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I Survived the Nazis. And Soviets.

Isolde Ohlbaum/laif

Norman Manea grew up doubly cursed: first he had to survive the Nazis and then the communist dictators in his native Romania. His dire experience forged a writer.

When Norman Manea was five years old, he was shipped to a concentration camp in Transnistria, Ukraine. In 1941 Jews from Northern Romania were deported there, via freight trains, on the order of Marshal Ion Antonescu, the country’s far-right dictator and an ally of Hitler. Technically, in the camp you were not killed, you were left to die slowly. Chronic starvation, overwork, disease, and freezing temperatures were as effective as the bullet, only slower and crueler.


Crime and Punishment Chicago Style

Jeff Haynes/Reuters

Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski, the author of the new Chi-Town collection of stories 'Painted Cities,' on the books that show real life in Chicago.

Sometimes you set out to find differences and all you find is how much we are the same, which is disappointing because in the big city, in Chi-Town at least, we thrive on differences: North Side vs. South Side, Cubs vs. Sox (White Sox rule), Pilsen vs. Little Village, Black vs. White. Our politics are set up this way. Our neighborhoods are set up this way. To read these five books about Chicago life is to become enlightened to the fact that there is another side to the “struggle,” namely that we are all in it.


‘Tracing the Blue Light’

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What is it like to realize you have no legs—and that’s why you’ve been left behind by your vacationing family? The author remembers in this excerpt from her acclaimed memoir.

I was almost four when it first occurred to me that no one else was missing legs. Flooded by questions without words to articulate them, I connected images with explanations. Those first confusing moments unravel in my mind like an old film. It begins with me being nudged awake by a waxy moon spilling silver-white light through the window as I sucked my thumb. But it wasn’t my window. I grabbed the bars to pull myself up and thought, “Where am I?” I held my breath and searched for clues.


Underwater Art Is a Sight to Sea

Jason de Caires Taylor

A new book explores the depths that one artist has gone to create work that not only calls attention to the depletion of coral reefs, but helps to build them back up.

Most artists spend their entire lives hoping to be exhibited at any number of the world’s reputable museums. But, Jason deCaires Taylor has spent the latter half of his professional career placing his sculptures where the majority of art-seekers wouldn’t normally think to look—at the bottom of the ocean. Over the past decade, Taylor’s works cast from real-life models and everyday objects have begun to appear off the coasts of Grenada, Greece, and Mexico.

Novels and Nature

The Timeless Peter Matthiessen

Ed Betz/AP

A peerless naturalist and an even better novelist, the author, who died Saturday, came of age amid a glittering generation of writers among whom he had almost no peers.

Peter Matthiessen was a writer who outlived his time.Matthiessen died Saturday at 86. The literary world he helped found and nurture, and whose landscape he bestrode like the colossus he was—that world is gone.It was a strange world, or seems so in retrospect, built as it was of equal parts meritocracy and autocracy. It flowered in the ashes of World War II, when young authors and editors emerged in this country and wrested control so quickly that it took people a decade or so to take the full measure of the likes of Styron, Mailer, Vidal, Plimpton, Shaw, Baldwin, and Matthiessen, especially Matthiessen.


The Great New York Show


Twenty-two years ago, the quintessential Broadway musical ‘Guys and Dolls’ returned to Broadway. Ross Wetzsteon’s description of that hit show is a classic in itself.

Twenty-two years ago a revival of the beloved musical Guys and Dolls captured the affection of theatergoers in New York. The smash hit more than somewhat restored Damon Runyon’s vision of Broadway in our hearts and the production was lovingly captured in this profile by Ross Wetzsteon for New York Magazine.  Wetzsteon was a journalist, critic, and editor in New York City for 35 years. From 1966 until his death in 1998, he worked at the The Village Voice as a contributor and editor, and for several years as its editor-in-chief.


The Man Who Became John Wayne

Scott Eyman’s new life of the actor John Wayne portrays an extremely complicated man who invented his own public persona and played it beautifully.

“Truly, this man was the son of God.” Thus speaks a Roman centurion at the end of George Stevens’s inaptly named The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). It’s a line that always gets a big laugh, partly because the idea of anything so irreligious as Hollywood hokum commenting on the provenance of Jesus Christ is axiomatically funny, but mostly because the centurion is played by John Wayne, a movie star who might have known a son of a gun when he saw one, but who patently knew precious little else.

Terse Beauty

The Secret Poems of Afghan Women

Ahmad Masood/Reuters

A landay is a traditional two-line Afghan verse form subversively appropriated by Afghan women to express themselves in ways prohibited by their society.

Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy have made a book that is necessary reading for anyone who has ever made assumptions from a distance about what a burka-wearing woman might be like, and for anyone who cannot fathom how poetry could get you killed. In other words, this book is a must-read for every U.S. citizen.I am the Beggar of the World is a book of poems, war reportage, and photographs. It presents and comments on a set of folk poems—“landays” (pronounced “LAND-ees”)—in translation from the Pashto, and it describes the current and historical contexts of these poems’ production, with a special emphasis on detailed anecdotes drawn from Griswold’s and Murphy’s encounters with their Afghani informants and subjects.

TV Funhouse

My Rocky ‘SNL’ Stint


In 1985, Carol Leifer, who was discovered by David Letterman, became one of two female writers on 'Saturday Night Live,' but her time there wasn’t easy, and it didn’t end so well.

Saturday Night Live premiered in 1975, while I was in college, and comedy would never be the same. From the minute the show went on the air, it popped right off the screen as fresh and funny, and it immediately set a new standard for television comedy that continues today. So, in 1985 I was excited as anything when SNL’s creator, Lorne Michaels, returned to the helm after Dick Ebersol’s five-year reign. And even more excited to hear that the show was setting up auditions for new cast members at the Comic Strip, my home-base comedy club in New York City.

Love and Cough Syrup

When Kurt Met Courtney

Marcel Noecker/dpa/Corbis

On the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, here's the story of how the romance between Cobain and Courtney Love began.

Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love first locked eyes on each other at eleven in the evening on Friday, January 12, 1990, and within 30 seconds they were tussling on the floor. The setting was the Satyricon, a small, dimly lit nightclub in Portland, Oregon. Kurt was there for a Nirvana gig; Courtney had come with a friend who was dating a member of the opening band, the wonderfully named Oily Bloodmen. Already infamous in Portland, Love was holding court in a booth when she saw Kurt walk by a few minutes before his band was set to appear onstage.


The Week’s Best Longreads

From the wolf hunters of Wall Street to the China’s crumbling high-speed rail empire, the Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

The Wolf Hunters of Wall StreetMichael Lewis, The New York Times MagazineHow a band of outsiders discovered that the stock market was rigged — and set out to change it.Chemical ValleyEvan Osnos, The New YorkerThe coal industry, the politicians, the big spill—inside West Virginia’s environment crisis.High-Speed EmpireTom Zoellner, Foreign PolicyChinese rail is sprawling, modern, and elegant. It's also convoluted, corroding, and financially alarming.


Bellow’s ‘Herzog’ Turns 50

Ulf Andersen/Getty

The Nobel prize-winning novelist’s masterpiece has lost none of its charm or its relevance as it hits the mid-century mark.

For Saul Bellow, 1964 was a breakthrough year. With the publication of his sixth book, Herzog, Bellow went from being a favorite of the critics and a select circle of readers to the ranks of novelists whom the public knows and likes. Herzog earned Bellow his second National Book Award to go along with the one he had received a decade earlier for The Adventures of Augie March. But it was a commercial success as well, staying on the New York Times bestseller list for 42 weeks and reaching number one soon after its 1964 publication.


I Was Australia’s Anna Wintour

Melbourne University Publishing

In May 2012, Kirstie Clements was unceremoniously fired after serving as editor of 'Vogue Australia' for 13 years. In an excerpt from her new book, she remembers the day it all changed.

It was 10 a.m. on a Wednesday. I had a scheduled meeting with Nicole Sheffield, the newly appointed CEO of NewsLifeMedia, the company owned by Rupert Murdoch that had held the license for Vogue in Australia since 2007. We had met only once before, a quick and pleasant chat in her office in March a few weeks after she had started.I had been working at Vogue Australia for twenty-five years and in the editor’s chair for thirteen. She was my eighth CEO.


Murder & Morgues in WWII London


Bodies in mortuaries, bodies in ponds, bodies under houses, and in dank boarding houses. As the bombs fell on London in World War II, Molly Lefebure saw death up close and very personally, as her stunning memoir reveals.

If there is something very English about Murder On The Home Front, it is not just the setting—the topsy-turvy, dank, chaotic London-in-flux of World War II—but also the phlegmatic voice of the author, Molly Lefebure. In the war years, Lefebure was secretary to forensic pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson, and wrote of her experiences of the deaths they investigated—suicides, murders, accidents—in her 1955 book, Evidence For The Crown.The catchier title it is presented with in 2014 is down to the name of the TV drama adapted from it last year.

The Believer

The Most Unreliable Narrators


Sophie Hannah, the author of the new novel ‘The Orphan Choir’, has always preferred the sketchy storyteller. Why should a narrator openly tell us everything when we haven’t earned that privilege?

What is an unreliable narrator? Asking that question, or hearing someone else ask it, always activates my contrary streak (which is sizeable enough that some might say it constitutes almost my whole personality!) In many of the best novels I’ve read that feature unreliable narrators, their unreliability—for which some readers condemn them—is a much-needed defense against the other characters in the book, who are often reliably repellent.I generally like, and side with, unreliable narrators.

Rights Warrior

Jimmy Carter’s Campaign for Women

Amr Dalsh/Reuters

In or out of the White House, Carter has been a man of principle unafraid of hard truth. In his 22nd book, he documents the plight of women around the world.

The mindless and childish hatred for President Jimmy Carter, across the right and among a surprising number of liberals, exposes the obscenity and flaccidity of American political culture, where cliché overwhelms insight and bromide mutes the truth of history.At the CPAC circus and over the airwaves of talk radio, the mere mention of Carter’s name is sufficient to provoke self-satisfied cackles and chortles from the audience, while liberals relegate Carter to the dubious distinction of “best ex-president”—a backhanded compliment equivalent to calling someone the best “non-medalist Olympian.

Book Smart

There's No Such Thing as Dyslexia

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“Dyslexia” has become a catch-all term for everything from poor reading skills to complex speech disorders. It’s poorly understood and largely over-diagnosed. Is it time to retire the word “dyslexic”?

In many countries across the world there is a common script in cases where children are encountering difficulties with reading.It runs something like this:Concerned Parent (CP): I am really worried about Tommy’s lack of progress at school. He seems to be making no progress in his reading and is now losing interest. Helpful Bystander (HB): Have you ever thought that maybe he has dyslexia? CP: This had crossed my mind but I wasn’t sure about it.

Masters of the Universe

The Dirt on Wall St.’s Flash Boys

The man behind ‘Moneyball’ goes inside the crazy world of high frequency trading to find billions being made by the nanosecond.

Michael Lewis is out with his newest book on the whited sepulcher that is Wall Street. Titled Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, this time Lewis trains his pen on the highly lucrative and ethically dubious business of high frequency trading.High frequency trading which involves the use of advanced computers with complex algorithms, allows companies to use information that comes microseconds before others get it, and make trades that end up costing investors tens of billions of dollars, according to Lewis.

Memory and Loss

This Week’s Hot Reads

A form-defying poetic novel from one of Israel’s best writers, a history of the Ten Commandments, and the translated account of a French soldier’s four miserable years in the trenches of WWI.

The Ten Commandments By Michael Coogan Quick, a challenge: name the Ten Commandments. For something so frequently referenced in the public discourse, it’s surprising how the words themselves can be taken for granted, or forgotten altogether. (Stephen Colbert once issued the same challenge to a congressman who sponsored a bill requiring the display of the commandments in courthouses. He could only come up with three.) But perhaps, if you’re particularly savvy, you’d reverse the game on me: am I referring to the commandments as they appear in Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5, or Exodus 34? Michael Coogan, director of publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum, opens The Ten Commandments: A short history of an Ancient Text, by listing the three different Decalogues in full, to demonstrate their differences; the third list includes such entries as “You should not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.


How a Dream Became a Law


Enacting the landmark Civil Rights Act took a lot more than arm-twisting by Lyndon Johnson. Civility and canny bipartisanship in Congress were the key factors.

In the 50th anniversary year of the Civil Rights Act, An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Todd S. Purdum’s brisk nuts-and-bolts chronicle of its turbulent birth offers a salutary reminder that historic legislation is not easily achieved. It took years of militant direct action by civil rights activists, and violent reaction by diehard segregationists, to pressure an initially hesitant President Kennedy to commit his administration to a civil rights bill in June 1963, and it would be another year before his successor, Lyndon Johnson, signed it into law.

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