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Current Interest Nominees: Catastrophe, War, and Murder with a Side of Fashion

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The LA Times has nominated five books in each of nine different categories for the 2007 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. In the weeks leading up to the Festival of Books where the winners will be announced, LAist will take a quick look at each category and will wax poetic on a few favorites (or least favorites) along the way.

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The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley – Brinkley lets the victims do the talking in this hour-by-hour account of Hurricane Katrina. From the hurricane itself, to the storm-surge flooding to the full scale mismanagement of our country’s resources in a time of crisis, Brinkley leaves no angle unexamined, no question unasked. His ability to interview subjects at a time of great distress is a rare one and he elicits some compelling stories from people on all sides of the event from the Coast Guard to the Louisiana SPCA. Brinkley has amassed an exhaustive look at every facet of what went wrong, how it went wrong and why.

Why you might like it: It is the definitive compilation of everything that happened.
Why you might not: Definitive compilations that span 700 pages can be exhausting.

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Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Buruma – Buruma expands on his New Yorker article in this full-length look at the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh at the hands of Islamic extremist Mohammed Bouyeri. Buruma asks the big questions about native-born Dutch vs. Muslim immigrants and the problems that arise when any one group is denied a place in the society to which they were born. He also takes a close look at Theo van Gogh and his inflammatory performance art, wondering how it all got so out of control. As a Dutch-born journalist, Buruma examines his homeland with careful detail, yet doesn’t ultimately answer some of the big questions he asks.

Why you might like it: Examining why such a brutal murder took place is important.
Why you might not: The big questions are asked, but never answered.

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Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran – If you read one book about Iraq, this should be it. Chandrasekaran’s role as the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post has given him the clarity of both the short and the long view. He documents events in Iraq from the moment we stepped foot on the sand. The results are devastating – from government contractors eager to fatten their wallets to military power and planning gone terribly awry, we see the inner workings of the fiasco that is Iraq. Chandrasekaran also spends time with those who really are trying to make things better, despite all the red tape and madness. He makes one thing painfully clear: we were doomed from the moment this war was conceived.

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Why you might like it: There are many books about Iraq, but few are as good as this.
Why you might not: If you believe all's well in Iraq, this book’s not for you.

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The Beautiful Fall: Lagerfield, Saint Laurent, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris by Alice Drake – After all the catastrophe, the murder and the war of the other books nominated in this category, Drake’s peek into the lives of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld is a welcome respite. She interviewed dozens of designers, fashion journalists, friends, and industry insiders to fashion a book that captures the essence of what it meant to be a top designer in the 70’s. She delves deep into the rise of both design stars, comparing and contrasting their work as well as their personalities, their openly gay lifestyles and their passion for spectacle. A must-read for the fashion-forward or anyone who enjoys stylish hi-jinks across many continents and time zones.

Why you might like it: A decidedly less intense book than, well, so many others.
Why you might not: It is about fashion. And 1970’s pop-culture. You’ve been warned.

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Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz – In this part memoir, part crime investigation, Terri Jentz returns to Oregon to solve a mystery: who attacked both her and her friend 15 years earlier with an axe while they were camping in the desert? While both women survived the event, their emotional and physical wounds remain. Jentz documents her detailed review of police records and even tracks down and interviews witnesses that saw her immediately following the attack. While it becomes clear to Jentz that the police work was messy and inept, she slowly pieces together a picture of who their attacker may have been. More horrifying still, she then realizes he is still living and contacts him. Her encounter with him may surprise you.

Why you might like it: A woman seeking and finding truth 15 years later is a big deal.
Why you might not: Tracking down your would-be killer is, well, scary.