Originally published in Israel, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari’s brilliant history of humankind has already become an international bestseller. A specialist in world history, Harari undertakes a daunting task in Sapiens: to examine the rise of our species and discern the reasons behind our remarkable success.
From the time she was 5 years old, Deborah Voigt was singing with all her heart, joyously belting out hymns like "His Eye is on the Sparrow" in church. In this sanctuary of spiritual sweetness, she discovered her tremendous vocal gift, as well as her love of performing for an attentive crowd. By the time she was a teenager, music possessed Voigt; she was immersed in piano lessons, singing Broadway tunes and eventually discovering and tuning into the pop music of Bobby Sherman and Donny Osmond. It was the voice of Karen Carpenter, however, who helped her realize she could have a career in music, and the voice of God, who told her, "you are here to sing" one morning and propelled her on the path to becoming an acclaimed operatic soprano.
In 1971, 10-year-old Allen Kurzweil arrived at a Swiss boarding school called Aiglon. He was a Jewish boy from New York; his father had died, and his mother was “test-driving her third husband.” Kurzweil was happy to be back in the Alps—his Viennese father had brought him there for winter holidays and imbued him with a love of alpine hiking and skiing.
The baffling 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor gets true-crime treatment in Tinseltown, a compelling interweaving of star power, the machinations of power brokers and the desperation of the wannabes and the washed up. Together they provide the book’s apt subtitle: “Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood."
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.
Who cares that the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Florida State University won the 2013 Bowl Championship Series college football championship? The Southeastern Conference ran away with the previous seven consecutive titles, saw a conference member finish second in the 2013 series and pitted conference members head-to-head for the 2011 title.
There are many reasons to love a good misery memoir: In my case, reading about other people’s dysfunctional childhoods offers a sense of community, a sisterhood of resilient Gen Xers who survived a 1970s childhood. Cea Sunrise Person’s engaging new memoir, North of Normal, evokes both the miserable excesses and occasional beauty of growing up in a counterculture family in the wilderness of the Me Decade.
John Quincy Adams was devoted to literature, and had he been able to pursue his ideal career, he wrote in 1817, “I should have made myself a great poet.” He did write poetry throughout his extraordinary life, but, from a very young age, his parents strongly encouraged him toward life as a leader in the new republic. His literary skills, however, were not wasted.
From the Duke boys’ car named the General Lee on the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show to his appearance on a U.S. postage stamp, Robert E. Lee has come to “embody and glorify a defeated cause,” Michael Korda asserts in a monumental new biography, Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee.
It is far easier to be morally outraged by a situation than morally engaged in confronting it. We look back at the horrors of slavery or the Holocaust and exclaim, “How could they have let this happen,” even as we effectively ignore the current waves of human miseries washing around our feet. Gil and Eleanor Kraus were no such antiseptic moralists.