MixedThe Washington PostThough it’s hard to find good fortune in the midst of a global pandemic, War Fever authors Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith have been given the gift of relevance. Their book is about a disease that is suddenly an apt historical parallel, about baseball when we are starved for sports, and about xenophobia and ginned-up controversies at a moment when people in power are demonizing outsiders and decrying real news as fake. But if serendipity can make a middling book timely, chance can’t raise an okay one to greatness ... While the authors capture what made each man extraordinary, they don’t bring these stories together to explain what the affection or disgust for their triumvirate says about America at large ... We’re a long way from the end of this pandemic, but the Ruth sections of War Fever made me wish for a different book written sometime in the future, using these catastrophes to examine the particularly American symbiosis between sports and our sense of national strength ... for all the diversions War Fever offers in the Muck and Ruth sections, the weakness of the authors’ approach to their undertaking becomes clear in their treatment of Charles Whittlesey ... Muck, Ruth and Whittlesey were iconic figures, and they were chosen as subjects for the book because of their fame. Yet War Fever has little to say about the emergent nature of celebrity in 1918 and what America’s approach to the people it venerated said about the nation, even though the juxtaposition of these men raises fascinating questions ... Maybe with a little historical distance, Roberts and Smith will have a different book to write about the two moments in American history when baseball and xenophobia met up with a pandemic. In the meantime, War Fever, like a lot of diversions available to us right now, is good enough, if no Ruthian home run or Wagnerian masterpiece.
PositiveThe Washington Post... a book that leaves behind the unnerving feeling that we’re becalmed and can move in no positive direction: The Outlaw Ocean brings the reader up close to an overwhelming truth, but the magnitude of the revelation is paralyzing ... That Urbina has been able to pluck these people out of the vast blue expanse that surrounds them and locate them, both on the map and in our minds, is an impressive feat of reporting ... While all nonfiction books presumably exist to tell readers something they didn’t already know, The Outlaw Ocean uses our lack of knowledge to bolster his argument: If we don’t know much about sea slavery or the battles between environmentalists and the fishing industry, it’s because it’s hard for us landlubbers to know what happens so far from shore ... Urbina is so successful at communicating the scale of the ocean, and the cruelty and neglect above and below its waters, that reading his book sometimes feels like gasping for a breath of air before slipping under the waves again ... Urbina deftly reveals complicated ideas through his stories, whether he’s exploring how lacunas in Thai labor law leave sea slaves vulnerable or depicting firsthand how flags of convenience meant to track ships can be used to make them disappear.
Bud Selig, with Phil Rogers
PanThe Washington PostFor the Good of the Game, by former Brewers owner and Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, reduces the sport to a series of numbers. If baseball is designed to lull viewers into a contemplative state, its hypnotic power seems to have failed to take effect on its former commissioner. Despite Selig’s half-century in baseball, For the Good of the Game barely gestures at an answer to what the game is good for ... curious admissions leave the sense that Selig has no idea why he’s writing this memoir ... Even when a rationale for the book heaves into view, as with Selig’s brag that no one else had \'understood the history of the commissioner’s office, and had studied it, the way I had,\' Selig leaves it curiously unfulfilled ... Ultimately, Selig writes with all the soul of an accountant seeking a particularly good tax incentive package, measuring the success of the league in the rising value of franchises and spinoff companies.
Isaac Butler & Dan Kois
PositiveThe Washington PostThe book will be incomprehensible to people who are not familiar with Angels in America, and it may not hold the interest of those whose familiarity with and interest in the play are merely passing. For those who do attempt it, though, The World Only Spins Forward is a vital book about how to make political art that offers lasting solace in times of great trouble, and wisdom to audiences in the years that follow.
PanThe Chicago TribuneIt's clear that Wolff has managed a feat even more daunting than turning a nonfiction book into a genuine phenomenon: He has written a chronicle of the Trump administration that, vicious excerpts aside, is a real slog to get through … Throughout Fire and Fury, eyes of storms are always swirling, curtains are coming down, genies pop out of bottles, and the fates of various devils and clown princes hang in the balance … When Wolff does come up with an interesting, Washington-specific observation, such as the Trump administration's growing and particular antipathy to the women who work at the Justice Department, he doesn't delve more deeply into it … In the end, Fire and Fury doesn't have much of a narrative other than the basic march of time.
RaveThe Washington Post...a small but lovely immigrant’s journey, full of carefully-observed details from the order in which Ghazala served tea at a university event, to the schedule of the police patrols in the Boston Public Garden where Khan briefly slept while he was in between apartments, to the description of Humayun’s headstone as a 'slab of white marble with soft streaks the color of wood smoke.' And wisely, though the book includes the family’s decision to appear at the DNC and their preparation for that short, effective speech, Khan steers clear of Trump’s outbursts, which are clearly beneath his attention — and ours ... I closed An American Family feeling that Khizr Khan is probably a better American than I am. But it’s a strength of his book that I felt inspired, rather than condemned, by that conclusion.
MixedThe Washington PostBad Feminist is about feminism, but, more broadly, it is about the emotional yearnings that motivate supposedly rational, wide-ranging proposed solutions to big problems … These sorts of scattershot concerns sometimes work better when Gay is running across the keyboard from high to low in discussing a single subject than when she is juxtaposing multiple works … But if I occasionally wish that Gay were a bit more formal in developing her arguments, her writing can also make a virtue of jarring compositions, of ideas that do not quite fit together.
PositiveThe Houston Chronicle...the book ought to be read as a primer about the many granular challenges involved in doing journalism today ... I suspect They Can't Kill Us All won't satisfy those readers who would like to see journalism occupy a separate, inviolate sphere, uninfluenced by technology, social pressure or even simple physical exhaustion. But for the more realistic among us, They Can't Kill Us All is a valuable testament to just how enmeshed journalism is in our civic fabric.