by Emma Green
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon (Scribner)
What I admire most in writing is nuanced empathy: an author’s ability to transform an idea or body or experience that might seem foreign into something relatable and human. Andrew Solomon has mastered this skill. His mission in Far From the Tree is building bridges into lives that are unimaginable for most people (parenting a teenaged sex offender, say, or caring for a child with multiple severe disabilities) and guiding readers into those worlds. The diversity and breadth of the topics he covers are incredible; each chapter could be multiple newspaper feature stories. But by taking on such an ambitious project, compiled over a decade or more, Solomon is able to show the commonalities among these extraordinary lives—and just how common extraordinary lives are.
I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in disability studies, mental health, criminal justice, the abortion debate, or gender and sexuality, to name just a few of the many themes Solomon explores. This list is itself a testament to Far From the Tree’s level of complexity and insight.