Articles by Steve Donoghue
A dogged police inspector investigates two gruesome murders at the heart of Ghana’s booming new oil economy
Our book today is Poets and Murder, the last of Robert Van Gulik’s mysteries starring the redoubtable (and semi-mythical) 7th-century Chinese magistrate Judge Dee. It’s a series famously born in a bookstore – a used bookshop in Tokyo where Van Gulik found an old Chinese manuscript containing some adventures of the Dee character. Van Gulik’s [...]
Some Penguin Classics will feel like a very long time coming, especially to their fervent adherents. When it comes to the work of pioneering 20th century fantasist Clark Ashton Smith, surely one of those fervent adherents is S. T. Joshi, the editor behind the Penguin Classics editions of H. P. Lovecraft, who in the early [...]
If the idea of a big collection of writings about socio-linguistics by the author of “The Name of the Rose” strikes you as a winning way to spend a weekend, Harvard University Press has some good news for you.
I ordinarily have very little patience with the various species of brontosaurus who decry all the electronic suburbs of the Republic of Letters. I’ve worn out my ‘they’re entitled to their beliefs’ credit-balance when it comes to people who sniff at online-only publication – nowadays I just clamp my mouth shut instead of belligerently pointing [...]
A murder at the bottom of an alien ocean looks likely to spark an interstellar war
An exuberant collection of essays and reviews by trailblazing natural historian Tim Flannery
Our book today is The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton, a rollicking travel-adventure book that became a runaway bestseller when it appeared in 1925. It had been a gamble on his part, a gamble taken in the teeth of the odds and over the doubts of his friends and family – circumstances with [...]
14th century court poet John Gower is brought in by his friend Geoffrey Chaucer to solve the mystery of a book whose very existence threatens the realm
Some Penguin Classics win against tough competition, and one of my favorite of those is David Womersley’s wonderful one-volume abridgement of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This volume came out in 2000, hot on the heels of Womersley’s gigantic, utterly definitive three-volume unabridged edition of Gibbon’s masterpiece (the three fat paperback [...]
Our book today is Anne Perry’s 1990 Victorian mystery, The Face of a Stranger, which introduced her detective William Monk to the thousands of her readers who’d previously enjoyed her ten novels set a generation later in Victorian times and starring Thomas Pitt – novels she’d been writing with clockwork regularity for ten years before [...]
A seemingly random murder leads our hero Sebastian St. Cyr into the dark and dangerous world of international espionage in C. S. Harris’s latest novel
In 1537, teenager Cosimo dei Medici became the first citizen of Florence, and in the following decades, he set about fashioning a ‘sacral’ rulership for himself – a complicated process at the heart of this fascinating new study
Our book today is that hugely durable old 1910 war-horse, The Medici by G. F. Young, a quintessential example of the particular breed of monumental Victorian history that holds up effortlessly under the onslaught of time. It’s amazing, really, how widespread across the breadth of art and literature are these great histories – and it’s [...]
In her brilliantly scathing new book, Elaine Scarry charges that US Presidents, in maintaining and augmenting an enormous nuclear arsenal, have broken the social contract and become monarchs in all but name.
A quick-witted and bilingual dwarf is planted in the household of England’s foreign queen in order to spy on her – but he comes to esteem her, outcast to outcast
An exceptional beauty entices King Charles II and ascends to the heights of the Merry Monarch’s court
I let my subscription to Asimov’s Science Fiction lapse for a bit, and I was amazed at how bleak the lapse rendered my reading landscape! I renewed as soon as I felt this, and today when I jammed my hand into that most bountiful of all orifices, the mighty Open Letters Monthly Post Office box, [...]
In an amazing science fiction debut, a New Yorker awakens in a strange new world
CIA super-agent John Wells needs to get back in the field and feel the old adrenaline pumping again – but will his latest adventure (featuring a dastardly nuclear plot and a shadowy female operative with a Biblical code-name) be more than he bargained for?
Our book today is The Crimson Patch, a 1936 murder mystery by the indomitable Phoebe Atwood Taylor, starring her recurrent character Asey Mayo and set, as all her fans know and love, on that sacred patch called Cape Cod. The Cape is a little hooked spit of land jutting out from the coast of [...]
A key figure in the founding of the modern Middle East finally gets his definitive English-language biography
The Scarlet Letter? Moby-Dick? Gone with the Wind? Gravity’s Rainbow? Just what IS the “Great American Novel” anyway?
Our book today is a grim but charming little 1915 gem called A Hilltop on the Marne by Mildred Aldrich, an amplified collection of letters she wrote back to the United States after she moved to France and then specifically to Huiry, a little hamlet overlooking the Marne river. Aldrich had thought to “withdraw from [...]
Jonathan Rottenberg’s new book contends that the modern world’s epidemic of depression is made all the worse by society’s tendency to stigmatize the victims themselves
Long-time novelist Penelope Lively turns 80 – and turns to memoir-writing
Our book today is Le Rouge et le Noir, the great 1830 novel written by Marie-Henri Beyle under his world-famous pseudonym Stendhal. Actually, our book today is an English-language translation of Le Rouge et le Noir, and not just any translation, oh no! Our translation today is one I came across just recently (at my [...]
In Alexandria as a young man, Gordianus the Finder gets caught up in an elaborate scheme to steal the corpse of Alexander the Great!
Our book today is Death in the Ashes, a murder mystery by Albert Bell, the fourth in his delightful “Notebooks of Pliny the Younger” series starring, obviously, the famous first-century author and imperial kiss-up Pliny the Younger, here ably assisted (and mocked the whole time) by the even-more-famous historian Tacitus. Both of them are comparatively [...]
An unassuming botanist gets separated from his exploration team and finds himself stranded alone on Mars – and his survival rests entirely in his own hands.
The vivid story of the months when the long, slogging stalemate of the First World War exploded into violence
John Steinbeck’s bestselling and universally-lauded novel gets a passionate and persuasive reading by a renowned Steinbeck scholar
The lovers in Elizabeth Michels’ new novel get off to a rapturous, then a rocky start – and when next they meet, a year later, the real games begin
A strong-willed countess and a dynamic sailor become Shakespearean-style star-crossed lovers in Christy English’s latest novel
The daughter of a famous novelist has her own life take on a decidedly fairy-tale twist in Tessa Dare’s new novel
A strong woman and a weak man must make a perilous journey from the Western frontier to the East Coast in Glendon Swarthout’s newly-reissued classic novel
Armies clash and the technological stakes are raised in the latest installment in David Weber’s rip-roaring “Safehold” series
Last week’s London Review of Books started out with a dollop of crazy and just kept barreling along! The nutty topping came first, from a letter-writer out of County Tipperary who felt the need to do a little proud confessing: I once sold a pigsty, which is now a disguised dwelling, and built a cabin [...]
Our book today is The 12.30 from Croydon, a 1934 thriller (its boring American title was Wilful and Premeditated) by Freeman Wills Crofts, who was both a member in good standing of the so-called Golden Age of Detective Fiction and also that much rarer bird, an Irishman with absolutely no ear for telling a good [...]
A young woman is murdered on the eve of Italy’s tumultuous win in the 1982 World Cup – and then 24 years later, on the eve of another World Cup victory, more bodies start turning up, and it’s up to one haunted, damaged cop to piece the mystery together (hint: it’s not hooligans)
The life of one remarkable woman – told against the backdrop of American colonies boiling toward revolution – forms the narrative of Nancy Turner’s sumptuously old-fashioned new historical novel
It’s not often, especially nowadays, that the cover of The New Yorker is better than any of the contents of the issue, but that certainly happened last week. The issue had an infuriating piece by Tad Friend about a family of irresponsible Nantucket knuckleheads whose ordeal at sea only momentarily distracts the reader from [...]
A new dual-biography of James Madison and his wife Dolley sees them through some of fledgling America’s most trying times
Our book today is 1812, a meaty, fantastic 1996 historical novel by David Nevin, who wrote a string of first-rate books in the fifteen years before his death in 2011. 1812 is the dramatic story of fledgling America’s second fight with the British Empire, and it centers on President James Madison and his strong-willed wife [...]
The image of Abraham Lincoln – the saintly, martyred Great Emancipator – is a permanent fixture of human culture … but a fascinating new book takes a detailed look at the men who carefully crafted that image
Our book today is The Laughing Policeman, a 1968 police procedural mystery from the phenomenally popular Swedish husband and wife team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo that got translated into English in 1970 and quickly racked up more critical and popular success than all the authors’ previous novels combined and is still considered something [...]
Sherlock Holmes’s legendary nemesis Professor Moriarty returns – as super-sleuth hero of a new thriller involving a threat to Queen Victoria’s throne and the nation itself
Some Penguin Classics claim only the flimsiest of excuses for their existence, and one such recent example would have to be the new reprint of Landscape with Figures, the selected prose writings of the great Victorian author and nature-writer Richard Jefferies, who was born in 1848 and died in 1887 and yet managed to cram [...]
In chaos-plagued Beirut, a voracious reader lives an oddly fulfilling secret life
No one had ever written about love – in its infinite and profane variety – the way the Roman poet Catullus did; its explication by a scholarly schoolmistress might seem paradoxical – but Edith Hamilton knew something about love herself.
Kafka’s immortal story about a man who wakes up one day and finds he’s an insect gets a sterling new translation
The engrossing first volume of a very promising new fantasy series
A retired small-town music professor becomes an unlikely fugitive from the law in Richard Powers’ latest novel
When an ordinary man pulls an arrow from the wing of a crane, extraordinary things begin to happen in the new novel by Patrick Ness
Don’t be fooled by the “Rebecca” echoes – there’s a lot more to Rachel Pastan’s “Alena” than mere Manderley-redux
Our book today is just about as fine an example of an intelligent, readable popular biography as can be produced in our imperfect world: Christopher Herold’s 1958 National Book Award-winning life of Madame de Stael, Mistress to An Age, which both sold like hotcakes when it first appeared but also satisfied most of the critics; [...]
One of the brightest stars in the sci-fi/fantasy night sky writes about the interesting stuff she’s been re-reading
Our book today is that fat tome from 2011, Arguably, a big bright collection of the deadline pieces and miscellaneous hackwork of the late Christopher Hitchens, who actually passed the most feared of authorial meridians and became late in the hanging interval between the book’s appearances in hardcover and its re-issue in paperback (it’s maybe [...]
Our book today is Sejanus, a 1998 corker by a writer we’ll be meeting again in this Mystery Monday cavalcade: English mystery author David Wishart, whose whodunits are set in ancient Rome and star leisured, inquisitive, and smart-mouthed Marcus Corvinus and his equally-inquisitive wife Perilla. The books sport titles like Ovid, Nero, and Germanicus, so [...]
Now in paperback, the latest adventure of William Shakespeare’s crime-sleuthing, spy-hunting brother John!
If you’re expecting Heloise to make an appearance in this captivating work of scholarship, you’ll be disappointed – but not for long, since scholar John Marendbon manages quite well without her
A fiery German princess in disguise is hiding in London from the threat of an assassin – but her subterfuge throws her right into the arms of the most handsome man she’s ever seen (who has dark secrets of his own, naturally, this being a romance novel and all!)
Ordinarily, the confluence of deadline pressure, space limitations, and professional responsibility tend to level the discourse in the mainstream Penny Press – at least, the regions of it where I forage. It’s true that the front half of explicitly political magazines like The New Statesman or The Weekly Standard will be full of articles claiming [...]
A new collection of old short stories from the writer of “The Flame Alphabet”
Our book today is The Court of St. James’s, a marvelous 1959 confection by that indefatigable hack E. S. Turner, who found rather early on in his life that few pleasures in this world are so reliable and so joyous as the pleasure of making words on the page do exactly what you want them [...]
Our book today is a delectable 1969 whodunit called The Stately Home Murder (a distinct improvement on its original title The True Steel) by our old friend Kinn Hamilton McIntosh, better known to mystery aficionados as Catherine Aird. The book has all the beloved trappings of her other fictional outings: it takes place in the [...]
Three of Ian Rankin’s most popular recurring characters come together in his irresistible latest novel
The sprawling, disjointed history of the Habsburg Empire forms the backdrop for Simon Winder’s latest combination of history lesson and personal essay.
Our book today is a huge and marvellous 1977 Penguin concoction called Rebecca West: A Celebration, the cover of which shows a drawing of the author herself, hair in a Doris Lessing-style bun, sensible fake pearls in a string at her neck. “Selected from her writings by her publishers,” we’re told, “with her help.” I’ve [...]
A hefty new anthology collects hundreds of years worth of poetry about the wars, pestilences, triumphs, and plagues poets endured and tried to capture in verse
Sixteen years ago, young mercenary Eddie LaCrosse saved a baby girl from an angry bear and found her a good home far from trouble – or so he thought. Sixteen years later, that baby girl is all grown up and at the heart of all the trouble in the world in Alex Bledsoe’s latest nifty sword-and-sorcery novel
Our book today is a pretty thing to look at: Thorburn’s Birds, a 1982 Mermaid Books reprint of the massive 1915 opus by Archibald Thorburn, British Birds. This Mermaid edition is just a selection from that vast work, although a very good one (I’m guessing a copy of the original full-size four-volume set won’t be [...]
From the best-selling author of “Loving Frank” comes the story of Fanny Osbourne, the wife of Robert Louis Stevenson
As if our intrepid American-born doctor Thomas Silkstone didn’t have enough problems on his hand, a great monstrous FOG is engulfing the English countryside!
Our book today is Dorothy Sayers’ steel-riveted 1928 Lord Peter Wimsey mystery The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, which opens with a one-page summary of education, clubs, and coat-of-arms of its gentleman sleuth – which certainly sets the tone. Sayers’ aristocratic amateur finds himself in London’s Bellona Club on Armistice Day when the place is [...]
The philosopher who wrote “A Treatise on Human Nature” was famous in his own lifetime for an immense work of quite a different nature; a new book looks again at “The History of England”
Or is it three Supermen? DC Comics currently publishes three different versions of their flagship character – not three different Superman titles (I think that number is up to eight, yes? If we use the yardstick of ‘title which wouldn’t exist without Superman’ and thus exclude Justice League but include both the idiotically-titled Batman/Superman and [...]
What explains the similarities of animal forms scattered across the wide expanses of the world? A terrific new book makes the case that life persistently wanders.
A cocky young Wall Street analyst makes a discovery that could point to a new and deadly kind of war
Our book today is a sweetly contemplative 1947 nature classic, Speaking of Animals by Alan Devoe, who for many years in the mid-20th century wrote his charming “Down to Earth” column for the old American Mercury and eventually bought a cute little estate in upstate New York called Phudd Hill, where he soon came to [...]
The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe) Penguin Classics, 2013 Some Penguin Classics break new ground – actually, quite a few of them do, but none announces it more boldly than this translation, by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe, of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s [...]
An extremely generous collection of letters by the great 20th century tastemaker in books, Malcolm Cowley
Regular magazines must appear, come rain or shine, on their stated schedules – and so it will always fall to some poor sap to have his hard-worked prose appearing before haggard and staggeringly distracted reading public on December 30th or 31st, or some such ungodly date. And surely only deepening the depression of such writers [...]
The indomitable 17th century midwife Bridget Hodgson returns in another thrilling murder mystery
Our book today is The Best Mysteries of Mary Roberts Rinehart, one of those neat, attractive hardcovers Reader’s Digest used to produce in such great quantities. This one’s from 2002 and contains four of Mary Robert Rinehart’s most popular novels, The Circular Staircase, The Man in Lower Ten, The Window at the White Cat, and [...]
DC Comics rolls out a lovely anthology of some high points in the long career of the Man of Steel
Our book today is a neat little pocket-sized 1963 paperback called Age of Yeats, part of an old Dell series called “Laurel Masterpieces of World Literature.” That series was actually full of nifty volumes, anthologies so well-assembled that you’ll find yourself returning to them time and again – if you can, that is: the whole [...]
She was the daughter, the sister, and the wife of kings in one of England’s most turbulent periods, but Alison Weir’s new biography is the first to make us feel we really know Elizabeth of York.
Well, obviously our mighty Year’s Best – and Worst – Books cataclysm wraps up my book-blogging for 2013, but I couldn’t fade into the sunset for the next few days without extending my heartfelt thanks to all of you out there reading Stevereads, whether you’ve been checking in for a few months or a few years [...]
Touching photos and essays testify to the wonder of old dogs
In a fantasy version of LA where sorcerous captains of industry wage war against the gods, a conflicted young ‘risk manager’ works to prevent a dark plot from poisoning millions of people
A sultry medium in 1920s San Francisco meets an alluring scapegrace laboring under a malicious hex
A princess without a country makes the audacious decision to take a lover, despite anything society might think.
An elite secret black ops team must mobilize to find one of their own in Stephanie Tyler’s latest “Section 8″ novel
From Hercules to Theseus to Odysseus to Socrates, the heroes of ancient Greek mythology bring an entire lost world to vivid life. A new book goes to great – even heroic – lengths to decode those heroes
That age-old happy nostrum – the inherent superiority of human beings over all other life in the universe – gets its scientific Sunday best polished and pressed
Feel like starting up a literary magazine? Why the hell not!
One of the biggest success stories among the world’s language gets a genial history
A vivid look at the culture and politics that led to Japan’s ill-fated attack on Pearl Harbor
The controversial historian returns with a new alarm-call about the rise of international antisemitism
A group of extra-dimensional retainers must protect their exiled prince – but he doesn’t know who he is, and they don’t either.
Two professors – with oceanside views – take readers on a hundred-year history of the world’s coolest sport
A prickly-smart new analysis contends that we too easily simplify the great World War I battle of Verdun
One of the 20th Century’s greatest poets finally gets her definitive biography
The whole category of “nonfiction” is necessarily an evil enough hodge-podge (in bookstores, a special sneer is reserved for those customers clueless enough to come in asking for “the nonfiction section”), and I’m perfectly aware that some of the books on this list could migrate to other lists without too much cognitive dissonance. Nevertheless, the [...]
After fifteen years, the fantastic “Anno Dracula” series continues
A quarter-century after its first appearance, a beloved popular-science classic gets a new reprint
A new volume from the mighty Abbeville Press will warm your cold, withered heart if anything still can!
Fiction was remarkable in 2013 for the way it almost constantly awarded craft. This isn’t always the case; it frequently happens that raw, relatively untested talent – or drastically but well-controlled stylistic gambles – will propel a book into a firmament more typically occupied by older stars. But this year not only are many of [...]
A legendary editor assembles the leading lights of science fiction for the new century – he hopes.
One of the most contemptible traits running through the Worst Nonfiction list this year, out of a very large number of such contemptible traits, was the reek of undisguised cash-grabbing cynicism that characterizes almost all of it. Cynicism itself is nothing new to these kinds of books, designed as they are for mass distribution to [...]
A book-critic friend of mine, contemplating the horrifying object in question, drawled, “You don’t really read a new Amy Tan.” He was right, of course, in all his unspoken implications (including the least-spoken of all, namely that you don’t really write such a line in your review either, especially if Tan’s publishers are paying $15, [...]
Never was an Honor Roll more badly needed than in the sprawling catch-all that is Best Nonfiction! That catch-all is where I did an enormous chunk of my reading in 2013, which made the task of fitting all my favorites into one skimpy 10-item list a nightmare. So it’s a bit of a relief to [...]
Honor Rolls have been a godsend for me, mainly because that sidereal drift of estimation I mentioned last time applies to all kinds of books, and more to fiction than anything else. At some point in the course of 2013, virtually all of these Honor Roll books spent some time on my Best list, only [...]
As long-time Stevereads readers may recall, I like biography just a bit more than I like any other kind of writing. Something about the way it combines the sweep of history and the narrative of fiction tends to work on me even when the specific volume in question is less than stellar. And 2013 provided [...]
A quick-paced new history of not just of the city of Venice but of the remarkable men and women who strutted across its stage during the long centuries of its life
History, too, was thriving in 2013, although I saw the usual reasons for concern – mainly two: the continued rise of imbecilic cardboard garbage calling itself history and increasingly mistaken as such even in respected venues, and the (connected, obviously?) decreasing historical competence among the average citizens of the Republic of Letters. In a word: [...]
“One of the grim pleasures of reading collected letters,” Wilfrid Sheed, a connoisseur of grim pleasures, once wrote, “comes in watching a style being built year by year until it resembles a model prison, with the writer on the inside. ” 2013 saw an exceptionally strong showing of such prisons, so for the first time [...]
A life-long love of the Classics is distilled into a new translation of Homer’s Iliad
Another sub-genre that’s pleased me greatly for a great deal of my reading life has likewise been unjustly neglected here in my year-end summings-up, despite how much I invariably write about it during the year itself: my dear Penny Press, the pieces poor paid hacks (of various pedigrees) create for the ravening maw of newspapers, [...]
For 2013′s list I thought it would be simple justice finally to include a genre I’m unashamed to admit has always brought me great reading pleasure (or has, at least, since the redoubtable Rebekah Bradford convinced me to abandon my provincial snobbery on the subject): romance novels! Not “romance novels ironically” or “romance novels as [...]
Theres a certain pleasing fluidity to these annual lists, reflecting the fluidity of the publishing landscape. One year there’s an abundance of excellent nature books or books about Venice, and the next year the abundance has shifted to other subjects. A year-end list that held mechanically to all its previous iterations would be a morbid [...]
A life-long writer and editor looks back on his life
There are hundreds of thousands of new books published in the United States every year – probably a little over 300,000 in 2013, for instance, although exact figures are impossible to determine – and that places a great immovable weight on the head of any serious reader. That weight is always there, pressing down, and [...]
It’s that time again, book-readers young and old: this week we begin that annual Gotterdammerung, the Stevereads Best – and Worst – Books of the Year! Starting tomorrow, the books of 2013 get a Final Judgement like they’ll get nowhere else, so gird yourselves!
Our book today is From the Holy Mountain, a 1997 mixture of history and travelogue by Scottish writer William Dalrymple, recently – and very deservedly – praised for his truly important 2012 book Return of a King, about the tangled history of Afghanistan. In this earlier work, he embarks on a journey of five months [...]
One of the first volumes of a new color reprint series from Marvel Comics features some high-flying adventures by the summer’s superhero star, the mighty Thor!
Fresh from chasing horse-thieves in wild Dakota territories, a rail-tough Theodore Roosevelt returned to New York City to face bandits of quite another sort – the Tammany Hall sort. A lean new history tells the great story.
The age of Roosevelt and Taft was also the age of Progressive reform – spearheaded by an amazing team of ‘muckraking’ writers the like of which the United States had never seen.
It’s beginning to be that time of year in the Penny Press, the infamous season of year-end book-lists. And since I’m the proud proprietor of the most authoritative of those lists (if I do say so myself)(and I do), I’m always irresistibly drawn to them wherever I find them – even if it’s in the [...]
Five remarkable men came together in 19th century St. Petersburg to challenge each other, compete with each other, inspire each other, and encourage each other – and some quite remarkable music resulted
Our book today is a masterpiece so ubiquitous it’s often completely overlooked: The Norton Anthology of English Literature–although as soon as I say that, I have to qualify it. Not qualify the ‘masterpiece’ part, of course (if I could be wrong about that part, I’d shutter Stevereads and start a beauty-tutorial channel on YouTube), but [...]
The near- infinite abundance of the Internet may seem incredibly alluring, but in his new book David Mikics argues that it’s eating away at our ability to appreciate fully what we read. He offers rules and admonitions, as you might expect
Some Penguin Classics are, I bitterly concede, necessary compromises. Surely one such is the 1989 Selected Poems volume of Robert Browning, edited by Daniel Karlin, who rather optimistically writes in his Introduction that he “tried to strike a balance between the poems for which Browning is best known (but which are not always his best) [...]
The open frontier of self-publishing attracts a wide variety of pioneers – fiercely individual storytellers who for one reason or another have chosen a different path to realizing their writing dreams. One such pioneer is Jack Merridew, who at age 20 is already the author of two self-published works of fiction – and a successful YouTube creator as well. Open Letters talks with him about the brave new world of promoting your own dreams.
Some Penguin Classics look at first glance like a dream come true. Take the immense 1996 translation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo by Robin Buss: if you set it down next to, for example, the most popular paperback reprint of the book from twenty years ago, they hardly even look related: the [...]
Some Penguin Classics try, with adorable flat-footedness, to jump on the zeitgeist bandwagon in order to reach those ever-elusive unconverted readers. It’s an inherently silly thing for Penguin Classics to do, since theirs are the books that created the zeitgeist in the first place; in a perfect world, our reading culture would be attentively watching [...]
It’s an act of aggression in which the victim is the perpetrator, and it’s a crime for which the criminal cannot be punished: it’s suicide, and statistics show we’re in the middle of an epidemic of it. A thoughtful new book lays out the case for sticking around.
DC Comics’ “New 52” company-wide reboot hit some of their flagship characters harder than others. The venerable WWII-era Justice Society was retconned right out of existence; warm-hearted primary-color Superman became a brooding, disaffected Dr. Manhattan-in-a-cape; Captain Marvel lost his mind – when teenager Billy Batson says his magic word nowadays, all he gets is a [...]
American diplomats and Foreign Service workers travel for America, negotiate for America, cheerlead for America, and sometimes die for America – a magnificent new book gives them the sweeping historical account they’ve always deserved.
A new book by Brad Stone on Amazon.com: does it make nice with the online Goliath, or brandish a slingshot?
Our book today is Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts, a bristling, muscular, mazy haphazard cathedral of opinion erected by Clive James, that grinning ombudsman of the Republic of Letters. Cultural Amnesia takes its readers through an alphabet of ideas, and a look at the Table of Contents gives a great picture [...]
Our book today is one of those gems that turn up regularly on the outdoor bargain-carts at my beloved Brattle Bookshop: it’s an old Dover paperback from 1971 called The Best of Gluyas Williams, with only a totally perfunctory Foreward by Charles Dana Gibson and a totally perfunctory Preface by Robert Benchley separating the reader [...]
A big new volume studies Napoleon Bonaparte from the peak of his power to the last days of his final exile
A born warrior striving to become a refined gentleman, or a refined gentleman striving to learn a warrior’s ways? A new book looks at Washington the military commander
A satisfyingly literary core of The New Yorker this week, which is always pleasing and this time helped to compensate for certain lacks of satisfaction found elsewhere in the 11 November issue. It was great fun, for instance, to read Dan Chiasson’s nice long look at the poet Marianne Moore and to read his generally [...]
They’ve always been among us, those rare individuals we call geniuses – but the distinction’s meaning has subtly altered over the centuries. It’s a big, interesting subject, boiled down by Darrin McMahon into a short, interesting book
Our book today is a little pamphlet-sized thing newly published by DC Comics and triple-titled Superman Man of Steel Believe, collecting ten quick backup stories taken from various Superman comics titles over the last fifteen years. The cover features a little logo reminding readers that the character of Superman is celebrating the 75th anniversary of [...]
One of the signature ironies of modern-day print book reviewing is on full display in the November 21st New York Review of Books, and since this particular irony irritates me, I was on edge all during my krocan peceny na slanine lunch. The irony in question here will be familiar to every owner of a [...]
A great conductor writes a great biography about a great composer!
Our book today is the late Stephen Jay Gould’s 1995 essay collection Dinosaur in a Haystack, but no matter which of Gould’s dozen essay collections I revisit, the little pang of that “late” is always the same: even after more than a decade, there is no settlement with this man’s death – the present-day intellectual [...]
King George VI and Winston Churchill forged a remarkable working relationship during the trying years of World War II – a new book looks at how it happened, and why
Our book today is Allen Mandelbaum’s 1971 translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, with thirteen drawings by Barry Moser, a fine, collection-worthy volume that I have as a sturdy deep-green paperback from the University of California Press and that I’ve read probably two dozen times – a reflection, probably, of the oddly questing nature of my relationship [...]
Strong-willed Southern governor Cooper Lanier’s husband is running for president, and she’s learning things about him she’d rather not know in Robert Inman’s warm and involving new novel
When you read as many magazines as I do, you quickly learn to tell the players without a scorecard. There are always newcomers on the scene, but there’s also a fairly small cadre of old-hand regulars who turn up wherever the money (and the readership) is good. These old hands can be relied upon to [...]
To hear Bennett Cerf tell the story (or to read his well-shaped and non-actionable ‘reminiscence’ of it in his 1977 book At Random), the Modern Library in its current incarnation was born of equal parts financial desperation and marital infidelity – both being experienced in acute amounts in 1925 by publishing schmoozer and would-be Broadway [...]
Our book today is Steve Alten’s 1997 classic Meg, and it’s a salient reminder that some modern-day classics sneak up on us, unfolding their brilliance only gradually, like a delicate lotus blossom. Those of us who’ve been fans of giant-killer-shark novels from the beginning (that beginning being, of course, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the [...]
First in war, first in peace, first in line for the powers of a god
A murder, a trip to the dump, and oh yah – September 11. That wacky Thomas Pynchon is at it again!
Bulldog attorney Vincent Bugliosi investigated the JFK assassination and wrote the world’s longest book about it. We re-read it for the sad anniversary of that day in Dallas.
Before he became one of America’s most famous presidents, John Kennedy was a hot-shot senator and a photogenic winner of the Pulitzer Prize. But did the Senate years help to form the Oval Office years?
The great critic and memoirist Clive James has a volume of new poems doing some very old things
The strangest, most alien creatures on the Earth have three hearts and big, unfathomable brains – and, famously, eight arms. It’s the sprawling family of octopus species, and they get a soup-to-nuts examination in Katherine Harmon Courage’s new book
King Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, takes center stage in a new novel by Tudor historian Carolly Erickson
Coyotes prowl our golf courses, cougars haunt our bike-trails, and owls skinny-dip in our bird-baths – a new book looks at the wild animals that fill in the spaces of human cities
When the South Pacific opened up for Western exploration, ‘experimental gentlemen’ swarmed there to make discoveries – and to make history
Our book today is one of those little treasures that crop up so regularly at my beloved Brattle Bookshop: a slightly battered copy of The New Yorker War Album from 1942, this one inscribed as a present in 1942 in Washington, D.C. by a man named Butch to his “skipper”: “Here’s a few smiles and [...]
Our book today is a re-read, one of the many, many such re-reads I tend to do during any given month: John Hay’s 1961 classic Nature’s Year, with beautiful illustrations by David Grose. The book is sub-titled “The Seasons of Cape Cod,” and that’s probably why I re-read it, since the waning days of summer [...]
It’s not every writer who can write a book that stays in print continuously for 300 years, but the author of “Gulliver’s Travels” is one of those writers. A lively new biography looks at the great Jonathan Swift
England’s ‘bluff king Hal’ is put under the microscope in a scathing new biography
Our book today is Thomas Berger’s 1978 foray into Camelot fiction, Arthur Rex, and as I’ve had occasion to mention before, it represents just that same kind of oddity that seems to come from many popular authors when they’re seized – almost invariably at middle age – with an apparently irresistible urge to compose Arthurian [...]
Our reigning master of vigorous popular history takes on the most vigorous, popular English dynasty of them all
Our book today is Max Hasting’s smashingly good 2004 Armageddon: The Battle for Germany – 1944-1945, a fat, heavily-detailed account of the final months of World War II in Western Europe, the fitful and protracted mopping-up about which Winston Churchill said in February of 1945, “Tonight the sun goes down on more suffering than ever [...]
Our book today is Marvel Comics’ Essential Thor Volume 7, collecting Thor issues 248 to 271 and Annuals 5 and 6 – all stories dating from the halcyon late 1970s. Almost all of these stories are written by Len Wein and drawn by either well-established comics legend John Buscema at the bored tail-end of his [...]
The much-vexed life of the last Stuart monarch gets a gripping, electrifyingly good new examination
Our book today is an enormous treat now out from Baen Books: The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, edited by Mike Resnick and Robert Garcia, sporting a very good front cover (featuring John Carter of Mars and a sultry Martian warrior-woman holding a strategically-placed saber) and a quietly superb back cover (featuring Tarzan standing on [...]
A new life of Jack London – by the world’s foremost authority on the man’s life and work.
Now at last in an English translation: the heart-breaking, history-making memoir of the world’s greatest Czech writer
A master military historian joins the crowd writing about the outbreak of the First World War
A new collection of personal essays – some funny, some touching, all piercingly intelligent – from one of America’s greatest cultural critics
Our book today is the latest Marvel Comics paperback reprint from what’s become known in reverential whispers as “The Simonson Run.” Walt Simonson’s run as writer and artist on Thor only lasted a comparatively short time – from the golden year of 1983 to the golden year of 1986 – but media experts and comics [...]
“‘Pride and Prejudice’ meets ‘Downton Abbey’” is an easy way to pigeon-hole Jo Baker’s new novel – but it’s the cheapest way too, giving almost no hint of just how good a book this is.
Our book today is Albert Schweitzer’s Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, translated into English as The Quest of the Historical Jesus by W. Montgomery over a century ago. Schweitzer published the book first in 1906 and then thoroughly rewrote it for a 1913 edition, and as editor John Bowden writes with little repressed horror, the Montgomery translation [...]
David Abulafia’s big book – now in paperback – tackles a subject pivotal to huge swaths of human history: the Mediterraean, that watery intersection of Europe, Asia, and Africa
The famous novelist presents some essays by a pre-war Viennese intellectual and helps us all to understand those works.
A master historian analyzes the tempestuous relationship between two titans of the newborn United States
Our book today is A Silver-Plated Spoon, the sparkling 1959 memoir by John Ian Russell, who in 1953 became, somewhat late in life, the 13th Duke of Bedford and the master of spectacular Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire. It was an amazing ascension – the family has occupied the place for four centuries – but Russell [...]
There’s a certain frustration that can’t be avoided when you read as much book-coverage in the Penny Press as I do. You become familiar with all the regular players in the game (indeed, you sometimes perforce become a minor such player yourself), you learn their quirks and strengths and weaknesses, and you also become familiar [...]
The Oxford University Press, centuries old and the biggest academic press in the world, founded its World’s Classics series in 1906 (having bought the imprimatur lock, stock, and barrel from the brilliant publisher Grant Richards in 1901). For over a hundred years, the line has produced reasonably-priced and expertly-edited canonical texts, proving that great and [...]
The cult favorite HBO western inspires an anthology of essays devoted to the show’s most outrageous feature: its language (foul and otherwise)
How do you follow up on creating Tarzan of the Apes? You give the Ape-Man a son, stranding him in the jungle, and sending him out on hair-raising adventures of his own. And if you’re lucky, a legendary comic book artist will come along and draw it all.
A girl, a widow, a matriarch, a mother, a businesswoman, and a minister’s slave: a new history traces the Salem Witch Trials through the lives of six women who paid dearly for their proximity to one of the most mysterious incidents in American history
Our book today is a lovely volume called The Illustrated Bede, produced by John Marsden, translated by John Gregory, and featuring dozens and dozens of gorgeous full-color photographs by Geoff Green. The thing was put out by Floris Books in 1989, and it features chunks of translations from Bede’s various eighth-century Latin bestsellers, interspersed with [...]
The author of the hit “The World Without Us” returns with a new book in which he ponders whether or not a world WITH us is even possible – and what it would cost.
A riveting new book looks at the catastrophe that befell Germany’s Jewish performers and composers when the Nazis came to power.
Of course the dance of disagreement is the primary three-step when readers encounter reviewers in the Penny Press – we all know that going in. But some weeks are more trying – and more exhilarating – than others. Take my most recent batch, for example: on virtually every other page, there was something I either [...]
Our book today is Joseph Markulin‘s big fat new historical novel Machiavelli: A Renaissance Life, which seeks to do for the author of The Prince what Irving Stone did with such resounding sense for Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy half a century ago: dramatize the life of a famous figure in history from [...]
A symposium of distinguished scholars dissects the wildly ambitious and varied artistic life of the great William Kent
A young man born and raised in the wild of Yosemite Valley is forced into a series of confrontations with an encroaching outside world.
Some Penguin Classics, as we’ve had occasion to note a few times in this ongoing series, are long overdue. This is especially true – and especially understandable – when it comes to the literature of the 20th century; not only are title so fresh in time often still net-tangled in questions of copyright and [...]
The Oxford University Press, centuries old and the biggest academic press in the world, founded its World’s Classics series in 1906 (having bought the imprimatur lock, stock, and barrel from the brilliant publisher Grant Richards in 1901). For over a hundred years, the line has produced reasonably-priced and expertly-edited canonical texts, proving that great [...]
A big, riveting new history looks at the unforgettable men and women who filled the history of the most tumultuous three-decade span in American history
As impossible as it is to believe, Vanity Fair is 100 years old. And yet I must believe it, for there’s Graydon Carter telling me so in his “Editor’s Letter” opening this extra-big anniversary issue, pompously holding court as he’s done so inimitably for what feels like most of those 100 years. Carter headed the [...]
What if each one of the original 79 ‘Star Trek’ TV episodes had instead been a full-length movie? A stellar new collection of the posters for those movies boldly goes where no theater-goer has gone before
The popular teacher and blogger collects her most memorable book reviews from the last dozen years
A magnificent new volume tours Egyptian history – starting a mind-bogglingly long time ago
An exhaustive – and immensely enjoyable – line-by-line examination of Shakespeare’s final play
While Henry VIII was away fighting the French, his kingdom was invaded from the north by James of Scotland. It was defended by thousands of brave soldiers, a handful of ambitious courtiers – and one remarkable woman.
Pretty young Audrey has grown up in the Tudor court thinking she’s the daughter of King Henry VIII’s tailor – but what if her real father is the king himself?
Our book today is another Victorian masterpiece of melodrama, Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur. Sub-titled A Tale of the Christ, it was an immediate hit upon publication, sold in record-setting numbers on four continents, and was very quickly translated into virtually every language on Earth (several different classes of college undergraduates vied for the dubious [...]
Our book today is Arthur Conan Doyle’s unsinkable 1892 story collection, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which collects the twelve Holmes & Watson stories published from summer of 1891 to summer of 1892 in the Strand magazine. These stories followed in the wake of the novellas A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four – they were written at Doyle’s [...]
DC Comics’ just-concluded big crossover event, “Trinity War,” ended with a plot twist designed to launch its new big crossover event, “Forever Evil.” The plot twist was the opening of a portal to an alternate dimension, through which came the Crime Syndicate, an evil version of the Justice League (Ultraman instead of Superman, Owlman [...]
Victorian historical painting and Victorian historical fiction met in a glorious collaboration of national mythology. Andrew Sanders, in a magnificent new study from Yale University Press, gives that collaboration a delightfully thorough questioning.
Our book today is Sarah Stewart’s merry, winsome 1995 Caldecott-winning children’s book The Library, about a little girl named Elizabeth Brown who starts reading as soon as she can and then continues doing it ‘at an incredible rate’ for the rest of her life. She reads under the covers at night. She reads on the [...]
In bestselling author David Levithan’s new novel, two boys try to set a world’s record for the longest kiss – and their adventure is cheered on by the most unlikely chorus
Our book today is Cape Cod by William Berchen and Monica Dickens, a slim, brimmingly illustrated vacation volume from 1972. As I’ve noted before, the end of summer always makes me think of all the time I’ve spent at the Cape over the years, and although Boston is still panting under the fat hand of [...]
King and Woolman’s new book Assassination of the Archduke, boasts new sources, very close to Franz Ferdinand and his wife — too close?
Our book today is George Steiner’s meaty 1996 collection of critical essays, No Passion Spent, which features 21 pieces drawn from two decades of Steiner’s long career as a literary journalist. During the course of that career, he sold pieces on a wide array of topics to an almost equally wide array of paying venues, [...]
International shipping provides virtually everything around you as you read this (including the computer you’re reading it on), and yet most people no nothing about this reclusive industry. Rose George’s new book sheds some light.
Our book today is Frances Noyes Hart’s 1931 charmer Pigs in Clover, which purports to record a roundabout journey by car through France that she took one holiday season with her husband Edward Hart, the son of the man who was present at the creation, so to speak, of the Associated Press. Long before that [...]
The Battle of Kursk was one of the most epic confrontations in the history of warfare – a vivid new history calls it the turning point of the entire Second World War
No matter how an imaginative child might shape-shift, a mother’s love follows right along in Nancy Tillman’s enchanting new picture book
Huge multi-part special-run series make good business for four-color comics companies, I get that. The basic model is now infinitely replicated: the central spine of a six or eight-issue mini-series feeding into an extended nervous system of tie-in issues designed to part nervous fanboy completists from their apparently-inexhaustible spending money. Nowadays, the leverage placed on [...]
More than at any point in their collective history, mankind’s great ape cousins face the threat of total extinction. A passionate new book outlines all the threats – and clings to some hope
DC Comics is currently in the middle of a big readership-grabbing multi-issue crossover event called “Trinity War,” and that big event is going to blend into the next, something called “Forever Evil” that will feature another mini-series and some collectible, gimmicky covers. The company’s successful reboot of its entire line of comics, its “New [...]
Rats, snakes, gulls, cockroaches, and half a dozen other notorious varmints – a delightful new anthology takes readers deep inside the world of the animals they love to hate
A new paperback explores the mysteries of turtles
The powerhouse annual science fiction anthology series turns thirty with a new collection drawn from all the sci-fi periodicals of the English-speaking world
The great 20th century poet Anthony Hecht was also a charming and indefatigable letter-writer. A new volume does its best to capture the range and wit that captivated two generations of correspondents.
It’s fashion month in the Penny Press these days, which means the square-bound glossies are suddenly a bit thicker and much more tightly crammed with full-color full-page spreads of varied and frenzied incomprehensibility. As many of you will have no trouble believing, fashion is a mystery to me; not only do I completely lack the [...]
The ancient Roman historian Suetonius wrote such a rollicking, gossipy book about the first twelve emperors that historians have been re-writing his book ever since
The exhaustive Yale edition of the complete correspondence of T. S. Eliot reaches a very busy period in the life of Eliot the editor and businessman, working away at the center of a vast and fascinating literary world
Our book today is Anne Boleyn by Norah Lofts, written in 1974 when our author was the ripe old age of 75. But before all you Norah Lofts fans go shuffling to the bookshelf, rest assured that I’m not mixing up the title of Lofts’ great 1963 Anne Boleyn novel The Concubine; I’m referring instead [...]
The great – and problematic – 20th century composer gets a broad-minded and intensely sensitive new biography
“In the winter, I stop short in the path to admire how the trees grow up without forethought, regardless of time and circumstances. They do not wait as man does …” A beautiful new edition of Henry David Thoreau’s essays.
Our book today is Frank Schatzing’s 2004 doorstop eco-thriller Der Schwarm, which was translated into English (by Sally-Ann Spencer) in 2006 as The Swarm, and it just naturally calls up a line from Cooper’s Creek by that literary household name, Alan Moorehead: “Nothing in this strange country seemed to bear the slightest resemblance to the [...]
The long-rumored psychic powers of the human brain get a high-spirited new examination.
Our book today is The Life and Times of Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, a sturdy hardcover by J. A. R. Marriott put out by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in 1907, when King Edward was on the throne of England and John Marriott was a professor of history at Oxford and Lucius Cary, the second Viscount [...]
That annual literary freakshow, the Man Booker Prize, has resumed in earnest with the publication of the ‘long list’ of potential winners for the big prize announced in October. London bookies will now trumpet the odds of each candidate, and tepid discussions will spring up in the leafier groves of the Internet. In general, the [...]
A crucial turning-point battle in the American Revolution is given an extensively detailed and tradition-challenging new history
Roger Tory Peterson called them “the butterflies of the bird world” – they’re wood warblers, and when it comes to identifying and understanding them, Princeton University Press has published the Bible
The meek and peaceful Jesus has become the standard Christian image of the Messiah. Religious scholar Reza Aslan’s controversial new book shatters that image and replaces it with something very different: a violent revolutionary who came not to bring peace but a sword.
Our book today is Lord David Cecil’s 1973 compendious charmer, The Cecils of Hatfield House, a zesty character-driven history of the many generations of the storied Cecil family which rose to prominence when canny William Cecil decided to risk his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor (a relative term with the Cecils, but still) [...]
“The Cousins’ War” – Philippa Gregory’s ongoing novelization of the Wars of the Roses – reaches an epic turning point in her latest book, about the precarious founding of the Tudor dynasty
Clinton, Gage, Burgoyne, the Howe brothers – and of course Lord Cornwallis: their names are synonymous in the United States with bumbling defeat, but a rousing new book takes a fresh look at all these formerly infamous figures
A wonderfully-illutrated new volume brings together the latest research about the glittering era that brought us the Sutton Hoo treasure, the epic of Beowulf, and the deep sediment of law
Just as the last embers are flickering out on the latest Open Letters Monthly Summer Reading feature, The Weekly Standard has trundled out one of its own, and in addition to items one suspects were selected for non-literary reasons (right-wing screed-histories and the like), there were some gems: Christoph Irmscher, who is himself the author [...]
A popular science writer looks at the evidence for life on other planets
Our book today is the 2006 DC Archive Edition featuring “The Shazam Family” but overwhelmingly devoted to the exploits of “The World’s Mightiest Boy,” Captain Marvel Junior. The character is – as you might guess – a spin-off of Fawcett Comics’ best-selling flagship super-hero, Captain Marvel, and this Archive Edition reprints his first ten appearances [...]
The latest events in the life of immortal, imperturbable Count Saint-Germain find him in Crusades-era Egypt
Rousing naval action and atmospheric period drama share the stage in S. Thomas Russell’s latest novel, by any other name
Our book today is a modern-day classic from 1987, The Norton Book of Travel Writing, edited for the ages by the great Paul Fussell and featuring a stellar roster of the greatest travel-writers of all time (with one incredibly glaring exception: there is no Mary Kingsley here). We have Freya Stark, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles [...]
A bored cop in a beautiful French Mediterranean town is suddenly confronted with a genuine murder mystery in the middle of a typical tourist summer
The latest volume in the author’s magnificent multi-volume biography covers the last years of Kafka’s life – years marked by passionate affairs, political upheavals, and the shadow of his final illness
Now in an attractive reprint from Princeton: the first volume in Reiner Stach’s towering multi-volume biography of the 20th century’s troubled literary godfather
Our book today is Robert Harris’ drum-tight 2003 historical novel Pompeii, written in the formidable shadow not of Mount Vesuvius but of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1834 corker The Last Days of Pompeii. Bulwer-Lytton’s book has famously lodged in reading history as perhaps the single worst novel ever written (an unjust claim – the title clearly belongs [...]
A short Kafka biography by a renowned historian makes some unconventional interpretations of the 20th century’s most enigmatic writer
There’s gunplay, there’s skullduggery, there’s the Federal Reserve, and there’s the good old Freedom Trail – what more does a reader need on the arc from La Guardia to LAX?
Our book today is 1867′s So Excellent a Fishe: A Natural History of Sea Turtles by the great Archie Carr, the one-time professor of Zoology at the University of Florida who also wrote the classic natural history memoir The Windward Road (recently re-issued in a lovely paperback by the University Press of Florida – hint, [...]
A self-absorbed young Brooklyn writer (what else?) goes from relationship to relationship in search of … what, exactly?
In an entertaining new collection of good old stories, the boundary-line between Sam Spade and Mandrake the Magician is considerably blurred …
After an unearthly quiet of nearly three thousand years, he’s been the idol of the world for nearly a century – he’s the boy-pharaoh Tutankhamun, and Jo Marchant makes his old story new again
A spirited new account of the divisive American presidential election race that was held amidst the growing clamor of European war
Our book today is the fantastic 1998 novel An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis, a volume I’ve recommended and gifted countless times since it first appeared, even more times than its predecessor, Merlis’ stunning 1994 debut American Studies (and would be happy to gift again, should any of you want a copy), mainly for two [...]
A monumental deck-clearing two-volume biography of Admiral Horatio Nelson reaches its thundering conclusion
I thought my week’s Penny Press highlights had already passed, but the hits just keep coming! The New Yorker issue sporting the now-famous Bert & Ernie cover, for instance, features a great piece by Louis Menand called “The Color of Law,” about the systematic suppression of the black vote in the American South – an [...]
In a magnificent new history, the cataclysmic turning-point battle of the American Civil War is studied in meticulous detail
Richard Beeman’s new book covers some familiar – sacred? – ground
As I’ve had occasion to note more than once here at Stevereads, one of the things I love most about the continuing bounty of the Penny Press is the unpredictability of it all. Talented freelancers are always getting drunk with each other at parties, sharing soccer pitches in the glaring sun, ogling each other in [...]
Our book today is John Gardner’s 1973 epic poem Jason & Medeia, and it … screeching halt, right? Yes, “epic poem” – a literary form about as dead as the dodo, an intentionally, defiantly recherche choice for any modern-day author to make, a thumb in the eye of prospective new readers, a pretentious fling of [...]
Our book today is Hamilton Basso’s 1954 runaway bestseller The View from Pompey’s Head, which brought its fifty-year-old author the one thing he’d once upon a time wanted more than anything from the world, the one thing he’d slowly, gradually convinced himself he’d never have: renown. The book was a huge hit. It spent close [...]
A young man slips in and out of seductive dream realities in Alex Jeffers’ fantastic latest novel
In the famous jingle ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,’ Katherine Parr comes last – the sixth wife of King Henry VIII. But she was far more than that – scholar, regent, and passionate young woman – as a new Tudor historical novel attempts to portray
The bloodiest day in United States history is the subject of Richard Slotkin’s riveting book, now out in paperback
Our book today is C. S. Forester’s 1937 canon-shot of a Napoleonic sea-novel, Beat to Quarters (published in England as, sigh, The Happy Return), the book that introduced the character of Captain Horatio Hornblower to the world and single-handedly re-invigorated a sub-genre that had been quiescent for a century. The story is taut. Hornblower’s ship, [...]
In Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic space opera – now out in paperback – the mankind of two centuries hence has conquered space and colonized the solar system, but as usual, it carries its own dark side wherever it goes
As we’ve noted in the past, the wonders of National Geographic – unparalleled anywhere else in the Penny Press – come with a price tag. Just as the magazine is capable of infusing your day with the curiosity and sheer joy of exploration (the two exultations on which it was founded), so too is it [...]
Just the other day, at the bookstore, a sane-and-normal-seeming customer asked me for a “fair” biography of Hitler. When I stared at her, she elaborated: a biography that wasn’t “slanted,” that had no “axe to grind,” that reflected the fact that although Hitler might have been an evil man, he was also indisputably a great [...]
Tradition has it that Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli wrote his novels to make a name (and a fortune) for himself with the British public, but a thrilling new book wonders if he didn’t also do it to re-shape reality itself – in his favor.
Two of the most famous names of the Italian Renaissance – Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci – team up to untangle a series of horrific murders!
A columnist for the Financial Times looks at what the Roman poet Horace has meant to him over the years
Ever since Margaret Thatcher died in April and the press set about heaping ordure on her still-warm corpse, I’ve been busily, sadly reading every notice, just as I did for Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and just as I’m sure I will for Mikhail Gorbachev. In Thatcher’s case, the sheer intensity of the [...]
The July issue of Vanity Fair has many standard features that are depressing. First and most noticeably, there’s the cover story-hand job common to most glossy magazines; in this case it’s a ‘profile’ of Hollywood’s current top box office Everyman, Channing Tatum, whose he-man pouting on the cover over the banner reading “Channing Tatum: An [...]
The popular philosopher returns to the ideas that made him famous: that man is an animal, that optimism is misguided, and that the very idea of progress is just a re-heated left-over from the zeals of Christianity.
The signature work by one of the prickly fathers of the Italian Renaissance humanism gets its inaugural print edition in the latest offering from Harvard’s magnificent I Tatti Renaissance Library
Literary reputations are a lot like ghosts – they make odd noises, they hang around long after their heartbeat has ceased, and they attract the belief of the credulous all over the world. Just as a bloated mass of spectral ectoplasm was reputedly once a two-timing grocer, so a bloated mass of lazy bloviation [...]
In a stirring new account of the burning of the White House and the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, the individual men and women of the conflict step into the spotlight in all their very human contradictions
Just when you thought the whole ‘negativity-in-book-reviews’ teacup-tempest had finally blown itself out, no less an unlikely Lady Bracknell than Clive James stirs it back up again. Himself a critic of legendary and delightful omni-competence, James has recently announced that his health has gone into serious decline (he just published a poem about it – [...]
Throughout the year, the New York Review of Books is celebrating its 50th anniversary by reprinting excerpts from pieces by some of its most lauded contributors. The excerpts appear on the last page of every issue, and considering the lineup of literary powerhouses the NYRB has always boasted, you’d think the presence of such a [...]
The violent, heroic Wild West of the Bible is given a magnificent new translation and commentary
Two highlights this week from the curiously large number of magazines I read whose titles start with “New” (that also starts the name of the region I call home): In The New Yorker, in addition to some other wonderful stuff (Anthony Lane on “Fast & Furious 6″ is predictably hilarious, for instance), there’s a simple, [...]
In advance of the movie, Max Brooks’ epic zombie novel (now with the customary ugly movie cover) is given a big reprint run in search of even more fans …
A debut novel of alternate history spins out one of the most tantalizing hypotheticals of the past: what if Anne Boleyn had managed to give King Henry VIII a healthy male heir? Some of the answers – and some of the resulting mysteries – may surprise you.
In the penultimate installment of his “Year with the Tudors,” Steve Donoghue pauses to consider some of the young men and women who didn’t quite make it onto the roster of Tudor monarchs.
Some Penguin Classics are comprised of many authors, or no credited authors at all, and since Penguin doesn’t yet publish a Complete Poems of either Yevtushenko or Yeats (and since I’ll be buried in the cold, cold ground before I’ll recognize Zola), I thought it would be only fair to round out our inaugural Penguin [...]
Some Penguin Classics, as we’ve already noted, are miniature battlefields in their own right. Whether its the editor fighting with some previous editor or the translator fighting with some previous translator, these little black-spined editions have always been an odd but perfect place to skirmish. And surely the oddest of these skirmishes – although it [...]
Some Penguin Classics have been forgotten by those who need most to remember them. The Western world has never been more open-handed of women’s rights, for instance, than it is at this moment in the 21st century, and hundreds of thousands of young women in the United States alone have grown up their entire lives [...]