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.
The American people are, it seems, a fretful and anxious lot. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults. [These] disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.” A lack of treatment is not the issue for Scott...
History has not been kind to China’s Empress Dowager Cixi. Credit for her numerous achievements is generally given to the men who served her. She’s been called a ruthless tyrant and murderer, and those in power after her claimed to be cleaning up yet another of her unforgivable messes. Were any of this true, the criticism might be forgivable. However, author Jung Chang (Wild Swans)...
A meditation on love and grief, on soaring in hot air balloons and crashing into the Earth, Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life is a memoir occasioned by the death of his wife. But unlike the recent memoirs by Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates on the experience of their own bereavements, Barnes waited five years to craft this book, which is marked by a sense of perspective on the tragedy of...