2008 Season

2008 Season

Francis Mayes
A Year in the World
UNC-TV's original literary series books even more great writers than ever before as it embarks on its first 26-episode season when Francis Mayes, the New York Times best-selling author of the now-classic Under the Tuscan Sun, presents her latest offering A Year in the World to series host D.G. Martin.

Through A Year in the World Mayes, whose previous travel memoirs memorably captured the experience of life in Italy, expands her horizons to immerse herself in the sights, tastes, and treasures of twelve new special places. With her beloved Tuscany as a home base, Mayes travels to Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles, and to the Mediterranean world of Turkey, Greece, the South of Italy, and North Africa.


Rob ChristensenChristensen
The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics
How can a state be represented by Jesse Helms and John Edwards at the same time? In his book The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics, journalist Rob Christensen answers that question and navigates a century of political history in North Carolina, one of the most vibrant and competitive southern states, where neither conservatives nor liberals, Democrats nor Republicans, have been able to rest easy.

In an all-new episode of UNC-TV’s local literary series North Carolina Bookwatch with D.G. Martin, the News and Observer political reporter shares this new book and explores this eclectic political climate that the author argues enabled North Carolina to rise from poverty in the nineteenth century to become a leader in research, education, and banking in the twentieth.


Robert Morgan
Boone: A Biography
Robert Morgan has spent the past five years researching and reading everything ever written about the legendary American hero, Daniel Boone. In his engrossing, full-scale book, Boone: A Biography, Morgan looks behind the legends and shows us the true, flesh-and-blood man.

From the very first sentence--"Forget the coonskin cap; he never wore one"--Morgan's authority informs a guided tour not only of Daniel Boone’s life, but life on the 18th-century American frontier. Morgan fleshes out his narrative with a backdrop of life in colonial times, examining the domestic, political, cultural, and natural world of early America. BOONE features extensive maps and illustrations throughout, 30 pages of end notes, an extensive bibliography, and interior spreads detailing period information.


Eleanora Tate
Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance
When Celeste Lassiter Massey must travel to Harlem to live with her actress Aunt Valentina, she's not thrilled at all to leave her friends, home and Poppa in comfortable Raleigh, North Carolina for New York's 1921 fast life.

While Celeste absorbs the grit and glamour of Aunt Valentina's lifestyle and the excitement of the Harlem Renaissance, she constantly wonders and worries about Poppa, her friends, and even her cranky Aunt Society (her live-in aunt-in-charge) back home. Will Celeste ever see North Carolina again? And will she ever have to deal with ole Aunt Society again? In this episode, Eleanora Tate shares her latest award-winning children's offering.


Eric Wilson
Against Happiness
Americans are addicted to happiness. When we’re not popping pills, we leaf through scientific studies that take for granted our quest for happiness, or read self-help books by everyone from armchair philosophers and clinical psychologists to the Dalai Lama on how to achieve a trouble-free life:Stumbling on Happiness; Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment; The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. The titles themselves draw a stark portrait of the war on melancholy. 

More than any other generation, Americans of today believe in the transformative power of positive thinking. But who says we’re supposed to be happy? Where does it say that in the Bible, or in the Constitution? In Against Happiness, the scholar Eric G. Wilson argues that melancholia is necessary to any thriving culture, that it is the muse of great literature, painting, music, and innovation—and that it is the force underlying original insights. Francisco Goya, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, and Abraham Lincoln were all confirmed melancholics. So enough Prozac-ing of our brains. Let’s embrace our depressive sides as the wellspring of creativity. What most people take for contentment, Wilson argues, is living death, and what the majority takes for depression is a vital force. Wilson's book suggests it would be better to relish the blues that make humans people.


Wayne Caldwell
Cataloochee
Against the breathtaking backdrop of Appalachia comes a rich, multilayered post—Civil War saga of three generations of families–their dreams, their downfalls, and their faith. Cataloochee is a slice of southern Americana told in the classic tradition of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.

Nestled in the mountains of North Carolina sits Cataloochee. In a time when “where you was born was where God wanted you,” the Wrights and the Carters, both farming families, travel to the valley to escape the rapid growth of neighboring towns and to have a few hundred acres all to themselves. But progress eventually winds its way to Cataloochee, too, and year after year the population swells as more people come to the valley to stake their fortune.

Never one to pass on opportunity, Ezra Banks, an ambitious young man seeking some land of his own, arrives in Cataloochee in the 1880s. His first order of business is to marry a Carter girl, Hannah, the daughter of the valley’s largest landowner. From there Ezra’s brood grows, as do those of the Carters and the Wrights. With hard work and determination, the burgeouning community transforms wilderness into home, to be passed on through generations. But the idyll is not to last, nor to be inherited: The government takes steps to relocate folks to make room for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and tragedy will touch one of the clans in a single, unimaginable act.

Wayne Caldwell brings to life the community’s historic struggles and close kinships over a span of six decades. Full of humor, darkness, beauty, and wisdom, Cataloochee is a classic novel of place and family.


Theda Perdue
The Cherokee Nation and The Trail of Tears
In the early nineteenth century, the U.S. government shifted its policy from trying to assimilate American Indians to relocating them, and proceeded to forcibly drive seventeen thousand Cherokees from their homelands. This journey of exile became known as the Trail of Tears.

Historians Perdue and Green reveal the government’s betrayals and the divisions within the Cherokee Nation, follow the exiles along the Trail of Tears, and chronicle the hardships found in the West. In its trauma and tragedy, the Cherokee diaspora has come to represent the irreparable injustice done to Native Americans in the name of nation building—and in their determined survival, it represents the resilience of the Native American spirit.


Bernie HarbertsHarberts
Too Proud to Ride a Cow
After spending almost 5 years sailing alone around the world, Bernie Harberts arrived home a prisoner of the very independence he’d worked so hard to cultivate. Harberts decided it was time to let people back in his life. Armed with simple curiosity and an uncooperative mule, he discovered that most Americans felt the same way he did - that they were adrift in a sea of isolation. Join Bernie Harberts as he crosses the everyday divide between isolation and companionship on an American bridge of ranchers, lady poachers and ordinary citizens.

Too Proud to Ride a Cow, is author/adventurer Bernie Harbert's account of his 3,500-mile across America with a mule. Written to explain why and how he crossed the continent with little more than a twenty-year old mule, a tipi and a camera, “Too Proud” reveals the America Harberts discovered at his 8-mile per day pace. In addition to 9 maps, the 256-page book contains 93 photographs (47 in color) from Harberts’ voyage.


Jean Anderson
A Love Affair with Southern Cooking
More than a cookbook, this is the story of how a little girl, born in the South of Yankee parents, fell in love with southern cooking at the age of five. And a bite of brown sugar pie was all it took.

After college up north, Anderson worked in rural North Carolina as an assistant home demonstration agent, scarfing good country cooking seven days a week: crispy "battered" chicken, salt-rising bread, wild persimmon pudding, Jerusalem artichoke pickles, Japanese fruitcake. Later, as a New York City magazine editor, then a freelancer, Anderson covered the South, interviewing cooks and chefs, sampling local specialties, and scribbling notebooks full of recipes. Now, at long last, Anderson shares her lifelong exploration of the South's culinary heritage and not only introduces the characters she met en route but also those men and women who helped shape America's most distinctive regional cuisine—people like Thomas Jefferson, Mary Randolph, George Washington Carver, Eugenia Duke, and Colonel Harlan Sanders.


Therese Fowler
Souvenir
Souvenir's protagonists Meg Powell and Carson McKay grew up side by side on their families’ farms, joined by an ever-deepening love. Everyone in their small rural community in northern Florida expected that Meg and Carson would always be together. But then, at twenty-one, Meg was confronted with a marriage proposal she could not refuse, and her life changed forever. Seventeen years later, Meg’s marriage has slipped into routine as she juggles the demands of her medical practice, the needs of her widowed father, and the whims of her rebellious teenage daughter, Savannah, who is confronting her burgeoning sexuality in a dangerous manner, pushing her mother away just when she needs her most. Meanwhile, after a long time away, Carson is returning home to prepare for his wedding to a younger woman. As Carson tries to determine where his heart and future lie, Meg makes a shocking discovery that will upset the balance of everyone around her.

In this episode, Therese Fowler shares Souvenir, an unforgettable story that illuminates the possibility of second chances, the naïve choices of youth, the tensions within families, and the transforming power of love.


Joseph Glatthaar
General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse
"You would be surprised to see what men we have in the ranks," Virginia cavalryman Thomas Rowland informed his mother in May 1861, just after joining the Army of Northern Virginia. His army -- General Robert E. Lee's army -- was a surprise to almost everyone: With daring early victories and an invasion into the North, they nearly managed to convince the North to give up the fight. Even in 1865, facing certain defeat after the loss of 30,000 men, a Louisiana private fighting in Lee's army still had hope. "I must not despair," he scribbled in his diary. "Lee will bring order out of chaos, and with the help of our Heavenly Father, all will be well."

Astonishingly, after 150 years of scholarship, there are still some major surprises about the Army of Northern Virginia. In General Lee's Army, renowned historian Joseph T. Glatthaar draws on an impressive range of sources assembled over two decades--from letters and diaries, to official war records, to a new, definitive database of statistics--to rewrite the history of the Civil War's most important army and, indeed, of the war itself. Glatthaar takes readers from the home front to the heart of the most famous battles of the war: Manassas, the Peninsula campaign, Antietam, Gettysburg, all the way to the final surrender at Appomattox. General Lee's Army penetrates headquarters tents and winter shanties, eliciting the officers' plans, wishes, and prayers; it portrays a world of life, death, healing, and hardship; it investigates the South's commitment to the war and its gradual erosion; and it depicts and analyzes Lee's men in triumph and defeat.

The history of Lee's army is a powerful lens on the entire war. The fate of Lee's army explains why the South almost won -- and why it lost. The story of his men -- their reasons for fighting, their cohesion, mounting casualties, diseases, supply problems, and discipline problems -- tells it all. Glatthaar's definitive account settles many historical arguments. The Rebels were fighting above all to defend slavery. More than half of Lee's men were killed, wounded, or captured -- a staggering statistic. Their leader, Robert E. Lee, though far from perfect, held an exalted place in his men's eyes despite a number of mistakes and despite a range of problems among some of his key lieutenants. In this episode, Glatthaar shares his General Lee's Army--a masterpiece of scholarship and vivid storytelling, narrated as much as possible in the words of the enlisted men and their officers.


Anna Hayes
Without Precedent:The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp
The first woman judge in the state of North Carolina and the first woman in the United States to be elected chief justice of a state supreme court, Susie Marshall Sharp (1907-1996) broke new ground for women in the legal profession. When she retired in 1979, she left a legacy burnished by her tireless pursuit of lucidity in the law, honesty in judges, and humane conditions in prisons.

Anna Hayes presents Sharp's career as an attorney, distinguished judge, and politician within the context of the social mores, the legal profession, and the political battles of her day, illuminated by a careful and revealing examination of Sharp's family background, private life, and personality. Judge Sharp was viewed by contemporaries as the quintessential spinster, who had sacrificed marriage and family life for a successful career. The letters and journals she wrote throughout her life, however, reveal that Sharp led a rich private life in which her love affairs occupied a major place, unsuspected by the public or even her closest friends and family.

With unrestricted access to Sharp's abundant journals, papers, and notes, Anna Hayes uncovers the story of a brilliant woman who transcended the limits of her times, who opened the way for women who followed her, and who improved the quality of justice for the citizens of her state. In this episode, Hayes shares her book, Without Precedent, the story of a complicated woman, at once deeply conservative and startlingly modern, whose intriguing self-contradictions reflect the complexity of human nature.


J.D. Rhoades
Breaking Cover
He was the most talented undercover agent in FBI history, until he dropped completely off the grid, and hasn't been heard from in years. Did he go native, or was he discovered and killed? When Tony Wolf is finally driven out into the open, torn from deep cover during the rescue of two kidnapped children, he becomes the number one target of both the vicious biker gang he double-crossed and a massive Federal manhunt. But Tony’s tired of being the hunted, and as both the gang and a traitorous FBI agent converge on a small southern town, they’re all about to learn a hard lesson: When the Wolf breaks cover, he doesn’t always run away. Sometimes he comes straight at your throat.

In this episode, JD Rhoades, the Shamus Award-nominated author of the critically acclaimed Jack Keller southern crime series, shares his explosive stand-alone thriller Breaking Cover, about an undercover federal agent--a chameleon whose specialty is assaulting criminal organizations from within.


Cindy Horrell Ramsey
Boys of the Battleship North Carolina
On July 11, 1942, the USS North Carolina steamed into Pearl Harbor. She was a magnificent ship—the first in a new class of battleships, simultaneously monstrous and fast. She was two and a half football fields long and so wide she could barely pass through the Panama Canal on her journey to Hawaii. At any given time, 2,339 sailors manned the ship—a total of more than 7,000 during the six years she served. As she glided into the ravaged harbor, past the wreckage of sunken American ships, the morale of the men in the surviving Pacific fleet soared. A little over two years earlier, more than 57,000 people had gathered in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the day she was launched. As she went through her "shakedown" period, she returned repeatedly to that same naval yard for adjustments and modifications. Many New Yorkers, including radio commentator Walter Winchell, often witnessed the ship entering and departing New York Harbor and began calling her the "Showboat."

Although she was an impressive structure, she was more than just a showboat. After coming to Pearl Harbor, she saw action in some 50 battles in almost every campaign in the Pacific from Guadalcanal to Tokyo Bay. In 1960, when the navy announced its intention to scrap the ship, North Carolina citizens, including countless schoolchildren, raised over $330,000 to bring the ship to Wilmington, North Carolina, and preserve her as a state war memorial.

In this episode, author Cindy Ramsey shares Boys of the Battleship North Carolina, the story of the battleship through the eyes of the men who served her. After doing research about the ship at the National Archives in 2000, Ramsey spent six days helping the staff of the memorial compile a living-history archive of personal interviews conducted with the surviving crewmembers when they attended the ship's annual reunion. She became fascinated with the stories these men told. For the next few years, she continued talking to the men to flesh out their stories. The result is this narrative about one of the most decorated American battleships in World War II, as seen through the eyes of the young sailors who matured into men while manning this floating fortress.


Nortin Hadler
Worried Sick: A Prescription for Health in an Overtreated America
At a time when access to health care in the United States is being widely debated, Nortin Hadler argues that an even more important issue is being overlooked. Although necessary health care should be available to all who need it, he says, the current health-care debate assumes that everyone requires massive amounts of expensive care to stay healthy. Hadler urges that before we commit to paying for whatever pharmaceutical companies and the medical establishment tell us we need, American consumers need to adopt an attitude of skepticism and arm themselves with enough information to make some of their own decisions about what care is truly necessary.

Each chapter of Worried Sick is an object lesson regarding the uses and abuses of a particular type of treatment, such as mammography, colorectal screening, statin drugs, or coronary stents. For consumers and medical professionals interested in understanding the scientific basis for Hadler's arguments, each topical chapter has an accompanying source chapter in which Hadler discusses the medical literature and studies that inform his critique.

According to Hadler, a major stumbling block to rational health-care policy in the United States is contention over the very concept of what constitutes good health. By learning to distinguish good medical advice from persuasive medical marketing, consumers can make better decisions about their personal health and use that wisdom to inform their perspectives on health-policy issues.


Tony Earley
The Blue Star
Seven years ago, readers everywhere fell in love with Jim Glass, the precocious ten-year-old at the heart of Tony Earley's bestseller Jim the Boy. Now a teenager, Jim returns in another tender and wise story of young love on the eve of World War Two. Jim Glass has fallen in love, as only a teenage boy can fall in love, with his classmate Chrissie Steppe. Unfortunately, Chrissie is Bucky Bucklaw's girlfriend, and Bucky has joined the Navy on the eve of war. Jim vows to win Chrissie's heart in his absence, but the war makes high school less than a safe haven, and gives a young man's emotions a grown man's gravity.

With the uncanny insight into the well-intentioned heart that made Jim the Boy a favorite novel for thousands of readers, Tony Earley has fashioned another nuanced and unforgettable portrait of America in another time--making it again even realer than our own day. In this episode, Earley discusses The Blue Star, this timeless and moving story of discovery, loss and growing up.


Louise Hawes
Black Pearls
" . . . and they lived happily ever after."
Remember the fairy tales you put away after you found that no princess is as beautiful as common sense and happy endings are just the beginning?

Well, the old tales are back, and they've grown up! Black Pearls brings you the stories of your childhood, told in a way you've never heard before. Instead of lulling you to sleep, they'll wake you up—to the haunting sadness that waits just inside the windows of a gingerbread cottage, the passion that fuels a witch's flight, and the heartache that comes, again and again, at the stroke of midnight.

Make no mistake: these stories are as dark as human nature itself. But they shine, too, lit with the fire of our dreams and our hunger for magic.


Nancy Peacock
A Broom of One’s Own
For the twice-published novelist, reading an article about herself in the National Enquirer—under the headline "Here's One for the Books: Cleaning Lady Is an Acclaimed Author"—was more than a shock. It was an inspiration.

In A Broom of One's Own, Nancy Peacock, whose first novel was selected by the New York Times as a Notable Book of the Year, explores with warmth, wit, and candor what it means to be a writer. An encouragement to all hard-working artists, no matter how they make a living, Peacock's book provides valuable insights and advice on motivation, craft, and criticism while offering hilarious anecdotes about the houses she cleans.


Anna RubinoRubino
Queen of the Oil Club
As the cost of oil tops a hundred and twenty dollars a barrel, the drive to develop biofuel sparks a world food crisis, and the Iraq war continues with no end in sight, Americans' daily lives are increasingly affected by the geopolitics of oil. To put it in context, to understand how oil--especially Middle East oil--has become such a pressing issue for the economy and for national security, it helps to look back to the 1950s when an elite club of Western oil executives managed the seven largest petroleum companies--and controlled access to the international oil world.

In Queen of the Oil Club: The Intrepid Wanda Jablonksi and the Power of Information, investigative reporter and historian Anna Rubino tells the story of how a path-breaking journalist, Wanda Jablonski, contributed to the breakdown of Big Oil by lifting the veil of secrecy over its business, exposing its vulnerabilities, and drawing attention to its chief opponents, the founders of OPEC.  Through exclusive access to Jablonski's private papers, interviews with more than a hundred people who knew her, including former oil executives and oil ministers, and her own experience working for Jablonksi's Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, Rubino has written the first-ever biography of this fearless and pioneering woman known to the oil world simply as "Wanda."


Shelia Moses
The Baptism
When you turn twelve in Occoneechee Neck in Jackson, North Carolina, everything changes. You get to do stuff you couldn't do when you were eleven. And it means it's time to get baptized.

Twin brothers Leon and Luke Curry turned twelve last month. Ma has given them one week in which to do right -- to cleanse themselves of their sinning ways and get themselves ready for the baptism. Next Sunday they will go down to the "mornin' bench" at church, sit in front of Reverend Webb, and be saved. It will be a glorious day. But that's only if Twin Leon and Twin Luke can keep themselves out of trouble. Which is easier said than done when you've lost your daddy and have a new stepfather; when you have a bullying big brother who plays tricks on you; and when it's summertime and all you want to do is go fishing instead of working in the fields.

In this episode, Shelia Moses shares how Twin Leon and Twin Luke stick together to face the odds as only twelve-year-old boys can do, managing to save themselves while also unexpectedly saving their entire family in a week's time, in moving, funny, and poignant novel.


Clyde Edgerton
The Bible Salesman
Henry is a bible salesman. Clearwater is a car thief. Henry needs a ride. Clearwater needs an assistant. The second World War is over, and nineteen-year-old Henry Dampier walks the roads of North Carolina, selling bibles. When Clearwater offers him a lift, Henry thinks it is a lucky day that only gets better with Clearwater’s “confession” of being an FBI agent in need of aid. Henry joyfully seizes the opportunity to lead a double life as bible salesman and G-man.

During his hilarious and scary adventures, beloved local author Clyde Edgerton shares Henry's fundamentalist youth, an upbringing that hasn't prepared him for his new life. He falls in love and questions his religious training. With the fun and games over, Henry is on his own in a way he never imagined.


Martin Clark
The Legal Limit
Martin Clark’s most remarkable novel yet is the gripping, complex story of a murder cover-up that wreaks widespread havoc even as it redefines the concept of justice—a relentlessly entertaining saga that delves deeply into matters at once ambiguous and essential.

While Gates Hunt chose to fight his abusive father head-on, his younger brother, Mason, eventually escaped their bitter, impoverished circumstances by earning a free ride to college and law school. And while Gates became an intransigent, compulsive felon, Mason met and married the love of his life, had a spitfire daughter, and returned to his rural hometown as the commonwealth’s attorney. But Mason’s idyll is abruptly pierced by a wicked tragedy, and soon afterward his life further unravels when Gates, convinced that his brother’s legal influence should spring him from prison, attempts to force his cooperation by means of a secret they’d both sworn to take with them to the grave. And with his closest friend and staunch ally suddenly threatened by secrets of his own, Mason ultimately finds himself facing complete ruin and desperately defending everything and everyone he holds dear.

Intricately plotted and shot through with authenticity, The Legal Limit is a roller coaster of moral relevance. What should govern our actions when family loyalty challenges personal integrity, when the letter of the law defies its spirit, and when fate plays dice with our best endeavors?


William Link
Righteous Warrior
Historian William Link’s latest Righteous Warrior examines the life of Senator Jesse Helms, one of the most important American politicians of the late twentieth century, and the important role that he played in the rise of modern conservatism. Born in Monroe, North Carolina, in his early years, Helms worked as a newspaperman, a radio commentator and a magazine editor. Early on, Helms realized the power of television, and, on tiny black and white screens across North Carolina in the 1960s he battled the civil rights movement, campus radicalism, and the sexual revolution. Link identifies race and sexuality as central issues for Helms, using it at every turn to solidify his base and, in some cases, to mobilize political support. Link reveals how Helms, as a U.S. Senator, became a national conservative leader and spokesman for the revitalized American Right, playing a prominent role in the Reagan Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s and the rising tide of Republicanism of the 1990s.

In an all-new episode, Link reveals Righteous Warrior, sharing the story of one of the most powerful Americans of the twentieth century and the conservative mark he left on the American political landscape.


Nina de Gramont
Gossip of the Starlings
When Catherine Morrow is admitted to the Esther Percy School for Girls, it's on the condition that she reform her ways. But that's before the charismatic and beautiful Skye Butterfield, daughter of the famous Senator Butterfield, chooses Catherine for her best friend. Skye is a young woman hell-bent on a trajectory of self-destruction, and she doesn't care who is taken down with her. No matter the transgression—a stolen credit card, a cocaine binge, an affair with a teacher, an accident that precipitates the end of Catherine's promising riding career—Catherine can neither resist Skye's spell nor stop her downward spiral.

De Gramont's chilling novel is a portrait of an adolescent girl so thoroughly seduced by a peer that she willingly follows her to ruin. Caught in a world that is both appealing and astonishing, these young women are sexual beings with the minds of teenagers: willful, selfish, daring, and cruel—all the while believing they're utterly indestructible.


Roy Underhill
The Woodwright’s Guide
For thirty years, Roy Underhill's PBS program, The Woodwright's Shop, has brought classic hand-tool craftsmanship to viewers across America. Now, in his seventh book, Roy shows how to engage the mysteries of the splitting wedge and the cutting edge to shape wood from forest to furniture.

Beginning with the standing tree, each chapter of The Woodwright's Guide explores one of nine trades of woodcraft: faller, countryman and cleaver, hewer, log-builder, sawyer, carpenter, joiner, turner, and cabinetmaker. Each trade brings new tools and techniques; each trade uses a different character of material; but all are united by the grain in the wood and the enduring mastery of muscle and steel. Hundreds of detailed drawings by Eleanor Underhill (Roy's daughter) illustrate the hand tools and processes for shaping and joining wood. A special concluding section contains detailed plans for making your own foot-powered lathes, workbenches, shaving horses, and taps and dies for wooden screws.

The Woodwright's Guide is informed by a lifetime of experience and study. A former master craftsman at Colonial Williamsburg, Roy has inspired millions to "just say no to power tools" through his continuing work as a historian, craftsman, activist, and teacher. In The Woodwright's Guide, he takes readers on a personal journey through a legacy of off-the-grid, self-reliant craftsmanship. It's a toolbox filled with insight and technique as well as wisdom and confidence for the artisan in all of us.


Scott Huler
No-Man’s Lands
When NPR contributor Scott Huler made one more attempt to get through James Joyce’s Ulysses, he had no idea it would launch an obsession with the book’s inspiration: the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey and the lonely homebound journey of its Everyman hero, Odysseus.

No-Man’s Lands is Huler’s funny and touching exploration of the life lessons embedded within The Odyssey, a legendary tale of wandering and longing that could be read as a veritable guidebook for middle-aged men everywhere. At age forty-four, with his first child on the way, Huler felt an instant bond with Odysseus, who fought for some twenty years against formidable difficulties to return home to his beloved wife and son. In reading The Odyssey, Huler saw the chance to experience a great vicarious adventure as well as the opportunity to assess the man he had become and embrace the imminent arrival of both middle age and parenthood.

But Huler realized that it wasn’t enough to simply read the words on the page—he needed to live Odysseus’s odyssey, to visit the exotic destinations that make Homer’s story so timeless. And so an ambitious pilgrimage was born . . . traveling the entire length of Odysseus’s two-decade journey. In six months.

Huler doggedly retraced Odysseus’s every step, from the ancient ruins of Troy to his ultimate destination in Ithaca. On the way, he discovers the Cyclops’s Sicilian cave, visits the land of the dead in Italy, ponders the lotus from a Tunisian resort, and paddles a rented kayak between Scylla and Charybdis and lives to tell the tale. He writes of how and why the lessons of The Odyssey—the perils of ambition, the emptiness of glory, the value of love and family—continue to resonate so deeply with readers thousands of years later. And as he finally closes in on Odysseus’s final destination, he learns to fully appreciate what Homer has been saying all along: the greatest adventures of all are the ones that bring us home to those we love.

Part travelogue, part memoir, and part critical reading of the greatest adventure epic ever written, No-Man’s Lands is an extraordinary description of two journeys—one ancient, one contemporary—and reveals what The Odyssey can teach us about being better bosses, better teachers, better parents, and better people.