Articles in Arts & Life
For over sixty years, the story of humanity’s weird fascination with UFOs has been unfolding across nations and societies. A new book goes beyond easy mockery to ask some, er, probing questions.
How do we become ourselves? For Vivian Gornick, wandering the city streets is one way to both ask and answer that question; for us, her book becomes a bracing guide to doing the same.
Years after his death, Olivier Messiaen remains a divisive figure. Michael Johnson explores the controversial composer’s imprint on modern music.
For the woman who became dancer Jane Avril, life was transformed when she realized that what had been called mental illness she could claim for herself as art.
Vivian Gornick’s biography of Emma Goldman focuses more on the famous anarchist’s love life than her political ideologies–but might those tumultuous relationships offer new insights into her beliefs?
A polite conversation by two intellectuals about an explosive subject: the rise of militant Islamic groups throughout the world, and the world’s response
From the McCarthy era to the Watergate era and beyond, Mary McGrory ruled the Washington press corps, as a wonderful new book details
Growing up in suburban Illinois, author Michael Clune discovered the world of gaming – and nothing was ever the same again
If a gushing new biography is any warrant, that’s the wrong Roosevelt up on Mount Rushmore.
In the Ethiopian city of Harar, spotted hyenas roam the streets at night, cleaning up the day’s garbage better than any human crew could do. A fascinating new book tells the story.
National Book Award-winner Lily Tuck’s latest book attempts an experiment at dramatizing her memories of her early years
The world’s most famous architect gets his first full-length biography
Now in paperback: a thorough – and thoroughly interesting – study of the actual physical dimensions of the little pond whose name Henry David Thoreau made immortal
The bad science behind the Hindenburg was made tragically obvious by its explosion in 1937; a new book warns that other miracles of science may be equally dangerous
The great German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt was fascinated by all of the natural world, and his work in studying it and writing about it has shaped our understanding ever since
A witty, unsparing memoir from author and critic Gary Indiana
The life of infamous NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, in comic book form
A spirited defense of humanist intangibles in a culture obsessed with material gain
The huge environmental problems facing India form the backdrop for Meera Subramanian’s fantastic first book
At the beginning of the 19th century, a small trove of elaboratedly carved chess pieces was uncovered on a remote beach – a lively new book traces the history and strange charisma of the Lewis chessmen.
Director Bob Fosse dreamed that his 1983 movie Star 80 would put him in the front ranks of Hollywood, but what resulted was both stranger and – our reviewer urges – more powerful than it first seemed.
Game of Thrones is remarkably faithful to George R. R. Martin’s original epic series, except for one vital element: it transforms his subversive morality into conventional fantasy.
What are literary biographies good for, anyway? Do they provide insight into the work or just tittle-tattle about the life? Scott Donaldson’s The Impossible Craft offers a brief on this endlessly alluring genre.
Lesser-known – and perhaps just plain lesser? – French Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte gets his first major American retrospective.
A newly-reprinted biography of the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck is noticeably short – what kind of a job does it do?
In his brilliant new book, Jedediah Purdy argues that humanity must face the collapse of nature using the three tools it knows best: politics, policy, and cold, hard cash
Yale University Press publishes a 2005 memoir by the 2014 winner of the Nobel Prize for literature
The great ancient Indian emperor Ashoka gets a splendid new biography that attempts to divine the man at the heart of the legend
Veteran New Yorker writer William Finnegan has written a captivating memoir of surfing and growing up
A lively new book explores the minds and behaviors of many of Earth’s cetaceans
For the better part of a century, Voltaire waged a sometimes solitary battle against the iniquities of organized religion. A great new book brings together fresh translations of some of the philosopher’s most biting works.
The venerable concept of the superhero team dates back to 1940, but in 1975 Marvel Comics introduced a new team of X-Men – and an empire was born.
Eileen Chang would never have written her hot-button anticommunist masterpiece Naked Earth without US Government encouragement and support. What should contemporary readers make of this?
He sailed around Cape Horn and wrote a classic about it, and he fought for the downtrodden in Boston courts for thirty years – he was Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and he’s the subject of a thought-provoking new biography.
Debut author Geoffrey Storm started down the usual path – writing conferences, agents – but then decided to take the route so many new authors are taking and self-publish his first novel. He talks with Open Letters about that process.
In his beautifully-written new book, ecologist Carl Safina takes a broader look at the emotional and mental lives of nonhuman animals
A professor of Italian clings to Dante’s Divine Comedy when confronted with an unthinkable tragedy in his own life
The half-legendary Maid of Orleans gets a refreshingly wide-angled new history from Helen Castor
A memoir of the first President Bush, written by his former Chief of Staff
Far from the popular image of ravenous killing machines, wolves are actually surprisingly cautious predators who carefully weigh the risks they take, as a stunning new study illustrates
Time and again in the history of life, environmental pressures and biological systems combine to produce the same adaptations in wildly different species and epochs. It’s called convergent evolution, and Simon Conway Morris has written its grand opera.
Biographer Zachary Leader takes his readers on a long, detailed tour of the first half of Saul Bellow’s life, and while those readers may be loving it, the critics have been complaining!
Adam Begley’s long and exhaustive biography of iconic 20th century author John Updike reads like one long string of new books and new love affairs – but does it capture the man?
The success of the documentary Blackfish has thrown a spotlight on orcas not as the “killer” whales of the ocean but as victims; a dazzling new natural history broadens the picture to show us truly magnificent alien beings.
Sure, we all know Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man – but what about the also-rans? Who played the Captain and Tennille to the Avengers’ Sonny and Cher? Zach Rabiroff looks at the heroes who didn’t quite make the prime-time cut.
The brutal realities of the urban landscape are both indicted and illuminated in the paintings of Jerome Witkin. Brett Busang examines the life and work of this inner city Canaletto.
Most people today know him only from the libretto of one short opera, but in his own day, he was a famous poet, playwright, and scholar – and a compulsive litigant. Luciano Mangiafico looks at the life of Giovanni Verga.
D. Graham Burnett, a young historian of science, produces a fantastic and important encyclopedic history of the long, torturous, often retrograde progress toward “Save the Whales.”
Tens of thousands of years ago, humans domesticated canines and thereby changed the dynamics of life on earth – a change humanity then continued by domesticating other species. A fascinating new book details the process
Millions of years ago, hominids began walking upright – thus expanding their field of view and freeing their hands for mischief and took-making. A new book celebrates the result.
Now in paperback in the US: the companion book to the popular BBC science program hosted by physicist Brian Cox
The “ecologies of attention and action” form the dynamic heart of philosopher Matthew Crawford’s new book. Robert Minto reviews.
How did the dynamics of kingship apply to a distant and socially maladroit little creature like King Charles I? A terrific new book looks at personality and power in the Stuart era
A new memoir about sleeplessness – and the wired culture that seems to encourage it
Now in paperback: a new rumination on the nature of the post-wildlife world mankind has built
Hilary Mantel’s two famous novels have fueled the centuries-old curiosity about King Henry VIII’s notorious minister Thomas Cromwell: was he a saint, Satan, or a civil servant? A magnificent new study attempts to sift fact from fiction
The 1596 battle over Blackfriars Theatre was waged by a strong-willed Puritan woman who had a habit of picking fights, including with the Queen; a terrific new book tells the story at length for the first time
In time for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo comes the concluding volume in Rory Muir’s magisterial biography of the battle’s victor, the Duke of Wellington
The enigmatic and compelling aristocratic author Vita Sackville-West is the subject of an approachable new biography
He shaped the morals and manners of a vast country and put an indelible stamp on the world’s thinking, but he himself couldn’t get the job he wanted. Robert Minto reviews a new history of Confucianism.
It has three hearts, eight tentacles, and a brain of startling and utterly alien complexity – it’s the octopus, and a heartfelt new book takes readers inside the cephalopod world. Justin Hickey reviews.
Celebrated biographer H. W. Brands has written the first full-dress of Ronald Reagan since the former president’s death in 2004 – but does Reagan elude him, as he has so many biographers? Steve Donoghue reviews.
The ecstasy and anguish of falling in love have been the stuff of poetry for thousands of years – but do they boil down to the workings of serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline? Jane Schmidt reviews a new look at romantic love.
Poet, dramatist, and author of the great Italian novel I promessi sposi, Alessandro Manzoni led a life as fascinating as his fiction. Luciano Mangiafico tells the story of the Father of Italian Prose.
“The eye says ‘Here is Anna Karenina,’” wrote Virginia Woolf; “A voluptuous lady in black velvet wearing pearls comes before us. But the brain says ‘that is no more Anna Karenina than it is Queen Victoria.’” Joe Wright’s cinematic adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel avoids the pitfalls of such literalism.
A group of rescuers in Southern California treat the most delicate patients imaginable: injured hummingbirds
A genuinely thought-provoking new work of science-writing probes the nature – and even the value – of noise
A short new biography seeks to do the impossible: encompass the Protean life of Goethe in only a handful of pages. Robert Minto reviews.
The pioneering English Egyptologist William Bankes gets a smart and vivacious new biography
The quintessential modern classic of gardening-literature gets a very nice reprint
A nature enthusiast looks at the countless little lives taking place on his small rural French meadow-farm
A wunderkind of the Canadian theater world writes an impassioned manifesto about everything that’s wrong with the theater world – with better results than you’d expect
During the Italian Renaissance, one enterprising autodidact took it upon himself to track down and transcribe as many inscriptions from the ancient world as he could find
The firebrand preacher and founder of the Presbyterian denomination is the subject of a masterful new biography
A former British White House correspondent looks back half a century at the two titans who ruled a now-vanished Washington
Religion and science – the so-called “non-overlapping magisteria” – are actually deeply adversarial, writes “Why Evolution is True” author Jerry Coyne
Renowned classicist and historian Peter Green has at last produced a translation of the Iliad – and it comes with its own Greek Chorus. Steve Donoghue investigates.
A sumptuous new Library of America volume contains a rich sampling of the work of Reinhold Niebuhr – whom reviewer Robert Minto refers to as “the premiere establishment theologian of the 20th century.”
Big slabs of glass may look impressive, but they have a serious effect on our interaction with art. Museums are changing, and it isn’t always a good thing.
Schubert’s bleak, tumultuous song cycle, Winterreise, is the subject of tenor Ian Bostridge’s passionate new book. Greg Waldmann examines Schubert’s Winter Journey, and the trouble with hard-to-love classical music.
From Wallace Stevens to Seamus Heaney to Jorie Graham, the latest collection of critical pieces by Helen Vendler celebrates the worth of a wide array of writers. Jack Hanson reviews The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar.
Into an unremarkable marriage comes a major disruption: the wife stops eating meat. Suddenly, everything in their usually orderly world goes out of control.
Michael Pye’s new book provides a rich history of the North Sea in human culture – and pokes holes in some crass nationalist myth-making along the way. Matt Ray reviews The Edge of the World.
Though most people don’t understand musical notation or the theory underlying it, nearly all classical music writing relies on it. Today, the initiate has a better option: YouTube.
Max Planck, the great physicist and father of quantum theory, gets a marvelous and empathetic new biography
A new biography takes advantage of recently-opened Soviet archives
In his moving account, now in paperback from New World Library, David Helvarg recounts the wonders and wealth of the world’s oceans
Cuckoos use other species of birds to raise the young they abandon, and they’ve been doing it for thousands of years without getting arrested. An absorbing new book isn’t precisely rooting for them, but still …
An extremely winning new book explores the enormous ways eight particular animal kinds have altered the course of human life on Earth
The latest full-dress biography of John Wilkes Booth seeks to get at the flesh-and-blood man beneath the monster
President Lincoln’s mercurial Secretary of War Edwin Stanton gets a full-dress biography that would have gladdened the heart of anybody who ever wanted to hit him with a shovel
The poet James Merrill at long last gets the lavish soup-to-nuts biography he’s always deserved
From the novelist, critic, and columnist Dale Peck comes a series of autobiographical essays and reflections about life during the height of the AIDS epidemic
Hilary Mantel’s best-selling Tudor novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, have made their way to the stage on the expert handling of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Zach Rabiroff had front row center.
A gigantic new biography chronicles the rise-to-power of Napoleon Bonaparte
Beyond the battles and trenches of the First World War, a dozen less glamorous but no less vital fights were being waged – in laboratories and darkrooms and publishing offices. A vibrant new book tells the story of the other World War I
800 years ago, King John “Lackland” sealed Magna Carta and unwittingly laid the foundation for some of Western law; a new book takes a fresh look at this much-maligned figure
In Michel Houellebecq’s uncannily timely new novel, the triumph of an Islamist government relieves the dreary banality that defines the secular France of the 21st century.
Traditional cynicism has always maintained that Benjamin Disraeli married Mary Anne Wyndham Lewis primarily for her money, but a new book argues that the real picture was a good deal more complex – and interesting – than that.
These fairies of the air are among the most beautiful sights of summer. They’re also 300 million years old and honed killing machines. A new book of photography shows us dragonflies as we’ve never seen them.
Author Jacob Silverman contends in his new book that the intrusions of social media into our private lives has reached sometimes intolerable extents. But what does he mean by “intolerable”? And who is he counting as “our”?
In his painting “Figure on a Bed,” John Koch immortalizes the kind of private moment that’s usually lost in an instant – Brett Busang muses on one arresting piece of art.
Set in the precarious territory between fiction and history, Nicolas Rothwell’s beautiful, haunting Belomor explores the ways storytelling serves as an impetus for self-discovery.
The 2nd Light Battalion King’s Division played a pivotal role at the Battle of Waterloo, as a slim new history by Brendan Simms demonstrates. Matt Ray reviews the book in his Open Letters debut.
The star translating team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (aided this time by Richard Nelson) translate Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, with predictably disruptive results. Jack Hanson reviews.
American senator, author, and statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s complex and constantly-evolving political philosophy is the subject of a pointed new book
One little spyglass – only four fingers long – changed the world; a sparkling new book tells the story of Galileo’s “recounting of the stars”
Dostoevsky’s great semi-fictionalized prison memoir gets a sterling new translation from the superstar team of Pevear and Volokhonsky
A lavishly-detailed new biography shows us Thomas Stearns Eliot in his slightly fussy, slightly feckless pre-fame years
One of the only two people at the deathbed of Samuel Johnson was a young ex-slave to whom Johnson was, in his testy way, devoted. A new book finally gives Francis Barber the biography he’s always deserved
Plato might be Western philosophy’s first great writer, but a new book argues we’ve mostly been reading him wrong.
A new book details the terrible destruction caused by a record-breaking series of tornadoes that struck the American South in 2011
The rebel pharaoh who instituted a radical new monotheism gets a highly-detailed and revisionist investigation
The daughter of the first President Roosevelt and the wife of the second President Roosevelt had a long and sometimes cross-purposed relationship. A new book dishes the old dirt.
“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” Woody Allen famously quipped; “I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” Robert Minto reviews a new book on what it takes to make it big in the literary afterlife
Wildly popular YouTube phenomenon Shane Dawson now has a BOOK!
Ian Fleming bought a run-down villa in Jamaica and used it as the workshop – and backdrop – for his world-famous James Bond novels. A new book takes us inside the world of Goldeneye
In a world very much like our own, super-powered clandestine operatives vie with each other on missions to save or destroy humanity
Every day, all around us, everything solid is inexorably corroding into powder. A game new book takes readers inside the surprisingly fascinating world of rust
He established Parliament, hammered the Scots, expelled the Jews, and inspired centuries of biographers – England’s King Edward I gets a lively new biography
Species arrive, thrive, and then go extinct – but after the long and frightful reign of Homo sapiens … what?
DC Comics gives writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s masterpiece The New Frontier, a shrewd and powerful re-imagining of DC’s iconic superheroes, the glorious hardcover edition it deserves. Justin Hickey re-reads.
The Works Progress Administration did more than set thousand of Americans to building bridges and roads in the 1930s; it also fostered art, as an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Art Gallery lavishly illustrates.
When Homo sapiens appeared in Europe 45,000 years ago, most of the long-established species there – including the Neanderthals – began to disappear. Did Homo sapiens wipe them out? And if so, did they have help from somebody right there in your living room?
Controversial Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei set an art installation inside the walls of America’s most notorious prisons – with surreal and sometimes beautiful results.
Ron Howard’s adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s bestselling In the Heart of the Sea will soon appear, but even the trailers raise rich questions: Why does this story still have the power to fascinate? A Moby-Dick fan ponders.
Stalking the pages of Thomas Pierce’s debut story collection, where the surreal shares quarters with the ordinary, are dwarf mammoths, genetically modified guard dogs, baby Pippin monkeys, and a parakeet named Magnificent.
Free thinker, strong-minded woman, scholar, lover, novelist: George Eliot lived a courageous life that should be known and celebrated. But does Brenda Maddox’s biography do it justice?
Nearly 40 years ago, the Voyager spacecraft left Earth bearing cameras to photograph the solar system – and messages of greetings to the wider galaxy. A terrific new book tells the story of a great human adventure
In Jo Walton’s latest novel, the “just city” of Plato’s Republic is brought to life via Greek gods, robots, and a little discreet time travel
An engaging new book looks at that perennial fascination for biographers, Niccolo Machiavelli
Two-time National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft kept a low profile (and a negligible paper trail) throughout a lifetime in Washington power-dealing; a compelling new book profiles the ultimate Oval Office insider
In the vastness of the world’s oceans, some mammals have evolved brains and language … and culture? A fascinating new book looks at the inner lives of whales and dolphins
Sartre the man takes a distant back seat to Sartre the thinker in Thomas Flynn’s new intellectual biography
To shut down his internal censors, Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote My Struggle at the astounding rate of over a thousand pages a year. The result is fiction that is vibrantly alive.
A new reprint line from the New York Review of Books concentrates on literature from – and on – China’s long literary history, and the first three volumes offer the strange, the familiar, and the beautiful.
Any new translation of a classic like Anna Kareninainevitably raises an awkward question: what was wrong with all the old translations? Debut writer Zach Rabiroff takes it line-by-line
Charles Marville’s extraordinary photographs of 19th-century Paris are like a cautionary tale, urging us to preserve the best of what is left in our own cities.
For centuries, women have handed down much more than recipes from their kitchens: they have shared the special alchemy that transforms the mundane into the magical.
An environmentalist writes an energetic and – despite everything – optimistic clarion call to better and smarter thinking about how mankind can ease its disastrous impact on nature
In 1950 a prominent Western nuclear physicist disappeared – and re-surfaced years later in the Soviet Union, helping the Russians to develop their atomic arsenal. A gripping new book tells the story of a traitor who was also a genius
World after world detected by powerful long-range telescopes are being shown to possess oceans – probably radically different from those of Earth; a new book looks at water worlds, our own and others
Brian Turner’s complex, lyrical meditations on his tour of duty in Iraq make us ache with the privilege that is a war memoir.
James Laughlin started a publishing imprint, New Directions, by selling what would become a syllabus of Modern writing from the trunk of his car.
As the Smithsonian’s new exhibit confirms, Richard Estes is the preeminent photo-realist painter of our time or–most likely–of any time. But to what extent is photo-realism an art worth practicing? And what does it do?
Open Letters Monthly interviews the author of Blood of Eagles, book three of the Bow of Heaven series.
Once he’d led the Continental Army to victory, General George Washington retired to his Mount Vernon home – but the newborn country wasn’t done with him yet. A new book looks at First Citizen Washington.
If comic book artist P. Craig Russell didn’t exist, we’d have to dream him up. Under the covers with a flashlight, Justin Hickey illuminates a pair of his sublime literature adaptations.
Gertrude van Tijn helped more than 20,000 Jews escape occupied Holland. What does it mean that, in saving their lives, she had to collaborate with Nazis?
Hugely talented biographer Andrew Roberts has written a big biography of Napoleon Bonaparte – but when it comes to such a well-known figure, are readers in danger of fatigue de bataille?
Maureen Thorson interviews Katy Bohinc, poet and author of Dear Alain.
What would you do if your artistic survival suddenly depended on the whims of a brutal dictatorship? How far would you compromise? How much would you risk? A new book studies artists in the Third Reich.
Norman Mailer was as fiery and mercurial a letter-writer as he was a novelist and journalist – and ten times as prolific. A big new volume collects the highlights of a lifetime in the post.
Can a book about the Jewish Diaspora add anything useful on the topic if it’s uninterested in Jewish history and slightly dodgy about the Diaspora? Jordan MaGill gives Alan Wolfe’s At Home in Exile a close reading.
The great critic and essayist Irving Howe laid claim to a great many decayed traditions – and then elevated them all to high art. A new collection of his prose presents some of his gems.
Against a pervasive American sports culture, author Steve Allmond pits a devastating critique of the savage violence – and staggering toll in injuries and deaths – of football.
Title Menu: A list of great political books that doesn’t include What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer
Just in time for the November midterm elections, we do what doubters said couldn’t be done: we present you with a list of ten great political books that doesn’t include Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes.
A reissue of James Agee’s letters to Father Flye give a picture of the writer’s naked ambition, excoriating self-hatred, and unrefined genius. But it also raises the question: Do we remember Agee more for what he wrote or what his addictions prevented him from writing?
When sudden death claimed poet Jake Adam York at the age of 40, it cut short his life’s work of commemorating all the martyrs of the American Civil Rights movement; Teow Lim Goh re-reads the man and his work.
Veteran historian Brookhiser takes a look at the formative influences on Abraham Lincoln – not so much his own father as the Founding Fathers.
In Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson explores both the dynamics of faith and the complacency of recent anti-faith screeds. But is her own book something of a fall from grace?
In his latest collection of essays, Theater of Cruelty, Ian Buruma launches a series of expert investigations into the springs of cruelty and the perils of victomhood.
For millennia, the mighty tales in the epics of Homer have challenged and enthralled the world; a thought-provoking new book seeks to understand why.
The wide-ranging themes of this wrenching novel are unified by imagery that links its heroine to an unexpected community of the traumatized living dead.
John Cage’s controversial music is his best-known legacy, but his voluminous writings and artwork, equally inventive, have been unfairly neglected. It’s time to right this wrong.
What does the summer of 1989, when Do the Right Thing hit theaters, have to say to the summer of Ferguson, and police militarization, and race relations today?
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, ill-served by critics when it appeared last year, is the finest sequel to the Alien movies yet made. Our contributing editor chooses ten exemplary minutes to make his case.
Modernist poet P. K. Page may be the most important Canadian author you’ve never heard of. An impressive new biography, replete with examples of Page’s poetry and prose, seeks to remedy that.
If you think distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art are stuffy Victorian relics, our beleagured Stephen Akey says, you’re just not paying enough attention. So are you a highbrow? And should you be? And should everybody be?
The great writers of the ages were hardly (often) one-hit wonders. In praise of diversity, the staff at OLM celebrate the lesser-known b-sides of some pretty well known pens.
Metaphor: a tool for poets and rhetoricians, but also, perhaps, the way that people connect to the world at large. Lianne Habinek reviews a gamesome new study by the great literary critic Denis Donoghue.
What place do deep questions about the meaning of life have in our technological age? Is philosophy more important than ever?
Cover art from Omni, the new-age science mag of yore, is now a coffee table book: Giger, Frazetta, and Grant Wood are all here, but something crucial has been left out.
Sam Harris, one of the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheist movement, has written a book about how to live a spiritual life without religion. But does this anti-preacher book come off a bit preachy? Maybe even, awkwardly enough, dogmatic?
How ought we to read the reactions of viewers to a piece of provocative art? What if that piece, like Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” is entirely to do with race?
“We can pour anything into it – any fear or catastrophe or yearning, any warning” – music both fills our lives and helps to shape them. But what happens if music starts, slowly, haltingly, to go away? A harrowing personal essay.
Over time, the books of our youth make way for titles better suited to the grown-up readers we have become. But not all of them: YA or not, some books — such as K. M. Peyton’s Pennington trilogy — deserve a lasting place on our shelves.
It’s summer at last, and you won’t find any relief from the heat in our editors’ round-up of the hottest books they know.
The collectors of rare 78 rpm records are nearly as singular and remarkable as the vinyl they seek out. A new book travels to flea markets and music fairs to discover the secrets of these American obsessives.
In the discipline of philosophy, “Aristotelian” evokes not just a school of thought but an entire world. “Ethics After Aristotle” traces the history and impact of the most influential thought-tradition of them all.
With suicides on the rise throughout the Western world, a recent study by Jennifer Hecht attempts to both diagnose the frightening trend and evangelize against it. Ivan Kenneally discusses how effective her arguments are likely to be.
Legendary Indian author Saadat Hasan Manto’s choicest short stories – depicting a teeming Bombay that’s both long-vanished and eternal – receive an attractive new paperback edition from Vintage International
A fascinating new book tells the remarkable stories of five ‘improbable’ women who defied convention to explore the much mythologised landscape of the Middle East.
Elia Kazan’s unwavering confidence in his own brilliance was the spur to his successes as a director and the source of his infamy as a Cold War canary. A new collection of his letters makes his outsized personality seem even larger.
Rock music is all about inflaming the senses. Rock biographies, on the other hand, are built from facts and reasoned explanations. Matthew Stevens looks at a study of the life of Big Star frontman Alex Chilton, and wonders what fans can get out of it.
Joseph Roth spent his life fighting the kind of lazy dangers that arise from the rot of empire, even as his life and his letters embodied so many of them.
Marvel Comics is mopping up at the box office, but what of its rival DC? Our resident expert fisks the also-rans and reminds us about an epic story still waiting to be adapted.
Like so many before him, the celebrated Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley had a tangled and complicated history with Italy, equal parts inspiration and frustration. Luciano Mangiafico tells the story
William S. Burroughs’s notorious Cut-up Trilogy was his fiercest broadside against what he felt was the tyranny of linear thought. Steve Danziger delves into their Word Hoard.
Isabel Greenberg’s graphic novel is set in the frozen land of Nord, but its lush storytelling influences come from such legendary places as Mount Olympus and Mount Sinai
Years ago, while on the hunt for writing material, Walter Kirn befriended an eccentric, dog-loving raconteur named Clark Rockefeller. Then Rockefeller was charged with murder, kidnapping and identity fraud, and Kirn had his book. G. Robert Ogilvy reviews Blood Will Out.
Raintree County may be the greatest American novel nobody has ever read. When Michael Johnson pulled it off his shelf, he was instantly hooked: maybe it’s time for a revival.
It’s Melbourne in the late 1920s and violence keeps intruding into the elegant world of jazz clubs, cocktails, and fabulous fashion. No matter: Phryne Fisher is on the case.
Art crimes aren’t really sexy: they are an offense against humanity. Leah Triplett offers up a catalog of recent studies that explain the criminal attraction to art.
The great and problematic poet Robert Browning drew some of his most powerful poetic inspirations from the lore and lure of Italy; Luciano Mangiafico traces the complicated relationship of the man to his “adopted homeland.”
The books we reread say a lot about who we are or who we hope to be. They also shape us, as Rebecca Mead discovers in exploring her own long relationship with George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
How could they do it, those young men who, with every reason to live, walked deliberately into machine-gun fire? Joe Sacco gives us a panoramic view of the horror, the labor, and the losses of WWI.
When in her twenties, Flannery O’Connor recorded her prayers in a private journal. Newly published, they shed light on her youthful theology, her literary ambitions, and the role of faith in the fiction she was soon to write.
For years, pioneering blogger Andrew Sullivan was one of the most vocal supporters of the war in Iraq. Time and the war’s wretched progress gradually forced him to change his thinking, however, and a new collection of his writings on the subject charts the disillusioning step-by-step.
Spike Jonze is the most mainstream of indie directors — or the most indie of mainstream directors — and his newest film Her is a triumph of quirky charm and visionary depth. Matt Sadler reviews.
The player is alone in the game, both sole survivor and unquestioned sovereign, but what’s at the heart of such games? Phillip Lobo examines the loneliness of the long-distance gamer
In self-imposed exile from England, Lord Byron entered a tempestuous love affair with Italy, renting palaces, swimming the canals of Venice, treating his loved ones abominably, and writing great poetry the whole time. The two-part “Byron in Italy” concludes the epic tale.
Having tried therapy and medication to treat his anxiety disorder, Scott Stossel turned to writing. His new book, part memoir, part cultural history, may be an essential document of our agitated age.
What — and who — is required to maintain a public persona of the magnitude of Margaret Atwood’s? A new book explores the phenomenon and implications of literary celebrity.
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.
Byron was mad, bad, and dangerous to know — and eventually his amorous, adventurous spirit led him to Italy.
Perhaps the strangest things about the paintings of Marc Chagall is how frequently they feature Christian iconography. But the habit speaks less to a tension in Chagall’s Judaism, Ivan Kenneally suggests, than his attempt to universalize his people’s suffering.
John Ford’s story of star-crossed lovers is bloodier than Shakespeare’s and more heart-wrenching, too, for it’s a tragedy of childhood, of innocence lost.
“Do you see?” the Narrator says. “Don’t you know you were dead the minute you hit Start?” Phillip Lobo deciphers The Stanley Parable
Led on by a “shared obsession,” a philosopher and a psycyhoanalyst have teamed up to offer their interpretation of Hamlet. With the ghosts of countless critics looming before them, how has this pair fared?
John Singer Sargent is often simplistically dismissed as a picture-postcard portraitist. A new exhibition of his watercolors is a reminder of how strange and subversive–not to say beautiful–his work could be.
From the agora 2,400 years ago to the present day, the schools of Plato and Aristotle have been locked in combat; a new book sees the struggle in disarmingly simple terms.
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?
Jonathan Franzen has translated and annotated a collection of essays by Karl Kraus, the Austrian polemicist known as the Great Hater and one of the signal curmudgeonly influences behind Franzen’s fiction.
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.
Throughout its history, humankind has been both terrified by and obsessed with monsters – hence the booming ‘cryptid’ industry, traversing the globe in search of legendary beasts like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. A new book looks at the science and psychology behind our modern bogeymen.
The style of Clarice Lispector’s unconventional and uneasy fiction was driven by both social anxiety and physical pain. How did this transubstantiation take place?
Thick with atmosphere, lush with visual design, and sporting more than a few influences of steampunk, “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs” is a video game Karl Marx might have played – and even enjoyed.
The Modernist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker was Immortalized (and insulted) in Rilke’s “Requiem for a Friend,” yet who today knows her art? A new monograph returns it to the public eye.
The USSR’s Book of Tasty and Healthy Food created an impression of bounty and gourmet splendor; Anya von Bremzen’s memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking reveals the Soviet kitchen’s homelier truths
An aspiring young writer encounters the journals of legendary Canadian novelist Elizabeth Smart, whose virtuoso novella By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept gives no hint of her struggles with her own writing
Henry Darger, icon of Outsider Art, created unnerving scenes of naked, tortured children. A new biography sets out to clear his name from would-be charges of pedophilia–but is it a reputation that really needs saving?
Today George Orwell is a buzzword; what can his collected letters tell us about the man himself? G. Robert Ogilvy looks for the human being beneath the persona.
Many composers and musicians believe we are in a golden age of experimental creativity in composition. So why does the general concert-going public hate the results?
All of European history – and beyond – plays out in new and fascinating variations of guns, germs, and steel in Paradox Interactive’s new version of its popular video game Europa Universalis
What you don’t know about bacteria can hurt you, and a new addition to the Oxford Very Short Introduction series aims to set that straight.
President, prime minister, or unnamed Tsar, Vladimir Putin is at once ubiquitous and unknowable; a new book examines the many facets of a new species of autocrat.
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.
Alan Moore’s Watchmen is widely regarded as the best graphic novel of them all, and Moore has been outspoken in his condemnation of sequels and spin-offs, refusing to sanction DC Comics’ recent “Before Watchmen” string of mini-series. Was Moore right? Or is there creative life after his masterpiece? Justin Hickey explores.
It became entangled with the imperial hopes of a nation and inspired the design of one of the most significant buildings of the 19th century, the Crystal Palace: a new book explores the remarkable story of the Amazonian water lily.
A young man on a tentative law school track encounters the fiction of Philip Roth, and suddenly, his lostness acquires a commanding sense of purpose. An essay by Barrett Hathcock.
The Knight of the Burning Pestle began its theatrical run in1607—and concluded it almost immediately. But why? Colleen Shea explores the mysterious failure of this hilarious, satirical, meta-theatrical romp.
‘Everyone knows who won the war,’ runs the refrain of Muriel Rukeyser’s Savage Coast; her newly published 1930 novel about the Spanish Civil War shows what it meant to be a witness to it.
In the latest video game iteration of the current media zombie craze, a history teacher from Georgia confronts the undead hordes – and what those hordes may say about contemporary America
The stories of British writer H.H. Munro, known by his pen-name Saki, are devastating studies in torment and cruelty; they’re also exceptionally funny. A new collection offers a bracing reminder of that duality.
The man behind the trillion-dollar “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise (and, more recently, the high-profile “Lone Ranger” flop) has been characterized as a hack, a purveyor of standard-issue Hollywood dreck. But, asks Tucker Johnson, is there art buried in the films of Gore Verbinski?
Shirley Jackson is best known – infamous, even – for her chilling story “The Lottery.” But it’s her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, where battle rages between evil within and without, that’s her masterpiece.
Near the end of his life, Orson Welles tape-recorded his lunches with a faithful industry friend. By turns hilarious and self-pitying, they give a brilliant glimpse of the aging titan. As Steve Danziger discovers, it’s almost a shame Welles didn’t make his living as a conversationalist.
When Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1964, her moral authority was called into question. Now Margarethe von Trotta’s new film Hannah Arendt explores both who has the right and who has the responsibility to speak about the Holocaust.
They breathe poison gas and eat old bones and stones; they are sightless, deaf, and ageless; they flourish in temperatures that would melt iron or freeze concrete; and they live on the strangest planet in the known universe: Earth
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
As the haze and heat of summer kick into full swing, the folk of Open Letters break out their annual Summer Reading recommendations!
Our feature continues, as more Open Letters folk share their annual Summer Reading recommendations!
Olivia Manning: A Woman at War
By Deirdre David
Oxford University Press, 2013
When is a woman writer not a “woman writer”? What does it mean to claim or resist that identity — for a woman who writes, …
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.
Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster is merely the newest Great Gatsby for film or television–four adaptations before it attempted to capture the dazzle and pathos of the classic. Matt Sadler us on a tour of West Egg across the decades.
“I hope they pay you well for your obedience, dog” – two new video games explore the parameters of authority and the constraints of law. Doesn’t sound like a fun afternoon, but as Phillip Lobo discovers, there are darker pleasures lurking in the fine print of the social contract.
Bohemian Back Bay was as key to Copley Square as aristocratic Back Bay and black artist models figured not only in Sargent’s work, but in Fred Holland Day’s too.
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
In a new memoir packed with garbled madness, we get a funhouse-mirror autobiography of the legendary Richard Hell, who did more than anybody to invent punk rock and only haphazardly survived to tell the tale
Does love create an unbridgeable distance between two souls? Marco Roth’s searching memoir of his microbiologist father alternates between longing and numbness in its search for what, if anything, binds fathers and sons
Artist Laura Carton does not surf pornography for the usual reasons, By digitally removing the ‘actors’ from their backgrounds, she creates strangely suggestive landscapes. In this interview she addresses both her process and her plan.
In this latest installment of his Mix Tape series, our writer discovers a new world of digital lore for young music fans and contrasts it with his analogue lessons of yore
A startling triptych illuminates the crossroads of social, racial, and sexual identity in the Copley Square of a century ago, as “The Gods of Copley Square” continues
A radio voice crackles “Hallelujah,” and Booker DeWitt’s violent, surreal steampunk adventures in Columbia begin again in the latest BioShock chapter, BioShock Infinite
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
Traumatized by her baby’s kidnapping and murder, disappointed in her marriage to a fallen hero, Anne Morrow Lindbergh found hope in the beautiful, fragile shells she found on the beach. The result was her gentle masterpiece Gifts from the Sea.
An incurious and indifferent Jew journeys to Auschwitz to confront the kitsch and the manicured ruins, looking for a sense of connection – and finding it in the most unlikely places
The ideal player for Capcom’s new version of “Devil May Cry” must be a ballerina of death-dealing, striking down an endless array of foes with an endless array of weapons. But how will all of this strike the other-than-ideal player?
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 great Russian writer Maxim Gorky’s heart may always have been in Russia, but for years his intermittent stays in Italy stirred his creativity and fired his passion. “In love you discover everything right away,” he wrote – and he loved Italy.
The media just won’t leave old man Voltaire alone! We run a transcript of the latest interview.
He may not have anything new to tell us today, but as Spencer Lenfield demonstrates, Gilbert Highet’s friendly, engaging pedagogy is still rare enough to keep him relevant.
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.
After fictionalizing his experiences in his previous four books, Aleksandar Hemon revisits his memories in a new collection of essays.
Sviatoslav Richter called Pictures at an Exhibition the “best Russian work for piano, amen”; many know it best through Ravel’s lush orchestration, which Richter considered “an abomination.” This beloved piece becomes even more resonant when you know its genesis in Mussorgsky’s friendship with the architect-artist Viktor Hartmann.
After his first visit to Italy, Mark Twain pronounced her “one vast museum of magnificence and misery,” and yet he returned again and again. Luciano Magniafaco chronicles his journeys.
New York artist Christo wants to drape 5.9 miles of silvery fabric over a 42 mile stretch of the Arkansas River. The sketches are lovely, but locals and environmentalists are horrified. Who’s in the right?
His repertoire was small, he was no barnstormer, and he gave up full-time concertizing in 1978. But Van Cliburn, who died yesterday at age 78, is to this day the most famous pianist America has …
The belief that Jews are the enemy of civilization is one of the West’s most tenacious and systemic ideas. Professor David Nirenberg’s new history offers a vast, seemingly inexhaustible record of a very old, very useful hatred.
When the Paris Review, long regarded as a literary standard-bearer, publishes a volume on the art of the short story, it flushes a flurry of conversations into the open: what is a short story? What constitutes an anthology-worthy example? What’s the audience for this kind of thing? And: can these stories answer such questions?
Has there ever been a time in American history when the gun-and-violence-obsessed subtext of video games was more problematic? Special Ops: The Line puts you in the place of a grizzled, gun-wielding expert – but it doesn’t necessarily want you to feel good about that.
Joseph Epstein has a cult following as a sharp-tongued critic and essayist. His latest collection showcases his love of words and ideas as well as his caustic wit.
Year after year, D. H.Lawrence found love, lust, and gainful employment in Italy – and through the strange alchemy of the place, he also found the inspirations for some of his most enduring works of art.
A conversation about the enduring appeal of Pride & Prejudice.
Say “Evgeny Onegin” to any educated Russian and you will trigger the first stanza or two of Pushkin’s great novel in verse. Now Russia’s national poet is finally coming into his own in the West as well.
Unsettled and penniless, James Joyce’s exile was initially more imrpovised than cunning. Luciano Mangiafico tells the story of his early years on the continent.
Ben Jonson said that the once wealthy and acclaimed Edmund Spenser died “for want of bread”; a new biography tries to disentangle myth from fact, and to make the case for the great poet’s relevance today
A conversation with cover artist Aaron Angello
Not every actor gets the plum role of vampire hunter and romantic lead Jonathan Harker. Steve Brachmann reflects on his part in the Dracula-inspired rock musical The Dead English
Long before Hairpin and Jezebel, Jane Collier, under the influence of Jonathan Swift, was savagely satirizing women’s ettiquette guides in her work An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting. Chris R. Morgan revisits the caustic classic.
What do Christopher Marlowe and the newly discovered Higgs boson particle have in common? Anthony Lock explores the connection, by way of unified fields.
Open Letters mourns the loss of Charles Rosen, pianist, scholar, teacher and critic.
Anthony Burgess the novelist had dreams of being a composer. He had little success, but along the way he delved deep into the nature and meaning of music.
A Clockwork Orange turned 50 this year and received the gift of an anniversary edition. Justin Hickey looks anew at the novel Anthony Burgess claimed to have knocked off in three weeks, and which made him famous.
Some of Anthony Burgess’ most accomplished inventions roam into the past, to Shakespeare and Marlowe’s England and Jesus’ Judea. How well has his historical fiction stood up across the years?
Burgess gave himself room to stretch his arms (and facts) in the two volumes of his Confessions. That space to digress, opine, sing songs, is what makes both books so memorable — even indispensable.
Give Anthony Burgess a check and he’d write anything, even a Time-Life picture book. Which doesn’t mean that his 1976 guide to New York is anything less than fascinating.
Commissioned to translate Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Anthony Burgess decided on a few changes to the text. What were they, and what do they teach us about fate?
Nate Silver is currently enjoying his status as that unlikeliest of people, the celebrity statistician. Does his bestseller The Signal and the Noise live up to its carefully calculated expectations?
“I knew my trip would mean an encounter with Adela Quested”: Victoria Olsen reflects on what she found, and what was lost in translation, when she travelled to India with E. M. Forster on her mind.
Bossophilia: The idolization of Bruce Springsteen that comes from midlife nostalgia and a fear of dying. Steve Danziger confronts the phenomenon, and a new biography.
As Americans go to the polls this month to elect a president, some recent biographies examine the lives of five very different men who once held the office.
The fairy tale has been through several metamorphoses; the next might result in its extinction. Max Ross reviews Jack Zipes’s cultural history of the genre.
“Although virtually all subjects were still religious, their humanity was brought to the fore, emphasizing that God, in the form of Jesus Christ, was made man and that He, and the Virgin Mary, and saints, like us, had human features”
Once upon a time, the hive-mind of the Internet set to work creating a modern-day bogey man who lurks in plain sight – and so “Slender Man,” the dark mirror image of “Where’s Waldo,” was born
“Perhaps a little drunk might answer” was Phillips Brooks’s idea of how to view Pre-Raphaelite art, several masterpieces of which he commissioned for Trinity Church. “Centerpiece” continues.
You may wonder if Vivaldi’s overexposed Four Seasons needs a new recording, but Max Richter’s inspired recomposition gives the hoary old favorite a shot in the arm
Can a famously cold and impersonal writer like Paul Auster make a memoir of aging that works against his strengths? And are they strengths after all?