The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself

A classic science fiction trope asks us to imagine a human on exhibit in an interplanetary zoo. Thus deracinated, the captured human offers us a startling perspective on our species: we are just another cage-worthy animal, albeit with some unique traits and capabilities, but subject like any creature to scientifically objective categorization and analysis. It's precisely this devilishly sly and illuminating alien viewpoint that Hannah Holmes adopts in her new book, a "fact sheet" for Homo sapiens. Employing her own body as representative subject and her own experiences as a well-traveled journalist, she marshals wide-ranging, up-to-the-minute scientific research, along with intriguing speculations, to craft a fascinating, eminently readable portrait of humanity's physiology and behavior, our past, present and future amidst all creation. Throughout, Holmes deploys her love for and knowledge of the rest of the animal kingdom to good effect, comparing and contrasting humanity with our feathered, furred, chitinous and even microscopic cousins. As well, she plucks pertinent details from various non-Western cultures with anthropological exactitude. Her language is rich with nuance and metaphor ("The Maasai are as elongated as Giacometti sculptures."), lighthearted and playful while simultaneously rigorous with the facts. She is not shy about approaching thorny matters involving gender or racial differences. And she deals in a non-partisan manner with unresolved controversies. By the end of her survey, Holmes has succeeded admirably in "defining my animal self ? clarify my identity in the natural world," a valuable prize we all share along the way.

July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart disease at the age of sixty-one.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).