More Books: Questing

You have only to lift your arms to the keyboard and you’ll be whisked away by page-turners that promise an adventure. Not all are new releases. Oliver Sacks’s decade-old tale of the ferns he obsessively sought in Mexico led to many other insights about Pre-Hispanic people. Cheryl Strayed’s solo trail adventure and personal quest out West actually took place 17 years before she published her story. What does it mean? Good stories are timeless.

Oaxaca Journal (Vintage $14.95) Any trip with Dr. Oliver Sacks, whether into the human mind, or in this case, the historically rich province of Oaxaca Mexico, is worth your time. The ostensible mission is a group trip by the American Fern Society to study ferns, one of Sacks’s passions. But Sacks also ends up keeping a handwritten journal, meditating on Mesoamerican civilization, coffee, and, what else ? – people. Sacks’s web site

NPR audio interview

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed (Alfred A Knopf) 315 pp $25.95 Strayed’s 1100-mile solo hike on the grueling Pacific Crest Trail came after death, divorce and drugs nearly robbed her of a future life. Among her challenges, the greatest changes of elevation of any American scenic trail, passing through high and low desert, forest and alpine ecosystems, and perhaps the greatest reward, a reclaimed life. Radio interview

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, Mark Adams (Plume, $16.) Hiram Bingham’s exploits in the Andes occurred in the same timeframe as the Amundsen/Scott race to the Antarctic (see below), when there were fierce expeditionary competitions taking place. Adams retraces Bingham’s steps – a grueling trek through the Andes – to the cloud city built by hand and still an engineering marvel in a post-technological world. The story is really two tales – the rigors of getting there, and back at home looking at the contentious case of all the loot (artifacts) that Bingham brought home in triumph to Yale’s Peabody Museum. While Machu Picchu was never really “lost,” the return of the “lost” artifacts by Yale gives this tale a better ending. Review and excerpt

The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott: Unseen Images from the Legendary Antarctic Expedition, David M. Little (Little, Brown. 191 pp $35). Self-taught photographer Herbert Ponting accompanied the Scott expeditionary team to the Antarctic and spent a tortured winter there before returning home with his glass plates in 1911. His images are known worldwide, but his greater gift may have been teaching Captain Robert Falcon Scott how to expose the glass plates himself, leaving with him a cumbersome view camera and tripod. Remarkably, Scott managed to continue shooting images until he reached the South Pole (discovering that Amundsen had beaten him by 33 days) and then the death of his crew followed by his own demise. While lost for nearly a century, a set of prints from these plates turned up at auction and were purchased by art collector Richard Kossow. In the smallest of coincidences, Kossow met up with David Little, a polar historian and great-nephew of a Scott crew member, and they hatched the plan to present the work as a book. Article and slide show.

My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Search of a New Environmentalism, David Gessner (Milkweed) $15. The well-know environmental writer goes local by canoeing down the Charles River (Massachusetts) with ambitious state planner Dan Driscoll, who is looking to improve the health of the river with greenways, native plantings and more. “Why does environmentalism, much of which is just common sense, often sound like nagging?” he asks, and then answers how to avoid that trap. Review and  excerpt