The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family,by Mary S. Lovell. The most famous sister in this famous family was Nancy Mitford, author of Love in a Cold Climateand The Pursuit of Love,some of the funniest and most fun books I’ve read in recent years. Lots of the stories and humor in Nancy’s novels were inspired by her childhood growing up on an aristocratic country estate with highly eccentric parents, five sisters, and one brother. Another sister became an active communist, another a nazi. The family as a whole was fascinating, and this book provides a vivid window into life in the period of the two world wars.
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence,by Michael Pollan. About a blossoming renaissance in psychedelic research and potential clinical applications of psychedelics, with lots of fascinating history of psychedelic use and past research. Pollan takes on the point of view of a drug sceptic (though he ends up sampling them himself and quite boldly relating his experiences), which I think would make this book particularly interesting for anyone who feels the same. Can be slightly tedious watching scientists and Pollan slowly figure out what a lot of people already know, but ultimately very interesting to learn about psychedelics from the neuroscientific perspective.
Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird,by Andrew D. Blechman. I’ve always secretly really liked pigeons, so this book felt like a fun indulgence. Did you know that pigeons can fly at up to 100mph, can cover hundreds of miles in a day, and have such a complex and precise homing capability that science has yet to understand its mechanism? Think about this: for most of civilization’s history pigeons were literally the fastest way in the world to send a message. Every empire and world superpower has used pigeons as messengers, from the ancient Egyptians and Chinese, to the Greeks and Romans, to both axis and allies in WWII. The Kahn dynasty created a pigeon post that spanned one sixth of the planet. This book explores, among other things, pigeon racing, fancy pigeon breeding, pigeon shooting, and the fact that cities are overrun (who knew?) not with wild pigeons but with the descendants of cultivated pigeons gone feral, prolific thanks in large part to diehard pigeon feeding fanatics.
Act One: An Autobiography,by Moss Hart. This engrossing and thoroughly well-written autobiography is the rags to riches story of a real life larger than fiction. It reads like a novel but is crammed with insight into life in New York’s slums in the early part of the 1900s, as well as the theater world of the first half of the century. Moss Hart was a playwright, most famous for writing Once in a Lifetime, You Can’t Take It with You, and The Man Who Came to Dinner, but it’s not at all necessary to be familiar with his work (I’m not) to thoroughly enjoy this book. One of the best books I’ve read recently and apparently quite famous in the theater world.