Even those not familiar with Olaus Magnus’s 1539 map, Carta Marina, will recognize the beautiful and terrible creatures that are the focus of Joseph Nigg’s book, Sea Monsters (Univ. of Chicago, $40). A chief source of Renaissance sea-monster iconography, Magnus’s depictions still play a role in how we think about mythical sea creatures like sea serpents and krakens. Sea Monsters analyzes each of Carta Marina’s individual images, examining the historic, scientific, and cultural importance of the monsters and highlighting the map’s artistry and intended practicality. A fascinating read for cartophiles, history buffs, and art lovers alike, Sea Monsters is a complete guide to the most influential sea- monster map.
Why read Why Read Moby Dick? Philbrick’s slim volume elegantly champions Melville’s tomb, contextualizing, highlighting, occasionally deconstructing, and always cheerleading its subject. It reminds Melville’s fans of Moby Dick’s brilliance and presents the book’s distractors with compelling reasons to recant. Unlike Moby Dick, Philbrick’s book is a quick read. But, like Melville’s novel, Why Read Moby Dick is worth dipping into again and again. Why Read Moby Dick is a companion to Moby Dick, not a replacement; it doesn’t attempt to compete with Melville’s classic. Philbrick is aware of his position as sagacious enabler and he excels at his task. He’s Fedallah to Melville’s Ahab, but with a happier ending.
If you’re planning on writing a true crime memoir reflecting on relationships, neural development disorders, small town life, and the American dream, I have bad news. Poe Balentine just wrote the definitive one of those. Composed of short explorations into his troubled marriage, his son’s possible autism, and a gruesome murder in his small Wyoming town, Love and Terror on the Howling Plains exists in that place where folksy meets smart, empathy meets honesty, and plot meets ponderings. And, if “memoir” or “true crime” aren’t your usual cup of tea, don’t be alarmed. Balentine’s masterful storytelling lifts this book clear of those sometimes fraught labels and authoritatively deposits it on the pile of this year’s must-reads.