“So, really, what’s a nice girl like me doing working at a ghastly ol’ crematory like Westwind?” Caitlin Doughty asks near the beginning of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, her by turns shockingly gruesome, mordantly funny and, ultimately, richly thought-provoking memoir about working in an Oakland, California, mortuary and crematorium.
Ramita Navai sets it straight from the beginning: “In order to live in Tehran, you have to lie,” she writes in City of Lies, a gripping portrait of life inside Iran. “Lying in Tehran is about survival.”
At the time Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, he did not have a definite plan for dealing with the postwar South. Although 360,000 Union troops had died during the Civil War, the North had not suffered the widespread devastation of the Southern states. The nine million white citizens and four million former slaves who lived in the former Confederacy faced a grim future.
While there’s something fascinating about old medical equipment and collections of oddities, it’s harder to truly appreciate the reality of life before modern surgery, let alone the ostracism and pain faced by individuals who suffered from conditions routinely corrected today. In this compelling biography of Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter (1811-1850), Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz brings a poet’s sensibilities to the life of an American surgeon who was at the forefront of advances in medical education and reconstructive surgery.
Global and ravenous, modern capitalism has turned American citizens into mere consumers, people who are focused principally on their own gratification and essentially indifferent to the needs of the larger society. This, in a nutshell, is Paul Roberts’ thesis in The Impulse Society.
Ah, we humans, what have we wrought? Essayist and naturalist Diane Ackerman (author of A Natural History of the Senses, The Zookeeper’s Wife and many other books) tackles this musing—and not merely rhetorical—question in The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us, examining what geologists are calling our current epoch, the Anthropocene, or Human Age.
Eighty-six-year-old personal shopper Betty Halbreich stole the show in a 2013 documentary called Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s. Her slightly haughty demeanor was belied by a twinkle and a smile playing at her lips. There’s more to this story, she seemed to be saying.
You can get away with quite a lot if no one takes you very seriously. Like carrying military intelligence about the Union army through enemy lines to deliver it to the Confederates. Or hiding Union POW escapees in your attic while Confederate officers are boarding downstairs at your home.
In most biographies, an epilogue provides the story of what happens after the subject of the book has died or somehow left the scene. It’s a wrapping up, a life-after-life afterthought.
Pioneering journalist Gail Sheehy has lived a life jam-packed with work, love, politics and writing. Best-selling author of 1976’s Passages, which revolutionized the way Americans thought about the phases of their adult lives, Sheehy has spent a lifetime documenting American culture. Now in her 70s, she casts a retrospective eye on the chapters of her own life in an absorbing new memoir.