Displaying articles for: April 2011

Lost in Shangri-La

In the history of World War II, tales of battlefield heroics have often obscured odder but no less stirring exploits. Mitchell Zuckoff's fascinating chronicle remedies one such lacuna, as it brings to light a perilous quest for survival following a plane crash in Dutch New Guinea, in which a trio of American soldiers survive the elements, warlike islanders, and fate through a series of adventures worthy of Indiana Jones.

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Obliquity

The most interesting, useful, and liberating book of advice this year, economist John Kay's argument for the efficacy of indirection is both intuitive and practical, supported with examples from business, politics, sports, parenting, and literature. The best path to both goals and satisfaction, says Kay persuasively, is most surely an indirect one.

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The Other Side of the Mirror

This eloquent and timely travel book, by BNR columnist Brooke Allen, offers a fresh, informed, and often surpising portrayal of contemporary Syria and its people, with much welcome pondering of the richness of its past, from the ancient cities of Aleppo and Damascus to Crusader castles.

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Up Against It

Although billed as a virginal production by M. J. Locke, this "debut" novel really represents the stealth relaunch of a fine writer, Laura Mixon-Gould. A state-of-the-art solar system space opera finds the heroine struggling against an assortment of engineering troubles that bedevil the asteroid colony of Phoecea. A page-turning parable, one might say, for the crumbling infrastructure of our own era.

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Elizabeth I

Margaret George's capacious historical novel offers a portrait of the Elizabethan Age in duelling voices—one belonging to Queen Bess herself and the other to her lookalike cousin and enemy, Lettice Knollys. There's room enough for political machinations, palace intrigues, romantic passion—and Shakespeare, too.

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The Good Book

Beginning his "humanist Bible" not with Eve's apple but with Isaac Newton's, philosopher (and BNR columnist) A. C. Grayling has imagined and fashioned a non-religious scripture  from the secular wisdom of both the Western and Eastern traditions. The result is a harvest of history, reflection, proverbs, and philosophy drawn from souces as diverse—and as humanly allied—as Confucius, Herodotus, and Montaigne.

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God's Secretaries

Easter week seems a good time to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible by recommending a favorite book that chronicles its making. The author, Adam Nicolson, as Katherine A. Powers once wrote, "is a partisan of this great work as a vessel containing the inherited glory and grace of the English language," and we share her admiration for his 2003 volume.

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In Search of Civilization

A brave and spirited assault against the forces of cultural entropy, this meditation upon the virtues of civilization by a down-to-earth philosopher proves that what is most missing from our civic discourse is a long-range perspective steeped in enduring verities.

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Moondogs

It has been famously said of the Philippines that the nation spent "three hundred years in the convent, and fifty years in Hollywood," as a result of sequential colonial rule by Spain and the USA. Yates's exuberant, rambunctious, and delightfully gonzo first novel might reverse that ratio as it captures the holy libertinism of the island nation in a compelling, unpredictable, fast-paced magical-realist narrative.

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The Silent Land

A new novel from the elegant, sophisticated, unclassifiable writer of fantastika, Graham Joyce, is always a reason to celebrate. His scenario this time out involves a married couple trapped by an avalanche in the French Pyrenees, and the Twilight-Zone creepiness that follows. A haunting meditation on individuals removed from all societal frameworks and stranded in the strange core of being.

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Pleasure Bound

Deborah Lutz strips the petticoats from the Victorian era to reveal the velvet underground of sexual shenanigans indulged in by royalty and commoner alike.

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Lyrics Alley

A family tale set in 1950s Sudan, a nation on the verge of independence from British and Egyptian rule, Leila Aboulela's autobiographical novel finds its Muslim characters caught between forces of tradition and modernity, wealth and want, fate and faith. The author's unerring imaginative grasp of the comforts and constraints of family ties—and the liberating impetuses of suffering and creativity—casts a universal glow over this carefully drawn Sudanese saga.

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Kraken

At a relatively shallow depth of ocean, our real knowledge of what goes on down below—and of what kind of creatures inhabit the midnight waterscape—is as primitive as our knowledge of conditions on Mercury. This fascinating volume focuses on one inhabitant of that realm, the lordly giant squid, long the subject of lore and legend.

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Best of Times, Worst of Times

America's first Gilded Age produced Mark Twain, Henry James, Willa Cather, and a flock of other notables. Will our current climate of economic imbalance, ruinous vanity, joyous nihilism, and wild-eyed millennialism produce a similar wealth of literary talent? Only posterity can say for sure. But this volume of stories from such luminaries as Junot Diaz, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Walter Mosley sets the bar admirably high.

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Horoscopes for the Dead

Disarmingly amiable, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins hides an intricate intellectual etiquette behind the easy-going surface of his poems. His works are not only enjoyable, but memorable, too, as this characteristically mordant new collection proves.

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Drawing Conclusions

Donna Leon's twentieth Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery has all the qualities that have made the series one of the most enduring pleasures in contemporary detective fiction: a noble and credible hero, an endlessly fascinating setting (Venice), a bracing concern for social justice, and, best of all for this reader, secondary characters—I'm thinking of Brunetti's wife Paola and his resourceful colleague Signorina Elettra—who always seem to steal the show.

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The Alice Behind Wonderland

Immortal Alice Liddell, juvenile muse to Lewis Carroll, has starred in a novel by Geoff Ryman, an Ian Holm film, and a pornographic comic by Alan Moore, among many other posthumous excursions. Now, bestselling historian Simon Winchester, riffing on the famed portrait of Alice as a beggar child, seeks to plumb the actuality of her life and the mysterious relationship with a bookish Oxford don that inspired a seemingly infinite Wonderland.

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Volt

If the Coen Brothers filmed Flannery O'Connor's stories using the ghost of Grant Wood as set and costume designer, the resulting film might resemble the tales in this career-launching collection from Alan Heathcock, a writer distinguished by his poetic treatment of the quotidian violence that underpins too much of American life.

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Moneymakers

Debut author Ben Tarnoff explores three historical incidents of colorful counterfeiting that entertain as true-crime narratives at the same time as they illuminate America's love affair with an easy illegal buck (especially when rationalized by anti-federalist fervor). The roguish romance of DIY currency, Tarnoff opines, will always be with us.

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April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

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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