Archive for November, 2013

Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin

November 8, 2013

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In Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann explores life in New York City in the 1970s through a series of loosely intertwined narratives. The book opens with an event well-known to those from NYC–the day in 1974 that a man strung a tightrope between the two World Trade Center towers and walked between them. As the book progresses, McCann jumps around to the lives of various people, many of whom witnessed the tightrope display. The characters are varied, including immigrants, socialites, hookers,  young artists, mothers mourning their sons killed in Vietnam, and many more. McCann certainly puts much of the grittiness of NYC during that period on full display, but he also gives fair treatment to the city’s charms, draws, and upper class. In the end, I loved the book not only for its detailed portrayal of a great American city but also for its commentary on the messiness of peoples’ lives.

Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve

November 8, 2013

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Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve is an intellectual narrative about the rediscovery in the 15th century of a Latin work that was almost lost, Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things. Poggio, a 15th century book hunter, found the manuscript tucked away and crumbling in a dusty library, but upon its reintroduction into the literary world, it came to have an astonishing transformative effect. Greenblatt tells this story, which might normally be restricted to a dry academic work, with all the flourishes of a modern story teller. It’s not a book for everyone, but for those interested in the history of ideas and the history of the book itself in Europe, it’s a fun and informative read.