New in Paperback: ‘Sapiens,’ ‘Men Without Women’

SAPIENS: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. (Harper Perennial, $22.99.) Harari, an Israeli historian, delves into humanity’s history, exploring why Homo sapiens — once just one human species among several — dominated. This sweeping account attempts to tell a genetic, cultural and social history, with a particular focus on the roles of cognition and agricultural and scientific advancements in our evolution. MEN WITHOUT WOMEN: Stories, by Haruki Murakami. Translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen. (Vintage, $16.) In these seven tales, emotionally adrift men long for the…

Read More

Nonfiction: A Dumping Ground for the Poor, the Criminal and the Mad

DAMNATION ISLANDPoor, Sick, Mad & Criminal in 19th-Century New YorkBy Stacy HornIllustrated. 284 pp. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. $27.95. Blackwell’s Island housed the first and arguably the worst institutions in which the city of New York once exiled the poor, the mad, the criminal and the sick. This two-mile-long piece of land in the East River became known as “Damnation Island” to its many thousands of residents. Men, women and children languished there in conditions of almost unimaginable squalor, brutality, overcrowding, starvation, verminous infestation and neglect. In her fine…

Read More

Bookshelf: ‘Central Park Love Song’

Even though Central Park, like the rest of Manhattan, is largely man-made, not natural, it is a place to experience in person, not secondhand through images, regardless of their authenticity, nor through narratives, no matter how illustrative. That said, Stephen Wolf, who teaches literature and humanities at Berkeley College in New York, offers up a combined guidebook and autobiography that’s the next best thing to being there. His “Central Park Love Song: Wandering Beneath the Heaventrees” (Griffith Moon Publishing) is an eloquent, evocative ode that encompasses New York history, past…

Read More

By the Book: Ottessa Moshfegh: By the Book

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most? Our house was always filled to the ceiling with books, and when I needed a new book to read, I’d wander through the rooms, feeling out what book called to me vibrationally. It was never about the title or the cover. Certain books just gave me a special feeling. Inevitably I’d end up with a stack of half a dozen novels, take them to bed, and play eeny, meeny, miny, mo. This…

Read More

Critic’s Notebook: A Critic Sells Books Down by the Seashore

WIGTOWN, Scotland — Isak Dinesen had a farm in Africa. Recently, if only for a day, I had a bookstore in Scotland. It wasn’t easy to get to Wigtown, in the remote Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland, in time for my shift. Though the village is only a two-hour drive from Glasgow, a GPS sent me through 33 miles of the desolately beautiful Galloway Forest Park on a single-track road that rattled the nerves. The nerve rattling was compounded because I was driving on the “wrong” side of the…

Read More

Willie Lee Rose, Historian of Reconstruction, Dies at 91

Willie Lee Rose, a historian who upended the scholarly consensus of her time by shifting the primary blame for the failure of Reconstruction after the Civil War from freed slaves and Northern interlopers to irresolute federal officials, died on June 20 in Baltimore. She was 91. Her death was confirmed by her niece and closest survivor, Vickie Sherertz. Before being incapacitated by a stroke in 1978, when she was 51, Dr. Rose — a protégé of the eminent Civil War historian C. Vann Woodward — taught at the University of…

Read More

At War: The Poet-Soldier Who Went to His Grave With a Romantic Vision of World War I

It’s not that Seeger was an inadequate craftsman. What his poems lacked was by design. The vision of the war that Graves and Owen presented was secondary to Seeger. He saw what they saw, recognized it and looked elsewhere. He witnessed the truth of the war, sometimes before others who are remembered for their cold honesty. In December 1914, while others still harbored hope they might make it home by Christmas, Seeger wrote to his father that the “war will probably last a long while.” He described being “harried like…

Read More

Feature: Jonathan Franzen Is Fine With All of It

It’s for the best. Really. Really. Now he could fully turn toward the projects that had been whispering in his ear during all these months of writers’ rooms and outlining and script writing. He wanted to write a story for National Geographic about seabirds. Their population is down two-thirds since 1950. “Seabirds are in great trouble,” he said. “Seabirds are amazing, and they are in great trouble.” He had more to say about seabirds. He had more to say about every topic we discussed. But here’s the thing: When he…

Read More

Front Burner: A Glimpse Into Parisian Dining Life

Advertisement Front Burner “Paris à Table” is a new translation of an 1846 book by the journalist Eugène Briffault. CreditSonny Figueroa/The New York Times June 25, 2018 An eye-opening chronicle of French dining from 1846 has just been fully translated into English. The author, Eugène Briffault, was a journalist, gastronome, editor and critic who frequented the upper echelons of French society in the mid-19th century, a time of prosperity, indulgence and refinement. His book starts with dining habits in earlier eras and goes on to provide often acerbic commentary on…

Read More

Fiction: Surviving AIDS, but at What Cost?

Although it would be impossible, not to mention morally reprehensible, to try to single out the most ruinous period in the AIDS pandemic, those initial years (H.I.V. was first identified in 1983) were terrifying in their own particular way. By 1985, in one of the crueler ironies of the century, gay men had learned that the liberation of the libido, the casting-off of eons-old shame, had exposed them to an implacable, hitherto unknown virus. There was no medication except a drug known as AZT, which was mostly a palliative, and…

Read More