In Catastrophe 1914 (Vintage, $17.95), Max Hastings once again proves why he is such a lauded historian. In his latest military-political study, the author of Inferno, Winston’s War, and many others, looks at the opening events of the First World War through the strange dichotomy of great human folly coupled with noble intentions. Far from seeing the conflict as a waste, Hastings paints a picture of Europe struggling on the very edge of losing its identity and freedom; his vivid evocations of battle on both the Western and Eastern fronts follow the many generals, soldiers, and politicians maneuvering both on and behind the scenes. This book details just one year of the war and yet illuminates more about Europe in the first part of the twentieth century than tomes twice its size. Whether or not Hastings convinces you that the war was absolutely necessary, you can’t help but be engaged by his argument, his evidence, and his narrative; this stimulating book will broaden your understanding of the Great War.
Aficionados of American culture and Anglophiles alike can rejoice: Across the Pond (W.W. Norton, $14.95) is more than “an Englishman’s view of America.” Terry Eagleton, one of the most influential literary critics of recent decades, is the ideal guide to everything idiosyncratic about our beloved country, especially those things the natives never bother to notice. What makes American-Britiish relations so fascinating is just how close we are to each other—and yet how very far. Taking this distance as a starting point, Eagleton is a passionate observer, a wit, and a Brit who’s determined to get at the roots of the oddities, niceties, and just slightly off-ness of American life (at least, as his compatriots see it) . Now, if only he could explain Benedict Cumberbatch…. Perhaps in his next book.
Lexicon (Penguin, $16), Max Barry’s heart-racing and thought-provoking futuristic thriller, will have you looking at words in a whole new way. Combining recent neurological discoveries with the far older knowledge that language has a deep and abiding power, Barry constructs an ingenious maze for the no-privacy age—a puzzle worthy of some future Indiana Jones. Pulsating on the edge of paranoia, Lexicon unfolds a scenario reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, one that is rooted in our current age of digital media. Into this story—which takes place uncomfortably close, in an exclusive Arlington, Virginia, school—Emily and Wil, recently graduated “poets” of a particular sort, prepare to engage in the next war of the words.