Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

Like his mentor Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis had a dream. Amid the turmoil and violence of a segregated South and a nation embroiled in the struggle for racial reconciliation, Lewis envisioned and championed what he called a “Beloved Community” in America, “a society based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.” In his captivating John Lewis: In Search of Beloved Community, Raymond Arsenault narrates the mesmerizing story of Lewis’ evolution from a Civil Rights activist to an eminent congressman who never lost sight of his vision for a just and equitable society.

Drawing on archival materials and interviews with Lewis and his friends, family and associates, Arsenault traces Lewis from his childhood in Troy, Alabama, where he daily witnessed the indignities and violence of racial segregation. Steeled and inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he entered American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, and began his storied activism in earnest. Lewis and his contemporaries incorporated the principles of rightness and righteousness—what their teacher James Lawson called “soul force”—with methods of nonviolent resistance. Arsenault documents Lewis’ participation in the Freedom Rides, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Selma to Montgomery marches and his advocacy for the Voting Rights Act. After King’s 1968 assassination, Lewis’ optimism turned to despair; he had a feeling, Arsenault writes, that “maybe, just maybe, we would not overcome.” 

But that didn’t last. Elected to Congress in 1986, Lewis went to Washington with a legacy to uphold and a commitment to carry on the spirit, goals and principles of nonviolence and social action. He was always disillusioned by self-serving politicians and their infighting, and he devoted his career to building coalitions among opponents. In a 2020 speech, Lewis uttered the remarks that cemented his legacy: “We cannot give up now. We cannot give in. . . . Go out there, speak up, speak out, get in the way. Get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

With John Lewis Arsenault offers the first comprehensive biography of the icon and serves as a fitting bookend to Lewis’ own autobiography, Walking With the Wind. The work provides an inspiring portrait of a man whose vision and moral courage propelled him to share his belief in the Beloved Community and inspire generations. 

Raymond Arsenault’s mesmerizing biography of John Lewis chronicles the life of the Civil Rights icon and congressman whose vision of a just and equitable society has inspired generations.

When 44-year-old Sergei Rachmaninoff packed a single bag and boarded a tram in November 1917, he “was aware that I was leaving Moscow, my real home, for a very, very long time . . . perhaps forever.” 

Vladimir Lenin toppled Czar Nicholas II earlier that year, hastening a revolution that overturned the social class structure. Wealthy landowners were under threat. Some supporters of the czar left behind their estates, fleeing elsewhere in Europe or to the United States. As a member of the social elite, Rachmaninoff was among those who chose exile. 

In Goodbye Russia: Rachmaninoff in Exile, Fiona Maddocks, the classical music critic at The Observer, draws on archival materials including newly translated ones, as she paints a riveting portrait of the Russian composer’s struggles to adapt to a new life outside his beloved homeland.

In the U.S., he would move among other groups of Russian emigrés and establish friendships with stars such as Walt Disney and Charlie Chaplin, but his deep longing for his country estate and for his life in old Russia weighed heavily on him. While he reinvented himself as a virtuoso pianist, he composed very little, and he rejected modernist music and its cacophonous sonic structures that reminded him of the upheaval of the Revolution. Some friends even reported that they never saw him laugh. 

Rachmaninoff, writes Maddocks, felt like a “ghost wandering in a world made alien,” longing always for his Russian homeland. In 1940, three years before his death, he composed his “Symphonic Dances,” a haunting melodic orchestral suite dedicated to Russia. Maddocks provides illuminating glimpses of Rachmaninoff’s rigorous preparations for his performances, and his insistence on “dismantling every work he played in order to understand it, and then to reassemble it in performance.” 

A fan’s affectionate ode to Rachmaninoff, Goodbye Russia provides a spirited tour through the evolution of his music while he was in exile, as well as a glimpse of the cultural history of classical music in the early to mid-20th century in the U.S.

In Goodbye Russia, Fiona Maddocks paints a riveting portrait of Rachmaninoff’s struggles to adapt to a new life outside his beloved homeland.

Investigative journalist Rebecca Renner’s breathtaking Gator Country: Deception, Danger, and Alligators in the Everglades brims with exhilarating tales of the denizens—both human and animal—that lurk in the saw grass, skunk cabbage and mangrove roots of the rapidly vanishing Everglades. The fast-paced narrative is imbued with the atmosphere of tension that shapes any good mystery story—but unlike other mysteries, Gator Country is shaped by moral ambiguities among antagonists and protagonists. With deep affection for a beloved place, Renner, who grew up in the Everglades, sketches a vivid portrait of the scraggly splendor of the land and its tenacious hold on life in a world that often fails to see its beauty.

At the heart of Renner’s book lies Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Jeff Babauta’s struggle to balance his sympathy for wily lifetime poachers with his understanding that alligators are a key species in the conservation of a fragile ecosystem. Near retirement, he takes on one last mission, going undercover to catch alligator poachers who are stealing gator eggs from nests and selling them, despite being torn about this charge.

Who is the hero, and who is the villain? It depends on who you ask. Before the Everglades became a national park, “poaching” was simply “hunting,” and it was largely done for sustenance. As Renner points out, tourism, the rapid encroachment of urbanization, farming, the disruption of natural fire cycles and land-hungry builders who “snatched the land and made hunters into poachers” have endangered the Everglades far more than poachers.

Renner weaves Babauta’s story with her own; she grew up in south Florida, and as she puzzles through her reporting, she reflects earnestly on her relationship with the swamp. Her mission, she writes, was “to go to the Everglades and listen.” In doing so, she captures the inhabitants of the region—human, animal and ecological—in all their frailty and splendor.

At the end of this tangled environmental morality tale (no spoilers—we learn this up front), the FWC takes down the ring of poachers. For Renner, though, the moral of the story is that “To be at odds with nature is to be at odds with ourselves . . . Our centuries of war with the swamp have shown that when we attack nature, nature will fight back, and both humans and nature will lose.”

Rebecca Renner’s Gator Country follows an undercover mission to expose alligator poachers in the Everglades, revealing the scraggly splendor of the region’s inhabitants.

At the height of their fame, Sly and the Family Stone carried audiences higher and higher with electrifying funk-rock performances. In Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), Sly Stone invites readers to join him on a rollicking ride and regales them with the ups and downs of his own rock and roll life.

Born Sylvester Stewart in 1943 Denton, Texas, Stone grew up surrounded by music, soaking in the gospel of Mahalia Jackson, The Soul Stirrers and The Swan Silvertones. Not long after he was born, his family moved to Vallejo, California, where he started singing solos in church when he was 5. Always with an instrument in his hand, Stone put together a singing group called The Viscaynes that eventually gained enough popularity on a local TV show to be offered a record deal. Stone learned his first lesson in the music business when he discovered that the rights to the song he’s written for the group are kept by the label head. After high school, Stone became a DJ at KSOL, and then started producing songs for a number of artists, including Grace Slick and the Great Society and Billy Preston. 

But more than anything else, Stone wanted a band. After a few years, Sly and the Family Stone was born. “The band had a concept—white and black together, male and female both, women not just singing but playing instruments.” After “Dance to the Music” rocketed to the top of the charts in 1968, Sly and the Family Stone released one album after another, riding high with their music and live performances until the mid-1970s. During this time, The Roots drummer and frontman (and author, filmmaker, actor and record producer) Questlove writes in the book’s foreword, Sly was “cooler than anything around him by a factor of infinity.” (Thank You is also the inaugural title of Questlove’s new imprint, AUWA.) 

As quickly as the band ascended into the rock stratosphere, it descended into a stasis marked by drug addiction and internal disharmony. By 1975, the Family Stone was over. Despite Stone’s personal struggles holding him back from attaining the level of stardom he had reached with the Family Stone, he nevertheless continued to have one goal: He wanted his music to “elevate whoever heard it.” Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) takes fans on the tour of Stone’s life they’ve been waiting for.

The long-awaited memoir from the frontman of Sly and the Family Stone is a rollicking ride about a rock life well lived.

Journalist Mark Whitaker’s (Smoketown) riveting Saying It Loud: 1966—The Year Black Power Challenged the Civil Rights Movement chronicles a key moment in the movement for racial justice in the United States: the shift in 1966 from the nonviolent organizational tactics associated with Martin Luther King Jr. to an emergent focus on Black Power as a “state of mind and a badge of identity” whose adherents used whatever means necessary to achieve justice.

On January 3, 1966, Black civil rights worker Sammy Younge was murdered by a white gas station owner in Tuskegee, Alabama, for asking to use the restroom. As Whitaker points out, Younge’s death “reverberated through a generation of young people who were reaching a breaking point of frustration with the gospel of nonviolence and racial integration preached by Dr. King.” Whitaker tracks many such seismic events and the ways they shifted the leadership within core civil rights organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), leading to the development of the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party. Through meticulous research, he draws revealing portraits of figures such as Stokely Carmichael, who replaced John Lewis as SNCC’s chairman; Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, who formed the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California; and Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, who became the executive secretary of SNCC and thus the highest-ranking woman in the civil rights movement. In stunning detail, Whitaker records all the ways that 1966 became such a pivotal year in the quest for civil rights that, before it was over, “a cast of young men and women, almost all under the age of thirty . . . [had changed] the course of Black—and American—history.” He concludes by demonstrating that the defiant rhetoric of the Black Power movement in 1966 planted the seeds for the Black Lives Matter movement and other responses to police violence against Black Americans over the last 50 years.

Saying It Loud provides an essential history of events that deserve more attention and consideration. Whitaker’s striking insights offer a memorable glimpse of a key period in American history and the struggle for racial justice in the U.S.

Saying It Loud chronicles the shift in the civil rights movement from the nonviolent tactics associated with Martin Luther King Jr. to Black Power.

In what ways is writing like drumming? Like a drummer, the writer lays down a pattern of rhythm that keeps the plot of a story moving, propelling it with a steady beat through various twists and turns. Novelist Nic Brown’s peripatetic memoir, Bang Bang Crash, examines his past life as a drummer and the ways it both haunts and informs his current life as a writer.

When he was 8, Brown took drum lessons from a local jazz musician, and by the time Brown was in high school, he was playing in a few bands around the Greensboro, North Carolina, area. Although he was accepted at Princeton and Columbia, he deferred enrollment to keep gigging with his band, Athenaeum. They landed a record deal when Brown was 19 and even had a hit song. Brown spent much of 1996 touring the country, fulfilling all he’d ever wanted for his life—but by the end of the ’90s, he was losing his enthusiasm for music, and other dreams were starting to glitter on the horizon. One day, Brown picked up his acceptance letter from Columbia again and discovered he was still enrolled, even after his deferral over a year earlier. So he dropped his sticks, picked up his pen and left behind rock to start writing fiction, eventually landing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

After all these changes, Brown realized that writing offered a kind of artistic fulfillment that playing music had lacked. “As a drummer, I’d been yoked to the projects of others for so many years,” he writes, “that now, as a writer, I [was suddenly] so intoxicated by the opportunity to have an artistic project be all my own.” Even so, those old percussive impulses remain deep in his heart and soul. “I never play the drums anymore, but they never cease playing me,” he writes. “Rhythms and songs and patterns are dancing constantly through my mind, twirling in and around the beat of the windshield wipers, the thud of my footsteps, the click of my grocery cart as I wheel it away.”

Bang Bang Crash doesn’t always keep a steady beat, and sometimes it hits more rim than skin. Nevertheless, it offers a stylish portrait of a life in search of a deeper rhythm.

Novelist Nic Brown’s stylish memoir examines his past life as a drummer and the ways it both haunts and informs his current life as a writer.

As COVID-19 swept across the United States in 2020, health care professionals and patients quickly learned about the flaws in the public health system. Questions arose about equitable access to health care, the role of insurance and the quality of care in public hospitals serving uninsured people versus private hospitals serving people with private insurance. Taking the public Ben Taub Hospital—Houston’s “largest hospital for the poor . . . who cannot afford medical care”—as an example, medical researcher and practicing physician Ricardo Nuila explores these issues in The People’s Hospital: Hope and Peril in American Medicine.

Nuila has been an attending physician at Ben Taub for over 10 years, and he has discovered that “good care comes from connecting with your patients in whatever way you’re able.” Using the stories of five patients, Nuila weaves an intricate web of questions about the shortcomings of insurance and corporate medicine and reveals how Ben Taub has succeeded in providing access to health care for people who are medically and financially vulnerable.

For example, there’s Christian, a patient with chronic kidney disease who developed mysterious, debilitating knee pain. Because he was uninsured and had to pay out of pocket for his diagnosis and treatment, he traveled to a clinic in Mexico where he hoped his money would go further. A few weeks into his therapy, his knee pain diminished, and he moved back to Houston—but within weeks, he found himself facing the same medical issues again. When his kidneys started to fail and the insurance company denied him coverage, his mother admitted him to Ben Taub, where he started receiving hemodialysis on a regular basis and eventually left the hospital with hope.

Readers also meet Ebonie, who was 19 weeks into her pregnancy and experiencing dangerous levels of obstetric bleeding. After bouncing from hospital to hospital, she eventually landed at Ben Taub, where Nuila and another doctor developed a plan to deal with bleeding in the future and made sure she would be admitted to Ben Taub when it happened. Ben Taub also helped Ebonie apply for Medicaid so she would have an insurance safety net. Through his own experiences, and those of his patients and fellow health care professionals, Nuila paints a picture of a world where “people find healthcare and revere it like treasure.”

The People’s Hospital is an inspiring book that raises crucial questions about the future of American health care. Nuila illustrates that hospitals that make holistic decisions about care provide more effective and equitable treatment than those that ask simply about the ability of patients to cover expenses, reminding readers that the most effective health care systems always elevate humans and their needs over monetary gain.

Using the stories of five patients, physician Ricardo Nuila reveals how a public hospital in Houston has succeeded in providing health care to people who are the most vulnerable.

Like the garden at its center, poet Camille T. Dungy’s Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden blossoms in vivid hues, radiating love and illuminating the tangled roots of nature and ecology.

Six years after she arrived in Fort Collins, Colorado, Dungy set out to reclaim a portion of her yard and convert it into a “drought-tolerant, pollinator-supporting flower field.” However, once several dump trucks unloaded mounds of dirt on her driveway, only for it to be scattered by wind, she had second thoughts. Eventually, though, she turned what was once a cookie-cutter lawn into a richly diverse space filled with plants that prevent soil erosion and allow bees and birds thrive.

At the same time that she was planting her garden, Dungy also dug into the history of the wilderness movement. She discovered that ecology had its own homogeneity problem, especially its exclusion of Black women gardeners and Black women environmental writers from anthologies of environmental literature. “Maintaining the fantasy of the American Wilderness requires a great deal of work,” she writes. “It requires the enforced silence of women, of Black people, Chinese people, Japanese people, other East and South Asian communities, poorer white people, Indigenous people, Latinx people . . . the list goes on and on.” To help fill that gap, she introduces readers to gardeners such as Anne Spencer, a Black poet who created a spacious sanctuary of a garden in the late 19th century in Lynchburg, Virginia.

In Soil, Dungy plants poems next to memoir next to critical analysis next to environmental history next to African American history, cultivating the radical ecological thought she wants to see more of in the world. This vibrant memoir challenges readers to look beyond the racial and scientific uniformness of most environmental literature and discover the rich wildness and hope that lies all around them.

In her radical and vibrant memoir, Camille Dungy plants poems next to critical analysis next to environmental history next to African American history.

“On December 5, 1955, a young Black man became one of America’s founding fathers. He was twenty-six years old and knew that the role he was taking carried a potential death penalty.” With these riveting opening sentences, journalist and author Jonathan Eig pulls readers into King: A Life, his vibrantly written biography of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. This monumental book takes King down from his pedestal, revealing his flaws, needs, dreams, hopes and weariness.

King: A Life draws on recently released FBI documents, as well as other new materials, including audiotapes recorded by Coretta Scott King in the months after her husband’s death, an unpublished memoir by King’s father and unaired television footage. In cinematic fashion, Eig follows King from his childhood through his seminary and graduate school days, his marriage and his steady insistence on the reformation of a society broken by racism. As Eig points out, King developed a rhetorical style and shaped a new moral vision when he spoke to the crowd gathered at Holt Street Baptist Church to rally in support of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. “On this night, King found a new voice,” he writes. “He discovered or sensed that his purpose was not to instruct or educate; his purpose was to prophesize. With a booming voice and strident words, he marked the path for himself and for a movement.”

Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, King felt that the work he had begun in Montgomery was validated, but he recognized that the movement would be incomplete if it remained confined to the South. King desired to “root out racism” all over America, Eig writes, in all its “hidden and subtle and covert disguises.” He also began to turn his attention to issues beyond civil rights for Black Americans, focusing on poverty and the war in Vietnam. By the time he arrived in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 to support the sanitation workers’ strike, King was exhausted, wondering whether the “arc of justice would not bend toward freedom.” In spite of his fatigue and the lack of broader racial reform in the U.S., King refused to give up hope. On the last day of his life, he thundered in his “Promised Land” speech, “I may not get there with you. But . . . we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

Eig candidly asserts that “in hallowing King we have hollowed him.” King: A Life makes him a real human being again, one who had affairs, smoked and drank, got angry and even plagiarized. But Eig encourages readers to “embrace the complicated King, the flawed King, the human King, the radical King” if we are to achieve the kind of change King himself preached in America.

Jonathan Eig’s monumental biography takes Martin Luther King Jr. down from his pedestal, revealing his flaws, needs, dreams, hopes and weariness.

Before Walt Disney World paved Orlando with parking lots and erected glittering idols to commercialism, lush orange groves carpeted central Florida. Children were entertained not by a grinning rodent wearing a bow tie and white gloves but by playing among the glossy green leaves and sweet-smelling blossoms, or by chasing after the mosquito fogging trucks that arrived every evening in the summer. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Hull’s exquisite memoir, Through the Groves, carries readers back to a time when citrus, not Disney, was king in Florida, even as she reveals the fissures in her life beneath those fragrant orange blossoms.

As a young child, Hull spent her summers riding shotgun with her father, who was an inspector for a citrus grower. They bounced through the rutted aisles of the orange groves, car antenna whipping through the leaves and knocking fruit into the car. She met the growers and those who worked for them, whose bodies had been ravaged by years of close contact with pesticides. “I had never seen such a reptilian assemblage of humanity,” she writes. “Their faces cracked when they smiled. Cancer ate away at their noses.” During one of those rides, when she noticed her father screwing the cap back onto a bottle that was different from the Pepto-Bismol bottle he often drank from, Hull realized that her father was abusing alcohol.

Hull’s mother, who looked like “Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” had dreams of being a journalist. But when the family moved to Sebring, Florida, her mother instead started teaching elementary school. Hull’s father’s drinking eventually drove a wedge between him and his wife, and Hull and her mother moved in with family in St. Petersburg. She recalls the opening of Disney World around this time and its effects on the region, writing, “I hated it before it ever opened. . . . It was front-page news; it was practically a religious holiday in Florida.” As she grew up, Hull learned to navigate the streets of St. Pete and to live life on her own terms. During her first year at Florida State University, she awoke to her attraction to women, and her mother accepted and embraced her. Hull left college to become a rep for Revlon, and instead of oranges, the back seat of her car was crowded with “six-foot-tall beautiful women made of cardboard.”

As Hull walks out of the Florida groves and into her adult life, she can clearly see the shadows they cast on her world. In her closing chapter, she shares a valuable gem of wisdom that reveals her vulnerability and ours: “Almost nothing in Florida stays the way it was. It’s bought, sold, paved over, and reimagined in a cycle that never quits. The landscape I saw through my father’s windshield as a child has been so thoroughly erased I sometimes wonder if I made it up.” Through the Groves captures the ugliness and the beauty of growing up in a Florida now long gone.

Anne Hull’s exquisite memoir carries readers back to a time when citrus was king in central Florida, even as she reveals the fissures in her life beneath the fragrant orange blossoms.

Part memoir, part scientific exploration, part biography, Karen Pinchin’s cautionary and riveting Kings of Their Own Ocean: Tuna, Obsession, and the Future of Our Seas illuminates the plight of the Atlantic bluefin tuna and the fishermen and scientists who’ve spent their lives studying, tagging and working to save the species.

Although we often marvel over tales of great white sharks and other predators of the sea, most people only think of bluefin tuna when they order sushi, seldom considering its beauty and power beyond the dinner plate. Pinchin opens with a paean to this apex predator of the oceans: “To stand beside a just-landed giant bluefin, still slick from salt water, feels akin to standing beside a natural marvel like Niagara Falls or an erupting volcano. There’s beauty, but also danger.” The book follows one bluefin, dubbed Amelia (after Amelia Earhart) from the cold waters of the Atlantic, where she was first tagged in 2004, to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean, where she was killed in 2018. In between this coverage, Pinchin takes us through the history of commercial fishing for bluefin, as well as the politics and science that have frequently collided in attempts to preserve the tuna from extinction. 

Early in his career as a boat captain, fisherman Al Anderson recognized the precipitous decline of the bluefin population and soon began chartering trips off Rhode Island where his customers catch, tag and release tuna—including Amelia. In 1990, Anderson wrote The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, an oral history peppered with his own memories of fishing, and To Catch a Tuna, a “how-to guide for aspiring tuna fishermen.” We also meet Molly Lutcavage, whose research was the first of its kind to gather and analyze data on bluefin, and Carl Safina, the author of Song for the Blue Ocean, who proposed that the bluefin be listed as endangered. 

While Pinchin avers that “we are collectively only ever a few terrible choices from wiping out any ocean species,” her conclusion is optimistic: “The future of Atlantic bluefin tuna has hinged on a series of butterfly-wing events. . . . Those moments all mattered, and those moments are still being made.” Kings of Their Own Ocean enthralls, instructs and is a must-read for readers concerned about the future of our oceans and the creatures within them.

The enthralling Kings of Their Own Ocean tells the story of an overlooked predator, the Atlantic bluefin tuna, urging readers to consider its power and beauty beyond the dinner plate.

The most persistent plot in literature—from Homer to Tolkien—portrays individuals journeying away from home in search of some object, only to eventually return, sometimes tattered and torn, but always wiser. In the South, musicians and artists record the meaning of home as a place that people carry with them in their hearts, that shapes them and to which they long to return. In her poignant memoir, Up Home: One Girl’s Journey, Ruth J. Simmons carries readers with her as she recounts the contours of her own journey from sharecroppers’ daughter in Grapeland, Texas, to president of Smith College and Brown University, memorializing the many individuals who guided her.

Simmons chronicles her upbringing in Grapeland with her brothers and sisters, where they explored dirt roads and nearby fields, observed wild animals and the animals on the farm and played various games when they weren’t toiling in the fields and keeping up with the drudgery of household chores. Her parents fell into the rigid marital patterns typical of the 1940s and 1950s. Her father was a severe disciplinarian who did not think women should be educated or work outside the home, and he “did not act like a caring husband who appreciated my mother’s love and sacrifices.” Her mother was a “homemaker who managed the household and reared her children,” but Simmons and her sisters did not want to be like her.

When the family moves to Houston, Simmons begins to excel in the classroom and in various extracurricular activities, discovering new facets of the world and launching herself on the journey that carries her from the limiting factors of home in Texas—race, poverty, segregation—to the expansiveness of Europe and eventual leadership in higher education. Along the way, she introduces readers to teachers who helped her, such as her first grade teacher Ida Mae Henderson, who shows Simmons “for the first time . . . the kind of independence of spirit that made life free, happy, and meaningful. If learning could lead to such a result, I wanted it to be a part of my life forever.” Her high-school drama teacher, Miss Lillie, encourages her, working to schedule a one-woman show for Simmons. At the same time, Simmons reads “as many books as possible of every genre . . . wanting to learn specific ways language could open doors to unfamiliar worlds.”

Up Home recalls a life richly shaped by experiences with languages, literature and mentors that helped Simmons become a person she never expected to be. Her sparkling prose and vibrant storytelling invite readers to accompany her on her journey.

Ruth J. Simmons recalls her journey from sharecroppers’ daughter in Grapeland, Texas, to president of Smith College and Brown University in this sparkling memoir.

In many religious traditions, paradise names an otherworldly realm overflowing with lush greenery, luscious fruits, honeyed scents and cascading waterfalls. In others, paradise can be attained in this world, even in the midst of the clattering cacophony surrounding us. Bestselling travel writer Pico Iyer shares his own search for paradise in The Half Known Life, traversing the world’s vibrant religious traditions to uncover paradise’s contours, its purported locations and the role it plays in earthly conflicts. 

With vivid imagery and sterling prose, Iyer documents his wanderings from town to temple. In Tehran, Iran, for example, he learned that Rumi counseled readers to find a heaven within themselves because paradise is not some idyllic place that transcends this world. Rumi’s poetry created a “paradise of words,” Iyer found, amid the unceasing strife of the country’s various Islamic branches. In the Kashmir region of India, which some claim was the location of the Garden of Eden, Iyer embraced a paradisiacal moment as he floated in a houseboat in the middle of a lake. In Sri Lanka, he visited Adam’s Peak, a forest outcropping that Buddhists, Christians and Hindus all claim as sacred ground. In Jerusalem, Israel, he wondered where a “nonaffiliated soul” could find sanctuary and “make peace among all the competing chants.” He tried his luck at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, “a riot of views of paradise overlapping at crooked angles till one was left with the sorrow of six different Christian orders sharing the same space, and lashing out at one another with brooms.” At the end of his quest, Iyer woke to a “thick pall of mist” in Varanasi, India. It was so difficult to see through that it “made every figure look even more like a visitor from another world.” Observing them, he writes, “it was easy to believe we were all caught up in the same spell, creatures in some celestial dream, ferried silently across the river and back again.”

Part travelogue, part theological meditation and part memoir, The Half Known Life shimmers with wisdom gleaned from exploring the nooks and crannies of the human soul and the world’s urban and rural, secular and religious, landscapes.

Part travelogue, part theological meditation and part memoir, The Half Known Life shimmers with wisdom gleaned from exploring the nooks and crannies of the human soul.

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