An American’s Ideas and Impressions From Istanbul

Book review: Notes on a Foreign Country, by Suzy Hansen This is a book about an American living abroad in the era of American decline…As an American abroad now, [post-Iraq and Afghanistan wars] you do not have the same crazy, smiling confidence. You do not want to speak so loud. You feel always the vague risk of breaking something. In Turkey and elsewhere…I felt an almost physical sensation of intellectual and emotional … Continue reading An American’s Ideas and Impressions From Istanbul

The Life and Science of the Physicist Who Changed Quantum Theory

Book review: Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution, by John Gribbin In honor of the 130th anniversary of Erwin Schrödinger’s birth on August 12, I’m posting a previously published review I wrote on a pop biography of his life and work. The intricacies of a life are woven inextricably into the weave of work and the professional world. In Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution, biographer John Gribbin … Continue reading The Life and Science of the Physicist Who Changed Quantum Theory

A Voice from the Gulag

Book review: The Day Will Pass Away, by Ivan Chistyakov So even my inner word recedes day by day into eternity until it reaches freezing point. You start believing they can make you lose all emotion. Yet every day brings you nearer to freedom. Only, what kind of path are you walking to get there? A path of defeats, misery and rage. A path that makes you even more … Continue reading A Voice from the Gulag

Culinary Biographies of Six Surprising Women

Book review: What She Ate, by Laura Shapiro Culinary historian and longtime Newsweek writer Laura Shapiro examines the lives of six very different women through the lens of their relationships to food, cooking, and culinary culture in this lively, readable group biography. “Tell me what you eat,” wrote the philosopher-gourmand Brillat-Savarin, “and I shall tell you what you are.’ It’s one of the most famous aphorisms in the literature of food, … Continue reading Culinary Biographies of Six Surprising Women

Memory, History, And Family Roots in Latvia

Book review: Among the Living and the Dead, by Inara Verzemnieks “This is why I had journeyed to my grandmother’s lost village, nestled at the edge of Latvia, which is itself nestled at the edge of Europe’s psychic north, south, east and west, or, as Pope Innocent III described it…’the edge of the known world’.  Because I imagined, maybe, I might find her again in the old … Continue reading Memory, History, And Family Roots in Latvia

Setting The Record Straight On The Donner Party

Book review: The Best Land Under Heaven, by Michael Wallis For as much true crime as I read and watch, I draw the line at cannibalism and anything near it. I mean, you have to have a line, you know? I’m fine with my extreme squeamishness about it. I feel like it would be worse if I wasn’t. Two summers ago, I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s In … Continue reading Setting The Record Straight On The Donner Party

Black Widow of the Heartland

Book review: The Truth About Belle Gunness, by Lillian de la Torre On a spring day in 1908, police were called to the scene of a fire in a farmhouse in La Porte, Indiana. In the ruins of the house, they discovered four bodies: three children and a headless adult believed to be the farm’s proprietress, Belle Gunness. A former employee, Ray Lamphere, was charged with … Continue reading Black Widow of the Heartland

We Have Nothing to Envy in the World

Book review: Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick “In the futuristic dystopia imagined in 1984, George Orwell wrote of a world where the only color to be found was in the propaganda posters. Such is the case in North Korea.” I saw this book mentioned in an article about David Sedaris’ special habit when going on a US speaking tour. He recommends a book for each … Continue reading We Have Nothing to Envy in the World

Love, Death and Feudalism in Old World Italy

Book review: Murder in Matera, by Helene Stapinski Author and journalist Helene Stapinski comes from a long family line of thieves and crooks, as detailed in her popular history of crime and theft in Jersey City (especially her family’s participation in it), Five Finger Discount. In her new memoir, Murder in Matera, Stapinski travels to the Basilicata region of southern Italy, attempting to track down and flesh out a … Continue reading Love, Death and Feudalism in Old World Italy

Tracking Al-Qaeda and the Hunt for Bin Laden, 9/11 to Now

Book review: The Exile, by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy Investigative journalist Lawrence Wright published the Pulitzer-winning narrative history The Looming Tower in 2006, detailing Al-Qaeda’s formation and the road to September 11. It closes shortly after the towers fall. With the recent popularity of the film Zero Dark Thirty portraying the SEAL team raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, a narrative was fixed in the public mind, though it’s … Continue reading Tracking Al-Qaeda and the Hunt for Bin Laden, 9/11 to Now

What Makes the Russians Tick

Book review: Russians, by Gregory Feifer “Russia has no need of sermons (she has heard too many), nor of prayers (she has mumbled them too often), but of the awakening in the people a feeling of human dignity, lost for so many ages in mud and filth.” – Vissarion Belinsky on the Russian Orthodox Church in a letter to Nikolai Gogol, 1847 This quote opens a chapter of Russians titled “Cold … Continue reading What Makes the Russians Tick

The Bones of Bioarchaeology

Book review: Built on Bones, by Brenna Hassett Brenna Hassett is a bioarchaeologist. If, like me, you have no idea what that is, it means she studies human bones and remains, such as teeth found in archaeological sites, looking for clues to understanding more about human existence and how it’s evolved through the ages. Her book focuses especially on cities, or our earliest iterations of urban developments, asking … Continue reading The Bones of Bioarchaeology