From serious to serendipitous — 13 books for the holiday season — to give or receive. You’ll find travel, natural history, children’s classics, urban design, the digital world and more.
Tomi Ungerer: A Treasury of 8 Books (Phaidon), 320 pp, 300 illustrations (hardcover)
If you aren’t familiar with his amazing creative output, now’s the time to acquire this beautiful slipcased edition that features children’s classics (The Three Robbers, Moon Man, Otto), acclaimed recent works (Fog Island), and lost gems (Zeralda’s Ogre, Flix, The Hat, and Emile), some of which are being published for the first time in 50 years! There’s plenty of additional material in the edition – photos, sketches , storyboards, etc
Ungerer is a native of Strasbourg France (the region known as Alsace)– and there’s a museum in that city devoted entirely to his imaginative world – with books for kids and for adults, illustrations for books by other people, advertising campaigns and political posters on racism, fascism, nuclear disarmament, and humanitarian causes such as European integration. He’s published 140 works in all for children and adults. The world of Tomi Ungerer knows no borders…get to know him! Basic info on the book
The Gene: An Intimate History, Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner) 592 pp $32.
Mukherjee’s brilliant first book The Emperor of all Maladies (2010) won him the Pulitzer Prize and other awards for his in-depth history and analysis of the disease that has plagued humans (and some animals!) for thousands of years. That book became a 3-part series on PBS and has been described (by Time) as one of the 100 most influential books written since 1923. In The Gene--thought of as a prequel to The Emperor— he reprises his fundamental approach – both as a history and in themes (biology, information science, psychiatry) with plenty of players along the way—Pythagoras, Darwin, and not least Gregor Mendel whose experiments with peas over an eight-year period became a blueprint for the yet-unnamed world of “genetics.” It turns out that decades later a Danish botanist named Wilhelm Johannsen named this “discrete” particle of inheritance” as “the gene.” Mukherjee himself calls the discovery “one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science.” New York Times review
Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs, Robert Kanigel (Knopf).
You will be almost as engaged by this stunningly good book review of Kanigan’s new memoir as with Jane Jacobs herself, author of Death and Life of Great American Cities: “Jane Jacobs’s aura was so powerful that it made her, precisely, the St. Joan of the small scale. Her name still summons an entire city vision—the much watched corner, the mixed-use neighborhood….” It turns out this is Jacobs’s centenary year, and two more valuable tomes are also being released: a new collection of her uncollected writings, Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs (Random House), and an anthology of conversations between her and various friends, Jane Jacobs: The Last Interview and Other Conversations (Melville House). Whether you love how some remarkable cities (Philadelphia comes to mind) are paying homage to Jane Jacobs’s fundamental principles – or wish for a better solution than the 100-story monoliths crowding cities from Shanghai to Manhattan – this is the year to buy at least one of these three, and be inspired! The New Yorker review of Eyes on the Street
Jane Jacobs: The Last Interview and Other Conversations (Melville House) $15.95
Feral Cities: Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle, Tristan Donovan. 256 pp.Paperback $15.95
It’s safe to say that Jane Jacobs (see several books above) was not thinking of feral life when she was looking at what constitutes “community” in New York and other great cities. But, fact is, we have boars in Berlin, leopards in Mumbai, coyotes in Chicago and monkey gangs in Cape Town. Somehow these creatures, great and small, have found their way into urban areas and are adapting to life with the human kind. Here’s a trip you might want to take. Details
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration in the Wonder of Consciousness, Sy Montgomery (Atria Books) 261 pp
Based on both science and emotion, this book is a window into the world of the highly intelligent and intriguing octopus, from behind the scenes encounters at Boston’s New England Aquarium and diving in Polynesian waters. Montgomery’s closest, and perhaps most emotional, connection is to Octavia, a giant Pacific octopus who is transported to the aquarium via Federal Express. Montgomery experiences Octavia through physical contact: “I stroked her head,” Montgomery reports, “her arms, her webbing, absorbed in her presence. She seemed equally attentive to me.” You’ll learn more than you thought possible in this book, especially how these animals control these “at will through their chromatophores, cells filled with pigments that may cause vivid reds, starburst patterns or stripes.” It leaves you with the question – where do they best belong, in the wild, or in someone’s disposable home aquarium ? You get to answer that question. NPR audio interview
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World, Peter Wohlleben. Foreword by Tim Flannery. (Greystone Books Ltd) 240 pp. $29.95 also in paperback
This book caused a sensation in Europe when it was first published a year ago. Wohllenben, who has a 20+ year career in German forestry, uses scientific research and his own observations to make the case that trees are social –they share nutrients with trees that are struggling, collaborate with their own kind and even with other, competing species. A forest, he says, is a social network and an ecosystem that can mitigate the extremes of heat and cold. In a protected setting, the forest can live to be very old Check out this wonderful world in the Audible audio excerpt
The Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, From the 15th Century to the Twenty-First, Frank Trentmann (Harper) 862 pp $40
Mass consumption, material acquisition, consumption—the world’s history after the Dark Ages is replete with human desires for commodities and goods . Not a little of it has depended on conquest (land and natural resources such as mahogany, ebony, ivory) , the establishment of colonies, and slave labor needed to produce commodities (sugar, coffee, rice). This detail-laced history is a good companion to Ed Wilson’s book (below) that asks us to set aside a lot of land – now much of it depleted by human consumption – to conserve the millions of species still on Earth. It’s no surprise that the Latin verb consumer means “to use up.” Story on the book
The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble To Get Inside Our Heads, Tim Wu. (Knopf,) 403 pp
Who steals your attention — and informs your thinking? It could be television ads, movie theater commercials, or just plain tweets. Wu’s book is a comprehensive history of how merchants, advertisers and hucksters have used every means possible – from penny newspapers and highway billboards to your cell phone—to influence your thinking and buying habits. With the birth of the Internet, a whole new medium was born that today consumes people worldwide– with real and fake news, product reviews, sensational photos and more. Wu writes about the Internet, “Once a commons that fostered the amateur eccentric in every area of interest, the web, by 2015, was thoroughly overrun by commercial junk.” Even more insidious, we are being observed in our online adventures through technologies that monitor our viewing and purchasing habits. Tim Wu coined the term “net neutrality,” but he would argue today that the net is anything but neutral! His underlying advice: delete your accounts! New York Times review NPR interview with Tim Wu
The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, David Sax. (PublicAffairs) 282 pp. $25.99.
Some of us are addicted to stuff- print books, vinyl records, real board games and even typewriters. David Sax is looking at the resurgence of analog (the real things) versus digital and sees there is perhaps room for both in a world that is increasingly dependent on taps, clicks and swipes. A lot of millennials don’t want their parents’ antiques and old stuff—so be it. But there is a resurgence of interest in “stuff” – he mentions Shinola watches, made in Detroit, as an example. Some of these things are high-end treats for hipsters; others, such as vinyl recordings and print books are available to a wider audience. “Analog” will never be back to replace the digital world with its global access and wide appeal. Sax suggests the two can co-exist, and he’ll take you for a great spin if you decide to buy his book.
New York Times 36 hours Europe (Taschen 2nd edition) 800 photos $39.95
Here are 130 itineraries – think of weekends for the next three years! – across 50 countries in Europe that take you on adventures in viewing architectural masterpieces, great works of art, detailed city maps, places to stay, restaurant selections ( over 500), and natural splendors. Even if you don’t travel, this guide is perfect for dreaming in front of a nice cozy fireplace in your favorite chair. Details
Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel: Our List of the 500 Best Places to See…Ranked, 328 pp illus in color
Depending on your age and savings account, this is the perfect book to plan the “bucket list” of amazing cities, sites and attractions for around-the- world travel for 10-20-30 years ahead. Your choice: travel planner or armchair comfort, it could be an indispensable tool or an excellent way to see places in absentia. Check out sights 11-20 with full color photos. Details
Half-Earth: The Planet’s Fight for Life, Edward O. Wilson (Livewright)
Before you travel the globe for peak experiences – see Lonely Planet’s volume above – Dr. Edward O. Wilson wants to get your attention, thank you! His vision: to save half of earth’s surface as conservation zones that reduce the crisis in animal and plant extinction. In an interview with Claudia Dreifus of Audubon Magazine, Wilson laments the state of the world, ““Everywhere, you see it…In New Guinea, forests are cut wholesale. In Central America, trying to find the forests, you have to go such long distances. The extinction is accelerating. The conservation organizations, they’ve only saved 20% of the endangered species. It’s far below what’s needed.” At the same time he’s an optimist—and he’s got a plan.
“Half-Earth is his answer to the disaster at hand: a reimagined world in which humans retreat to areas comprising one half of the planet’s landmass. The rest is to be left to the 10 million species inhabiting Earth in a kind of giant national park. In human-free zones, Wilson believes, many endangered species would recover and their extinction would, most likely, be averted.”
Wilson has written 32 books – and been awarded two Pulitzer Prizes — and more than a few of them are controversial: Sociobiology and Consilience among them. He’s over 80, lives in a retirement community, but shows no sign of slowing down, at least in his literary-scientific ventures. Certainly he has not finished his vision of how to keep the planet from imploding when we reach 10 billion at the end of the 21st century. Review of Half-Earth
Postscript to our 2016 holiday book selection
Don’t forget that Green News Update has published a half-dozen articles this year with a great selection in many categories. Below are the easy links to get to them. You’ll find author interviews, book reviews, and excerpts to help you decide!