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Jamie Vaught: Hillbilly Elegy, sports memoirs among recommended non-fiction books for winter reading

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This is the first of a two-part series on recently-published nonfiction books.

Spring is still more than a month away and it’s likely there is still some cold weather in our future. Here are a few non-fiction books you might enjoy reading around the fire.

–“Lucky Bastard: My Life, My Dad and the Things I’m Not Allowed To Say on TV” by Joe Buck (Dutton, $28) is a candid and humorous look into the celebrity author’s life. Buck grew up in St. Louis where his father, Jack, called the Cardinals baseball games, and the younger Buck began calling the games himself on local radio at age 19. The 295-page hardcover takes the readers into the broadcast booth and into his childhood home, including stories about the low and high moments of his broadcasting career. Buck even talks about having a good bladder as he and his partner often are lucky to get even a single bathroom break during a contest. He was one of the Fox network announcers at the recent Super Bowl.
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–“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance (Harper, $27.99) is a moving book about a small-town America in crisis. The readers will learn about his “dirt poor” grandparents who moved north to build a middle-class life with some success before their lives were torn apart by the cycle of violence, addition and family breakdown so common in parts of U.S. Through the story of author’s own family, we come to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility or future opportunities. Wrote the Wall Street Journal, it “is a beautiful memoir but it is equally a work of cultural criticism about white working-class America…. (Vance) offers a compelling explanation for why it’s so hard for someone who grew up the way he did to make it. ….. a riveting book.”  Vance, a graduate of Yale Law School, grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middleton, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Ky.
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–“Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer and the Things Worth Fighting For” by Craig Sager with Craig Sager II and Brian Curtis (Flatiron Books, $25.99) is an entertaining and colorful account of an award-winning broadcaster for Turner Sports who passed away in December. With his wardrobe that was filled with brightly-colored suits, Sager, who had leukemia, was one of the most recognizable TV sportscasters. Sager shares stories from his remarkable career and chronicles his heroic battle with cancer in the 239-page hardcover, which also includes a foreword by ex-NBA star Charles Barkley.
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–“Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3: The War Years and After, 1939-1962” by Blanche Wiesen Cook (Viking, $40) is the author’s final biography of the former First Lady, taking us through World War II, FDR’s death, the founding of the United Nations and Eleanor Roosevelt’s death in 1962. Mrs. Roosevelt was the most important and powerful First Lady until Hillary Clinton came along. The 670-page volume is a sympathetic portrait of a marriage and of a woman whose passion and commitment has inspired generations of Americans to seek a decent future for all folks. The author is a history professor and has written several highly-respected books, including two other volumes on ER and one on President Dwight Eisenhower.

–“The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan” by Sebastian Mallaby (Penguin Press, $40) is a masterful biography of a well-known economist who served as chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System – or the head of the U.S. Central Banking System — from 1987 to 2006. The 781-page hardcover is the work of more than five years of research and access to Greenspan and his closest friends and colleagues. The 90-year-old Greenspan, who has served in every presidency from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, is married to television journalist Andrea Mitchell. The author, who has written several books, is a two-time Pulitzer Price finalist.

–“The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton, $28.95) is a compelling story about two fascinating Israeli psychologists who wrote a series of studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process over 40 years ago. The 362-page hardcover is basically a colorful story of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in the economics world via psychology. The two highly-regarded men became heroes in the university field and on the battlefield – both had important careers in the Israeli military – and their research was deeply linked to their extraordinary life experiences. You may be interested to know that it was Kahneman who wrote a bestseller titled, “Thinking, Fast and Slow Paperback,” in 2011. Kahneman was often described as a “Woody Allen, without the humor.” Lewis is best-selling author of Moneyball, The Blind Side and Flash Boys, among others.

“Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror” by Michael Hayden (Penguin Books, $17) is a lengthy memoir about the four-star general’s military, CIA and NSA career. The hardcover, which first came out in February 2016, is expected to be available in paperback by mid-February. Hayden wants to tell a story from his perspective as an insider, writing, “There is a story here that deserves to be told, without varnish and without spin. My view is my view, and others will certainly have different perspectives, but this view deserves to be told to create as complete a history as possible of these turbulent times. I bear no grudges, or at least not many, but I do want this to be a straightforward and readable history for that slice of the American population who depend on and appreciate intelligence, but who do not have the time to master its many obscure characteristics.”
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“United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good” by Cory Booker (Ballantine Books, $17) is a new paperback about the U.S. Senator’s career. Booker, who reportedly was on Hillary Clinton’s short list for potential running mates, once played for Stanford on a football scholarship. The tight end helped the Cardinal upset top-ranked Notre Dame with several key catches in 1990. Then he became a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. The former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, discusses his personal experience to issue an emotional call to change the direction of our nation and our politics on the principles of compassion and solidarity.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.

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