Darwin Slept Here
By Eric Simons
February marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and, naturally, the publication of a slew of new books about him. But while mostlike the fine, brainy Banquet at Delmonico's, by Barry Werthportray the naturalist as an earnest, white-bearded thinker, journalist Eric Simons celebrates a refreshingly different Darwin: a twenty-something traveler fond of hurling iguanas into the sea and charging up any tall peak he could find. With copies of The Voyage of the Beagle and Darwin's diaries in hand, Simons headed for South America, retracing parts of his famous 1831 trip and doing what Darwin did when he wasn't studying finches: riding with Argentinian gauchos, hunting rheas, and ogling señoritas. "There's a danger in labeling someone a genius; it makes them inaccessible," Simons writes. "But Darwin the personwell, he was a lot like us."
Murderers in Mausoleums
By Jeffrey Tayler
(HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT, $24)
"The new Great Game that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union has ended, and victory has gone to the home teams. The West is out," writes Jeffrey Tayler in Murderers in Mausoleums, his chronicle of a 7,200-mile journey from Red Square to Tiananmen Square. The Atlantic's Moscow correspondent set out to learn why Western-style reforms are on the ropes in this part of the world. But forget canned responses from officials. He collected opinions from comrades on the street, drink by drink: cognac in Dagestan, baijiu at the tomb of Genghis Khan, wine and Sprite with teenagers in Inner Mongolia. Tayler's insightful, often hilarious reporting tells Central Asia's story more directly than headlines ever could: A full wallet trumps democracy every time.