November 10, 2017

Book review: “Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution” by Nathaniel Philbrick

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick is a mess of a book. I should have known by looking at the title and subtitle. From those, I guessed that this would be a book centering on Benedict Arnold. After all, lots of other books are out there about Washington, and Arnold was the infamous traitor of the American Revolution. Hence, the “Fate” reference. As it turns out, the book sort of centers on Arnold, a talented military leader who was self-centered in the extreme. At least, that’s how Philbrick paints him. I’m not sure I fully trust Philbrick’s reading of Arnold.   Three thirds Let me explain: In 326 pages, Valiant Ambition seems to be attempting to do too much. It covers a four-year period (1776 – 1780). About a third of the book has to do with what Arnold did during that period, and about a third with what Washington did. The other third is about other stuff going on, such as campaigns by other generals and the doings of the Continental Congress. One of the points that Philbrick seems to try to make is that Washington had many failings […]
November 6, 2017

Chicago History: Third World Press — “Strong and Black for 50 Years”

The poem was one of many recited by teenagers during the gala in October honoring the 50th anniversary of Chicago’s literary jewel, the Third World Press. In its rhythms and sharp humor, the poem, written by Haki Madhubuti, captured the spirit of the evening and of the South Side publishing house that he founded. It was written in the mid-1960s around the time when Third World Press, today the nation’s largest black publishing house, was just getting started, and when Madhubuti was still known as Don L. Lee. Titled “Gwendolyn Brooks,” it honored his mentor, and it reveled in the then-new focus of African-Americans on blackness, including more than a dozen lines like these: “…black doubleblack purpleblack blue-black beenblack was black daybeforeyesterday blackerthan ultrablack super black blackblack yellowblack….. so black we can’t even see you black on black in black by black technically black mantanblack winter black coolblack 360degreesblack….”   Chicago’s cultural treasure Most Chicagoans know of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago, but, unfortunately, few realize that Third World Press is one of the city’s cultural treasures. And all Chicagoans, no matter their color, ethnicity, economic status, sexual orientation or political preference, benefit from […]
November 3, 2017

Chicago History: A Dive into the “Inky Waters” of the Chicago River

Each year, through myriad government efforts, the Chicago River gets cleaner although no one would call it “clean.” Nonetheless, as polluted as its water remains, the river used to be much, much, much worse as a story from more than a century ago illustrates. It was 4 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, Labor Day, September 6, 1897, when the lumber steamer S.K. Martin, heading southwest in the South Branch of the Chicago River, signaled for the raising of the Halsted Street Bridge, just north of Archer Avenue. This bridge, designed by J.A.L. Waddell, was known as “the red bridge,” the gateway to the hardscrabble neighborhood of Bridgeport. As the tender operated the machinery, the bridge platform — a 130-foot-long, cedar-block-paved section of Halsted Street — began to rise slowly between two metal towers, like an open-air elevator. Standing on that pavement and taking the ride up were 22-year-old George William Clarke and a young woman identified by the Tribune as “his sweetheart Miss Kinzie.” Also on the platform were two policemen from the nearby Deering Street Station. Just as the platform was reaching its full height of 160 feet above the turbid river, Clarke, a professional diver, began whipping off […]
October 30, 2017

Book review: “The Sioux Spaceman” by Andre Norton

It’s amazing, if you think of it, how the covers of science-fiction paperbacks are so often completely misleading. This is true to some extent for paperback novels in general, but it seems to be the case most often in the sci-fi genre. I have no idea why that is. Or maybe I do. One reason: That other species One reason may have to do with the core audience of science fiction — teenage boys and young men as well as older men who, in some part of their being, remain teenage boys or young men. These are readers who tend to be bookish and more than a little shy. That may explain why, for the most part, there’s little or no sex in the regular run of futuristic novels although this has changed somewhat in recent years. Still, even today, most sci-fi gives its primary focus to the nuts and bolts of technology, ignoring those messy things like emotions and lusts. You wouldn’t know that, however, if you judged the books by their covers. This was especially true when pulp science fiction magazines regularly portrayed a hardly clothed creature from that other species…er, that other sex…on their covers. A slinky […]
October 26, 2017

Chicago History: The elevated Loop, a landmark in everything but name

The 1.8-mile-long elevated railroad Loop, which turns 120 on October 3, is not an official Chicago landmark — but it should be. Over the past 40 years, Chicago has publicly affirmed that some 200 buildings, sites, objects and districts as important to the city for historical, artistic and other reasons. Somehow, though, city leaders have overlooked the elevated Loop which, I would argue, is more important than most, if not all, of those designated landmarks. Enclosing 39 downtown blocks, the elevated Loop is lost amid the skyscrapers that loom above it. Yet, no other structure in Chicago’s history has had as important an impact on the city. Throughout much of its history, it was viewed by many as simply ugly. Indeed, even before the elevated Loop was finished and often in the decades that followed, there were calls for it to be razed. The last push to tear it down came in 1978. During those years, none of Chicago’s public officials, business leaders and promoters talked about elevated Loop as anything more than a way to get people into and out of downtown. And it’s certainly been an essential transportation system for the city.   Anchored Chicago’s downtown Yet, for […]
October 24, 2017

Book review: “The Adventures of Alyx” and “Picnic in Paradise” by Joanna Russ

Machine, the young man who has become Alyx’s lover, has disappeared into a hole in the snowscape, fallen into an ice chimney. He can be seen at the bottom, crumpled like a puppet with no strings. Machine is one of eight civilians on the planet of Paradise who need to go through a war zone to get from here to there, and the only way for them to do it is without using any technology — too easily traceable. Alyx, a Trans-Temporal Agent, has been assigned to move these pampered giants across a dangerous expanse without being spotted. She is from ancient Greece, nearly 4,000 years in the past. How she got to this moment around the year 3000 AD isn’t explained, like much about the story of Alyx. What’s clear is that Alyx is a runt compared with the eight civilians. Each is about seven or eight feet tall. She is, even for her time, short. Joanna Russ tells Alyx’s story — make that, stories — in her 1983 book The Adventures of Alyx which is made up of four short pieces from 1967-1970 and a stand-alone novel Picnic on Paradise from 1968.   A half century ago So […]
October 18, 2017

Book review: “History of Beauty,” edited by Umberto Eco

Consider the difficulty of those who pore through the dust and shards of earlier civilizations. You pick up a small sculpture which, to your Western eyes, seems to depict a deformed and twisted body. It looks ugly to you. But how did the people who made it perceive the sculpture? As Italian intellectual Humberto Eco writes in History of Beauty, the 2004 book he edited: Every culture has always accompanied its own concept of Beauty with its own idea of Ugliness, even though — in the case of archeological finds — it is hard to establish whether the thing portrayed was really considered ugly or not… Eco wrote the book’s introduction and nine of its 17 chapters. The other eight were written by Italian novelist Girolamo de Michele.   “Which canon, which tastes” Midway through the book, de Michele makes this point: For a painter portraying the Beauty of a body means responding to theoretical exigencies — what is Beauty and under what conditions is it knowable? — as well as practical ones — which canon, which tastes and social mores, allow us to describe a body as “beautiful”? How does the image of Beauty change over time, and how […]
October 16, 2017

Book review: “Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible” by Robert Alter

In this secular age, many writers striving to create literary works are uncomfortable with or antagonistic toward religion, religious faith and religious subject. For myriad reasons, faith isn’t hip. Yet, one doesn’t have to be a believer to recognize that Western literature and art have deep roots in the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible, also called the Old Testament, and the story of the life of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity in the New Testament. Every writer of the West, either directly or indirectly, creates within a cultural universe where the Bible and its ideas and its stories are major elements. Think of Adam and Eve. Think of the crucifixion. Think of Noah and the Flood. Think of the Nativity. The Bible is woven deeply into Western culture, and, when it comes to the English-speaking portion of that culture, one version — the King James Bible — has had a direct and powerful influence on some of the greatest writing in the language, particularly in the United States.   “Its clang and its flavor” As Robert Alter writes in Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible: The King James Version was famously eloquent and a beautiful […]
October 13, 2017

Chicago History: Building the elevated Loop with trickery, brilliance and sheer will

Chicago’s elevated Loop, completed 120 years ago on Oct. 3, 1897, was the product of the audacious resolve of financial manipulator extraordinaire Charles Yerkes. To get the Union Loop, as it came to be called, built, Yerkes deceived, deluded and out-smarted his opposition. He played his foes off against each other. He gambled and blustered, and employed elaborately complicated money schemes that no one’s ever been able to figure out completely. Yerkes willed the Union Loop into existence, reaping huge profits and, even more important, bestowing onto Chicago a steel structure that has been a civic anchor for more than a century.   “Sure of an L Loop” The idea of a downtown terminal for the use of the city’s four elevated lines was endlessly discussed during the early 1890s, but it wasn’t until Yerkes made his move on Nov. 22, 1894, that it began to inch toward reality. That was when, backed by a crowd of ready investors, he incorporated the Union Elevated Railroad Company with the goal of erecting a union loop downtown. Triumphantly, the Tribune announced on its front page: “The Gordian knot has been cut. The question of an elevated railroad terminal is settled. There is […]
October 9, 2017

Book review: “King Arthur” by Nick Higham

First things first: Everything we think we know about King Arthur was made up out of whole cloth. There are no historical sources for a flesh-and-blood Lancelot or Merlin or Guinevere or Round Table or Camelot or Arthur. There’s no other conclusion for me after reading Nick Higham’s clear, clean, well-reasoned 2015 biography King Arthur, part of a series of short lives of great people called Pocket GIANTS from the History Press.   “No confidence” Higham spells this out in the book’s opening chapter “The Greatness of Arthur”: King Arthur’s giant presence in our culture is assured. There is, however, something distinctive and different about him. For, while we are in a position to offer a life story, with dates, for almost all the other figures featured in the Pocket GIANTS series, and to discuss their impact on their world, we can have no confidence in any particular outline of Arthur’s life, his family connections or his deeds. We do not know precisely where he lived or when. Indeed, there is doubt as to if a real ‘King Arthur’ lived at all. There may have been numerous different Arthurs whose stories have been woven together. Or perhaps the whole ‘King […]
October 6, 2017

Book review: “Ecclesiastes” from “The Wisdom Books,” translated by Robert Alter with commentary

I have seen all the deeds that are done under the sun, and, look, all is mere breath, and herding the wind. (1:14) When you look behind fantasy football, and binge-watching Game of Thrones on Netflix, and the morning commute to work, and CNN and Fox, and photos of grandchildren posted on Facebook, and weeding the garden, and Uber and Lyft, and the new blouse hanging in the closet, and Grandma’s recipe for spaghetti round steak, and the injured little finger needing minor surgery — well, it’s not a pretty sight. When you look behind life, you find death lurking in the wings. That’s not a new thought although much of modern American society is aimed at distracting us from that cold reality. We’re born to die, and that’s been a major or minor theme in much of world literature and art over the course of many millenniums. One of the most eloquent writers on this theme, someone who refuses to avert his eyes, is the author of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).   “Most peculiar book” Written some twenty-two hundred years ago, Ecclesiastes is a Latinized version of the Hebrew word or name which […]
September 22, 2017

Absurdist/Fantasy novels — 2 — Book review: “The Place of the Lion” by Charles Williams

T.S. Eliot was a great admirer of the novels of Charles Williams, calling them “supernatural thrillers.” These handful of novels, written between 1931 and 1945, attracted other fans, such as C.S. Lewis, author of the seven-book Chronicles of Narnia, and J.R. R. Tolkien, creator of the epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings — both of whom became friends of Williams. All three — Williams, Lewis and Tolkien — could be termed writers of fantasies — although, depending on who is using the term and what context it’s used in, this can seem a term of denigration. I don’t mean it that way. There are light, flitty sorts of fantasy novels, but these men didn’t write that sort. They were more like the sorts of fantasy novels that have come from Neil Gaiman, the late Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore. Before you jump down my throat with protests, let me say that I recognize that Gaiman, Pratchett and Moore have produced novels that are often funny and even silly. Moore’s stories have been called absurdist, but I believe that’s because he’s an American. If he were British, they’d be fantasy. Lewis can be somewhat playful, but Tolkien and Williams are […]
September 22, 2017

Absurdist/Fantasy novels — 3 — Book review: “Coyote Blue” by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore has written a lot of comic novels in which supernatural — otherworldly — figures play havoc with the everyday, humdrum world we live in. These novels feature vampires and angels and lust lizards and various gods of violent mischief and death merchants and Jesus Christ. (The story of Jesus was told by his smart-aleck, somewhat randy childhood sidekick named Biff.) Three of his novels don’t have a supernatural figure, but they do involve giants from the world of literature and art — King Lear, Othello, Shylock and various hangers-on from the Shakespearian canon as well as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (who was an artistic giant, even if only 4-foot-eight.)   Absurd or fantasy Moore is an American, Ohio-born, and his novels have been called absurdist. If he were British, however, like Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, I suspect his books would be classed as fantasies. (There is a doctoral dissertation somewhere in this observation for anyone who would want to spend the drudge of doctoral research laughing.) I mention this because, while reading Coyote Blue, Moore’s second novel, published in 1994, I remembered a comment that Gaiman made about Pratchett (in an afterword for a new edition of […]
September 22, 2017

Absurdist/Fantasy novels — 1 — Book review: “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Originally published in 1990, Good Omens — the novel co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett when both still early in their writing careers — was reissued in 2006 by the Science Fiction Book Club. It was one of 32 important sci-fi titles that the book club reissued as part of its 50th anniversary collection. This edition includes various supplements about how the book got conceived and midwifed, notably an essay by Pratchett about writing with Gaiman, and one by Gaiman about writing with Pratchett. In that latter essay, Gaiman — who went on to produce such novels as Stardust, American Gods and Coraline — had this to say about his writing partner for Good Omens: It was the way his mind worked: the urge to take it all apart, and put it back together in different ways, to see how it all fit together. It was the engine that drove Discworld [the setting for Pratchett’s enormously popular and hilariously inventive fantasy series of 41 novels] — it’s not a “what if…” or an “if only…” or even an “if this goes on…”; it was the far more subtle and dangerous “if there was really a…..what would that mean? How […]
September 20, 2017

Essay: An understanding heart

Solomon was a kid, but he was already wise. In the first book of Kings, God appears to the boy-king, saying, “Ask something of me, and I will give it to you.” Solomon doesn’t ask for money or revenge or a long life. What he wants is “an understanding heart.” I like that. If I have an understanding heart, I open myself to those around me. I’m able to see them — really see them — and hear them. And I’m able to let them see and hear me. I’m present to them, one human to another. It’s easy to be irritated by other people. If I’m in the Loop and hurrying to a meeting, the wandering, lollygagging tourists who block the sidewalk can be annoying. But, come on, I do the same thing when I’m strolling around Manhattan on vacation. Irritation is a natural human feeling, but an understanding heart doesn’t get stuck in that bile. An understanding heart sees the world in context — sees people in context. An understanding heart expects good from people rather than bad, opts for hope rather than cynicism. And how do I rise above spitefulness and venom? I don’t do it alone. I […]
September 4, 2017

Book review: “The ‘Book of Genesis’ – a Biography” by Ronald Hendel

Martin Luther, that flawed saint, had a lot to say about the biblical book of Genesis. His 16th-century rebellion against the Roman Catholic hierarchy also involved a revolt against the long-popular approach to the Bible, particularly Genesis, of seeing it all as an allegory. Luther, who is one of the handful of major figures in the history of Christianity, came to think that the best way to look at the Scripture was to try to understand the plain sense of it. In other words, take it at face value. As bible scholar Ronald Hendel notes in his 2013 examination of the history of the Bible’s first book, The “Book of Genesis” — a Biography, Luther’s rejection of allegory was part and parcel to his repudiation of the authority of the Catholic Church. The basis of faith, Luther argued, was Scripture alone — without the mediation of theologians and church leaders. As he frequently did, the former Augustinian priest employed scatological wit in his analysis: “When I was a monk I was a master in the use of allegories. I allegorized everything…even a chamber pot.” In modern times, Bob Dylan has sung, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way […]
September 1, 2017

Chicago History: The short and tragic life of Johnny Lindquist

For the last month of his short and tragic life in the summer of 1972, he was known to Chicago simply as Johnny.  Forty-five years ago today, he died. He was the West Side six-year-old who’d been beaten and kicked and slammed into a coma by his father, and his plight touched the hearts of those in the Chicago region and around the nation, and prompted a vigil of love, praying for his recovery. His story filled Chicago’s four daily newspapers and the radio and television newscasts. And it changed the law. For nearly half a century, Illinois children and those in the rest of the United States have been better protected against abuse and neglect because of what that young boy went through. His name was Johnny Lindquist. He was born in Chicago to William and Irene Lindquist on August 28, 1965. His mother contracted tuberculosis, and, for the first years of his life, Johnny shuttled back and forth between his parents and a series of foster homes. In 1969, a Catholic Charities caseworker reported to a Juvenile Court judge that, by the end of one recent visit, Johnny was “covered with bruises and scars inflicted by both parents.” A […]
September 1, 2017

Chicago History: The short life and tragic death of Johnny Lindquist

For the last month of his short and tragic life in the summer of 1972, he was known to Chicago simply as Johnny.  Forty-five years ago today, he died. He was the West Side six-year-old who’d been beaten and kicked and slammed into a coma by his father, and his plight touched the hearts of those in the Chicago region and around the nation, and prompted a vigil of love, praying for his recovery. His story filled Chicago’s four daily newspapers and the radio and television newscasts. And it changed the law. For nearly half a century, Illinois children and those in the rest of the United States have been better protected against abuse and neglect because of what that young boy went through.   His name was Johnny Lindquist. He was born in Chicago to William and Irene Lindquist on August 28, 1965. His mother contracted tuberculosis, and, for the first years of his life, Johnny shuttled back and forth between his parents and a series of foster homes. In 1969, a Catholic Charities caseworker reported to a Juvenile Court judge that, by the end of one recent visit, Johnny was “covered with bruises and scars inflicted by both parents.” […]
August 30, 2017

Chicago history: The Wall of Respect

A half century ago, on Aug. 27, 1967, local residents, poets, painters, photographers and gang members gathered to dedicate the “Wall of Respect”, a mural painted on the side of a dilapidated tavern on the southeast corner of 43rd Street and Langley Avenue in Chicago’s impoverished Grand Boulevard neighborhood. It was a revolutionary act of art and politics that has reverberated throughout the nation ever since. It sparked the community-based outdoor mural movement that has provided thousands of neighborhoods of virtually every ethnicity and economic level with a language and format for asserting their pride and distinctiveness. At its start, the “Wall of Respect” was an unprecedented assertion of black identity and an important yet often over-looked moment in U.S. cultural history. “Hit a nerve” “The Wall hit a nerve at the center of the Black consciousness,” writes Abdul Alkalimat in a soon-to-be-published book “The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago” (Northwestern University Press). An African-American writer and historian, formerly known as Gerald McWorter, Alkalimat watched as the mural was created by friends and colleagues, and adds, “News of it spread from coast to coast.” Indeed, over the next eight years, more than 1,500 murals […]
August 25, 2017

Twenty-two noir or otherwise very odd covers of great works of literature

The book covers of mass market paperbacks are often strange and, many times, wildly inaccurate in terms of illustrating the book inside the covers. There should probably be a scholarly study about what they say about Western civilization — and, now that I think of it, there have probably been several. The strangeness gets really wacky when noir art is used to sell, say, Voltaire’s “Candide” or Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” Here are 22 very odd covers of very good, often great, novels. (Thanks to Melanie Villines for help in finding these.)  Not all of the covers are noir. Those that aren’t noir as strange enough, I’d say.                                   8.25.17        
August 23, 2017

Essay: A Mighty Act of God

Picture this: You and your friends, fearful and confused, are gathered in a room, overlooking a garden perhaps, and a great noise comes from the sky like the strongest wind, like the gale of a storm, and fills the entire house, from top to bottom, from side to side. And over your heads are tongues of flame, and you are filled with the Holy Spirit, and you go out of the house and proclaim the Word of God, and everyone who hears you understands what you are saying, no matter their language — Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, Cretans and Arabs. You find yourself taking part in a mighty act of God. This Pentecost moment seems to come right out of one of the epic Hollywood films of today, heavy on special effects and Dolby stereo. Few of us are likely to ever be caught up in such an awe-filled scene. Yet, each day, each of us takes part in the mighty acts of God. Each day, we tap into the ever-flowing river of grace […]
August 21, 2017

Book review: “Fast Falls the Night” by Julia Keller

Fast Falls the Night, the sixth of Julia Keller’s series of novels set in fictional Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, is, like the others, a mystery. Its puzzle is solved in a sharp and scary twist in its final three pages. In fact, there are several abrupt and unsettling turns in the last chapter or so. But, as with the other books, the plot here is secondary to larger concerns that Keller has — questions of hope and despair, and of right and wrong.   “That kind of day” Consider this scene early in the book. Shirley Dolan has come to an unfamiliar minister to talk about two secrets she is holding close to her heart. When she tries to light a cigarette in the careworn study, the pastor tells her that smoking isn’t permitted. The pack went back into her purse. She dropped the purse on the floor, using her heel to wedge it under her chair. To keep it out of the way. Out of her reach. So that she didn’t forget and go for a cigarette all over again. It had been that kind of day. That kind of week. The kind when you forget things. Screw up. […]
August 17, 2017

Essay: A Time to Die

It may seem odd today, but, at one point, a half century ago, the top-selling popular song in America was made up of lyrics from the Bible — specifically, from the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes. The song, written in the late 1950s by the great folk-singer Pete Seeger, was “Turn, Turn, Turn.” It wasn’t his version that reached number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on December 4, 1965. It was the rock version by the Byrds, and it began: To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn), and a time to every purpose under the heaven, a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap…. You might think that all the teenagers like me who were grooving to the song back then would have taken in the import of those words, particularly “A time to be born, a time to die.” But we were young and felt immortal.   A finality that slapped us I think back on that song today, a year and a half after my brother David, suffering great pain and fearing to lose control of his life, killed himself during a […]
August 15, 2017

Book review: “The Great Time Machine Hoax” by Keith Laumer

Well, Keith Laumer is trying to be wacky here in The Great Time Machine Hoax, but the laughs are pretty tepid. So’s the imagination. Oh, the 1964 novel is interesting enough as a cultural artifact since it deals with speculations from that time in a story about a huge, self-aware computer (embodied in a beautiful [and naked] “girl”) and glitches relating to time travel and a future culture of mind over matter and a past culture under the sway of a circus operator and an all-male community of back-to-nature men who, as portrayed in the book, don’t appear to be gay but also don’t seem to miss the presence of women. That’s a lot of storylines for a 210-page novel, and Laumer doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.   “The shrill cries of social injustice” The “hoax” of the title, for instance, isn’t really a hoax, but more of a miscommunication. The time machine aspect of the story permits Laumer to send his main character Chester W. Chester here and there through history and the future and alternatives thereof.  Each landing place has its own story, but none of the stories is that compelling, and they bear […]
August 9, 2017

Lives of Great Religious Books: Princeton University Press

For outsiders, religions are often mysterious. Yet, down the centuries, the great books of faith have played major roles in shaping the world of believers and non-believers alike, influencing politics, art, philosophy, literature, language and culture. It’s with that in mind that, since 2011, Princeton University Press has been publishing a series of lively and energetic “biographies” of these important works, titled Lives of Great Religious Books. “The series may strike some people as odd, but I find it tremendously fun to publish,” says executive editor Fred Appel who came up with the idea during a conversation with an Israeli philosopher.   Light touch by experts What makes these “biographies,” each about 250 pages long, so readable is that they’re written with a light touch by experts who are excited about the stories they have to tell and who understand that they are writing for non-experts. Many of them, says Appel, also teach college courses “where they have to make great books interesting to 19-year-olds who may not know anything about them. Consider some examples:   From “The Koran” in English: A Biography by Bruce B. Lawrence: “To move from Latin to Arabic is to move from a language with […]