The weather is still unpredictable, but last month we had great Missoula escapes with films and this month brings music. As the days are becoming longer, many new books are also arriving that can help pass the month.
New releases by Montana authors that will be receiving lots of review attention:
“Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade” by Walter Kirn
In the summer of 1998, Walter Kirn set out on a peculiar, fateful errand: to personally deliver a crippled hunting dog from his home in Montana to the New York apartment of one Clark Rockefeller, a secretive young banker and art collector who had adopted the dog over the Internet. Thus began a 15-year relationship that drew Kirn deep into the fun-house world of an outlandish, eccentric son of privilege who ultimately would be unmasked as a brazen serial impostor, child kidnapper and brutal murderer.
As Kirn uncovers the truth about his friend, a psychopath masquerading as a gentleman, he also confronts hard truths about himself. Why, as a writer of fiction, was he susceptible to the deception of a sinister fantasist whose crimes, Kirn learns, were based on books and movies? What are the hidden psychological links between the artist and the con man? Combining confessional memoir, true crime reporting and cultural speculation, “Blood Will Out” is a tale of self-invention, upward mobility and intellectual arrogance. It exposes the layers of longing and corruption, ambition and self-delusion beneath the Great American con.
“Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire – A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival” by Peter Stark
A true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast, a harrowing saga in which a band of explorers battled nature, starvation, and madness to establish the first American settlement in the Pacific Northwest and opened up what would become the Oregon trail, permanently altering the nation’s landscape and its global standing.
Unfolding over the course of three years, from 1810 to 1813, Astoria is a tale of high adventure and incredible hardship in the wilderness and at sea. Of the more than 140 members of the two advance parties that reached the West Coast – one crossing the Rockies, the other rounding Cape Horn – nearly half perished by violence. Others went mad. Within one year, the expedition successfully established Fort Astoria, a trading post on the Columbia River.
Two new releases in hardcover that will start a few conversations include:
“The Wives of Los Alamos: A Novel” by TaraShea Nesbit
Their average age was 25. They came from Berkeley, Cambridge, Paris, London, Chicago – and arrived in New Mexico ready for adventure, or at least resigned to it. But hope quickly turned to hardship as they were forced to adapt to a military town where everything was a secret, including what their husbands were doing at the lab. They lived in barely finished houses with a P.O. box for an address in a town surrounded with barbed wire, all for the benefit of a project that didn’t exist as far as the public knew. Though they were strangers, they joined together, adapting to a landscape as fierce as it was absorbing, full of the banalities of everyday life and the drama of scientific discovery.
“The Wives of Los Alamos” is a novel that sheds light onto one of the strangest and most monumental research projects in modern history and a testament to a remarkable group of women who carved out a life for themselves, in spite of the chaos of the war and the shroud of intense secrecy.
“The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert
Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on Earth suddenly and dramatically diminished in size. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.
In “The Sixth Extinction,” Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day.
Just released in paperback and good for book discussions:
“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel” by Anthony Marra
In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, 8-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbor Akhmed, a failed physician, to the bombed-out hospital, where Sonja, the one remaining doctor, treats a steady stream of wounded rebels and refugees and mourns her missing sister.
Over the course of five dramatic days, Akhmed and Sonja reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal and forgiveness that unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate.
“The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America” by George Packer
“The Unwinding” journeys through the lives of several Americans, including Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers, and an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington, D.C., insider who oscillates between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire who questions the Internet’s significance and possesses a radical vision of the future.
“The Unwinding” portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer relevant, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation.
One book for the gardener or amateur botanist:
“Seven Flowers: And How They Shaped Our World” by Jennifer Potter
The lotus, the lily, the sunflower, the opium poppy, the rose, the tulip, the orchid – these seven flowers, each have their own story full of surprises and secrets, each affecting the world around us in subtle but powerful ways. But what is the nature of their power and how did it develop? Why have these particular plants become the focus of gardens, literature, art – even billion dollar industries?
Drawing on sources both ancient and modern, and featuring full-color illustrations and line art throughout, Jennifer Potter examines our changing relationship with these potent plants and the effects they had on civilizations through the ages. In the eye of each beholder, these are flowers of life and death; of purity and passion; of greed, envy and virtue; of hope and consolation; of the beauty that drives men wild. All seven demonstrate the enduring ability of flowers to speak metaphorically-if we could only decode what they have to say.
“The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition” by David Allen Sibley
Circle the date: March 11, 2014. That’s when the long-awaited second edition of “The Sibley Guide to Birds” goes on sale. Almost every aspect of the book has undergone a remarkable makeover. Dozens of species have been added, most paintings have been revised and hundreds of new paintings have been created. Maps have been updated, fonts have been tweaked, illustrations enlarged.
March 11 is also the date the new Joe Pickett novel arrives
“Stone Cold” by C. J. Box
Joe Pickett is back in his 14th adventure. This time he is assigned by the governor to find out about a man of mystery living on a massive ranch in the remote Black Hills of Wyoming. Rumors are that the man’s wealth comes from killing people. As usual, Joe discovers a lot more than he bargained for. Currently there are two other men living at that ranch. One is a stone-cold killer who takes an instant dislike to Joe. The other is Nate Romanowski, a man Joe knows all too well.
My reading time does not seem to be keeping up with my growing stacks of books, but I promise to find new titles to talk about next month. Thanks, Missoula, for all the wonderful diversions!
Barbara Theroux manages Fact and Fiction bookstore in downtown Missoula and writes for the Booming section.