Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A new book

Readers of this blog might find a new book of interest -- The Book of Firsts: 150 World-Changing People and Events from Caesar Augustus to the Internet, by Peter D'Epiro.

The book employs the brief essay form to explore a far-ranging look at moments of firstness across the past 20 centuries: the first world-class Chinese poet, the first philosopher king, the first caliph, the first modern political scientist -- all memorable characters, set into their historical moments with style, vividness, and genuine learning, the fruits of a curious mind. Take, for example, Ivan the Terrible -- the essay the first czar offers an unforgettably surreal portrait of the Russian power structure of the mid-16th century.

(Disclaimer: I wrote several essays for the book -- learned much in the process, and had great fun with my subjects, ranging from Medieval and Renaissance figures (Masaccio, Alberti, Brunelleschi etc.) to Freud and the Internet.)

Pete's previous book, Sprezzatura, 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World was well received -- in fact, it's been consistently featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's bookstore for the past several years.

Reading through The Book of Firsts' 150 essays, I kept thinking how I wished I'd had such a book in college, either as a student taking history and lit, or as an instructor, to provide some palpable historical flavor. D'Epiro's essays are meticulous, focused, witty and beautifully written, and he gathered a good group of folks to contribute. Firsts just came out on the Kindle, but the paperback is available at pre-publication prices for a little while longer.

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