“His name was Salvador and he arrived with bloody feet.” From the opening sentence of Jonathan Franklin’s 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea, this riveting adventure has us in its grip, spellbound and eager to know more about the mysterious Salvador Alvarenga.
Roger Angell, now 94, has had an extraordinary life. A longtime fiction editor of The New Yorker and one of the best-ever writers on baseball, he is the only writer elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Baseball Hall of Fame. His wonderful new collection, This Old Man: All in Pieces, is, he says, a grab bag, a portrait of his brain at this point in his life. The title piece, a moving and personal account of aging, received the 2014 prize for best essay from the American Society of Magazine Editors.
Jack London lived during America’s first Gilded Age from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Readers of his very popular books (he was the first U.S. author to make more than a million dollars) were entertained by stories about dogs and wolves and gold miners and ships and cannibals. At the same time, London was educating the public about serious societal problems that required fundamental reform.
Ancient Rome helps define the way we understand the world and think about ourselves. The ideas of liberty and citizenship, the Western calendar, phrases such as “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” and much more came from this one source. Renowned classicist Mary Beard, a professor at Cambridge University, has spent much of the last 50 years studying the literature of the Romans and the thousands of books and papers written about them. Her magnificent, eminently readable SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome is an authoritative exploration of how a small and unremarkable village became such a dominant power on three continents.
Celebrity memoirs often have a predictable arc: I was born, and for a brief while I was much like you, eating cereal and riding bicycles, then (big famous thing) happened and now here I am, not much like you at all. These memoirs fill a need, because we want to know about the famous thing but also the steps that led to it, in hopes that we might trade our own cereal bowls for shrimp forks. By that metric, Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr. You, a memoir written by an actress, is the farthest thing imaginable from a celebrity memoir. For this we can rejoice and be glad.
When Kevin Powell appeared on the first season of MTV's “The Real World,” he developed a reputation for hostility toward his white roommates. I remember thinking he was an adult miscast in a show full of kids, always running out the door to work. In The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey Into Manhood, we learn about the grinding poverty and loss that fueled that anger, which resurfaced time and again to threaten all he held dear.
A noted science writer and the author of two previous bestsellers (The Rational Optimist and Genome), Matt Ridley is no friend to central planning or the implementation of grand schemes from above. It’s better, he says, to facilitate the gradual development of objects and ideas as they adjust themselves to changing circumstances—in short, to evolution.
My Life on the Road is a traveler’s journey like no other, and Gloria Steinem, feminist icon, 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient (President Obama called her a “champion notice-er”), journalist, organizer and activist, is your unique guide.
If anyone is well positioned to convince people that the threat of a blackout-inducing cyberattack on America is real, it’s Ted Koppel. A respected and award-winning journalist, longtime “Nightline” anchor and current news analyst for NPR and the BBC, Koppel has the credibility and visibility to both conduct a thorough investigation and broadcast the results widely. In this clear-eyed analysis of the pending threat of cyberattacks and our government’s shockingly insufficient plans for surviving them, Koppel crunches the numbers that make a doomsday scenario look not only possible, but likely.
A lasting impression after reading Custer’s Trials is that George Armstrong Custer was a man who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time—until he died being in the wrong place at the wrong time.