Best Books of the Month: Nonfiction

Jon Foro on March 19, 2018

Here are just a few of our favorite nonfiction titles for March. See more of our nonfiction picks, and all of the Best Books of the Month.

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The Last Wild Men of Borneo: A True Story of Death and Treasure by Carl Hoffman

Hoffman's Savage Harvest took readers to New Guinea to investigate the mysterious 1961 disappearance of billionaire scion Michael Rockefeller, last seen making his way from his sinking boat toward the native Asmat waiting on the shore, along with the rumors of cannibalism that followed them. (Read more about that here.)  True to form, The Last Wild Men goes in search of the Dayaks—AKA "the Headhunters of Borneo"—and two earlier explorers who found them, and maybe more than they expected: Bruno Manser, who led the tribe in revolt against logging incursions, becoming an environmental hero before his own mysterious disappearance; and Michael Palmieri, a world traveler and tribal art "collector" (again, like Rockefeller) at once hailed and criticized as a preserver and exploiter of Dayak culture.

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Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

Given the 24-hour news cycle to which we have grown accustomed, it’s difficult to navigate life and think that everything is peachy. But Pinker has set out to illustrate that there has never been a better time to be a human being. Pinker points out that the slow creep of progress is not as newsworthy as, say, an earthquake or an explosion, so it’s clear why we don’t always have the sense that things are getting better. But the Enlightenment—with its dedication to science, reason, humanism, and progress—has led people to live longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives. It makes sense to be skeptical of a scientist arguing that that science is the answer, and his optimism won’t always jibe with your personal experience or judgement. But there’s lots to chew on here—and it’s so easy to obsess on the intrusions and negatives of technology and “advancement” that this book can serve as a kind of antidote. —Chris Schluep

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Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh

Last year marked the 50th years since the summer of Love, so you know what that means: 2018 is the golden anniversary of... 1968. Fortunately, Walsh transcends boomer nostalgia by narrowing focus to a pair of off-piste topics, at least in the context of hippie history: Van Morrison's haunted opus, Astral Weeks; and Boston, a city not always associated with free love, acid tests, or casual public nudity. Walsh's strategy pays out like broken slot machine, dispensing fascinating new details about a fascinating, if otherwise over-reported, era in dire need of new perspectives.

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