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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

May 13, 2018

The Art of Science Writing - A Case for Psychedelics and a New Look at the History of Homo Sapiens

  How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Tea
ches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan. Best known as a food and science writer with classics of the genre like The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Botany of Desire, Pollan now t u rns his investigative eye to the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs. Initially, he set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction, and anxiety. What he discovered was that these substances were often improving the lives not only of the mentally ill but also of healthy people coming to grips with the challenges of everyday life. And that made him more curious, so he decided to experiment on himself and see firsthand what the effects were. As might be expected for readers interested in the subject, Pollan's odyssey is a trip worth taking.  

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Just arriving in paperback is a science book first published in Israel in 2011 that became an under-the-radar hit over the past 2+ years. Harari, a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has written what some have described as a groundbreaking narrative of humanity's creation and evolution. One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one - homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us? To answer those questions, Harari
begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, he integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.

If you're glazing over right now, this may not be the book for you. But if the subject sounds appealing, I'd recommend Sapiens. Harari is thought-provoking and intellectual, but his writing is also accessible and clear. As Kirkus Reviews noted,
"There is enormous gratification in reading books of this nature, an encyclopedic approach from a well-versed scholar who is concise but eloquent, both skeptical and opinionated, and open enough to entertain competing points of view."  
One of 2017's Most Honored Novels Now in Paperback
 
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. When your previous novel (Salvage the Bones) wins the National Book Award, that's usually a pretty hard act to follow. Not so for Jesmyn Ward - she just writes another superlative book that again captures the National Book Award. Not only that, Sing, Unburied, Sing was also the inaugural pick of the new PBS Newshour/New York Times Now Read This book club. And now that it's in softcover, a wider range of readers can find out what all the fuss is about.

West again casts an unflinching eye on Southern rural poverty in telling the story of three generations of a modern-day African-American family struggling to survive. Teenage Jojo and his 3-year-old sister live with their grandparents, while their mother Leonie is in and out of their lives as she deals with drug addiction and tormenting visions of her dead brother. But when the children's white father, Michael, is released from prison, Leonie takes the reluctant kids on a harrowing car trip through largely rural Mississippi in hopes of a family reunion.
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WHY THE COLUMN?
Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

My goal with this newsletter is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world.

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