Albert Camus’ The Plague

Albert Camus’ The Plague is the fictional account of a coastal Algerian town’s battle against a plague epidemic in an unspecified year in the 1940s. There are early warnings of an outbreak – rats surfacing from the sewers to die and numerous […]

Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems

Larkin is the most beloved English poet of the post-war era and a major influence on a wide community of writers, in prose and verse, on both sides of the Atlantic. Reading his Collected Poems, comprising his four publications The North Ship […]

Milan Kundera’s The Joke

First, an apposite quotation from Christopher Hitchens: “The struggle for a free intelligence has always been a struggle between the ironic and the literal mind.” The free intelligence (in truth, a tautology, but a useful one nonetheless) admits of no […]

Richard Feynman’s Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Richard Feynman was America’s best-known theoretical physicist, a Nobel laureate and, according to a 1999 poll of 100 of the world’s most highly esteemed scientists, one of the ten greatest physicists to ever live. It is difficult to comprehend intellect […]

P.G. Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves

Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves, less a novel than a group of chronologically-linked short stories cobbled together into a coherent whole, is the third Wodehouse work I have read thus far, and the final in my particular compendium of Wodehouse’s “Jeeves stories.” […]

Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind

I am embarrassingly late to the works of Zadie Smith, having associated her with a younger generation of writers the literati seemed overly eager to promote. But then I read her essay on Kafka for the New York Review of Books, […]

Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe From Nothing

Nothing induces humility quite like grappling with theoretical physics. Richard Dawkins and some of his contemporaries in the fields of biology and evolutionary psychology posit that our brains evolved to contemplate numbers on a much smaller scale than is required for […]

Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve

Stephen Greenblatt is a professor of literature at Harvard University, bestselling author of the fictionalized biography of Shakespeare Will in the World, and one of the founders of New Historicism – something for which I have yet to forgive him. But […]

Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates

In the darker days of my youth, when every aspect of life was infused with undue urgency, I found consolation in a quotation from Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It became a kind of personal mantra, something […]

Franz Kafka’s The Trial

George Steiner, at 83 still one of our best literary critics, articulates my primary difficulty in writing this post in the very first sentence of his Introduction: “The thought that there is anything fresh to be said of Franz Kafka’s The […]