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Second Career

Miles of Art

David Redfern/Getty

Jazz great Miles Davis took up drawing and painting in the last decade of his life and proved that genius recognizes no boundaries.

Musical Offering

Bach in Flesh and Blood


Conductor John Eliot Gardiner talks about the pleasures and difficulties of writing a monumental—but always accessible—biography of Johann Sebastian Bach.

It never happens often enough, but now and then, a subject gets the book it deserves. So it is with John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, a biography so thoughtful, well-researched, and beautifully written that it should satisfy both the well-informed enthusiast and readers simply seeking to become better acquainted with a musical giant. Johann Sebastian Bach was such a protean composer that tomorrow someone could publish a completely different and equally wonderful biography.


The Lost Epic Travel Book


One of the greatest travel books ever published, the late Patrick Leigh Fermor’s two-volumes of his walk across Europe in the 1930s, is finally finished.

In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off to walk across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul, or Constantinople, as he always called it.  He reached his destination at the end of 1934, after many memorable adventures and encounters, but he did not write about the journey until nearly thirty years later.By then, he was a war hero, celebrated for his part in the abduction of a German general in occupied Crete in 1944, and a writer whose books included two loving tributes to his adopted home of Greece.

Final Cut

The Better ‘Birds’

Everett Collection

Know what Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is based on? Thought not, but you should because Daphne Du Maurier’s original story is superior and creepier in every way.

“The novel on the cutting room floor”They are literature’s cold cases, the Missing and Presumed Dead. They are the unlucky novels and stories that inspired movies so successful that they eclipsed the originals almost completely.  Some books weather a subsequent movie’s success. Gone With the Wind survives as a classic film and a classic novel. But how many people know that before it was a movie, Die Hard was a very good novel called Nothing Lasts Forever, or that Forrest Gump is based on the novel Forrest Gump?Good fiction deserves a better fate.


The Week’s Best Reads

The Daily Beast

From how Nazi science is influencing American abortion politics to hitmen who turn on those who hire them, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

The Nazi Anatomists Emily Bazelon, Slate How the corpses of Hitler's victims are still haunting modern science—and American abortion politics.The A-Team Killings Matthieu Aikins, Rolling Stone Last spring, the remains of 10 missing Afghan villagers were dug up outside a U.S. Special Forces base—was it a war crime or just another episode in a very dirty war?Oops, You Just Hired the Wrong Hitman Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ Say you want someone, you know, eliminated—a lover, a business partner, a mother-in-law.

Brain Power

What is a Genius?

You might think you know genius when you see it, but as a new book shows, the very definition and idea has had a fluid history. From the divine to the profane, what we mean when we say that potent word.

In 1917, a young psychologist at Stanford University did something strange: he tried to measure the IQs of dead people. Despite the challenge of testing the mental agility of deceased subjects, Lewis Terman claimed that reports of childhood activities, accomplishments, and pastimes could supply the essential data. Terman and his assistant relied on biographical accounts of illustrious individuals to compute the scores. The smartest of the overwhelmingly male and European luminaries they ranked was John Stuart Mill, with an estimated IQ of 190.


Vidal’s Tragic Years

Sophie Bassouls/Sygma/Corbis

One of America’s sharpest literary personalities spent his last decade drunk and lonely, but remained fiery and lusty till the end, as his friends like Susan Sarandon, employees, and relatives recount.

Gore Vidal opened his second memoir, Point to Point Navigation, published in 2006, writing that he hoped he was moving graciously “toward the door marked Exit… For the young, death is supremely unnatural. For the old, it is so natural that it is not worth thinking about.” Death was “unavoidable,” Vidal said of his partner Howard Austen’s death in 2003. “One or the other is going to die, it’s inevitable that both will be dead. I’m stoic.”But there was very little calm or graceful about Vidal's final decade, as I learnt researching my book In Bed With Gore Vidal: Hustlers, Hollywood and the Private World of an American Master.


CBS Backs Off Benghazi Source


The executive producer of ‘60 Minutes’ says a key source for its blockbuster Benghazi report told a different story to the FBI.

The CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes lost confidence in a key source for its report on Benghazi that aired last month after the network confirmed that an FBI interview with the source less than a week after the 2012 attacks did not match the account he gave the network.  The source, a former British military officer named Dylan Davies, claimed in the interview—as well as in his new book—that he scaled the walls of the U.S. compound in Benghazi on the night of the attacks and disabled one of the attackers.

Silk and Lace

The Tricky Business of Sex

Goldmund Lukic/Getty

Novelist Amy Tan talks about her new novel, ‘The Valley of Amazement,’ set in a Shanghai courtesan house, how she researched Chinese history, and learning how to write about sex.

Amy Tan has a wicked sense of humor. She’s attained sensational literary success; her novels The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter have defined the Chinese-American immigrant experience. But she’s also a master of the deadpan spoof, as in a YouTube video she made for this year’s Ecco/Harper Collins sales conference. Sitting at the grand piano in her spacious living room, she talks about everything her new novel, The Valley of Amazement, is not.

Why Obama Won

Pushing Back ‘Double Down’

Charlie Neibergall/AP

Mitt Romney’s chief strategist looks at ‘The Gamble,’ the other new book about the 2012 presidential race, and the cold, hard data on why President Obama won.

There are two new books out about the 2012 presidential election that are wonderfully different but complementary. You’ve probably heard of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Double Down, a sequel to their 2008 campaign book, Game Change. But there’s another book that must be read if you are interested in what happened in 2012: The Gamble by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, two youngish political scientists at George Washington University and UCLA.


The Macabre Maestro

Nigel Beach

Celebrated filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (‘Pan’s Labyrinth’) released an eye-opening new book, ‘Cabinet of Curiosities,’ containing sketches and diary entries for his myriad projects. Del Toro opened up to Marlow Stern about his relationship with James Cameron, Justice League and Marvel projects, collaborating with Kanye, and more.

You know a Guillermo Del Toro film when you see one. It’s a dazzling mélange of ghastly creatures, ornate sets, and beauteous viscera. The work of a true artist.Now, the Mexican auteur behind movies like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim has provided a gateway into his macabre mind with the release of the tome Guillermo Del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions. The hardcover book contains never-before-seen sketches, notes, and illustrations—all of which are housed at his own personal museum, which he’s dubbed “Bleak House”—affording readers a rare glimpse into his singular cinematic process.

Speed Read

Double Down: Juiciest Bits

Scott Olson/Getty

The 2012 election may not have had Sarah Palin, but as John Heilemann and Mark Helperin discovered in Double Down, there was still plenty to talk about.

There’s been a lot of coverage of Jon Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Double Down follow-up to their gangbusters hit Game Change. From the red flags raised by vetters of Chris Christie, to the Obama team thinking about swapping Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, to the relationship between Obama and Bill Clinton—these anecdotes have been everywhere. In addition to those stories, here are some more of the juiciest bits from the dishy new book.Just tell me you love me.

Read This

What to Read This Fall

Ed Andrieski/AP

Our friends over at Byliner asked a few of their favorite authors—Sebastian Junger, Maile Meloy, Mary Karr—to share what books they’re reading and rereading this fall.

Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit:George Saunders’s Tenth of December is the best book of stories since Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. The title story may be the best American story since Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” or O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” This is a writer bursting open a genre and working at the top of his game. The stories are also morally useful. Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure is his best book to date and a wrenching memoir of immigrant agony and the deep schisms a family in stress can foster.

Dissenting Opinion

How I Write: Richard Posner

Nathan Weber/The New York Times, via Redux

America’s most cited legal scholar, Judge Richard Posner, talks about his compulsive writing, what’s guaranteed to make him laugh, and his passion for cats.

Describe your morning routine.I don’t really have any routines. Well, if I’m at home or in the office I have a desk and a computer. And I write. I’ve never thought in terms of any particular routine. There are a lot of interruptions, emails and so on. Whenever I have free time, I write. Judicial opinions or academic stuff. I don’t have any quota of words. I understand full-time novelists, say, they will want to do a certain amount of words a day in order to finish a book.

Greenwich Village Blues

The Real Life of Llewyn Davis

Alison Rosa

Behind the forthcoming Coen brothers’ film about folk musician Llewyn Davis lies a remarkable memoir by Dave Van Ronk—the man who made folk cool before Bob Dylan.

It’s easy to see why the Coen brothers were drawn to the life of folksinger Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002) as the inspiration for their new movie Inside Llewyn Davis. He is a figure that resembles many of the filmmakers’ main characters: earnest to a fault, intelligent but guileless, captive to large and inexplicable forces, and, in the end, never quite capable of expressing himself as clearly or as loudly as he would like. But, also like a Coen brother’s character, he was at the center of amazing things; he was one of the lynchpins of the Greenwich Village folk movement of the 1960s.

Da Bears

Football’s Greatest Hit

Bob Langer/Chicago Tribune via Landov

For the 1985 Chicago Bears, one hit made their season—and the team—against Lions quarterback Joe Ferguson. It was the kind of hit everyone remembers, and one that it is illegal today.

Every now and then, a single play captures the spirit of a team. It can stand for an entire season. If you want to learn about the ‘85 Bears, you can talk to old players and old coaches about tactics, or you can simply say, “tell me about the Ferguson Hit.”The Bears underperformed in the weeks following the Miami game—Chicago’s only loss that season—stumbling through the remainder of their schedule with workmanlike wins over the Colts and the Jets.


Tyson’s Hard Knock Life

The Ring Magazine/Getty

When you’re the heavyweight champion of the world life is just more complicated. From his absurd sex life to the 62 cars to bankruptcy, here are the 7 best parts from Mike Tyson’s memoir, “Undisputed Truth.”

Mike on the MakeIn a sport not lacking for imploding superstars, Mike Tyson squandered his natural talent like few boxers have before or since. However, his memoir makes clear that he was lucky to even have been alive to make his professional debut at 18. His mother was an alcoholic, and he grew up in a brothel. His childhood was spent committing petty thefts and violent muggings. He was first arrested at age 10 for stealing a credit card; he had already at gained a reputation as a skilled street fighter, and by thirteen was fighting grown men for money.


The Six Greatest Survivors


The adventurer and extreme television presenter Bear Grylls shares some of his favorite tales of survival, taken from the new book True Grit. He explains what makes a hero.

Bear Grylls’ first brush with death came early. At the age of eight he and his father became disorientated up a mountain in Cyprus during a storm; they spent a day and a night exposed to the elements before finding a path to safety. “It scared me to the core but also there was a magic, the simplicity that this was a battle,” he told the Daily Beast.The battle against the elements would continue for the next two decades which saw Grylls crush three vertebrae in a parachute accident in Africa, lead an expedition through the Northwest Passage, and become one of the youngest people to scale Mount Everest.

Read All About It

Moving It Forward

Library of Congress

Abraham Cahan, an overlooked legend in 20th century American journalism, finally gets his due in a new biography by Seth Lipsky. He recounts his editorship of the Forward and his political twists and turns.

At a time when too many biographers chronicle their subjects’ lives in excessive detail, producing massive, meandering volumes that can usefully double as doorstoppers, it’s a pleasure to read Seth Lipsky’s brisk, cogent book. Lipsky paints in broad strokes, passing swiftly through the decades as he focuses on the significance of Abraham Cahan’s work at the Forward, the legendary Yiddish-language daily that he led for half a century. Unabashedly based on secondary sources, most long out of print, The Rise of Abraham Cahan provides a welcome opportunity for a new generation to discover this titanic figure in 20th-century journalism.

Bible 101

America’s Wrong About Jesus

Fred de Noyelle / Godong

A new poll finds that 26 percent of Americans believe the Jews killed Jesus. They’re historically ignorant, but they do read their Bible—that is who the New Testament blames, after all.

A poll released last week by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that twenty-six percent of the American public continues to believe that “Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.” Although the number has dropped from 31% in 2011, the ADL described it as “surprisingly large.”In many ways it is strange that anyone continues to think this. In the wake of World War II a number of Christian leaders and organizations issued formal statements on this topic.

How I Write