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This week: a man gives up his carbon footprint, Jane Goodall’s call to arms, a touching memoir on life with Asperger’s, and the dark underworld of the Russian police state.
No Impact Manby Colin Beavan
A “liberal schlub” attempts to live in New York without a carbon footprint for a year.
Many strive—but few succeed—to minimize their carbon footprints. But now Colin Beavan has published No Impact Man about his attempt to live in New York City for a year with as little net impact on the environment as possible. The idea came about when Beavan simply got tired of listening to people complain about the world without doing anything about it. “I had mobilized my intellectual and persuasive resources to get someone else to change her behavior,” Beavan writes, “and remained, I saw, utterly complacent about my own.” The goal of the project was to improve the quality of his life, draw attention to issues of environmental sustainability, and help the planet. And, not surprisingly, Beavan has attracted a lot of buzz as a result: His documentary on the same subject debuted to acclaim at Sundance, he was named one of MSN’s Ten Most Influential Men of 2007, and Columbia Pictures is planning a feature film on the book. Wrote Publisher’s Weekly of the book: “While few readers will be tempted to go to Beavan's extremes, most will mull over his thought-provoking reflections and hopefully reconsider their own lifestyles.”
Hope for Animals and Their Worldby Jane Goodall
A call to arms to save the planet’s endangered species.
It’s a wakeup call from Jane Goodall: Hope for Animals and Their World tells the harrowing survival stories of endangered species, and the scientists who saved them.
She also looks to the future, with her discussion of the continuing efforts to preserve 11 species—including the great panda of China, which is barely surviving as bamboo reserves dwindle. From whooping cranes, which learned a new migration route by following an aircraft, to a stick insect that remerged on an island in the South Pacific after being declared extinct for almost a century, Goodall’s book is both an exciting account of survival and a call to arms. Writes Publisher’s Weekly of Hope for Animals: “Goodall is no Pollyanna about species reclamation—she acknowledges that there have been more losses than gains—but these accounts of conservation success are inspirational.”
Red to Blackby Alex Dryden
A new spy thriller resurrects Cold War tensions.
Might the fall of the Berlin Wall have actually marked a terrifying opportunity for sinister forces in Russia to seize control? Alex Dryden, a former journalist in Russia writing under a pseudonym, delves into the secretive, conspiratorial world of Vladimir Putin's Russia, which he describes as a "KGB mafia state." Dryden has said in interviews that the amount of dirt he dug up over more than 15 years of reporting is better suited to fiction because of the danger it poses to him and his sources. As a result, the author offers a window into the annals of Russian power through an undercover MI6 agent and a young female colonel in the KGB. An unlikely romance ensues, and as the two uncover a plot to topple the Western world they are faced with the recurring question: Who can you trust? The Telegraph calls the book a “frightening master class in the secret state of the world,” which is “beautifully clothed as a story of doomed love.”
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
A story of self-discovery and friendship in 1780s Australia.
Inspired by the journal entries of British astronomer William Dawes, The Lieutenant tells the story of Daniel Rooke, a social outcast who was ridiculed as a boy and struggles to find his place in his 1780s life. Rooke’s enlistment in the Marines takes him to New South Wales in Australia, where his commander reluctantly allows him to build an observatory to study the stars and watch for comets on a secluded cove in Sydney Harbor. There, he meets the local Aborigines and connects with a young local girl named Tagaran, who teaches him the value of human interaction. Unable to communicate with her at first, Rooke goes on to fill notebooks with transcripts of their conversations. But as the relationship between Rooke’s fellow Englishmen and the Aborigines grows violent, the young man is confronted with a difficult decision that tests his loyalties and emotions. Writes The Telegraph: “Grenville has fashioned an original, inviting tale that makes her country’s colonial history as fresh as it is to her wide-eyed protagonist in 1788 ... Grenville’s prose is clean and clear … [with] an innocence to the voice that is almost reminiscent of a fairytale and its purposeful naïvete well suits the point of view of a curious but inexperienced hero.”
Parallel Playby Tim Page
A life enriched, not hindered, by Asperger's.
Tim Page was an odd, lonely kid. Although he could memorize the encyclopedia, he failed elementary math and science. He was extremely socially awkward—Page recalls that when, during a teenage romantic encounter, the girl asked him if he would still love her the next day, he actually paused to think about the question. He felt alone his whole life, and didn't find out why till he was 45 and diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. He had already won a Pulitzer Prize. Page's deep love of music is woven throughout his new memoir, Parallel Play, from his childhood obsession to his celebration of even mediocre pop acts to his very successful career as a classical-music critic. Reviewers have described the book, which began as an essay in The New Yorker, as " lovely." Writes the Los Angeles Times: "But this not a ‘how I trumped the odds’ kind of book… Page does not glorify or mythologize his condition, nor does he render a portrait of a soul victimized by circumstance. The view from this window is merely one of the human condition, painted in emotions known to us all, yet rarely so finely drawn."