BOOKS
08/23/2010 01:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Book Review Roundup: Discovering Pluto, Finding Happiness, Dealing With Suffering

In case you missed them, here are this weekend's book review highlights:

"Percival's Planet" by Michael Byers

"'Watch out for oddballs,' one character warns another at the beginning of 'Percival's Planet,' Michael Byers's warmly intelligent second novel, about the discovery of Pluto. But nearly everyone in this book is mad in some way, from the merely obsessive to the completely delusional. And as we watch these oddballs orbit their obsessions, it becomes increasingly clear that the distinction between passion and mania can be all but invisible."

"Common As Air: Revolution, Art, And Ownership" by Lewis Hyde

"The history of copyright provides the most revealing version of the enclosure movement that is now threatening creativity in all the arts and sciences. Hyde tells stories with a moral. If we reassessed our history, he teaches, we would reassert our citizenship in a Republic of Letters that was crucial to the creation of the American Republic -- and that is more important than ever in the age of the Internet."

"Girl By The Road At Night: A Novel Of Vietnam" by David Rabe

"At age 70, Rabe has at last penned his Vietnam War novel, and it is not the book he might have written four decades ago. He does not attempt, really, to effect either the cannon or the tent flaps. "Girl by the Road at Night" is spare, stark, muted, more observational than immersive, and vaguely haunted. It is also conscious in a way that youth isn't of the callowness of the two characters at its center and of the mortality of old men."

"The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, And The Science Of Suffering" by Melanie Thernstrom

"There have been hundreds of books published in the last decades on pain and its management, but none that combine memoir, scholarly research and journalistic reportage in the way Ms. Thernstrom does. A stellar example of literary nonfiction, the book recounts the author's own years with chronic pain and the preconceptions she brought to it (including the idea of pain as the price for romantic love)."

"You Lost Me There: A Novel" by Rosecrans Baldwin

"'You Lost Me There' is, finally, a wise book, the kind that eludes many authors twice Baldwin's age. Words, of course, really can be lifelines, especially in the aftermath of loss. It's not always easy to find beauty in pain, but that's what Baldwin has done, and the result is affecting, profound and true."

"The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire And Germany's Bid For World Power" by Sean McMeekin

In addition to bringing to life a fascinating episode in early 20th-century history, 'The Berlin-Baghdad Express' contains several timely lessons and cautionary tales. Purchased loyalty is worthless. Western countries may possess superior military force, but they are outwitted time and again by diplomacy as practiced by Muslim leaders. Lastly, there is no such thing as global Islamic solidarity--jihad is an expedient, not a belief system.

"This Must Be The Place: A Novel" by Kate Racculia

"Racculia's vivid, small-town life of Ruby Falls is evocative of similar terrains found in the memorable, coming-of-age novels by Lorrie Moore ("Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?") and Elizabeth Strout ("Amy and Isabelle"), in which teenagers are forever seeking a way out of their unremarkable lives through reckless acts. Although Racculia's prose doesn't share the extraordinary command of Strout and Moore's novels, her writing does elevate to impressive heights during quieter moments."

"Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle To Brain Science" by Sissela Bok

"'Exploring Happiness' would do well as a small textbook for a course in the intellectual history of happiness or as a reader's guide for anyone eager to look into the subject for himself. It is hard to imagine how anyone else, in fewer than 200 pages of text, could better encompass so much Western thinking about a question so important to the way we live."

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