RaveThe Wall Street JournalCaptivating ... One of the pleasures of this book is seeing him turn the cultural tables, as he uses Maugham’s biography for his own purposes and expertly skewers (not without sympathy) the myopic and privileged colonists ... His prose is elegant and sometimes exquisite, headily evoking the sights and sounds of a distant time and place ... The novel’s epilogue, which takes place in 1947, halfway around the world from Penang, wraps things up with a couple of big revelations. One of them hits the mark, but I found the other a little unsatisfying, as if Mr. Tan’s estimable powers of invention had temporarily flagged and he was in too much of a hurry to finish to revive them. I predict this gripe will fade in my mind over time and I’ll remember The House of Doors for its smart cross-cultural excursions and its indelible images.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWhen it comes to Pyle and the war, the book is very good. The reporter was a prolific letter-writer, and Mr. Chrisinger draws heavily and judiciously from Pyle’s correspondence with two close friends and with his wife ... The book is good as well on another big riddle: why, over the course of five years, Pyle kept going back into the breach.
Kathryn S. Olmsted
RaveWall Street JournalMs. Olmsted documents how, throughout the 1930s and even into the ’40s, these proprietors, who controlled both the editorial and news content of their papers, consistently and purposefully minimized the Nazi threat and opposed American or British intervention against it ... Although Ms. Olmsted explores fascinating alliances among the group...they were far from uniform in their positions or methods ... None of the other publishers were as blatantly pro-Nazi [as Rothermere], but Ms. Olmsted shows—through her industrious forays into and judicious use of the archives, correspondence and secondary literature—that all of them were racist and anti-Semitic ... The Newspaper Axis has a bit of the feel of a retroactive suspense story: As the aggressions of Germany, Italy and Japan continued through the decade, how long would it take for these owners to realize what was going on? A pretty long time, it turns out ... Although The Newspaper Axis is a first-rate work of history, it is also quite timely.
PositiveWall Street Journal[A] gracefully learned, often witty and enlightening, but sometimes trying book ... A phenomenon I believe most writers have experienced and which I call \'prophylactic prolixity\' [is a] reaction to the fear one might not have quite enough material to complete the book—article, book review, whatever—and the resulting tendency to overwrite until it’s clear the required length can be reached. Ideally, you then go back and trim ... As Index, A History of the helps us understand—Google is where two threads of index history cross ... It seems unfair that books rarely name the skilled and judicious professionals who compile their indexes. It will surprise no one that Mr. Duncan gives credit where credit is due, and that Paula Clarke Bain’s index for Index, besides being a model of the form, is full of jokes, Easter eggs, sadistic wild goose chases (or \'circular cross-references\'), and Hitchcockian cameos
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"Republic of Detours...shows that when a good writer meets a subject for which he or she has a passion, the result is almost always going to be fine, no matter that others have treated it before ... He’s excellent at character studies, offering fresh takes and material on familiar figures ... Mr. Borchert, a freelance writer and editor based in New Jersey, is a resourceful and indefatigable researcher, absorbing the capacious secondary literature and also plumbing the vast archival records of the Writers’ Project and emerging with choice morsels ... Another of Mr. Borchert’s proficiencies is his firm grasp of the always contentious and often convoluted politics of the time.
PanThe Wall Street Journal... at its best when Ms. McHugh is doing actual reporting ... But the high points are relatively rare, and when she ventures from the particular to the general the book suffers. The biggest problem, perhaps, is her overall lack of familiarity with the immense body of scholarship about many of the books and individuals and all of the themes she writes about. A basic principle of writing is that the more you know about a subject, the stronger your prose. Americanon shows the inverse to be true as well ... The clearest indication of her lack of assurance is her astonishing overuse of qualifiers ... Another principle of good writing is attentiveness to what you have written. Not being mindful leads to clunky rhythm, dodgy wording, cliches and mixed metaphors. Ms. McHugh is prone to all four but especially the last ... Any proficient editor could and should have red-flagged all those sentences and most of those \'arguably\'s, and I think it’s terrible that a first-time author has been left hanging out to dry in this way ... The question behind Americanon is valid and intriguing...But the legitimacy of the idea only makes the shortcomings of the writing more frustrating.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAll great editors have an eye for talent. After reading Citizen Reporters, I’m convinced that McClure had the greatest eye of all time ... Ms. Gorton appropriately and deftly structures her book as a dual biography ... doesn’t start auspiciously. There’s both a preface and a prologue, which is a little throat-cleary. Writing about the 1870s, she refers to Cornell as being in the Ivy League, a term that didn’t exist till the 1930s. Worst of all, she takes two separate occurrences and presents them as one composite scene. That isn’t an acceptable thing to do, least of all in a book about journalism, and her editor should have laid down the law ... However, as the book proceeds, one feels her gaining authority as a writer, and when she gets into the story proper, Citizen Reporters is solid, well-crafted and readable. It should be noted that much of the book traverses familiar ground, and Ms. Gorton’s notes cite many previous works. But she has also discovered letters and manuscripts from her subjects and effectively quotes them in the service of nuanced character portraits. Happily, none of her portraits are fuller than those of her principals, McClure and his creative other half, Tarbell.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThere are a lot of biographies of writers and editors, who leave a paper trail of primary material and tend to have strong supporting roles in the memoirs of other writers and editors. A business figure such as Nast provides more of a challenge. He was temperamentally self-effacing, and few of the tens of thousands of moves and decisions he made in his career are knowable. In telling his story, Ms. Ronald relies heavily on Edna Chase’s excellent memoir, Always in Vogue, and Caroline Seebohm ’s solid 1982 Nast biography, The Man Who Was Vogue. She doesn’t add a great deal to these works, with the exception of well-chosen quotations from a trove of letters Nast wrote late in his life to his (much younger) second wife, which are touching and revealing about, for example, the sting he felt from business setbacks ... The book isn’t helped by Ms. Ronald’s breezy writing. Breeziness is arguably a legitimate stylistic choice for a book about slick magazines. But the abundance of clichés in Condé Nast isn’t defensible ... Some sentences are case studies in what can happen when metaphors collide.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThe first line of [Treglow\'s] acknowledgments states: \'This is a study of John Hersey’s career, not a full biography.\' I imagine all the manuscripts, royalty statements and editorial back-and-forths on offer at Yale led him to that decision, but it generated a torque that seems to have directed him to library stalls and away from the wider world, to the detriment of the book ... It’s annoying when reviewers say authors should have written a different book from the one they produced. But I can’t resist saying that if Mr. Treglown wasn’t going to do a full-scale biography he might have been better off writing a critical study of Hersey. His close readings of the author’s work are credible and smart, and he’s especially insightful on the way they reflect the author’s character.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...Mr. Dreyer has a lot of useful information to impart ... One encounters wisdom and good sense on nearly every page of Dreyer’s English. The whole chapter on fiction should be bound and issued to all MFA students. But part of the fun of the book, for me, was silently yelling at Mr. Dreyer on this point or that and writing a big \'NO!\' in the margin ... Benjamin Dreyer has a style. It is playful, smart, self-conscious and personal, highlighted by admirable lines ... Sometimes, however, he crosses over into the Land of Twee ... But I’d hold my fire on the rest. After all, it’s his book.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalIts combination of shop talk, war stories, slices of autobiography, and priceless insights and lessons suggests what it must be like to occupy a seat in the McPhee classroom (but at a significantly lower sticker price) ... The McPhee-ites are partial to the natural world as a topic, especially as traversed by passionate and eccentric characters (again, usually male). And they find much to emulate in their paragon’s prose: the careful selection and presentation of gem-like facts unearthed from months or even years in the reporting mines, understated humor, a laser eye for the revealing detail, precise and often unexpected choice of words and long paragraphs with a sometimes wandering but always persistent rhythm, like one of the rivers Mr. McPhee is fond of navigating by towboat, canoe or raft. Those qualities are on full display in Draft No. 4 ... I was not uniformly charmed by Draft No. 4. Mr. McPhee is entranced by structure, and my eyes glazed over at his explanation of the recondite patterns underlying his pieces. His several pages on the computer program with which he writes is as about as interesting as you would expect several pages on a computer program with which a writer writes to be ... Assent, demur or file away for future reflection, Mr. McPhee’s observations about writing are always invigorating to engage with. And Draft No. 4 belongs on the short shelf of essential books about the craft.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewRosset died in 2012, at the age of 89. Work continued on the manuscript, but by the time it landed on Oakes’s desk, he reports, 'it had been pruned to death.' More editorial hands stirred the stew. The result, Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship, has the feel of a group project, with flashes of light and life, but too often is as prosaic and stiff as its subtitle ... His account of the successful and nearly decade-long effort [to publish Tropic of Cancer] — including Miller’s initial reluctance to publish in the United States, and Grove’s use of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a judicial stalking horse — is a valuable addition to the historical record ... Rosset has less to offer when it comes to the author’s personal life. It recounts his first marriage, to the painter Joan Mitchell, but subsequent wives — there were five in all — appear, minus introductions, as bit players in anecdotes.
MixedThe New York TImes Book Review\"In Sinatra—some 25 percent longer than Frank—Kaplan loses the \'genius and great artist\' ordering principle and offers a picaresque biography, with the slackness that adjective implies...[W]e move on to the next episode. Then the next. The result is useful as a reference work for all things Sinatra, not so much as a book even Sinatra enthusiasts would relish reading all the way through.\