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America's Nazi Secret: An Insider's History
America's Nazi Secret: An Insider's History
John Loftus
Trine Day, 2010
336 pp., 24.95

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Zift: A Noir Novel
Zift: A Noir Novel
Vladislav Todorov
Paul Dry Books, 2010
200 pp., 14.95

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John Wilson

Books of 2010, A-Z

From "America's Nazi Secret" to "Zift."

Ah, the books of 2010. Even a week's intake exceeds comprehension, defies generalization, mimics the world itself in sheer abundance. Here is a sampling, from A to Z.

America's Nazi Secret . John Loftus. TrineDay. The author's huffing and puffing, beginning with a 70-word subtitle, inadvertently undermines his case, but he has a sobering story to tell nonetheless.

The Best Spiritual Writing 2010 . Edited by Philip Zaleski. Penguin Books. Another capacious collection assembled with care by Phil Zaleski. Install a copy at your bedside. Interesting to read the introduction by poet Billy Collins, who tells us rather cheerfully how he lost his "almost congenital" Catholic faith and how reading and writing poems allows him, now and then, to fall "through a little hole into something more extensive than the words around it."

The Collected Prose: 1948-1998 . Zbigniew Herbert. Edited by Alissa Valles. Ecco. Good to have this alongside Herbert's poems. Typical opening (in this instance, from an essay called "The Mercy of the Executioner"): "Among the many portraits of Jan van Olden Barneveldt I like most the one painted by an unknown master." There's a whiff of Borges in this volume: Herbert was a dissident in Poland not least by creating an alternative world.

The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Harvard University Press. This newly launched series "presents original Byzantine Greek, Medieval Latin, and Old English texts with facing-page translations designed to make the achievements of medieval and Byzantine cultures available to English-speaking scholars and general readers." Among the beautifully produced first volumes are The Beowulf Manuscript , edited by R. D. Fulk (which includes not only the great title poem but also the other four works that appear in its only surviving manuscript), and the first of a projected five volumes of The Vulgate Bible (this first volume is devoted to the Pentateuch), edited by Swift Edgar.

The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence . Paul Davies. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Davies keeps returning to this subject—is this really his third book on it?—but he is never less than absorbing. After finishing it, try Stanislaw Lem's novels The Invincible and Fiasco.

FashionEast: The Spectre That Haunted Socialism . Djurdja Bartlett. MIT Press. Fashion in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. One of the most revealing studies of socialist culture in many years, loaded with striking images. Yet again, truth is stranger than fiction.

The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays . Ron Jaworski with Greg Cosell and David Plaut. Ballantine/ESPN Books. The best football book I've read since The Blind Side. A wonderful companion with the playoffs just around the corner.

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! Text by Jonah Winter. Illustrations by Red Nose Studio. Schwartz & Wade. The distinctive work of Chris Sickels (aka Red Nose Studio) can be seen in Books & Culture (for example, the cover of our January/February 2010 issue). He is at his best in this rollicking cautionary tale, which the New York Times Book Review named as the best illustrated children's book of the year.

Insectopedia . Hugh Raffles. Pantheon Books. This book, like the list you are reading, is an A-Z miscellany. The author is an anthropologist; I found his artful ramble fascinating and irritating in equal measure.

Jorge Luis Borges. In 2010, Penguin Books celebrated 75 years of publishing. Among the gems of this anniversary year from Penguin Classics were several volumes of Borges (one devoted to writings on Argentina, for instance, and another collecting his sonnets), mostly selected from previously published translations but also seasoned with pieces appearing in English for the first time. I particularly enjoyed the volume On Writing , which includes a very tasty section on detective fiction.

The King of Trees . Ah Cheng. New Directions. Three novellas by a Chinese writer who made a considerable impact, translator Bonnie McDougall tells us, when these fictions were first published in the 1980s. McDougall, who published an earlier translation of the same works twenty years ago, puts Ah Cheng in context in a helpful afterword.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman . Laurence Sterne. Visual Editions. This edition of Sterne's 18th-century novel was the first book published by Visual Editions, the London-based outfit whose second title was Jonathan Safran Foer's Tree of Codes. They like to play with the conventions of The Book, and their edition of Sterne is in the spirit of the master.

Moliere in translation. I can't read French, and I just didn't get Moliere. Richard Wilbur's translations helped. Now, thanks to L.A. Theatre Works, I can listen to Wilbur's versions of Tartuffe and The School for Husbands & The Imaginary Cuckold . As it happens, this year also saw the welcome appearance of Wilbur's first new volume of poems and translations in some years, Anterooms .

The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters . Lawrence Feingold. Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University. Here's what I wrote about this book for Christianity Today: "What we tend to think of as distinctively Protestant concerns regularly show up in other streams of the faith. Matters such as total depravity and prevenient grace are central to this patient exposition, which will reward every minute of your attention. If I add that the cover of the book—framing a detail from a sculpture of a woman—is among the most enticing I have seen this year, you may wonder why you should care. To understand its relevance to the book's argument, you'll have to read the note on the copyright page identifying the sculpture and the brief bio of the author on the back cover."

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory . Ben Macintyre. Crown. And Deathly Deception: The Real Story of Operation Mincemeat . Denis Smyth. Oxford University Press. If you are a fan of real-life tales of espionage as well as the fictional variety (though the line between them isn't always clear), you'll want to read one or both of these accounts of a wonderfully devious World War II exploit.

The Pre-Raphaelites from Rossetti to Ruskin . Edited by Dinah Roe. Penguin Classics. And Ford Madox Brown: A Catalogue Raisonne . Mary Bennett. Yale University Press. Dinah Roe has compiled a fine anthology of Pre-Raphaelite poetry, representing one important aspect of the work of this "loose and baggy collective." Another aspect of their work is paid tribute in Mary Bennett's superb two-volume catalogue of Ford Madox Brown, one of the year's treasures.

Quiet! A while back I mentioned the growing number of books on silence, noise, and natural sound. That trend continued in 2010, with In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise , by George Prochnick, published in April by Doubleday. For another, richer book in this vein, see the entry for "U" below.

The Reversal . Michael Connelly. Little, Brown. Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch are working together again in this fast-paced story. Which reminds me that the film based on an earlier Connelly novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, in which Mickey Haller first played a lead role, is coming in 2011.

The Search for Philip K. Dick . Anne R. Dick. Tachyon. This book by Philip K. Dick's third wife has been published in a couple of earlier editions. Somehow this time it managed to get a bit more circulation, and I expect that many PKD readers will be thankful (as I was) to have it, despite its rough edges.

Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy . James K. A. Smith. Eerdmans. This is one of three volumes just published by Eerdmans inaugurating a new series, Pentecostal Manifestos. Look for reviews of all three in Books & Culture. (Jamie Smith's book has one of the best titles of any book I've seen this year in any genre. I expect the book itself will be pretty good too.)

The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise . Garret Keizer. PublicAffairs. The best of the recent crop of books on the soundscape. I've been working on a piece about this cluster of books for months now. And meanwhile the pile of books keeps growing.

Visions of Tomorrow: Science Fiction Predictions That Came True . Edited by Thomas A. Easton and Judith K. Dahl. Skyhorse. The subtitle is a come-on: only a few of the pieces included here actually live up to that description. But it's an entertaining collection nonetheless. (Never mind the chorus of voices insisting that "prediction" really has nothing to do with science fiction. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn't. The argument is silly. And see the entry under "Y" below.)

What Makes a Civilization? The Ancient Near East and the Future of the West . David Wengrow. Oxford University Press. Self-consciously contrarian, informed by deep learning but written accessibly, wrong-headed (so I think), this is a book to learn from and argue with.

X. The unknown book.

The Year 3000: A Dream . Paolo Mantegazza. University of Nebraska Press.Mantegazza's utopian novel was published in Italian in 1897. This is, we're told, the first English edition, translated by David Jacobsen and edited by Niccoletta Pireddu, who provides a very interesting and substantial introductory essay. Part of the fun is comparing what Mantegazza foresaw with what has come to pass. And then there is the cast of his utopian vision. (There's a description, late in the book, of the evolution of Christianity: "Christ's religion has been freed of metaphysical dogmas and has become almost thoroughly just a very lofty form of charity.")

Zift: Socialist Noir . Vladislav Todorov. Paul Dry Books. When was the last time you read a novel translated from the Bulgarian? Thanks to Paul Dry, and to translator Joseph Benatov, you now have the opportunity to do so. As the subtitle suggests, Todorov's novel is strongly flavored with parody. Never mind poetry: translating parody is REALLY tough. I was often unsure of the intended tone as I read: a kind of pulp surrealism prevails. (The title is defined in an epigraph at the outset. I'll leave that for you.)

John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture.

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