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Culture Books

Notable books


Notable books

Four books about technology and change

Betrayal in Berlin by Steve Vogel: During the Cold War, the West was desperate to know what the Soviets were up to. That need for intelligence led to an audacious plan to build a tunnel in Berlin and tap into the East German telephone lines through which calls between Moscow and Berlin flowed. Vogel tells the fascinating story of how the closely guarded tunnel project came about, how CIA officials dreamed it up and carried it out, and how British double agent George Blake betrayed the tunnel project to the Soviets. Based on interviews and declassified documents, Vogel makes vivid this Cold War project and era.

The Passion Economy by Adam Davidson: Planet Money’s Adam Davidson has a knack for explaining complex economic matters simply. He uses that storytelling gift to tell about ordinary people who are succeeding in today’s economy by paying attention to their passions and linking what they have to sell with people who want it. Fifty years ago making that match would have been impossible, but Davidson shows how new technologies and global trade allow today’s entrepreneurs to “find those people, spread thinly around the globe, who most want what we have to offer.” He provides thought-provoking rules and on-the-ground reporting to show those rules in action.

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute: This 1950 novel appeared recently on a list of the best novels about economics. It tells the story of a young British woman who inherits money and has to decide how to use it. She survived the Japanese occupation of Malaya—a gripping part of the novel—and wants to help the women in the village who saved her. She also wants to find the Australian soldier who risked his life for her. Finally she turns her attention to turning an isolated Outback station into a thriving town like Alice. Caution: Casual racism reflects British attitudes of the time—but is jarring today.

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris: A young priest, Fairfax, takes a harrowing journey to the village where an older priest has died. It’s his job to perform the burial and then return home. But he discovers that Father Lacy owned forbidden books, books that would mark him as a heretic. Fairfax is ambitious, the books are dangerous, and yet he is drawn to them and to solving the mystery of Father Lacy’s death. Harris is a vivid writer who creates wholly believable worlds. This novel offers many twists and turns on its way to a surprising end. Caution: brief sexual situations.


All the Days Past, All the Days to Come (Viking, 2020) is the long-awaited conclusion to Mildred D. Taylor’s Cassie Logan stories, which began with the Newbery winner Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. The faith of Cassie’s parents made those earlier books hopeful despite the gross injustice her characters endured. This novel offers more racial bitterness—it gallops through postwar and civil rights eras—and sexual situations that make it more suitable for adults than the young people who loved the earlier books.