Schoenberg, by Harvey Sachs (Liveright). In this study of Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian-born composer who immigrated to the U.S. in 1933, Sachs blends fleet-footed biography with an accessible analysis of Schoenberg’s works. Best known for his development of twelve-tone serialism, Schoenberg believed that he would single-handedly restore Germany’s musical dominance over France, Italy, and Russia; the cold reception that his compositions faced left him imagining himself as a “lonely, misunderstood prophet.” Sachs’s interpretations of these works can be emotionally convincing, and, according to him, Schoenberg’s music is, as Mark Twain is reputed to have said about Wagner’s, “better than it sounds,” in part because appreciation often requires repeated listening.
Brave the Wild River, by Melissa L. Sevigny (Norton). In 1938, two female botanists set out to document the plant life of the Grand Canyon. Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter, undeterred by warnings that the trip would be “a mighty poor place for women,” joined with a river guide and a handful of other boatmen to travel the treacherous Green and Colorado Rivers. Sevigny chronicles the team’s forty-three-day journey, interspersing it with accounts of the adventurers who preceded them, descriptions of plants and wildlife, and the history of Western intervention in an ecosystem long stewarded by Native nations, including the Navajo and the Hualapai. The book also makes the case that Clover and Jotter’s study, conducted shortly after the construction of the Hoover Dam, provides a crucial benchmark in assessing human impact on the environment.