Wednesday, April 17, 2013

People, Places, and Times

Full of unforgettable figures and an unrelenting spirit of adventure, Strange Stones is a far-ranging, thought-provoking collection of Peter Hessler’s best reportage—a dazzling display of the powerful storytelling, shrewd cultural insight, and warm sense of humor that are the trademarks of his work.

Over the last decade, as a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of three books, Peter Hessler has lived in Asia and the United States, writing as both native and knowledgeable outsider in these two very different regions. This unusual perspective distinguishes Strange Stones, which showcases Hessler’s unmatched range as a storyteller. “Wild Flavor” invites readers along on a taste test between two rat restaurants in South China. One story profiles Yao Ming, basketball star and China’s most beloved export, another David Spindler, an obsessive and passionate historian of the Great Wall. In “Dr. Don,” Hessler writes movingly about a small-town pharmacist and his relationship with the people he serves.

While Hessler’s subjects and locations vary, subtle but deeply important thematic links bind these pieces—the strength of local traditions, the surprising overlap between apparently opposing cultures, and the powerful lessons drawn from individuals who straddle different worlds.  (This book comes out on 5/7/13)

Pete Jordan, author of the wildly popular Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States, is back with a memoir that tells the story of his love affair with Amsterdam, the city of bikes, all the while unfolding an unknown history of the city's cycling, from the craze of the 1890s, through the Nazi occupation, to the bike-centric culture adored by the world today

Pete never planned to stay long in Amsterdam, just a semester. But he quickly falls in love with the city and soon his wife, Amy Joy, joins him. Together they explore every inch of their new home on two wheels, their rides a respite from the struggles that come with starting a new life in a new country.

Weaving together personal anecdotes and details of the role that cycling has played throughout Dutch history, Pete Jordan’s In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist is a poignant and entertaining read.

On the morning of June 28, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek, arrived at Sarajevo railway station, Europe was at peace. Thirty-seven days later, it was at war. The conflict that resulted would kill more than fifteen million people, destroy three empires, and permanently alter world history.
The Sleepwalkers reveals in gripping detail how the crisis leading to World War I unfolded. Drawing on fresh sources, it traces the paths to war in a minute-by-minute, action-packed narrative that cuts among the key decision centers in Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris, London, and Belgrade. Distinguished historian Christopher Clark examines the decades of history that informed the events of 1914 and details the mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals that drove the crisis forward in a few short weeks.

How did the Balkans—a peripheral region far from Europe's centers of power and wealth—come to be the center of a drama of such magnitude? How had European nations organized themselves into opposing alliances, and how did these nations manage to carry out foreign policy as a result? Clark reveals a Europe racked by chronic problems—a fractured world of instability and militancy that was, fatefully, saddled with a conspicuously ineffectual set of political leaders. These rulers, who prided themselves on their modernity and rationalism, stumbled through crisis after crisis and finally convinced themselves that war was the only answer.

Meticulously researched and masterfully written, The Sleepwalkers is a magisterial account of one of the most compelling dramas of modern times.

A lively anecdotal history of Greenwich Village, the prodigiously influential and infamous New York City neighborhood, from the 1600s to the present

The most famous neighborhood in the world, Greenwich Village has been home to outcasts of diverse persuasions—from "half-free" Africans to working-class immigrants, from artists to politicians—for almost four hundred years. In his magisterial new book, cultural commentator John Strausbaugh weaves an absorbing narrative history of the Village, a tapestry that unrolls from its origins as a rural frontier of New Amsterdam in the 1600s through its long reign as the Left Bank of America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from its seat as the epicenter of the gay rights movement to its current status as an affluent bedroom community and tourist magnet.

Strausbaugh—"a particularly gifted chronicler of New Yorkiana" (Atlantic Monthly)—traces the Village's role as a culture engine, a bastion of tolerance, freedom, creativity, and activism that has spurred cultural change on a national, and sometimes even international, scale. He brings to life the long line of famous nonconformists who have collided there, collaborating, fusing and feuding, developing the ideas and creating the art that forever altered societal norms. In these pages, geniuses are made and destroyed, careers are launched, and revolutions are born. Poe, Whitman, Cather, Baldwin, Kerouac, Mailer, Ginsberg, O'Neill, Pollock, La Guardia, Koch, Hendrix, and Dylan all come together across the ages, at a cultural crossroads the likes of which we may never see again.

From Dutch farmers and Washington Square patricians to slaves and bohemians, from Prohibition-era speakeasies to Stonewall, from Abstract Expressionism to AIDS, and from the Triangle Shirtwaist fire to today's upscale condos and four-star restaurants, the connecting narratives of The Village tell the fresh and unforgettable story of America itself.

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