Books

The Pen and the Baton
October 09, 2006

Divas and Scholars:  Performing Italian Opera  By Philip Gossett 

Mourning in America
May 01, 2006

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING By Joan Didion (Alfred A. Knopf, 227 pp., $23.95) THE BEST DAY THE WORST DAY: LIFE WITH JANE KENYON By Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin, 258 pp., $23) It has long been a sociological truism that we live in a world with few meaningful public forms, social customs, or religious ceremonies. Yet it is only when we face such devastating events as the death of a loved one that we learn what such truisms mean in lived experience: at the time of our most desperate need, we find ourselves abandoned to our own devices.

America the Ruthless
August 08, 2005

Born Losers: A History of Failure in AmericaBy Scott A. Sandage Harvard University Press, 362 pp. You might approach a book about losers with a certain hauteur. And Scott A. Sandage's opening anecdote about an unidentified loser who died in 1862 lends itself to your hunch that his book is going to be a dutiful trudge through a gallery of garden-variety failures. "I cannot help counting it a fault in him that he had no ambition," a friend grieved at the man's funeral. That's page one.

The Missing Joy
July 04, 2005

  Perfect Madness By Judith Warner (Riverhead, 327 pp., $23.95)   How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-At-Work Moms By Wendy Sachs (Da Capo, 205 pp., $19.95   White House Nannies By Barbara Kline (Tarcher/Penguin, 238 pp., $23.95) I Midway through my first pregnancy, I began to receive mailings from a company called “One Step Ahead,” which promised “thoughtfully selected products to help with baby … every step of the way.” My son’s needs were still simple, satisfied by umbilical cord and placenta, but once he arrived, I came to understand, matters would get more complicated.

The Missing Joy
July 04, 2005

Perfect Madness By Judith Warner (Riverhead, 327 pp., $23.95)    How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at-Work Moms By Wendy Sachs (Da Capo, 205 pp., $19.95)   White House Nannies By Barbara Kline (Tarcher/Penguin, 238 pp., $23.95)    I. Midway through my first pregnancy, I began to receive mailings from a company called "One Step Ahead," which promised "thoughtfully selected products to help with baby ...

The Gene Wars
May 02, 2005

The Man Who Invented the Chromosome: A Life of Cyril Darlington By Oren Solomon Harman(Harvard University Press, 329 pp., $49.95) In the half-century after the identification of the structure of DNA in 1953, a generation of biologists forged the revolution of molecular genetics. They deciphered the genetic code, invented biotechnology, and found themselves entangled in the high-stakes and sometimes tempestuous politics of genetics and society.

The Moral Baby
March 14, 2005

Wodehouse: A Life By Robert McCrum (W.W. Norton, 530 pp., $27.95) I.Deliberately unserious writers are very rare in literature; even most children's books are dark with agenda. Sheer play is much rarer than great seriousness, for nonsense demands from most of us an unlearning of adult lessons, a return to childhood--which anyway, being a return, lacks childhood's innocent originality. P.G. Wodehouse, who was always described by those who knew him best as an arrested schoolboy, must be the gentlest, most playful comedian in the English novel.

The End of the Affair
January 24, 2005

The Life of Graham Greene Volume III: 1955-1991 By Norman Sherry (Viking, 906 pp., $39.95) I. In William Golding's wittily acerbic novel The Paper Men, the famous English novelist Wilfred Barclay is doggedly pursued by a young American professor of English, Rick L. Tucker, who sees him as the perfect vehicle for the creation of a dazzling academic career. From party to party, from country to country, impervious to rebuffs, irrepressible and indefatigable, Tucker stalks his quarry.

Blinkered
January 24, 2005

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking By Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown, 277 pp., $25.95)  There are two types of thinking, to oversimplify grossly. We may call them intuitive and articulate. The first is the domain of hunches, snap judgments, emotional reactions, and first impressions—in short, instant responses to sensations. Obviously there is a cognitive process involved in such mental processes; one is responding to information. But there is no conscious thought, because there is no time for it.

Beautiful as He Did It
December 20, 2004

ELECTED FRIENDS: ROBERT FROST AND EDWARD THOMAS TO ONE ANOTHER Edited and with an introduction by Matthew Spencer (Handsel Books, 216 pp., $24) I. I. For two poets, two facial expressions. One is simple enough: the blankness with which I, as a graduate student, and every one of the thousand or so graduate students I have taught, first received the words "Edward Thomas." Since this is wrong, and dismaying, I try to have some fun with it.

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