Small Fry By Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Brennan-Jobs grew up shuttling between two starkly different worlds: the bohemian, peripatetic world of her mother, an unstable and impoverished artist, and the luxurious world of her cruel and increasingly wealthy father, Steve Jobs. She provides indelible portraits of both parents, recreating the fraught landscape of her childhood in Palo Alto through the careful accretion of exquisitely granular detail. Her memoir is a work of uncanny intimacy, the debut of a singular literary sensibility. Ultimately, though, it is her portrayal of Jobs as a man prone to mind-boggling acts of emotional negligence and abuse that gives this book its overlay of devastation.

How to Change Your Mind By Michael Pollan

Best known for his work on the ethics of eating, Pollan delivers his most personal book yet, one that demanded he drop acid in full view of the reader. Exploring the history and science of psychedelics, he tells of the rise and fall and rise again of our societal interest in these drugs, which are now thought to have many benefits, from helping with addiction to easing the terror of the terminally ill. The book hits its high point when he examines the mysticism and spirituality of the psychedelic experience. What can we learn about ourselves when the part of our mind controlling the ego drops away? What is this older, more primitive part of the brain, which connects us to how a child sees the world? It’s a trip that leads him to wonder about how, ultimately, we can get the most out of our existences as conscious beings in the world.

Frederick Douglass By David W. Blight

A monumental work about a monumental figure. The charismatic Douglass was Abraham Lincoln’s conscience, so to speak, and Blight’s detailed, cinematic biography is the result of a lifetime of engagement with his subject. Douglass wrote three autobiographies himself, describing his rise from slavery to a role as one of the greatest figures of the 19th century, but Blight’s work is fuller than any of those, relating both the public and private life in a way that Douglass either could not or would not undertake. The result is a portrait that is likely to stand as the definitive account for years to come.

Educated By Tara Westover

Westover’s extraordinary memoir is an act of courage and self-invention. The youngest of seven children, she grew up in Idaho, in a survivalist family who lived so far off the grid that she lacked even a birth certificate and did not attend school until she went to college. Getting in wasn’t obvious: At home, reading meant studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and much of her childhood was spent helping her mother, an unlicensed midwife, and her father, a paranoid man who maintained a scrap-metal junkyard. In recounting her upbringing and her triumph over it — she would earn a Ph.D. in history at Cambridge — Westover took great risks and alienated family members. The reward is a book that testifies to an irrepressible thirst to learn.

American Prison By Shane Bauer

Bauer moved to rural Louisiana in 2014 to work undercover as a guard at the Winn Correctional Center, a privately run prison. He lasted four months before his deception was discovered, but that turned out to be more than sufficient to write a searing exposé for Mother Jones, which earned him a National Magazine Award and an invitation to speak to officials in Washington about problems in for-profit prisons. With this book, Bauer has expanded his article into a comprehensive analysis impossible to ignore. His book is a meticulous catalog of horrors, from the historical precursors — the practice of convict-leasing at Southern prisons after the Civil War, in which inmates were rented out to companies as a captive work force — to the rampant violence, neglect and incompetence that pervade a multibillion-dollar industry.

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