Books

All Hat and No Cattle
September 12, 2011

There are (considering his enduring popularity with modern historians) surprisingly few biographies of Alcibiades. So how does P.J. Rhodes deal with h

The Stench of Perfume
September 08, 2011

Hal Vaughan's biography distinguishes itself from the many other Chanel biographies by tackling the dicey subject of Gabrielle Chanel’s activities dur

The Mistakes
September 01, 2011

Zara Steiner has written a masterly sequel to The Lights that Failed, her equally masterful study of international relations from the end of World War

All Mashed Up
August 31, 2011

John Reader, in his ambling new history of the “propitious esculent,” calls the potato the “best all-around bundle of nutrition known.” Without any he

Flesh and Beyond
August 30, 2011

Despite his social poetics, Moss is not a widely read American poet. He is instead “American poetry’s best-kept secret” as John Ashbery says. I suspec

The Age of Comparison
July 28, 2011

The Book that Changed Europe: Picart & Bernard’s “Religious Ceremonies of the World” By Lynn Hunt, Margaret C. Jacob, and Wijnand Mijnhardt (Harvard University Press, 383 pp., $32.95) A New Science: The Discovery of Religion in the Age of Reason By Guy G. Stroumsa (Harvard University Press, 223 pp., $35) The scene is familiar. A family is sitting around a table, in a well-appointed eighteenthcentury dining space. Only if you look closely, and only if you know what to look for, do you realize that this is a Passover seder.

What Remains
July 28, 2011

Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe By Charles Freeman (Yale University Press, 306 pp., $35) Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe By Caroline Walker Bynum (Zone Books, 408 pp., $32.95)  Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe Edited by Martina Bagnoli, Holger A. Klein, Griffith Mann, and James Robinson (Yale University Press, 259 pp., $65) Throughout much of history, at the heart of every village, town, and city in Europe, there lay a dead body.

The Narniad
July 28, 2011

C.S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid: Arms and the Exile Edited by A.T. Reyes (Yale University Press, 208 pp., $27.50) In 1945, in a famous lecture called “What is a Classic?,” T.S. Eliot described Virgil as the most truly classical of all poets, on the grounds that his work supposedly exemplifies a supreme “maturity of language,” which involves a total exclusion of individual personality.

The Importance of Being Earnest
July 28, 2011

The Pale King By David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown, 548 pp., $27.99) Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will By David Foster Wallace (Columbia University Press, 252 pp., $19.95) Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace By David Lipsky (Broadway Books, 320 pp., $16.99) I. Today we think of the 1920s as a golden age of American fiction. But to Edmund Wilson, looking back in 1944, the most striking thing about this modern generation, which he did more than any critic to foster, was its failure to reach full development.

The Freedom to Bumble
July 13, 2011

The Free World By David Bezmozgis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 356 pp., $26) To call a short-story writer Chekhovian is among the worst of the book reviewer’s clichés, a lazy shorthand that no longer means anything other than that the person writes very good short stories. But what is often forgotten amid the contemporary adulation of Chekhov as the master of the form—in fact he was the master only of a certain kind of short tale—is that, after a couple of early attempts, he declined to write novels.

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