Book Review: Memoirs of Hadrian

Memoirs of Hadrian and its author Marguerite Yourcenar have always induced a cautious fear in me. I fretted the tome for high literary circles, one of those texts so infused with learned quotations and obscure literary references as to be utterly indigestible to the average reader. Despite their evident reputation, I relegated the Memoirs to the bottom of my reading list for a long time. When I stumbled on another reference to Yourcenar’s work a couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to plunge and pull the Memoirs off the shelf. »

Book Review: Lone Rider

In 1982, at just twenty-three years old and halfway through her architectural studies, Elspeth Beard left her family and friends in London and set off on a 35,000-mile solo adventure around the world on her 1974 BMW R60/6. Exhausted by a recent breakup and with only a few savings scraped together from her job in a pub, a tent, a few clothes and some tools, all packed on the back of her bike, she was determined to prove herself. »

Book Review: Roumeli

Roumeli describes Fermor’s travels around Northern Greece and Macedonia. He visits secluded and remote areas and describes the rugged countryside and how people of these remote regions live. As he meets Sarakatsan shepherds and spends some time with them, visits the impressive monasteries of Meteora, attempts to track a pair of Byron’s slippers in Missolonghi and investigates Kravara and its secret language, he makes acute observations about these communities and their history. »

Book Review: Thinking Fast and Slow

This book stands up to its fame. It’s chock-full of precious insights on our decision-making and behavioral processes and how and why we humans are often capable of making informed yet awful decisions. The bad news is that we can hardly avoid most of these biases, no matter how hard we try and even if we know about them. So-called experts in the field are subject to these same biases: their short-term estimates and predictions can even be pretty good, but they will fail miserably in the long term, like any other man or woman. »

Book Review: Eichmann in Jerusalem. A Report on the Banality of Evil

This book is not about the famous, daring, and in some ways fortunate capture of Eichmann in Buenos Aires in 1960, nor about the covert transfer of the Nazi officer to Israel. Instead, the volume recounts the 1961 trial in Jerusalem, which ended with the defendant being sentenced to death. Hannah Arendt followed the trial as a correspondent for The New Yorker. She took notes, studied the papers, and reconstructed the many witnesses’ personal stories. »

Book Review: Finnish Fairy Tales

Over the years, Iperborea, one of my favorite Italian publishers, has been publishing an unofficial Nordic Tales series. Their renowned nordic fiction series includes one fairy tale volume per year, usually published in December, just for Christmas. The first book was Lapland Tales in 2014, and then they continued with Danish, Icelandic, Swedish, Faroe, Norwegian, Greenlandic and then Finnish in 2021. I’ve been greedily reading each one of them, usually as my last book of the year. »

Book Review: Consider the Lobster

I found a Consider the Lobster review on Goodreads that almost precisely matches my thoughts on DFW and the book. Hence, given the lazy Christmas-break mood I am in right now, I am conceding myself the right to copy-paste and edit David’s review right away. I know of nobody else who writes as thoughtfully and intelligently as DFW. That he manages to write so informatively, with humor and genuine wit, on almost any subject under the sun is mind-blowing – it’s also why I am willing to forgive his occasional stylistic excesses. »

Book Review: About the Meaning of Life

I’m not a regular philosophy reader, much less of self-improvement guides. I’m wary of the latter and too ignorant for the former. Yet, theologian Vito Mancuso has intrigued me for some time. I followed his podcast on the “Four Masters of Life”1 and found it excellent. In it, Mancuso discusses his four tutelary deities: “Socrates, the educator. Buddha, the physician. Confucius, the politician. Jesus, the prophet.” I also listened to some TV interviews where I always found him fascinating. »

Book Review: A useless man

Sait Faik Abasıyanık is an acclaimed Turkish storyteller. A useless man is a collection of short stories that spans nearly two decades of the author’s output, offering a glimpse into his imaginative and troubled mind. His overflowing love for others (even sensual, with a preference for street kids) combined with a “mal de vivre” that pushes him towards self-destruction are apparent. His passion for the most popular areas of Istanbul and, in contrast, the atavistic nostalgia for the simple life of the nearby fishermen islets exudes from these stories, which often run similar one after another. »

Book Review: Endurance, Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

Of all the stories of maritime adventures I’ve read, that of the Endurance, masterfully told by Alfred Lansing in this book, is the most incredible and shocking. Unbelievable to say, given the premise (a crew of 28 men stranded on the Antarctic pack, camped on floating slabs of ice hundreds of miles from any human settlement, at the gates of the Antarctic winter), but the story does not end in tragedy. »

Book Review: Mathematics is politics

Mathematics as the study of relationships: in this aspect lies the similarity and affinity with politics. And then the need in both cases to proceed with stubbornness and trust, without fearing error which, as in all difficult things, is not only lying in wait but inherent, and often, when it is discovered, it is the stimulus and engine of new successes and goals. Hence the need to respect rules and (not or, mind you) the compelling need for revolutions. »

Book Review: King and Emperor, A New Life of Charlemagne

In this scholarly biography by Janet L. Nelson, Charlemagne is stripped back from the years of mythologizing and idolizing that have occurred since his death. He is presented as distinctly human, and this book is the first time I have felt I could reasonably understand Charlemagne as the man he was, not the man he has since been painted to be. Moreover, Nelson is excellent in her discussions of Charlemagne’s wives and their roles. »

Book Review: Language of the Spirit, An Introduction to Classical Music

In this introduction to classical music, Jan Swafford explains the different musical periods and their differences. Each period has its introductory chapter, followed by chapters dedicated to the most influential composers of the era. The choice is comprehensive and well cared for, with the most relevant names well-investigated both in biography and works. For each composer, Swafford also offers some listening suggestions. Biographies thicken as we get into the contemporary era. »

Book Review: Nausea

Antoine Roquentin, the protagonist of the novel, is a former adventurer who has been living for three years in Bouville, a fictional French seaport town, researching the life of an 18th-century diplomat. During his previous life around the world, Antoine has seen many places, met many interesting people, done exciting things. For the last three years, however, he’s been alone in Bouville. He has no friends and no desire to make some or meet anyone. »

Book Review: Proud tobea Flyer

I happened across this book by pure chance. After having ice cream in our favourite place in Milano Marittima, my wife and I visited a small street market with all kinds of booths. Of course, there was a used book stand toward which I immediately gravitated. A quick scan revealed nothing of interest, so I moved along. But Serena, who arrived at the booth moments after I left, knew more. A simple, no-frills, cardboard-covered book which carried a giant PROUD 2BEA FLYER title on the spine caught her attention. »

Book Review: Nomadland

Some call them homeless. The new nomads refer to themselves as ‘houseless’. Many took to the road after their savings were obliterated by the Great Recession. To keep their gas tanks and bellies full, they work long hours at hard, physical jobs. In a time of flat wages and rising housing costs, they have unshackled themselves from rent and mortgages as a way to get by. They are surviving America. »

Book Review. Eight Days in May: The Final Collapse of the Third Reich

Volker Ullrich’s Eight Days in May describes the period from April 30, 1945, the day of Hitler’s suicide, to May 8, the day of signing the German capitulation, with significant jumps backwards in time and some hops in the future. We’re covering only eight days, and the dictator dies on day one. What essential events might ever have happened in such a short period? Well, many pivotal ones, as this well-researched work shows us. »

Book Review: Power to the Words

Vera Gheno’s “Potere alle Parole” (Power to the Words) is an essay on the importance of appropriate use of the (Italian) language, not just in written works but also and predominately in everyday life. What would we think of a person who, having a vast wardrobe of beautiful clothes, always wore the same suit out of laziness? These situations appear unlikely; yet, they are examples of the attitude that many have towards their language: they have access to an immense, incalculable patrimony, which out of indolence, or fear, or inexperience, they use partially. »

Book Review: Alpi Ribelli: Storie di montagna, resistenza e utopia

The idea behind this book is fascinating. As the subtitle suggests, the book collects stories of rebel mountaineers of all kinds. Some chose to disobey orders; others built refuges of resistance, outposts of autonomy and laboratories of social innovation. The collection is rich and varied. We go from the heretics who went with Fra Dolcino to the partisans who stopped the Nazi fascists in the mountains of Cuneo and Belluno, up to the contemporary movements against the high-speed train in the Susa Valley. »

Book Review: The Voice of the Sirens. The Greeks and the art of persuasion

According to a famous and fortunate Homeric expression, words are winged, not so much like birds but rather like arrows, which cut the air quickly to go straight to the target and break through the listener’s heart. The Greeks have always known that the word is used to convince and show truth and correctness. But they also know that it has a magical force in it: it can turn into a spell, capable of dominating and dragging the listener’s soul; to bewitch like music and to heal like medicine; but, above all, to deceive and mislead. »