MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksAs Fletcher tells us, asking and answering such queries is not why writers write or readers read. Literature isn’t an argument; rather, it’s a technology designed to improve our lives. Literature generates sensations that readers need to experience, things like love, courage, empathy, and serenity. Literature can help us overcome stress, connect with our fellow humans, and find joy ... In short, we read in order to grow into our best selves. Literature can help us do all this through its verifiable impacts on the brain. Its success hinges on how well an author utilizes various techniques — or \'inventions,\' in Fletcher’s language — that cause specific neurological effects: stimulating the amygdala, reducing activity in the parietal lobe, and releasing dopamine, oxytocin, and cortisol ... Fortunately, Fletcher wears his mastery lightly. His writing is never heavy or even a little academic. He introduces his authors with breezy, often witty biographies that establish their historical context and the human need addressed in their work. It’s not surprising that someone so steeped in narrative studies can tell a good story; this volume is both an original history of literature and a page-turner full of fascinating portraits and eye-catching details ... While Angus Fletcher seems, at times, to have his heart set on an anti-intellectual history of literature, he has nonetheless produced a massive re-reading — and admirable expansion — of the Western canon. To top it off, that re-reading is itself readable, thought-provoking, and, yes, practical. Wonderworks is a fascinating book aimed at people who love to read, whatever they think of literature.
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books... a compelling work [that] involves both painstaking research and serendipity ... The history...is powerful in the way that only the most ordinary things can be powerful ... Shaik has done prodigious and fascinating research on the lives of various members, and on antebellum life in general ... We also get a visceral portrait of how ubiquitous slavery once was, with slave sales taking place on sidewalks and holding pens fouling residential streets ... one of the pleasures here is seeing how many intriguing topics are relevant to this story ... For the most part, this information is woven together smoothly. In a few instances, however, these smaller histories could be clearer. And the extent to which Shaik speculates about various historical matters becomes an issue occasionally. But these quibbles hardly detract from the pleasures and importance of this book. The gift of Economy Hall is that it memorializes a once-active society that was swept up in—and tried to steer—some of the most pivotal events in New Orleans.
Richard J. King
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksA fascinating, timely exploration of Melville\'s (and our) watery world ... a reading for our Anthropocenic era, a chance to find symbols appropriate for our current environmental crisis in this 1851 masterpiece ... [King] combines his love of Melville’s novel with a technical background that is rare among literary scholars ... The science in Ahab’s Rolling Sea includes a lively review of Melville’s research. One wonderful aspect of the book is its illustrations, both 19th-century engravings familiar to Melville and contemporary graphics that bring the information up to date ... As in Melville’s novel, the science here is accurate.