Thor Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds is an unexpected delight. Composed in charming and lively prose, the book introduces readers to a variety of quirky figures—biologists, farmers, archaeologists and everyday gardeners—who have something profound to say about a seemingly mundane topic: those little kernels that, against tremendous odds, have managed to take root all around us.
At this moment on the other side of the world, a girl is sitting in the dark. A rare skin disease prevents exposure to the sun, to a shining bulb, even to the benign glow of a Kindle screen. She covers up the slightest cracks of light with tin foil. What do people who pass her house on the street think of these ceaseless black-out blinds, she wonders. She doesn't find out.
Remember the Beanie Babies? Peanut (a blue elephant), Lovie (a little lamb) and Cubbie (a Chicago bear) are just three of the beanbag animals highlighted in Zac Bissonnette’s strange, compelling book on the 1990s fad. Behind the Beanies was the meticulous, ambitious Ty Warner, a bizarre combination of wolf of Wall Street and master elf of Santa’s toy factory.
From “Game of Thrones” to The Pillars of the Earth, popular culture offers up medieval stories where royals grab for power, where crucial alliances are built between church and state, where important people suddenly fall over dead after a sumptuous meal, poisoned by a hidden rival. But this world did, in fact, exist, and the subject of Kirstin Downey’s fascinating new biography, Isabella: The Warrior Queen, maneuvered through it with unlikely and thrilling success.
After closing New York Times reporter Matt Richtel’s compelling book A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention, I couldn’t help but think of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Both chronicle the story of a crime. If you’ve ever read In Cold Blood, you know how the story builds with palpable suspense. The same is true here. The crime, though, isn’t coldblooded murder, but something seemingly more mundane: a car accident on a hillside in Utah that killed two rocket scientists and was caused by a careless teenager. The alleged crime is negligent homicide, because the teenager, Reggie, may have been texting just before the crash.
Joshua Wolf Shenk offers an intriguing look at the nature of creative partnerships in Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. His subjects range from the musical (Lennon and McCartney) to the scientific (Watson and Crick), from the literary (Melville and Hawthorne) to the technical (Jobs and Wozniak). From these dozens of case studies, Shenk synthesizes the patterns. What happens when creative pairs meet? (Hint: It’s often like falling in love.) When does the really good work get going? Why do such partnerships often end?
Brian Benson’s new memoir about the journeys we take and how they shape the people we become is not to be missed. Going Somewhere begins in South America where, as a young college graduate with a liberal arts degree, Brian decides to spend a few months backpacking. He’s stopped in his tracks by Rachel, an American making her living as a singer. He joins her band. They fall in love. And a few months later, they decide to ditch Guatemala in favor of a different adventure: biking from Wisconsin to western Oregon. He’s a lanky, six-foot-tall athlete; she’s a diminutive beauty with a plus-sized wit. They buy matching bikes, and their love seems to be in full bloom. But what happens on the trail?
Martin Windrow never intended to require visitors to his London flat to don protective headgear, but that’s what happened. He had to protect his guests from the eight long talons of Mumble, the tawny owl who lived in his small, urban apartment. All surfaces had to be covered with either plastic or newspaper to protect them from Mumble’s unpredictable and very messy emissions. How could cohabitating with such a creature be worth these high costs?
Jihad, an Arabic word meaning strife or struggle, has many connotations in our culture, few of them romantic. Yet romance is at the center of Krista Bremer’s moving memoir, My Accidental Jihad, though struggle is a key element as well.
Sometimes things happen in life that change one’s perspective. Literally. For Gail Caldwell, hip surgery made her five-eighths of an inch taller. It was a new view, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.