Vanishing: The World’s Most Vulnerable Animals (National Geographic, $40), by Joel Sartore, is unlike any other photography book. Sartore is a National Geographic Fellow and photographer. After a career of wildlife photography documenting the loss of species and the desperate need for conservation, Sartore felt he needed to change his approach. Despite his efforts, extinctions continued unabated with no systemic response from humankind. To help raise the alarm, fifteen years ago Sartore founded the Photo Ark project. Its continuing mission has been to create portraits of all the animals in human care worldwide. The reason for this new focus was simple and yet profound: wildlife centers have become the last refuge for many creatures facing extinction. By creating studio-like conditions where animals would be comfortable, Sartore was able to capture stunning and moving portraits. You have never seen images like these. The level of detail and intimacy each one conveys is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. Another key facet of Sartore’s method is to present all animals equally, giving species that typically do not capture the popular imagination the same space as those that do. Accompanying the portraits is text that also powerfully conveys the dire circumstances of animal life on this planet and the desperate need for action.
Alexander the Great has captured the imagination of history like few others have: Julius Caesar is said to have wept before a statue of this Macedonian king. Pompey allegedly wore a cloak that once belonged to this legendary general. Despite the fascination, questions still remain about who Alexander was, how he was able to achieve what he did, and, most importantly, the nature of his sudden demise. Anthony Everitt provides answers to these questions in his excellent new biography Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death (Random House, $30). Despite the immense scholarship surrounding Alexander, Everitt succeeds in providing a new and full portrait of the legendary figure. At the core of this remarkable book is the author’s stated goal of interpreting Alexander not through a modern lens, but through that of Alexander’s own time—providing insight into how the events of his life were viewed as they unfolded. What emerges is an eminently readable and compelling biography that captures the character of the man himself.
Judging from the title, the premise of Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing (Melville House, $25.99) might seem straightforward. After all, doing nothing seems easy. Images likely flashed through your mind of a lazy day spent reading a book (this bookseller hopes) while putting off your chores until tomorrow. What Odell proposes, however, is a radical reorientation and reclamation of an important human trait: our ability to pay attention. Odell skillfully peels back the veil on what she calls “the attention economy” to show that while seemingly benign, the ultimate purpose of this economy is the monopolization of our attention for its own gain. In the process, our connection with the physical world is diminished. As fundamentally embodied beings, Odell demonstrates that our greatest chance for happiness occurs when we engage directly with each other and with our surroundings. For this to happen people need time and space to cultivate an awareness of the world around them. They need to be able to, seemingly, “do nothing." Odell’s book is not an angry screed railing against the evils of modern society and media. Ultimately, it is a compassionate and hopeful guide on how we can best care for ourselves, each other, and the planet.