“Western civilization” is a catchall term that is often used as a cudgel against whatever the user thinks is abhorrent or backward, so it is intellectually exhilarating to read Naoíse Mac Sweeney’s deconstruction of what is really meant by that label and how it became corrupted. By focusing on 14 lives, starting with Herodotus and including Francis Bacon and Edward Said, the author demonstrates how the grand narrative of what constitutes “civilization” has changed over time, and that it behooves us to create a fresh vision that belongs not to a particular ethnic group or country but exemplifies what is the “beating heart” of what truly constitutes Western civilization: mobility and cultural transmissibility.
Luckily for Tom Begnal, there are plenty of people who love to read about where certain incidents happened in Manhattan, and he has done a fine job describing the places that deserve a historical marker, from where the mobster Joe Gallo got killed (Umberto’s Clam House, which has since moved, its location now occupied by a restaurant called Da Gennaro) to the birthplace of Thomas’ English Muffins (yep, invented by a baker named Thomas, on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea). Some of the 24 stories are more familiar than others, but Begnal has such an engaging style and so deftly brings the reader up-to-date on what those locations are like today that Here in Manhattan is a worthy guide to the city you know you love best.
We are all familiar with the craze for space tourism powered by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson, but here Ashlee Vance casts his gaze on the smaller folks who are building and launching rockets and satellites into what is called “low-Earth orbit,” the space from 100 to 1,200 miles above us. These are gold-rush days, everyone in search of making an economic bonanza out of sky filled with tens of thousands of satellites tracking and connecting and spying on all those below. The companies Vance follows—Planet Labs, Rocket Lab, Astra, and Firefly—are populated with just the kind of dreamers that make for great reading, and the author details every triumph, misfire, feud, and drinking bout with aplomb.