The Word-Stormer
May 20, 2009

The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1940 Edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck (Cambridge University Press, 782 pp., $50)   I. If Samuel Beckett was a recluse, as most of the world liked to think, then he was surely the most garrulous recluse ever. He had a wide circle of friends, many of them close, and a very much wider circle of acquaintances, especially after he began to work in the theater, which he did partly, as he said, to escape the tyranny of prose, but also, as he did not say, for company.

Honor's Gasp
May 20, 2009

Valkyrie: The Story Of The Plot To Kill Hitler, By Its Last Member By Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager; With Florence and Jerome Fehrenbach Translated by Steven Rendall (Knopf, 211 pp., $24.95)   Try to imagine the following scenario. It is the winter of 1944 and the great German offensive in the Ardennes is threatening to push the Allied forces into the sea.

Disturbances of Peace
May 20, 2009

Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology Translated and edited by David Hinton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 475 pp., $45) Du Fu: A Life in Poetry Translated by David Young (Knopf, 226 pp., $16.95) The oldest poems translated in David Hinton’s magnificent anthology Classical Chinese Poetry date to the fifteenth century B.C.E., long before the Bible was written. For the English-speaking world, however, this ancient art is effectively less than a hundred years old.

Before the Law
May 06, 2009

Franz Kafka: The Office Writings Edited by Stanley Corngold, Jack Greenberg, and Benno Wagner (Princeton University Press, 394 pp., $45) Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 into an assimilated German-speaking middleclass Jewish family. He died of tuberculosis of the larynx in 1924, just short of his forty-first birthday, in Kierling, a small resort north of Vienna.

The Human Factor
May 06, 2009

Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC to AD 1000. By Barry Cunliffe (Yale University Press, 480 pp., $39.95) Playmobil, the German company that specializes in detailed snap-together plastic toys, makes a Viking ship. Seventeen inches long and five wide, with six sweep oars, a steering oar, and a single movable square sail, the toy precisely models surviving Viking ships in museums in Roskilde, Denmark and Oslo, Norway. It also floats in bathtubs.

Buried Pleasure
May 06, 2009

The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost And FoundBy Mary Beard(Harvard University Press, 360 pp., $26.95)From Paris to Pompeii: French Romanticism and the Cultural Politics of ArchaeologyBy Goran Blix(University of Pennsylvania Press, 310 pp., $59.95)Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of NaplesBy Carol C. Mattusch(Thames and Hudson: National Gallery of Art, 365 pp., $60)In the year 79 C.E., Mount Vesuvius erupted, famously burying the ancient city of Pompeii under volcanic ash, where it lay unknown and undisturbed until the eighteenth century.

A Tale Of Two Cities
May 06, 2009

Ghettostadt: Lodz and the Making of a Nazi CityBy Gordon J. Horwitz(Harvard University Press, 395 pp., $29.95)I.Not so long ago, many historians saw Nazism mainly as a revolt against modernity, a call for a return to soil and Volk. Gordon Horwitz's book on wartime Lodz lends support to what has become a new scholarly consensus about the Third Reich: that it looked forward, not back.

Vita Contemplativa
May 06, 2009

It may already be September. I drank tasteless coffee in the cafe garden of the Museum-Insel and thought about Berlin, its dark waters. Black buildings that have seen so much. But peace reigns in Europe, diplomats doze, a pale sun, the summer dies serenely, spiders weave its shining shroud, the plane trees' dry leaves write memoirs of their youth.So this is the vita contemplativa. The black walls enclosing white sculptures. The bust of a Greek beauty. So this is it. An altar before which no one prays. So this is the vita contemplativa.

Dreams of Permanence
May 06, 2009

How many times have I driven pastand not noticed the beauty of the abandonedtruck, its black-tinted windows safeguardinga homeless man's makeshift bed, or taken inthat war of names, the faint, illegible,legible scribblings dashed off in weak lightof a nearby lamppost just before city cops,seemingly patrolling only this part of town,rush to manhandle some shy kid who longsmerely for the miraculous,--a recognition unfoundamong his six younger siblings whose sprawlingcaretaking fades him to a name among nameswhen needed & called in their crampedwalk-up apartment?

Macho Misery
April 15, 2009

As far back as has been recorded of the history of human societies, men have equated life with movement.