PT Bookshelf

A review of the latest books.

By PT Staff, published on May 1, 2004 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

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.

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.