Book Reviews

Richard White

Oxford University Press



Nineteenth-century Americans were a sickly people. The decline of virtually every measure of physical well-being was at the heart of a largely urban Gilded Age environmental crisis that people recognized but could neither name nor fully understand. By the most basic standards—life spans, infant death rate, and bodily stature, which reflected childhood health and nutrition—American life grew worse over the course of the nineteenth century…An average white ten-year old American boy in 1880, born at the beginning of the Gilded Age and living through it, could expect to die at age forty-eight. His height would be five feet, two inches. He would be shorter and have a briefer life than his Revolutionary forebears.

  from The Republic for Which It Stands



Stephen McCauley

Flatiron Books


(David) thought of his true mission as helping his teenaged clients gain a realistic understanding of who they were and what they could achieve in life once they stepped away from their parents’ self-aggrandizing fantasies of them. Their parents had been so insistent about instilling self-esteem, they’d fallen into the trap of telling their kids they could do anything. Unfortunately, almost everyone interprets doing “anything” as doing the same three or four glamorous and impressive things—going to Harvard, retiring before ever working, giving an Oscar acceptance speech, and becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg, except hot.

                                from My Ex-Life



Meg Wolitzer

Riverhead Books


The light touch of this powerful woman was profound. So too was her choice to use her power in this tender way. Maybe that’s what we want from women, Greer thought… Maybe that’s what we imagine it would be like to have a woman lead us. When women got into positions of power, they calibrated and recalibrated tenderness and strength, modulating and correcting. Power and love didn’t often live side by side. If one came in, the other might go out.

                    from The Female Persuasion



André Aciman


“Right now you may not want to feel anything…If there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!”  

                    from Call Me by Your Name



Ursula K. Le Guin

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Because competition for primacy, for literary supremacy, doesn’t seem as glamorously possible for women as it does for men, the whole idea of singular greatness—of there being one great anything—may not have the hold on a woman’s imagination that it has on a man’s…The hell with The Great American Novel. We have all the great novels we need right now—and right now some man or woman is writing a new one we won’t know we needed till we read it.

                          from No Time to Spare



Jesmyn Ward


I cough into the blanket, partly from the smell of Mam dying, partly from knowing that she dying; it catches in the back of my throat and I know it’s a sob, but my face is in the sheets and nobody can see me cry…

“She [Leonie] hates me,” I say.

“No, she love you. She don’t know how to show it. And her love for herself and her love for Michael—well, it gets in the way. It confuse her.”

I wipe my eyes on the sheets by shaking my head and look up…

Mam’s looking at me straight on...“You ain’t never going to have that problem.”

                     from Sing, Unburied, Sing



Yuval Noah Harari


Homo sapiens is likely to upgrade itself step by step, merging with robots and computers in the process, until our descendants will look back and realise that they are no longer the kind of animal that wrote the Bible, built the Great Wall of China and laughed at Charlie Chaplin’s antics…In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they are no longer human.

                               from Homo Deus



Neil deGrasse Tyson

W. W. Norton


…unrelenting skeptics might declare that “seeing is believing”—an approach to life that works well in many endeavors, including mechanical engineering, fishing, and perhaps dating. It’s also good, apparently, for residents of Missouri. But it doesn’t make for good science. Science is not just about seeing, it’s about measuring, preferably with something that’s not your own eyes, which are inextricably conjoined with the baggage of your brain. That baggage is more often than not a satchel of preconceived ideas, post-conceived notions, and outright bias.

      from Astrophysics for People in a Hurry




Robert Michael Pyle



…hundreds of readers have written or cornered me and put it to me: “So—do you believe, or not?” I never give them satisfaction, because the fact is, I still don’t know. The best of the evidence is not easily dismissed and is sometimes compelling. But proof—in the form of big artifacts like bone or tiny molecules of DNA—continues to be maddeningly elusive.

                from Where Bigfoot Walks




David Grann


All efforts to solve the mystery had faltered. Because of anonymous threats, the justice of the peace was forced to stop convening inquests into the latest murders. He was so terrified that merely to discuss the cases, he would retreat into a back room and bolt the door.

…In early March, the dogs in the neighborhood began to die, one after the other; their bodies slumped on doorsteps and on the streets. Bill was certain that they’d been poisoned. He and Rita found themselves in the grip of tense silence. He confided in a friend that he didn’t “expect to live very long.”

                from Killers of the Flower Moon