Get notified of Words&Dirt updates

You are looking at words

Review: James Hollis’s “What Matters Most”

James Hollis’s What Matters Most is a lively piece of nonfiction that pulled me in different directions. Written in a style that is energetic but deeply affected, the book is a series of essays that reflect on the nature of human existence and the ways in which we might lead better or worse lives. One would be [...]

Review: Elena Ferrante’s “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay”

For three summers running, I have welcomed one of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels into my life. Each has helped me rediscover the beautiful and complex ways in which emotional experience becomes simultaneously trapped and liberated by the act of articulation. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the penultimate installment in this narrative quartet, breaks new ground [...]

Review: Stephen Kinzer’s “The Brothers”

Anyone who takes an honest look at American history must grapple with our shameful record of foreign intervention. As with slavery, Native American genocide, and many other homegrown atrocities, we must confront these unseemly aspects of our past in order to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Stephen Kinzer’s The Brothers offers a powerful analysis of American arrogance [...]

Review: Neal Stephenson’s “Fall; or, Dodge in Hell”

Like Swiss Army Knives, Neal Stephenson’s novels attempt to imbue a singular instrument with a wide range of utility. These attempts have produced both elegant masterpieces and convoluted kluges, but on the whole I think Stephenson’s recent work has solidified his position as one of his generation’s most ambitious and accomplished storytellers. Fall; or Dodge [...]

Review: David Frayne’s “The Refusal of Work”

In 2013, I embarked on a personal experiment in which I intentionally unplugged myself from traditional employment. I really wish David Frayne’s The Refusal of Work had existed during those first years, as it would have lent intellectual energy and a useful lexicon to a project that was difficult at first to articulate. I also think this [...]

Review: Robin Hobb’s “Ship of Magic”

Robin Hobb’s Ship of Magic is an ambitious work of fantasy that doesn’t deliver on the promise of its good ideas. The novel takes place on “The Cursed Shores,” a colorful coastal landscape where swashbuckling and supernatural forces collide. Hobb’s crisp description and imagery bring The Cursed Shores to life, inviting the reader on a journey that [...]

Review: David Wallace-Wells’s “The Uninhabitable Earth”

David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth is by far the most upsetting book I have ever read. Given the number of decades we’ve allowed to slip by without doing anything to properly combat climate change, the problem is now so superlatively fucked that only a book as grim and gruesome as this one can do it justice. And [...]

Review: George Eliot’s “Middlemarch”

“The right word is always a power, and communicates its definiteness to our action.” From time to time, I stumble across a novel that invites me to completely rediscover the inexhaustible elegance of the English language. George Eliot’s Middlemarch is one of those rare works. This exceptional story made me laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously, and rejuvenated [...]

Review: “The Art of Raising a Puppy” by The Monks of New Skete

My wife and I are about a month and change away from adopting our first puppy. Having never raised a dog as a couple before, we decided to read up on best practices so we could be adequately prepared. It’s hard to imagine a better book to serve this purpose than The Art of Raising a [...]

Review: Rutger Bregman’s “Utopia for Realists”

Just when I think the world is about to explode into a flaming ball of shit, someone like Rutger Bregman comes along to convince me that there’s still hope. Utopia for Realists excited me in the same way that Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now did almost exactly one year ago. These books aren’t similar in style or methodology, nor do I [...]