One of Jon Krakauer’s many strengths as a writer is his ability to take two stories and weave them together to make one fascinating account. In Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Doubleday, $27.95), the tales of Afghanistan and Pat Tillman come together tragically at a small canyon near Pakistan’s border where Tillman was killed by friendly fire from his own platoon. Krakauer discusses the subsequent military cover-up of the details of Tillman’s death and how Tillman’s family forced the truth to be told. The reporting includes hundreds of interviews, on-the-ground research in Afghanistan, and excerpts from Tillman’s journals and letters. What shines through all of this, though, is the story of a thoughtful, dedicated, and exceptional young man driven by his moral compass in all things, and the effect his brief life had on so many.
An enthralling account of scholarship and adventure, The Sisters Of Sinai (Knopf, $27.95) tells of Agnes and Margaret Smith, wealthy identical Scottish twins. Victorians and devout Calvinists, the pair spent their lives acquiring languages and traveling the Holy Land. With neither husbands nor university degrees, they traveled alone to Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai, where they discovered and translated a Syriac palimpsest that remains one of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament scriptures. Celebrity preachers and cunning dragomen share the pages of this history, the tone of which mimics the formal novelty of Victorian travel adventures in a tongue-in-cheek manner. British scholar and narrator Janet Soskice uses a bevy of letters, close readings of Agnes Smith’s (mediocre) novels, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Cambridge to contextualize the twins’ discovery (and lives) within the broader climate of Victorian anxiety about Scripture’s authenticity and authority.