Above the Line by Urban Meyer: Lessons on leadership and team-building from Ohio State’s head football coach, drawing heavily on the 2014 season and his team’s remarkable run to the championship in the face of adversity
In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park: A harrowing escape from tyranny and into a new life of advocacy, from North Korean defector and human rights activist Yeonmi Park
SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal: A remarkable life plan based on the game the author herself and hundreds of thousands of others have used to leap from ruts and setbacks to recovery and personal growth
Kissinger by Niall Ferguson: The definitive biography of Henry Kissinger, based on unprecedented access to his private papers, by an acclaimed historian at the height of his powers
Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar: How far do you really go to “do unto others”? Renowned New Yorker journalist Larissa MacFarquhar reveals the individuals who devote themselves fully to bettering the lives of strangers, even when it comes at great personal cost
Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman: In her trademark style, wit, and with great sensitivity, Maira Kalman reveals why dogs bring out the best in us.
Felicity by Mary Oliver: A new poetry collection from New York Times bestselling poet and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Mary Olive
Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle: Renowned media scholar Sherry Turkle investigates how a flight from conversation undermines our relationships, creativity, and productivity—- and why reclaiming face-to-face conversation can help us regain lost ground.
America’s Bank by Roger Lowenstein: The tumultuous era and remarkable personalities that unexpectedly birthed the Federal Reserve, from renowned financial writer Roger Lowenstein
Brand Luther by Andrew Pettegree: A revolutionary look at Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the birth of publishing, on the eve of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary
The Ottoman Endgame by Sean McMeekin: An astonishing retelling of twentieth-century history from the Ottoman perspective, delivering profound new insights into World War I and the contemporary Middle East
Black Dragon River by Domic Ziegler: A remarkable journey down the Amur River, revealing the history and culture of a region which is once again becoming one of the world’s most contested regions
The Blue Line by Ingrid Betancourt: From the extraordinary Colombian French politician and activist Ingrid Betancourt, a stunning debut novel about freedom and fate
Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf: The never-before-reported story of this generation of Arab women, who are questioning authority, changing societies, and leading revolutions.
Their Promised Land by Ian Buruma: A family history of surpassing beauty and power: Ian Buruma’s account of his grandparents’ enduring love through the terror and separation of two world wars
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie: An exuberant, one-of-a-kind novel about love and family, war and nature, new money and old values by a brilliant New Yorker contributor
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Swipe between the two maps to see how “Indians” viewed their territory versus the “White Man” in 1812.
by Matthew Pearl
Did bookaneers really exist? A few years ago, I stumbled on a stray detail indicating that nineteenth-century publishers would hire agents to obtain valuable manuscripts that were fair game under the laws. Because of their shadowy place in history, I could not find much else about this group, but I was intrigued.
Building on this fragment of legal and publishing history, I tried imagining more fully these freelance literary bounty hunters — the history of their profession, what they might be called on to do, who they were, their backgrounds, how their lives would bring them to this unusual profession and how the profession would shape their personal lives. As far as historical fiction goes, it fit one of my ideals: a bit of gray-area history that cannot be explored very far without the help of fiction.
In this case, it seemed to me to call for informed speculation — what I’d refer to as research-based fiction — plus plenty of imagination. I applied the term bookaneer, one I had noticed had been used in a generic sense in the nineteenth century about literary piracy (the earliest use I find is in 1837 by poet Thomas Hood).
I cast a few bookaneers in supporting roles in an earlier novel, The Last Dickens, in which we encounter Pen’s mentor-lover, Kitten, and hear about Whiskey Bill.
I realized I wanted to see more of these and other bookaneers, and reader feedback on this front encouraged me. This led me to create Pen Davenport and his assistant Edgar C. Fergins, whom I decided to follow on a journey that would test them professionally and personally. I envisioned my fictional characters crossing paths with a number of prominent authors in history, but my compass pointed them to Stevenson. I had been fascinated by Stevenson’s time in Samoa.
It was intriguing and mysterious to his contemporaries to think of a European author at the far reaches of the known world, and I had to imagine it would have been an irresistible quest for my bookaneers — a kind of moment of destiny for both sides in the (still raging) battle over creative property.
We all know that much of our health is predetermined by our genes. We also know that we can generally improve our health if we eat right, exercise, and manage our stress. But how to do those things is a matter of great debate. Many well-meaning health programs are focused solely on weight loss or heart health, but what if there was a second genome, one that held the key to much of our overall health, but one that we could influence by very specific (and often surprising) lifestyle choices? Well, this second genome exists. It belongs to the bacteria that inhabit our gut and is vital to our overall well-being, in countless ways. The details of how these intestinal bacteria, known as the microbiota, are hard-wired into health and disease are starting to come to light and they are reshaping what it means to be human.
As scientists try to unravel the causes behind the prevalence of predominantly Western afflictions such as cancer, diabetes, allergies, asthma, autism, and inflammatory bowel diseases, it is becoming increasingly clear that the microbiota plays an important role in the development of each of these conditions and potentially many others. Our bacterial inhabitants touch all aspects of our biology in some way, directly or indirectly. But the modern world has changed the way we eat and how we live, and as a result, our intestinal microbiota is facing challenges that it has not experienced in the entirety of human evolution.
Our digestive system is much more than a collection of human cells that surround our last few meals—it also contains a dense colony of bacteria and other microorganisms. In fact, for every one human cell in our body, we house an additional ten bacterial cells that amount to a filibuster proof majority that legislates much of our biology. But before you start thinking of yourself as a human being with bacterial cells inside, it may be more accurate to consider yourself as a bacterial being with a human cell coating.
More than we ever expected, the gut microbiota sets the dial on our immune system. If the gut bacteria are healthy, it’s likely that the immune system is running well. Much is being learned about how the microbiota impacts our brains. The brain-gut axis impacts our well-being profoundly, far more than just letting us know when it’s time to eat. Gut bacteria can affect moods and behavior and may influence the progression of some neurological conditions.
In June 1970 Roth, Stein, and Fliegelman were living with several others in an apartment they rented on Amity Street in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. Fliegelman had purchased dynamite in Vermont under an assumed name; he kept it in a garage they rented nearby. Forty years later, he shudders at the memory of that first bombing, at NYPD headquarters. “That first one was the scariest,” he recalls. “We knew if we did this, they would come after us.”
The “casers” identified a second-floor men’s room as an ideal spot to hide a bomb; it was just 125 feet from the police commissioner’s office. In the years to come, public bathrooms would become Weatherman’s favorite target. Stall doors allowed a measure of privacy, and many bathrooms could be locked from within. At the Amity Street apartment, Fliegelman built the bomb using his new design, about fifteen sticks of dynamite and a Westclox alarm clock purchased at a Radio Shack. The challenge was smuggling it into the building; they couldn’t risk having a backpack or briefcase searched. In the end, Fliegelman says, they hollowed out a thick law book and placed the bomb inside. Exactly who walked it through security and placed it above a ceiling tile in the bathroom has never been disclosed, but by Tuesday afternoon, June 10, the bomb was in place. “It wasn’t like they had metal detectors back then,” Fliegelman says. “There was just a guy at a desk, and we walked right past him.”
That night at 6:30 they telephoned in the warning. At that moment about 150 people were inside the building. Police operators got this kind of call routinely in 1970; it was ignored. Seventeen minutes later, at 6:47, the bomb exploded, its deep boom ringing through the narrow streets and alleys of Little Italy. The blast demolished two walls of the bathroom, blowing a hole in the floor twenty feet wide and forty feet long, destroying an office on one side, shattering dozens of windows and catapulting a cloud of soot and smoke into Centre Street; chunks of granite the size of cinder blocks crushed two cars below. Eight people were treated for injuries, none of them serious.
Forty years later Weatherman bombings can blur together, a string of dates and buildings. The attack on NYPD headquarters, however, was unprecedented; it left the department and the entire city government deeply shaken. “Our problem,” as one police commander put it, “is not the damage to the building or to our own morale. Our problem is the feeling that if the police cannot protect themselves, how can they protect anyone else?”
A small group of wildebeest stopped to watch us pass. They were headed to the larger herd. Their life was a process, a cycle, a never-ending circle. But wasn’t mine, too? All my life, I’d thought: If I can just make more money. If I can just birth this baby. If I can just get him through those scary first few months. If I can just make it through my first three weeks back at work. If I can just get my son potty trained. If I can just get a book contract. If I can just make it through the next eight nights sleeping alone in a canvas tent. If I can just. If I can just. If I can just.
Staring into the field of hooves pounding the earth, it was clear I had been denying myself this: The seasonal migrations of my life, the initiations, would never end. There would always be a proving ground to face. But acknowledging and embracing this was crucial to moving forward. It seemed a path to reduced anxiety, and I could surely use that. Letting go of the abstract idea that at some point my life would be more complete than it was that very moment felt like letting go of some sort of underlying constant fear I wasn’t aware I had. Standing in the center of the Serengeti, it was apparent: I would benefit from balancing my abstract human thoughts with the visceral, phenomena-centered viewpoint of the animals that lived there.
“Phenomenal” is defined as that which is amazing. It also means that which is directly observable to the senses. And what began as a tour of extraordinary sights had evolved into the story of how—in an abstract, digital world of overspecialization—I was becoming the expert witness of my own life. Each time I returned home—as I did for months at a time, in between two-week phenomena chases—I brought an expanded, global sense of wonder home to bear on my own backyard, alongside my family.
“They are going to cross,” my guide David said, nodding toward wildebeest that had lined the dirt road. Their pulse would quicken as they ventured out, but once they were back in the grass, it would slow. They’d move on, in every sense of the phrase.
David picked up speed in our safari vehicle, determined to reach camp before dark. I turned to watch the animals brave their crossing, but all I could see was a cloud of volcanic dust rising in our wake.