What We Are Reading Today: ‘Browsings’

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Updated 17 June 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Browsings’

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Author: Michael Dirda

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Dirda compiled a year’s worth of literary essays in his 2015 book about books, aptly titled, “Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting and Living with Books.”

Written on Fridays between February 2012 and February 2013, the essays started out as 600-word columns in The American Scholar that combined the literary and personal. Soon, Dirda found that the word counts naturally ballooned, sometimes doubling and even tripling due to what he referred to as his “natural garrulousness.”

In the intro, he writes: “These are … very much personal pieces, the meandering reflections of a literary sybarite. The essays themselves vary widely in subject matter, and rarely stick closely to their stated titles.”

A longtime book columnist for The Washington Post, Dirda also writes regularly for many literary sections in publications such as the New York Review of Books. The Washingtonian Magazine once listed him as one of the 25 smartest people in the nation’s capital.

This collection of essays serves as a true celebration of American literature. Dirda explores his serendipitous discoveries and the joy of reading for its own sake. His passion goes beyond bibliophilism; the compilation is his love letter to all the books he has encountered along his journey.

The writer’s quick wit is demonstrated clearly on the page, and he comes across as that bookworm friend who can talk endlessly about books with enough passion to make you fall in love with reading again.

“I hope ‘Browsings’ as a whole will communicate some sense of a year in the life of an especially bookish literary journalist. I also hope that it will encourage readers to seek out some of the many titles I mention or discuss,” Dirda writes.

The books he examines are diverse, and he provides readers with insights that jump off the page. The essays are short enough, but he requests that one read only a few at a time.

“Allow me to make two small recommendations: First, don’t read more than two or three of the pieces at one sitting. Space them out. That way ‘Browsings’ will take longer to get through and you’ll enjoy each essay more. Trust me on this.

“Second, consider reading the columns in the order they appear. Each is meant to stand on its own, but I did aim for a pleasing variety in my choice of topics, as well as a seasonal arc to the series as a whole.”

 


What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Data Economy’

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Updated 14 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Data Economy’

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Authors: ISAAC BALEY AND LAURA VELDKAMP

The most valuable firms in the global economy are valued largely for their data. Amazon, Apple, Google, and others have proven the competitive advantage of a good data set.

And yet despite the growing importance of data as a strategic asset, modern economic theory neglects its role. In this book, Isaac Baley and Laura Veldkamp draw on a range of theoretical frameworks at the research frontier in macroeconomics and finance.

 


What We Are Reading Today: ‘Liquid Empire’

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Updated 13 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Liquid Empire’

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Author: COREY ROSS

In the 19th and 20th centuries, a handful of powerful European states controlled more than a third of the land surface of the planet.

These sprawling empires encompassed not only rainforests, deserts, and savannahs but also some of the world’s most magnificent rivers, lakes, marshes, and seas. “Liquid Empire” tells the story of how the waters of the colonial world shaped the history of imperialism, and how this imperial past still haunts us today.

 


What We Are Reading Today: Leon Battista Alberti: Writer and Humanist

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Updated 12 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: Leon Battista Alberti: Writer and Humanist

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  • McLaughlin begins with what we know of Alberti’s life, comparing the facts laid out in Alberti’s autobiography with the myth created in the 19th century by Burckhardt, before moving on to his extraordinarily wide knowledge of classical texts

Author: Martin McLaughlin

Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) was one of the most prolific and original writers of the Italian Renaissance—a fact often eclipsed by his more celebrated achievements as an art theorist and architect, and by Jacob Burckhardt’s mythologizing of Alberti as a “Renaissance or Universal Man.” In this book, Martin McLaughlin counters this partial perspective on Alberti, considering him more broadly as a writer dedicated to literature and humanism, a major protagonist and experimentalist in the literary scene of early Renaissance Italy. McLaughlin, a noted authority on Alberti, examines all of Alberti’s major works in Latin and the Italian vernacular and analyzes his vast knowledge of classical texts and culture.

McLaughlin begins with what we know of Alberti’s life, comparing the facts laid out in Alberti’s autobiography with the myth created in the 19th century by Burckhardt, before moving on to his extraordinarily wide knowledge of classical texts. He then turns to Alberti’s works, tracing his development as a writer through texts that range from an early comedy in Latin successfully passed off as the work of a fictitious ancient author to later philosophical dialogues written in the Italian vernacular (a revolutionary choice at the time).

 


What We Are Reading Today: The Little Book of Black Holes

What We Are Reading Today: The Little Book of Black Holes
Updated 11 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: The Little Book of Black Holes

What We Are Reading Today: The Little Book of Black Holes

Authors: Steven S. Gubser & Frans Pretorius

Although Einstein understood that black holes were mathematical solutions to his equations, he never accepted their physical reality — a viewpoint many shared. 

This all changed in the 1960s and 1970s, when a deeper conceptual understanding of black holes developed just as new observations revealed the existence of quasars and X-ray binary star systems, whose mysterious properties could be explained by the presence of black holes.


What We Are Reading Today: ‘Class Dismissed’ by Anthony Abraham Jack

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Class Dismissed’ by Anthony Abraham Jack
Updated 10 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Class Dismissed’ by Anthony Abraham Jack

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Class Dismissed’ by Anthony Abraham Jack

Elite colleges are boasting unprecedented numbers with respect to diversity, with some schools admitting their first majority-minority classes.

But when the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial unrest gripped the world, schools scrambled to figure out what to do with the diversity they so fervently recruited. And disadvantaged students suffered.

“Class Dismissed” exposes how woefully unprepared colleges were to support these students and shares their stories of how they were left to weather the storm alone and unprotected.