9 new books we recommend this week


METAZOA: Animal life and birth of the spirit, by Peter Godfrey-Smith. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $ 28.) Godfrey-Smith draws on his extensive diving knowledge and field experience to illuminate the workings of the animal mind, as well as the thoughts and experiences that give shape to it. He poses, for example, the very real possibility that an octopus is a being with multiple selves. “The book is filled with fascinating anecdotes and research, interspersed with charming and informative illustrations from different time periods… so we can imagine for a moment what a sample of the inhabitants looked like during that time period,” writes Aimee Nezhukumatathil in her critical. “The whole book is a pretty winning combination that never gives readers the impression of being lectured; rather, it is the feeling of joining a wise and ever patient friend on a journey through time of cognitive animal experiences.

THE NINE LIVES OF PAKISTAN: Dispatches from a precarious state, by Declan Walsh. (Norton, $ 30.) Walsh’s richly detailed book interweaves profiles of some of Pakistan’s most controversial public figures with a personal story, as it unraveled the mystery of why, in 2013, as a Times correspondent, he was unceremoniously expelled from the country. “Walsh assumes his lines are being exploited, tries to avoid intelligence queues and continues to dig into the dark corners that those in power wish him not to,” writes Amna Nawaz in her review. “This investment in the field is evident in his book. Despite the fighting, the uncertainty and degree of difficulty reporting in Pakistan, his familiarity and affection for the people and places he covers is clear. “

THE BLESSING AND THE CURSE: The Jewish people and their books in the twentieth century, by Adam Kirsch. (Norton, $ 30.) Kirsch, poet and critic, captures the conflicting quality of the Jewish experience for this investigation of “some of the most important and fascinating Jewish books of the 20th century”, covering the great literary worlds from Franz Kafka to Tony Kushner . “Kirsch’s essays are expertly written, each skillfully including just enough historical context, healthy portions of summary and exposition, and the slightest pinch of interpretation and evaluation,” writes Josh Lambert in his review. “He says just enough to make a book’s value clear, without too many spoils, and it doesn’t stretch too long or insist on its arguments. The essays could serve as models for anyone invited to write the introduction to a new paperback edition of a well-worn text.

IT WAS NOW, IT IS THEN: Poems, by Vijay Seshadri. (Gray wolf, $ 24.) In his first collection since winning the Pulitzer in 2014 (for “3 sections”), Seshadri applies his coiled conversational voice to an unusually wide array of forms – from rhyming quatrains to large blocks of prose – in poems that are generally talkative, in-depth and self-deprecating. “Seshadri’s poems are very clever, often funny, conceptually complex, and so full of irony that it’s hard to avoid making a pun here involving magnets or multivitamins,” writes David Orr in his review. “He’s a poet who mesmerizes not with stillness but with zigs and zags, and he really wants to take the reader with him as he jumps from idea to idea.”

WASTE: A Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, by Catherine Coleman Fleurs. (The New Press, $ 25.99.) Flowers, environmental activist and MacArthur member, sheds light on the health toll of a complicated and unpleasant problem – the lack of proper waste sanitation in rural America – even as she describes her own evolution as as a lawyer. “Flowers bring an invigorating meaning to the page,” writes our reviewer, Anna Clark. “’Waste’ is written with warmth, grace and clarity. His frank faith in the possibility of building a better world, from scratch, is contagious. … Flowers shares the extraordinary story of her own life, in all its twists and turns, leaps of faith, luck, strange turns, hard work and ever-growing social conscience.

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