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The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning
$23.99
Hardcover
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BOOK DETAILS

Peter gives an overview of the book:

What does it mean to suffer? What enables some people to emerge from tragedy while others are spiritually crushed by it? Why do so many Americans think of suffering as something that happens to other people—who usually deserve it? Some of these these questions are as old as civilization, others as urgent as today's headlines from Baghdad and New Orleans. This powerful, majestically eloquent book approaches them anew. <!--break--> Combining reporting, personal narrative, and moral philosophy, The Book of Calamities tells the stories of grass-roots genocide tribunals in Rwanda and tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, of an innocent man on death row, and a family bereaved on 9/11. It examines texts from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the writings of Victor Frankl and Simone Weil and from the Book of Job to The Way of the Bodhisattva to understand how individuals and...
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What does it mean to suffer? What enables some people to emerge from tragedy while others are spiritually crushed by it? Why do so many Americans think of suffering as something that happens to other people—who usually deserve it? Some of these these questions are as old as civilization, others as urgent as today's headlines from Baghdad and New Orleans. This powerful, majestically eloquent book approaches them anew. <!--break--> Combining reporting, personal narrative, and moral philosophy, The Book of Calamities tells the stories of grass-roots genocide tribunals in Rwanda and tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, of an innocent man on death row, and a family bereaved on 9/11. It examines texts from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the writings of Victor Frankl and Simone Weil and from the Book of Job to The Way of the Bodhisattva to understand how individuals and civilizations have grappled with suffering, trying to find immunity from it or, failing that, meaning in it. The Book of Calamities is a provocative and sweeping look at one of the biggest paradoxes in the human condition—and the astonishing strength and resilience of those who are forced to confront it.

"From the clusters of far-fetched, incongruous, and extraordinary similitudes that compose The Book of Calamities, Peter Trachtenberg wrings the most remarkable insights, and expresses them in precise and beautiful language. To read this staggering book is to enter into suffering, pass through it, and go beyond." -- Madison Smartt Bell, author of Toussaint L'Ouverture

"The Book of Calamities is one man's unflinching, profound, and deeply moving journey to discover the rhyme and the reason of human suffering. How do those who have survived catastrophes make meaning out of the pain and the loss that have marked them? From the story of Job, from his own life, and from the lives of strangers, Peter Trachtenberg has found both unexpected and uplifting answers to nearly impossible questions." --Deborah Baker, author of A Blue Hand "A rare and valuable work by a writer of formidable power. From Rwanda to Manhattan, the stories that Peter Trachtenberg tells linger in the mind, haunting the reader with their profundity and grace." -- John Ryle, Chair, Rift Valley Institute, Legrand Ramsey Professor of Anthropology, Bard College
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Everybody suffers: War, sickness, poverty, hunger, oppression, prison, exile, bigotry, loss, madness, rape, addiction, age, loneliness. We suffer, depending on our religious or ideological convictions, because we are born in sin; because God has chosen us; because he is punishing us; because we are bound by craving and illusion; because suffering makes us better. We suffer because some of our cells are programmed, when exposed to certain biological stressors, to turn cancerous. We suffer because some of us have nothing and others have everything and those with everything want even more. We suffer because some reptilian portion of the brain delights in murder and sways not only individuals but entire nations to its purposes. We suffer because at a very early age we learn that we are going to die and spend the rest of our lives in dread of it.

Everybody suffers, but Americans have the peculiar delusion that they’re exempt from suffering. . . . This book is meant to address that delusion. It explores suffering as a spiritual phenomenon, a condition that afflicts the spirit as well as the body; this is true of both the pain we endure and the pain we only witness. It explores the ways that people try to make sense of suffering, in order not to be destroyed.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Peter

Peter Trachtenberg is the author of the memoir 7 Tattoos and The Book of Calamities, a hybrid of journalism, moral philosophy, and personal essay on the theme of suffering and its narratives. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, Bomb,...

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Published Reviews

May.08.2008

The artistry and humor of his wriitng, the pain of his mercilessly self-punishing insights, the relentlessness of ihs guilty misanthropy and the stream of sadness that bears them along all give Trachtenberg...

May.08.2008

"Rendered with wit, humility, passion, and a razor-sharp perspicacity that recalls Joan Didion in her prime. Seven Tattoos combines the accessibility of fiction with the rigors of philosophy, and sometimes...

Author's Publishing Notes

Little, Brown & Co., August 27, 2008. http://www.hachettebookgroupusa.com