Articles by Steve Donoghue
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 [...]
Some Penguin Classics, as we’ve seen, forever get second-banana billing. How much more ironic this whole process is when the author in question was a productive dynamo who managed to write many brilliant things in a long life? What does the non-German world know of Goethe, for example, except perhaps The Sorrows of Young Werther [...]
Some Penguin Classics get the royal treatment – whether they deserve it or not. By ‘royal treatment’ I of course mean not only induction into the Classics line itself, honor enough though it is for one lifetime, but the bestowal of one of Penguin’s gorgeous “Deluxe” volumes, extra-sized, deckle-edged, supremely aesthetic re-packagings that not every [...]
Some Penguin Classics come perfectly recommended. Oh, they all come recommended – that’s what their Introductions are for, after all (although there’ve been one or two instances over the decades when the writer of the Introduction clearly disliked the translator of the work – or, even more titillatingly, clearly disliked the work itself; it can [...]
One of our most enjoyable science-writers turns in a reasonably hopeful prognosis for mankind’s future
Some Penguin Classics just break your heart. Robert Louis Stevenson started writing The Weir of Hermiston in late 1893 in Samoa in a whirlwind of rejuvenated creativity. He’d felt himself scraping the splintery inside edges of his prodigious talent in the course of that year, but he’d found frankly unexpected renewal in writing the dark, [...]
Some Penguin Classics furnish an appetizer that’s so good it almost competes with the main course. Naturally, that becomes proportionately easier depending on how brief the main course is – or how unappetizing. “Unappetizing” has always been my reaction to the two most famous books of sixteenth century satirist and weekend-Benedictine Francois Rabelais, [...]
Some Penguin Classics ain’t what they used to be! Take for example Rex Warner’s sturdy, chatty 1958 translation of six very famous mini-biographies from Plutarch’s epic series of Parallel Lives. Penguin decided early on that bringing out a fat Classic of the whole of Plutarch probably wouldn’t be commercially viable – or aesthetically either, since [...]
Some Penguin Classics – the vast majority of them, in fact – make their appearance too late to console their authors. Our case-in-point today involves an author who needed more consoling than most: the novelist and short story writer John O’Hara, who flourished in the 1930s and ‘40s, in the heady first heyday of The [...]
A historian’s great trilogy about U.S. forces at war on WWII’s Western front at last comes to its finish
We can pause roughly mid-way in our Penguin Alphabet to daydream about all those great books out there that for one reason or another (critical unpreparedness, zealously guarded copyright, etc.) have never quite made it into the Classics canon – but very much deserve to. The full list of such Not Yet Penguins would be [...]
As if the tensions between Athens and Sparta at the 80th Olympiad weren’t bad enough, now there’s a dead Spartan – and the chief suspect is Athenian. Young everyman investigator Nico is on the case.
Some Penguin Classics – in fact many of them – leave you badly wanting more. The world, the writers they show us seem to breathe the living air, and the little wedges of exposure we get between Penguin covers tingle the mental skin, make a taste, create an itinerary to the nearest library to [...]
Some Penguin Classics, as we’ve seen, are overshadowed by their own brethren. Authors pour their hearts into the things they write, but no matter how their own estimations fall, the reading public has a much louder say – and it’s almost never how the author would like things to go. Human nature being what it [...]
Some Penguin Classics, as we’ve noted a couple of times, are at least as much about the edition as they are about the work itself – and sometimes this can be a bit problematic. Take the poetry of John Keats, for example. Obviously, he needs to be welcomed into the Penguin Classic line, but how? [...]
The so-called ‘father of conservatism’ gets an aphoristic new biography from a very interested party.
Some Penguin Classics are doubly significant – not only is the ‘source material’ something that’s often been venerated for centuries, but the particular edition chosen by Penguin has also achieved something of the status of a classic. Such is certainly the case with the renowned edition of Juvenal’s satires produced by the great classicist Peter [...]
The great diplomat and statesman John Hay is the subject of a riveting new biography
A scrupulously intelligent and lavishly illustrated new book examines the enormous impact one ancient text had on the whole of the Italian Renaissance
Some Penguin Classics just automatically prompt a smile – because some classics are just happy occurrences, free of somber overtones, free of the burden of interpretation, free of the obligation to be anything other than entertaining (which hasn’t stopped academics and English departments from beavering away at them, but even so). And one of those [...]
Some Penguin Classics are just a bit more famous than others, and the top spot there will likely always go to E. V. Rieu’s 1946 translation of Homer’s Odyssey, because it got the whole show started. And it started in the way all the best intellectual endeavors do: on amateur footing, without a thought of [...]
Some Penguin Classics make their courtroom cases with the blunt force of a bulldog trial lawyer, flatly asserting that their client deserves a better deal. Of course this is what all reprint editions should do, ideally: no book should assume a second life in print – books cost money to make and time to read, after [...]
Some Penguin Classics live forever in the shadow of their more famous brethren, which is of course unfair. My lit’rary friends and I have often lamented the way so many authors are best known for their second-best work, and predicting when and how it’ll happen seems to boil down to divining the urgencies [...]
Using castles and cunning, swords and statesmanship, guile and guts, they ruled England (and big chunks of France) for over two centuries – they were the Plantagenets, and they’re the subject of a boisterous new history
Some Penguin Classics you’ll never the hell have heard of, period. Top of that list would be something like Alexander Exquemelin’s De Americaensche Zee-Rovers, published in a lovely little edition in Holland in 1678, and yet there it is, all dolled up in a 1969 Penguin Classic translation by Alexis Brown. Exquemelin’s book translated into [...]
The 17th century found itself caught between widespread social upheaval and natural catastrophes unprecedented in human history – an absorbing new history looks at the entire world four centuries ago … and of course glances at our own
Some Penguin Classics prove a few of my Rules About Authors (not to be confused with my Rules For Authors, a very different though equally long list) rather handily, as in the case of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.’s rip-snorting 1840 book Two Years Before the Mast, issued as a Penguin in their American Library in [...]
Some Penguin Classics are eerily prescient, sometimes in decidedly unpleasant ways. In 2013 we’re resolutely gearing up for the 2014 centennial of the opening of the First World War, gearing up for a probable onslaught of books, documentaries, and commemorative magazines designed to remember/reassess/cash in on one of the gruesome formative events of the [...]
That long-standing hotbed of world history, Europe, gets a big new dissection by one of our most engaging historians
A brilliant French study of Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” at last has an English translation
Some Penguin Classics – in fact, perhaps a good deal more than we like to tell ourselves – enshrine books that aren’t really ‘classics’ at all, or ought not to be. This problem – if you view it as a problem, which I tend to – has been hugely exacerbated in the last twenty [...]
Some Penguin Classics, no matter how brilliantly executed, can’t help but represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and surely in both those respects – brilliant execution and tantalizing lost worlds – few Penguin Classics can beat the 1977 paperback of Robert Fagles’ great 1966 translation of the Oresteia by Aeschylus. The translation is a [...]
He was a young immigrant from Scotland who was inspired by one great man and inspired another, but in between, Alexander Wilson did the pioneering work of creating the American discipline of bird-study. A wonderful new book re-examines his legacy
He travelled the fledgling United States shooting birds, wiring them into poses, and then painting them for eternity – he was John James Audubon, and his epic “The Birds of America” has a beautiful, gargantuan new edition from Abbeville Press
Our book today is the inimitably-titled little 1896 masterpiece by Eugene Field, The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac, and you only have to open it at random to any page in order to be ushered immediately into the living presence of its quirky, funny, utterly adorable author. Should ill chance ever land you in Denver, [...]
The Hollywood actor and star of “Howl” produces a heavily-illustrated book of snippets and short stories, for reasons that are either unclear or all too clear, depending on whose Twitter you follow
At the heigh of the Second World War, they traveled to a custom-made town in the middle of nowhere and worked jobs they didn’t understand and were forbidden to question – and a year later, the U.S. had a working atom bomb. They were the girls of Atomic City, and their story finally gets told.
The southeastern coast of the United States is dotted all over with salt marshes, those magical places forever hovering between land and sea. A captivating new book – now in paperback – sings their praises and recounts their perils.
Our book today is James Milne’s soft-spoken, charming 1925 book A London Book Window, which poses for its readers one simple, irresistible question: “Do you like to hear about the little things which go on in the book world?” Milne was a lifelong writer about books, a smart, unassuming man capable of making just about [...]
Some Penguin Classics have been a part of the mental landscape for so long that finding a Penguin edition of them seems like a foregone conclusion, and surely high up on the list of such books would be Il Principe, the slim, explosive manual Niccolo Machiavelli wrote around 1513 as a dutiful, hopeful submission to [...]
A gripping new book examines just what happened in the crucial interval between the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of general hostilities – and reaches some unusual conclusions.
Our book today is The Rebel Bride, originally published in 1979 by that tireless romancer, Catherine Coulter. When it appeared back in ’79, it was one of those thin Signet Regency romances, the ones with the decorative covers and the filigreed script, this time a courteous, predictable story about Kate Brandon, a fiery-tempered and independent redhead [...]
Our book today is Park-Street Papers, a charming 1908 volume made by Bliss Perry, the sweetest-natured man ever to run the venerable Atlantic Monthly (with all due apologies to the shade of the almost equally venerable Edward Weeks, who ran a wonderful shop for a long time but who would have readily admitted that he [...]
Hour of the Red God: A Detective Mollel Novel
By Richard Compton
Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
Journalist Richard Crompton’s dazzlingly good debut mystery novel Hour of the Red God is set in 2007 against the …
Despite the tragedy that overtook the city of Boston on the 15th of April, the 18th of April can’t help but force a smile against the gloom: it’s the date of the famous ride of Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott to warn the sleeping townsfolk of Middlesex County that the British were marching [...]
One of the Man of Steel’s legendary illustrators from the 1970s and ’80s gets his work reprinted in a handsome hardcover volume
One of our greatest living historians argues that far more unites humanity than divides it – but is anybody listening?
Our book today is the tense and yet lush Tudor novel My Enemy the Queen, which that champion quiller of historical romances, Victoria Holt, wrote in a free afternoon one day in 1978. ‘Victoria Holt’ was a pseudonym for an Englishwoman named Eleanor Hibbert, who was born in 1906, endured a brief, tedious interval learning [...]
An ordinary boy in our real world has a funny name – Clark Kent. Funny, that is, until he starts to develop the exact same superpowers as you-know-who
They’re history’s most villainous family, adept at blackmail, poison, murder, and sacrilege – they even have their own TV series! But is it possible there’s more bad press than bad people to the Borgia family? A fascinating new book takes the case back to the basics
The authoritative new biography – now in an enormous paperback – of the architect of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution”
A splendid reissue of the definitive Marcel Proust biography attempts to show readers the jester, the critic, and the energetic editor in addition to the garrulous fop
The “George Washington of South America” was far more complex and interesting than his familiar tag-line suggests – as a big, fantastic new biography makes abundantly clear
Fifty years ago the great Melville Bell Grosvenor, then the presiding quintessence of National Geographic (son of the magazine’s first editor-in-chief, and grandson of Alexander Graham Bell), collaborated with a bullpen of very creative people and dreamed up a line of National Geographic books, big, heavy, lavishly illustrated things that acted as subject- specific compendiums [...]
In her latest bestseller, J. R. Ward’s two most loved (and lusted-after) bad-boy vampires finally get their turn in the spotlight
A new book by a legendary scholar charts the journey of early Christianity from a charismatic cult to the official religion of an empire
A young Swedish girl travels to England and becomes a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I herself
She’s an icon, a cautionary tale, a baleful notoriety – she’s Anne Boleyn, who bewitched a king and drove him to remake a world, all for the sake of a dream she could never give him. A fascinating new book looks at the way all the ways history has made and re-made Henry VIII’s most infamous queen
An intelligent, sensitive Dominican novice finds herself at the heart of passionate conspiracies in the England of Henry VIII
The typical image of Winston Churchill comes from the dark days of World War II: a fat, old, bald Prime Minister eloquently defying Hitler’s Germany. But before there was a monument there was a man, as an engaging new biography brings to light.
The richest denizens of the Edwardian Era swan around in their finest stuff, immortalized by the likes of Sargent and Boldini, and a sumptuous new book from Yale University Press records it all
Our book today is that hilarious, engrossing, inimitable classic, Twelve Against the Gods, written under the pen-name of “William Bolitho” in 1929 (the same author also wrote the enormously enjoyable Murder for Profit) and celebrating a baker’s dozen historical figures who epitomize one aspect or another of the adventurer’s ideal as conceived by our author, [...]
Jack Wolf’s risk-taking debut explores the boundaries of insanity and rationality
Although I’m an unapologetic fan of the big glossy men’s-interest magazines on the market today (I subscribe to a whole slew of them, from Outside and Men’s Journal to Esquire and Details), I know better than to go to most of them for literary opinions. Not because there aren’t some very intelligent people working there, [...]
A neurosurgeon’s reflections on his time in a coma convince him that it held the secret to the universe.
In a novel that’s not as easy as it looks, a soldier comes home to his small Vermont town from Afghanistan – and to the young woman he left behind there.
In a welcome reprint, a brave but untried young 12th century knight must learn how to fight – and take a bride
The greatest sci-fi novel of all time is inaugurated into the Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Classics library
Last week’s New Yorker started off with a letter, written by Jane Scholz, that I’ll quote in full: As is the case with the tragic death of Aaron Swartz, the tragic death of any young person is an incredibly sad event, wharever the cause. I object, however, to the effort of some of [...]
David Halberstam’s 1968 profile of candidate Robert Kennedy gets a new reprint for a new generation
The barbaric custom of ‘honor killing’ is the hinge on which best-selling author Elif Shafak’s complex new novel turns
With the arrival of a new baby, a young Brooklyn couple say good-bye to sleep … and start making some very strange decisions.
A big new book looks at the long history of guerrilla warfare and centers its lessons on our own time.
In this historical novel, the Armenian community of Paris negotiates the arrival of the Nazis – and a young girl navigates her first romance
The most cherished nature classic since “Walden” gets the sparkling Library of America canonization
Our book today is Sarah Bradford’s 1996 biography Elizabeth: A Biography of Her Majesty the Queen, and seeing it on my shelves always reminds me of a frequent quip by an old friend of mine, a Boston trial lawyer with (as Agatha Christie might put it) a brain like a bacon-slicer: when you want something [...]
A young woman finds herself on a ship at sea with both her fiance and a mysterious man from her past, and it’s all like something you’d find in a book …
The greatest enemy of freedom is … democracy? Come get to know Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Ferguson, ladies and gentlemen!
A patrician family copes with all kinds of disappointment in Louisa Hall’s not-at-all-disappointing debut novel
Our book today is a 1883 collection of odd ruminations by Percy Fitzgerald called Recreations of a Literary Man (or Does Writing Pay?), one in a virtually endless stream of books Fitzgerald produced once he left off prosperous lawyering in Ireland and made his way to teeming, word-drunk Victorian London to try his hand at [...]
Before the mad demi-titan Thanos arrives to menace movie theaters in 2015, he menaced the good guys in decades of comics – a new anthology collects some of the best of the bad guy
It’s almost never a clean sweep in my weekly Penny Press – almost always, I’ve got to suffer through annoying garbage in order to enjoy the fine stuff (especially since I tend to read everything in every issue – sometimes on my first go-through I’ll skip around, but then the ol’ Irish Guilt kicks in [...]
When Roman troops left Britain forever, the locals were forced to fend for themselves – and in Morgan Llywelyn’s latest historical novel, two cousins take two very different approaches to a world after Rome.
Our book today is a delightful little oddity from 1980: Cityside Countryside, subtitled “A Journey to Two Places.” It’s a collection of columns by two talented journalists: Nathan Cobb, then a features writer for The Boston Globe, and John Cole, the co-founder and then-editor of the Maine Times, and the columns act in dialogue with [...]
Our book today is 1982′s mystery novel Light Thickens, the last book written by the great New Zealand mystery author Ngaio Marsh (by far the most deceptively cerebral of the four “Queens of Crime”) before she died in harness that same year at the ripe old age of 86 (ripe and hypothetical, since in the [...]
Long, long before Canute and the Confessor, England was a fascinating place – the great archaeologist Barry Cunliffe tells the tale!
He revolutionized modern science, and then modern science left him behind. Now a glowing new biography introduces him to a new generation.
Some Penguin Classics, as we’ve noted, represent the tip of an iceberg – which can sound strange when we’re talking about fairly ancient works whose physical survival was certainly no given thing, but which is certainly true when it comes to records dealing with the Frankish emperor Charles the Great, known to all subsequent times [...]
Well, I finally read “Requiem for a Dream,” Larissa MacFarquhar’s New Yorker piece on Aaron Swartz, and I needn’t have been as worried about it as I was – mainly because MacFarquhar is one hell of a good writer (who, I presume, had nothing to do with the ridiculous hyperbole of her piece’s title). It’s [...]
When examining the death of Cleopatra, it’s inevitable: sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with asp-holes
A little (OK, a bit) frisson of horror at a picture in the latest National Geographic: the story is that gangs of baboons in the Cape Town area have grown progressively bolder and more organized at stealing stuff from humans – “Raiding baboons open doors, yank out windows, and remove roof tiles” says one researcher, [...]
The Penny Press has been mostly behaving itself lately, which is an oddly mixed blessing. When I’m happily reading along, encountering one great piece after another while ensconced in my hole-in-the-wall lunch-time getaway, of course I’m intellectually satisfied (and once again mystified as to how other thinking readers somehow get along without such a steady [...]
He escaped from slavery, fought Rome, and became an immortal name – but what can we really know about Spartacus?
They guarded emperors, they served emperors, and occasionally they killed emperors – they were the Praetorian Guard
In his latest adventure, Mark Chadbourn’s swashbuckling Elizabethan adventurer Will Swyfte continues his battle against the supernatural forces of the Unseelie Court
Even if I hadn’t seen Hilary Mantel’s now-infamous piece in the 21 February London Review of Books, I’d certainly have heard about it by now. I’ve written quite a bit on the Tudors, and I’ve written quite a bit on the Windsors, and I’ve written quite a bit on Mantel – even if I’d somehow [...]
Venice has traded flinty commercial acumen and world-weary merchant princes for an ennui worthy of M. John Harrison’s science fiction; her profession has now become the art of insubstantiality. For centuries authors have tried and failed to capture her. Steve Donoghue surveys the glorious wreckage.
A enormous storm is bearing down on Washington D.C., and the President and his staff are confronted with a group of people who say they can stop the hurricane – for a price
Some Penguin Classics seem to come along at just the right time – actually a great many of them do, but this time was just right for Maurice Evans’ wonderful 1977 edition of that lost, sparkling diamond-mine of English literature, Sir Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. The Arcadia got its start in the [...]
Sarah Gristwood (author of the utterly delightful “Arbella: England’s Lost Queen”) charts the triumphs and tragedies of the seven key women in the Wars of the Roses
The horny, feckless narrator of Kultgen’s “The Average American Male” returns: married, with kids – and, of course, lusting after a co-worker
Which isn’t to say that issue of The New Republic had only one noteworthy item – far from it! I confess, I was worried after the first issue of the redesign. I knew TNR had been bought by a 15-year-old Internet gazillionaire, and I naturally assumed that could never be a good thing. I envisioned [...]
Novelist Ian McEwan writes a deliberately provocative little squib for the newly-redesigned New Republic (disastrously redesigned as well – it disappears on the newsstand, especially this current issue, which for no particular reason has no cover illustration, just the boring new logo on a field of white), something called “The God That Fails” and sub-titled [...]
The Angel – the Silver Scorpion – the Destroyer – the Black Marvel – the Blazing Skull: not exactly household names today, but in the dark days of World War II, they fought the forces of evil for the entertainment of a new kind of reader: comic book fans
“Houses, Churches, mix’d together – Streets, unpleasant in all Weather” – so wrote the poet about resolute, dissolute London, whose 18th century excesses are the subject of a grand new book
David Shields, author of the ‘manifesto’ “Reality Hunger,” is still unhappy with boring old books. In fact, he’s still writing books about how unhappy he is.
Unsure of what to do with her life, a woman turns an old stone house into an inn on the coast of Ireland, and strangers begin to gather …
In 1931 Naples, Commissario Ricciardi pursues the most desperate of criminals, driven by an absolute commitment to justice – and helped by a gift he alone possesses.
A new novel tells the story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, famous author and wife of an even more famous jerk.
A profusely illustrated you-are-there look at the excavations into European prehistory
The Italian Renaissance of Michelangelo and Raphael was built by – and traumatized by – the constant tramping of hired armies. A provocative new study looks at the birth-price of the modern era
Avunculicide would be just as accurate, since of course we’re referring to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who in 1483 became King of England after having disposed of the niggling little obstacle of the previous king of England, 14-year-old Edward V, who’d become king upon the death of his father, Edward IV, Richard’s brother. Young Edward [...]
It was a decidedly non-literary day at Ye Olde PO Box: no Arion, no TLS, no London Review of Books, no New York Review of Books … not even the New York Times Book Review to further the ongoing necessary inquiry. Instead, almost as a warning of the lower elevations head, there was a new issue [...]
Our book today is E. Phillips Oppenheim’s 1910 thriller, The Illustrious Prince, which opens right away, on Page 1, with an inadvertent thrill delivered right over the heads of its contemporary readers and right to the reading cortex of its 21st Century audience. In the opening scene, a luxury liner has missed its evening tide [...]
The great travel-adventure classic gets a pretty new reprint
The newest novel from the newest Chilean literary wunderkind
A new history of the Second World War focuses on the mid-level thinkers and technicians whose innovations made the grand strategies work
“The proper function of a critic is to save a tale from the artist who created it” wrote D. H. Lawrence, but sometimes – most of the time – despite the best efforts of the best critics, both tale and artist disappear. What do we do with the criti-cal darlings of yesteryear, now filling the library bargain sale? And what of the critics, who called them imperishable?
Josiah for President by Martha Bolton Zondervan, 2012 “If you can’t trust the Amish, who can you trust?” asks a gushing voter in Martha Bolton’s debut novel, Josiah for President, and like jesting Pilate, does not stay for an answer. Bolton may be a first-time novelist, but she’s an old hand at writing, with over [...]
In Michael Dahlie’s new novel, an idle young millionaire ghost-writes a book for an arrogant Hollywood star
My usual one-two combination of The London Review of Books and the TLS always has a huge amount of long, meaty, scholarly piece of literary journalism – that’s why I’ve been coming back to them every week since before most of you were born. And this last week was no exception, with plenty of great, [...]
She’s a master thief who wants to rob the world’s richest man; he’s a master assassin who wants to kill the world’s richest man – what happens when they run headlong into each other in a glass-and-steel death-trap?
A new history of World War I looks at twelve fragile moments, twelve turning points when small factors determined very large outcomes
Earth’s frozen, forbidding continent is the subject of Gabrielle Walker’s latest book
The death of a talented teenage artist spins his family and friends into turmoil in Manu Joseph’s incredibly accomplished second novel.
In the latest Ismail Kadare novel to be translated into English, an Albanian doctor invites the invading Nazis to an elaborate dinner at his house – but what exactly happens that night, to the strains of Schubert?
Until comparatively recently, historically speaking, mankind existed in small hunter-gatherer societies without states or agriculture. Best-selling author Jared Diamond’s latest book examines the possible up-side of those primitive edens.