Supernatural, Paranormal, Surreal But True Tales from the US Government

Book review: The Men Who Stare at Goats, by Jon Ronson In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the U.S. Army. Defying all known accepted military practice—and indeed, the laws of physics—they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them. Journalist Jon … Continue reading Supernatural, Paranormal, Surreal But True Tales from the US Government

An Intriguing Cold Case and an Exhausting Memoir

Book review: The Kill Jar, by J. Reuben Appelman Over about a year spanning 1976-1977, at least four children were killed in Detroit’s Oakland County by a serial killer clunkily dubbed the Oakland County Child Killer, or OCCK. The case remains officially unsolved, but as J. Reuben Appelman lays out in this true crime narrative cum memoir, that’s not for lack of information, plenty of … Continue reading An Intriguing Cold Case and an Exhausting Memoir

Coming of Age in Cold War America

Book review: A Girl’s Guide to Missiles, by Karen Piper Karen Piper, a professor of literature and geology and author of several books on environmental issues, writes a personal memoir about her life, including scenes from her childhood growing up in the 1970s in China Lake, a secretive missile range in the Mojave Desert. Her narrative as she walks readers through her life folds in … Continue reading Coming of Age in Cold War America

Scenes from a House in Ekaterinburg in July, 100 Years Ago

Book review: Last Days of the Romanovs, by Helen Rappaport Russian historian Helen Rappaport writes a tightly focused, streamlined account of the last two weeks that the family of Nicholas Romanov was alive, held captive at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg in Siberia, a building known by its very Soviet name as the “House of Special Purpose”. 100 years ago last month, the Romanov family … Continue reading Scenes from a House in Ekaterinburg in July, 100 Years Ago

The Mystery of a Clairvoyant and a Con

Book review: A Deal with the Devil, by Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken We knew that many people thought of all psychics as frauds. We’d heard plenty of horror stories about people who lost thousands of dollars to storefront psychics or psychic hotlines. But we had never heard of a psychic scam quite like this one, in which fraudsters used the mail to pinpoint vulnerable targets. … Continue reading The Mystery of a Clairvoyant and a Con

Life After Liquor: Essays On Quitting Drinking

Book review: Nothing Good Can Come from This, by Kristi Coulter Booze is the oil in our motors, the thing that keeps us purring when we should be making other kinds of noise. Kristi Coulter’s essay “Enjoli”, named after a perfume ad indicating women should be able to work and still keep it sexy for their men, got a lot of traction online and led to … Continue reading Life After Liquor: Essays On Quitting Drinking

Eloquent Arguments Against Mass Incarceration, Capital and Excessive Punishment, and Mercy Above All

Book review: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I avoided reading Just Mercy, to some extent, because I knew it was going to be a painful book to read. And now I’ve avoided writing about it because I knew how hard … Continue reading Eloquent Arguments Against Mass Incarceration, Capital and Excessive Punishment, and Mercy Above All

From the Did-Not-Finish Files

I’ve been abandoning books left and right this year. Maybe my patience is getting thinner or my attention span shorter. Or maybe I’m always getting better at knowing if I’ll like something and what topics or style issues will put me off a book. I hope it’s the latter. Most of the books I abandoned weren’t terrible, they just weren’t for me. I could see … Continue reading From the Did-Not-Finish Files

The Obsessive, Expensive World of Arowana Collecting

Book review: The Dragon Behind the Glass, by Emily Voigt Once upon a time I had wanted to find out why a pet fish was so irresistible that people smuggled it into the United States, risking their very liberty. Three and a half years and fifteen countries later, I was now in Brazil (possibly illegally) pursuing the fish myself. At some point, things had gotten … Continue reading The Obsessive, Expensive World of Arowana Collecting

Zora Neale Hurston Curates a Life Story Spanning Africa, the Middle Passage, and the Jim Crow South

Book review: Barracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston Though the heart is breaking, happiness can exist in a moment, also. And because the moment in which we live is all the time there really is, we can keep going. It may be true, and often is, that every person we hold dear is taken from us. Still. From moment to moment, we watch our beans and … Continue reading Zora Neale Hurston Curates a Life Story Spanning Africa, the Middle Passage, and the Jim Crow South

Catfishing ISIS

Book review: In the Skin of a Jihadist, by Anna Erelle When one worked on “societal” issues, it was out of passion. If only I could write about this topic in a new way, one that avoided treating individuals as part of a succession of similar cases. I wanted to investigate the roots of “digital jihadism” and get to the bottom of an evil phenomenon … Continue reading Catfishing ISIS

The Fall of a Too-Good-to-Be-True Medical Startup

Book review: Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou Her emergence tapped into the public’s hunger to see a female entrepreneur break through in a technology world dominated by men. Women like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg had achieved a measure of renown in Silicon Valley, but they hadn’t created their own companies from scratch. In Elizabeth Holmes, the Valley had its first female billionaire … Continue reading The Fall of a Too-Good-to-Be-True Medical Startup