2018 Carnegie Medal Read-alikes

As we await the announcement of the winner of the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Denver at the RUSA Book and Media Awards event on February 11, 2018, we trust readers are immersing themselves in reading the three finalists. For further Carnegie reading recommendations, we’re happy to provide this list of three-for-three Carnegie read-alikes. —Annie Bostrom and Donna Seaman


Nonfiction Finalists

The Doomsday Machine by Daniel EllsbergThe Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, by Daniel Ellsberg (Bloomsbury), is one of the most alarming books to appear in this altogether alarming time. Ellsberg’s revelations, both personal and professional, uncloak a litany of disregarded protocol, erroneous assumptions, and near misses pertaining to the start of the nuclear arms race, the buildup of the nuclear arsenal, and the control of nuclear weapons. The books below provide further illumination on this urgent subject.





Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, by Eric Schlosser

Nuclear bombs must be handled with the proper care, yet that is not always the case, as Schlosser emphasizes in this detailed account of the accidental 1980 explosion of a Titan II missile after a dropped tool punctured its shell. Schlosser also offers an extensive look at nuclear-weapon design and further reporting of other cases of dropped, burned, or lost bombs.


The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb, by Philip Taubman

In 2007, four former Cold Warriors who helped build up the nation’s nuclear arsenal—Henry Kissinger and George Schultz (former secretaries of state), William Perry (former defense secretary), and Sam Nunn (former head of the Senate Armed Services Committee), joined by nuclear physicist Sidney Dell—stunned the world by advocating for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Taubman chronicles their journeys to advocating for nuclear disarmament and analyzes how the threats have multiplied and changed over the decades.


The Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World without Nuclear Weapons, by Richard Rhodes

Each title in Rhodes’ invaluable nuclear series—The Making of the Atom Bomb (1986); Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (1995); Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007); and this volume—are worthy read-alikes for The Doomsday Machine. Here Rhodes chronicles major developments in nuclear weaponry since the Cold War ended, and, guided by his conviction that the atomic bomb is so dire a hazard it must be abolished, he interviews politicians, diplomats, and technicians involved in nuclear disarmament.


Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann (Doubleday), immerses readers in a devastating episode in U.S. history in which dozens of members of the Osage Indian Nation were systematically murdered for their oil wealth. Grann is dazzling in his painstaking research and skillfully constructed narrative, which incorporates the parallel story of the conception of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Here are three other books that represent the best of historical true crime.





At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic, by Lawrence Millman

Millman investigates a disturbing series of murders, in which both victims and perpetrators were Inuit, that occurred in Canada’s remote Belcher Islands in 1941. Digging deeply into both the historical record and the memories of witnesses, he explains how the resulting investigation revealed an epic amount of cultural confusion and collision and analyzes the tragedy’s lingering trauma.


Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris, by David King. 2011. Crown.

In Nazi-occupied Paris, respected doctor Marcel Petiot tortured and dismembered tens of victims, many of them Jews who came to him seeking refuge from the Gestapo. King follows Petiot’s insidious crimes and the ensuing homicide investigation with the immediacy of a top-notch thriller.


Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson

Larson’s masterpiece, which intertwines the tales of sadistic serial killer H. H. Holmes and the development of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, the busyness of which Holmes exploited for cover, remains a widely read classic of the genre.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie, is a courageously candid, expressive, funny, and hard-hitting memoir, told in prose and poetry, in which Alexie pays deep tribute to his Spokane Indian mother, Lillian, and reveals many tragic dangers and traumas of reservation life, along with his own health struggles and path to becoming a writer. The memoirs below also offer richly illuminating inquiries, both personal and cultural, as the authors consider their Native American heritage.





Muscogee Daughter: My Sojourn to the Miss America Pageant, by Susan Supernaw

Supernaw’s background—a mélange of Muskogee Creek and Munsee Native American on her dad’s side, along with Scottish and English immigrants on her mother’s—forms the foundation for her refreshingly honest memoir about her path from a childhood marked by abuse and poverty to academic success, knowledge of and love for Native traditions, and recognition as the first Native American to win the title of Miss Oklahoma.


Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey through Reservation Life, by David Treuer

Treuer, an Ojibwa who grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota, presents a lively, incisive, and brilliant amalgam of historical research and personal memoir in which he elucidates the origins of reservations; shares interviews with friends, family, teachers, BIA officials, lawyers, and tribal-court judges; and looks to the future.


The Turquoise Ledge, by Leslie Marmon Silko

Silko reflects on her complex Laguna Pueblo, Cherokee, Mexican, and European ancestry in this richly veined and dramatic self-portrait, telling gripping stories of suffering and wisdom that reveal the consequences of racism, the war against Native Americans, and the abuse of nature.



Fiction Finalists 

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders (Random), was inspired by President Lincoln’s mournful visits to the cemetery after his young son’s death. The novels below also take imaginative approaches to Lincoln, a genuine leader and a figure of integrity, conscience, courage, and eloquence who defines so many of America’s direst conflicts, along with the nation’s idealism, complexity, and resiliency.






A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, by Stephen Harrigan

Harrigan’s stellar historical novel offers a powerfully astute look at the public and private sides of the young Abraham Lincoln and the agonizing ordeals he endured trying to reconcile the two. The Lincoln we encounter here is a lanky and popular member of Illinois’ General Assembly, a man with a talent for telling off-color jokes and capturing a crowd’s attention, ambitious yet awkward and prone to depression. Harrigan’s tale of ethics, morality, and courage is as vital as today’s news.


I Am Abraham, by Jerome Charyn

Adept at fictionalizing historical figures from Emily Dickinson to Jerzy Kosinski, Charyn writes here in Abraham Lincoln’s voice, conveying the legendary president’s inimitable intelligence, wit, and compassion. As he traces Lincoln’s life of struggle, Charyn links the specter of mental illness within Lincoln’s family to the country’s catastrophic division. This empathic novel reveals the depth of Lincoln’s commitment to both his family and his country.


The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, by Stephen L. Carter

Carter, a Yale law professor as well as a best-selling novelist, imagines Lincoln surviving John Wilkes Booth’s assassination attempt only to be threatened with impeachment. Up steps Abigail Canner, a young, educated black woman defying convention as she clerks for the law firm defending Lincoln. Carter’s fascinating mix of murder mystery, political thriller, and courtroom drama offers a topsy-turvy look at Lincoln and a deep dive into the complexities of race, class, and sex.


Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan (Scribner), is a many-faceted historical novel set on New York City’s 1930s and ’40s waterfront and encompassing a family drama; gangsters; innovations at the Brooklyn Naval Yard; a shipwreck in U-boat-infested waters; and the story of an independent, unconventional woman. The insightful and imaginative novels below also set the adventures of intrepid individuals within a richly nuanced social context.






Careers for Women, by Joanna Scott

Maggie begins her career in New York City in 1958, awed and intimidated by Mrs. J, the exacting director of the Port Authority’s public-relations department. Mrs. J also mentors Pauline, a single mother with a special-needs daughter, and their stories intertwine in a suspenseful drama of profound dimensions as Scott delves into the struggles of women in a sexist world and the human and environmental costs of greed.


When the World Was Young, by Elizabeth Gaffney

In a nuanced novel set in Brooklyn Heights during WWII and the Korean War, Gaffney tells the story of smart and earnest tomboy Wally, who worships Wonder Woman and whose aptitude for science is manifest in an ardor for ants. With her father serving in the Pacific, an unbalanced mother, and a stern grandmother, Wally depends on Loretta, their African American housekeeper, for guidance and love.


World Gone By, by Dennis Lehane

This is the concluding volume in Lehane’s historical trilogy about crime boss Joe Coughlin, following The Given Day (2008) and Live by Night (2012). All three will appeal to readers taken with the gangster story within Egan’s novel. Here it’s the 1940s, wartime, and Coughlin is happy to step down with hopes of living in peace, but someone wants him dead, and the past is not so easily forgotten. Over three volumes, Lehane has turned the tragic tale of a man and his family in good times and bad into a complex saga about passion and crime, living and dying.


Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner), tells the story of 13-year-old Jojo as his drug-addicted mom, Leonie, leads him and his baby sister on a lurching odyssey across the state of Mississippi to retrieve their father from prison. As Jojo, Leonie, and Leonie’s father narrate from alternating perspectives, Ward conjures the ghosts that some members of this family can see and from which none can escape. The three novels below explore complicated familial love, both worldly and supernatural, across space and generations.





The Lauras, by Sara Taylor

Gender-fluid teen Alex narrates this coming-of-age novel in which Ma leads the two of them on a cross-country road trip in search of the Lauras, women who played important roles in Ma’s often-harrowing life journey. Ultimately, understanding Ma’s past and pathological restlessness deepens Alex’s love for them both.


No One Is Coming to Save Us, by Stephanie Powell Watts

Watts’ Great Gatsby–inspired powerhouse debut, which focuses on the lives of several members of a southern black family, is a human tale of resilience and the universally understood drive to do whatever it takes to save oneself. Watts’ novel was the first Book Club Central SJP Pick.


Red Now and Laters, by Marcus J. Guillory

Incorporating voodoo, ghosts, and southern folklore, Guillory’s enchanting first novel introduces Ti John, a Creole boy growing up in a violent Houston neighborhood in the 1980s.



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