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.
In 2010, musician Patti Smith published Just Kids, a radiant memoir about her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and their lives as bohemian babes-in-the-woods in New York City. Set in the 1960s and ’70s, the story of their coming-of-age as artists—Smith’s first full-length work of prose—won the National Book Award. In her new memoir, M Train, Smith trades the circus atmosphere of the psychedelic era for the here and now, offering readers a remarkably intimate look at her life in New York City.
Stuart Stevens grew up going to Ole Miss games with his father. In 1962, in the midst of tumultuous battles over civil rights on campus, Stevens and his father cheered the Rebels to a perfect season and a national championship. More than 50 years later, having just finished leading an exhausting and unsuccessful presidential campaign for Mitt Romney, Stevens “wakes up” and realizes that what he wants most in the world is one more season, “with my father and football and the Ole Miss Rebels.”
Anyone who has completed a grueling round of sun salutations may be glad to learn that such exertions were intended for adolescent boys. Yoga, as it was taught to Americans by Indra Devi in the 1950s, was a slower series of postures, yet it was no more “authentic” than the intense hatha yoga of today. As Michelle Goldberg capably illustrates in The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West, yoga has always been a bizarre blend of Eastern and Western tradition, particularly in the U.S. Like many other trends, yoga’s popularity began in Hollywood.
The frequent surprises in Oliver Sacks’ guardedly self-revelatory autobiography begin with the book’s cover photo. There we see a buff, leather-jacketed Sacks astride his new BMW motorcycle in Greenwich Village in 1961. Who knew that the genial, gray-bearded, best-selling writer-neurologist once portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie Awakenings (1990) was such a hunk in his late 20s? Or a state-champion lifter on Southern California’s Muscle Beach? Or a physician addicted for a while to amphetamines? Or a closeted gay man who had sex during the week of his 40th birthday and then not again until he fell in love at 75?
In her charming and flavorful memoir, My Organic Life: How a Pioneering Chef Helped Shape the Way We Eat Today, Nora Pouillon recounts the ingredients of a life spent shaping our attitudes toward the food we cook, how we prepare it and the way we eat.
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.
In a Rocket Made of Ice is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary place. Wat Opot Children’s Community is a Cambodian orphanage started with $50 by Wayne Matthysse, a former Vietnam medic driven to make life better for children in war-torn countries. The orphanage is home to children and women affected by HIV and AIDS, where they can get the powerful antiretroviral drugs they need to stay healthy, as well as education and a community in which they belong.
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, June 2014
It was on a gray December day that 23-year-old Joanna Rakoff, nestled into her couch rereading Persuasion, received the call that she had gotten the job. Fresh out of grad school and without much of a game plan—aside from a deep-rooted desire to become a poet—Rakoff landed a position at one of the most storied literary agencies in New York City, one that represented such literary legends as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Judy Blume.
Mohandas K. Gandhi was born and raised in India and is best known for his work there as a world-renowned social reformer, political thinker, religious pluralist and prophet. If his life had followed the traditional path for someone of his family and caste, he would have remained in India, served in a prominent position and been unknown to most of the world. But as the noted scholar Ramachandra Guha demonstrates in his eminently readable and exhaustively researched Gandhi Before India, the 20 years that Gandhi spent in South Africa before his return to his home country in 1914 were fundamental to his success.