Somehow, George W. Bush’s Memoir Made the List of the Best-selling Non-fiction of 2010

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Somewhat weirdly, this year’s bestseller lists were topped by a number of memoirs and essay collections by conservative politicians and pundits. Of course, they were mixed in with an eclectic group of comedy essays, autobiographies and histories. Our list leans heavily to the comedy but we’ll get just enough serious stuff in there that you can feel smart at your next cocktail party.

5 Decision Points

George W. Bush’s memoir gives a very realistic impression of a very real person. And when we say that, think long and hard about how interesting most real people are. There’s a reason that Harry Potter is so popular. But at the end of the day, he was an American president in a dramatic moment of our history and as unexciting as the writing might be, there is value in getting some real insights into President George W. Bush as a person. Whether those insights are the ones you’re meant to take away is a little unclear. Sure, we get some understanding of the thoughts behind certain choices but what’s more interesting is what can be read between the lines about the interesting flaws that make up any personality.

4 Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

Fine literature does not a bestseller make. But if you’re looking for some cheap and colorful laughs, Chelsea Handler happily gives them to you at her own expense in this collection of comedy essays. Unlike Tina Fey’s recent essay collection, there is no social message here no matter how deep you look past the silliness. But that doesn’t make these absurd stories any less fun to flip through, even if it’s just to appreciate the fact that you’re not the gullible bastard she’s talking about.

3 War

Sebastian Junger spent months living and working with a platoon of American infantry in an inaccessible 6-mile-wide valley in rural Afghanistan. Even though the soldiers there made up less than one four hundredth of NATO troops, they wereexperiencing nearly one fifth of the fighting. The Korangal Valley, where they’re stationed is completely isolated from anything else and the book captures that by not really dealing with any greater picture of the war. Instead, it deals only with the details of the day to day life of the soldiers and the affects of combat on the individuals. He implies that the ideals being fought for and the larger success or failure of war is irrelevant to the lives of combat soldiers. Which is probably for the better, since military leadership decided to abandon the Korangal Valley not long after the book was published.

2 Sh*t My Dad Says

Bottom line: this book should have probably remained as a Twitter feed. Sure, the curmudgeonly older man comparing most of life to dog shit is a cute gimmick, but it’s probably not something you want to read through a book of. It’s best when it comes as a surprise in 140 characters. The book takes those pearls of wisdom offered by the author’s father and adds to it anecdotes and observations by the author himself. This was probably not a good move. Critics are quick to point out that when he started the Twitter feed, the author was an underemployed wannabe comedy writer living in his parents’ basement while his father was a successful radiologist who had served in Vietnam. Knowing that information may up the surprise factor when you read the things that come out of dad’s mouth, but it also makes you want to sneer at son even more than before.

1 Stones Into Schools

This is a great follow-up to 2006’s Three Cups of Tea, also by Greg Mortenson. The first book is from the point of view of Mortenson’s co-author David Oliver Relin. Using a semi-journalistic style, it describes how Mortenson went from mountaineering in the wilds of Pakistan to becoming head of the CAI, the Central Asian Institute, building schools for girls in rural regions. In the second book, Mortenson’s activities expand into less stable areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan and this time he uses his own voice. Building schools for little girls may not sound like Indiana-Jones type work at first but when you consider that it means facing Taliban resistance, death threats from religious leaders and cleaning up after earthquakes, it all becomes a lot more exciting. Most interesting perhaps though is how Mortenson learns from experience about playing nicely with the locals and passes that information on to the U.S. army.

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