Jeff's Picks

The Dragonfly Sea: A novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780451494047
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Published: Knopf - March 12th, 2019

What to call this masterpiece; Epic-realism; epic-something-or-other, for it takes some Homer and much real history, like the famed Chinese admiral Zheng He and the contemporary artist Zao Wou-Ki, and crafts a tale with characters who begin life on Pate, a small island off Kenya. Mixing cultures, languages and tragedies this novel will bend you in every direction. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor has written a novel which will inhabit you.

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The Parisian Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802129437
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Published: Grove Press - April 9th, 2019

Through the Kamal family and specifically the peregrinations of the elder son, Midhat, Isabella Hammad has written an exquisite novel that moves from Nablus to France and back to Nablus in the early 20th century. Illusive happiness is rendered between graceful narrative and dialogue that makes you feel your in the room. This is her first novel and I'm all anticipation.

Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World Cover Image
ISBN: 9780670024933
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Published: Viking - August 7th, 2018

Do you still think markets self-regulate and that most invisible of hands insures the best outcome. Well you could read Voltaire's Candide for a laugh or you could read Crashed by Adam Tooze. This is the best account written on the crash that put us all on the brink in 2008 and pushed many over. Not only does he explain, clearly, the intricate financial mechanisms which played so predominately, but as a good economic historian should, he sets the broad historical context. Tooze does a wonderful job covering how a further catastrophe was averted and the global economy propped up. And sorry nothing was really fixed. Just kick that can down the road and voila you might get political reverberations; like an authoritative moron as president.

Citizenship, Inequality, and Difference: Historical Perspectives Cover Image
ISBN: 9780691171845
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Published: Princeton University Press - May 2018

Who is a citizen, who can become a citizen and what civil and political rights are entailed with citizenship. This book goes back to Rome and forward to our current dilemmas. Prof. Cooper follows the historical layers of citizenship as it evolves from empire to the nation state, always keeping inequality and difference in the frame of analysis. This book is a great way to start thinking about who the civil and political you is.

American Dialogue: The Founders and Us Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385353427
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Published: Knopf - October 16th, 2018

Elllis reminds us that our founders were just people struggling to form a workable government. They were acutely aware of the limitations of popular democracy. Their arguments for a more federal or state configured constitution still resonate. This is a book which reminds us that our current malaise is not unique nor does the reshaping of democracy ever end.

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
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ISBN: 9780982503096
Availability: Backordered
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: A Novel 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: A Novel Cover Image
By Kamel Daoud, John Cullen (Translated by)
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ISBN: 9781590517512
Availability: Backordered
Published: Other Press - 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, Straus and Giroux - July 1984

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 (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781933372600
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Published: Europa Editions - September 2nd, 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 (Translated by)
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.

The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 Cover Image
ISBN: 9780199735815
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Published: Oxford University Press, USA - September 2017

This is a long read, because great analytic history requires it for this period. In our days of discontent and dysfunctional politics there are many parallels with the struggles and conflicts covered here, as the Civil War ended, reconstruction wavered and the expansion west intensified. Railroads, corruption, racism, civic rights and a host of other issues percolated across the country. Richard White, a professor at Stanford, tells our story through pivotal players and uses all the necessary conceptual tools: economic, political, environmental, juridical, and even the literary. If reading history could make civic-minded citizens this book would be required reading.

Disoriental Cover Image
By Negar Djavadi, Tina Kover (Translator)
ISBN: 9781609454517
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Published: Europa Editions - April 17th, 2018

Djavadi has woven history and character together into a family's story of loss of place. When immigration plays such a prominent part in political discourse these days this novel shows how lives are affected. Through Kimia's narrative we experience her family's struggles to maintain a life in Iran and when that is no longer possible what migration means in a new country. A variegated family, whose the old culture gives way to the new, is wonderfully portrayed through the eyes of the most different sister. Tina Kover deserves kudos for her fluid translation.

Weeping Waters Cover Image
By Karin Brynard, Isobel Dixon (Translator), Maya Fowler (Translator)
ISBN: 9781609454463
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Published: World Noir - April 3rd, 2018

Life on a farm in the dry veld in South Africa is not for the fainthearted. Nature's challenges include human fauna. The legacy of apartheid and Afrikaner pioneers is the backround for the murder of a sister and her estranged sibling's effort to pick up the pieces. Sara will and try to reconcile her guilt and navigate all the people who have an interest in the farm. These include the recently transplanted city detective, fellow Afrikaner farmers, indigenous people of different ethnic groups, and others. Such a stew, such a fun read.