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You might think of July as a time for escapist novels. But judging from the publishers’ lists, it has also become a key month for fat books on very important subjects. Some of these bring the narrative satisfactions of fiction in tow, yet they come bearing that strange secondary classification of “non-fiction.” I’ve always been fascinated by this name, as if “non-fiction” negated the absolute pleasure of fiction. The Germans talk of Sachbücher, thing-books, the French of essais and more recently also of actualités. But in our naming, we English give primacy to the novel. I love fiction, of course,…

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