RaveWashington PostAs David Maraniss artfully demonstrates in the biography Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe, Thorpe was both puffed and pilloried ... Throughout a book marked by deep research and expert context-setting, he sifts through the myths about Thorpe and Native Americans, depicting his subject as a proud, complicated man who sought to shape his own destiny, yet was bedeviled by larger forces of racism and hypocrisy ... Maraniss pulls out the few shreds of evidence that reveal Thorpe’s unfiltered personality, but it is often difficult to see the man behind the mask ... by highlighting Thorpe’s perseverance, Maraniss paints a portrait with both heroic and tragic shadows ... tells his story with skill and integrity.
RaveThe Washington PostKennedy brings literary grace to his subject, illuminating Robinson’s sizzling style on the ballfield, his colossal significance in American culture, his complex humanity and his enduring legacy ... Unlike a traditional biography, True focuses on four distinct years in Robinson’s life ... Kennedy’s approach allows him to linger over scenes, painting lush portraits of telling moments from Robinson’s career ... He renders the everyday indignities and terrifying death threats during spring training in the Jim Crow South ... Some vivid passages describe Robinson on the base paths, showcasing his astonishing physicality and attacking philosophy ... Kennedy fleshes out a proud, sincere and often stubborn man, especially in the final section ... The episodic structure of True has costs, as it bypasses some significant periods and themes in Robinson’s life. Most obviously, Kennedy pays minimal attention to the barrier-breaking integration of the Dodgers in 1947 ... True nevertheless explains Robinson in striking, human terms.
Kerri K. Greenidge
PositiveThe Washington PostBlack Radical frames Trotter as a hero for today’s generation of black activists: exuding pride in black excellence, raging at white supremacy, distrusting of white liberals, uncompromising in his ideals ... Black Radical is most valuable for charting Trotter’s extraordinary political journey ... Greenidge writes with a sledgehammer, pounding on her arguments about Trotter’s radical independence and populist appeal ... Black Radical could have probed deeper, however, on the personality behind the politics ... As Greenidge documents, Trotter’s stubborn militancy both alienated potential allies and enhanced his popular standing. But it is not entirely clear why Trotter was so perpetually prickly.
MixedThe Washington PostBolstered by deep research into government documents and press accounts, Freedom’s Detective paints an illuminating portrait of Whitley, an intriguing representative of Reconstruction’s feats and fiascos. It does not, however, always cohere as a work of narrative history. Lane jumps back and forth in time while his protagonist is battling counterfeiters and Klansmen, and it can be difficult to keep Whitley’s life in order. In the chapters on the Secret Service campaigns against the Klan, Whitley becomes less of a presence as his agents move into the thick of the action ... Moreover, although Lane deftly positions Whitley within American politics after the Civil War, the main figures are all white — even in the chapters on racially motivated violence. Lane is sensitive to the struggles of African Americans, but he could have fleshed out the perspectives of more black characters, which would have illustrated the true resonance of the Ku Klux Klan. Strangely, for a book stuffed with tales of racist brutality, Freedom’s Detective might underplay the terror that animated the Reconstruction South.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe Big Fella omits many of Ruth’s feats as a ballplayer, but previous biographies have trod all over that ground. Instead, Leavy shines light on Ruth’s place in American cultural history. She paints a sensitive and humorous portrait ... As she did with Koufax and Mantle, Leavy muses upon our tangled relationships with baseball heroes.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-Dispatch\"The Big Fella omits many of Ruth’s feats as a ballplayer, but previous biographies have trod all over that ground. Instead, Leavy shines light on Ruth’s place in American cultural history. She paints a sensitive and humorous portrait of a flamboyant figure who exploited public appetites and his athletic prowess to forge a new sporting celebrity ... Leavy sifts through the myths of the young Babe, painting a colorfully seedy picture of turn-of-the-century Baltimore.\
PositiveThe Nashville SceneAn undercover reporter, he meticulously and evocatively described the conditions of the prison ... Bauer intersperses...searing first-person accounts with a history of the private-prison system ... American Prison paints a damning portrait of T. Don Hutto, co-founder and former CEO of the [prison\'s] corporation ... Bauer holds out little hope of any legitimate reform: \'If CCA raised guards’ wages, hired enough staff, and provided adequate staff, it would lose its profit margins ... If, on the other hand, states raised their rates to cover the costs of reforms, they would no longer be saving money, which means there would be no reason for them to rely on private companies to run their prisons.\' As American Prison tragically makes clear, the weight of this paradox lands on the shoulders of the people in the prison system.
PanThe Washington PostI’m Keith Hernandez is stuffed with bad writing choices. Almost half the pages have a footnote that offers a superfluous fact or purposeless story. Some passages are inset for no evident reason ... Hernandez’s writing style is frustrating, but the book is a failure because he resists any clear-eyed reckoning with his insecurities ... Hernandez does not explain why he lacked self-belief. Perhaps it is unclear to him. But it is obvious to any reader: His father, John, a former minor league first baseman, forced his major league dreams upon his son ... I’m Keith Hernandez does not grapple with the irony of his rise to stardom. Without his father’s tutelage and drive, he may have never reached the big leagues. Yet to be truly great, he had to shape his own destiny and become his own man ... \'I realized why he’d been so hard on me,\' he reflects [about his father] ... This final gesture of acceptance seems inauthentic, reflecting an unwillingness to confront his demons. It provides an unsatisfying ending to a flawed book.
RaveThe Washington PostIt is a triumph of investigative reporting, the product of the author’s dogged research and a bold lawsuit backed by the Commercial Appeal. It also stirs an appetite for a richer history of the civil rights movement, though it cannot satisfy that hunger ... A Spy in Canaan brims with new details about the inner workings of the movement in Memphis and beyond. It rarely steps back to assess the complicated nature of black activism in this era, however. Perrusquia instead details the nature and impact of federal surveillance of American citizens exercising their right to lawful protest.
PositiveThe Washington PostJonathan Eig’s Ali: A Life is the first comprehensive biography worthy of this titanic figure. The author of acclaimed books on Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson, Eig weaves together Ali’s athletic feats, cultural significance and personal journey. Fortified by hundreds of revealing interviews, Ali vigorously narrates the story of the man who transformed the landscape of race and sports ... Eig also paints Ali’s bouts with vivid detail and captivating sweep ... But Eig might have placed Ali into a wider arc of African American history. The book glosses over the rapid transformations wrought by the civil rights and Black Power movements, which framed the public understanding of Ali, including the white anxiety and black love ... Ali stirs together the sweet and the spicy, the gifts and the failings, the charm and the rage, the grace and the greed, the pride and the ego. Together, they made Ali the transcendent athlete of his age.
John A. Farrell
RaveThe Washington PostA stack of good books about Nixon could reach the ceiling, but Farrell has written the best one-volume, cradle-to-grave biography that we could expect about such a famously elusive subject. By employing recently released government documents and oral histories, he adds layers of understanding to a complex man and his dastardly decisions ... That sense of persecution fed Nixon’s penchant for chicanery. Farrell’s deep research exposes new evidence of this tendency ... He stained his reputation and that of the presidency. As Farrell’s outstanding biography reminds us, the consequences have endured. They remain toxic.
PositiveThe Washington PostEngaging a host of classic works of urban sociology, Duneier describes how social scientists have grappled with poor, black, inner-city neighborhoods in the United States. His rich intellectual history of the ghetto raises important questions about how we might address the plight of its residents...Ultimately, Duneier’s vision is bleak. His book describes the ghetto as a historical process rooted in racial discrimination, spatial segregation and political powerlessness. Absent a genuine commitment among the American public to helping the black poor, that process continues.