A noted science writer and the author of two previous bestsellers (The Rational Optimist and Genome), Matt Ridley is no friend to central planning or the implementation of grand schemes from above. It’s better, he says, to facilitate the gradual development of objects and ideas as they adjust themselves to changing circumstances—in short, to evolution.
James A. Michener had his Tales of the South Pacific. Now comes Simon Winchester—an equally engaging storyteller—with his tales of the vast Pacific, all 64 million square miles of it. To make such a gargantuan subject manageable, he selects specific events which he says symbolize larger cultural, political and scientific truths about the region.
Now that anyone with a Facebook page and an opinion can be a political pundit, it’s hard to believe there was a time—and not that long ago—when a newspaper columnist could wield real political power. Mary McGrory did for nearly half a century.
“Objective Troy” was the name the Pentagon assigned to Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Muslim cleric whose rhetoric and politics evolved from moderate to murderous during the first decade of the 2000s and led to his being killed in Yemen in 2011 by a drone strike President Obama authorized personally.
After the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, Dr. Sumner Jackson, a high-profile American-born surgeon, found himself in the perilous position of living a few doors down fashionable Avenue Foch from the Gestapo headquarters.
The story of how the Internet brought the imperious music business to its knees has never been told more succinctly and readably than it is here. Beginning his narrative in 1995, when the compact disc format reigned, Stephen Witt focuses on the transformative importance of four primary figures.
Few forces of nature are as terrifying and unpredictable as forest fires, particularly those in America’s arid West and Southwest. Depending on size, such a fire can create its own shifting weather patterns, each posing a new danger, a different path of destruction. That’s what happened in Yarnell, Arizona, on June 30, 2013, when 19 of the 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighting team were burned to death in a blaze sparked by lightning.
In Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II, Richard Reeves re-tells—with heart-breaking specificity—the story of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast who were incarcerated during World War II strictly because of their ancestry.
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.
Those who find the physical world a sufficient source of intellectual and emotional enrichment are likely to be both puzzled and annoyed by A Death On Diamond Mountain. Why would the two middle class American men at the center of the story—both well-educated and neither from a particularly religious family—become so fixated on achieving “enlightenment” through Tibetan Buddhism that their quests take over virtually every aspect of their lives? And given the inward focus of their questing, why should their story matter? The real drama here arises from the charismatic woman both men loved and who ultimately set them at odds with each other.