Fans of travel literature will prize this shimmering account of a journey into the past.

THE GOLD MACHINE

IN THE TRACKS OF THE MULE DANCERS

A British writer heads for the South American rainforest in search of an elusive ancestor.

Other than Peter Ackroyd, nobody knows London better than Sinclair. Here, five decades into a distinguished writing career, he ventures farther afield, traveling to Peru on the trail of a Scottish ancestor who sought his fortune in coffee. “In some way yet to be defined,” writes Sinclair, “I believed that Arthur was out there, in the territory, a hungry ghost unconcerned with ‘closure.’ ” He adds, “Too many words, too many journeys on trains and planes, left me sick and used up.” Yet he felt an obligation to revisit his great-grandfather’s old haunts, and the journey recharged him. Traveling with his filmmaker daughter—an eminently practical young woman who actively sought out local guides and followed local customs, rather unlike Arthur, who made his way down a vast jungle river in the company of “a pair of duplicitous and drunken priests”—Sinclair found himself among Indigenous peoples and modern gold-rush looters of wild places, to say nothing of stray Sendero Luminoso terrorists and incautious tourists. At times, Sinclair approaches the philosophically charged anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques, and William Faulkner is never far away from his mind. The author also reflects on Joseph Conrad, Henry James, B. Traven, Werner Herzog, Arthur Rimbaud, the nature of memory, the state of civilization, and, above all, mortality (“grave goods should always be returned to the designated dark”)—especially since his travels immediately preceded a pandemic that would soon devastate the places of which he writes. While his story is often tangential and idiosyncratically told, it is packed with language of gnomic brilliance: “Knowing ourselves a little better with every mile travelled, we also know the savage pull of indifference.” A worthy practitioner of the close-scrape school of British wandering, Sinclair, as this book makes clear, deserves to be much better known abroad.

Fans of travel literature will prize this shimmering account of a journey into the past.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78607-919-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Another winner featuring the author’s trademark blend of meticulous research and scintillating writing.

ON ANIMALS

The beloved author gathers a wide-ranging selection of pieces about animals.

“Animals have always been my style,” writes Orlean at the beginning of her latest delightful book, a collection of articles that originally appeared in “slightly modified form” in the Atlantic, Smithsonian, and the New Yorker, where she has been a staff writer since 1992. The variety on display is especially pleasing. Some essays are classic New Yorkerprofiles: Who knew that tigers, near extinction in the wild, are common household pets? There are at least 15,000 in the U.S. Her subject, a New Jersey woman, keeps several dozen and has been fighting successful court battles over them for decades. Lions are not near extinction, however; in fact, there are too many. Even in Africa, far more live in captivity or on reserves than in the wild, and readers may be shocked at their fate. Cubs are cute, so animal parks profit by allowing visitors to play with them. With reserves at capacity, cubs who mature may end up shot in trophy hunts or in stalls on breeding farms to produce more cubs. In “The Rabbit Outbreak,” Orlean writes about how rabbit meat was an American staple until replaced by beef and chicken after World War II, whereupon rabbit pet ownership surged. They are now “the third-most-popular pet in the country, ranking just behind dogs and cats.” Readers may be aware of the kerfuffle following the hit movie Free Willythat led to a massive campaign to return the film’s killer whale to the wild, and Orlean delivers a fascinating, if unedifying account. The author handles dogs like a virtuoso, with 10 hilarious pages on the wacky, expensive, but sometimes profitable life of a champion show dog. Among America’s 65 million pet dogs (according to a 2003 report), 10 million go astray every year, and about half are recovered. Orlean engagingly recounts a lost-dog search of epic proportions.

Another winner featuring the author’s trademark blend of meticulous research and scintillating writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982181-53-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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