Jeff's Picks

The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century Cover Image
ISBN: 9780691169804
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Published: Princeton University Press - September 15th, 2015

The historian Fritz Stern in his NYRB review called this book one the best history books of the last century and our young 21st century. The depth and extent of the research represented here is staggering.

Agaat Cover Image
ISBN: 9780982503096
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Published: Tin House Books - April 27th, 2010

Written about her native apartheid South Africa and its looming collapse Van Niekerk captures a huge part of the complexity of life through one of the most carefully wrought woman characters in any novel I have ever read. Somehow in the seemingly tight confines of the rural Velt this novel handles marriage, patriarchy, politics, race and the extraordinary relationship between Milla and Agaat.

The Hamilton Case Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316010818
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Published: Back Bay Books - April 11th, 2005

Has anyone, outside of Australia where she teaches, heard of Michelle de Kretser? Probably her fellow Sri Lankans where she grew up, but she writes such good books I hope more readers will make the discovery. This book has a dark Evelyn Waugh humor threading through a dysfunctional family's privileged life in Ceylon before independence. A mother/ son send up that has Sophoclean troubles.

The Meursault Investigation Cover Image
By Kamel Daoud, John Cullen (Translator)
ISBN: 9781590517512
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Published: Other Press (NY) - June 2nd, 2015

Kamel Daoud is an Algerian journalist who writes honestly enough to have merited a fatwa against his life. In this novel he comes up with the brilliant idea to write a narrative taking Camus' The Stranger as a true premise for his story. The brother of the never named Arab victim in Camus' novel comes to life and with his long suffering mother wants to know who this Meursault was.

To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062346667
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Published: Harper Perennial - February 9th, 2016

Weinberg is considered one of top physicists in the world and has won a Nobel for his work. He also writes elegantly on science for the NYRB. In this book he talks about the arc of scientific knowledge from the Greeks to us. Should the Greeks be credited for any prescient fragments written about "atoms." Not a chance, according to Weinberg, what we know now has been slowly accumulated over centuries and there are big epistemic breaks along the way.

View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780156002165
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Published: Mariner Books - May 26th, 1995

I hadn't heard of Szymborska before her Nobel in literature in 1996. I can only imagine how great she is in Polish, but in English she is extraordinary. Her poetry is very accessible and has the air of everyday life to it. It deceptively challenges you to think about things that might fist appear as obvious, but the simple disappears as she takes you around the corner, under and over with her lines. Read any poetry book by her.

Patterns of Childhood Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374518448
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Published: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux-3pl - March 23rd, 2006

Christa Wolf's fiction has always been a favorite. In this memoir of her childhood in Nazis Germany and then revisiting her home town as an adult with her husband and daughter she cuts to the bone, her's and the town she grew up in.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog Cover Image
By Muriel Barbery, Alison Anderson (Translator)
ISBN: 9781933372600
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Published: Europa Editions - September 1st, 2008

Before reading this book you walked around Paris and looked past all the "plain" concierges, but now you see them as possible philosophers with an exceptional knowledge of opera. Thanks to Muriel Barbery's funny and serious book we can all see better.

Inequality: What Can Be Done? Cover Image
ISBN: 9780674504769
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Published: Harvard University Press - May 11th, 2015

We all know that inequality has grown dramatically, but you don't hear much about solutions. Well Anthony Atkinson who teaches at the London School of Economics and has been in the forefront of research on inequality has written this book explaining what can be done to correct our greatest social problem.

My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One Cover Image
By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (Translator)
ISBN: 9781609450786
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Published: Europa Editions - September 25th, 2012

Years ago I came across a review of Ferrante's Days of of Abandonment which lead me to Troubling Love and now lucky us; the last book in her quartet is out. My Brilliant Friend is the first book and I don't think many people will not read all four. Ann Goldstein deserves high praise for her translation. The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and the fourth and final book in the series, The Story of the Lost Child.