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Weekend Reading Assignments: War in North Africa, Antonin Scalia and More!

1:00 PM, Apr 16, 2011 • By THE WEEKLY STANDARD
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And something you likely won’t see written today—a supplier trying to impress Dumaine by showing off a leg of veal and bragging: “White as the snow on Mont Blanc on a sunny morning in spring! This animal wasn’t over six weeks old. Never saw the light of day. Never tasted grass.”

It is only a shame the book hasn’t been reissued for some time. I found a used one on Amazon. You may have some luck there or perhaps at your local library. In New York next week, I plan on stopping by and paying my respects at the site of where the Pavillon once stood. It is currently a Disney store.

—Victorino Matus

Hugh Trevor-Roper, who died in 2003, might well have been the premier British historian of the 20th century: A scholar of the Renaissance and 17th-century England, he successfully combined literary flair with original thinking and scholarship. But Trevor-Roper was no mere pedant, and one of my favorite books was something of a busman's holiday for the Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford: Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse (1977).      

Backhouse (1873-1944) was the wandering son of a wealthy English Quaker family who washed up in pre-revolutionary China at the turn of the century, ingratiated himself with the tottering royal court, wrote a famous history of his friend the Empress Dowager and, over the decades, accumulated a huge collection of antiquarian Chinese books and manuscripts which he donated to Oxford's Bodleian Library. He was also a master forger, sexual deviant, confidence man, fabulist, and inveterate liar whose webs of intrigue and deception are scrupulously untangled, decade by decade, at the expert -- and at times, bemused -- hands of Hugh Trevor-Roper.      

Hermit of Peking is an astonishing, complex, and endlessly diverting tale of scholarly psychopathology, served on an elegant platter by one of the master chefs of literary history.

—Philip Terzian

For anyone who loves dogs and appreciates the unique relationship between man and his best friend, Garth Stein’s novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, is a feel-good, comforting addition to the canon of canine literature. Written from the perspective of a television-educated, philosophizing lab-terrier mix named Enzo, the book’s premise, surprisingly, never wears thin. Enzo believes he will be reincarnated as a human when he dies, and so his entire dog life is centered around learning about and understanding the species he expects to become. It’s an entertaining journey for readers. Stein’s simple prose captures what dog owners everywhere believe their own pets are really saying when they bark or nuzzle or whine or lick our faces or hold their tails between their legs. A quick read, but one that’s unforgettable as soon as you realize there’s a lot of Enzo in your own dog.

—Michael Warren

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