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Book Reviews and Criticism

Fiction

An Accidental Family

An Accidental Family (The Adolescent) — Fyodor Dostoevsky. Powerful, underrated portrait of adolescence in crisis.

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare — Henry Miller. Henry Miller's On The Road, a collection of sketches, all infused by Miller’s endless judgments and generalizations, variously insightful, humorous, poetic, and elitist.

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland — Lewis Carroll. Alice is effective as a work of fantasy and maintains a playful stance toward the absurd utterances and situations with which Alice must deal.

Bleeding Edge

Bleeding Edge
Thomas Pynchon's funniest book! Maxine is Pynchon's most fully realized (and funniest) female character.

The Celestine Prophecy

The Celestine Prophecy — James Redfield. A fantasy validation of New Age beliefs.

The Circle

The Circle — Dave Eggers. A 1984 for Our Time

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange — Anthony Burgess. An interesting little book that might have been forgotten without Kubrick’s movie.

Cracking India

Cracking India — Bapsi Sidhwa. An engaging and extremely well-written story of a young girl growing up in Pakistan, at the time of the partition of India.

The Corrections

The Corrections. — Jonathan Franzen. A funny, convincing portrait of an American family at the end of the 20th century.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues — Tom Robbins. Clever language shrouding a weak story with philosophical trappings.

The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 — Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon's short masterpiece on the distortion of communication leads to innumerable interpretations.

The Fourth Hand

The Fourth Hand — John Irving. John Irving must have quickly dashed off and polished this funny, feather-light book.

Jonathan Franzen's Freedom - cover

Freedom — Jonathan Franzen. Franzen solidifies his reputation with a worthy follow-up to The Corrections

Gravity's Rainbow

Gravity's Rainbow — Thomas Pynchon. "Gravity's Rainbow: The V-2 Rocket Cartel as Multinational Corporate Conspiracy".  At its center, Pynchon's great novel shows us the nature of corporate power during World War II.

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale — Margaret Atwood. Negative Utopia as Polemic: Handmaid unabashedly places itself in the negative utopian tradition, and may have heralded the beginning of a new genre: the feminist negative utopia (or dystopia).

Hapworth 16, 1924

Hapworth 16, 1924 — J.D. Salinger. Salinger's anticlimactic last published work on the Glass family deserves some special award for authorial self-indulgence.

In One Person

In One Person — John Irving. John Irving would admit that sexual orientation is still an important political issue in America, but he probably wishes it wasn’t.

Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice — Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon for the Masses! A funny, nostalgic surprise for Pynchon fans everywhere.

J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger. Future generations may never understand the unique affection Salinger's readers felt for Salinger and his characters.

Life After God

Life After God — Douglas Coupland. Life After God: A Case of Style Over Substance: a slick and readable collection of stories, whose only common thread is the same generational angst of Generation X.

Look Homeward, Angel

Look Homeward, Angel — Thomas Wolfe. Look Homeward, Angel is a book of a life, a plotless book that we read because of Wolfe's poetic genius.

Outer Dark

Outer Dark — Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy creates a world devoid of God, purpose, causality; a world where mankind appears only semi-literate and half-animal.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray — Oscar Wilde. Wilde writes an intriguing play masquerading as both a novel and a morality piece.

The Prague Cemetery

The Prague Cemetery — Umberto Eco. The Prague Cemetery is an entertaining tour de force of 19th century European history, blending history and fiction as in his previous novels.

A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany — John Irving. The Sorrow of American Sports. Another funny John Irving production.

The Rosy Crucifixion

The Rosy Crucifixion (Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus) — Henry Miller is crude, but life-affirming.

A Son of the Circus

A Son of the Circus — John Irving. Dr. Daruwalla’s unusual interests—seeking a genetic marker for dwarfism, and secretly writing screenplays for the popular Inspector Dhar movies—embroil him and his Austrian born wife, Julia, in numerous, hilarious difficulties.

Swann’s Way

Swann's Way — Marcel Proust. Proust’s fundamental triumph in Swann’s Way is in reconstructing his own past in such detail. He recreates the rhythm and events of his childhood so vividly that we recall on our childhood reading him.

Tyrannicide: The Story of the Second American Revolution

Tyrannicide: The Story of the Second American Revolution (a novel) — Evan Keliher. Hilarious skewering of DC corruption.

Vineland

Vineland — Essay: "The War on Drugs and the Coming Police-State" describes America as scabland garrison state, where organized political dissent is monitored and ultimately destroyed by the federal government.

A Widow for One Year

A Widow for One Year — John Irving. Irving provides a good read, at least in part because he has never shied away from using sensational events.

U Aardvaark

What's Going On at Uardvark? — Laurence Wittner. What's Going On at Uardvark? offers a satiric look at the contemporary university, full of humorous caricatures, as it tries to offer hope to discouraged progressives.

Winesburg, Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio — Sherwood Anderson. Winesburg, Ohio was shocking for its time: the veneer of Victorian innocence in small town American life is pierced, revealing tormented psyches even among seemingly ordinary people. Nearly all of the older characters nurture old wounds, and the young, fresh ones.


Plays

The Cocktail Party

The Cocktail Party — T.S. Eliot. A play with rhythmic dialogue and ponderous themes.


Philosophy

Genealogy of Morals book cover

The Genealogy of Morals — Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche's greatest work, featuring sustained arguments rather than incisive fragments.

The Holographic Universe

The Holographic Universe — Michael Talbot. Is the universe one big hologram?

Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning — Viktor Frankl. Frankl's Logotherapy School (discovering our purpose heals us) was inspired by Frankl's own experience as a concentration camp survivor.

Parables of Kierkegaard

Parables of Kierkegaard — Soren Kierkegaard. More readable than most philosophy. Kierkegaard's fascinating, little stories illustrate his theories.

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature — Richard Rorty. For Rorty, philosophy is one part of a changing cultural dialogue that will always address the questions of one era, without having answered any previously asked philosophical questions.

The Psychoanalytic Movement

The Psychoanalytic Movement — Ernest Gellner. Probing and hilarious critique of the West's embrace of psychoanalysis to describe behavior and emotion.


Religion

The Book of J

The Book of J — Harold Bloom. Genesis is great literature, not the intended foundation of world religions.

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths — The Dalai Lama. Excellent summary of Buddhist tenets

The Gnostic Gospels

The Gnostic Gospels — Elaine Pagels. Controversial history of early Christianity

The Gospel According To Jesus

The Gospel According to Jesus — Stephen Mitchell. A noted translator's attempt to identify the authentic sayings of Jesus, and uncover their spiritual meaning.

The Kabbalah of Money

The Kabbalah of Money — Rabbi Nilton Bonder. Money is an ineffable mystery. But it’s ok to make lots of it.

Omens of Millennium

Omens of Millenium — Harold Bloom. Strange, fascinating work on Gnosticism, religious history

Zen at Work

Zen At Work — Les Kaye. IBM was nice and let the author be a zen monk. So he wrote about it.


Criticism

Anxiety of Influence

The Anxiety of Influence — Harold Bloom. Only strong poets can overcome this anxiety of influence; lesser lights become derivative flatterers and never achieve poetic immortality for themselves.

The Conquest of Cool

The Conquest of Cool — Thomas Frank. 60s Counterculture as unwitting shill for Madison Avenue

The Erotic Silence of the American Wife

The Erotic Silence of the American Wife — Dalma Heyn. It's OK for women to cheat too.

New Close Readings of The Crying of Lot 49

New Close Readings of The Crying of Lot 49 — Robert E. Kohn

The Western Canon

The Western Canon — Harold Bloom. A polemic against what Bloom terms the School of Resentment: composed of Feminists, Historicists, Deconstructionists, and Afrocentrists, among others, all of who wish to widen the canon so as to include works of the oppressed.


Politics

The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot

The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot — Naomi Wolf. Wolf argues that The Bush Administration took steps toward achieving totalitarianism in America.

No Logo

No Logo — Naomi Klein. This is THE book of the anti-corporate movement.


History

Amsterdam: A History of the Word's Most Liberal City

Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City - Russell Shorto's Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City is such an enjoyable book in part because Shorto cherry-picks the most interesting characters and events from his research into the city's history.

The Dutch Republic

The Dutch Republic - During this Golden Age, the Netherlands became the richest, most progressive, and technologically advanced country in Europe. Amsterdam became the financial capital and entrepôt of Western Europe.

The First Salute

The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution — Barbara Tuchman. Barbara Tuchman's compelling view on the American Revolution highlights the key role played by The Netherlands in the struggle, first as arms merchant via Saint Eustatius (Dutch Antilles), and later as creditor and ally.

The Island at the Centre of the World

The Island at the Centre of the World: The Untold Story of the Founding of New York — Russell Shorto. The Dutch impact on New York (New Amsterdam) was much greater than you think.

Nixonland

Nixonland — Rick Perlstein. Colorful, electric chronicle of the political history of 1964-72, and the Nixonian comeback (and repression).

Nixonland

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan — Rick Perlstein. The Invisible Bridge is a guilty pleasure for those who enjoy 1970s nostalgia.

Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy — Jacob Burckhardt. Often hilarious account of political struggles in Renaissance Italy.

From Dawn To Decadence

From Dawn to Decadence — Jacques Barzun. Masterful survey of western civilization since Renaissance finds 20th century to be without much decent art since Cubism.

Modern Times

Modern Times — Paul Johnson. An engaging portrait of the giant political figures during the 20th century, the age of moral relativism.


Technology

Engines of Creation

Engines of Creation — K. Eric Drexler. Nanotechnology. How will it all turn out?

How Buildings Learn

How Buildings Learn — Stewart Brand. Buildings should be designed for reuse, not for magazine covers.