BEN McNALLY BOOKS

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An occasional preview of some forthcoming books of interest.

Genius at Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway by Siobhan Roberts

Bloomsbury Press
Genius at Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway by Siobhan Roberts

An unabashed original, John Horton Conway is Archimedes, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and Richard Feynman all rolled into one--a singular mathematician, with a rock star's charisma, a sly sense of humor, a polymath's promiscuous curiosity, and a burning desire to explain everything about the world to everyone in it.

Born in Liverpool in 1937, Conway found fame as a barefoot Cambridge professor. He discovered the Conway groups in mathematical symmetry, and invented the aptly named surreal numbers, as well as the cult classic Game of Life--more than a cool fad, Life demonstrates how simplicity generates complexity and the game provides an analogy for all mathematics and the entire universe. Moving to Princeton in 1987, as a mathemagician he deployed cards, ropes, dice, coat hangers, and even the odd Slinky as props to extend his winning imagination and share his mathy obsessions with signature contagion. He is a jet-setting ambassador-at-large for the beauties of all things mathematical.

Genius At Play is an intimate investigation into the mind of an endearing genius, laying bare Conway's personal and professional idiosyncrasies. The intimacy comes courtesy of the man himself. He generously granted Roberts full access, though not without the occasional grudge and grumble: "Oh hell," he'd say. "You're not going to put that in the book. Are you?!?

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The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret

Riverhead Books
The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret

The seven years between the birth of Etgar Keret’s son and the death of his father were good years, though still full of reasons to worry. Lev is born in the midst of a terrorist attack. Etgar’s father gets cancer. The threat of constant war looms over their home and permeates daily life.

What emerges from this dark reality is a series of sublimely absurd ruminations on everything from Etgar’s three-year-old son’s impending military service to the terrorist mind-set behind Angry Birds. There’s Lev’s insistence that he is a cat, releasing him from any human responsibilities or rules. Etgar’s siblings, all very different people who have chosen radically divergent paths in life, come together after his father’s shivah to experience the grief and love that tie a family together forever. This wise, witty memoir—Etgar’s first nonfiction book published in America, and told in his inimitable style—is full of wonder and life and love, poignant insights, and irrepressible humour.

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The Sunken Cathedral by Kate Walbert

Scribner
The Sunken Cathedral by Kate Walbert

From the National Book Award nominee and author of the acclaimed, New York Times bestselling A Short History of Women, a deeply moving, “lyrical, ominous, and unexpectedly funny” (Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers) novel that follows a cast of characters as they negotiate one of Manhattan’s swiftly changing neighbourhoods, extreme weather, and the unease of twenty-first-century life.

Marie and Simone, friends for decades, were once immigrants to the city, survivors of World War II in Europe. Now widows living alone in Chelsea, they remain robust, engaged, and adventurous, even as the vistas from their past interrupt their present. Helen is an art historian who takes a painting class with Marie and Simone. Sid Morris, their instructor, presides over a dusty studio in a tenement slated for condo conversion; he awakes the interest of both Simone and Marie. Elizabeth is Marie’s upstairs tenant, a woman convinced that others have a secret way of being, a confidence and certainty she lacks. She is increasingly unmoored—baffled by her teenage son, her husband, and the roles she is meant to play.

In a chorus of voices, Kate Walbert explores the growing disconnect between the world of action her characters inhabit and the longings, desires, and doubts they experience. Interweaving long narrative footnotes, Walbert paints portraits of marriage, of friendship, and of love in its many facets, always limning the inner life, the place of deepest yearning and anxiety. The Sunken Cathedral is a stunningly beautiful, profoundly wise novel about the way we live now.

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I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers

Bond Street Books
I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers

An utterly stunning novel of love, loss, the insidious nature of secrets, and the enduring power of words. I Saw a Man fulfills the promise of Owen Sheers' acclaimed novel, Resistance.

While on assignment in Pakistan, Caroline Turner is killed in a drone strike. Her grief-stricken husband, Michael, leaves their cottage in Wales and returns to London to try to build a new life. He quickly develops a close friendship with his neighbours, Josh and Samantha Nelson and their two young daughters.

Michael's friendship with the Nelsons marks the beginning of a long healing process, which is interrupted when Michael receives a letter from the soldier responsible for Caroline's death. After much soul-searching, the truth is the path the solider has chosen so he can begin to rebuild his life. The letter stirs up complex emotions that overwhelm Michael and cloud his judgment.

Shortly thereafter, a terrible accident involving one of Josh and Samantha's daughters brings more grief and the burden of a shattering secret into Michael's life. When Josh learns the truth about what happened on that fateful day, Michael knows he must leave London. He moves to New York, where he leads the empty existence of a haunted man. What path to redemption will Michael choose? The answer is eloquent, resonant, and completely unforgettable.

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