Aug. 11 2009 12:00 AM

Bulk up your summer reading with these nonfiction books


If your summer reading thus far has been beach-light, here’s a collection of nonfiction books with a Michigan bent that will help thaw your ice-cream brain freeze. These books cover everything from the war in Afghanistan to environmental terrorism and bacon to nasty mollusks.

A quick glance at the dust jacket of Traverse City author Doug Stanton’s book “The Horse Soldiers” is deceiving. The soldiers on horseback could make you think this book is about the Civil War. Not so. Stanton has put together an incredible tale of adventure and heroism in his saga about a couple of dozen U.S. Special Forces members who operated on horseback in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11.

The book has landed on The New York Times Best Sellers list for six weeks, and it is likely to stay there for the rest of the summer. In a world of hightech warfare and gadgetry, these modern warriors found themselves fighting with techniques and strategies several centuries old — with one major exception: they could call in B-52 bombers. Stanton compiled more than 100 interviews to offer a behind-the-scenes look at fighting terrorism.

Previously, Stanton wrote about a group of World War II survivors who were thrown into shark-infested waters following the sinking of the USS Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine. His writing ranks with fictional thrillers, and it has come to define the word “heroic.”

Dean Kuipers, who is originally from the Kalamazoo area and is now an editor at The Los Angeles Times, takes an in-depth look at environmental terrorism in the United States in his new book, “Operation Bite Back.” His last book, “Burning Rainbow Farm,” which won a Michigan Notable Book Award, was about a southern Michigan drug bust that went awry, resulting in the death of two of the suspects.

This time he looks at Rod Coronado, a radical environmentalist, who in the early ‘90s waged an arson campaign against the fur industry. A Michigan State University research lab was the target of one of those attacks in 1992, when Coronado’s followers burned it, after which Coronado went underground. After being captured in 2004, he was tried and convicted in a federal court in Kalamazoo in a highly publicized case.

Kuipers also looks at the entire radical environmental movement in the context of the Patriot Act and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. He delves into the questions raised by Coronado’s actions, and he considers environmentalist claims that the actions were vandalism and not domestic terrorism. Kuipers style of writing will keep you engrossed in this issue regardless of which side you are on.

For a little relief from war and terrorism, try Ari Weinzweig’s new book on bacon, aptly titled “Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon: Stories of Pork Bellies, Hush Puppies, Rock ‘n’ Roll Music and Bacon Fat Mayonaisse.” Weinzweig is co-founder and owner of Ann Arbor’s famous Zingerman’s Delicatessen. The guide is more than a cookbook, although it does include 42 recipes. It is a sociological and historical look at bacon, which the author calls “America’s olive oil.” Along with little-known tidbits on the history of bacon going back to Medieval England, Weinzweig takes readers on a tour of bacon in America.

Bacon’s influence and its popularity as America’s No. 1 breakfast food may have had an influence on Nelson Algren. Algren was tapped in the 1940s, as part of the WPA’s Federal Writer’s Project, to take a look at the eating habits of the Midwest. He is among a number of notable writers, including Zora Neale Hurston and Eudora Welty, who are included in author Mark Kurlansky’s new book, “The Food of a Younger Land.” Kurlansky, who has also written “Cod” and “Salt,” collected the actual unedited musings of these and other writers in this book, which looks at America’s food ways before fast food and TV.

While in Michigan, Algren discovered what he called the “Land of Mighty Breakfasts,” which he attributed to the influence of lumbermen. The jacks ate lots of beans, fat pork and pancakes. The recipe for baked beans, which he includes, describes quite a procedure and should probably include the tag; “Do not try this at home.”

Kurlansky has assembled a fun and rambling look at a time when eating was a whole lot simpler and instant potatoes were just a food processor’s dream.

Now, about those dangerous mollusks: they are not to be eaten, and they are one of at least 50 invasive species that have hitched rides on ocean vessels to make a home in the Great Lakes, threatening the lakes’ ultimate existence, according to author Jeff Alexander in his recent book, “Pandora’s Locks.” In his book, published by MSU Press, Alexander follows the environmental history of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which is celebrating a bittersweet 50th anniversary this year.

Alexander makes the case that unforeseen consequences of the seaway have meant environmental disaster for the lakes, and even if the seaway were to be closed to ocean vessels, it may be too late to stop the damage. The author places the blame squarely on the U.S. Coast Guard, which he says failed to enforce regulations against ballast dumping, enabling creatures like the zebra mussel to gain a foothold in the Great Lakes. This is a book that anyone who spends time on or near one of our Great Lakes (and inland lakes, rivers and streams,) should read.