Monday, November 14th, 2011

A Devoted Witness

The New York Herald Tribune — which began in 1924 after the merger of two newspapers that dated as far back as 1835 — began and ended in financial trouble, published many great writers, and was run by a succession of colorful characters. Richard Kluger’s bulky-but-excellent history of the paper was a National Book Award finalist in 1986. READ MORE >

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Something Spooky This Way Comes

Just in time for Halloween, Levi Stahl asked 10 notable authors, critics, and bloggers — James Hynes, John Crowley and Ed Park, among them — for their favorite scary moments in literature. The 16 answers range from 1837 to 2000, from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Stephen King, from outer space to a forest with an unshakable grip on a man’s soul. READ MORE >

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

An Elegant and Original Idea

In 1917, D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson published On Growth and Form, an elegant and fascinating study of mathematical principles in nature. Modern editions trim the work’s thousand-plus pages to just a few hundred, and editors over the years have taken liberties with Thompson’s firmly held conclusions. But the book still holds fascination for scientists and laymen. Connecting science to philosophy, history, and literature, it remains a textbook on how to think in any field. READ MORE >

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Just a Bit Outside

In the mid-1970s, poet Donald Hall collaborated with eccentric big-league pitcher Dock Ellis — who once threw a no-hitter while under the lingering influence of LSD — on a book about Ellis’ time in the game. The result is an intimate look at the sport and a string of memorable moments from the eminently quotable Ellis. READ MORE >

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Our Books, Ourselves

To help celebrate the second anniversary of The Second Pass — and in the wake of a recent, much-discussed study of gender in literary culture — seven women write about eight books (by women) that deserve more attention, including a recent novel about a woman and the immigrant who cares for her infant, a poetry collection deeply rooted in reality, and a 19th-century page-turner. READ MORE >

Monday, January 31st, 2011

The Swindle Chronicles

Born to a large, privileged family in Britain, Jessica Mitford didn’t fit the stereotype of an American muckraker, but that’s what she became — investigating and skewering the country’s swindlers, from funeral directors to writing instructors to the prison business. READ MORE >

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

A 20th Century Man

It would be difficult to see more of the 20th century than William Averell Harriman did. He served under presidents from FDR to Carter, negotiated nukes with Khrushchev, talked peace with Vietnam, and helped run major railroads, among other things. Rudy Abramson’s telling of Harriman’s life, published in 1992 and now out of print, helped to usher in the current era of massive historical biographies. READ MORE >

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

My Friend, the Sociopath

When Ann Rule signed a contract to write her first book, about a then-unsolved series of murders in the Pacific Northwest, she didn’t know that the grisly trail of the crimes would intersect with her own past. READ MORE >

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Sports for the Shakespeare Crowd

It’s no surprise that much of the smartest writing about sports has appeared in The New Yorker. An anthology of the magazine’s work on the subject reveals that its writers possess many of the same strengths as the best athletes: a great eye, reach, versatility, drive—and time away from the games spent freshening up. READ MORE >

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Our Radical Founders

Left-leaning citizens and analysts tend to shrug off the Tea Party’s invocation of America’s Founding Fathers. But as Bernard Bailyn showed in a study of the American Revolution, there was plenty of paranoia in the rebellion against Britain, stoked in large part by radical Whigs overseas. The Tea Party, locked into the intellectual perspective of the 18th century, reflects this inheritance. READ MORE >

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

The Will to Believe

In 1896, William James gave a lecture, “a defense of our right to adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, in spite of the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced.” Controversial and criticized, the essay remains one of his most famous works, and an argument worth engagement by acolytes and dissenters alike. Here, an excerpt. READ MORE >

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Improbable Lives

Edmund G. Love’s Subways Are for Sleeping was turned into a musical bomb on Broadway. But the book, a light but heartfelt look at 10 New Yorkers creatively making ends meet in the 1950s, is worth remembering. READ MORE >

Monday, June 21st, 2010

The Archaeologist

In short but piercing books that make most confessional writing look toothless in comparison, Annie Ernaux has addressed obsessive love, bereavement, abortion, marriage, illness, and sexual jealousy. READ MORE >

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

The Master in Miniature

Tolstoy’s final work, a novella about a real-life soldier in the Caucasus, is a compressed example of the author’s genius, and considered by some critics to be his best work. READ MORE >

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

The Common Way to Lose

The aftermath of winning a war is easy: Lift your arms and celebrate. Losing is harder and more complicated, but in The Culture of Defeat, German historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch looked at the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, and World War I to find common ways that the vanquished begin the process of redefining and rebuilding themselves. READ MORE >

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Law & Order: Historical Victims Unit

Janet Lewis was a versatile writer whose life very nearly lasted the entire 20th century. Her three most famous novels were inspired by the cases in an 1873 law book. In all three, men fight for their lives against circumstantial evidence. READ MORE >

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Tales of the Unread

To help celebrate the one-year anniversary of The Second Pass, a group of 12 devoted readers and wonderful writers champion a diverse list of their favorite out-of-print books—everything from a passionate look at experimental German rock to the memoirs of an 18th-century bookseller. READ MORE >

Monday, March 1st, 2010

A Path Out of Childhood

The reputation of Colin MacInnes’ novel Absolute Beginners (1959), about teenagers in a changing postwar London, couldn’t survive its musical adaptation starring David Bowie (1985). But the book deserves much better. It changed the author’s life (really changed it) not once, but twice. READ MORE >

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Leave Them Kids Alone

In two sharply satiric novels by Hans Scherfig—originally published in 1938 and 1940, respectively—Danish school kids are put through drudgery and abuse, and let loose in the world to become mindless bureaucrats. READ MORE >

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Our Man at the Track

If you’re like most people circa 2010, you pay fleeting attention to horse racing only on the first Saturday in May, if then. That’s no reason not to read Joe Palmer. Racing was his beat, but he covered it—and various tangential subjects—with a beguiling combination of erudition and mid-century New York patter. READ MORE >

Friday, January 15th, 2010

After the Fairy Tales

In the 1920s, James Branch Cabell was widely considered one of America’s great writers. His fall into obscurity was rapid and, to this day, irreversible. But his richly imagined, ornate work—particularly his most famous novel, Jurgen—remains fresher than that of many authors whose reputations outlived his. READ MORE >

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

A Man of Means

In his renowned fiction (he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955), Halldór Laxness wrote about the people of Iceland and honored the country’s rich saga tradition. In Independent People, a stubbornly self-reliant sheep farmer pushes his family to the brink and beyond. READ MORE >

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

The 2110 Club

Recounting the recent past is easy. Predicting the future is hard. But that won’t stop us from trying. These nine books may not have been runaway successes when first published, but their best qualities make them built to last. We think people will still be reading them a hundred years from now. READ MORE >

Monday, November 30th, 2009

His Sin, Her Soul

How can a survivor of childhood abuse consider Lolita one of her favorite novels not in spite of her history, but because of it? By focusing on Nabokov’s realistic combination of horror and beauty, his portrayal of a young girl who was no match for a monstrous, self-justifying man — and thus finding a kind of forgiveness in an unforgiving book. READ MORE >

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Self-Portraits in a Hostile World

Nina Hamnett and Stefan Knapp were “capable if unremarkable artists” who lived very different lives. She was a sexually adventurous bohemian in London and Paris. He spent two years imprisoned in a Siberian work camp. Their engrossing, neglected memoirs recount their experiences — and indelibly capture the wider world in which they lived. READ MORE >

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Freedom from Futures

In the best of Brian Moore’s novels — including his masterpiece, The Emperor of Ice-Cream — deftly drawn characters confront crises in mid-20th-century Belfast. Moore described the city as “this dull, dead town,” but his fiction brings it to vivid life. READ MORE >

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Jane’s Predecessor

Jane Austen inspires millions of fans, teams of filmmakers, and zombie re-mixers. But the work of Maria Edgeworth is largely forgotten. Her 1801 novel Belinda reads “like an experimental variation on Austen conducted before the fact.” READ MORE >

Monday, October 19th, 2009

The Goth Side of a Realist Master

In 1859, having recently published a first novel to great success, George Eliot wrote The Lifted Veil, a Gothic-inflected novella that features a clairvoyant narrator and, in one particularly memorable scene, a dying woman brought back to life by another’s blood. A departure from the realism of Eliot’s oeuvre, the book fits comfortably alongside the chilling work of Poe and Stoker. READ MORE >

Monday, October 12th, 2009

The Pope’s Hagiographer

Anthony Burgess was a polymath who published dozens of books. He’s best known, of course, for A Clockwork Orange, but his most impressive work might have been the epic Earthly Powers. In it, the decadent in-law of a recently deceased Pope is asked to document three miracles that he saw the Pontiff perform. The novel that results is part James Michener parody, part history of the 20th century, and complete genius. READ MORE >

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Despair and Mercy

In Carrie Tiffany’s debut novel, Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, a train full of peculiar characters moves across the dry lands of Depression-era Australia. Dispensing farming advice to their countrymen, they struggle against their own deprivation and uncontrollable passions. READ MORE >

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Sartre Comes to Baytown

Growing up among the refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, the author felt a vague but deep unhappiness. Then one day, he reached into the glove box of a friend’s van, found the novel Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, and started to read: “Something has happened to me, I can’t doubt it any more.” READ MORE >

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Riotous Genius

It was one year ago this week that David Foster Wallace tragically took his own life. A look back at the humor, beauty and ambivalence in the work of a legendarily ambitious novelist and the best nonfiction writer of his generation. READ MORE >

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Another Side of Sylvia

Sylvia Plath is synonymous with The Bell Jar and her poetry. The shorter pieces collected in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams may be less essential — and questionably edited by Ted Hughes — but they offer insights about Plath and her work that no real fan should miss. READ MORE >

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Girl Cad

Elaine Dundy wrote the kind of beguiling, complex heroines that are rarely found in American literature. In The Old Man and Me, a young American woman in 1960s London plans to seduce and murder a literary lion in order to gain her inheritance. Dundy tells the tale in her trademark withering, loony voice. READ MORE >

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

The Highest and Best Circle of Hell

When he died a year ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was remembered most for his brave and brilliant writing about the Soviet labor camps. But he was a great novelist as well — perhaps the truest heir to Tolstoy — and The First Circle is one of his most unappreciated masterpieces. READ MORE >

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Dispatch from a Failed Revolution

In 1981, Gay Talese published Thy Neighbor’s Wife, a (deeply) reported look at Americans who believed in the sweeping, liberating promises of the sexual revolution. Time hasn’t been kind to their dreams, but Talese’s book, recently reissued, stands up as a classic. READ MORE >

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Real Life on Capitol Hill

In 1973, Ward Just was in the early stages of trading in his journalist’s hat for an illustrious career in fiction. The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert was a collection of stories that went into the halls of power and took the emotional lives there seriously. READ MORE >

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Fired from the Canon

With so many guides available telling you what to read, it’s time to figure out what books you can overlook. Here are ten, critically acclaimed and academically anointed, that are safe to skip. READ MORE >

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Little Girls Get Bigger Every Day

In the early 1950s, two teenage authors published novels about the (very) precocious exploits of young girls. Françoise Mallet-Joris got there first with The Illusionist, but Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse was a bigger smash three years later. In both books, girls wage war on convention with mixed results — but no dire moral consequences. READ MORE >

Monday, June 15th, 2009

A Definition of “Cult” From Far, Far Away

In 1981, Danny Peary published Cult Movies, a guide to 100 films ranging from Casablanca to Eraserhead. Andy Miller found the book as a 15-year-old who had been bored nearly to death by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Peary saved his cinematic life. READ MORE >