Book Review

Though set in the late 1990s in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo, now known as Democratic Republic of the Congo, Frederic Hunter’s new novel, The Uttermost Parts of the Earth, is impressively, disturbingly, contemporary. If ever fiction can inform as effectively as journalism or history, this compelling and politically charged love story, is It. You may want to get out an atlas, though, to follow the horror, as the tribal violence evolves into the Rwandan genocide and bleeds into the equatorial province of Congo.  

Every now and then when it seems the world can’t get any greedier or immoral, a book comes along to remind us that the world’s always seemed spiritually bankrupt to the generations who lived through their own mad, bad times. That’s the implied premise of Southampton writer and historian Mary Cummings’ fascinating narrative about New York’s Gilded Age, which she revisits by way of one of the most bizarre murders in American history and its judicial aftermath, often called “the trial of the century.” At least before O.J.

“More than any other food, cheese has personality,” writes Liz Thorpe in her gorgeous, yummy, almost overwhelming treatise, The Book of Cheese: The Essential Guide to Discovering Cheeses You’ll Love. “Punk cheeses, boring cheeses, comfort cheeses” and her own favorites, based on flavor, texture, scent and surprise, but Thorpe urges everyone to follow his or her own nose and taste buds. Her theme is: take a chance, discover something new.

There’s an old proverb popularized by Mel Brooks that sums up “Fractured Continent,” William Drozdiak’s fine, eminently readable analysis of European politics that made The New York Times Most Notable 100 Books list for 2017.

Walter Isaacson begins his chapter on the world’s most famous painting this way: “And now, the Mona Lisa.” We’re near the end of this handsome, hefty, magnificent exploration into the life, work and times of, arguably, the world’s greatest genius. Throughout, Isaacson invokes two of his previous subjects, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, but declares rightly that the eloquent polymath Leonardo da Vinci was unique and in ways that matter particularly today in our fragmenting world.   

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