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Tag: history

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: 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 [...]

Review: Peter Turchin’s “War and Peace and War”

I am the kind of person who is always seeking a set of abstract principles within which to contextualize my experience of events and information. This characteristic has often dampened my enthusiasm for the study of history, since my encounters with history books usually amount to poring over lists of occurrences with only the occasional [...]

Review: Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations”

This could be nothing more than selection bias based on my media preferences, but it seems to me that Stoicism is enjoying a modest revival in American intellectual life. References to this gritty, staid philosophical tradition are plentiful in the podcasts and articles I’ve consumed in recent months. I’ve never read any of the foundational [...]

My Year of Bookish Wisdom: 2018

Introduction: Finding my Frame With each passing year, it seems the world is digging a bigger hole for itself. Whether it’s politics, war, technological disruption, hypercapitalism, climate change, or one of so many other global ills, anyone who’s paying attention has an endless list of things to lament. Yet the sun rises. We wake up, [...]

Review: Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”

“All successful books are alike; each failed book fails in its own way.” So reads my ungainly rehashing of one of literature’s most famous opening lines. It takes a fair bit of temerity and not a little arrogance to posit that one of the great works of literary history is a failure, but that is [...]

Review: Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has been on my radar for a long time, so I decided to pick it up as part of an effort to explore authors from backgrounds and cultures different from my own. And while that process has generally proved fruitful, I disliked every aspect of this book. Things Fall Apart takes place [...]

Review: Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible”

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is an unmistakably brilliant book that didn’t quite work for me. Like the Congo jungle in which the majority of the novel takes place, Kingsolver’s prose is dense and overflowing with biotic energy: Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. First, picture the forest. I want you to be [...]

Review: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation”

In the fetid wake of Donald Trump’s election two years ago, I found myself awash in unwelcome questions: How could someone so obviously unfit for office be elected President of the United States? Why had so many of my fellow voters failed to recoil at the blatant petulance and dishonesty that saturated his political persona? [...]

Review: Yuval Noah Harari’s “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”

Last week, I was one of the lucky audience members who witnessed a live discussion between Yuval Noah Harari and Sam Harris in San Francisco. Harris opened the conversation by saying, “So, Yuval, you have these books that just steamroll over all other books.” That’s pretty much how I felt about Harari’s two previous works, [...]