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The Book Review

The Book Review

Writing About NASA's Most Shocking Moment

Fri, 17 May 2024

The year 1986 was notable for two big disasters, both of them attributable to human error and bureaucratic negligence at competing super powers: the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Soviet Union and the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in the United States.

The journalist Adam Higginbotham wrote about Chernobyl in his 2019 book, “Midnight in Chernobyl.” Now he’s back, with a look at the American side of the ledger, in his new book, “Challenger: A True Story of Heroism and Disaster on the Edge of Space.” On this week’s episode, Higginbotham tells host Gilbert Cruz why he was drawn to both disasters, and what the Challenger explosion revealed about weaknesses in America’s space program.

“There was certainly a lot of hubris and complacency that led into this accident,” Higginbotham says. “In complex decision-making processes like those leading to the Chernobyl accident and the Challenger disaster, those concerned with making the decisions start off with a series of extremely carefully governed and defined practices for what constitutes acceptable risk and normal behavior. And then gradually over time, they subtly and almost unconsciously expand what they deem to be acceptable without even realizing it."

Fantasy Superstar Leigh Bardugo on Her New Novel

Fri, 10 May 2024

In the world of fantasy fiction, Leigh Bardugo is royalty: Her Grishaverse novels are mainstays on the young adult best-seller list, her “Shadow and Bone” trilogy has been adapted for a Netflix series and her adult novels “Ninth House” and “Hell Bent” established her as a force to reckon with in the subgenre known as dark academia.

Now Bardugo is back with a new fantasy novel, “The Familiar,” and it’s also her first work of historical fiction: Set during the Inquisition in 16th-century Spain, it deals with literal royalty (King Philip II of Spain) through the story of a young scullery maid who happens to possess some magical abilities. This week on the podcast, Gilbert Cruz talks with Bardugo about her career, her writing process and her decision to write a historical novel

Colm Toibin on His Sequel to 'Brooklyn'

Fri, 03 May 2024

Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel “Brooklyn” told the story of a meek young Irishwoman, Eilis Lacey, who emigrates to New York in the 1950s out of a sense of familial obligation and slowly, diligently begins building a new life for herself. A New York Times best seller, the book was also adapted into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Saoirse Ronan — and now, 15 years after its publication, Tóibín has surprised himself by writing a sequel.

“Long Island,” his new novel, finds Eilis relocated to the suburbs and, in the opening scene, confronting a sudden crisis in her marriage. On this week’s podcast, Tóibín talks to Sarah Lyall about the book and how he came to write it.

Book Club: Dolly Alderton's 'Good Material'

Fri, 26 Apr 2024

How to explain the British writer Dolly Alderton to an American audience? It might be best to let her work speak for itself — it certainly does! — but Alderton is such a cultural phenomenon in her native England that some context is probably helpful: “Like Nora Ephron, With a British Twist” is the way The New York Times Book Review put it when we reviewed her latest novel, “Good Material,” earlier this year.

“Good Material” tells the story of a down-on-his-luck stand-up comic dealing with a broken heart, and it has won Alderton enthusiastic fans in America. In this week’s episode, the Book Review’s MJ Franklin discusses the book with his colleagues Emily Eakin and Leah Greenblatt. 

Caution: Spoilers abound!

100 Years of Simon & Schuster

Fri, 12 Apr 2024

Simon & Schuster is not growing old quietly.

The venerable publishing house — one of the industry’s so-called Big 5 — is celebrating its 100th birthday this month after a period of tumult that saw it put up for sale by its previous owner, pursued by its rival Penguin Random House in an acquisition bid that fell apart after the Justice Department won an antitrust suit, then bought for $1.62 billion last fall by the private equity firm KKR.

With conditions seemingly stabilized since then, the company is turning 100 at an auspicious time to celebrate its roots and look to its future. On this week’s episode, Gilbert is joined by Simon & Schuster’s publisher and chief executive, Jonathan Karp, to talk about the centennial and what it means.

“It was a startup 100 years ago,” Karp says. “It was two guys in their 20s. Richard Simon and Max Schuster. They were just a couple of guys who loved books. And they made a decision that they wanted to read every book they published. … The first book was a crossword puzzle book. It was a monster success. They’d actually raised $50,000 from their friends and family. They didn’t need it. They returned the money. And the company was up and running.”

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