Thursday, January 10, 2008

Books 2008

#1 -- "In Europe" by Geert Mak

As I mentioned, I meant to start off the year with Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon," but... I received this for Christmas, quickly became engrossed, and since it's of a monolithic size (800+ pages) itself, Pynchon will have to wait a while.

I first read about "In Europe" in the Economist sometime last year, and the feature made it sound pretty appealing -- then saw a review or two that wasn't so positive. I'm pleased to report that it's really fantastic.

The idea is this: in 1999, Dutch journalist Mak traveled all throughout Europe, reliving the century -- beginning with the cities that were most influential in 1900, ending with the cities that marked the 1990s.

It sounds ripe for abuse, but I'm happy to say it's not contrived at all. Mak is perceptive and sympathetic without being nostalgic. It's an effective history, told through anecdotes, oral histories, and Mak's end-of-the-century travels. It's long, but pretty engrossing, and belongs on the shelf next to Tony Judt's "Postwar" and Mark Mazower's "Dark Continent."

Link: Geert Mak's website

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