Cultural life, broadly defined, looms up in this week’s featured books, from a scholar’s freewheel discourse on Marcel Proust to a cyclist’s eulogy to free-riding. Frederic Tuten’s collection of stories regularly pays tribute to the artists and writers of earlier generations, David Hackett Fischer’s latest history celebrates black contributions to American culture, and the group biography “Metaphysical Animals” looks back at a group of notable women who became friends. in Oxford in the 1940s, associated with their shared skepticism about prevailing philosophical ideas.
Not all of this week’s animals are metaphysical. In “An Immense World,” science journalist Ed Yong considers the sheer variety of ways non-human animals experience the world, and in “Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World,” the late wildlife writer Barry Lopez begs us to pay close attention to the planet. other living beings. There’s also a new book by French economist Thomas Piketty, desperate for the path capitalism has taken us, and, in fiction, a debut novel by Leila Mottley and the closing volume of Rosalie Knecht’s private detective trilogy. Enjoy reading.
Senior editor, books
AN IMMENSE WORLD: How animal senses reveal the hidden realms around us† by Ed Yong. (Random house. $30.) Ed Yong’s new book urges readers to break outside their “sensory bubble” and reflect on the unique ways dogs, dolphins, mice and other animals experience their environment. The book is full of fascinating facts, such as how a dolphin that echoes a human in water can perceive not only the human’s outward form, but also what is inside, including the skeleton and lungs. The book is “funny and elegantly written,” says our critic Jennifer Szalai, and showcases Yong’s “exceptional gifts as a storyteller.”
TWO WHEELS GOOD: The history and mystery of the bicycle, by Jody Rosen. (Crown, $28.99.) Remarkably, the bicycle was not invented until 1817, more than a decade after the arrival of the steam locomotive. Rosen, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine, expertly shows how bicycles have touched nearly every element of life on Earth since then. He also has a personal passion: “Cycling is the best way I know to achieve an altered consciousness.” Better than yoga, wine and weed, “it’s neck and neck with sex and coffee.” Charles Finch, who is reviewing the book, writes: “At times Rosen reaches a sort of embarrassed nirvana as he ponders his subject, lovingly describes the stunts of a trick rider, traverses Dhaka on a rickshaw or his own encounters with snow, car doors and , of course, drivers.”
VERA KELLY LOST AND FOUND† by Rosalie Knecht. (Tin House, Paper, $15.95.) In the final installment of this near-perfect 1960s private detective trilogy, Vera’s girlfriend, Max, disappears during a trip to her family’s California estate. “I have expected few novels with so much excitement this year,” writes Sarah Weinman in her latest crime column. “Knecht’s writing, clear and taut, cuts through the manicured landscape with tearing speed.”
A BRIEF HISTORY OF EQUALITY, by Thomas Piketty. Translated by Steven Rendall. (Belknap/Harvard University, $27.95.) In his latest book, the world-renowned economist explores the origins of inequality, dating back to the 18th century, and shares his ideas about how we can create more equitable societies today. “He is well aware that changes on the scale he proposes never happen stepwise,” writes Nicholas Lemann in his review. “Are such upheavals coming? Piketty makes no predictions, but he sees the current system of ‘hypercapitalism’ as clearly doomed to failure.”
AROUND THE BURNING WORLD DIFFERENT: essays, by Barry Lopez. (Random House, $28.) Lopez’s posthumous collection of essays explores both intimate and expansive realms, from traumatic childhood memories in Los Angeles to thrilling explorations of Antarctica. If there is a connecting theme, it is the redeeming importance of caring for the planet and for the other beings we share it with. “The implications of attention, it becomes clear, are radical and deep,” Ben Ehrenreich writes, reviewing it. “What else is there to say? He loved this world, did his best and showed us the way.”
nightcrawl, by Leila Mottley. (Knopf, $28.) Based on a true story, this debut follows a poor teenager in Oakland, California, who ends up in a sex trafficking gang where the police are her abusers. Mottley writes with a lyrical fervor that reminds us that she was once Oakland’s youth poet laureate. In the words of my Book Review colleague Lauren Christensen, who reviews it: “The thing with some trauma plots is that even the creepiest, sadly, can be true. … Kiara’s story is pure fiction, Mottley says, but her circumstances are disturbing, statistically real.”
AFRICAN FOUNDERS: How enslaved people expanded American ideals, by David Hackett Fischer. (Simon & Schuster, $40.) This sweeping, ambitious study by a Pulitzer-winning historian looks at how the rich interplay of white and African American cultures came to define the various regions of the United States. “‘African Founders’ is essentially an appreciation for the place of black people in America’s past and present, as well as an appreciation for the nation they have become a part of,” writes our reviewer, Drew Gilpin Faust. Fischer “claims that by fighting for their own freedom, black people have expanded and transformed America’s understanding of what freedom meant.”
LIFE AND DIE WITH MARCEL PROUST, by Christopher Prendergast. (Europe Compass, Paper, $17.) This brilliant book by a Proust scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, collects extensive references from ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ to explore everything from metaphor to the role of food. “Prendergast’s organization is more fruitful than logical,” writes Edmund White in his review, allowing him to “win gold nuggets from the sheer complexity of Proust’s book. He reminds us time and again of the pleasures of everyday life, of sex, food, music, painting (though not to friendship, for which the narrator has little respect), but also to the equal and ultimate majesty of death.”
METAPHYSICAL ANIMALS: How four women brought philosophy back to life, by Clare MacCumhaill and Rachael Wiseman. (Double day, $32.50.) In the 1940s, a group of successful young women (including the novelist Iris Murdoch) challenged the prevailing philosophical views in Oxford. As a group biography, this book is “evocative and sparkling,” writes Laura Miller in her review, “depicting the character of each woman with a novelist’s mastery of detail. The photos… give a charming sense of intimacy and the texture of everyday British life in the mid-century, the teacups and cats and ration coupons.”
THE BAR AT TWILIGHT: Stories, by Frederic Tuten. (Bellevue Literary, Paper, $17.99.) Whether his subjects are aged lovers or talking centaurs, Tuten’s prose is always vital in these plaintive tales. The collection often evokes a rich cultural past, with cameo appearances from renowned real-life artists. “This is not surprising from Tuten, who at the age of 85 has had a long and distinguished career not only as a fiction writer, but also as an art and film critic,” writes Joshua Henkin in his review. “The last entry in the collection is a short essay, part paean to books and a life of reading, part aesthetic manifesto. … ‘The Bar at Twilight’ is neither prescriptive nor predictable, and it carries the soulful impression.”
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