A Thinking Man’s Farm A review of Best Person Rural: Essays of a Some-time Farmer by David R. Godine

Usually, all one really asks of a book is that it transports them somewhere. In the case of Noel Perrin and his book, Best Person Rural: Essays of a Some-time Farmer, (David R. Godine, $24.95) that “somewhere” is his 85-acre farm in Thetford Cen-ter, Vermont. That sounds like a lot of space, but the essays in this slim volume are not so much expansive as personal, about how easy and cheap it is to make maple sugar candy (“Sugaring on $15 a Year”) or how instructive to try and heat one’s home primarily with woodstoves (“The Year We Really Heated with Wood”). In short, Perrin learned to examine the slowed-down pace of his life and then slow it down even further. Not the handiest man, he nonetheless learns to do things by hand, to chop wood, to build stone walls and erect fences. “Sixteen years ago I blundered into fence building when I acquired a wife and an old farm the same year,” he writes with typical quiet humor in “In Search of the Perfect Fence Post.” His wife “was determined to have a garden, and the deer were determined she wasn”t. I volunteered to build a fence.” There are plenty of pauses for reflection throughout the volume, and even an essay drawing on the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau in a call to renounce nuclear weapons. While Perrin passed away two years ago, at age 74, his essays have left a memorable impression of a life thoughtfully lived. —Brita Belli


Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars That Will Recharge America by Sherry Boschert (New Society, $16.95) is a lively account of the growing movement (now with major automaker backing) to create plug-in versions of today’s hybrid vehicles. The plug-in concept is a bit confusing to some consumers, many of whom still think that standard hybrids need to be plugged in. By adding a bigger battery pack and wall charging, plug-ins give al-ready green hybrids another merit badge: Now they can cruise 20 to 30 miles on grid electricity alone, with the gas engine held in reserve for longer trips. Boschert does an admirable job of explaining the technology in easy-to-follow language, and introduces a memorable set of characters, including the very effective plug-in booster Felix Kramer of CalCars.org, and Chelsea Sexton, a former GM employee turned EV advocate. Started as a seemingly quixotic campaign by small bands of environmentalists, the movement for plug-ins has gained a production commitment from GM and advanced research programs at many other carmakers. The race is on. —Jim Motavalli


Fortunately for author Dale Peterson, who has written the definitive biography, Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man (Houghton Mifflin Company, $35), his subject was a copious letter writer. Peterson amassed about 2,000 of Goodall’s letters to draw an intimate portrait of the world’s most famous female scientist. The book begins with the young Valerie Jane or “V.J.” hiding earthworms under her pillow, developing an attachment to a stuffed chimpanzee (“Jubilee”) from her absentee father and leading a group of girls dubbed the Alligator Club on scientific missions. An animal-lover from her earliest moments, Jane holds an id-yllic view of Af-rica, where she dreams of living life as a field re-searcher. What is fascinating, in following her story through broken engagements and bouts of malaria and myriad pets and very little money, is how determined and single-minded Goodall was and is. On her first visit to Gombe, Africa, where she will spend her life researching chimps, she writes home to family: “It is the Africa of my childhood’s dreams, and I have the chance of finding out things which no one has ever known before.” In living with the chimps, learning their individual personalities and becoming familiar to them, Goodall discovered the animals using tools, eating meat, and performing ritual rain dances, strengthening their link to humans. Her sincere enthusiasm for her work hums on every page of this biography. —Brita Belli


Bravo to Mark Harris! This sometime-contributor to E has produced a wonderfully readable book on an unusual subject. Fans of Jessica Mitford’s An American Way of Death, first published in 1963 (and selling out immediately) might appreciate this green sequel. The death industry, which has long hosted funeral homes dedicated to squeezing as much cash as possible from the bereaved (with $10,000 coffins, among other things), is now undergoing a makeover. Why not a simple pine box, or (as seen on the award-winning HBO series Six Feet Under) a canvas shroud and a gentle lowering into the Earth? Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial (Scribner, $24) is a beautifully written narrative journey that documents how an intrepid few are opening some closed doors, getting rid of the toxic embalming fluids and polished caskets and allowing people to leave their bodies with dignity. We begin and end as dust, after all, and the growing natural burial business is assisting the worms to do their work. It’s packed with practical green burial information, too. —Jim Motavalli


Animal Instinct by Dorothy H. Hayes (iUniverse, $15.95) is a novel that lets the reading public in on a dirty secret: Animal rights activists are not necessarily congenial bosses. The novel, set in the author’s home state of Con-necticut, follows the misadventures of a tyrannical nonprofit CEO, Hon-or Vine, and the eventual struggle that develops over the heart and soul of the group. Hayes, a former reporter and con-firmed animal ad-vocate, has a good ear for dialogue and description, and her fast-paced book will keep you turning pages as you’re absorbing useful information about not only the world of fin, fur and claw, but about the movement to protect this wild kingdom. —Jim Motavalli