Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu

Marco Polo came of age in a city of night edging toward dawn; it was opaque, secretive and rife with transgressions and superstitions. This description of Polo's native Venice, from Laurence Bergreen's vivid biography of the famous 13th-century traveler, is as romantic as any inspired by that fabled city. And it's in keeping with the book's emphasis on the exhilarating spectacle of Marco Polo's breakthrough travels. Not that there's any lack of detail about the restless career of the man himself, which truly began when his ambitious father took him thousands of miles to offer young Marco up as human tribute to the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. But the heart of the book is in the profusion of magnificent episodes: the dangers of the Silk Road, the battle scenes (elephants vs. mounted archers), and the legendary grandeur of Kublai's palace. Indeed, "legendary" is a key concept here: as Bergreen notes, the further into Asia Polo traveled, the more his reports on his destination verged on the fabulous. Luckily, for readers of this entertaining and richly detailed portrait, the pleasure is all in the journey itself. -

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.