THE OPEN ROAD: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama,
by Pico Iyer (KNOPF, $24)
Veteran travel writer Pico Iyer has been hanging out with the Dalai Lama for more than 30 years, visiting the Tibetan Buddhist leader's home-in-exile, in Dharmsala, India, and following him around the world as he shares his spiritual and political message. A reflective mix of biography and travelogue, The Open Road paints the Dalai Lama as a wise and tireless philosopher in the unprecedented position of carrying "an entire culture on his shoulders" as the Chinese government continues to occupy his native Tibet. "I can't say, after 20 years of covering wars and revolutions as a journalist, that any one man is likely to have all the answers (and the Dalai Lama, I know, would not say that either)," Iyer writes. "It's the questions he puts into play that invigorate."
THE SNAKE CHARMER: A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge,
by Jamie James (HYPERION, $25)
Joe Slowinski knew more about Asian snakes than almost anyone; the California Academy of Sciences herpetologist discovered dozens of new species in more than two decades as a field biologist. So on September 11, 2001, when he was bitten by a poisonous many-banded krait, deep in the jungles of Myanmar, he knew what to expect. He lay down in his tent, called in his expedition teammates, and, as the American embassy frantically tried to orchestrate a rescue, calmly prepared to die. Outside covered Slowinski's death in April 2002 (see "Bit," by Mark W. Moffett). In this frequently gripping narrative, journalist James fills out his life story, from his reptile-chasing childhood to his chilling final moments.