MixedThe New YorkerPolitics change like the weather, and this era of falling atmospheric pressure is nicely captured in Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century ... In the early years of the Catholic Worker Movement, Day joked that she wrote down how much money came in and how much money went out but never reconciled the two columns—which is more or less how she lived her life. Unfortunately, it also more or less describes Loughery and Randolph’s biography: a comprehensive, chronological account that never arrives at a meaningful summation of the life it chronicles. It doesn’t go much beyond what has been written before[.]
Benjamin E. Park
PositiveThe New YorkerPark’s book is a compelling history, built from contemporaneous accounts and from the previously unreleased minutes of the Council of Fifty, a governing body of sorts that Smith convened in Nauvoo, Illinois, when he was feeling besieged by his enemies and anticipating the Second Coming of Christ ... Park’s access to these minutes is part of what makes Kingdom of Nauvoo so illuminating.
Kerri K. Greenidge
PositiveThe New Yorker[Trotter\'s] legacy presents a challenge to those who seek change today: is compromise a necessary evil of any social movement, or is it the original sin of collective action? ... One of the most satisfying accomplishments of Black Radical is the way that Greenidge situates Trotter’s biography in the broader story of liberal New England.
MixedThe New YorkerHow many biographers does it take to change a light bulb? Who knows, but it takes only one to change a narrative. Every decade or so, for a century now, a new book about Edison has appeared, promising to explain his genius or, more recently, to explain it away ... The delight of Edmund Morris’s Edison is that, instead of arguing with earlier writers or debating the terms of genius, it focusses on the phenomenological impact of Edison’s work. He tries to return readers to the technological revolutions of the past, to capture how magical this wizard’s work really felt. He reminds us that there was a time when a five-second kinetoscopic record of a man sneezing was just about the most astonishing thing anyone had ever seen; people watched it over and over again, like a nineteenth-century TikTok ... Even if you make your peace with [the] reverse narration—which, to be honest, I did, partly because Edison feels so much like a time traveller—Edison is still a frustrating book. It contains little new material, good prose but far too much of it, and no novel argument or fresh angle to motivate such an exhaustive return to an already storied life ... Every person is elusive in one way or another, sometimes even unto herself, but it is possible to confront those inner mysteries in a biography without resorting to fabrications or gimmicks. It’s a lesson Morris could have learned from Edison: sometimes, what’s called for isn’t invention but perfection.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewWall’s book is more satisfying as a novel of marriage than of religion. The horizontal relationships are far more realized than the vertical ones, and The Dearly Beloved is most compelling on romance, friendship and familial love ... some of the most stirring scenes in The Dearly Beloved are the ones that dramatize the love one spouse feels for another or that parents feel for their children ... Love as knowledge, love as presence: These human loves are beautifully brought to life in The Dearly Beloved, but they don’t come together as explications of holiness. Wall goes out of her way to build religion into the structure of her novel, but you don’t need to set a book in a garden to tell a story about the Fall, or have clergymen for characters to write about how God acts in the world. Many believers go to church to remember that the universe is wide and the moral universe is widening; it’s a pity when a novel goes there, but never leaves.
PanThe New Yorker\"Traister focusses on isolated episodes of anger among progressive women of various races, classes, and eras, while failing to adequately reckon with crucial differences among the circumstances that provoked their anger and the ways in which they chose to respond to it. But those aren’t superficial differences. They are critical distinctions that lead some angry women to be applauded while others are attacked, and that lead many rebellions to fail while only a few revolutions succeed ... This failure to parse politically inconvenient anger is, as Ogden Nash once put it, \'a notable feat / of one-way thinking on a two-way street.\'”
RaveThe New Yorker\"The [book\'s] result is both relentless and revelatory ... Chemaly deftly balances these statistics with grim stories to illustrate them, so that the cumulative effect of reading her book is not merely to legitimize women’s anger but to render it astonishing that we are not even angrier.\
RaveThe New RepublicMarilynne Robinson is one of the great religious novelists, not only of our age, but any age … Robinson is fearless: even where the plot is stormy, her prose is serene. Not even gorgeous is a strong enough word for what grandeur charges the pages of Lila … Lila is a love story, most obviously between Lila and Rev. Ames, who marry and have a child, but most powerfully between Lila and the Lord, who meet and separate, hide from and seek one another. The convert poses queries to God, and also God’s servant, and the shortage of answers draws her closer to both.