Like many people my age, I primarily know Bill Nye as a welcome break from the droning lectures of high school science classes. There was no topic so dull that it couldn't be made entertaining by "the Science Guy," so I was eager to see what he could do with an entire book about one of the most fascinating and relevant topics a scientist can address: human origin. You may recall Nye's debate with Ken Ham in 2014, which is what spurred Nye to write Undeniable. In his book, Nye digs deeper into the subject of evolution (and many other intriguing topics, including genetically modified food, cloning and his high school prom) than the debate allowed. Though it's obvious in the writing that he is out to prove/disprove arguments, Nye never reads as "nasty" or condescending toward his opposition, which can almost be hard to avoid when debating human origin. Instead of attacking people or organizations, he deconstructs and counters arguments. That alone was a big sell for me, because there is really no place for nastiness in intelligent discussion. Probably what I love most about this book is Nye writes in the exact same way that he speaks; with an infectious enthusiasm and wonder for science. At times his narrative almost giddy, and that made it easy to get absorbed into this wonderful book. Though always witty and at times downright hilarious, the humor of the book never detracted from the serious subject matter. Nye has a great ability to break complex ideas down to be easily graspable by the "average Joe" and I walked away feeling like I had learned a lot. As primarily a fiction lover, I am someone who sometimes struggles not to abandon the nonfiction I'm reading in favor of a novel, but I didn't even consider putting this one down unfinished.
Forty years after the landmark ruling on Roe v. Wade, the right to abortion is still one of the most controversial topics in the United States. In Pro Katha Pollitt sets out to shatter the stigma attached to abortion and pleads the case that the attack on reproductive rights is not something that can be ignored.Only a few pages in, I was in love with Pollitt's concise writing style and insightful point of view. She knew who her audience would be (or, perhaps more importantly, who it would not be) and doesn't waste page-space trying to sway abortion opponents. Rather, she tackles some of the harmful stereotypes that may leave some undecided on their stance, and the myths meant to scare women away from seeking information about the procedure. She challenges the stigma that abortions are traumatic and dangerous procedures that all woman ultimately end up regretting, and suggests instead that they are a not-so-unusual part of woman's healthcare. More impressively, she challenges the idea that all healthy, financially stable women want to be--or should have to be-- mothers. Some women just don't want children, and Pollitt argues that forcing motherhood on such women--or any woman-- is a violation of human rights.I love a political book that is both passionate and well-informed, that pleads its own case without resorting to slanderous and petty attacks on the other side. Pollitt succeeds on all fronts.
In reviewing this book, I'm breaking my own rule to not recommend something before I've finished reading it completely; but I love it so much that I can't help it. I adore stories, true or fictional, about women pushing the boundaries of society, and Romantic Outlaws is just that. It is a dual biography that, in alternating chapters, tells the story of Mary Shelley, who would grow up to author Frankenstein, and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women and the mother Shelley would never know. Wollstonecraft died only weeks after giving birth to Shelley, who was her second child. It's fascinating how similar the lives of these women turned out to be, though they barely intertwined. Both were avid advocates for women, and passionately dedicated themselves to the betterment of their lot in Victorian society; both became writers of work that has stood the test of time. So far, I have been enthralled by the lives of these two remarkable women, and impressed with Gordon's skillful writing. From the opening page, where we discover that Shelly learned to read on her mother's tombstone (perhaps a fitting start for the girl who would become a founding mother of horror literature) the book reads like a historical novel.This is a must read for fans of history, classic literature or those with an interest in the history of women's rights.
Though immediately drawn to it (maybe it was the elephant on the cover), I was reluctant to actually read this book. Why torture myself by reading more about the plight of elephants, even if it's only a fictional account? Being an animal lover, I hate to think of creatures as intelligent and complex as elephants enduring hardships such as poaching and captivity for human entertainment. However, like I did with Water for Elephants (another worthy read), I decided to put my reservations aside and read the book anyway-- and I am so glad I did. In only 221 pages (far too few if you ask me), James tells a story unlike any other I've read. It alternates between three perspectives; that of the poacher, a filmmaker, and an elephant. Each narrator has an individual tale to tell, and all three intertwine together to tell a bigger story about the South Indian ivory trade. Each perspective is unique and absolutely vital to the narrative. "Gravedigger" (he is known by many names) is an elephant who, at a young age, witnessed the killing of several members of his herd, including his mother, by poachers. After that he was taken into captivity where he would learn to perform in parades and ceremonies. From there, Gravedigger experiences several more traumas (I don't want to give too much away) and is eventually driven to become a ruthless man-killer. I was impressed with James's characters and how she moved fluidly between each narrative. It's not easy to write a story from an animal's perspective without coming off as corny or unrealistic, but she did an incredible job. The sections from the elephant's perspective were beautifully and simplistically written. Most of all I loved how James conveyed the emotional and mental illness experienced by Gravedigger. The capacity of animals, even such intelligent species and elephants, to experience mental illness and emotional trauma isn't commonly acknowledged. Yet James wrote it into her story in a way that was both subtle and powerful. You'll have to read the book to see what I'm talking about, because no words of mine could possibly do this part of the narrative justice. Perhaps even more impressive was the unexpected empathy I felt for the main poacher in the story, Jayan. As I mentioned, I am an animal lover, and I was prepared to hate any ivory seekers this novel put in front of me, but the author wouldn't let me. Where I looked for a monster, I found a complex and flawed character fighting a losing battle against poverty and nature. I can't recommend this book enough.