The Best-selling Non-fiction Book of 2004 Was a Textbook That Should Be Carried in All American Schools

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This year’s bestselling non-fiction focused on the here and now and tended away from ancient history and tough reads. With a good mix of tragedy and comedy it was a good year. Let’s review:

5 The 9/11 Commission Report

In 2004, the bestseller list was full of memoirs from within the White House and the military about the weeks and months after September 11th 2001. For more of those check out Against All Enemies, American Soldier, and Plan of Attack. They each provide a different viewpoint on what was going on, but mostly they express the people involved. That’s why we’ve chosen to ignore those and instead focus on the 9/11 Commission Report even though it’s not a book published and marketed in the traditional sense. Instead, it is the report put together by the committee that was appointed to exam the events of September 11th and to figure out what could have been avoided and what lessons should be learned. Considering what it is however, it is surprisingly readable. Of course, the committee had access to some information that they cannot tell us but it’s not glaring when reading the report. Also not obvious is any partisanship or playing of the blame-game. This is all facts, which makes it that much scarier.

4 Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a book about the importance of punctuation. It uses plenty of cute historical anecdotes to show how punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence as well as explaining the rules of appropriate usage. While the book couldn’t quite convince us to care as much as it wanted us to, we were pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it managed to make a topic that is inherently boring as hell. While we came out with the understanding that a true craftsman could improve his art by paying close attention to punctuation and of the detrimental effect that email and instant communication is having on the integrity of the English language, we still probably won’t start putting periods at the end of text messages. But maybe when we all begin to write our Pulitzer Prize-winners.

3 Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

As usual, there is nothing to complain about with a David Sedaris book. Unlike most humor writers, comedic monologues are actually his primary medium (although usually for radio) and so he really has the format down. He also seems to have a family whose eccentricity will never leave him grasping at straws to find what to talk about. However in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim he actually veers off of the deadpan mockery to become almost heartwarming at times. And even when he is mocking them mercilessly there are a few justifications: 1) He includes a chapter with their reactions to being talked about to millions of people. 2) He makes fun of himself infinitely more than anyone else, and 3) Through it all, the love he feels for his family and friends, quirks included, is obvious.

2 My Life

Let’s start off with the warning that Bill Clinton does not credit any ghostwriter in this memoir. He’s got editors, researchers and fact checkers out the wazoo but he did the writing himself. Unfortunately, he’s charming suavity doesn’t come out when he’s writing prose apparently, and while imminently readable, the narrative is often clunky and self-obsessed. And not in the way an autobiography should be. If you can ignore the clutter of apologies and justifications though, the story of an American president is always a great one. Bill Clinton did not have the idyllic suburban upbringing of his wife Hilary and the person who can overcome tragedy and abuses to become president is a fascinating character whether or not you actually like him as a person or agree with his policies.

1 America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction

For once, we have political satire that doesn’t exclusively lambast the left or the right. Instead, Jon Stewart and the writers of the Daily Show make fun of everybody equally. Written in the style of a U.S. government textbook, this book includes great descriptions of the founding fathers, explanations of what the constitution is and how congress works. The media is a major focus for derision although the Pilgrims, the Supreme Court and foreign policy also get some attention. Consistent with its text book theme, there are plenty of graphics, clever charts and sidebars that include suggested “classroom activities.” The beauty of the book is that while Stewart makes fun of a number of modern politicians, he chooses Republicans and Democrats as well as athletes and Hollywood celebs. Unlike most of the political satire we’ve seen recently, this isn’t humor being used as a vehicle for political rants. Instead it’s government being used as a vehicle for some great comedy.

Did your favorite from 2004 not make our list? Tell us what you think!

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