Books & Fiction

The Crisis in Infrastructure Detailed in Henry Petroski’s ‘The Road Taken’

Lee Polevoi

In his new book, The Road Taken, the distinguished historian and engineer Henry Petroski looks back on the evolution of our core physical and transportation infrastructure – the roads, bridges, interstate highways, everything constructed and maintained in past centuries for the chief purpose of moving human beings and commerce from one location to another. Petroski also declares a state of emergency concerning the dismal state of affairs (a “tipping point”) of our decaying transportation infrastructure.

Hell is a Cold Place in Ian McGuire’s ‘North Water’

Lee Polevoi

Inevitably, The North Water carries echoes of Melville and Lord Jim, but the sensibility behind Ian McGuire’s engrossing new novel is unmistakably Cormac McCarthy. With its exquisitely detailed acts of violence – each more graphic and disturbing than the next – the author depicts a hellish world that, like much of McCarthy’s work, is both unsparing and utterly convincing. 

 

Dissecting the Art of the Con in Maria Konnikova’s ‘Confidence Game’

Lee Polevoi

Readers may pause and reflect on whether they have fallen victim to a cunning fraud at some time in their lives. Others, acutely aware of past victimhood and the significant loss of hard-earned funds at the hands of a confidence man (or woman), won’t find any of this hard to believe. Konnikova’s goal in The Confidence Game isn’t to chronicle spectacular examples of the con, but instead, to offer “an exploration of the psychological principles that underlie each and every game … from the moment the endeavor is conceived to the aftermath of its execution.” 

Viet Thanh Nguyen Wins Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

John Freeman

Nguyen spent his first three years in the US in a refugee camp in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsyvlania and then with a host family in Harrisburg, where he was separated from his mother and father and sister. “Not everyone would take a whole family,” he says, speaking by phone from Boston. “This period had a big impact on me, I didn’t realize how deep until much later.”

A Bomb Is Ticking in Jonathan Lee’s Riveting ‘High Dive’

Lee Polevoi

On October 12, 1984, a time bomb planted by the IRA exploded in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England. The target of the bombing, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on hand for the annual gathering of her Conservative Party Conference, walked away unharmed. Five other people died and many suffered serious injuries. On this tragic real-life event, British writer Jonathan Lee has grafted High Dive, his third novel and first to be published in the U.S.

Simon Winchester Tackles the History of the Pacific Ocean in New Book

Lee Polevoi

How does someone go about writing a history of the Pacific Ocean? If you’re Simon Winchester, you come to the challenge with one “oceanic biography” already under your belt. In Atlantic (2010), he looked at the ocean from its “birth” more than 500 million years ago on through modern times, an account suffused with broader themes of justice, warfare and pollution. Winchester proved more than equal to the task of addressing such a vast topic.

Slouching Towards Joan Didion in Tracy Daugherty’s ‘Last Love Song’

Lee Polevoi

Joan Didion has written at least one iconic novel, Play It As It Lays, and several groundbreaking works of nonfiction, including the essay collections, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and The White Album. As definitive impressionistic works of the 1960s, they should endure well into the future. Probably Didion is best known for her late-career memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking. In this book (later adapted for, of all things, the Broadway stage), she recounts the harrowing experience of losing her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, and their beloved adopted daughter, Quintana Roo.

The Best Books of 2015

Lee Polevoi

Over a 40-year career that includes the pivotal 1970s novel, 92 in the Shade, Thomas McGuane’s work has grown leaner and more mature, while continuing to juggle over-the-top comedy and heartbreaking tragedy. In Crow Fair, his new collection of short stories set mostly in Montana’s Big Sky country, McGuane depicts better than most what one character thinks of as “the blizzard of things that could never be explained and that pointlessly exhausted all human inquiry.”

Ann Beattie Returns With New Collection of Compelling Short Stories

Lee Polevoi

Ann Beattie, secure within this elite pantheon, returns after a decade’s absence with a new book, The State We’re In: Maine Stories. Those familiar with her work will immediately recognize the wry perspective, the closely observed details, and the smooth texture of her prose. As the title announces, these stories revolve, directly and indirectly, around people living in the Pine Tree State. 

Gary Rivlin’s ‘Katrina’ Portrays a Destroyed City and Its Painful Recovery

Lee Polevoi

Katrina opens with a compelling set piece that encapsulates many of the book’s themes—the chaos after Katrina made landfall, the lack of emergency coordination among local officials, dire situations made worse by crippling issues of race. On August 30, a group of predominantly black residents, seeking to escape flooding and destruction in their neighborhoods, crossed a bridge spanning the Mississippi for the relative safety of suburban Gretna, a predominantly white community. 

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