PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... an important book, shedding light on people who are often depicted as caricatures, if they are depicted at all. Mr. Conover’s love of the land and the society are genuine, but—and there’s no way to avoid this—life here is a counterpoint to his life in New York with his wife and career. That’s a luxury not available to the residents of the Valley.
RaveWall Street JournalHarrison is almost the textbook example of a belletrist—someone who writes essays more for their aesthetic effect than anything else ... But there’s a deep spirit of generosity and a sense of mortality here that makes you let such things pass ... He’s never purposefully opaque. It just comes out that way sometimes. There are gems throughout his writing and seldom any warning when one is about to pop up ... He writes most expansively in the first half of the book, where something as mundane as the discovery, while hunting, of a pair of blue panties lying in the grass rouses him to insights about beauty ... In tracing his own appetites, Harrison comes to grips with life and concludes that the best you can do is live it voraciously.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... the story of Watkins’s short life, his uncanny ability as a leader and his mysterious death moves quickly, unfolding almost like a thriller ... In a rare misstep, Roberts—who wrote 30 books on mountaineering, exploration and anthropology before he died in 2021—tells us that \'the question of Gino’s sexuality, though peripheral to his exploratory achievements, cannot be entirely ignored.\' Why not? In any case, none of it mattered ... In the end, Roberts illuminates but does not solve the mystery of Watkins’s affinity for leadership.
Jack E. Davis
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... an impressive work of scholarship by Mr. Davis ... The notes alone run to 20 pages of small type. Mr. Davis succeeds in making the history of the bird accessible to general readers ... At the same time, there are parts of it that read like a textbook. The 30-page chapter on how the eagle made it onto the national seal—a process that involved three congressional committees, nine delegates, three artists and a consultant —provides more detail than you may want. The same goes for the chapter on the history of the bald in early science. But if you have any questions about our national bird, Mr. Davis’s The Bald Eagle is a great place to look for answers.
PanThe Wall Street JournalThe story of the expedition has the elements of a good thriller—desperate characters, hidden tunnels, an ancient code, and intrigues among the treasure hunters themselves—and aims for a cinematic feel ... Mr. Ricca has done extensive research (there are 29 pages of end notes). But he never manages to make the story gel. Part of the difficulty stems from his disjointed narrative. His many-sided approach jumps back and forth between different characters and between different time periods, recounting what is going on in the moment but seldom pulling back to offer a wider perspective. Too much of the book is taken up with nose-to-the-wall descriptions of digging by candlelight in various exotic caves—the Virgin’s Fountain, Warren’s Shaft, the Pool of Siloam. After a while, one dark, wet, claustrophobic underground chamber starts to resemble the next. At a time when the news brings a succession of stories about Western museums repatriating objects to various countries in Africa and Asia, the depiction of a group of wealthy Europeans intent on taking the Ark home exerts only a limited claim on the reader’s sympathies. Then there are the characters themselves. With the notable exception of Father Vincent, it’s hard to root for any of them ... The story doesn’t so much conclude as run out of steam.
Rex Bowman and Carlos Santos
PositiveWall Street JournalBowman and Santos [are] both former journalists who know how to tell a story ... owman and Santos sometimes seem to argue that Farson’s reporting and books deserve to be better remembered. But they also realize that journalism is ephemeral, as are journalists themselves. One review said that Farson’s writing lacked the \'interiority\' of Hemingway’s prose. That sounded convincing until I realized that I have no idea what that means ... Bowman and Santos question whether his lack of enduring fame would have bothered him. They conclude not. Negley Farson had grabbed his existence as few men ever do—with both hands—and squeezed it for every drop.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal[Kurlansky\'s] latest, The Unreasonable Virtue of Fly Fishing, is on a subject that is clearly dear to his heart. The book offers fascinating chapters on the history of fly fishing and tackle—flies, rods, reels, lines, even waders ... The fishing trivia Mr. Kurlansky cites is often marvelous ... The author is keenly aware of how fly fishing constantly mingles art and absurdity ... Still, you get the feeling that Mr. Kurlansky expected this book not to have the same mass appeal as some of his other titles. Unreasonable Virtue is a solid, workman-like effort, but its author isn’t swinging for the fences. The parts in which Mr. Kurlansky philosophizes and recalls the rivers he has fished—which make up nearly half the book—lose any narrative thread and can be a bit of a slog.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Gierach is arguably the best fishing writer working. Like all of his books, his new one is a collection of informal narrative essays about fly-fishing—but only loosely. Fly-fishing is merely the lens through which he regards what William James called the \'human core\' ... There is a wonderful honesty and restraint in Mr. Gierach’s writing. In situations that a lesser writer might have milked for dramatic effect, Mr. Gierach pulls his punches elegantly ... In each instance, I had the sense that a lesser writer would have striven for—and failed to achieve—a greater effect. There’s no exaggeration or grandiosity here. Mr. Gierach never tries to wow you. He knows that less is more.