PT Bookshelf

An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain By Diane Ackerman (Scribner) Poet Ackerman contemplates the nature of thought. Her survey hits its best stride discussing creativity and the meaning of the self: For example, an overly ambitious camping expedition crisply illustrates the feelings of mental exhaustion and disorientation. But her metaphoric style sometimes clutters rather than clarifies.

The State Boys Rebellion By Michael D’Antonio (Simon & Schuster) Labeled “feebleminded,” a group of Massachusetts boys were tossed into a prisonlike ward in the 1940s. D’Antonio chronicles their rebellion and eventual freedom with gripping detail. Especially riveting: His account of the boys’ reunion and multimillion dollar lawsuit after they discover they were fed radioactive oatmeal during Cold War experimentation.

Mongo: Adventures in Trash By Ted Botha (Bloomsbury) South African writer Botha roams New York City’s dawn streets with the trash pickers, junk collectors, eccentrics and anarchist street kids who comb through the city’s refuse, finding everything from a doughnut dinner to diamond rings. His writing is amateurish, but the urban underworld of garbage connoisseurs is fascinating.

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Status Anxiety By Alain de Botton (Pantheon) We’d be happier if all men weren’t created equal, says de Botton. His book traces our quest for status, pointing out that democratic, meritocratic societies throw all of us into perpetual insecurity. A necessary read, both for the thoroughness of the research (references leap from Flaubert to Hobbes to Thoreau) and for the lavish illustrations.

Father Joe : The Man Who Saved My Soul By Tony Hendra (Random House) This tribute to a 40-year friendship with a gentle, quirky Benedictine monk also tells Hendra’s tempestuous life story from misunderstood little boy to renowned comedy writer (National Lampoon) and unhappy celebrity. A tear-jerker, but an unconventional one: Not everyone has a best friend in an abbey.

Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism By Paul Collins (Bloomsbury) This travelogue and memoir was inspired by the author’s autistic son. In an attempt to understand his boy, Collins travels to Freud’s apartment, the labs of Microsoft and to the grave of an autistic man taken in by the 17th century English royal court. Collins paints a vivid picture of parenting, and provides a fascinating history of the disorder.

The Undressed Art: Why We Draw By Peter Steinhart (Knopf) Steinhart’s study of artistic endeavor has everything and nothing to do with drawing. More deeply, it’s about all artists’ drive to transmit ideas as purely as possible. His joy in technique should resonate with anyone who has set out to master a sonata or write in verse. Don’t check the book out from a library—the urge to doodle in the margins is too hard to resist.

Acquainted with the Night: A Parent’s Quest to Understand Depression and Bipolar Disorder in his Children By Paul Raeburn (Broadway Books) A cathartic tale about the writer’s efforts to find help for his bipolar son and depressed daughter. Full of angst, anger and angsty anger, the book can feel heavy with its parade of calamities. But Raeburn’s story burns with emotional honesty—and some rays of hope do appear at the end.

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