Updated: 2011-06-10 07:56

(New York Times)

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John Sayles builds a 'house of tiles'

Near the end of his vast new historical novel, A Moment in the Sun (McSweeney's Books), John Sayles describes a street performer who "built an elaborate house of tiles on his little table, balancing one upon the other till the structure was almost up to his chin".

Spectators bet against "the master architect" and his precarious creation, but he keeps adding tiles and winning wagers. This performer is, of course, a stand-in for Sayles himself, who has also built an elaborate house of tiles and managed, against all odds, to keep it standing.

The book opens in 1897, the year of the Klondike gold rush, and closes in 1903, the year after the Philippine-American War ended, and in between it takes the measure of America on the brink of the 20th century.


South Pole anniversary stimulates book sales

With the 100th anniversary of the conquest of the South Pole coming this December, books about Antarctica will be everywhere this year.

One of the first out of the gate is An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science by Edward J. Larson (Yale University Press), which looks at Antarctic exploration through the lens of science.

Yes, many of the famous adventure tales are here, including the central one in which Roald Amundsen beats the less-prepared Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole, and then Scott and his men perish on the way home.

But to Edward J. Larson, a professor of history and law at Pepperdine University, the important thing about this story is not who arrived first at the Pole, but who did the best field research along the way.

Historian's adventures in pre-war Germany

William E. Dodd was an academic historian, living a quiet life in Chicago, when Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him United States ambassador to Germany. It was 1933, Hitler had recently been appointed chancellor, the world was about to change.

Had Dodd gone to Berlin by himself, his reports of events, his diary entries, his quarrels with the State Department, his conversations with Roosevelt would be source material for specialists.

But the general reader is in luck on two counts: First, Dodd took his family to Berlin, including his young, beautiful and sexually adventurous daughter, Martha; second, the book that recounts this story, In the Garden of Beasts (Crown), is by Erik Larson, the author of The Devil in the White City.

New York Times


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