nonfiction

Thumbs up for The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morrison. History.

I was puzzled, at first, by this book: why in heaven’s name does it start with crime, punishment, and riots? The violent political backdrop of the Regency is certainly important, but starting there—in a somewhat academic style no less—immediately excluded this book from being what I thought it perhaps was: a narrative primer of the period.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Nonfiction.

My only excuse for not already having read Didion is that I don’t read many books of essays; and furthermore these essays are mostly about things I do not care about. That doesn’t matter. Her writing is so good it’s like the taste of water when you’re thirsty. Not many people can see truthfully or write beautifully; Didion does both.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Why Be Catholic?: Understanding Our Experience and Tradition by Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos. Religion.

Read for character research. I don’t usually read research books cover to cover, and therefore don’t review them, but this one was slim. I don’t think the authors present a convincing case for answering the title question in the positive; they are too fair-minded and honest, never discussing an ideal without also talking about its failures of execution.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything by Theodore Gray. Science.

I thought this would be pretty, and potentially informative. I didn’t think it would be hilarious. Enjoy it yourself, leave it on your coffee table for your friends, and give it to every kid you know.

The base of conventional nail polish is a nitrocellulose lacquer dissolved in acetone.

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Thumbs up for Taking the Medicine: A Short History of Medicine’s Beautiful Idea, and Our Difficulty Swallowing It by Druin Burch. History.

If the history of medicine, in the specific sense of “things we take to feel better”–from opium to thalidomide, penicillin to aspirin–sounds at all interesting to you, read this book. That won’t apply to most of you, of course.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language by Eva Hoffman. Memoir.

A magnificent book. Ironically and wonderfully – since it’s about Hoffman’s struggle to express herself, and find her identity, in English – Lost in Translation is more gorgeously and elegantly written than most books by native speakers. There were so many passages I wanted to copy out.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones. Nonfiction/writing.

The problem of a collection of essays and speeches by one person on a single topic is immediately obvious: the content becomes repetitive. The story of Diane Wynne Jones’s early childhood is now ingrained in my mind, because I’ve read it five or six times. But it’s unfortunate that that is what I now first think of when I think of Reflections, because the non-repetitive bits are filled with such wisdom and cleverness and humor.… >> Read more