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.
On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr., stepped into the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City and delivered a thunderous sermon opposing the war in Vietnam. In that now-famous moment, King denounced the strident militarism of the American government—describing it as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today"— and outlined what he saw as the connections between the war effort, racism and poverty.
“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.