PositiveThe Wall Street JournalOf the countless New York structures demolished over the years, a parking garage may seem a strange one to mourn, but Michael Rips mourns one with infectious poignancy in his quirky, disarming, sometimes strained yet altogether beautiful memoir ... a remembrance of a lost institution (the market has now vanished entirely), a hymn to the complex power of objects, and a glimpse into the mind and heart of a curious character—himself ... A man of parts, [Rips] clearly has a very high IQ. Yet he also has humanity, humor and the gift of a limpid, agile, unpretentious prose style, which save him from becoming insufferable ... a captivating portrait ... Realist to a point, Mr. Rips’s portrayal of the vendors is also romantic and charged with mysticism. In a series of arresting (if slightly precious) visual passages, he describes the effects on them of the garage’s dim but complicated light ... Their persuasiveness aside, these passages suffer from a stridency and stiff conventionality at odds with Mr. Rips’s style elsewhere, By turns academic and woo-woo, they lack the idiosyncrasy and minnow-like darting charm of the rest. As a flea-market philosopher Mr. Rips may see deeply, but his ideas need a different venue than this light-handed, delicate book ... a book at once full of life and freighted with death ... strikes home as an elegy for a grimy little pocket of commerce that sometimes seems, in Mr. Rips’s handling, a failing civilization in miniature.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMy purpose,\' Mr. Sisman writes, \'has been to entertain, not to instruct.\' In that he succeeds. The Professor and the Parson is no rival to Boswell’s Presumptuous Task or the rest of Mr. Sisman’s work, but it’s not meant to be—it’s a kind of amuse-bouche. As such, it demonstrates just how good Mr. Sisman is. Meticulously researched and flawlessly written, the book treats its obscure, contemptible subject with the same professionalism that Mr. Sisman brought to Trevor-Roper and the Boswell-Johnson relationship. If Peters seems a parody of the lecherous clergyman and the ruthless academic, Mr. Sisman is a model of the incorruptible biographer.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThese are sensational charges, and Ms. Secrest doesn’t make them calmly. Whereas her earlier chapters are engaging and tolerably well written, the last and longest—the book’s raison d’être—is a muddle, its flimsy theories spewed out in feverish prose ... Subscribing to a cartoonishly exaggerated view of American power in Italy, Ms. Secrest blames it for all Olivetti’s misfortunes ... [Secrest\'s] attempt to establish the Olivettis as victims of American villainy is doomed by her weakness for dietrologia, with its paranoia and Cold War clichés. It’s as if some dark puppet master menaced her with a poison gun.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"... a sumptuously illustrated, more or less coffee-table book about birds that is also—sometimes intentionally, more often accidentally—about the limitations of language and our stubborn fantasy of transcending them. It’s an odd production ... Crucially, Mr. Preston focuses not on birds in general but on a small number of species—21, to be exact ... In the wrong hands, this approach might have yielded 21 hodgepodges, but Mr. Preston uses it so deftly that each chapter is like the seductive arrangement of some clever Papuan bowerbird ... The book also boasts, not surprisingly, some very fine writing. Mr. Preston holds up his end with prose that is always meticulous and often a pleasure ... Not all Mr. Preston’s choices hit the mark, though. His taste in poetry is particularly erratic ... Cloying and grandiose though it sometimes is, As Kingfishers Catch Fire has the saving grace of warmth, intimacy and passion—it’s manifestly a labor of love.\
Patrick Leigh Fermor, Sel. and Ed. by Adam Sisman
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...a body of prose — travel books, mostly — radiant with his brilliance and unique experience but also with his exuberance and warmth ...his erudition and descriptive skill are balanced by simple likability — never, one feels, has so much riveting detail been so beautifully served up by such an irresistible person ... Like his travel books, it amounts largely to a gushing expression of pleasure in art, history, places and people, but it also gives glimpses of his battles with indolence and the toll they took ...Leigh Fermor’s letters are remarkably free of backbiting, bellyaching and other standard epistolary vices ... What’s more, to fully appreciate Leigh Fermor’s letters you need to be familiar with, or at least curious about, the circles he moved in ... Thanks to Mr. Sisman, readers everywhere can have (minus the furrowed brows and headaches) a similar experience, discovering how this wonderful man made sheets of stationery, like the pages of his incomparable travelogues, glow.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalIn the 20th century, it was successively occupied by three women who shaped it to their needs and used it to show off their status, their possessions or simply themselves. Judith Mackrell’s The Unfinished Palazzo is a biographical study of the trio ... Despite these limitations and small flaws, The Unfinished Palazzo is thoughtful, gracefully written and engaging ... Ms. Mackrell sidesteps this pitfall by focusing on one tiny part of the city. By book’s end, the complexly fated, much-altered Venier comes to seem a mirror of its occupants.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe Glamour of Strangeness, a splendid book marred only by its awkward title ... To label the book a biographical study would be to scant its originality. Shifting fluently from subject to subject, teasing out patterns but not pressing them too hard, bringing his own experience to bear in illuminating ways, Mr. James has written a book that defies easy classification and is completely at ease in its skin.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThat pattern, moreover, is a lovely thing. Exceptionally skillful at changing gears, Ms. Laing moves fluently between memoir, biography (not just of her principal cast but of a large supporting one), art criticism and the fruits of her immersion in 'loneliness studies.' Her phrasing has a chaste, lyric plangency apt to her topic. She writes about Darger and the rest with insight and empathy and about herself with a refreshing lack of exhibitionism...For all that, I regret to say I liked only the first two-thirds of the book. The different flavor of the last third stems from Ms. Laing’s wish to show that 'loneliness is . . . also political.'
Edmund de Waal
MixedThe Wall Street JournalPolyglot, steeped in art and literature and history, able to throw a pot and turn a sentence with equal skill, endlessly curious and stupendously diligent, aesthetic to his fingertips but also deeply moral, Mr. de Waal brings a lot to the table, and with The White Road he goes all in...The book itself is something vast out of porcelain, an eccentric, ungainly, one-off vessel, and it buckles like crazy. But crazy is the order of the day, so you understand.