RaveWall Street JournalNancy Mitford, fills in many of the blanks that Bedford, basically a reticent person, left even when writing obliquely of herself and a wide circle that included Martha Gellhorn and Thomas Mann. Gracefully written, largely sympathetic and very gossipy, Sybille Bedford: A Life takes as its point of departure Bedford’s quip to an interviewer: \'I wish I’d written more books and spent less time being in love. It’s very difficult doing both at the same time.\' ... More a reporter than an interpreter, Ms. Hastings avoids assigning motives, though she rightly acknowledges Bedford’s remarkable gift for friendship.
PositiveWall Street JournalSuggesting that thankfulness is a state of mind as nourishing as any feast, sh[Kieman]declares grace isn’t something we say but bestow: it’s an \'active choice.\' In fact, many psychiatrists and neuroscientists, she asserts, believe \'gratitude practice\' good for body and soul. Yet though she summarizes some of the ancient religious and secular customs associated with various thanksgiving observations, she’s writing mostly of the peculiarly American feast, established nationally during the upheaval of the Civil War and proclaimed only weeks before Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg.
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[.]
Nicholas A Basbanes
MixedThe New York Review of BooksWhitman is regrettably absent from Basbanes’s pages, although the two authors met ... Basbanes frequently interrupts his account of Longfellow’s life to catalog the furnishings in the Longfellow homestead ... Basbanes repeatedly draws attention to his research. He rummaged through the Longfellow House storage vaults and found a child’s pair of scuffed shoes, two portable traveling desks with folding tops, and a cast of the hand of the Swedish writer Fredrika Bremer ... There’s a certain charm to these numerous if distracting digressions. But the man who was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, apart from the cocoon of memorabilia and affection spun about him, remains something of a mystery ... As Basbanes perceptively suggests, Dante allowed Longfellow to articulate feelings that otherwise seemed too intimate or distressing[.]
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.