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William Fiennes  

At the age of twenty-five, William Fiennes fell ill. The disease proved more serious than anticipated; the subsequent complications, operations, and convalescence put a halt to his doctoral studies at Oxford, forcing a return to his parents' home in the English Midlands. As he regained his health in these familiar surroundings, Fiennes became increasingly despondent over his losses: his strength, his independence, his confidence, his way of life. After a chance reading of Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose, he found himself haunted by the story's description of birds and turned, with a long-dormant enthusiasm, to ornithology. Craving adventure and new experiences, he decided to follow the annual 3,000-mile migration of snow geese from Eagle Lake, Texas to Foxe Land in the Canadian Arctic. Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, The Snow Geese is the elegant chronicle of this journey of longing and fulfillment. Fiennes interweaves his observations of American life and accessible discourses on snow geese into a mesmerizing and incisive blend of travel memoir and natural history. As he pushes further north for the birds' homecoming, he also comes closer to the end of a parallel quest, another homecoming of sorts: the recovery of his sense of self. Thoughtfully and beautifully voiced, William Fiennes's The Snow Geese is an unforgettable book of great, moving power.

 
erskine childers  

An overnight best-seller in its day, The Riddle of the Sands is one a small handful of novels to have propelled public opinion and actually resulted in decisive political action. Along with Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and (to an inferior degree) Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night (1968), it seized and helped to define the fears and moral outrage of millions of readers. The novel tells the story of two English gentlemen who, while yachting off Germany's North Sea coast, begin to unravel a German plot to invade England. Published in 1903, it is considered by many to be the first spy thriller. Although he wrote the novel in part to raise awareness of Britain's unreadiness in the case of an invasion, Childers was a man of divided conscience and loyalty. Born to an Irish family of comfortable circumstances and educated at Cambridge University, he was devoted to Britain's interests against foreign powers but deeply hostile to her empire and her dominion over Ireland. He served in the House of Commons but also smuggled arms to Irish nationalists aboard his yacht, Asgard. He served in the British Secret Service in World War One, earning the Distinguished Service Cross, and he was later arrested, carrying a pistol given to him by Michael Collins, as a member of the Irish Republican Army. When he was put before a firing squad in Dublin, his last words were: "Take a step or two forwards, lads. It will be easier that way."

Read an excerpt from the novel and the introduction by Milt Bearden.

 
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