The zigzag, endlessly digressive line of Mr. Bellos's exposition keeps things lively, but it's not the best way of laying out a thesis. And he does have a thesis. The subtitle of his book, "Translation and the Meaning of Everything," hints as much, while (as is mandatory with cutesy subtitles these days) reassuring readers that, while there's an important point about to be made, things aren't going to get too serious, and they won't have to work very hard.
I first caught on to this with Malcolm Gladwell, but it's also the practice of Thomas Friedman, and maybe the first to do it was David brooks with Bobos in Paradise. It is the practice of passing off as thoughtful analysis what in fact is merely the elaboration of a catchphrase.