Tuesday June 15th, 2010

Man v. Newt

newt-warA year or more ago, I was browsing at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square (one of the best bookstores in New York for browsing), and I came across a novel called War with the Newts by Karel Čapek. And I bought it, because, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s called War with the Newts. Like many books I buy, I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but John Self’s recent praise has moved it back toward the top of the pile. He wrote: “Every so often a book comes along that leaves you dizzy with wonder that you haven’t read it before. Why haven’t people been pressing [this] on me since I was old enough to read?”

Originally published in 1936, the novel is what the Washington Post Book World called, “A send-up of multiple early-20th-century isms.” One sentence from the back of the book sums things up: “Man discovers a species of giant, intelligent newts and learns to exploit them so successfully that the newts gain enough skills and arms to challenge man’s place at the top of the animal kingdom.” Hijinks, I feel certain, ensue.

Čapek was a Czech author who was only 48 when he died on Christmas in 1938. According to Wikipedia, he or his brother came up with the word “robot.”

The great cover featured at the top of this post is from a 1955 paperback. With a title like this, it’s unsurprising that there are other fun covers, like this one and this one, which are all far preferable to the blandness on the edition I own.