Friday, October 31, 2008

Top ten: books with secret signs

Justin Scroggie is the author of Tic-tac Teddy Bears and Teardrop Tattoos. For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of books with secret signs.

His introduction and one title from his list:
I'm an author (and television producer) with a passion for secret signs – all the ways that people in the know privately communicate with each other. I love books where something hinges on a sign or a symbol that the protagonist has to decipher. Authors are playful people, too, so I'm always on the lookout for any hidden messages they might have included, in a character's name, for example, or even on the cover.

* * *
Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone

At the start of the first book in the series, dark wizard Lord Voldemort kills Lily and James Potter, and then turns his attention to their one-year-old child, Harry. But thanks to Lily's self-sacrifice, the attack fails, leaving Voldemort's body destroyed and Harry with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead. The scar is both an indelible mark of Harry's past and a sign of how that past will catch up with him.
Read more about Scroggie's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cornel West: most important books

Princeton professor Cornel West's latest book is Hope on a Tightrope.

For Newsweek, he named his five most important books.

One title on his list:
"In Praise of Folly" by Erasmus.

He shows how we all, particularly Christians, should try to laugh at ourselves and love others.
Read about the other four books on West's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ten Halloween stories

The writer James Hynes posted his 2008 list of Halloween stories on his website.

One item on his list:
"La Grande Breteche," Honore de Balzac. I'm detecting another theme here, but I can't say why without giving away the story. This one comes from another classic anthology I practically lived in as a melancholy kid, Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, a big fat Modern Library book I took out of the Big Rapids Library again and again and again. It's still in print, in a very handsome edition, and I have my own copy now. It's pure nostalgia, the book where I first read stories by M. R. James, Saki, Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and H. P. Lovecraft, not to mention the first place I ever read Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Hemingway's "The Killers," which the editors included in the Tales of Terror section of the book.
Read about all ten stories on Hynes' list.

Related: Five best ghost stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Five best ghost stories

Brad Leithauser, editor of The Norton Book of Ghost Stories, named a five best list of ghost tales for the Wall Street Journal.

One title from his list:
The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James

Henry James (1843-1916) might have achieved his greatest fame with such works of psychological realism as the novella "Daisy Miller" and the novel "The Portrait of a Lady," but he also produced short masterpieces of supernatural fiction, including "Sir Edmund Orme," "The Friends of the Friends" and "Maud-Evelyn." These are rich, emotional stories that employ the supernatural to explore the unlit recesses of the psyche: pathological jealousy, romantic betrayal, necrophilia, etc. Fine as they are, the stories are overshadowed by a novella that may be the greatest ghost tale in the language: "The Turn of the Screw," the tragic story of an inexperienced governess and her two young and beautiful charges. Its genius lies in its bifurcated narration; a reader can embrace two equally plausible but mutually exclusive plot-lines. All is sunshine and gaiety at the story's outset, but the reader soon receives disturbing intimations. Take your choice: The governess is dangerously mad, or she is sane and the beautiful children are covertly satanic.
Read about all five books on Leithauser's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Steven Pinker's five most important books

Steven Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of several books, including How the Mind Works and, most recently, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature.

Pinker told Newsweek about his five most important books. Number One:
"The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins.

A lucid explanation of natural selection and a model of elegant science writing.
Read about the other four titles on Pinker's list.

Related: Steven Pinker's "five best" list of books that explore human nature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Critic's chart: top books about Elvis

Bob Stanley, music writer and a member of the pop band St Etienne, named a "critic's chart" of top books about Elvis for the (London) Times.

Number One on his list:
Last Train to Memphis/Careless Love by Peter Guralnick

Thorough, passionate and definitive, a two-volume account of the King's rise and fall.
Read about all six books on Stanley's chart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Civil War away from the battlefield: 5 best books

James M. McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom and the newly released Tried by War: Lincoln as Commander in Chief, named a five best list of "books about the Civil War away from the battlefield" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title from his list:
Southern Lady, Yankee Spy
by Elizabeth R. Varon
Oxford, 2003

Popular Civil War literature is filled with romantic and sensational stories of female spies, many of them made of whole cloth. But this story of Elizabeth Van Lew is eminently true. A member of a prominent Richmond family, she inherited her mother's antislavery convictions. She freed her own slaves before the war and purchased some of their relatives to free them. During the war Van Lew skillfully traded on her reputation for eccentricity (she was called "Crazy Bet") to get away with hiding escaped Union prisoners of war and providing Gen. Ulysses S. Grant with vital intelligence smuggled through the lines during the 1864-65 siege of Richmond.
Read more about McPherson's list.

Learn more about McPherson's Tried by War: Lincoln as Commander in Chief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 17, 2008

Five best books on jazz

John Edward Hasse, curator of American Music at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, founder of national Jazz Appreciation Month, and author of Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington, named a five best list of books on jazz for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
by Bob Blumenthal
Collins, 2007

When I agreed to review the manuscript of music critic Bob Blumenthal's "Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America's Music" for the publisher, I was unsure what to expect. A book attempting an overview of a subject with nearly a century of rich history and with three- quarters of a million recordings is a daunting undertaking. But as I began reading, I soon recognized that Blumenthal had produced the single best compact introduction to jazz currently available. And he did it in fewer than 200 pages of engaging, clearly written prose, accompanied by handsome illustrations and a short but useful glossary. Blumenthal's "Jazz" is the ideal starting point for anyone drawn to the music for the first time.
Read about all five titles on Hasse's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Six books on young leaders

Iain Finlayson, a biographer and a nonfiction reviewer for the (London) Times, named a critic's chart of "six books on young leaders" for his newspaper.

One title on the list:
Dreams from My Father Barack Obama

Obama's life in Jakarta and Hawaii before entering Harvard Law School.
Read the full chart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ann Packer: 5 most important books

Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and Songs Without Words, listed her five most important books for Newsweek.

One title on her list:
Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz.

A gorgeously harrowing novel about grief and redemption.
Read about the other titles on Packer's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Five best books on financial meltdowns

For the Wall Street Journal, Martin Mayer, a guest scholar in economic studies at the Brookings Institution and the author of many books about banking and finance, named a five best list of book on financial meltdowns.

Number One on his list:
Manias, Panics, and Crashes
by Charles P. Kindleberger
Basic Books, 1978

Charles P. Kindleberger's "Manias, Panics, and Crashes" is the definitive overview of financial emergencies. It was published 30 years ago but updated early in this decade (when Charlie was 90 years old!). A professor of economics at MIT and one of the designers of the Marshall Plan after World War II, Kindleberger practiced what he cheerfully called "literary economics," as distinguished from the mathematical or even statistical economics to which almost all his colleagues paid obeisance. The style of the book is conversational, but it is not merely a narrative; its many historical illustrations serve analytical purposes. In the chapter "Speculative Manias," for instance, Kindleberger considers the surge of gold prices in the 1970s, when gold spiked from less than $40 an ounce at the start of the decade to $200 by 1973. "The greater fool theory" was likely at work, Kindleberger says, as some buyers -- aware that they were buying into a bubble -- acquired gold intending to unload it before the bubble burst. The reader will find in these pages from a generation ago all the arguments being aired regarding the current economic mess. With typical grace and brevity, Kindleberger addresses a subject now much on our minds: "Given a seizure of credit in the system," he writes, "more is safer than less. The excess can be mopped up later. As for timing, it is an art. That says nothing -- and everything."
Read about all five titles.

Related: Critic's chart: books on cash crashes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Critic's chart: books on Anglo-French conflict

Robert Tombs, the co-author (with Isabelle Tombs) of That Sweet Enemy, a book "about the long and sometimes fractious relationship between England and France," named a critic's chart of books on Anglo-French conflict for the Times (London).

One title on his list:
Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke

The most important English book written about France.
Read about the other five books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Top 10: whale tales

Social historian and author Philip Hoare named a top ten list of books about whales for the Guardian.

Number One on his list:
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

First published in London in 1851 (in order to register its copyright in America), Melville's book mystified his British editor, who simply cut out parts he found immoral or blasphemous. Melville's madly digressive book - 135 chapters of everything you ever wanted to know about whales, and a lot you probably didn't - never sold out its first edition. The book languished until the 1920s when DH Lawrence, WH Auden and Virginia Woolf acclaimed it as a modernist text before its time. In Melville's metaphysical prose, the hunted whale becomes a numinous, immortal animal, an overarching symbol for his time, and our own.
Read about all ten titles on Hoare's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Five best: books on the history of medicine

Stephanie J. Snow is a Research Associate at the Center for the History of Science, Technology & Medicine at the University of Manchester and the author of Operations Without Pain: The Practice and Science of Anaesthesia in Victorian Britain and the newly released Blessed Days of Anaesthesia: How Anaesthetics Changed the World.

She named a five best list of her favorite books on the history of medicine for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on her list:
The Greatest Benefit to Mankind
by Roy Porter
Norton, 1997

As a survey of the history of medicine from the Greeks to the present day, "The Greatest Benefit to Mankind" is unsurpassed. It bridges Western and Eastern cultures and is packed with vivid anecdotes of patients and practitioners, including the 18th-century London surgeon John Abernethy, who commanded his fat lady patients: "Madam, buy a skipping rope." Porter, the eminent British historian who died in 2002 at age 55, writes that "the historical record is like the night sky: we see a few stars and group them into mythic constellations. But what is chiefly visible is the darkness." Still, he deftly illuminates much of medicine's historical landscape and shows how our expectations of health and life have been transformed by modern medicine and science. This is a book I return to again and again.
Read about all five titles on Snow's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 3, 2008

Recommended Irish crime fiction

Crime writer Declan Burke posted a recommended list of Irish crime fiction at The Rap Sheet.

Number One on the list:
Dead I Well May Be, by Adrian McKinty.

The first of McKinty’s trilogy of Michael Forsythe novels, which reads like Cormac McCarthy taking a stab at the Robert Ludlum franchise.
Read the complete list.

Check out an excerpt from Burke's The Big O and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website and the Crime Always Pays blog.

The Page 99 Test:: The Big O (Irish edition).

The Page 99 Test: The Big O.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Top ten: books about Admiral Nelson

Roy and Lesley Adkins are the authors of the newly released Jack Tar: Life in Nelson's Navy and other books, including Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle (US title, Nelson's Trafalgar).

For the Guardian, they named a top ten list of books about Horatio Nelson.

One title on the list:
The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson by Roger Knight

At 874 pages, this is one of the heavyweight biographies of the vice-admiral. It employs the latest research to provide a detailed analysis of the man and his place in history, backed up by many pages of references and notes, as well as a section of biographical sketches of people who interacted with Nelson.
Read about all ten books.

--Marshal Zeringue