Monday, December 5, 2011

October & November Books

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore alternates chapters between Harold White's (a new member of eminent Sherlockian society) amateur sleuthing in Europe and Doyle's own account of his search for a serial killer, aided by Dracula creator Bram Stoker. White is inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, at their annual New York City dinner. Scholar Alex Cale plans to present a long-lost diary penned by Arthur Conan Doyle, but someone strangles Cale before he can do so. Doyle's great-grandson hires White to solve the murder and trace the diary, which is missing from Cale's hotel room. The book is engaging and entertaining, but doesn’t challenge the master.

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks is described as “a moving and nuanced intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress.”Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes a composite couple, Harold and Erica, from infancy to school; from the “odyssey years” of young adulthood to the issues of poverty, success and effective leadership. He reveals the deeply social aspect of our very minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. Along the way, he challenges conventional definitions of success while looking toward a culture based on morality, trust and humility. The novel is interesting, important, but a bit wordy and sometimes jumbled.

The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker prize and received breathless reviews. The novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return to his consciousness through a bequest from one of them. Tony Webster thought had had left it all behind as his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement, but he gets to see his life in new perspective.

*This Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum is “a wake-up call and a call to collective action”. They analyze the four challenges we face—globalization, the revolution in information technology, the nation’s chronic deficits, and our pattern of excessive energy consumption—and spell out what we need to do now to sustain the American dream and preserve American power in the world. Yet Friedman and Mandelbaum believe that the recovery of American greatness is within reach and offer a five-part formula for prosperity that could enable us to cope successfully with the current challenges.

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva follows the successful formula of his best selling series about art restorer and Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon. Even though almost a third of the book involves reminding the reader of characters and events from previous novels, Silva manages to keep a high level of energy and excitement as Gabriel and his team essentially demolishes a new group of Islamic terrorists with a little help from a Saudi heiress, the CIA and MI-6.

Tony and Susan by Austin Wright is a crime story within a domestic novel that was largely unnoticed in 1993 when it was originally published. Reissued this year to glowing reviews, Wright explores the nature of marriage and memory, while dissecting the potential impact of ‘minor’ choices.’ Susan reads her ex-husband’s first novel, Nocturnal Animals , in which an impulsive change of plan delivers Tony Hastings and his family into the hands of strangers who terrorize them. By counterpoising the eroding compromises of Susan's daily life with the sufferings of the fictional Hastings family, Wright shows that macho posturing, cruelty, and irresponsibility can be universal.
*The Paris Wife by Paula McLain brings Hadley Richardson Hemingway out from the shadow cast by her famous husband. The Hemingway relationship included a whirlwind courtship and a few fast and furious years of the expatriate lifestyle in 1920s Paris. This bonbon of literary tourism provides glimpses of literary giants of the era, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Despite her basic decency, Hemmingway outgrows his starter wife after six years. “Much more than a woman-behind-the-man homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled.”

Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance by by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm is actually an excellent text on economic history and macro economic theory and provides an in-depth historical analysis of the role of crises in capitalist economies. With thumbnail sketches of nineteenth and twentieth century economic thought from Smith, Keynes, and the “Austrian school”, they reject the "quaint beliefs" that markets are "self-regulating," and blame Alan Greenspan's refusal to use the power of the Fed to dampen unbridled speculation, choosing instead to pump "vast quantities of easy money into the economy and keep it there for too long." A thoughtful, sometimes repetitive, important book that can be slow going for non economic wonks.

*The Rules of Civility by AmorTowles depicts an enchanting, martini-filled pre-WWII New York City. A chance meeting at a jazz club on New Year's Eve brings three memorable characters together for an enlightening and occasionally tragic search for a better life. “Towles' writing also paints an inviting picture of New York City, without forgetting its sharp edges…reminiscent of Fitzgerald.”

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