MixedThe New York Review of BooksMax Chafkin, a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter, relies heavily on biographical details from George Packer’s 2011 New Yorker profile and an expanded version that appeared in The Unwinding. This borrowing was a necessity: whereas Packer enjoyed full access to his subject, Chafkin got only two interviews, off the record, separated by a decade. Thiel might have sensed a hatchet job ... Cheap psychologizing can be the mark of an unsteady biographer. Here it may also indicate an ungenerous one. Chafkin withholds credit and finds fault, starting early and small ... Some connections are stronger. Chafkin adds to prior reporting ... ambiguities make it hard to trust Chafkin as a judge of Thiel’s influence in the worlds he inhabits ... Chafkin seems to be groping toward something more interesting than the notion that Thiel is singularly powerful and maleficent—the idea that Thiel lays bare Silicon Valley’s alarming vision of self-rule, that this story is less one of influence than one of hidden affinity ... Chafkin’s plotting of Thiel’s ideology feels overdetermined, fecklessly connecting recent developments to some distant precursor (he calls Thiel’s support of Trump \'no different from the growth hacking at PayPal\'), placing Thiel at the center of broad trends (he claims that Thiel somehow brought the gospel of Ayn Rand to Silicon Valley), and casting every aspect of Thiel’s conservatism as uniformly scandalous ... The Contrarian is most successful in sketching Thiel’s quest, over the past decade, for \'real power, political power.\' It’s unfortunate, then, that the more exotic aspects of Thiel’s politics become just another part of the broadside, with insufficient delineation between his libertarianism taxation is theft, except when your company depends on government spending), his common cause with the post-2015 GOP (Trump, nationalism, immigration restrictions), and his truly radical positions, such as his Schmittian distaste for the deliberative premise of liberal democracy.
Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksBrown and Farrell rightly credit WeWork with tapping into a younger, urban demographic ... Brown and Farrell call the WeWork story \'a vital parable of the twenty-first-century economy.\' But what is the WeWork story? The sheer loss of shareholder value would seem to make this one of the big business stories of our time. It has the trappings of a corporate thriller: oodles of cash, epic dysfunction, and a swift reckoning for the cult leader. But there’s something slippery and lesson-defying about it ... as Brown and Farrell note, the markets have short memories.
Mary L. Trump
MixedThe New York Review of BooksMary is both a witness and an expert. She rarely reflects on her position as the former—notwithstanding her warning that \'it’s difficult to understand what goes on in any family—perhaps hardest of all for the people in it\'—and she is vague about her methods and her aims as the latter. This makes for a disorienting narrative approach, in which the personal and the professional, the colloquial and the clinical, are commingled ... Many of Mary’s speculations about motives and feelings become, in an instant, the basis of causal inferences ... It’s possible that these claims are sourced, but she presents them as empirical facts, not possible explanations ... Likewise, Mary’s account of her father’s alcoholism is oddly reductive, especially for someone who once treated addiction patients at a community clinic ... Mary’s unaccountable narrative omniscience about the mental states of her main characters—at one point she suggests that Donald wishes he had personally killed George Floyd—has a certain parallel in her handling of factual niceties. A substantial portion of the book concerns events of which she has no firsthand knowledge ... many [anecdotes] are recycled from material that is already public. Curiously, when her stories are at variance with previously published versions, she does not note or explain the differences ... the broad strokes are persuasive ... Too Much and Never Enough is ultimately much more insightful about Fred than about Donald; the father was a private figure whose personality and family life have been far less well known.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksCatch and Kill is a mythic narrative and moral allegory in the form of a thriller; it’s David and Goliath by way of All the President’s Men. It’s a story of spooks and creeps and bullies, of false identities and secret meetings. And it’s always raining ... Shady characters are hardly limited to the Weinstein machine; cloaks and daggers abound in the executive suites of NBC ... Catch and Kill aspires to go beyond the Weinstein story and examine the systems that shield the powerful from scrutiny, yet it’s strikingly lacking in background and analysis on a range of relevant subjects ... It might have dealt, even briefly, with the cultural and legal history of sexual harassment in the workplace; with distinctions between employees and nonemployees; with the not wholly diabolical use of secret payments as a method of resolving misconduct claims; or with the enforceability of nondisclosure agreements if the precipitating conduct is illegal or if the terms and conditions are unconscionable ... The book consistently fails to describe degrees of participation and culpability with precision. How did people become members of Weinstein’s team or gears in his machine? How did they stand to profit? Who was a pawn, a mercenary, a hypocrite, an accomplice? These are not distinctions without a difference: they would help to define the kinds of enablement and complicity that allow powerful, wealthy abusers to operate as they do, and how we might apportion blame.
RaveThe London Review of Books (UK)Part of what makes the novel suspenseful is that it leaves readers wondering what, exactly, they’re anticipating, which mystery is for solving. It is talky and reflective, with long stretches in which little happens. French seems uninterested in the tight plotting and brisk pace of crime fiction; her lulls and tenuously related subplots enhance the sense of overall creepiness (this can go too far: a pan of chicken soup starts to ‘hiss and foam ominously’) ... one of French’s achievements in the novel, and one for which she hasn’t had due credit, is that Toby’s legitimate claim to victimhood – he was nearly killed – invites and then upends the idea that misfortunes can be easily ranked: how to judge which kinds of suffering are worse than others, which kinds of people more deserving of sympathy? ... At moments like these, The Wych Elm feels like a teenage revenge story that stretches a decade beyond school: the bullies finally get their comeuppance, and the kids who were picked on eventually prosper, having been made stronger by their suffering. And while such stories often take the form of comedies, French’s novel is closer to the teen horror films of the 1980s and 1990s, many of which centred on a moral reckoning ... offers a persuasive critique of social privilege. But the murders themselves – there’s more than one – seem like a departure from, rather than an expression of, the social reality the novel depicts ... French has gone a step further than the pleasurable untidiness of her earlier mysteries. The murder plot is there, huge and grotesque, yet – more than ever – it is not what matters.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books\"... an archivally rich mix of history, biography, and a bit of reporting ... What distinguishes Emre’s book is its close, sympathetic study of the test’s creators and their aspirations. They clearly had goals aside from making money, and they never did make much; the boom happened after Isabel’s death in 1980.\
PositiveThe London Review of BooksDoes sleep count as doing something? Can that trite phrase ‘rest and relaxation’ communicate something true? The tone of this...flickers between sincerity and insincerity. One of the things Moshfegh is interested in is irony: she both exploits it and questions its value ... My Year of Rest and Relaxation constantly eludes classification. It’s tempting to see satire ... But there’s a casually intimidating power to Moshfegh’s writing— the deadpan frankness and softly cutting sentences—that makes any comparison feel not quite right. My Year of Rest and Relaxation is written in multiple modes at once: comedy and tragedy and farce, blurring into one another, climbing on top of one another ... The narrator’s hibernation becomes a kind of artistic project, an unmaking and remaking of the self ... In place of the antic sarcasm of the beginning of the novel, she now speaks in anodyne clichés: ‘Pain is not the only touchstone for growth, I said to myself. My sleep had worked.’ Has it?