Gary Saul Morson, best known as a scholar of Russian literature, leads us into vertiginous terrain before we're done with the introduction. But the fault is not his—quotation, including quotation within and from the Bible, turns out to be a subject as twisty as the human mind itself—and he maintains equilibrium, even if his readers' heads are spinning. The book advances episodically and (fortunately) lends itself to being absorbed in small chunks, often as brief as a page or less. And while you're at it, you'll find yourself making all sorts of connections with whatever else you are reading and hearing.

The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America
Hugh Thomas (Random House), 2011


In this volume, the eminent historian Hugh Thomas continues the series begun with Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan (2004). The church figures significantly in the story, both for good and for ill. It's to Thomas's credit that he neither indulges in self-flattering moralism (as do so many contemporary historians) nor affects Olympian detachment. Rather, he writes with humane sympathy about three decades of conquest and the birth of New Spain, events with consequences lasting to this day.

Building the Barricade: And Other Poems of Anna Swir
Anna Swir, translated by Piotr Florczyk (Calypso Editions), 2011


This slim collection, first published in Poland in 1974, looks back to World War II and poet Anna Swir's experience of the Warsaw Uprising. Instead of emotion recollected in tranquility, Swir gives us extremity recollected with intensity. She has different voices, ranging from swaggering bravado to knife-like irony; she celebrates fleeting moments of delight and concludes on a note ...

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