December 2, 2009 — If you're looking for books – whether to give as gifts or to fill some time off – Wayne Terwilliger, manager of the University of Virginia Bookstore's trade department, has several suggestions for serious, thoughtful readers.
Here are the titles and Terwilliger's short reviews.
• "The Glass Room," by Simon Mawer
An excellent new novel about a Jewish industrialist, his Czech wife, the modernist icon of a house they build in the 1920s and their lives, the lives of their friends and lovers. The book follows the life of the house from its inception through the Nazi era and the Communist era to the present day. Mawer does a masterly job depicting how the political and the personal are inextricably interwoven.
• "The Children's Book," by A.S. Byatt
This new book by the Booker Prize-winning author of "Possession" is a wonderfully panoramic novel stretching through decades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with a huge cast of characters and a tidal wave of detail – you will come away feeling you were almost at the Paris World's Fair. But despite its scope, it is compelling, and as it darkens, which it does inexorably, you will feel yourself caught in a whirlpool.
• "Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work," by Matthew Crawford
The author is a fellow at U.Va.'s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, and his book is a thoughtful – though not academic – philosophical investigation into the value of work, specifically work that gets your hands dirty and produces or repairs something useful. This is no breezy work – it demands your attention as you read, but it rewards that attention with much careful matter for thought.
• "Coming of Age in Utopia," by Paul Gaston
Although this is the memoir of a U.Va. professor emeritus of history, the reason to read it is that it is our memoir – those of us who have lived in the Charlottesville area for any length of time – as well. Gaston was a civil rights activist in the heady and challenging days of the 1960's, and the better world we inhabit in central Virginia is one he helped to create.
• "The Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and The American Right," by Jennifer Burns
Rand has been dead for decades but her legacy remains, as I understand firsthand because her book, "Atlas Shrugged," remains one of the perennial bestsellers in our fiction section. Burns, an assistant history professor at U.Va., explores Rand's influence on the politics of her day, and how the politics of her day have become the politics of ours.
• "The Thirty Years War," by Peter Wilson
This is a history tome, well-written, well-documented, very thoughtful and insightful but, more than anything, complete. It seeks to tell all there is to know about one of the great conflicts of early Modern Europe, the last of the great religious wars that scarred Reformation/Counter-Reformation Europe. History buffs will delight in the panoramic scope of this account.