Displaying articles for: February 2011

Hidden Harmonies

Is "a squared plus b squared equals c squared" more famous than "e equals mc squared?" The theorem formulated by Pythagoras has certainly been around longer than Einstein's, thereby accruing a commensurately greater amount of lore and usage. With mathematical insight and welcome wit, Ellen and Robert Kaplan trace the influence of the Pythagorean theorem through the millennia—enlisting the help of Leonardo Da Vinci, President James Garlfield, and the Freemasons along the way.

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Lastingness: The Art of Old Age

Man of letters Nicholas Delbanco, himself nearly seventy years young, turns his keen sensibility to the matter of old age, finding in the lives of a variety of famous creators secrets to maintaining vitality of mind and soul as the years add up.

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The Devotion of Suspect X

One of the most popular thriller writers in his native land, Keigo Higashino won Japan's Naoki Prize for Best Novel with this intricate, psychologically compelling tale in which a woman kills her ex-husband and is abetted in her alibi by a brilliant mathematician intent on replotting her act of passion into a perfect crime.

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Heart of the City

Perfect reading in your Valentine's Day afterglow: in this nonfiction study of nine urban romances, Ariel Sabar illustrates that it's not always biology that dictates love's destiny—sometimes it's location, location, location. He winningly depicts New York City as a gigantic Rube Goldberg device for tossing people together and inspiring unexpected intimacy.

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Kingpin

A thrilling narrative of the hunt for a master cybercriminal. A former hacker himself, author Kevin Poulsen inhabits the mind and milieu of infamous data thief Max Butler with immense verve and empathy as he chronicles the frantic attempts by authorities to find the culprit behind much expensive online mischief.

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While Mortals Sleep

These posthumously uncovered stories from the great philosophical fantasist and humorist hail from the early part of his career, when he was writing for the "slick magazine" marketplace. Consequently, they exhibit more whimsy than savagery, and an Eisenhower-era perspective on life—albeit infused with Vonnegut's trademark lateral thinking.

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The English Opium Eater

Writing in the Washington Post, BNR columnist Michael Dirda hails this groundbreaking volume as "a lucid, deeply researched biography," and recommends sampling De Quincey's own writings first for best appreciation of his life's tale. In Robert Morrison's portrait, De Quincey emerges, in one aspect, as the forerunner of today's flood of tell-all memoirists.

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West of Here

Jonathan Evison's ambitious, absorbing novel proves that a small town harbors all the emotional scope needed to fuel fiction on an epic scale. Set on the Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest, this satisfying creation is vivid with history, culture, and human stories that stretch from the last decade of the 19th century to the first decade of the 21st.

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A Discovey of Witches

The ivory tower blushes bright red in Deborah Harkness's addictively readable debut novel, in which daemons, witches, and vampires ancient and modern descend upon Oxford's Bodleian Library when a bewitched alchemical manuscript is discovered. Smart, vivid fun.

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House of Prayer No. 2

Novelist Mark Richard (Fishboy) proves with this hypnotic memoir that his own life possesses the Southern Gothic allure of any tale by Faulkner or O'Connor. Crippled and ostracized as a youth, Richard embarks on a dark odyssey of Jim-Thompson magnitude.

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Radioactive

An interpretive biography of the life of Marie Curie in unconventional graphic novel form, Redniss's tale benefits from her on-the-spot research into the various venues frequented by Curie. Blocks of robustly informative text are bolstered by drawings reminiscent of Egon Schiele's work, in an aptly European style.

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Ugly Beauty

What a convoluted backstory lurks in a bottle of mascara or a tube of lipstick bearing the Rubinstein or L'Oreal trademarks! Fierce rivals till their eventual hostile merger, the two companies share pasts steeped in European history and culture, from Nazi collaboration to evolving gender politics. All is ably chronicled in this fascinating study by Ruth Brandon.

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How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One

"Good sentences promise nothing less than lessons and practice in the organization of the world," writes legal scholar and literary theorist Stanley Fish in this jewel of a book, in which the author admires the anatomy and beauty of single sentences, parsing micro-masterpieces from Shakespeare to Elmore Leonard. Even the title of Chapter Two proves highly intriguing: "Why You Won't Find the Answer in Strunk and White."

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Gryphon

Having displayed equal finesse with both short and long fiction (especially the sublime novel, Feast of Love), Charles Baxter here offers 23 allied stories detailing the lives of his sober and good-intentioned but still somewhat afflicted Midwesterners, crafting a sympathetic portrait of the region that's part Garrison Keillor, part Sherwood Anderson, and part Alfred Hitchcock.

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Under the Poppy

After several years devoted to producing innovative YA novels, Kathe Koja returns to the mode that first earned her literary recognition: weird and kinky surrealism for adults. A kind of Weimar decadence overspreads this tale of a late-19th-century Brussels brothel and its bizarre habitués.

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The Science of Kissing

Dooley Wilson may sing "a kiss is just a kiss" in Casablanca, but science journalists like Sheril Kirshenbaum know that even the most fundamental things can benefit from having curiosity applied to them, as in her enlightening examination of the history, science, and prospects of osculatory pursuits.

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The Book of Symbols

This Carl Jung-inspired guide to the potent archetypal images that throng our consciousness is the perfect side dish to the main course of Jung's own excursion into numinous mythological realms, The Red Book (until its appearance in 2009, the most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology). Illustrating and explicating the etymology, psychic dynamics, and interplay of over 300 motifs, The Book of Symbols rewards both browsing and intense study.

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Ill Met by Moonlight

W. Stanley Moss's true story of one of the Second World War's most daring adventures unfolds on the island of Crete, where British commandos and Greek resistance fighters kidnap Nazi General Heinrich Kreipe and spirit him away to British-occupled Egypt. Added to the thrill of the caper itself is the reader's delight in realizing that standing tall among its ingenious heroes is one of the best English prose writers of modern times, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

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The Anatomy of Ghosts

Blending classic spooky doings with domestic tragedy, award-winning British mystery writer Andrew Taylor takes the reader on an emotionally touching and intellectually stimulating adventure, set in 1786 at Jerusalem College, Cambridge. Evoking the eerie enchantments of ghost story master M. R. James, Taylor's rich novel wraps a riveting story around a philosophical quest into the afterlife.

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April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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