Fans of travel literature will prize this shimmering account of a journey into the past.

THE GOLD MACHINE

IN THE TRACKS OF THE MULE DANCERS

A British writer heads for the South American rainforest in search of an elusive ancestor.

Other than Peter Ackroyd, nobody knows London better than Sinclair. Here, five decades into a distinguished writing career, he ventures farther afield, traveling to Peru on the trail of a Scottish ancestor who sought his fortune in coffee. “In some way yet to be defined,” writes Sinclair, “I believed that Arthur was out there, in the territory, a hungry ghost unconcerned with ‘closure.’ ” He adds, “Too many words, too many journeys on trains and planes, left me sick and used up.” Yet he felt an obligation to revisit his great-grandfather’s old haunts, and the journey recharged him. Traveling with his filmmaker daughter—an eminently practical young woman who actively sought out local guides and followed local customs, rather unlike Arthur, who made his way down a vast jungle river in the company of “a pair of duplicitous and drunken priests”—Sinclair found himself among Indigenous peoples and modern gold-rush looters of wild places, to say nothing of stray Sendero Luminoso terrorists and incautious tourists. At times, Sinclair approaches the philosophically charged anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques, and William Faulkner is never far away from his mind. The author also reflects on Joseph Conrad, Henry James, B. Traven, Werner Herzog, Arthur Rimbaud, the nature of memory, the state of civilization, and, above all, mortality (“grave goods should always be returned to the designated dark”)—especially since his travels immediately preceded a pandemic that would soon devastate the places of which he writes. While his story is often tangential and idiosyncratically told, it is packed with language of gnomic brilliance: “Knowing ourselves a little better with every mile travelled, we also know the savage pull of indifference.” A worthy practitioner of the close-scrape school of British wandering, Sinclair, as this book makes clear, deserves to be much better known abroad.

Fans of travel literature will prize this shimmering account of a journey into the past.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78607-919-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.

THE MEATEATER GUIDE TO WILDERNESS SKILLS AND SURVIVAL

The bad news: On any given outdoor expedition, you are your own worst enemy. The good news: If you are prepared, which this book helps you achieve, you might just live through it.

As MeatEater host and experienced outdoorsman Rinella notes, there are countless dangers attendant in going into mountains, woods, or deserts; he quotes journalist Wes Siler: “People have always managed to find stupid ways to die.” Avoiding stupid mistakes is the overarching point of Rinella’s latest book, full of provocative and helpful advice. One stupid way to die is not to have the proper equipment. There’s a complication built into the question, given that when humping gear into the outdoors, weight is always an issue. The author’s answer? “Build your gear list by prioritizing safety.” That entails having some means of communication, water, food, and shelter foremost and then adding on “extra shit.” As to that, he notes gravely, “a National Park Service geologist recently estimated that as much as 215,000 pounds of feces has been tossed haphazardly into crevasses along the climbing route on Denali National Park’s Kahiltna Glacier, where climbers melt snow for drinking water.” Ingesting fecal matter is a quick route to sickness, and Rinella adds, there are plenty of outdoorspeople who have no idea of how to keep their bodily wastes from ruining the scenery or poisoning the water supply. Throughout, the author provides precise information about wilderness first aid, ranging from irrigating wounds to applying arterial pressure to keeping someone experiencing a heart attack (a common event outdoors, given that so many people overexert without previous conditioning) alive. Some takeaways: Keep your crotch dry, don’t pitch a tent under a dead tree limb, walk side-hill across mountains, and “do not enter a marsh or swamp in flip-flops, and think twice before entering in strap-on sandals such as Tevas or Chacos.”

A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12969-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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