Pterosaurs Bigger Than Cars

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Ancient flying reptile bigger than a car

A fossil of a toothless flying pterosaur, with a body bigger than some family cars, represents the largest of these extinct reptiles ever to be found and has forced the creation of a new genus, scientists announced on Thursday.

Pterosaurs ruled the skies 115 million years ago during the dinosaur age. They are often mistaken for dinosaurs.

Mark Witton of the University of Portsmouth identified the creature from a partial skull fossil. Witton estimates the beast would have had a 5.5-yard (5-meter) wingspan. It stood more than a yard (about 1 meter) tall at the shoulder.

“Some of the previous examples we have from this family in China are just 60 centimeters (about two feet) long – as big as the skull of the new species. Put simply, it dwarfs any chaoyangopterid we’ve seen before by miles,” Witton said.

The finding also is significant because it originated in Brazil and is the only example of the Chaoyangopteridae, a group of toothless pterosaurs, to be found outside China.

Witton has christened the new species Lacusovagus, meaning “lake wanderer,” after the large body of water in which the remains were buried. The findings are detailed in the November issue of the journal Palaeontology.

He was asked to examine the specimen which had lain in a German museum for several years after its discovery in the Crato Formation of the Araripe Basin in North East Brazil, an area well known for the its fossils and their excellent state of preservation. However, he said that this fossil was preserved in an unusual way, making its interpretation difficult.

“Usually fossils like this are found lying on their sides but this one was lying on the roof of its mouth and had been rather squashed which made even figuring out whether it had teeth difficult,” Witton said.

“Still, it’s clear to see that Lacusovagus had an unusually wide skull which has implications for its feeding habits – maybe it liked particularly large prey. The remains are very fragmentary, however, so we need more specimens before we can draw any conclusions.”

The discovery of this pterosaur fossil in Brazil, so far away from its closest relatives in China, demonstrates how little scientists still know about the distribution and evolutionary history of this group of creatures, Witton said.

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Meet Jonathan, the World’s Oldest Living Animal

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World’s oldest living animal discovered after he is pictured in 1900 photograph

By Richard Savill and Richard Alleyne

As a photograph it looks fairly unremarkable – a tortoise nibbles at the grass in front of a Boer War prisoner and guard.

But the pictures helps to mark the reptile as the oldest animal on the planet.

Jonathan, the tortoise, is believed to be 176-years-old and was about 70 at the time the black and white picture was taken.

He was photographed during the Boer War around 1900, and his life has spanned eight British monarchs from George IV to Elizabeth II, and 50 prime ministers.

It was taken on the South Atlantic island of St Helena, where Jonathan still lives today, along with five other tortoises David, Speedy, Emma, Fredricka and Myrtle, in a plantation.

The previous oldest tortoise was widely thought to be Harriet, a giant Galapagos Land tortoise, who died in 2005 aged 175 in Australia.

Despite his old age, locals say he still has the energy to regularly mate with the three younger females.

A spokesman for the island’s tourist board said Jonathan is owned by the St Helena government and lives in the specially built plantation on the governor’s land.

He said: “Jonathan is the sole survivor of three tortoises that arrived on St Helena Island in 1882.
“He was already mature when he arrived and was at least 50-years-old.

“Therefore his minimum age is 176-years-old. He is the oldest inhabitant on St Helena and is claimed to be the oldest living tortoise in the world.

“He lives in the grounds of Plantation House which is the governor’s residence with five other tortoises who are much younger than him.

“Apparently he remained nameless for the most part of his residence in St Helena until he was named by Governor Sir Spencer Davis in the 1930s.

“He feeds on the grass of the main paddock.

“Jonathan is still very active despite his age and adores attention, he is a real poser.

“He seems to be sightless in one eye, but does not let that slow him down.”

It is thought Jonathan, from the species Testudinipae cytodira, was brought to St Helena from the Seychelles as a mature adult in 1882.

His remarkable existance has come to light after the photograph was discovered as part of a collection of Boer War images taken by a man named L.A. Innes who had a studio in the British overseas territory’s capital Jamestown.

The pictures were recently sold at auction for £4,000 by Andrew Smith and Son auctioneers near Winchester, Hants.

Further investigation by the auctioneers revealed the tortoise in the picture was Jonathan who was still alive.

St Helena has a population of more than 4,200. Its greatest claim to fame came when Napoleon was exiled there in 1815.

He was held prisoner there until his death in 1821 and is buried there.

Another tortoise, Timothy, who was a ship’s mascot in the Crimean War, died at his home at Powderham Castle, near Exeter, Devon, in 2004, aged 160. The castle’s Rose Garden had been his home since 1935.

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Older Humans?

Humans 80,000 Years Older Than Previously Thought?

by Kate Ravilious

Modern humans may have evolved more than 80,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study of sophisticated stone tools found in Ethiopia.

The tools were uncovered in the 1970s at the archaeological site of Gademotta, in the Ethiopian Rift Valley. But it was not until this year that new dating techniques revealed the tools to be far older than the oldest known Homo sapien bones, which are around 195,000 years old.

Using argon-argon dating—a technique that compares different isotopes of the element argon—researchers determined that the volcanic ash layers entombing the tools at Gademotta date back at least 276,000 years.

Many of the tools found are small blades, made using a technique that is thought to require complex cognitive abilities and nimble fingers, according to study co-author and Berkeley Geochronology Center director Paul Renne.

Some archaeologists believe that these tools and similar ones found elsewhere are associated with the emergence of the modern human species, Homo sapiens.

“It seems that we were technologically more advanced at an earlier time that we had previously thought,” said study co-author Leah Morgan, from the University of California, Berkeley.

The findings are published in the December issue of the journal Geology.

Desirable Location

Gademotta was an attractive place for people to settle, due to its close proximity to fresh water in Lake Ziway and access to a source of hard, black volcanic glass, known as obsidian.

“Due to its lack of crystalline structure, obsidian glass is one of the best raw materials to use for making tools,” Morgan explained.

In many parts of the world, archaeologists see a leap around 300,000 years ago in Stone Age technology from the large and crude hand-axes and picks of the so-called Acheulean period to the more delicate and diverse points and blades of the Middle Stone Age.

At other sites in Ethiopia, such as Herto in the Afar region northeast of Gademotta, the transition does not occur until much later, around 160,000 years ago, according to argon dating. This variety in dates supports the idea of a gradual transition in technology.

“A modern analogy might be the transition from ox-carts to automobiles, which is virtually complete in North America and northern Europe, but is still underway in the developing world,” said study co-author Renne, who received funding for the Gadmotta analysis from the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Morgan, of UC Berkeley, speculates that the readily available obsidian at Gademotta may explain why the technological revolution occurred so early there.

Complicated family tree

The lack of bones at Gademotta makes it difficult to determine who made these specialist tools. Some archaeologists believe it had to be Homo sapiens, while other experts think that other human species may have had the required mental capability and manual dexterity.

Regardless of who made the tools, the dates help to fill a key gap in the archaeological record, according to some experts.

“The new dates from Gademotta help us to understand the timing of an important behavioral change in human evolution,” said Christian Tryon, a professor of anthropology from New York University, who wasn’t involved in the study.

If anything, the story has now become more complex, added Laura Basell, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford in the U.K.

“The new date for Gademotta changes how we think about human evolution, because it shows how much more complicated the situation is than we previously thought,” Basell said.

“It is not possible to simply associate specific species with particular technologies and plot them in a line from archaic to modern.”

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Omega Centauri

This is the stuff of SF adventures and pure wonder. Just look at this immense cluster of stars… it contains over 10 millions stars! What worlds and perhaps life lies within it? Oh, the Jack Vance of it all!

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Omega Centauri: Glittering Giant Of Southern Skies

Omega Centauri is one of the finest jewels of the southern hemisphere night sky, as ESO’s latest stunning image beautifully illustrates. Containing millions of stars, this globular cluster is located roughly 17 000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Centaurus.

Sparkling away at magnitude 3.7 and appearing nearly as large as the full moon on the southern night sky, Omega Centauri is visible with the unaided eye from a clear, dark observing site. Even through a modest amateur telescope, the cluster is revealed as an incredible, densely packed sphere of glittering stars. But astronomers need to use the full power of professional telescopes to uncover the amazing secrets of this beautiful globular cluster.

This new image is based on data collected with the Wide Field Imager (WFI), mounted on the 2.2-metre diameter Max-Planck/ESO telescope, located at ESO’s La Silla observatory, high up in the arid mountains of the southern Atacama Desert in Chile. Omega Centauri is about 150 light-years across and is the most massive of all the Milky Way’s globular clusters. It is thought to contain some ten million stars!

Omega Centauri has been observed throughout history. Both the great astronomer Ptolemy and later Johann Bayer catalogued the cluster as a star. It was not until much later, in the early 19th century, that an Englishman, the astronomer John Frederick William Herschel (son of the discoverer of Uranus), realised that Omega Centauri was in fact a globular cluster. Globular clusters are some of the oldest groupings of stars to be found in the halos that surround galaxies like our own Milky Way. Omega Centauri itself is thought to be around 12 billion years old.

Recent research into this intriguing celestial giant suggests that there is a medium sized black hole sitting at its centre. Observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope (see heic0809 ) and the Gemini Observatory showed that stars at the cluster’s centre were moving around at an unusual rate — the cause, astronomers concluded, was the gravitational effect of a massive black hole with a mass of roughly 40 000 times that of the Sun.

The presence of this black hole is just one of the reasons why some astronomers suspect Omega Centauri to be an imposter. Some believe that it is in fact the heart of a dwarf galaxy that was largely destroyed in an encounter with the Milky Way. Other evidence (see ESO 07/05 and heic0708) points to the several generations of stars present in the cluster — something unexpected in a typical globular cluster, which is thought to contain only stars formed at one time. Whatever the truth, this dazzling celestial object provides professional and amateur astronomers alike with an incredible view on clear dark nights.

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Booklover Jewelry

Bibliophile alert, found out jennyjennyway, which got me looking all over.

Vinyl record necklace – hardcover

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This eco friendly piece is made from reclaimed vinyl records. Each piece is one of a kind due to the nature of the unique grooves present in the record prior to cutting. This edgy piece is lightweight and creates a beautiful and delicate silhouette.

Librarian Necklace

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Book Pasties

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Future Librarian button

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Then of course there are a million sites with “Unique Jewelry for Book Lovers” or this one in Shakespeare’s Den with Literary Jewelry.

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Or the Lioness Den.

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Or the Amazonian Banned Book Bracelet and Necklace.

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Ad nauseam. Google thyself to death.

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Pink Thrills in the World of Pinku Eiga

One of those informative, huh, items you run across once in a while.

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Pink thrills: Japanese sex movies go global

While softcore pornography is associated with low-budget, lowbrow fun, Japanese classics are now sweeping film festivals

By JASPER SHARP

As the last wave of vengeful female ghosts inspired by “Ring’ “s Sadako fade from cinema screens worldwide, either in their original J-horror manifestations or the obligatory Hollywood remakes, more adventurous foreign-film fans have begun turning their heads Eastward in search of a new frisson. Their next, more carnal, focus is the Japanese pink film, or pinku eiga.

Pink films are softcore sex movies shot on 35-mm film, as opposed to video, and intended primarily for screening on rolling triple bills in specialist adult theaters. It’s a market that has long died out in most other countries in the world, but in Japan it is still in rude health.

In recent years, such films have become an increasingly popular feature in international festival schedules too, including Frankfurt’s Nippon Connection, Udine’s Far East Film Festival and London’s Raindance. In September, Austin’s Fantastic Film Fest played host to a retro of genre high-points with new prints of two early classics — 1969′s “Buru Fuirumu no Onna” (“Blue Film Woman”) and ’71′s “Funshutsu Kigan” (“Gushing Prayer”) — playing alongside the decidedly non-PC “Jigoku no Ropa” (“S&M Hunter”) (1986) and 2003′s bewildering “Yoake no Ushi” (“A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn”). The latter two titles were provided by the L.A.-based company Pink Eiga, which is poised to unleash a tsunami of some 50 such works on an unsuspecting American DVD market early in 2009. And this November, South Korea boasted its own Pink Film Festival aimed solely at women viewers.

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The term “pinku eiga” was first coined in 1963 by the journalist Minoru Murai, who playfully suggested a Pink Ribbon award as an alternative to the Blue Ribbon prize for the year’s top mainstream release as voted by the Japanese press, for the new strain of cheaply made productions that were luring audiences from the major studios’ works with the promise of a bit of bared flesh. In their early days the films were sometimes referred to as sanbyakuman- en eiga (Â¥3-million films), their shoestring budgets hinting at their throwaway nature and the lowly aspirations of their producers. Today this figure remains fixed at a similar level, necessitating breakneck shooting schedules and near-impossible feats of ingenuity from their makers. This is independent cinema at its most extreme.

From the brief trickle of titles that followed Satoru Kobayashi’s “Flesh Market” (1962), generally seen as the genre’s genesis, output soared, and within a couple of years accounted for half of domestic production, with a couple of hundred titles a year. By the early ’70s, bolstered through fan publications such as the magazine Seijin Eiga (Adult Film), this upstart industry had developed a self-contained distribution network; its own star system of pinup girls such as Kazuko Shirakawa, Naomi Tani and Miki Hayashi; and a winning formula of five or six nude scenes within a standard running time of an hour.

The films proved so popular in an era of waning box-office receipts that soon the major companies got in on the act. Japan’s oldest film studio, Nikkatsu, famously made an abrupt about-turn and between 1971 and 1988 was devoting most of its resources to its Roman Poruno (Roman Porno) line of feature-length erotic extravagances, with titles such as “Office Lady Diary: Scent of a She-Cat” (1972), “Tokyo Emanuelle” (1975) and “Pink Hip Girl” (1978). The name is often mistakenly described as a contraction of “romantic pornography,” but actually derives from the French term roman pornographique (erotic novels), the literary association intended to give it a more highbrow cachet against its cheap-jack independent rivals.

Even today, plenty of traces remain around Japan of this high-watermark era of the theatrical sex film. Tokyo boasts around a dozen dedicated venues screening both new and old titles in areas including Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Shinbashi, with others in major regional centers including Osaka, Nagoya and Sapporo. (A specialist gay theater in Tokyo’s Ueno district provided the backdrop for one of the more surreal moments in Michel Gondry’s segment of the recent omnibus film “Tokyo!”) Attendances may be down, but output still hovers well above 50 films a year, produced by the four companies still active in this market: Shintoho, OP Eiga, Kokuei and Xces.

Pink and Roman Porno have been on the radar of more ardent fans of cult movie curios for some time now, with Thomas and Yuko Mihara Weisser’s spotter’s guide “Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films” published in 1998. A year ago, director Quentin Tarantino sang the praises of Japan’s sexy cinematic legacy in an interview with The Japan Times, gushing enthusiastically about “the whole Nikkatsu Roman Poruno thing. I almost can’t believe that that existed in cinema! The way they did it in the ’70s, where they’re real movies with real actors.”

Viewers eager to dabble in the pink experience in situ but who feel intimated by the rough-and-ready environment of the films’ primary outlets — it’s not only members of the fairer sex who might find the lack of sanitary toilets and the roving hands of fellow audience members a turnoff — have classier options if they want to get a better idea of what is currently de rigeur in this strange cinematic subculture. Arthouse venues such as Shibuya’s Euro Space and the Pole Pole Higashi Nakano have been known to air the works of pink’s more progressive practitioners occasionally, under the more enigmatic original directors’ titles rather than the salacious names under which they do the adult-cinema circuit. (Toshiya Ueno’s 2004 film “Aimai” ["Ambiguous"], for example, played pink theaters as “Waisetsu Netto Shudan Ikasete!!” ["Obscene Internet Group: Make Me Come!!"])

But the high point of the pink fan’s calendar has to be the annual Pink Taisho Awards every April, an all-nighter held at the Shinbungeiza theater in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district that screens the Top 5 of the year as voted for by readers of the fanzine PG. This friendly event attracts an eclectic range of viewers of both genders, from industry figures to hardcore cinephiles and the casually curious.

When viewed as pornography, pink film is pretty tame. Its strengths in part stem from the relatively strict censorship imposed by the film-industry watchdog Eirin, which has meant that until quite recently, even fairly innocuous shots of pubic hair were barred from the screen, and more graphic depictions of unsimulated sexual activity have remained a definite no-no. Filmmakers have therefore had to develop a cinematic shorthand to stimulate their viewers’ desires, offering something quite distinct from the more down ‘n’ dirty antics to be found in the home-viewing market represented by AV (Adult Video). As films in which narrative plays a substantial role, their eroticism derives as much from their actors’ performances and their scenarios as what they do or don’t show on screen. The fact that they are intended for cinema viewing encourages a greater emphasis on plot, dialogue and character.

Many are surprised to find that pink’s most prominent performers can actually act. In the past decade in particular, imaginative directors such as Shinji Imaoka and Yuji Tajiri have recognized a sizable female market for their works on video. Tajiri’s “Fuwafuwa to Beddo no Ue de” (“No Love Juice — Rustling in Bed”) (1999) focuses on a relationship between a 26-year-old office lady and a younger college student she meets while catching the last train home. These directors have placed a fuller emphasis on the emotions of their women protagonists, with surprisingly moving results.

However, the subversive political content of certain titles can’t be ignored either. Koji Wakamatsu, the towering giant of the early scene — whose epic docudrama “Jitsuroku: Rengo Sekigun” (“United Red Army”) charting the violent implosion of the radical leftwing group in the early ’70s, was released earlier in 2008 — rapidly became notorious for this sort of thing. After earning a name for himself with his Molotov cocktails of pop-art stylistics and punkish defiance in titles such as “Kabe no Naka no Himegoto” (“Secret Acts Behind Walls”) — which was labeled “a national disgrace” by the press after it played at the Berlin Film Festival in 1965 — “Okasareta Byakui” (“Violated Angels”) (1967) and “Seizoku” (“Sex Jack”) (1970), Wakamatsu and his screenwriter Masao Adachi spent a couple of months in the Golan Heights filming Palestinian guerrillas. This footage ended up as the basis for a recruitment film for the Japan Red Army. Adachi went that one step further, remaining in Beirut for some 30 years before returning to Japan under police escort.

Political comment can still be found among the more routine sex flicks that comprise the bulk of the genre’s current output, though nowadays it’s more satirical in intent than polemic. A recent example is Mitsuru Meike’s freak breakout hit “Hanai Sachiko no Karei na Shogai” (“The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai”) (2004), which reminded overseas audiences that the genre is still alive and kicking in the new millennium. A delirious lo-fi comedic romp in which a dim-witted call girl attempts to avert nuclear Armageddon while being menaced by North Korean spies and a man in a George Bush mask after a rubbery replica of the American president’s trigger finger falls into her lap, the film played some 20 international film festivals before its U.S. theatrical release in 2006 — and was seen by considerably more people outside Japan than Takeshi Kitano’s last three works.

Meanwhile, the rash of older titles flooding onto the foreign market continues unabated. Alongside Pink Eiga’s upcoming releases, another company, Mondo Macabro, has cherry-picked a handful of Nikkatsu’s finest outings for DVD distribution in America, while Rapid Eye Movies continues to pioneer the German market. Throughout December, the British Film Institute is paying tribute to Japanese erotic cinema with a series of classics from the ’60s and ’70s set to tour around the U.K. Even more bizarrely, there’s currently talk of a Hollywood remake of Meike’s film. Perhaps it’s not too long before Sachiko follows Sadako into the multiplex.

Wild Japan: The Erotic Art of Cult and Classic Japanese Cinema runs Dec. 1-30 at the BFI Southbank in London. See www.bfi.org.uk for more information. Jasper Sharp is the coeditor of the Midnight Eye Web site (www.midnighteye.com) and author of “Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema.”

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Ten Best Books of 2008

NYT’s Sunday Book Review featured their editor’s choice for Top 10 Books this year. What do you think? Agree or disagree. Readers are sometimes very finnicky. Hard to say if there could ever be agreement. But I think the strange magic of 2666 was an interesting choice. Glad to see it.

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FICTION

DANGEROUS LAUGHTER
Thirteen Stories
By Steven Millhauser.
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.

In his first collection in five years, a master fabulist in the tradition of Poe and Nabo kov invents spookily plausible parallel universes in which the deepest human emotions and yearnings are transformed into their monstrous opposites. Millhauser is especially attuned to the purgatory of adolescence. In the title story, teenagers attend sinister “laugh parties”; in another, a mysteriously afflicted girl hides in the darkness of her attic bedroom. Time and again these parables revive the possibility that “under this world there is another, waiting to be born.”

A MERCY
By Toni Morrison.
Alfred A. Knopf, $23.95.

The fate of a slave child abandoned by her mother animates this allusive novel — part Faulknerian puzzle, part dream-song — about orphaned women who form an eccentric household in late-17th-century America. Morrison’s farmers and rum traders, masters and slaves, indentured whites and captive Native Americans live side by side, often in violent conflict, in a lawless, ripe American Eden that is both a haven and a prison — an emerging nation whose identity is rooted equally in Old World superstitions and New World appetites and fears.

NETHERLAND
By Joseph O’Neill.
Pantheon Books, $23.95.

O’Neill’s seductive ode to New York — a city that even in bad times stubbornly clings to its belief “in its salvific worth” — is narrated by a Dutch financier whose privileged Manhattan existence is upended by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. When his wife departs for London with their small son, he stays behind, finding camaraderie in the unexpectedly buoyant world of immigrant cricket players, most of them West Indians and South Asians, including an entrepreneur with Gatsby-size aspirations.

2666
By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, cloth and paper, $30.

Bolaño, the prodigious Chilean writer who died at age 50 in 2003, has posthumously risen, like a figure in one of his own splendid creations, to the summit of modern fiction. This latest work, first published in Spanish in 2004, is a mega- and meta-detective novel with strong hints of apocalyptic foreboding. It contains five separate narratives, each pursuing a different story with a cast of beguiling characters — European literary scholars, an African-American journalist and more — whose lives converge in a Mexican border town where hundreds of young women have been brutally murdered.

UNACCUSTOMED EARTH
By Jhumpa Lahiri.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.

There is much cultural news in these precisely observed studies of modern-day Bengali-Americans — many of them Ivy-league strivers ensconced in prosperous suburbs who can’t quite overcome the tug of traditions nurtured in Calcutta..With quiet artistry and tender sympathy, Lahiri creates an impressive range of vivid characters — young and old, male and female, self-knowing and self-deluding — in engrossing stories that replenish the classic themes of domestic realism: loneliness, estrangement and family discord.

NONFICTION

THE DARK SIDE
The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
By Jane Mayer.
Doubleday, $27.50.

Mayer’s meticulously reported descent into the depths of President Bush’s anti terrorist policies peels away the layers of legal and bureaucratic maneuvering that gave us Guantánamo Bay, “extraordinary rendition,” “enhanced” interrogation methods, “black sites,” warrantless domestic surveillance and all the rest. But Mayer also describes the efforts ofunsung heroes, tucked deep inside the administration, who risked their careers in the struggle to balance the rule of law against the need to meet a threat unlike any other in the nation’s history.

THE FOREVER WAR
By Dexter Filkins.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.

The New York Times correspondent, whose tours of duty have taken him from Afghanistan in 1998 to Iraq during the American intervention, captures a decade of armed struggle in harrowingly detailed vignettes. Whether interviewing jihadists in Kabul, accompanying marines on risky patrols in Falluja or visiting grieving families in Baghdad, Filkins makes us see, with almost hallucinogenic immediacy, the true human meaning and consequences of the “war on terror.”

NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF
By Julian Barnes.
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95.

This absorbing memoir traces Barnes’s progress from atheism (at age 20) to agnosticism (at 60) and examines the problem of religion not by rehashing the familiar quarrel between science and mystery, but rather by weighing the timeless questions of mortality and aging. Barnes distills his own experiences — and those of his parents and brother — in polished and wise sentences that recall the writing of Montaigne, Flaubert and the other French masters he includes in his discussion.

THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING
Death and the American Civil War
By Drew Gilpin Faust.
Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95.

In this powerful book, Faust, the president of Harvard, explores the legacy, or legacies, of the “harvest of death” sown and reaped by the Civil War. In the space of four years, 620,000 Americans died in uniform, roughly the same number as those lost in all the nation’s combined wars from the Revolution through Korea. This doesn’t include the thousands of civilians killed in epidemics, guerrilla raids and draft riots. The collective trauma created “a newly centralized nation-state,” Faust writes, but it also established “sacrifice and its memorialization as the ground on which North and South would ultimately reunite.”

THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS
The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul
By Patrick French.
Alfred A. Knopf, $30.

The most surprising word in this biography is “authorized.” Naipaul, the greatest of all postcolonial authors, cooperated fully with French, opening up a huge cache of private letters and diaries and supplementing the revelations they disclosed with remarkably candid interviews. It was a brave, and wise, decision. French, a first-rate biographer, has a novelist’s command of story and character, and he patiently connects his subject’s brilliant oeuvre with the disturbing facts of an unruly life.

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