Books in Brief

April 2020

“The Weil siblings both undertook to translate into language something beyond words, beyond symbols,” writes Karen Olsson in The Weil Conjectures, a book that traces the lives of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable brother-sister pairs: the mathematician André Weil and the philosopher Simone Weil. Olsson, a math major turned writer, evokes the Weils’ search for truth––André through abstract calculation, Simone through activism and ascetic denial. In writing that recalls the Weil sister’s own aphoristic style, Olsson shows us how their fates intertwined and diverged, with André finding fame during life, and Simone dying at thirty-four. In telling their stories, Olsson reminds us of the ancient, though often forgotten, idea that “mathematics was a bridge to the divine.” 

The Weil Conjectures: On Math and the Pursuit of the Unknown
Karen Olsson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$26 | 224 pp.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s narrator is both more and less than a woman in the poems of Lima::Limón. She is the dinner she prepares for her macho, chiles burning her fingers and eyes, and the table on which it is eaten. She is a canvas for abuse; a porcelain doll come to life; a border; a frutería that sells lemons plucked from between her own ribs. She is her mother’s daughter, telling the story of the terrible price paid by generations of women in and around Ciudad Juárez for the chance to make a dollar, to not be alone, or simply to live. Her collection is a story of shame, pain, and brutality, beautifully and fiercely told.  

Lima::Limón
Natalie Scenters-Zapico
Copper Canyon Press 
$16 | 80 pp. 

Impassioned as Jeff Madrick is in his diagnosis of child poverty in the United States, he’s even more succinct in proposing a solution. By his plausible estimates, as many as one in three American children live below the poverty line, which means they lack many basics, but one above all: money. Emphasizing work for parents through income tax credits—U.S policy for the last forty years—has not alleviated the crisis. What will? His answer: substantial cash grants to all families with children, no strings attached. Wealthier families would have the income taxed away, while those truly in need would truly benefit. Madrick points to socioeconomic research to support his case, while citing the success and popularity of other universal programs like social security and unemployment insurance. “These are what made America great,” he observes. Do children deserve anything less? 

Invisible Americans: The Tragic Cost of Child Poverty
Jeff Madrick
Knopf
$25 | 231 pp.

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