Books

Grief is the Thing With Feathers

“Grief is the Thing With Feathers” by Max Porter is a beautifully written small book. It is a treasure. The story of two children and their father who have lost their mother and wife and share their life as they …Read More

Prisoners of Geography

In “Prisoners of Geography,” Tim Marshall explores ten different regions around the globe to reveal how geography explains global politics. Political realities are shaped by physical strengths and vulnerabilities and Marshall provides numerous examples of how geography dictates needs. The …Read More

Exit West

What I loved most about Moshin Hamid’s novel “Exit West” was the limning of humanity, by which I mean that even under dire circumstances Hamid describes how people are people and act on impulses, feelings, thoughts and emotions. In Hamid’s …Read More

Testosterone Rex

Cordelia Fine’s “Testosterone Rex” is a book about the role testosterone plays in gender development. It’s an interesting investigation of how the mythology surrounding huge differences between the sexes greatly contributes to inequality but has little basis in science. She …Read More

South and West

Short but deep, light but profound, Joan Didion’s “South and West” is mainly comprised of notes Didion made on a a trip through the South in 1970 and on the Patty Hearst trial. In the introduction Nathaniel Rich says, “Didion …Read More

Economism

We all know this stuff, and unless you are Paul Ryan, his Tea Party friends or a Koch brother, weep. The US has the lowest minimum wage (as a proportion of its average wage) of any advanced economy. The soulless …Read More

News of the World

“News of the World” is a charming, often moving picaresque Western, with an echo of “True Grit,” but with an authentic plot twist. A 70-year-old retired army captain, Jefferson Kidd, makes his living in the 1870s traveling from town to …Read More

Pushkin – Eugene Onegin (1833)

Having recently read Tasso and Ariosto in prose translations, I was keen to find this classic — Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” (1833), translation by Roger Clarke — also in prose; but that wasn’t easy. Most of the translations are in verse; a …Read More

Attack on Nantucket

In Thad Dupper’s debut techno-thriller “Attack on Nantucket,” terrorists target the family of the US President, who likes to vacation in the jewel of the northeast, Nantucket Island. As a worthy successor to Tom Clancy, Thad has the Mach-2 pace …Read More

Lincoln in the Bardo

I greatly respect George Saunders even if he is not in my contemporary writer pantheon. Like with all his work, his first novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo” is wonderfully crafted and contains some amazing passages. This is a work of …Read More

Age of Anger

I absolutely love historical face-offs, such as Delacroix vs. Ingres, Corbu vs. Frank Lloyd Wright, Keynes vs. Hayek. Over time, historians oscillate on crowning the winners. Recently, it is apparent that Hamilton has an edge over TJ (“Hamilton”) and, Burke …Read More

4321

I always thought Paul Auster wanted to be Don Delillo or Thomas Pynchon, but reading “4321,” his latest novel, I’m thinking maybe he has wanted to be Philip Roth all along. There is an epic quality to “4321” and this …Read More

The Warburgs

“Tsundoku” is the Japanese word for buying books and subsequently allowing piles to form, instead of immediately reading them. I like to think of it as a necessary step in the reading process, similar to fermentation in wine production. Thus …Read More

American Rust

“American Rust” by Philipp Meyer is a novel version of “Hillbilly Elegy.” Meyer writes with compassion and insight about the disappearing and desperate Rust Belt blue-collar life. “American Rust” came out in 2008, so here are a few lines to …Read More

A World in Disarray

Richard Haass presents a pessimistic view of the world order in his new book “A World in Disarray.” Just as power is shifting from West to East, American leadership is breaking down and historic alliances are weakening. Kissinger can’t be …Read More

An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy

In “An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy,” Mark Levinson argues that the post WWII boom ended in 1973 and will not return. This is an interesting book, although I disagree …Read More

Unforbidden Pleasures

“Unforbidden Pleasures” was one of my favorite nonfiction books from ’16, which I did not have time to review. Adam Phillips is a great writer and is definitely my favorite psychoanalyst writer. Although this is far from his best (“On …Read More

His Bloody Project

Set circa 1869 in a rural Scottish village, “His Bloody Project” imagines the homicides committed by a 17-year-old crofter, Roderick Macrae. The author, Graeme Macrae Burnet deftly structures his novel with testimonials of Roddy’s character; eyewitness accounts; his own memoir; medical …Read More

Best Non-Fiction ’16

Amazingly Wonderful Nonfiction: “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis – Review posted earlier “The Hidden Life …Read More

Places of my Infancy: A Memory

I am sure most of you have read the great Italian novel “The Leopard” by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa (and seen the great film with Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale). This little book is Lampedusa’s remembrances of the house in …Read More

Strangers in Their Own Land

Add “Strangers in Their Own Land” to the list of great books that document our current political divide, such as Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” Isenberg’s “White Trash,” Anderson’s “White Rage” and Packer’s “The Unwinding.” Arlie Russell Hochschild, a Berkley sociologist, spent …Read More

At the Existentialist Cafe

“At the Existentialist Cafe” by Sarah Bakewell is a wonderful biography-focused book about existentialism. “Ideas are interesting,” Bakewell writes, “but people are vastly more so.” She presents an entertaining cast of characters such as Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Heidegger, Husserl, …Read More

Best Fiction ’16

It makes me sad that most of the “best of” lists are so awful, because I imagine a potential fiction lover taking the NYT 10 best list, for example, and reading all five novels only to ask is that all …Read More

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

How do we make decisions? Michael Lewis explores the process in “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.” Two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, spent their careers examining how the human mind works. We all make …Read More

Swing Time

Zadie Smith amazes me. Her most recent novel “Swing Time” reminds me a lot of its predecessor. Like “NW,” “Swing Time” is set in northwest London where the narrator meets Tracey at young age at a dance class. This story …Read More

Hot Milk

“Hot Milk” by Deborah Levy is probably the best novel I’ve read this year after “Hystopia” by David Means. The language is poetic and hypnotic. The plot centers around a mother-daughter relationship. Sophia has spent her life caring for her …Read More

Hillbilly Elegy

I picked up the book after reading Joan Williams’s excellent article, “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class,” in the Harvard Business Review. J.D. Vance was born into a Scots Irish dysfunctional hillbilly family and spent …Read More

Thank You for Being Late

This is the usual amazingly astute but corny Friedmanesque analysis of the world right now. How can one man have such a brilliant, yet simultaneously annoying, penchant for putting his finger on the global pulse and simplifying complexity? The premise …Read More

A Hero of France

Alan Furst has written suspenseful WWII spy novels. Sadly, this is not one of them. Mathieu, the hero of the title, a Parisian member of the French Resistance in 1941, has organized a small network of daring sympathizers who help …Read More

The Association of Small Bombs

This novel dissects a 1996 terrorist attack at a market in Delhi– from the disappointment in the blast by the terrorist, to his mild-mannered friend who is arrested for the crime; to the devastation and grief of the parents of …Read More

The Rise and Fall of American Growth

The adoption of the smartphone since 2003 has been extremely rapid, and same for the tablet since 2010. The spread of the television was even faster, and fastest of any device (or appliance) in history. When WWII ended there were …Read More

Hystopia

“Hystopia” by David Means is the most impressive novel published this year that I have read so far. If you liked Ben Fountain’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” please read this book. Means appears to be the inspired result of …Read More

The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe

I have never understood how the euro is supposed to work and how the EU can have an economic union without a political one. In “The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe,” Stiglitz explains that the …Read More

Heroes of the Frontier

I have been an Eggers fan since “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” In his wonderful new novel, “Heroes of the Frontier,” Josie drives around Alaska in a rented RV with her two kids after fleeing her problems in Ohio …Read More

Nicotine

I love Nell Zink’s novels and “Nicotine” is her latest wonder. Protagonist Penny is the daughter of a Jewish shaman and indigenous Columbian runaway. Trying to recover from her father’s death and failing to navigate incipient adult life, she finds …Read More