Book Reviews & Essays

Fearful Parenting Is Contagious

'On Immunity,' by Eula Biss

Originally published November 6, 2014 in Boston Review

After my daughter was born, whenever I heard about parents who refused vaccines, I’d feel a flare of hostility. Not because I couldn’t relate to them—as an easily spooked new mom, I could relate all too well. No mother is thrilled to see a needle jabbed into her child. It hardly helps to know that the needle contains a substance […]


How the rhetoric of ecoetiquette muddies writing about global warming

Originally published July 1, 2014 in The Nation

If a single book has haunted the environmental movement, it’s The Population Bomb, by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich. Published in 1968 by Ballantine, the work is remembered for a handful of striking passages: its opening description of seething crowds in Delhi; its prediction that in the 1970s hundreds of millions of people would succumb to famine; its endorsement of policies, […]

Attitude Adjustments

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture

Originally published Dec/Jan 2104 in Bookforum

In Promise Land, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro recounts her efforts to conquer one of her multiple phobias by attending a support group called Freedom to Fly. The group’s course, led by a psychologist, met at the Westchester airport and culminated in a round-trip flight to Boston. Lamb-Shapiro secretly had no intention of boarding the flight, but she ultimately mustered the nerve, thanks […]


Birth of a Genre

Originally published Summer 2013 in Dissent

Makepeace Hatfield, the heroine of Marcel Theroux’s 2009 novel Far North, is one of the last survivors of a Siberian settlement. Her father was an early settler: an American Quaker who fled a decadent world for a frontiersman’s life. In the Siberian summer, he discovered fertile terrain, purple and brown, and water that “heaved with salmon,” as Makepeace recalls. “Nothing […]

I Change, You Change

Self-help memoirs take on not the exceptional challenge, but the everyday one.

Originally published January 20, 2013 in The New York Times Book Review

About halfway through her new memoir, “Data, a Love Story,” Amy Webb pauses to address the reader. Up to this point, the author’s online hunt for a husband has yielded little but farcically bad dates. In frustration she begins an analysis involving scatter plots and word clouds to discern the laws of success in online dating. “I want to reveal […]