MixedThe New York Times Book Review... [an] admiring new biography ... To Souder...anger was the novelist’s full-throated response to injustice, and it \'had driven him to greatness.\' Yet to the reader Steinbeck seems less angry than shy, driven and occasionally cruel—an insecure, talented and largely uninteresting man who blunted those insecurities by writing. Souder’s sympathy for Steinbeck (and Ricketts) is most effective and eloquent in his depiction of the California landscape or of the sea ... Yet he recoils at Steinbeck’s machismo and disregard for the feelings of most women (except his third wife, Elaine) ... the biographer also balks at Steinbeck’s treatment of his sons[.]
J. D. Dickey
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksDickey’s subject isn’t really Trump or demagoguery per se. Rather, he tells us in graceful prose how eighteenth-century American evangelists held their audiences spellbound with invective, histrionics, bellicosity, and divisiveness—the same techniques employed by one demagogue after another ... Though respectful, Dickey appears less impressed by skeptics such as Chauncy than by Whitefield’s presumed sincerity—and by other radical American evangelists whose exploits, or antics, he recounts at length ... A masterful synthesizer of secondary scholarship, Dickey ends his book with a postscript that turns our attention back to the matter of populism, his real subject (not demagoguery or Donald Trump). As he wrote in the first pages of his book, his intention has been to \'explain the Great Awakening through the lens of populism.\' Stoked often by resentment at a status quo regarded as hidebound, elitist, or institutionalist, populism encompasses ideologies of the right as well as the left, though Dickey highlights the salutary implications. For whatever its excesses, the particular brand of revivalist populism he chronicles may resonate today...
Amy S Greenberg
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"... intriguing ... Unlike social history, though, biography concerns itself with the individual and her idiosyncrasies: that is, how a single subject is unlike the crowd. As a result, an element of defensiveness occasionally creeps into Greenberg’s prose, particularly regarding her many speculations or frequent use of \'may have\' ... Greenberg’s excellent chapters on Polk’s alliances during and after the Civil War reveal the fault lines in the first lady’s character without defensiveness or hyperbole: Sarah Polk, a lady first, unquestionably wielded her unequal status with a velvet vengeance.\
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIn 1898, 12 years after the death of Emily Dickinson, an intrepid woman named Mabel Loomis Todd (1856-1932) stashed a huge trove of Dickinson manuscripts, including 655 poems, into a camphorwood chest. That chest stayed locked for more than 30 years, when Mabel Todd instructed her daughter, Millicent (1880-1968), to open it. How Mrs. Todd came to possess that pile of Dickinson material is a story rivaling any old-fashioned Victorian bodice-ripper. And happily it’s the subject of Julie Dobrow’s long overdue study, \'After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet.”\' ... At the end of her book, Ms. Dobrow wonders what Mabel and Millicent would think of her good work. Doubtless, they’d be very pleased.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewTo narrate the travails of this Mississippi-born Confederate mistress in 2018 is far from easy, so Frazier leaps what might have been an insurmountable narrative hurdle with a widower named James Blake. A middle-aged black man, he calls on Varina Davis just a few months before her death ... As the novel’s moral center, James Blake presumably allows the reader to admire this complex woman or at least hope that her empathetic imagination may not be as deficient as, say, that of her husband ... James Blake is thus heavily tasked as the black man come to instruct as well as to learn ...The flight of Varina and her motley caravan from Richmond is beautifully rendered ... Beautifully rendered, too, is Frazier’s chronicle of Varina’s youth ... Blake ... a didactic interlocutor — more catalyst than realized human being, more reflector than protagonist — does not and likely cannot counterbalance the empire of slavery Varina represents. Still, thanks to Frazier’s delicate ventriloquism, Varina Davis becomes a marvelously fallible character, complicated enough to stand on her compromised own.
RaveThe New RepublicThe idea of home is a principle, a rallying cry, an ideal; and it’s one of the adroit symbols organizing Richard White’s The Republic for Which It Stands, a sweeping new history of the three teeming decades known as American Reconstruction and the Gilded Age … The Republic for Which It Stands demonstrates White’s subtle understanding of a period that may once have been regarded as ‘historical flyover country’—and of the American West … From a certain point of view, White’s history is also a history of Republicanism. One of the many merits of his book is his careful delineation of the underlying tensions in the party of Abraham Lincoln after the Civil War … White’s Gilded Age chronicle comes to its close as he returns to the image of Abraham Lincoln, whose sudden death in 1865 inaugurated the period. By the end of the nineteenth century, the country no longer belonged to Lincoln.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...provides the most sweeping indictment to date of the American appetite for conquest ... Hahn describes how the American nation colonized native peoples within its own borders by deploying military and paramilitary groups — hired guns and organized lynch parties — to defeat the 'oppositional movements' he admires ... His assessments are cogent but quick. That is the downside of an ambitious single volume that spans 80 years of nettlesome history and runs to over 500 pages.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalAlthough he salts his prose carefully with 'must haves,' Mr. Shelden makes liberal use of the few inscriptions or pencilings in books that Melville gave Morewood ... Though Mr. Shelden writes well and has constructed an imaginative tale, in the final analysis his theory remains unconvincing.
Anne Boyd Rioux
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review[Rioux] resurrects her subject as a pioneering author who chose a literary career over the more conventional options of marriage and motherhood, a choice made in spite of the debilitating depressions that plagued her and her family ... Appreciating Woolson as more than the smitten confidante of Henry James is laudable, though Rioux might also have considered James’s negative effect on Woolson’s later, flatter work.