25 Books to Read Before You Die

Reviews From



Tuesday, July 27th


Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship by Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-powell, Baron Baden-powell Of Gilwell

Young Men in Shorts

A review by Christopher Hitchens

In 1988, shortly before the expiration of communism in Eastern Europe, I was waiting on the platform of a Prague subway station. The idea was that a member of the civic opposition would recognize me by the book I was carrying and escort me to some illegal gathering. The precautions were hardly necessary, since the regime was by then in an advanced state of decay and inanition, but I am glad I went through the "drill," because I might otherwise have missed witnessing one of the symptoms of that decadence. Onto the platform was led a spiritless troop of pre-teenage boys, all wearing makeshift uniforms of shorts and blouses. Round their necks were faded red kerchiefs. In command was an adult Communist of scarcely believable bloat and scrofulousness, who looked as if it would be beyond his power to motivate his charges even to whistle, let alone to sing an uplifting anthem. They were trudging off on who knows what futile errand of party-building. I thought of Milan Kundera's caustic...

The Towers of Trebizond (New York Review of Books Classics) by Rose Macaulay

A review by Charles Taylor

Through its reissues of out-of-print or forgotten books, the New York Review of Books has been fueling the sense of discovery that remains one of the great pleasures of reading. Again and again while bookstore browsing in the last few years, I've come across something the NYRB has published that I've never heard of, taken it home, and felt like I've discovered a little treasure.

That was how I felt reading The Towers of Trebizond, a small miracle of a novel by Rose Macaulay. Jan Morris' introduction informs us that this 1956 novel, Macaulay's last, was a critical and commercial hit on both ...

On Truth by Harry Frankfurt

Up From Bullshit

A review by Simon Blackburn

In his prime, and without benefit of a keyboard, Samuel Johnson could write twelve thousand words a day. I doubt that there are many more than half that number in Harry Frankfurt's diminutive book On Bullshit, which was an unexpected best-seller for Princeton University Press last year, shyly peeking out next to the cash registers in bookshops everywhere. Evidently the commercial giant Knopf wanted to get in on the act, and the result is this almost equally tiny book, nicely positioned for a similar success this Christmas, since there is an announced first printing of 200,000 copies. ...

Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey

At Least He Was Rich

A review by Anna Godbersen

Memoirs, as we all know, are sad-childhood territory, and Sean Wilsey's Oh the Glory of It All is no exception. Happily, though, Wilsey's was a glamorous kind of sad childhood, set in the society San Francisco of the '70s and '80s, colored by two wealthy, eccentric parents, and embellished by one truly evil stepmother. Wilsey recalls the brief, charmed years when his mother (an Oklahoma preacher's daughter-turned-SF party girl) and father (a butter magnate/helicopter enthusiast) still lived together in Russian Hill; he begins his story, "in the beginning we were happy to excess." Things turn...

The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up by Yiwu Liao

Who's Your Buddha?

A review by Howard W. French

Master Deng Kuan, abbot of the Gu Temple, established in the Sui Dynasty sometime around the turn of the sixth century, was 103 when the writer Liao Yiwu met him while mountain climbing in Sichuan Province, in 2003. A tiny man with small, darting eyes and ears that were extremely hard of hearing, Deng had survived despite an irremediable fondness for his old pipe, which he relighted and puffed every few minutes as he spoke to Liao. A couple of pages into Liao's account of their conversation in The Corpse Walker, one quickly grasps that surviving a fondness for tobacco was the very least of...

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

The Forever War

A review by Chris Bolton

It's always risky to revisit a childhood favorite. Your once-favorite movie that ran every afternoon on HBO is likely to turn out, in adulthood, to be horribly written, abysmally acted, and in general, an embarrassment (I'm looking at you, Goonies). Let's not touch music and fashions. Even books can age poorly, or turn out to be not quite the towering achievement you remember them to be.

Robert Cormier's young adult classic The Chocolate War was published the year I was born. I read it in my early teens, when I was only beginning to resent authority and struggling to find my own voice...

Voodoo Vintners: Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers by Katherine Cole

"Voodoo Vintners" Explores the Strange World of Biodynamic Winegrowing

A review by Angie Jabine

During my years at Northwest Palate magazine, I read a mountain of wine-marketing literature, and it was puzzling how often I saw the term "biodynamic winegrowing" without ever learning what it actually entails.

Now that Katherine Cole, who writes a wine column for the Oregonian, has described it in detail in Voodoo Vintners: Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers, I think I understand why. The term "biodynamic" may sound scientific, and its purpose -- to promote soil and plant health -- is admirable. But it's hard to explain actual biodynamic practices as anything but, well, voodoo...

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