Jihad, Choices, and Fearless Journalism

Book review: I Was Told to Come Alone, by Souad Mekhennet Sometimes a reporter is simply lucky enough to pick the right restaurant for tea. That’s one way journalist Souad Mekhennet, a contributor to the New York Times and Washington Post, among others, and a veritable force in modern journalism, describes her experience in 2001, listening in on conversations of the regulars in a Muslim neighborhood in Hamburg. Some of … Continue reading Jihad, Choices, and Fearless Journalism

Tea Partiers in Their Own Words

Book review: Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild In the last decade, but especially the last few years, we’ve seen an especially polarizing shift between the American political left and right, culminating in the election of a previously non-politically-involved narcissistic billionaire (or is he?) bully with an inferiority complex. But even before that menace was in the White House, the unrest and dissatisfaction from the … Continue reading Tea Partiers in Their Own Words

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

Royals to Refugees: Roots of an Afghan Family

Book review: Crossing the River Kabul, by Kevin McLean Author Kevin McLean adopts the voice of Baryalai Popal to tell his dramatic true story, spanning decades, of escaping Afghanistan in 1980 during the Russian invasion and war, and his eventual trek to America. Now an American citizen, Baryalai (called Bar) was born into one of the two historic royal families of Afghanistan. Bar’s family history and … Continue reading Royals to Refugees: Roots of an Afghan Family

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

Images of Apocalypse in the Everyday

Book review: The World is On Fire, by Joni Tevis Joni Tevis has a strange talent for writing essays that combine the most unlikely, unrelated subjects, skipping without any obvious connection between topics and somehow making it work as a coherent, emotional, interesting piece. I’ve never read anything quite like it before. As one example, she writes an essay contrasting her own struggles with fertility … Continue reading Images of Apocalypse in the Everyday

Fact and Memory, Punishment and Forgiveness

Book review: The Fact of a Body, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich What is offered here is my interpretation of the facts, my rendering, my attempt to piece together this story. As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened. It is about a murder, it is about my family, it is about other families whose lives were … Continue reading Fact and Memory, Punishment and Forgiveness

Essays On Her Own: Didion After Her Editor

Book review: After Henry, by Joan Didion There’s no other storyteller like Joan Didion. She can take the most boring fact and spin a narrative yarn around it that boggles the mind. She can tie so many elements together in telling a story and making a point about politics, culture, or the identity of a place that reading her essays feels like being schooled in … Continue reading Essays On Her Own: Didion After Her Editor

Breaking Down the Clinton Campaign, Mistake by Mistake

Book review: Shattered, by Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes “The absurdities of the election – Russian cyberattacks, a rogue FBI director, and an orange-hued reality-TV star winning the Republican nomination – intensified the sense of grief for Hillary, Bill, and their inner circle.” As they did for all of us, really. Reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes interviewed top aides, movers and shakers within Hillary Clinton’s campaign … Continue reading Breaking Down the Clinton Campaign, Mistake by Mistake

Musings on Art and Loneliness

Book review: The Lonely City, by Olivia Laing “It was becoming increasingly easy to see how people ended up vanishing in cities, disappearing in plain sight, retreating into their apartments because of sickness or bereavement, mental illness or the persistent, unbearable burden of sadness and shyness, not knowing how to impress themselves into the world.” Olivia Laing unexpectedly became a British expatriate alone in New York City, … Continue reading Musings on Art and Loneliness