S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration
by Alec Wilkinson

A 19th century Arctic expedition in which three explorers set off in a massive hydrogen balloon only to vanish forever when their craft disappears over the horizon may not seem like obvious fodder for a full-length book. Yet in The Ice Balloon author and New Yorker staff writer Alec Wilkinson gives us not only an exhilarating account of Swedish engineer S. A. Andrée’s ill-fated expedition, he offers a finely nuanced psychological portrait of a unique race of men—the Victorian-era Arctic explorers—and the age that produced them. Wilkinson’s is that rare work of non-fiction (Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void is another) whose sublimely understated writing rivals the inherent drama of its subject matter. Not for Wilkinson the Inception-esque one-sentence paragraph or the coquettish lure of the exclamation point. Yet his book couldn’t be more riveting. Read more…

by Julian Barnes

“I don’t believe in God but I miss him,” is Julian Barnes’s contradictory and uncharacteristically twee opener in this wide-ranging essay on death, religion, and family. When he asks his brother Jonathan, a professor of ancient philosophy living in France, what he thinks of this statement, his reaction is unequivocal: “Soppy.” Read more…