Recently Read and Enthusiastically Recommended
Symphony for the City of the Dead:
Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
by M.T. Anderson
A remarkable book, this is billed as nonfiction for teenagers but in fact is for anyone who loves music and the lives it touches. I had heard the Shostakovich Seventh Symphony and knew it was about the World War II siege of Leningrad, but I didn't realize the extent to which Shostakovich expressed the pain, horror, and triumph of those beleaguered millions. The story is brought to life by photos and documents on nearly every page.
The Gene: An Intimate History
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
I don't know if this is the best book I've read in recent years, but it may be the most important. It's an exhaustive and story-filled exploration of genes: what they are, who discovered and studied them, and how, through science that's developing at breakneck speed, genetics will shape our lives in the near and distant future. Also highly recommended: Mukherjee's previous book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.
Leonardo da Vinci
by Walter Isaacson
All of us have heard the expression “Renaissance man,” but until you’ve read about Leonardo, you have no idea what it really means. Born out of wedlock, denied schooling, he nevertheless rose quickly to prominence through sheer talent and curiosity. Most people know he revolutionized art, but did you realize he was a pioneer in botany, anatomy, architecture, music, theater, and a dozen other fields? We learn something amazing on every page. Isaacson is making a career of writing about so-called geniuses — Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, Steve Jobs — and all his books are worth reading.