What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason
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Updated 15 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

How Iceland Changed the World takes readers on a tour of history, showing them how Iceland played a pivotal role in events as diverse as the French Revolution and the Moon Landing. 

It is an in-depth, informative, and fascinating chronicle of Iceland’s mostly unknown contributions to the world.

“Again and again, one humble nation has found itself at the frontline of historic events, shaping the world as we know it. How Iceland Changed the World paints a lively picture of just how it all happened,” said a review on goodreads.com. 

Author Egill Bjarnason is an Icelandic journalist, based in Reykjavík.

As a Fulbright Foreign Student grantee, he earned a master’s degree in social documentation at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he also worked as a teaching assistant in photography and statistics for two years.

Bjarnason “places Iceland at the center of everything, and his narrative not only entertains but enlightens, uncovering unexpected connections,” said Andri Magnason, author of On Time and Water, in a recent review.


What We Are Reading Today: The Philosophical Stage; Drama and Dialectic in Classical Athens

What We Are Reading Today: The Philosophical Stage; Drama and Dialectic in Classical Athens
Updated 17 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Philosophical Stage; Drama and Dialectic in Classical Athens

What We Are Reading Today: The Philosophical Stage; Drama and Dialectic in Classical Athens

Edited by Joshua Billings

The Philosophical Stage offers an innovative approach to ancient Greek literature and thought that places drama at the heart of intellectual history. Drawing on evidence from tragedy and comedy, Joshua Billings shines new light on the development of early Greek philosophy, arguing that drama is our best source for understanding the intellectual culture of classical Athens.

In this incisive book, Billings recasts classical Greek intellectual history as a conversation across discourses and demonstrates the significance of dramatic reflections on widely shared theoretical questions. He argues that neither “literature” nor “philosophy” was a defined category in the fifth century BCE, and develops a method of reading dramatic form as a structured investigation of issues at the heart of the emerging discipline of philosophy.

A breathtaking work of intellectual history by one of today’s most original classical scholars, The Philosophical Stage presents a novel approach to ancient drama and sets a path for a renewed understanding of early Greek thought.


What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States

What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States
Updated 16 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States

What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States

Author: Thomas Koenigs

What is the use of fiction? This question preoccupied writers in the early United States, where many cultural authorities insisted that fiction reading would mislead readers about reality. Founded in Fiction argues that this suspicion made early American writers especially attuned to one of fiction’s defining but often overlooked features—its fictionality. Thomas Koenigs shows how these writers explored the unique types of speculative knowledge that fiction could create as they sought to harness different varieties of fiction for a range of social and political projects.

Spanning the years 1789–1861, Founded in Fiction challenges the “rise of novel” narrative that has long dominated the study of American fiction by highlighting how many of the texts that have often been considered the earliest American novels actually defined themselves in contrast to the novel. 

Their writers developed self-consciously extranovelistic varieties of fiction, as they attempted to reform political discourse, shape women’s behavior, reconstruct a national past, and advance social criticism. Ambitious in scope, Founded in Fiction features original discussions of a wide range of canonical and lesser-known writers, including Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Royall Tyler, Charles Brockden Brown, Leonora Sansay, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Montgomery Bird, George Lippard, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs.


What We Are Reading Today: Ethnography through Thick and Thin by George E. Marcus

What We Are Reading Today: Ethnography through Thick and Thin by George E. Marcus
Updated 15 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Ethnography through Thick and Thin by George E. Marcus

What We Are Reading Today: Ethnography through Thick and Thin by George E. Marcus

In the 1980s, George Marcus spearheaded a major critique of cultural anthropology, expressed most clearly in the landmark book Writing Culture, which he coedited with James Clifford. Ethnography through Thick and Thin updates and advances that critique for the late 1990s. Marcus presents a series of penetrating and provocative essays on the changes that continue to sweep across anthropology. He examines, in particular, how the discipline’s central practice of ethnography has been changed by “multi-sited” approaches to anthropology and how new research patterns are transforming anthropologists’ careers. Marcus rejects the view, often expressed, that these changes are undermining anthropology. The combination of traditional ethnography with scholarly experimentation, he argues, will only make the discipline more lively and diverse.

The book is divided into three main parts. 

In the first, Marcus shows how ethnographers’ tradition of defining fieldwork in terms of peoples and places is now being challenged by the need to study culture by exploring connections, parallels, and contrasts among a variety of often seemingly incommensurate sites. The second part illustrates this emergent multi-sited condition of research by reflecting it in some of Marcus’s own past research on Tongan elites and dynastic American fortunes. In the final section, which includes the previously unpublished essay “Sticking with Ethnography through Thick and Thin,” Marcus examines the evolving professional culture of anthropology and the predicaments of its new scholars.


‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  

‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  
Updated 14 June 2021

‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  

‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  

CHICAGO: From California by way of Beirut, Lebanon, Hala Alyan introduces readers to the Nasr family in “The Arsonists’ City” — a family of five whose multi-faceted members create worlds within worlds to cope with their complicated lives. Alyan places her characters together in Beirut, where they’ve all laughed and loved and where some secrets come to flourish and others die.

Alyan’s story transitions between past and present, where both spiral around one another until they clash. Idris and Mazna convince their American children to travel to Beirut for the summer before Idris sells his father’s home, a decision no one takes lightly. Despite the fact that they are spread out across the globe, their grandfather’s home is their base, where their roots have taken to the Earth, where their memories come alive and where the façade of perfection holds no value against the past and the truth.

Life flourishes despite the civil war that raged in Lebanon during Idris and Mazna’s youth and the present Syrian conflict that now prevents Mazna from returning to her native Damascus. Their children, despite growing up in American, still hold dear their grandparents’ home, a short walk from the Corniche that was built two centuries ago. They remember the events of their childhood, the people and circumstances that shaped them into the adults they have become. And no matter how far from their roots they travel, how far from their grounded reality they venture, they always come back because they are connected to one another and to their past.

Alyan’s novel brims with life as the Nasr family’s secrets are revealed, pushing past into present. Spanning across the globe, from Palestine to Lebanon and from Syria to America, each character is housed in pockets of social and identity politics, exile, civil war, and everything in between. But Beirut means something different to everyone, and going back makes them all face their predicaments head-on. There is no more glossing over devastation and past tragedies here. They must relive their lives, where love rushes to the fore as quickly as heartbreak.


What We Are Reading Today: After the Fall by Ben Rhodes

What We Are Reading Today: After the Fall by Ben Rhodes
Updated 14 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: After the Fall by Ben Rhodes

What We Are Reading Today: After the Fall by Ben Rhodes

After the Fall is an excellently written book that is equally alarming and comforting in its diagnosis regarding the nationalist direction that both America and the world at large has taken in recent years.

From 2009 to 2017, author Ben Rhodes served as deputy national security adviser to former US President Barack Obama, overseeing the administration’s national security communications, speechwriting, public diplomacy, and global engagement programming. 

His book was a “fascinating look into America in context with the rest of the world (specifically in comparison to Hungary, Hong Kong and Russia),” said a review on goodreads.com. 

“It’s an inquiry into the rise of authoritarianism, with a lot of introspection into what has changed in the US, and what has not,” said the review. 

In the book’s most appealing passages, Rhodes “sits down with people very much like himself, chastened idealists who have come to know the world as it is but refuse to conform to its demands,” said a review in The New York Times.

Prior to joining the administration, Rhodes was a senior speechwriter and foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign from 2007 to 2008.