September Shortlist: Bigger, Truer, and Picked by You

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Summer may be winding down, but 1book140 is just winding up. In September we agreed to tackle our first work of non-fiction, and that's not the only change to our usual routine. In the interest of creating the most democratic book club possible, we've both expanded our shortlist to eight titles, and asked a volunteer to choose the books this time. We're happy with both innovations here at 1book140 HQ. Liz Iversen, a journalism professor and 1book140 member from San Francisco, culled through the nominations to come up with the following list. As usual, I'm going to be happy reading (or re-reading) any one of them.

Voting goes until Friday at noon, and we'll begin discussing the winner right after Labor Day.

1.) The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Written by a physician and award-winning science writer, this book traces the history of cancer from its first appearances centuries ago to its current state. Far from a dry medical text, the book reads more like a thriller than the meticulously researched book it is.

2.) Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand
This book focuses on Louis Zamperini, a young, brash Army Air Force lieutenant in World War II who survived a plane crash in the middle of the Pacific and then made the thousands-of-miles journey home. This is Hillenbrand's second book, after Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

3.) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
This book, which took ten years to write, is about a woman who died of cancer in the 1950s but whose cells have been used to create the polio vaccine, help with AIDS and cancer research, test toxic substances, and more. Though her cells have caused medical breakthroughs and made several people very rich, Henrietta Lacks' family remains poor and, until recently, unaware of their relative's contribution to science.

4.) 1493: Uncovering the New World Christopher Columbus Created, by Charles Mann
The "sequel" of sorts to Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, 1493 examines the aftermath of Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas. It runs over 40 pages, but it's a riveting page-turner nonetheless.

5.) Longitude: The True Story of the Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time, by Dava Sobel
Dava Sobel is one of today's most popular and acclaimed science writers, and Longitude is the book that put her on the map. Winner of 1997's British Book of the Year, the book tells the story of the man who made the first clock to successfully measure longitude at sea, which revolutionized navigation in the 18th century.

6.) In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, by Erik Larson
The latest book by the author of The Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts tells the story of William E. Dodd, the United States' ambassador to Hitler's Germany, and his daughter, Martha. Arriving in Berlin in 1933, they are at first enamored of the country and its government, and only recognize its brutality and horror when it's too late.

7.) Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach
This book does pretty much exactly what the title promises: It explores what happens to our bodies after we die. Roach describes the role cadavers have played in world history, from testing guillotines in France to uncovering the mystery of TWA's Flight 800.

8.) The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester
Two men were instrumental in putting together the first edition of the OED: Scottish professor James Murray, and American Civil War Veteran W.C. Minor, who also happened to be in a mental institution. The Professor and the Madman is a compelling tale about the power of language and the complexities of the human mind.