It’s rare that a memoir is so emotionally engaging that a reader may wish to reach back through time and envelop the author in a warm parental hug. But that’s the impulse poet Tracy K. Smith engenders in this account of growing up as a dutiful daughter in a small town in northern California during the 1970s and ’80s. “My mother was proud of my decorum,” Smith recalls. “She liked having a little girl who instinctively wanted to obey.” Smith was much more than a compliant child, though. She was also preternaturally attuned to everything happening around her and determined to find a place for it in her rich imagination.
Los Angeles would not exist as the sprawling, highly populated global center it is today were it not for one man. At the turn of the last century, William Mulholland, a civil servant self-educated in the ways of water engineering, all but willed Southern California’s future when he masterminded one of the greatest engineering projects of all time: the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
Both born in 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth could have been classmates in school. It’s easy to imagine Eleanor sitting up front (or even helping teach the class) and Alice occupying a back-row spot, launching spitballs and making wisecracks.
Stephen King called Abigail Thomas’ memoir A Three Dog Life “the best memoir I have ever read,” and Thomas has another winner with her latest, What Comes Next and How to Like It.
Thor Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds is an unexpected delight. Composed in charming and lively prose, the book introduces readers to a variety of quirky figures—biologists, farmers, archaeologists and everyday gardeners—who have something profound to say about a seemingly mundane topic: those little kernels that, against tremendous odds, have managed to take root all around us.
What with all the CSI television dramas, books by FBI profilers and frightening news stories about serial killers, we’ve become quite familiar with the concept of the criminal psychopath, a person without remorse. But even now, most of us are shocked when a child is a murderer. In 1874, when our current ideas about mental illness were still in their infancy, 14-year-old Jesse Pomeroy seemed to many like a demon from hell.
The tactics may have changed, but the intent remains the same: North Korea is a mysterious, insular country that above all loathes the United States. Today, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un retains his tight grip on power through imprisonment and purges. His threats against the United States include missile testing and computer hacking. But Kim’s modern-day machinations simply mirror the early actions of his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, who took control of North Korea following World War II and established the Kim family dynasty. Blaine Harden’s new book, The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, describes the formation of that dynasty and offers one explanation for why North Korea hates the U.S.
Those who find the physical world a sufficient source of intellectual and emotional enrichment are likely to be both puzzled and annoyed by A Death On Diamond Mountain. Why would the two middle class American men at the center of the story—both well-educated and neither from a particularly religious family—become so fixated on achieving “enlightenment” through Tibetan Buddhism that their quests take over virtually every aspect of their lives? And given the inward focus of their questing, why should their story matter? The real drama here arises from the charismatic woman both men loved and who ultimately set them at odds with each other.
In his engaging and provocative Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy, Emory University anthropologist and neuroscientist Konner (The Tangled Wing) admits that his book contains something to offend everyone. The idea that important differences in gender identity and behavior are based in biology will not please feminists, and the idea that women are superior to men will offend a lot of men, he writes.
J.C. Hallman had only a passing awareness of writer Nicholson Baker when he quite impulsively became obsessed with the man and his work. He not only had erroneously thought that Baker was British, but considered him a “nonessential” writer. That indifference changed into fixation nearly overnight. Hallman plunged into all of Baker’s fiction and nonfiction, a project that morphed into the deeper contemplation of literature and life that he chronicles with candor, humor and insight in B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal.