by Anna Wiener

A witty and authentic recollection of startup life in 21st-Century Silicon Valley. Wiener had been working in the lower rungs of New York publishing when she seized an opportunity to join a startup. That didn’t work out, but there were plenty of startups. In the end, she spent much of her time at the “open-source startup”, but lots of her friends worked at “the social network everyone hated”; in the end, her open-source startup is bought by “the highly litigious Seattle-based conglomerate” and she returns to writing with a nice nest egg. There’s a lovely little passage the recounts how her Terms Of Service team came up against the early days of Gamergate, and then her astonishment a few years later to see the same tactics employed in the early days of QAnon. A co-worker turns to her. “‘Oh, my sweet summer child,’ he said. ‘They are absolutely the same people.’”

Jan 22 22 2022


by Robert Harris

Reimagining the Munich Agreement of 1938, seen here with as much sympathy for Neville Chamberlain as it is possible to muster and narrated from the perspectives of two minor diplomatic officials — one British, one German — who had known each other at Oxford. Critics were unusually skeptical of this Robert Harris foray, which confronts structural difficulties with an array of suspense-generating machinery, much of which doesn’t quite work. Harris has a point: if war was coming, it might have been better to delay it — though not, of course, better for the millions of Nazi victims who might have escaped. I’m not wild that the minor character who represents The Jews has been so bludgeoned and damaged that she is silenced. Still, a fine and readable historical novel in which a collection of villains meet: if Chamberlain did not rise to the occasion, he was far from the worst.

Jan 22 6 2022


by Serhii Plokhy

A very fine account of the disastrous explosion of Chernobyl’s unit #4, which blew up during an ill-considered test. In the immediate aftermath, no one was sure what had happened, what was happening, or what to do about it. The effort to manage the disaster was a triumph of engineering under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

by Rosalie Knecht

A spy thriller in a determinedly-realistic mode, without Le Carré’s gloom. It’s 1966 and it’s Argentina. The KGB is thought to be muddying the waters. A coup is brewing, and Vera Kelly is eavesdropping on government offices from the attic of a fancy bakery. In her spare time, she’s infiltrating a team of left-wing students who, it seems, are building a bomb. Winner of 2021 Edgar Award.