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Phil Caputo’s ‘The Longest Road’ the 2014 Big Read Book

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Susan McNeil-Marshall, Library Administrator of the Woodridge Public Library, announced today “The book selected for the 2014 Big Read is The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean, by Philip Caputo. From one corner of the world to another, Caputo's story of his epic road trip delves into the heart and the spirit of this diverse country.”

Go, Go America, by Dan Yaccarino has been selected for the Kids Read. It's the story of one family's rollicking road trip from state to state and the curious facts they learn.

The Big Read is a popular community event now in its tenth year, involving nine libraries from surrounding communities. The purpose is to connect communities through literature and to hold book discussions and related programs at each of the libraries, open to everyone. The programs will be held in March and April and a complete program guide will be available February 1.

Sandy Illian Bosch revealed in a The Doings Weekly article [1] last week that (a) The Longest Road would be the 2014 Big Read book and (b) the Westchester Public Library would join the group of nine west suburban libraries – the Clarendon Hills Public Library in Clarendon Hills, the Downers Grove Public Library in Downers Grove, the Hinsdale Public Library in Hinsdale, Indian Prairie Indian Prairie Public Library District headquartered in Darien, the La Grange Public Library in La Grange, the La Grange Park Public Library in La Grange Park, the Lisle Library District in Lisle, the Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, and the Woodridge Public Library in Woodridge – that participate in the Big Read. [Note that when I compare Sandy I. Bosch’s list of participating libraries with a list from my article on the 2013 Big Read book, Adriana Trigiani’s The Shoemaker’s Wife: A Novel, I note that the Westmont Public Library dropped out and with the inclusion of the Westchester Public Library the number of participating libraries is back up to ten.] Westchester, Illinois is Caputo’s hometown.

Born in Chicago on June 10, 1941, Philip Caputo is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago, a veteran of the American-North Vietnamese War, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a novelist, and an author of non-fiction books. Caputo graduated in 1964, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1964 to ’67, and joined the Chicago Tribune as a staff reporter in 1968.

He served as a general assignment reporter and team investigative reporter from 1968 to 1972. His team won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of vote fraud in Chicago.

Subsequently, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Tribune in Rome, Beirut, Saigon, and Moscow from 1972 to 1977. In 1972, he won the Overseas Press Club Award. While in Beirut, a sniper wounded him.

His wartime memoir A Rumor of War, published in 1977, garnered him the Sidney Hillman Foundation award in 1977. It has been translated into fifteen languages. Approximately 2,000,000 copies have been sold.

In his second memoir, Means of Escape: A War Correspondent’s Memoir of Life and Death in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Vietnam, he recounted his adventures as a journalist covering the Chicago Outfit; being a guest of Arab Bedouins; being kidnapped by Muslim extremists; being wounded by a sniper in Beirut; covering the war in Vietnam, which he covered as a Tribune war correspondent in Saigon after he returned home from fighting in an earlier stage of the same war; and covering the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Henry Holt published his third memoir, The Longest Road, in the summer of 2013. In it, he recounted the 16,000-mile-long journey he and his wife took across the U.S. from the Atlantic Coast to the Arctic Coast, starting in Key West, Florida and ending in Deadhorse, Alaska.

Caputo has written eight novels. His first novel, Horn of Africa, published in 1980, was a National Book Award finalist. It is the story of a foreign correspondent who becomes a mercenary.

Delcorso’s Gallery, published in 1983, is the story of an army photographer-turned-photojournalist conflicted over a promise he gave his wife not to risk his life and the obligation he feels to cover a North Vietnamese campaign to conquer the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon.

Indian Country, published in 1987, tells the story of a White boy from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Christian Starkmann, who follows his Ojibwa friend, Boniface (also known as Bonny George) into the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam and suffers from survivor’s guilt when Boniface dies there. Traumatic memories threaten his marriage to social worker June.

Equation for Evil, published in 1996, tells the story of Duane Boggs, a mass murderer who kills a busload of Asian-American schoolchildren and then turns the gun on himself. Forensic psychiatrist Leander Heartwood, assigned to investigate the madman’s motives, comes to believe Boggs had a confederate.

Exiles, published in 1997, is not a novel, but a collection of three novellas with a common theme. The Voyage, published in 1999, tells the story of Sybil investigating why in 1901 her great-grandfather Cyrus Braithwaite ordered his three sons to sail from their home in Maine aboard their forty-six-foot schooner and not return until September.

Acts of Faith, published in 2005, has three protagonists in war-torn Sudan. Crossers, published in 2009, tells the story of Gil Castle, a widower on a sprawling ranch along the Mexican-American border, and involves human-smuggling and drug-smuggling.

Caputo has also written four books of general non-fiction. Ghosts of Tsavo, published in 2002, is his investigation into the two lions – long on display at The Field Museum – that killed 135 railroad workers at the Tsavo River in Kenya in 1898, inspiring the film The Ghost and the Darkness (1996).

Why do some lions become maneaters? While most lions have manes, why do so many lions from this region of Africa never grow manes (giving them the appearance, from afar, of large lionesses)? Caputo explores theories that may answer these questions and recounts his own safari in the area.

In the Shadows of the Morning, also published in 2002, is a collection of essays recounting Caputo’s harrowing experiences. 13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings, published in 2005, is his examination of the event from the perspective of a reporter who arrived on the scene shortly after it happened.

10,000 Days of Thunder, also published in 2005, is a history of the war in Vietnam from the French attempt to re-establish colonial control lost in World War II to the Fall of Saigon. It includes profiles of the leaders on both sides (including Ho Chi Minh, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Millhouse Nixon, General Vo Nguyen Giap, and General William C. Westmorland) and eyewitness accounts of the war and anti-war protests from soldiers on both sides, protestors. He covers topics including the rise of Communism in Vietnam, the role of women in the war, and the role of Vietnamese villagers in the war.

Caputo has published articles, reviews, and op-ed pieces in publications ranging from The New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Esquire, Playboy, National Geographic, and the Virginia Quarterly Review. His 2007 essay on illegal immigration won the University of Virginia’s Blackford Prize for nonfiction.

Naturally, Caputo is an in-demand public speaker, and has lectured at a score of universities and prep schools across the U.S. In addition, he has been a featured speaker for the National Book Committee, the American Library Association, and the American Publisher’s Association; and a participant at the Key West Literary Seminar, the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, the Chicago Humanities Festival, and the Cheltenham Literary Festival in Cheltenham, England.

Caputo had two sons with his first wife, Geoffrey, a jazz composer and music teacher, and Marc, a reporter for the Miami Herald. His second wife is Leslie Ware, an editor for the magazine Consumer Reports. They divide their time between Connecticut and Arizona.

[1] The Doings is a weekly newspaper published in west suburban Burridge. It is one of a family of suburban newspapers affiliated with the Chicago Sun-Times.

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