Jonathan Rauch’s Kindly Inquisitors

I came across Jonathan Rauch by accident when I stumbled upon a video of him defending free speech on behalf of F.I.R.E., the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit group established to defend civil liberties, particularly the freedom of […]

Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

For a tiny island nation with a population under seven million, Ireland boasts more than its share of brilliant writers, from Swift down to Yeats, Shaw, Joyce, Beckett and the late Seamus Heaney. Is it inspirational scenery? or perhaps the […]

James Wood’s The Fun Stuff

In starting this blog, and in writing literary criticism more generally, I had in mind an ideal, a mode of writing to aspire to based on the critical writings that had given me the most pleasure. James Wood is that […]

Paul Harding’s Tinkers

Paul Harding’s first novel, Tinkers, was published in 2009 when he was 42 years old, a late start for a then-unknown graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but no doubt he was gratified to find any publisher after the slew of early rejections. […]

Leo Damrosch’s Jonathan Swift

I have to begin by thanking my father for making a gift of this book. It was published just last year, in 2013, and I find myself amazed both at its reception – as I write this it stands in […]

Kingsley Amis’ The Crime Of The Century

I’m not sure how well-known Kingsley Amis is on this side of the Atlantic, particularly among my generation. His son Martin has achieved a much wider recognition in America, though his star is still highest in Britain. Both father and […]

Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Science Of Evil

We have always had a morbid fascination with evil. You see it in our religions and myths and philosophies. You see it in the many words we’ve developed to speak of evil: wicked, sinful, malicious, reprobate, malevolent, heinous and so […]

Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn To Decadence

I am in awe of Jacques Barzun, as surely anyone who has just finished his magnum opus From Dawn To Decadence: 500 Years Of Western Cultural Life must be. Simply put, this book is an anachronism: it belongs not to our century […]

George Saunders’ Tenth Of December

George Saunders’ latest short story collection Tenth of December was released early last year, to the kind of critical acclaim – “The best book you’ll read this year,” fawned a NYT critic in January – that inflates egos and bank accounts, and turns a […]

Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin

While searching for a publisher brave enough to put out Lolita, and laboring under the burden of financial necessity, Vladimir Nabokov published Pnin in installments in The New Yorker, and it has lived in the shadows ever since. It is, admittedly, a much less ambitious […]