This week: an essential biography of Stevie Nicks, and more.
Carver, a science writer and researcher in public-health policy at Harvard, transforms a data-heavy research area into an entertainingly informative survey of the immune system: the “hidden army” that battles diseases ranging from the common cold to the plague. She starts by identifying immunity’s defense system in human skin, lungs, tears, ears, and the stomach. Carver then moves on to the “killer cells” that destroy infectious invaders. Her survey explores immunology’s role in the “complex challenge” of organ transplantation, as well as how it keeps people safe from the “bacterial-laden nature” of sex. She dives into humans’ age-old battle with allergies, whether it’s hypersensitivity to pollen, peanuts, or pets; unusual reactions, including one person’s to stale pancake mix; and potentially deadly autoimmune diseases that can attack “every part of the body from knees to nerves, glands to gonads.” Though yet-unvanquished cancers continue to evade our immune system’s defenses, Carver remains hopeful about “immune-altering drug discoveries” being made that could potentially change “the face of medicine” and “cure the incurable.” This splendid guide offers historical and scientific context on a subfield of biology that affects everyone and that is increasingly being harnessed to improve and save lives.
Drawing on interviews with Stevie Nicks, her family, friends, and music associates, Davis (who cowrote Fleetwood with Mick Fleetwood) offers a captivating portrait of the singer whose songwriting and stage presence gave the faltering British blues band a boost in the mid-1970s. He traces her early years in Arizona, where her parents discovered that she was a natural harmony singer, and California, where she tried her hand at songwriting. She met guitarist Lindsay Buckingham when she was 22 and at that point decided on a life in music. In the early ’70s the pair formed Buckingham Nicks and released an album to modest success in 1973. One year later, Mick Fleetwood stopped in the studio where the duo was recording, was taken with Buckingham’s guitar playing and Nicks’s beauty, and invited the couple to join his band. Davis chronicles the band’s now-well-known cocaine-fueled days and nights, extravagant tours, bitter in-fighting, and sexual betrayals, and illustrates the toll this tumult took on Nicks. By the early ’80s, she had embarked on a solo career, working only sporadically with Fleetwood Mac thereafter. Davis’s candid, energetic book reveals the life of the woman who’s arguably one of rock’s greatest singer-songwriters.
The autobiographical Little House on the Prairie novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867–1957) occupy a curious space between national mythology, self-reinvention, and truth, as this engrossing biography from Fraser (Rewilding the World) makes clear. Lovers of the series will delight in learning about real-life counterparts to classic fictional episodes, but, as Fraser emphasizes, the true story was often much harsher. Meticulously tracing the Ingalls and Wilder families’ experiences through public records and private documents, Fraser discovers failed farm ventures and constant money problems, as well as natural disasters even more terrifying and devastating in real life than in Wilder’s writing. She also helpfully puts Wilder’s narrow world into larger historical context, showing that the books’ self-sufficient farmers were more dependent on federal assistance than Wilder depicted in her novels. Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, emerges as an integral character in her mother’s later life. Lane, a professional author in her own right, vigorously edited her mother’s manuscripts, though Fraser debunks the myth that Lane ghostwrote the books. But their relationship was a fraught one, and Fraser paints an unflattering portrait of Lane’s dishonesty and descent into right-wing paranoia. She concludes by examining Wilder’s pop cultural legacy.
Kagge (Under Manhattan), an explorer and publisher, provides 33 answers to three linked questions he poses to himself—“What is silence? Where is it? Why is it more important now than ever?”—in short, meditative essays. The book expands the concepts of silence and noise beyond their aural definitions and engages with modern culture’s information overload, need for constant connection, and cult of busyness. Kagge draws on his experiences as an explorer, including a solo sojourn to the South Pole and a climb up the Williamsburg Bridge, and on more mundane experiences such as his daily commute. He also takes inspiration from famous people as various as Seneca, Kierkegaard, Elon Musk, and Rihanna. An intentionally scattershot bibliography (“an attempt at listing those sources I can easily recall”) may frustrate those wishing to read further. Kagge writes accessibly and economically, supplementing the text with the occasional inclusion of art and photographs. He raises some intriguing ideas—regarding, for example, inequities in access to silence and the concept of silence as a luxury—that could benefit from more examination, but the format requires that he provide only minimal analysis. Great pleasure lies in Kagge’s creative investigations. The reader leaves more mindful of the swirl of distraction present in everyday life.
Alternating between personal memoir and the history of virtual reality technology leading up to take, computer scientist Lanier (Who Owns the Future?) transports readers to the experimental, obsessive, and even messianic intellectual tech guru circuit of the 1970s and 1980s, where he first spawned the idea for virtual reality. Writing with a performative style of prose that switches between self-help book and self-involved philosophical treatise, Lanier spews optimism about human potential and cognitive enhancement, alongside stories of long-held grudges and bitterness about situations around the early history of his startup, VPL Research, and his frustration around the field’s disinterest in what he feels ought to be the current focus of VR, somatic and haptic experience. Lanier’s insights on the human parameters of VR experiences, the relationship between minds and bodies, and even the art of perfecting the tech demo suggest that he understands people well, but his stories of relationships—both professional and personal—gone bad imply otherwise. With this cleverly crafted autobiography of sorts, Lanier convinces readers that he’s both brilliant and inspiring enough to keep the podium in a field that’s gone from fringe to corporate.
Early in Lehane’s intricate sequel to 2016’s Murder at the 42nd Street Library, crime fiction librarian Ray Ambler meets writer and former undercover cop Paul Higgins, who’s donating his papers to the NYPL. If Higgins has information related to the murder of union leader Richard Wright in Brooklyn in the 1980s, he’s not telling Ray. Ray has an interest because a good friend of his has been imprisoned for years for killing Wright, but now claims he’s innocent. Meanwhile, the discovery of the body of library research assistant Leila Stone in Ray’s office leads to the arrest of Middle Eastern scholar Gobi Tabrizi, whose research Leila secretly examined. Ray and his fellow librarian and prospective girlfriend, Adele Morgan, believe that officials are casting Gobi as a convenient culprit. Ray’s homicide detective friend, Mike Cosgrove, is later puzzled by high-level interference in the Leila investigation and heads off in pursuit of Higgins, who has disappeared. Lehane provides food for thought by comparing past FBI transgressions with present-day Homeland Security activities.
Vanity Fair editor at large Murphy (God’s Jury) captures a slice of American pop culture from the mid-20th century, when a prominent group of comic-strip and gag cartoonists, known as the Connecticut School, resided in the town of Greenwich, Conn. Murphy draws from his own life—his father was John Cullen Murphy, known as the illustrator of such strips as Big Ben Bolt and Prince Valiant—to paint a sprawling portrait of many of the scene’s luminaries, including Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), Dik Browne (Hägar the Horrible), and dozens of others who were members of this group, examining their family and social lives, their work habits, their art techniques, and more. Having spent a good portion of his life among these people, even taking the writing reins of Prince Valiant after writer Hal Foster retired while his father still drew it, Cullen crafts an immensely evocative look at an art colony many don’t know existed. He writes with a personable mix of affection and realism that offers a vivid sense of what it was like to be in that crowd, and to be a working cartoonist in the decades following WWII. Particularly fascinating are the parts of the book on Cullen’s father’s experiences in the Army and on his father’s relationship with his mentor, Norman Rockwell.
In a lush and deliciously imaginative world where the land itself gives rise to powers—powerful but not omnipotent entities that strain to become gods—the human rulers who have magical connections to those powers are critical to ensuring their peoples’ well-being. Kehera is the heir to her country’s throne and has a deep tie to the gentle power of her land. A cruel king demands her hand in marriage; if he doesn’t get it, he’ll destroy her land’s powers and leave them exposed to the dangerous winter dragons. Reluctantly, Kehera accepts his demands and gives up her tie to save her people. This decision takes her on a journey that will put her in the path of strange powers, resilient sorcerers, and the ambitious but dangerously alluring Wolf Duke of Eäneté. The story is tense throughout, with attention focused on its characters and the implications of its worldbuilding. Kehera’s resolute devotion to fighting against the odds even as the world shifts and realigns around her carries through to the cosmically satisfying ultimate battle.
Schofield (Storm Rising) enlivens a standard plot about a framed law-enforcement agent with some uncommon elements. In early 2015, amnesiac Lisa Green, who was in a car crash two months earlier, recovers her memory in Florida’s Everglades City. She realizes that she has been held prisoner for weeks, by a man purporting to be her boyfriend, and that she is in fact Laura Pace, an undercover Customs and Border Protection officer. Flash back to the previous year. Under an alias, Laura travels to Sicily, where she uncovers an illegal international adoption scheme operating between the island and Miami. Those responsible for the crime frame her for the murder of a couple in Miami and attempt to dispose of her by engineering the car crash. With her memory restored, Laura is determined to clear her name, bring the guilty parties to justice, and find a missing baby. Laura recruits an unusual group of allies, who range from members of a shadowy U.N. intelligence unit to a mobster from Schofield’s previous novel. Readers will eagerly await his next mystery.