Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human

Elizabeth Hess's book is a polemical animal biography in the tradition of Black Beauty. Nim Chimpsky -- his very name a dig at the controversial linguist who held that language belongs solely to humans -- was among the first and most talented of chimpanzees to learn sign language. In the end, the results of "Project Nim" proved inconclusive, and Nim was "retired" from language research, disappearing into a cruel labyrinth of breeding programs and research facilities. Chimps in such conditions frequently died in medical trials; for survivors, euthanasia was not unusual. But here was a "lab animal" who could help cook dinner and wash up afterward. And most poignantly, he could talk. Nim's incarceration devastated him, and Hess charts his transformation from a tumbling toddler into an angry, dangerous adult. Throughout it all, Nim continued to sign, forever seeking the understanding of his mostly uncomprehending handlers. Near the end of his life, when Nim viciously bit another chimpanzee, his keeper squirted a dollop of antibacterial ointment into Nim's hand and told him to apply it to the wound; Nim ambled over and treated his companion with expert care. As historian Erica Fudge points out, the danger of teaching animals to speak is that we might not want to hear what they have to tell.

April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

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…

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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.