I’m highlighting some nonfiction books coming out in July. All of the mentioned titles are available to put on hold in our catalog and will also be made available via the library’s Overdrive website on the day of publication in eBook and eAudiobook format (as available). For a more extensive list of new nonfiction books coming out this month, check our online catalog.
“This Is Your Mind on Plants” by Michael Pollan (Jul 6)
Of all the things humans rely on plants for — sustenance, beauty, medicine, fragrance, flavor, fiber — surely the most curious is our use of them to change consciousness: to stimulate or calm, fiddle with or completely alter, the qualities of our mental experience. Take coffee and tea: People around the world rely on caffeine to sharpen their minds. But we do not usually think of caffeine as a drug, or our daily use as an addiction, because it is legal and socially acceptable. So, then, what is a “drug”? And why, for example, is making tea from the leaves of a tea plant acceptable, but making tea from a seed head of an opium poppy a federal crime? In “This Is Your Mind on Plants,” Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs — opium, caffeine, and mescaline — and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs while consuming (or, in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, Pollan reckons with the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants. Why do we go to such great lengths to seek these shifts in consciousness, and then why do we fence that universal desire with laws and customs and fraught feelings? In this unique blend of history, science, and memoir, as well as participatory journalism, Pollan examines and experiences these plants from several very different angles and contexts, and shines a fresh light on a subject that is all too often treated reductively — as a drug, whether licit or illicit. But that is one of the least interesting things you can say about these plants, Pollan shows, for when we take them into our bodies and let them change our minds, we are engaging with nature in one of the most profound ways we can. Based in part on an essay published almost 25 years ago, this groundbreaking and singular consideration of psychoactive plants, and our attraction to them through time, holds up a mirror to our fundamental human needs and aspirations, the operations of our minds, and our entanglement with the natural world.
“The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer” by Dean Jobb (Jul 13)
“When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals,” Sherlock Holmes observed during one of his most baffling investigations. “He has nerve and he has knowledge.” In the span of fifteen years, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream poisoned at least ten people in the United States, Britain, and Canada, a death toll with almost no precedents. Structured around Cream’s London murder trial in 1892, when he was finally brought to justice, “The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream” exposes the blind trust given to medical practitioners, as well as the flawed detection methods, bungled investigations, corrupt officials, and stifling morality of Victorian society that allowed Cream to prey on vulnerable and desperate women, many of whom had turned to him for medical help. Dean Jobb vividly re-creates this largely forgotten historical account against the backdrop of the birth of modern policing and newly adopted forensic methods, though most police departments still scoffed at using science to solve crimes. But then most police departments could hardly imagine that serial killers existed — the term was unknown at the time. As the Chicago Tribune wrote then, Cream’s crimes marked the emergence of a new breed of killer, one who operated without motive or remorse, who “murdered simply for the sake of murder.”
“New Women in the Old West: From Settlers to Suffragists, an Untold American Story” by Winifred Gallagher (Jul 20)
Between 1840 and 1910, over half a million men and women traveled deep into the underdeveloped American West, the vast lands that extended from the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean. Survival in this uncharted region required two hard-working partners, compelling women to take on equal responsibilities to men, proving to themselves — and their husbands — that they were capable of far more than society maintained. Back East, women were citizens in name only. Unable to vote, own property, or file for divorce, women were kept separate from the dynamic male world outside the home. But the women of the west rightly saw themselves as patriotic pioneers, vital contributors to westward expansion. By the mid-nineteenth century the fight for women’s suffrage was radical but hardly new, until the women of the west changed the course. Armed with the ethos of manifest domesticity, they established and managed schools, churches, and philanthropies; they ran for office, first for the school board but soon for local legislature. Wielding their authority in public life for political gains, they successfully fought for the right to earn income, purchase property, and, especially, vote. In 1869, partly to lure more women past the Rocky Mountains, Wyoming gave women the vote. Utah, Colorado, and Idaho soon followed, and long before the Nineteenth Amendment of 1919 did so across the country, nearly every western state or territory had enfranchised women. In “New Women in the Old West,” Winifred Gallagher brings to life the little known and under-reported women who played monumental roles in one of the most vibrant and transformative periods in the history of the United States. Alongside their victories, Gallagher explores the women who were less privileged by race and class, the Native American, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian women, yet joined the fight for universal equality. Drawing on an extraordinary collection of research, including personal letters and diaries, Gallagher weaves together the striking achievements of those who not only created homes on weather-wracked prairies and built communities in muddy mining camps, but played a crucial, unrecognized role in the women’s rights movement, and forever redefined the American woman.
More Notable Releases for July
- “Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship” by Catherine Raven (Jul 6)
- “The Comfort Book” by Matt Haig (Jul 6)
- “How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes: Science-based Strategies for Better Parenting- from Tots to Teens” by Melinda Wenner Moyer (Jul 20)
- “Nadiya Bakes: Over 100 Must-Try Recipes for Breads, Cakes, Biscuits, Pies, and More” by Nadiya Hussain (Jul 27)