by Carmen Amato
Our lives are not just shaped by where we are and what we’re doing right now. We’re ultimately shaped by our family’s stories and the cultural experiences that provided their framework.
But sometimes we don’t know the full background of events that impacted them or want to know if others have taken the same journey of exploration. Here are 10 non-fiction books, some well-known and others less so, that take us on those journeys.
1. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
This memoir by the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice has been a best-seller for weeks and justifiably so. Justice Sotomayor writes with great honesty and feeling about her upbringing, ties to Puerto Rico, academic achievements, as well as professional milestones.
2. Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America by Gustavo Arellano
If you love Arellano’s Ask a Mexican column, you’ll love the book, which is more of an anthem of discovery than anything else. It combines history, food writing, personal anecdotes, and more to make this a fun and informative read.
3. The Border: Exploring the U.S.-Mexican Divide by David Danelo
Danelo, a former US Marine, walked the US-Mexican border and recounted his experiences and lessons in this book. Half travelogue and half commentary, it is a fast and absorbing read.
4. No Lost Causes by Alvaro Uribe
This memoir of Colombia’s former president, the man widely credited with bringing his country back from the brink, is a study in leadership as well as a snapshot in time of that country.
5. Just Like Us by Helen Thorpe
In Denver, Colorado, four high school friends face the future. Two are documented and two are not. What happens to them is a true and fascinating read by Thorpe who is a journalist but also the wife of Denver’s mayor at the time of the book’s events.
6. The Jaguar Smile by Salman Rushdie
Winner of the Booker Prize, this slim volume recounts Rushdie’s travels through Nicaragua in 1986, at the height of the civil war. It is a unique glimpse of the country from a surprising and articulate viewer.
7. Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire
In 1962, when Eire was 11, he was one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba to escape the revolution. His story of a childhood in Cuba as the revolution gathered is both poignant and poetic.
8. Take Me With You by Carlos Frías
A Cuban-American journalist discovers his father’s roots while on assignment in Havana. One of the best memoirs I’ve read to date.
9. Nobody’s Son by Luis Alberto Urrea
Urrea is a prolific and excellent writer but his own biography of growing up between two cultures might be his best work. With dark humor, he tells of the clashes between parents of opposing cultures and his own search for who he is.
10. When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
The fiction writer chronicles her early life in Puerto Rico and her move with her mother to New York at a young age. Santiago will encounter a new language, a anew school, translate for her mother at the welfare office, and eventually make it to Harvard.
5 Bonus Books
For those looking for more scholarly works, try:
Blood of Brothers by Stephen Kinzer
Published by the David Rockefeller Center, this detailed book is probably the definitive work in English of Nicaragua’s civil war. Kinzer writes from a journalists’ perspective rather than a political one, making the book well worth a read.
Divorcing the Dictator by Frederick Kempe
Journalist Kempe shows both on-the-ground reporting chops and a huge volume of follow-on research in this book about the US love-hate affair with Panamanian strongman General Noriega. Probably the best book out there on Noriega (currently in jail) and what made him tick.
Open Veins of Latin America by Edward Galleano
With a foreword by Isabel Allende, this book delivers as promised, with a sweeping view of Latin American history. The book is organized around the theme of exploitation, making for a different style and emphasis than most history books.
Path Between the Seas by David McCullough
McCullough’s brings his consummate historian’s skills to the issue of the building of the Panama Canal. The book examines every facet of the canal, from the doomed French efforts to Teddy Roosevelt’s influence in establishing the new country of Panama.
Distant Neighbors by Alan Riding
Just about every book about the US and Mexico gets compared to this book and so far it remains the definitive work for many. It is not so much a political discussion as it is a cultural one. Riding, a journalist, writes with humor, facts, and an excellent notion of life on both sides of the border.
Do you have a non-fiction book to recommend? Please share it in the comments with our readers!
Carmen Amato recharged her Kindle twice and found 5 must-read books during the writing of this guest post. She is the author of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Both draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America where she discovered the best coffee on earth. Her next book, HAT DANCE: An Emilia Cruz Novel is due out later this summer.
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