Books

The Embroiderer

Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin Selected and edited by Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare (Viking, 554 pp., $35) The expression “to embroider the truth” was already current when Sir Walter Raleigh—no mean embroiderer himself—complained about the exaggerations of Greek travelers such as Herodotus. But it could have been invented for the English writer and self-styled nomad Bruce Chatwin instead.

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One evening a few months before my eightieth birthday, I found myself addressing an audience of approximately a hundred men and women on a topic to which I have devoted considerable study during the past decade or so. My subject was the process of aging, and the ways in which current gerontological research is teaching us to deal with it.

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The Grounds of Courage

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy By Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson, 591 pp., $29.99) Early in January 1939, the precocious German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, age thirty-two, learned that all males in his age cohort had been ordered to register with the military. A dedicated opponent of the Nazi regime, he might have responded by declaring himself a conscientious objector, but there were two problems with such a course of action.

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Whitewashing

I like to think that my bookshelves hold a staggering variety of fiction, that I have the reading tastes of a true eclectic. The truth is, perhaps, a bit less exciting. A wander through my (freakishly organized) shelves will turn up a large amount of nineteenth-century literature, a smattering of modernism, and a hearty amount of “contemporary classics” (a term I despise but can find no substitute for). Some of these pages have yet to be turned, and others look like they have been through a war.

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Against Despair

Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader Edited by Haun Saussy (University of California Press, 660 pp., $27.50) On a hot August afternoon a decade ago, one of my patients collapsed at a café in Boston. She was in her early sixties and had been treated successfully with chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer, but had suffered side effects from the intensive therapy, with damage to her heart and lungs. Her husband called 911, and EMTs arrived in short order. She was resuscitated and sped by ambulance to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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When you have children, it’s hard to do much of anything without them being aware of it. And so it hasn’t been lost on my children that for much of the past few years—for most of their lives, in fact—I’ve been working on a book. At first, this manifested mostly in negative ways: Mommy’s writing, so the door is closed, the babysitter is here, interruptions will be tolerated grouchily.

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Resegregation

In Brown's Wake: Legacies of America's Educational LandmarkBy Martha Minow (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $24.95) Martha Minow was born in 1954, the same year that the Supreme Court issued its historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and, she tells us, has been trying to understand the implications of that decision “since I can remember.” She is well-qualified for the task of interpreting the legacy of that momentous decision.

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Franzenfreude, Franzen feud, Franzen frenzy: This literary squabble, one of the most fraught in recent years, isn’t over. It started two weeks ago when Jodi Picoult, peeved that the Times had given Freedom two glowing reviews in one week, gently tweaked (should that be tweeked?) the paper via Twitter: “Is anyone shocked?

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The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western MasochisBy Pascal Bruckner Translated by Steven Rendall (Princeton University Press, 239 pp., $26.95) I. Once upon a time, it seemed an incontestable fact that the life of the mind radiated from the Left Bank outward. Within a small quadrant of the Latin Quarter in Paris, an intellectual elite labored to produce magisterial works that lesser minds all over the world received eagerly, gratefully—and by and large uncritically.

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Most of the mainline reviews of Robert McCrum’s Globish – of which there have been so many so fast that I am in awe of his publicity people -- are missing what is fundamentally wrong with the book. Herewith one linguist’s take on this peculiar book, within which all evaluators seem to perceive a certain fuzziness, but few are catching that it is based on an outright error of reasoning and analysis – as well as an infelicitous volume of downright flubs. McCrum starts with the well-known fact that English is now the world’s de facto universal language.

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