Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Economist chimes in

The Economist, too, has posted its list of the year's best. A couple repeat appearances - but also a couple unexpected (not to say forgotten) treasures. Here's what they have to say about our books -- you can fine the complete feature here.

The Silence and the Scorpion: The Coup Against Chavez and the Making of Modern Venezuela, by Brian A. Nelson (Nation Books, 9781568584188) A scrupulous account of one of the most important, yet most misunderstood, events in recent South American history. It should be read by all those who believe that Hugo Chavez is a worthy champion of democracy and the oppressed. [And lest you think this is some right-wing revisionism, pray consider the publisher.]

The Arabs: A History, by Eugene Rogan (Basic, 9780465071005) Inspired by the work of Albert Hourani, this is a traditional history that focuses on the interplay of powers and the march of events to set the Arab story in a modern context. [That's two lists since this morning - I told you this was a remarkable book!]

The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, by Graham Farmelo (Basic, 9780465018277) Paul Dirac's equations predicted the existence of antimatter. His insights were so astonishing and so counter-intuitive that it is hard to imagine anyone else devising them. This excellent biographer demonstrates how he was probably the best British theoretical physicist since Isaac Newton.

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham (Basic, 9780465013623) A startling and persuasive analysis of the evolutionary role of cookery, arguing that you really are what you eat.

That's it for the Perseus books - but I also want to give a shout out to one of their fiction selections:

Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow and Farewell, by Javier Marias, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (New Directions) Mr Marias has seized the spy thriller and turned it into a novel of ideas.

I've been praising Mr. Marias to the skies for years - I'm glad to see him getting his due. (If, by the way, you want to start with something smaller & more self-contained than the final volume of a series, allow me to recommend A Heart So White. This takes the family melodrama and turns it into a novel of ideas; it's so good it made me dizzy.)

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