Displaying articles for: June 2011

Daughters of the Revolution

1968 boasts hundreds of books chronicling its majesty and weirdness. But such is the complexity and relevance of the year that another well-done volume is always welcome, and Carolyn Cooke ups the ante with her period novel by injecting a dose of African-American sass into the whitebread environment of a fusty prep school, where a lone female student threatens to revolutionize the staid establishment: the whole era in miniature!

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See a Little Light

This is an age of marvelous memoirs from rockers of a certain vintage:  Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Patti Smith. Now comes a standout entry from a slightly younger musician. Bob Mould, born 1960, came to prominence during the mid-80s with his band Hüsker Dü. He lays bare the trials and tribulations behind the trio's success, and charts his subsequent solo career with insightful poetry and a gravitas that matches his famous sonic assaults.

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Conscience

Louisa Thomas surveys the early-twentieth-century past of her own family when four brothers faced an ethical dilemma that divided one household: to serve in the military during the Great War or not. Thomas charts the unpredictable destinies of these four siblings as they live with their choices while also offering a fine depiction of the nascent Jazz Age milieu.

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Nothing Daunted

Dorothy Wickenden, descendant of one of the two pioneering women at the heart of this remarkable tale, recreates a lost moment from a century ago, when two Eastern-seaboard society women ventured into the Wild West to teach school, astonish the natives, and become integral citizens of the Colorodo frontier. Dramatizing the constraints that female free spirits faced not so long ago, Wickenden creates a fable for dreamers of all eras and genders.

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Witness to an Extreme Century

85 years old and still going strong, Robert Jay Lifton--the man who popularized the term "brainwashing"--charts his own life as it parallels the highs and lows of humanity over the past century.  From an unassuming childhood in Brooklyn, Lifton became a teller of truth to power and a beloved teacher and mentor to multiple generations of students, evolving the science of psychohistory along the way.  

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Alice Bliss

Originally a short, one-woman musical called Alice Unwrapped, this tender-hearted novel uses its larger canvas to delve more deeply into the plight of adolescent Alice, struggling to be strong for her mother and her younger sister after her father is deployed to Iraq. Laura Harrington poignantly captures the conflicting emotions of those left at home during wartime.

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The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

Expanding his 2009 Vanity Fair piece about Christian Gerhartsreiter--a real-life Tom Ripley who managed to parlay his silver tongue and feverish imagination into an high-class imposture--Mark Seal explores an incredible hoax that reeled in countless victims. The human wreckage that "Clark Rockefeller" left in his wake is astonishing, yet you can't help but marvel at the nerve of this brazen anti-hero.

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Manstein: Hitler's Greatest General

Mungo Melvin's biography of Field Marshal Erich von Manstein depicts the career of a general as accomplished as Erwin Rommel, albeit less well known. Accorded high honors for military brilliance by both his peers and his enemies, von Manstein possessed a genius in the field that was matched only by his independence of spirit (he disobeyed Hitler and was punished for his temerity). His long postwar career helped Germany to recover from the havoc he had unleashed.

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South of Superior

When Madeline Stone arrives in McAllaster, Michigan, she's on the run from a troubled past. She finds a small town where the cash-strapped are rich in spirit, the elderly are childlike, and something as complicated as love becomes pure and simple. Ellen Airgood's debut novel is a heartwarming and tender tale of the power of place.

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The Ridge

In this new thriller from the author of The Cypress House, a subtle supernaturalism pervades events in a remote region of Kentucky, where one man's architectural folly collides with a well-meaning woman's desire to befriend big cats, resulting in an desperate wave of harrowing behavior.

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Fire and Rain

David Browne documents the recording of four landmark albums in 1970--Let It Be by The Beatles, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel, Sweet Baby James by James Taylor, and Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. But what this colorful, captivating blend of history and music criticism really depicts is the end of the heady, idealistic energy of the 1960s and the beginning of a new era of rock & roll.

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Sister

In Rosamund Lupton's chilling debut, a woman investigates the suspicious suicide of her sister in a narrative that recalls the wicked charms of both Patricia Highsmith and Kate Atkinson. As family secrets are unearthed, characters transform before our eyes with each new revelation.

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The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life

Gnostic assembler and defender of the Western literary canon, Harold Bloom at age eighty shows no sign of slowing down or banking his intellectual embers, as he here anatomizes the vast rivers of literature that have fed into and enriched his personal ocean, showing us how great works of fiction inform each other and, most tellingly, one man's life.

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Alphabetter Juice: or, The Joy of Text

Lexical fanatics will happily flock to Roy Blount's second book focused on boisterous wordplay, curmudgeonly opinion-mongering, and all-round vocabulary frivolity. The author proves a playful heir to William Safire and his generational peers.

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Holy Bones, Holy Dust

A piece of the True Cross is the least bizarre item in Charles Freeman's fascinating and unprecedented examination of the holy relics that shaped the course of medieval empires, as Christian rulers more concerned with prestige than sanctity vied for possession of a saint's hair or blood, all to impress their peers and subjects.

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Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Neuroscientist David Eagleman, whose Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives was one of the most beguiling books of the past two years, returns to explain that our brains are icebergs, nine-tenths unseen below the conscious waterline. With characteristic insight and eloquence, he probes the hidden portions of our minds, revealing what science has learned about such mysterious activities as reacting unwittingly to danger stimuli and picking up audible cues you would swear you didn't actually hear.

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A Traveller in Time

This reprint of a 1939 novel for teens by Allison Uttley restores to readers one of the best timeslip fantasies ever written.  An account of nine-year-old Penelope's interaction with ancient England under Mary Queen of Scots, this book evokes the joy of magical transport to a vanished era. And it's a wonderful family summer read aloud.

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The Steampunk Bible

Compiler/curator Jeff VanderMeer offers this equation to define the genre: “STEAMPUNK = Mad Scientist Inventor [invention (steam x airship or metal man/baroque stylings) x (pseudo) Victorian setting] + progressive or reactionary politics x adventure plot.”  That formulation may be tongue in cheek, but this lavishly illustrated volume testifies to the sheer pleasure of such retro-futurist visions in fiction, fashion, film, and elsewhere.

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The Father of Us All

In a virtual onslaught of fast-firing and insightful essays, Victor Davis Hanson ranges from ancient Greece to the present day to consider why mankind has always made war, whether the nature of conflict has changed, and how the seemingly ineradicable practice of large-scale violence can be made to offer some benefits amidst the primary and collateral damage.

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Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted

Few men have written their signature across our public spaces as vividly, personally, and influentially as Olmsted, designer of New York's Central and Prospect Parks--among many other monumental urban refuges. Justin Martin's first-ever full-scale biography reveals other fascinating sides of the famed landscape designer as well, including reformer and journalist. 

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Correspondence

A charming diversion: N. John Hall, best known for his biography of Anthony Trollope, here delivers a novel in letters about a retired New Jersey bank clerk who comes into possession of his great-great-grandfather's correspondence with an all-star cast of ninetheenth-century novelists: Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and the aforementioned Mr. Trollope among them. His attempts--through communications with an auction house--to understand the value of what he has inherited make this curious book a leisurely treat.

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Hell Is Empty

The vast reaches of Wyoming might not seem as dangerous as gun-happy urban streets, but Sheriff Walt Longmire would beg to differ, especially when he is placed in the deadly predicament of tracking down an escaped prisoner in blizzard conditions. Craig Johnson's splendid series of contemporary Westerns keeps getting better. 

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April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

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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