Book Reviews & Essays

Equipment for Living

Michael Pollan and Leslie Jamison, Sober and Intoxicated

Originally published June 5, 2018 in The Nation

In December of 1934, an unemployed stockbroker named Bill Wilson checked himself into Towns Hospital in Manhattan. He had a habit of consuming more than two quarts of whiskey per day, and his wife had implored him to get help. The doctor gave Wilson an extract of belladonna, a plant with hallucinogenic properties, which at the time was an experimental […]

An Ad Hoc Affair

Jane Jacobs's clear-eyed vision of humanity

Originally published February 3, 2017 in The Nation

In 1956, Jane Jacobs was 39 years old, working as a staff writer at Architectural Forum. Her boss, unable to attend a conference at Harvard, asked her to go in his stead and give a talk on land banking. Jacobs, skittish about public speaking, reluctantly agreed, on one condition: that she could speak on a subject of her choice. That […]

The Annie Dillard Show

Review of The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New, by Annie Dillard

Originally published June 6 - 13, 2016 in The Nation

For an epoch defined by mass attention-deficit disorder, Annie Dillard would seem to be the perfect antidote. Dillard, the author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), is devoted to patience and to presence. “It’s all a matter of keeping my eyes open,” she has declared. She is thoroughly and ecstatically attuned to her surroundings, willing to wait […]

Impurity

Two Books on the Anthropocene

Originally published November 30, 2015 in Los Angeles Review of Books

THEY WARNED US about this. In California, the future has arrived in the form of desiccated land, 100-degree autumn days, and freakish fires that burned more than 300,000 acres in 2015. In Oklahoma and Texas, this year brought record deluges of rain, while severe drought in the Middle East has fueled the refugee crisis. As Al Gore is fond of […]

A Safe Haven for Whom?

Review of 'Giving Up Baby,' by Laury Oaks

Originally published September/October 2015 in Pacific Standard

On Christmas Eve, 2007, a blond woman in her late 30s arrived at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, with a crying newborn in her arms. The woman had given birth alone at home and tied off the umbilical cord with a rubber band. Now she wanted to leave the baby, wrapped in a T-shirt and towel, at the hospital. After […]