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George Ernsberger
Posted 12/10/20

PHILANTHROPHY by Paul Vallely (Bloomsbury). Very big (and accordingly pricey, so an especially attractive gift idea, just now) but readable and enlightening history and philosophy of wealth and …

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PHILANTHROPHY by Paul Vallely (Bloomsbury). Very big (and accordingly pricey, so an especially attractive gift idea, just now) but readable and enlightening history and philosophy of wealth and largess—and, in the later sections especially, of influence, even power. The history is deep; this is a feature of developed cultures from very early on. Later, we meet and come to know modern-day givers and movers and shakers: Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, and more, several of them interviewed in these pages.

HERE IS THE BEEHIVE by Laura Crossan (Little, Brown). Beautiful and ingenious novel of a tragic love affair: It's told in a sort of verse, tiny “chapters,” scenes, they might better be called, more than one per page—little poems, even, but that would be misleading about their clarity. Turns out to be a wonderful way of getting us to know and love people we might expect to disapprove of. If ever a mere book could have you in tears…

A SONG FOR THE DARK TIMES: An Inspector Rebus Novel by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown). Ian Rankin and his retired detective are still just brilliant, ‘way north of Edinburgh, summoned there by Rebus's all but estranged daughter. We're no longer astonished that he can maintain this level of wisdom and cleverness, which only rarely go together at all, but…didn't Rankin say he was done with Rebus fully ten years ago? Honestly, this is not an old guy rambling on about an old guy, this is, as ever, a tireless crime writer rendering a relentless detective.

THE KILLER'S SHADOW: The FBI'S Hunt For a White Supremacist Serial Killer by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker (Dey Street). Only incidentally, but enlighteningly, insightful about the the sort of personality that's susceptible to this horrifying ideology. But this is really, in its conception and essence, a fast moving page-turner, a thrilling true crime and deep detection adventure. It may put you in mind of the David Fincher-produced Mindhunter TV series about the FBI's serial killer unit; Douglas is part of that.

SEVEN AND A HALF LESSONS ABOUT THE BRAIN by Lisa Feldman Barrett (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Sprightly collection of popular-science-level (more intelligible and lively than this column is going to be able to represent them) esssays about our brains. Written by a neuroscientist, not a psychologist or psychoanalyst, or political scientist, either, but informing those workers as well as us, and alert to influences that arise from…hm-m, somewhere beneath—metaphorically, not physiologically—beneath intellection and emotion (well, evolution, the instincts, is “where”). Really, you'll understand it, and you'll feel and be smarter, about yourself and others, as and after you read it.

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