Paul Elie’s spirited contribution to the ongoing project of Reinventing Bach (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30) is an ingenious three-part invention of a book. Intertwining the stories of Bach, his 20th- and 21st-century interpreters, and technology, Elie explores not just music history but the history of a particular kind of creativity. A lot has changed between Bach’s time, when you had to go to a church to hear an organ toccata, and today, when you can carry whole orchestras around on an iPod. Elie recounts the stages of this shift from the “pre-recorded era” to the digital age, examining what it has meant for music and for specific musicians. Focusing on Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Leopold Stokowski, Glenn Gould, and Yo-Yo Ma, Elie (a practiced hand at group biography, as his acclaimed The Life You Save May Be Your Own attests) shows how each of these Bach devotees brought out new facets of the music even as they—and technology—opened yet more avenues for playing, recording, and listening to the inexhaustible wonder that is Bach.
We live in an era when virtually everything is up for sale—babies, permits to shoot endangered species, advertising space on student report cards, and even a baseball announcer’s message when a player hits a home run. In his lucid and provocative book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27), Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel, one of the world’s pre-eminent political scientists, assesses what happens to the common good when market values crowd out social and civic values. With eye-opening examples from everyday life, and some entertaining digs at well-known economists (including some of his colleagues and friends), he makes a persuasive and elegant case for how we can change the current scenario.