is about a woman trying to keep her sister from killing herself, it is almost magically uplifting. Plus it has this line: “just because someone is eating the ashes of your protagonist doesn't mean you stop telling the story.”
I picked this book up from (I’m confessing this) a feeling of obligation — “Here’s a book I should read!” — and then I was immediately ashamed because, of course, it was riveting and I couldn’t put it down. I loved it. It winched open my mind so that I could think deeper and differently about race, about being black in America.
This is a book of odd, melancholy illustrations that feels kind of random, and then turns out to be sneakily profound. Maira Kalman is heartbroken and filled with gratitude all the time — a stranger's earnest fur hat can bring her to tears — and her grief-filled joy is always pitch-perfect. I gave it to everyone for their birthday until it turned out I’d already actually given it to everyone already, and then I stopped.
A favorite from when our kids were little! A child and her father go out at night, in the deep winter woods near their farm, to see if they can spot any owls. And, towards the book’s end, they spot one. That’s it — but the wintery, realistic illustrations are so exquisitely moonlit and lovely, and the story is so profoundly quiet and reverent, that a deep feeling of peace has always descended over us each of the million times we’ve read it.
"When it's over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement" (from “When Death Comes”). I read Mary Oliver poems pretty much to get my soul flung open. I feel expanded by her loveliness and love, her open heart and clarity. And then it is very humbling to contract again, around my own smallness. She makes me try harder, be better, spend more time out of doors. Plus, you can reread the same poem a hundred times, and it’s never the same twice.

March – April 2018

Michael Ponsor


How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

My novels are set in Western Massachusetts, and my protagonist, David Norcross, lives in Amherst. The geography, the social diversity, the history, and the occasional sheer lunacy of this part of the planet provided the backdrop for my first two books, and inform the third, which I'm working on now. People often tell me that they can picture the locations where events in my stories take place, and they seem to enjoy that. There is great delight in crafting a plot unfolding in the landscape of one's home ground. Apart from familiar settings, the Amherst area provides a rich community of writers who are a great support and inspiration.

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

I just read Alice Munro's collection of short stories, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, and I was flattened. I had never read anything by her. She captures within a short story the moral power and complexity of a novel. Her ability to create an emotional universe with the lightest and most exact touches is astonishing. Her characters are sometimes heartbreaking, but their courage and poignance linger. I can't wait to read more of her work. Each story is like a brilliant writing tutorial.
Photo of Michael Ponsor
What was your favorite book growing up?

In the sixth grade, I fell in love with P.C. Wren's books about the French Foreign Legion, Beau Sabreur and especially Beau Geste. The high melodrama of the Geste brothers enchanted me, and Beau's death on the walls of Fort Zinderneuf had me crying buckets. The movie, with Gary Cooper as Beau, is pretty good but doesn't come close to the book.

Books by Michael

Michael's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf

No one has ever so exquisitely captured the emotional, physical, moral, and aesthetic content of a sequence of moments.

If a Martian came and asked me to explain why humans are so cruel to each other, I'd give him or her (or it) this book. Such a brilliant exploration of the pain we suffer because of our own yearning and delusion.

I'm usually not fond of post-modernist writing, but this book was so smart, touching, and funny.

His essay "Shooting an Elephant" brilliantly explores the unwieldy pressures on authority. Every judge needs to read it.

The comic world of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves can light up the gloomiest day.

January – February 2018

David Hyde Costello


What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

The bike path is the hands-down winner there. I notice this is becoming a popular answer in the author profiles, and I am not surprised. I am not great at sitting still and relaxing, so a place where I can be in motion and spend time with my thoughts in a quiet forest setting is ideal.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

At the moment my favorite library memory is discovering Beyoncé’s Lemonade album on the new CDs shelf at the Jones Library just this past fall. That was my first time hearing the album (which tells you something about my relationship to social media and popular culture — I’m an analog kind of guy trying to keep up in a digital world).

A more general answer is that libraries are my favorite venue for doing author/illustrator programs.

Photo of David Hyde Costello by Jeanne Birdsall
Is there a member of this community who has been instrumental to your work?

At one time David Milgrim, Jeff Mack, Aaron Becker and I would meet about once a month for a picture book writers’ critique group (till David Milgrim moved closer to Boston). Each of them is insightful in a different way about picture books, so there are any number of ways their comments — and just hanging out in that group and hearing what they had to say to each other — influenced my work. Here are two specific examples that are easy to point to. There’s a line in Little Pig Joins the Band where Little Pig asks if there are any piccolos among the musical instruments on hand, and his sister Sally tells him to look in the refrigerator. That joke was written by David Milgrim. So was the last line in that book: “You can call me Little Pig!”

Do you have a favorite book that is set in, or is about, the Pioneer Valley or New England?

That would have to be the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall.

Why did you write your new book?

One reason was that I was interested in making a book in which the problem was low-stakes in the grand scheme of things, but mattered a lot to the central character. The climactic crisis in Little Pig Saves the Ship is that the toy ship he and his grandfather made together might be lost in the current of the stream. In the big picture, the worst outcome wouldn’t really be that bad, but it mattered a lot to Little Pig. I was interested in the scale-model grand adventure that children experience with their toys.

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

Do audiobooks count? I listen to a lot of them in my studio — I’ve noticed that’s true of many illustrators — and in the car on long drives to the schools I visit. I recently enjoyed listening to The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, read by Patricia Connolly, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, read by LaVar Burton.

What was your favorite book growing up?

Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel

Recent Books by David

  (see all his books)

David's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

Frog and Toad All Year
by Arnold Lobel

"It’s still one of my favorites! And I can also appreciate it now from the point of view of craft. 'Christmas Eve,' the last story in the book is among the best seven pages in children’s literature."
The Birchbark House
by Louise Erdrich

"A recent discovery for me. How can I describe my love for this book? I bought a stack of copies so that I could give one to anyone I know who hasn’t read it yet. Want one?"
The Arrival
by Shaun Tan

"I don’t know a better example of the marriage of form and content."
Guns, Germs, and Steel
by Jared Diamond

"Well-reasoned, logical, and rational, but also imaginative. It asks the question, 'Why is the world the way it is?'"
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

"What could be better on a rainy day?"

November – December 2017

William Taubman


How does living in the Amherst area affect your writing?

Although Amherst is a wonderful place to live and write, it is Amherst College that has had the greatest impact on my writing. It has allowed me to teach what I want when I want to, to write at a pace that suits my projects rather than to produce publications according to some rigid schedule, and to let me test my ideas out on talented undergraduates who approximate the general readers I try to write for.

What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

The bike path in Amherst and Hadley. I try to ride it every other day, sometimes stopping to view the meadows and smell the flowers, often just pedaling down to Station Road and back.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

I’ve written all my books in a small faculty study in Amherst College’s Frost Library. I love being able to wander in the stacks outside my study looking for books I need and, when they're not available, I can obtain them quickly either from one of the other four college libraries in the Valley or via inter-library loan.

Local Author Spotlight - Taubman - Photo with Credit
Why did you write your new book?

Although I am by training a political scientist specializing on the USSR/Russia, and political scientists don’t often write biographies, I found my way in the 1980’s and 1990’s to writing a biography of Nikita Khrushchev, which turned out to be the most satisfying project I had ever undertaken. I settled on Mikhail Gorbachev as my next subject because other Soviet leaders were already “taken” by other biographers (Lenin and Stalin), or didn’t seem fascinating enough (Leonid Brezhnev), and because Gorbachev continued and vastly extended Khrushchev’s reforms by seeking (against overwhelming odds it turned out) to change his country and the world for the better.

Learn more about William Taubman and his books at williamtaubmanbooks.com.

Recent Books by William

  (see all his books)

William's Favorite Books

  (with his comments)

"Anatoly Chernyaev was Mikhail Gorbachev’s closest aide both when Gorbachev was in power and afterward. Chernyaev’s diary, covering the period from 1972 to 1991, is both an extraordinary inside account of Kremlin politics and a pleasure to read. Excerpts from the diary are available in English in his book, My Six Years with Gorbachev. [NOTE: This book is not currently available in the C/W MARS consortium.]

Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel taught me much and made me weep.

Isaac Deutscher’s Stalin: A Political Biography was the book that, more than any other, inspired me to major in Russian history in college, to concentrate on Soviet politics in graduate school, to embark on a career as a teacher/scholar of Soviet/Russian affairs, and to end up writing biographies.

I don’t read enough fiction, but recently I read and particularly liked Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See — for its simple, almost minimalist approach to the violence and war."