1. Robert Trivers, Wild Life: Adventures of an Evolutionary Biologist. A wild memoir, full of tales of bipolar, murders in Jamaica, study at Harvard, marijuana, knee symmetry as a key variable in sprinting success, and the Black Panthers. It has sentences like “Best way to put it, nobody fucked with Ernst Mayr.” From one of the leading evolutionary biologists, recommended if you are up for the offbeat and the exotic and not obsessed with coherence. Burial instructions are included.
2. R.W. Johnson, How Long Will South Africa Survive?: The Looming Crisis. A stunning yet deeply pessimistic book about why the country is doing so badly. The rot seeps more badly than I had realized. The corruption, collapse of the legal system, and dismantling of the use of the government public to spend on public goods all are out of control and getting worse. Recommended. A bit idiosyncratic, but conceptual and original throughout.
3. C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary. Many people consider this the best book on cricket ever written. I cannot judge that, but it is a stellar sports book, colonialism book, and most of all a Caribbean Bildungsroman (Trinidad), definitely recommended to anyone with interests in those areas. Beautifully written, I read this one to prepare for Kareem.
4. Timur Vermes, Look Who’s Back. I don’t usually read books with “the Hitler gimmick,” but this recently translated German novel caught my eye in a London bookstore. Imagine that Hitler comes back (an unexplained plot twist), no one believes it is “the real Hitler,” and he is given his own TV show as a kind of crank celebrity imitator. It’s an interesting meditation on the commercial trivialization of evil, and how the modern world can process virtually any kind of message. Relevant for American politics today, I even laughed at some parts and I don’t usually find novels funny.
5. Amiri Baraka, SOS Poems 1961-2013. Is he actually one of America’s better poets? Imagine a mix of Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, and the Black Panthers. Truly original and full of energy, here is his NYT obituary.
6. James Baldwin, Collected Essays. My favorite Baldwin, not the novels. The biggest surprise in here is his film criticism, most of all the short essay on Bergman, or on Porgy and Bess. Here is an Atlantic piece appreciating Baldwin as a movie critic. Or how about this sentence?: “He [Langston Hughes] is not the first American Negro to find the war between his social and artistic responsibilities all but irreconcilable.”