Al Alvarez is the author of Risky Business, a selection of essays, many of which first appeared in The New York Review of Books.


Getting High on the Himalayas

‘The grandest of the early Himalayan expeditions, and also the least eccentric’: the camp of Luigi Amadeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, and his team below the west face of K2, 1909; photograph by Vittorio Sella, ‘one of the greatest of all mountain photographers,’ from Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver’s Fallen Giants

Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes

by Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver, with maps and peak sketches by Dee Molenaar
Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver’s authoritative history of Himalayan mountaineering, Fallen Giants, starts right at the beginning, 45 million years ago, with the collision of tectonic plates that threw up what the authors call “the greatest geophysical feature of the earth.” The Andes are the longest of the planet’s mountain …

On the Edge

A Treatise of Civil Power

by Geoffrey Hill
Civil power is a strange choice of subject for a poet like Geoffrey Hill, who started writing in the early 1950s, the age of anxiety, a notoriously bad time for civil liberties and a good time for literature. Or more accurately, the times were good for literature because they were …

The Trouble with Happiness


by Graham Swift
When my mother was a little girl, back at the beginning of the last century, she used to hear her mother and an aunt gossiping about an uncle who was having an affair with a woman “over the water.” She thought they must mean somewhere glamorous, like Paris; all they …

S & M at the Poles

Scott of the Antarctic: A Life of Courage and Tragedy

by David Crane

The Frozen Ship: The Histories and Tales of Polar Exploration

by Sarah Moss
David Crane’s fine biography of Captain Robert Falcon Scott begins on St. Valentine’s Day, 1913, at the moment of his greatest glory—his funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of the King, the archbishop of Canterbury, and all the grandees of the land, military and civilian, in full dress …

It Happened One Night

On Chesil Beach

by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan first tackled the problem of virginity and how to lose it in “Homemade,” the first story in his brilliant first book, First Love, Last Rites, published in 1975. When the adolescent narrator is introduced to the “simple, inexpensive” pleasure of masturbation, he wonders “if I could not dedicate …

The Man Who Rowed Away


by Tim Parks

Talking About It

by Tim Parks
According to the bibliography on his Web site, the English writer Tim Parks has published thirteen novels, a collection of short stories, two collections of critical essays (most of which first appeared in The New York Review), a book on the art of translation, a brief history of the Medicis …

The Best and the Brightest

One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "The Kid" Ungar, the World's Greatest Poker Player

by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson, with a foreword by Mike Sexton

The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time

by Michael Craig
“Is poker a game of chance?” someone asks W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee. “Not the way I play it,” he replies. Fields is an old-style cardsharp and he dresses the part—top hat, white gloves, dingy frock coat. These days professional poker players prefer bomber jackets and baseball caps, but …

Life Studies


by Alice Munro
“Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward,” Eliphaz the Temanite told Job. In Alice Munro’s stories, it is the women who are born that way and the men, mostly, who cause it. “You flare up,” says Carla, in the title story of Munro’s new collection. “That’s what …