I love conversing with people who know history and are sparkling, highly opinionated storytellers. Often these are foreigners or emigrants speaking about their country. They're unafraid to draw sharp, outspoken conclusions that frame major situations (e.g. that some leader was an incompetent fool or that an accident of geography is what will ensure conflict between two groups continues). What are some book equivalents of that conversational experience? They can be on any period or region. I do not want a magisterial treatise. I want a keen-eyed, slicing talk with someone really well-informed and cynical over several drinks who's gonna say what's what.
Where can I go to find publicly accessible (preferably online) and well-thought-out basic interpretations and commentary on books? I don't mean reviews, and I don't mean ultra-scholarly theoretical or historical work. I mean commentary and explanation. For example, if I just read The Trial and I wanted to know what some of the standard opinions about its meaning were, where could I reliably go?
What fantasy/SF/steampunk/cyberpunk novels feature guns or other modern or futuristic weapons with enchantments or magical effects on them?
There's a book (possibly a movie or tv show) with a scene in it of an evil man slowly depriving his senile mother of water and keeping her in a very hot room in a bed with the covers on until she dies after several days. There is one moment when she regains lucidity and almost calls the police, but he stops her. What am I remembering?
In what literary tradition is the work of Ian McEwan? Which authors, past or present, are stylistically related?
Which novels and short stories, from any genre, since WWII, have been the most influential on prose style in "literary fiction"?
What are the the relative pros and cons of publishing a long-form non-fiction essay or series of essays in a blog vs. a book vs. a magazine article vs. a newspaper article vs. some other medium? Are there any good articles that explore this topic?
What are some of the most beautiful books, as physical objects, currently in print? I mean simply the best production values and aesthetics: graphic design, typesetting, photography, etc.?
Any recommendations for books giving a general history of any of the natural sciences, with a particular attention to how the great biologists, botanists, and zoologists, etc. approached problems of classification and conceptualization of their phenomena (e.g. like how Linnaeus came up with his taxonomy)? Not looking for great technical detail so much as how these scientists thought and responded to each others' thoughts.
What are the best "grand theory" books and essays purporting to explain generally how the world works - at the macro, economic/political/historical/sociological/foreign policy scale - written in or after the 20th century?
Has anyone recommend any excellent books or articles analyzing why (and how) dictatorship can maintain itself some places, but is successfully challenged and overthrown by more democratic forces elsewhere?
I want to learn about psychoanalysis/psychotherapy/etc. -- what are the best books? [more inside]