In the 1930s, two young American men traveled around Yugoslavia recording the poems sung by illiterate farmers. One rough character they met, Avdo Međedovic, rattled off an epic called “The Wedding of Meho,” nearly as long as Homer’s “Odyssey.” Milman Parry and Albert Lord considered this proof of Parry’s controversial thesis concerning how the Homeric epics had been composed: They were not the works of a single man but the collective product of a tribe.
Parry died violently and mysteriously at 33. Lord, just 23 at that time, abandoned scholarship for a few years, working in a shipyard, until returning to begin sorting through the many aluminum discs on which he and Parry stored the performances they had heard on their travels. Robert Kanigel’s compelling book “Hearing Homer’s Song” recounts how their work changed the way we look at literary creation and poetic genius. But the most enthralling sections, our reviewer David Mason feels, simply trace the scholarly road trips of two intellectual adventurers on the trail of a big idea. Read the review
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Injustice and Valor
National Archives and Records Administration
Band of Brothers: “He was beyond thinking now, except for one overwhelming thought, an absolute conviction: he had to kill these bastards before they could kill him.” For the young Japanese-American soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team—the most decorated unit for its size in U.S. military history—World War II was a dual nightmare. Their families were forced into internment camps, even as these young men faced some of the most savage combat in the European theater.
Julia Flynn Siler on “Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II” by Daniel James Brown. Read the review
Pancho Villa attacked a New Mexico border town because he wanted to provoke an American invasion. He succeeded. Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing’s 11-month expedition failed to slay, seize or even spot Villa, but the U.S. Army learned lessons it would apply in World War I. Read the review
The Guns of John Moses Browning By Nathan Gorenstein
In 1889, a self-taught inventor saw patches of sweet clover sway in the wake of a passing bullet. He set out to harness the expanding gas created by a projectile, in order to develop a rapid-fire machine gun—just one of his many widely adopted innovations. Read the review
“Enduring Freedom”: Jawad Arash and Trent Reedy’s co-written novel, set in post-9/11 Afghanistan, conjures the tedium and terror of a war zone. Read the review
By Meghan Cox Gurdon
The Life and Logic of Kurt Gödel
Oskar Morgenstern Estate
Genius at Work: As a boy growing up in Austria-Hungary, Kurt Gödel couldn’t stop asking questions—his parents nicknamed him Herr Warum: “Mr. Why.” In 1930, at just 24, Gödel announced the discovery that made his reputation and earned him fame. His incompleteness theorems demonstrated that, in mathematics and logic, there were limits to what could be proved. There will always be some truths that cannot be mathematically shown to be true. “A scientific achievement of the first order” was the rather understated verdict of Gödel’s supervisor when he submitted the proof as his thesis.
David Edmonds on “Journey to the Edge of Reason” by Stephen Budiansky. Read the review
Women in World War II
The Nine By Gwen Strauss
As Allied forces overwhelmed Germany in early 1945, the women held in the Ravensbrück labor camp were sent on what was intended to be a final march to their deaths. One group of nine young women made a bold choice: Escaping together into the woods, they set out through hostile territory, seeking home. Read the review
The House of Fragile Things By James McAuley
In 1880, the painter Auguste Renoir took up a commission from a French banker named Louis Cahen d’Anvers to paint his three young daughters—a mark of the family’s ascent in society. The portraits survived World War II, but the Nazis—abetted by rampant French anti-Semitism—had other plans for the subjects. Read the review
“Unsettled Ground”: Fraternal twins in rural England contend with the consequences of their mother’s death in Claire Fuller’s folklore-informed novel. Read the review
By Sam Sacks
Science & Nature
Metabolical By Robert H. Lustig
What was your last meal really made of? The odds are that most of us would be at a loss to answer that question with anything other than a guess. More than half of Americans’ calorie intake comes from foods physician Robert H. Lustig calls “ultra-processed,” and he suggests looking more closely at what’s on our plates. Read the review
Seed to Dust By Marc Hamer
The secret to stretching out time, suggests Marc Hamer, is to pay attention. It’s also the secret to gardening, a craft he illuminates in his vibrant account of a year spent as the sole hired gardener on an English country estate. Such elegant spaces are an endangered species—as are the gardeners who tend them. Read the review
Upper Chamber: Memoirs by senators past and present sing their own praises, offering fact and more than a bit of filler. Read the review
By Barton Swaim
Five Best: Giles Tremlett
On Surviving the Unimaginable
The author, most recently, of “The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War.”Read the article
Audacity to BelieveBy Sheila Cassidy (1977)
Life After Life By Tony Parker (1990)
In HidingBy Ronald Fraser (1972)
An Evil CradlingBy Brian Keenan (1992)
OblivionBy Héctor Abad, translated by Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey (2010)
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