Becky Libourel Diamond

The tale of a British ship called the Bounty and the subsequent mutiny of some of its sailors has been endlessly scrutinized, romanticized and depicted ever since the event occurred in the late 1700s. With so many memoirs, historical accounts and fictional tales based on the Bounty’s story, it’s easy to assume that nothing new could be unearthed or written about it. But in his debut book, The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania, and Mutiny in the South Pacific, travel journalist Brandon Presser does exactly that, and brilliantly. By sifting through many of these prior texts, as well as other resources such as captain’s logs and interviews, Presser has managed to create a fact-based book that reads as grippingly as any thriller.

As a travel writer, Presser has crisscrossed the world to report on memorable locales and adventures. When he was offered the chance to do a story on Pitcairn, the tiny, isolated isle in the South Pacific that became the home of the Bounty’s mutineers, and where 48 of their descendants still live, he knew he had to take it, driven by his need “to know what happened when you fell off the map.” Visiting Pitcairn, a full month’s journey from his home in New York, certainly falls into that category.

Presser spent three years researching and writing this thorough account of the mutiny on the Bounty and its aftermath. In the process, Presser spent time on both Pitcairn Island and Norfolk Island in Australia, where some of the mutineers’ descendants later migrated. His narrative toggles between past and present, fleshing out the timeline of events—epic in nature and sprawling in scope—and cast of characters, particularly the Tahitians who accompanied the mutineers to Pitcairn and whose roles have previously been underrepresented.

Although some facts remain a mystery (such as the breaking point that made Fletcher Christian snap and take over the ship from Captain William Bligh), Presser’s detailed interpretation allows many of the formerly fuzzy pieces to fall into place. His personal experience on the islands combined with fastidious research make The Far Land such an incredible, unforgettable tale that Presser had to stress in an author’s note that it is “indeed a work of nonfiction.”

Brandon Presser's brilliant book about the infamous 1700s mutiny aboard the Bounty is as gripping as any thriller.

The terms endangered and extinct are most commonly applied to animal species, particularly as human activities encroach on wildlife habitats worldwide. But the global human population explosion over the past few centuries has also wreaked havoc on human nutrition, decreasing food diversity and threatening the global food supply and our environment in general.

Food journalist Dan Saladino spent over 10 years researching at-risk foods and food cultures, and his discoveries about the dangerous consequences of decreased food diversity are outlined in Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them. This decline in diversity isn’t necessarily visible to consumers now that food is shipped all over the world, seemingly providing more variety to many of our diets. However, in order to feed an ever-increasing population, major food crops such as rice, wheat and corn have become more and more homogeneous, making them more susceptible to disease and less nutritious.

Saladino traverses the globe to find out what scientists, conservationists and food experts are doing to dial back the increasing sameness in our diets. His journalistic skills are key as he interviews a wide range of people, from food corporation executives and government officials to botanists and farmers. Divided into 10 parts about topics such as cereals, vegetables, meat and fruit, each section covers food from many locations around the world, such as bere barley from Orkney, Scotland, and the Kayinja banana from Uganda. A map key in the front of the book pinpoints each setting, providing geographical context.

Fascinating and extremely well written, Eating to Extinction combines comprehensive history with science, culture and geography. At 464 pages, it’s a lengthy tome that undoubtedly could have been much longer, as it just scratches the surface regarding the number of foodstuffs affected by diminishing biodiversity. Saladino raises a serious issue that needs to be addressed with global urgency and cooperation.

Dan Saladino spent over 10 years researching foods that are at risk of going extinct, culminating in the fascinating and well-written Eating to Extinction.

Motherhood is a joyful gift, from a cooing baby’s first smile to a tottering toddler’s first steps, through the school-age years and into adulthood. Yet accompanying this amazing gift is perhaps the worst fear imaginable: that something could happen to your child. This worry resides in the back of every mother’s mind, simmering like a bubbling stew, punching through the joy when a child is sick, injured or suffering.

In her debut memoir, This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown, Taylor Harris beautifully and heartbreakingly describes how this fear struck like a lightning bolt when her son Tophs began to experience a string of health issues that baffled medical experts. She struggled through the highs and lows of one diagnosis after another, all while coping with her own anxiety disorder and the systemic racism that, as a Black woman living in Charlottesville, Virginia, obstructed her path to accessing the best medical care for herself and her son. Tophs underwent test after test, including genetic testing that revealed the presence of a dreaded gene in their family.

Harris lays all these cards on the table, telling her story with raw candor and wit. She delves into her childhood experiences with anxiety and the subsequent assistance that helped her cope, including both counseling and medicine. These honest revelations provide a touchstone to her experiences as an adult, especially the unbelievable stress she faced while dealing with the unknown.

As a result, This Boy We Made is many books in one, combining elements of science and medicine, mental health and wellness, parenting principles and institutional racism. Fusing all these themes together in an entertaining and thoughtful way would seem an exhausting task, yet Harris does it with honesty and grace. With descriptive, poetic prose, her authentic message commands the reader’s full attention.

Taylor Harris beautifully describes how fear struck like a lightning bolt when her son began to experience baffling health issues.

Smell is such an integral part of being human, yet it’s probably our least thought-about sense. We take it for granted, often focusing instead on what we can see, hear, taste and touch. But what if we had a guidebook on how to approach life through smell and take advantage of the aromas that confront our noses throughout the day?

This is essentially what author Jude Stewart (Patternalia) provides in her new book, Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell, a comprehensive handbook chock-full of guidance, advice and new ways to experience a sense that is barely understood. Stewart writes that smell’s “liveness,” its dynamic and embodied nature, is what drew her to it and led her on a journey to sniff with more intention. Along the way she realized that “smelling is a kind of meditation turned inside out.

Starting with the science of smell, Stewart discusses the nose’s function and purpose, outlining the chemistry required for smell “to reach us,” the anatomical role of the body’s olfactory bulbs and smell’s emotional connection to the brain and memory. She then breaks various smells into categories such as sweet, savory, earthy and funky. The usual suspects are featured, such as rose, vanilla and bacon, as well as some surprising scents many of us will never get a chance to experience, including cannon fire, melting permafrost and extinct flowers.

Stewart effortlessly combines the fascinating science behind smell with historical examples, musical comparisons and cultural differences in how smells are viewed and experienced. Revelations in Air gives a fresh perspective on and appreciation for this often-ignored sense.

Jude Stewart provides a guidebook to smell that’s chock-full of guidance, advice and new ways to experience the aromas around us.

When we pour a bowl of cereal or enjoy a dish of vanilla ice cream, we’re not usually thinking about the origins of these foods. We consume them because they are nutritionally beneficial or taste delicious. But even though food is a basic need (and one of life’s great pleasures!), its story is still vastly misunderstood.

For example, try to imagine a life without french fries, ketchup or tomato sauce. These are some of the most popular foods in America, yet their sources were once feared and shunned. Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous, and people believed potatoes harbored an illicit connection to witchcraft and devil worship. Food and culture writer Matt Siegel dishes out these and hundreds of other little-known nuggets in his fascinating debut book, The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Matt Siegel describes the top 12 weirdest moments in food history, from Patagonian toothfish to Cuban supercows.

Organized into 10 chapters focusing on themes ranging from the history of swallowing to obsolete and dated food beliefs, Siegel shares countless “did you know?” factoids. Foodstuffs have been used as weaponry, for example, and the domestication of corn is considered an anthropological game changer on par with the discovery of fire. His choice of subjects is ever surprising, such as the conundrum that is the chili pepper. This fiery fruit (botanically, it’s a berry) contains pain-inducing capsaicin yet is consumed by humans across the world. As it turns out, spicy food is a natural preservative and “may have functioned as a primitive form of air conditioning” in hot climates.

Siegel’s book is as entertaining as it is informative, sprinkled with humorous anecdotes and connections to popular culture. He takes intel gathered from nutritionists, psychologists, food historians and paleoanthropologists and weaves together a tale that moves seamlessly from one topic to the next. Written in a style that is accessible yet scholarly, The Secret History of Food will delight and enlighten anyone looking to find out more about food’s rich backstory.

Matt Siegel takes intel from nutritionists, psychologists and historians and weaves together an entertaining, enlightening account of food’s rich backstory.

It’s an age-old dilemma. Each generation bears the weight of passing society’s burdens on to the next one, and climate change is no exception. But can the continuing escalation of this issue be prevented, or at least slowed, so that our children and grandchildren aren’t saddled with a disastrous future?

Climate activist Daniel Sherrell ponders the preciousness and fragility of life from the perspective of someone whose life is mostly still ahead of him in his debut book, Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of Our World. Although he’s still in his early 30s, Sherrell’s tone is that of an old soul as he reflects on the changing climate in a letter to his unborn child. Referring to climate change as the Problem (with a capital P), he outlines the weather- and natural disaster-related events he has already witnessed in his short lifetime, such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Maria and raging wildfires.

Sherrell is a passionate advocate for the climate movement, which he conveys with urgency and honest, raw emotion, expressing an anxiety he feels has infiltrated the essence of his being. He writes with a frightening sense of gravity that will give Generation X and the baby boom generation reason to take a close, hard look at what’s happening and do something.

This is exactly Sherrell’s message. We need to do something—about fossil fuels, corrupt politicians, global food and water security. The list goes on. Warmth is a pleading, informative call to action. As Sherrell writes, “Increasingly, the only viable future seems to be in shoring up the future itself.”

Climate activist Daniel Sherrell ponders the fragility of life from the perspective of someone whose life is still ahead of him in his raw, passionate debut book.

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