Bird on Fire

Andrew Ross could easily have set a study of urban sustainability in a green mecca like Portland or San Francisco, but he instead chose to delve into Phoenix, a semi-arid desert city that faces daunting challenges both natural (scant rain and more than 330 days of bright sunshine a year) and man-made (unfettered growth and its attendant sprawl, industrial pollution, and divisive anti-immigrant policies).


In researching Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City, Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, interviewed more than 200 Phoenicians -- politicians, developers, farmers, environmental activists, and many others -- in order to gauge how prepared residents are for "the fast-approaching era of resource scarcity." In this deeply felt book, there is never any doubt as to where Ross's sympathies lie. "I can vouch that my second-grader, who tagged along on some of my interviews, had a more accurate understanding of greenhouse gases than that offered by the majority leader of the Arizona Senate," he writes disdainfully after a meeting with one pol.


With the compelling argument that "the climate crisis is as much a social as a biophysical challenge," Ross says Phoenix's future depends on how well its denizens can cooperate with each other. He makes smart connections between global warming and the recent -- and notorious -- fight over immigration in Arizona, condemning the contradictions of the "eco-apartheid" that sees wealthy residents enjoying clean air and mountain views while the minority-dominant South Phoenix is awash in toxic pollution. He challenges readers to expand their definition of sustainability, arguing that in a city as strapped for resources as Phoenix, small individual gestures towards environmental living don't do enough to alter the status quo. And in a stirring conclusion, he writes, "There is nothing sustainable in the long run about one population living the green American dream while, across town, another is still trapped in poverty and pestilence."

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.