new books

Discovering the Origins of the Tube: The Lifeblood of London

Oliver Green and Benjamin Graham

The Metropolitan Railway was a novel attempt to solve a slightly different transport problem: how to get around or across the congested city quickly and conveniently. At the Parliamentary Select Committee on Metropolitan Communications in 1855, one witness who gave evidence complained that it took longer to get across town, navigating the crowded streets from London Bridge to Paddington, than it did to travel up to London by train from Brighton. Some might argue that the situation has not improved much, but the growth and development of London’s underground railway system over more than 150 years have been phenomenal

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Sleuthing American Landscapes With Suzanne Lessard in ‘The Absent Hand’

Lee Polevoi

Armed with a self-proclaimed mission to “sleuth” American ground (“to understand the change in landscape form and meaning and what it could tell us about ourselves as a society now”), Lessard embarks on numerous journeys, described in the series of essays that make up The Absent Hand. Destinations range from her home village of Rensselaerville, New York, and the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg to King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

The Future Is Here in John Lanchester's Dystopian 'The Wall'

Lee Polevoi

A decade or two into the future, after a tumultuous global climate event called the Change, an island nation (much like England) has built a Wall to protect itself against marauding outsiders, known as the Others. Those charged with protecting the borders, known as the Defenders, must maintain a 24/7 vigilance against attack and penetration. In many ways, it’s a world not all that different from what we know today, except that—as one example—rising waters around the planet have made beaches extinct.

A Harrowing Tale of the Incarceration System in Shane Bauer’s ‘American Prison’

Lee Polevoi

American Prison aims to be several different things, including a first-person undercover account of what it feels like to guard a general population in a for-profit prison. It’s also  an in-depth history of American convict labor and the rise of private prisons since Colonial times—and how outsourced incarceration has grown over time into a huge business. Bauer’s risky enterprise into life as a corrections officer was partly informed by his experiences as a prisoner in Iran for more than two years. 

The Republic Torn Asunder in Ben Fountain’s ‘Beautiful Country Burn Again’

Lee Polevoi

In Beautiful Country Burn Again, Fountain revisits the tumultuous 2016 presidential campaign. Interspersed with his vivid, on-the-scene reportage are sections he calls “Book of Days,” a more or less objective compilation of world events taking place in the months leading up to Election Day. (It makes for grim reading.) He also theorizes at length about something he calls The Third Reinvention, addressing—with the hopes of reforming or eliminating—wealth inequality, white supremacy, and damage already inflicted on the democratic system.

John Cleese Discusses Something ‘Completely Different’ in ‘Professor at Large’

Sam Chapin

If you had asked me why it was funny, I probably would have yelled, “Ni!” and ran away. And I’d wager that a lot of Python faithfuls have a hard time enunciating their affections for the material--it feels so effortlessly humorous. It’s easy to forget that someone actually wrote it. In John Cleese’s new book, Professor at Large: The Cornell Years, he gives an intimate and exhaustive exploration of his creative and analytical mind, allowing us to see firsthand the inner workings of a comedic genius. 

Ghosts and Spies Emerge From London Fog in Kate Atkinson’s ‘Transcription’

Lee Polevoi

Atkinson quickly establishes place, diction, and a credible spirit of wartime and postwar milieus—while rarely getting bogged down in unnecessary exposition. The tone in the early chapters is both keenly literary and vividly cinematic. Confusion arises, however, with a plethora of secondary characters, i.e., the German sympathizers and double agents, some of whom are being “run” by Godfrey Tobey, some by Perry (her boss). The reader might be forgiven for wondering why many of these clandestine members of the Fifth Column talk so openly about “working for Berlin” or “spying for the Gestapo” in the midst of wartime England. 

H. Jon Benjamin and the Art of Failure

Adam Gravano

We all have a friend whom we laugh and have a good time with, but later, when we go through the events of time together, when it's too late to mention and we're too far apart, we wonder if everything is all right — perhaps while lying awake. This is a book written by that friend. You'll cringe; you'll laugh; you'll cringe while laughing. The book does a remarkable job of accomplishing its goal: You'll find that failure is an option and it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's great to read and makes a more helpful suggestion to people who haven't quite found a good fitting place after graduation.

Two Killers Haunt 1950s London in ‘Death in the Air’

Lee Polevoi

Winkler describes these disparate events in impressive detail. She offers a chilling description of how abysmal government policies, combined with a bout of truly terrible weather, created the slaughterhouse effects of 1952. She writes with verve and sympathy about a handful of Christie’s victims, and seems to capture with disturbing accuracy the killer’s mental state as he commits and then hides the evidence of his monstrous crimes. 

A Girl Vanishes, Seasons Pass, in Jon McGregor’s ‘Reservoir 13’

Lee Polevoi

A frenzied, exhaustive search gets underway. But despite the best efforts of residents and authorities, no trace of the girl is found. McGregor, employing a kind of narrative wide-angle lens, travels fitfully among the villagers—Jones, the school janitor; Jane, the vicar; the butcher Martin Fowler and his wife, Ruth; teens Sophie, James, Liam and Deepak—pausing long enough to remark on their circumstances and then moving on. 

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