Unsure what new book to read next? Sit back: We read the book reviews in case you missed them. Below are the collected reviews of two new books being discussed in leading journals and magazines. Today we look at "On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder" and "Mortality by Christopher Hitchens."
"On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson" by William Souder
It is with little argument that Rachel Carson can be crowned the godmother of environmentalism. Author of the seminal work "Silent Spring" (1962), which spurred on changes in U.S. environmental polices with its warning bells about the ecological consequences of pesticides, Carson was a marine biologist and staunch conservationist in an era when being an unmarried and outspoken woman was beyond radical. In this new examination of Carson’s life, Pulitzer Prize nominee William Souder “portrays Carson as a woman passionate in friendship, poetic and innovative in her books about the sea, gentle but ambitious, assiduously keeping tabs on her publisher’s promotion of her work,” writes Publishers Weekly. Kirkus’ Reviews praises Souder’s portrayal of Carson’s struggle to live a quiet life in the face of celebrity and opposition by the chemical industry after the publication of Silent Spring, noting that he “writes beautifully about this dichotomy, revealing intimate details about the writing process and her relationships with editors, fans, family and her beloved companion Dorothy Freeman, with whom she spent some of her happiest moments while on the Maine coastline.” Elyssa East, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, found Souder’s discussion of Carson’s detractors “heavy-handed,” but overall believed that, “In the hands of a lesser biographer, Carson's quiet life of hard work and dogged determination could make for a dull read, but Souder…tells a suspenseful tale of the literary life, pending environmental devastation and Carson's struggle with breast cancer.”
"Mortality" by Christopher Hitchens
Noted as the quintessential contrarian, the late essayist Christopher Hitchens was known for his acerbic, crystalline way of making a point. The well-read, eloquent, prickly, but sometimes endearing Hitchens was lauded for underscoring his polemics with terrifying, defining experiences (in 2008, he underwent waterboarding) and loathed for his takedowns of sacred icons, including God, the Pope, and Mother Teresa. In "Mortality," a slender volume that gathers his final essays first published in Vanity Fair magazine and a clutch of final thoughts as he traversed the dark landscape of dying from esophageal cancer, Hitchens gives his fans and detractors a postscript of a life lived fully. “The book’s power lies in its simplicity, in its straightforward, intelligent documenting, its startling refusal of showiness or melodrama or grandeur,” writes Katie Roiphe for Slate.com. “This is highly unusual in a death memoir… In Mortality, Hitchens is using himself as a way of writing about death; he is not using death as a way of writing about himself.” Hitchens’ lack of self-pity is deeply admired by Henry Allen, who says in The Wall Street Journal, “Mortality" is poignant, but the poignancy is ours, not his: "Irony is my business and I just can't see any ironies here." Death is no china shop, so he could not play the bull except by attacking the people who have written to deny death or offer hope that death can be evaded or made to seem more meaningful.” This stoicism is poked somewhat by David L. Ulin, who recognizes Hitchens for the singular figure he cut as an essayist, but who also found "Mortality" to be less than personable. “Again and again, Hitchens steers away from feeling and toward argument, whether he is discussing atheism…or the rigors of medical treatment, which he equates with torture in both a physical and a psychological sense,” Ulin writes in the Los Angeles Times, continuing, “Sure, Hitchens writes about his pain, just as he addresses the mix of anticipation and frustration that comes from being at the edge of cancer research. Still, when it comes to his feelings of loss or longing, he remains almost deliberately disengaged.”