Full of unexpected linkages and brightly written, this is an absorbing tour of the 20th century.




British quiz-show scripter Higgs (The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds, 2013, etc.) offers an idiosyncratic, always-provocative view of an era that many people would just as soon forget.

Yes, one plus one equals two. But how do we know? In part, it’s thanks to Bertrand Russell, who, on the evening that the 19th century turned into the 20th, scratched out a theorem “to prove beyond argument that 1 + 1 = 2 was not an arbitrary assertion, but a fundamental truth.” It didn’t quite work out, but within months, Albert Einstein would be reshaping mathematics, Sigmund Freud would be rewriting the rules of the mind, and the old verities would be overturned and overthrown one by one. The 20th century was a time of destruction, creative and otherwise; not for nothing does Higgs use a statement from Keith Richards as the tag line for his book: “We needed to do what we wanted to do.” From that declaration of independence, the author sketches out storylines that embrace art, culture, and commerce over a period that feeds directly into our own—and our own is strange enough, with respect to his title, as he observes when he notes that a recent brush with war in North Korea involved not just states, but also corporations, and foremost among them an entertainment corporation at that. “Strange,” in Higgs’ vocabulary, includes the domains of deviance and oddness but also a randomness that may not be entirely random. As he notes early on, the anarchist who inspired Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent may have had a perfectly rational reason for choosing a seemingly irrational target. While there is very little in this book that literate readers won’t have encountered elsewhere, Higgs crafts of disparate facts and anecdotes a story all his own.

Full of unexpected linkages and brightly written, this is an absorbing tour of the 20th century.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7710-3847-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.


New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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