PositiveThe New YorkerA wonderfully opinionated and erudite evaluation of the whole of Diderot\'s career, of the Enlightenment, and of Russian culture ... As Zaretsky brilliantly illuminates in a discussion of the era\'s \'philosophic geography,\' Diderot grasped that what Catherine wanted, following in the footsteps of Peter the Great, was to \'Europeanize\' Russia, while what Europeans, including Diderot, wanted was to exoticize Russia ... Catherine comes off extremely well in Zaretsky\'s account.
Andrew S. Curran
PositiveThe New Yorker\"Curran does a terrific job of sorting through the crazily complicated history of the Encyclopédie’s publication ... Curran also makes a strong and convincing case that the largely forgotten Louis de Jaucourt, a chevalier, or knight, and a practicing physician, was chiefly responsible for finishing the big book; he produced seventeen thousand articles for it, gratis.\
David W Blight
RaveThe New Yorker\"[an] extraordinary new biography ... Blight has certainly written, in the book’s texture and density and narrative flow—one violent and provocative incident arriving right after another—a great American biography.\
PositiveThe New Yorker\"When it comes to Lear, Uglow’s disability, if there is one, is that she is such an enthusiast that her enthusiasm crowds out, a little, her urge to explication. That nursery nationalism kicks in. She takes Lear’s greatness for granted, piling on limericks and sketch drawings as though we, too, had known them since infancy. Her enthusiasm can become a velvet rope separating us from her subject, more than an invitation to the dance ... What is eloquent and astonishing in Uglow’s biography is her demonstration of how embedded Lear was in Victorian art and culture ... Throughout, Uglow patiently traces the contours of a closeted gay man’s life.\
PositiveThe New YorkerThe secrets of that kind of athletic achievement are the subject of Karen Crouse’s book Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence. Crouse, a Times sportswriter disillusioned by drug-enhanced results and joyless competitions, stumbled on Norwich in the midst of her travels with more or less the same stunned enthusiasm with which Ronald Colman, in the movie Lost Horizon, stumbles on Shangri-La ... What we don’t get to see, in Crouse’s account, is the little town nearby, where, as must be the case, everyone coöperates and yet no one is a champion ... In any case, one has the sense that what Crouse has found is not a 'secret' but a well-known effect: unusual excellence emerges within tightly structured local traditions.
RaveThe New YorkerPeeking out mordantly from the start is Roth’s natural gift for comedy, which can’t help but rise to the surface even amid the seriousness. And Roth is a comedian, really, rather than a humorist or a satirist … Then there comes a last third, gathered here for the first time, called ‘Explanations,’ which is in many ways the most arresting and apropos part of the book. Roth’s great subject turns out to be, by his own account, patriotism—how to savor American history without sentimentalizing it, and how to claim an American identity without ceasing to inquire into how strangely identities are made.
PositiveThe New YorkerThough he does the usual justice to the military saga of the Civil War, and Grant’s decisive part in it, his book aims to rehabilitate Grant as a politician and as President. He makes a convincing case that Grant actually behaved nobly, even heroically, while in the White House ... Chernow tells all this rapidly and well; his talent is suited to Grant’s story ...lacking elegance of means, he covers an immense area of ground, thoroughly and relentlessly, capturing his objectives one by one ...fluent and intelligent narrative... Coming to the close of Chernow’s book, one will think that we have had, since Grant’s Presidency, very much the same politics, with the same two political parties.
PositiveThe New YorkerWright’s book has no poetry or paradox anywhere in it. Since the poetic-comic side of Buddhism is one of its most appealing features, this leaves the book a little short on charm. Yet, if you never feel that Wright is telling you something profound or beautiful, you also never feel that he is telling you something untrue. Direct and unambiguous, tracing his own history in meditation practice, he makes Buddhist ideas and their history clear. Perhaps he makes the ideas too clear ... The dwindling down of Buddhism into another life-style choice will doubtless irritate many, and Wright will likely be sneered at for reducing Buddhism to another bourgeois amenity, like yoga or green juice. Yet what Wright is doing seems an honorable, even a sublime, achievement. Basically, he says that meditation has made him somewhat less irritable. Being somewhat less irritable is not the kind of achievement that people usually look to religion for, but it may be as good an achievement as we ought to expect.
John F. Pfaff
MixedThe New YorkerPfaff, let there be no doubt, is a reformer ... But he also makes a more complicated argument, following recent sociological research: it’s not that the prohibition of drugs attracts crime, which then produces violence; it’s that violence thrives among young men deprived of a faith in their own upward mobility, making drug dealing an attractive business ... Putting aside quarrels about the specific numbers, one can accept the broad truth of Pfaff’s data without necessarily buying into his position completely.
Heather Ann Thompson
PositiveThe New YorkerThough her sympathies are entirely with the prisoners, she extends humanity and individual witness to the guards ... Thompson’s capacity for close observation and her honesty, which are impressive, are occasionally undermined by a desiccated political vocabulary.
PositiveThe New YorkerWootton, in his new, encyclopedic history, The Invention of Science (Harper), recognizes the blurred lines between magic and science but insists that the revolution lay in the public nature of the new approach.
PositiveThe New YorkerKaplan’s book turns out to be, to continue in the old reviewers’ language, hugely readable, vastly entertaining, a page-turner, and all the rest. But it’s also interesting as a fine instance of a strikingly newish kind of thing: the serious and even scholarly biography of a much gossiped-over pop figure, where the old Kitty Kelley-style scandal-sheet bio is turned into a properly documented and footnoted study that nonetheless trades on, or at least doesn’t exclude, the sensational bits.
MixedThe New YorkerPolitics and procedures obviously enabled the killings; we owe Snyder a debt for his realism about this. But the desire to maim and murder had its roots in a disease of the mind so powerful and passionate that to call it political or procedural hardly seems to capture its nature, or its prevalence.