Monthly Archives: February 2007

An excerpt from The Birthday Book by Censorinus

February 9, 2007
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An excerpt from The Birthday Book by Censorinus

In the year AD 238, in the capital of the Roman Empire, the scholar Censorinus gave a present to his best friend, the noble Quintus Caerellius. The gift was this charming work, which he called The Birthday Book (De die natali liber). In its few dozen pages, Censorinus sets down everything related to the idea of birthdays. He begins simply, with the right way to sacrifice to one’s birthday spirit. By the time he has finished he has sketched a glorious vision of the universe ruled by harmony and order, where the microcosm of the child in the womb corresponds to the macrocosm of the planets.—From Holt N. Parker’s Preface to The Birthday Book by Censorinus Part 4, "Seed and Conception" 1. Your lifetime starts on your birthday, but there are also many things before that day which pertain to the origin of humankind. It seems relevant, therefore, to say something first about the things which are themselves first in the order of nature. So I shall briefly set out some of the opinions which the ancients held about the origins of mankind. 2. The first and general question treated by the men of old who were learned in wisdom . . .

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Review: Dürrenmatt, The Pledge and The Inspector Barlach Mysteries

February 8, 2007
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Review: Dürrenmatt, The Pledge and The Inspector Barlach Mysteries

Book publishing is globalized; it has never been easier to obtain any book that has been published anywhere. As well, more and more English-language books are being translated in the non-English speaking world. The reverse is not so true, however. There is a trickle of foreign titles translated into the only language most of us in this country can read compared to the flood flowing in the opposite direction. So it is noteworthy that last Sunday’s Washington Post featured an article reviewing a sampling of some international voices currently hitting the U.S. mystery scene, including our translations of Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Pledge and The Inspector Barlach Mysteries. Richard Lipez writes for the Post: Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990) was best known as the author of clever, morally inquisitive plays such as The Visit and The Physicists. In the early 1950s he also wrote three short, spellbinding mystery novels, which the University of Chicago Press has reissued in paperback with new translations from the German by Joel Agee: The Pledge and The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman & Suspicion. The latter includes a thoughtful foreword by Sven Birkerts, who praises Dürrenmatt’s talent as a captivating entertainer who could . . .

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An unabashed fan of the bourgeoisie

February 6, 2007
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An unabashed fan of the bourgeoisie

Deirdre McCloskey is no stranger to controversy and her latest work, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce promises to make her the focus of debate once again. An ingenious reply to more than a century’s worth of critics whose scorn for the bourgeois lifestyle has become ubiquitous in modern culture, McCloskey’s book is nothing less than a wholesale reinterpretation of Western intellectual history; a dead-serious reply to the critics of capitalism that has got the reviewers talking. In an article in the February 4 Chicago Sun Times critic Hedy Weiss remarks: “To put it in a nutshell: McCloskey is an unabashed fan of the bourgeoisie and the system of capitalism that has led to the creation of the much-maligned class she defines in the broadest terms.” Quoting McCloskey, the article continues: “The bourgeois life… generates and sustains what I consider to be seven important virtues, including common sense and know-how, courage, temperance or self-command, a sense of justice and fairness to others, and the notion of transformative love. It also can be the source of hope, which I would define as being able to imagine a future goal, and faith, which I see as the source of . . .

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Review, Bernstein: Girly Man

February 5, 2007
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Review, Bernstein: Girly Man

Last week, Robert Pinsky’s Poet’s Choice column in the Washington Post featured Charles Bernstein’s latest book, Girly Man. As Pinsky notes, much of the work in Girly Man is a meditation on the medium of language itself, an approach to poetry that makes for a refreshing departure from rhetorical convention. Pinsky writes: Charles Bernstein writes both prose and poetry about poetry, sometimes brilliantly, in ways calculated to upset the middlebrow and thwart the bland. The more you like the poetic equivalent of a nice tune, easy to hum, the more Bernstein means to disrupt your complacency. We have been delighted to publish several of Bernstein’s books and his latest, Girly Man, is another provocative and aesthetically challenging collection of verse from one of America’s most innovative poets. We are also always delighted to have another opportunity—though the month of April is barely visible on the frozen horizon— to refer readers to Bernstein’s equally provocative essay, "Against National Poetry Month As Such." . . .

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Press Release: Biro, One Must Also Be Hungarian

February 2, 2007
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Press Release: Biro, One Must Also Be Hungarian

The only country in the world with a line in its national anthem as desperate as “this people has already suffered for its past and its future,” Hungary is a nation defined by poverty, despair, and conflict, but also by creativity and artistic genius. Its history, and especially the history of Hungarian Jews, took of course, an even darker and more tragic turn during World War II and the Holocaust. But the story of the Jews in Hungary is also one of survival, heroism, and even humor—and that is what acclaimed author Adam Biro sets out to recover in One Must Also Be Hungarian, an inspiring and altogether poignant look back at the lives of his family members over the past two hundred years. Read the press release. Read an excerpt. . . .

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Review: Grene, Of Farming and Classics

February 1, 2007
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Review: Grene, Of Farming and Classics

Yesterday’s New York Sun carried a review of David Grene’s Of Farming and Classics: a Memoir that made a few insightful remarks about the atypical synthesis of classical literature and farming that lies at the heart of Grene’s autobiography. Writing for the Sun, reviewer Victor Hanson notes that in bringing together the disparate worlds of farming and classics Grene places himself in closer proximity to the world of the ancient Greeks than one might think. Hanson writes: “Nine out of 10 ancient Greeks were rural people. The majority of them were farmers. And that truth is reflected in many of Homer’s similes in his Iliad and Odyssey, Hesiod’s Works and Days, Aristophanes’ Acharnians, or the vast treatises of Theophrastus, where so often Greek thought is expressed through the life of agriculture.” Thus, Hanson’s review notes that Of Farming and Classics delivers to a modern audience several vital lessons embedded in an ancient synthesis of farming and philology: “First is the symbiosis between the life of contemplation and action—and just how it is that hard physical and dirty work offers real value in rediscovering nature, bringing with it a certain pragmatism that permeates reading and thinking.… Second, Grene reminds us of . . .

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