The Iowa caucuses are upon us, and the winner is…well, we’ll see. What we can divine from reported sales figures for the now-obligatory campaign book, Donald Trump’s Crippled America—which we greeted on its October publication with the joy of a wolf for a lost lamb—is leading the pack among books by the Republican candidates, having been on the New York Times best-seller list for the last ten weeks. Ben Carson’s A More Perfect Union has sold better cumulatively (again, reportedly), though it’s now fallen from that list. Other campaign books from the GOP slate have done notably less well, the worst-performing being Carly Fiorina’s memoir Rising to the Challenge and Jeb Bush’s more narrowly focused Immigration Wars.
No matter what the political stripe or the units shifted, one problem, notes The Atlantic, is that such books aren’t usually very good: “That’s what you get with a ghostwriter and a lot of time spent on a campaign bus.”
Speaking of contact sports: Even with the Super Bowl right around the corner, concern is growing that tackle football is wreaking havoc on those who play it, from seventh-graders at the middle school down the street to highly paid pros in billion-dollar stadiums. A recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs reveals that the brains of 87 out of 91 deceased NFL players show signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy brought about by collisions on the field. CTE can lead to memory loss at best and dementia at worst, and it’s been implicated in shortening the lives of those who suffer from it.
The NFL has said that it is “dedicated to making football safer and continue to take steps to protect players, including rule changes, advanced sideline technology, and expanded medical resources.” Considering the tackles it tried to throw at Bennet Omalu, the neurologist hero of Jeanne Marie Laskas’s Concussion, who is played by Will Smith in the film version, though, one wonders at the level of that dedication. In any event, David Maraniss, the excellent historian and journalist, covers other books in the new issue of the New York Review of Books, writing, “America’s superpower game has never been more popular, yet evidence against it is amassing on many fronts, none more troubling than what science now says about the long-term ramifications of those collisions.”
Lois Weisberg has passed away. Lois who? You may not know her, but she would certainly find out about you if you came anywhere near her orbit. She did so with figures in the literary world, introducing readers and writers and editors to one another, forging valuable connections and fruitful alliances. She knew sports heroes, carpenters, artists, businesspeople, filmmakers, interior decorators, mechanics—in short, everyone, and she connected generations, classes, continents. The hero of a key section of Malcolm Gladwell’s breakthrough book The Tipping Point, Lois Weisberg was 90.
Somewhere out there, a new Wallace Stegner, Bernard De Voto, or even Rebecca Solnit is girding up to write about the strange occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge of central Oregon, with its echoes of the failed Sagebrush Rebellion of 35-odd years ago. “Anger looks nowhere but backward,” writes William Kittredge, the writer laureate of the region, in his aptly titled book Who Owns the West?—and there’s certainly no lack of anger surrounding the occupation and the issues it raises.
In light of that simmering rage, it’s worth recalling why Teddy Roosevelt established Malheur in the first place, as. Douglas Brinkley chronicles in his fine study The Wilderness Warrior: namely, to protect numerous species of migratory birds that travel the length of the Americas in their annual migrations, placing their stopover grounds in the public domain rather than putting them in the hands of private owners who may not have such larger interests in mind or at heart.
If you’re in the market to be hypnotized by a graphic of those migrations, have a look at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s map. In the meanwhile, it’s fitting to look back into the pages of Scott Weidensaul’s wonderful book Living on the Wind for more about the lives of migratory birds, whose freedom we might all envy. And have a look at John James Audubon’s Birds of America while you’re at it, its 435-plus images just now made available for free reading online and downloading courtesy of the Audubon Society.
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor at Kirkus Reviews.