PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt is no slight to King Richard to say that it doesn’t bristle with shocking new revelations or challenge familiar understandings of Nixon and Watergate. It’s what historians call a work of synthesis — a blending of years of others’ journalism and scholarship with one’s own research to create a reliable and authoritative overview for our times. Within those limits, it succeeds admirably. Dobbs has a talent for you-are-there description ... he uses novelistic techniques that make his story vivid and fun ... One slightly puzzling decision is Dobbs’s choice to narrate only the 100 days between Nixon’s second inaugural, in January 1973, and the fateful date of April 30, when Nixon purged four of his senior-most White House conspirators to try to save his presidency ... The only other false note worth flagging in King Richard is the idea, hinted at in the subtitle and the section headings alluding to Greek drama (\'hubris,\' \'catharsis\'), that Nixon’s fate was tragic.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe book is an easy read and contains a number of insights — though it’s still a quickie book ... Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now recaps a lot of what people who’ve been following the campaign already know ... Joe Biden ably takes the measure of the man and the politician, presenting a picture of the Democratic nominee that is in a few ways unexpected ... Osnos also makes a point of granting the sincerity of Biden’s appeals to unity — both party unity and national unity ... Osnos doesn’t dismiss the prospect of a legislatively productive Biden presidency altogether. He points out that Biden’s fluency in the language of moderates could make it easier for him than it was for Obama to build a consensus behind a liberal agenda.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewJonathan Alter’s important, fair-minded, highly readable contribution to this literature provides not just an authoritative introduction to Carter’s feats and failures but also insight into why a man of such intelligence, drive and noble intentions floundered in the White House as haplessly as he did ... In his preface, Alter promises to advance a revisionist brief for Carter’s presidency. And he has some persuasive evidence ... But the book is no apologia. It exposes Carter’s weaknesses as well as his undervalued strengths, his reverberating failures as well as his unsung triumphs. Above all, it shows how the qualities that propelled Carter to the pinnacle of American politics also kept him from rising to his historical moment ... Ironically, when the book hits its narrative stride, it is largely a chronicle of defeat and drift. Alter’s most gripping sections detail such unhappy stories as the hostage saga ... Alter digs up forgotten details that make Carter’s travails even more excruciating than we might recall ... On Carter’s post-presidency, Alter is also provocatively revisionist.
MixedThe Washington Post... [a] slight, breezy book with lots of brief chapters (sometimes just two pages), lots of pictures, lots of anecdotes, and little use for footnotes, bibliographies or other scholarly apparatus that might deter the casual reader...provide[s] a flavor of what it was like to live through those heady, fearful, historic days.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... an excellent introduction not only to the man’s tenure as mayor but also to his rise as a Wall Street trader, technology innovator and media magnate (and, less remarkably, his post-mayoralty). Had he run for president this year, the book would have found a place on every political junkie’s shelf ... Brisk and engaging, The Many Lives is more journalistic than novelistic. Randolph prefers covering policy to building suspense or exploring character ... Randolph doesn’t hold back from discussing Bloomberg’s failures.
MixedThe Washington PostCaro is not exactly partial to verbal economy. His books are famous, or infamous, for running on profusely — not just because of the sheer mass of his research but also because of his overflowing literary style ... [I]f Caro’s personalities are multidimensional, they’re nonetheless overdrawn in a way that sows a nagging distrust. At any moment, he showcases only one element of Johnson (or of RFK, or of other characters); typically, it is a portrait of an extreme ... Like Johnson, Caro is capable of magnificence but inconsistent in its application, often wondrous to behold but also maddening ... The LBJ that Caro gives us is not an inaccurate portrait, but it’s certainly a subjective one — an idiosyncratic expression of Caro’s own sensibility ... There is both triumph and tragedy in the work of Caro. For all his prodigious research, painstaking reconstructions and carefully placed semicolons, he hasn’t given us a life of Johnson that will garner those verbal laurels \'authoritative\' and \'definitive\' that many biographers crave. But it is precisely because of Caro’s marvelously distinctive, proudly personalized method that he cannot give us such a work.
Doris Kearns Goodwin
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWritten in the companionable prose that makes Goodwin’s books surefire best sellers, Leadership: In Turbulent Times recounts the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson ... Readers of presidential biography will know these stories, but newcomers may not — and in any case Goodwin is telling them not for their own sake but to establish certain key ingredients of skillful democratic leadership ... It is therefore to Goodwin’s credit that she teases out the variety and peculiarities among the four presidents. Despite the overarching steeled-by-adversity template into which she wedges these stories, each retains its own intrinsic drama ... Leadership: In Turbulent Times is most absorbing when Goodwin resists the urge to glean pat lessons or rules from the past and allows herself to savor the stubborn singularity of each moment or personality ... In contrast, when Goodwin gets to her section on the four presidents’ emergency leadership, which should be the book’s pièce de résistance, she succumbs to the leadership genre’s vocabulary of self-help bromides and bullet-point banalities ... Still, it would be unfair to deny the value in thinking collectively about these four presidents, especially in these dark times.
MixedThe Washington PostHad Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election and then built on Obama’s achievements, Pfeiffer’s unspectacular, jokey apologia might have gone down easy—a champagne flute of fizzy recollections. But with so many people waking each day to read the news with fear and loathing, the book’s flamboyantly wacky tone and dearth of interesting disclosures will, I imagine, encourage most readers right now to pass it over ... The book is full of the standard set pieces of the campaign-memoir genre: the ritual self-deprecation; the lucky breaks and twists of fate; the tales of early flubs, boners and fiascoes that our hero thought would ruin his career but can now be safely recounted. There’s little here, though, that sheds light on an important question lurking within its pages: How did the same country that elected its first black president, a man who reflexively appealed to the better angels of our nature, then proceed to choose its first president without any political experience or commitments, who appeals ceaselessly to our basest selves? ... But it’s not without its moments.
MixedPortland Press HeraldYes We (Still) Can, a breezy memoir by former Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer, is a victim of bad timing. Had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election and then built on Obama’s achievements, Pfeiffer’s unspectacular, jokey apologia might have gone down easy – a champagne flute of fizzy recollections … Fans of Pfeiffer’s podcast, ‘Pod Save America,’ may still revel in the book’s affected sitcom zaniness … There’s little here, though, that sheds light on an important question lurking within its pages: How did the same country that elected its first black president…then proceed to choose its first president without any political experience or commitments, who appeals ceaselessly to our basest selves? … Yes We (Still) Can won’t take its place with the memoirs of men like Leon Panetta and Robert Gates as vital references for historians of the Obama presidency. But it’s not without its moments … Toward the end of the book, Pfeiffer, having departed the White House in 2015, returns for a final visit after Trump’s election. Plaintively, he looks at his former boss for a reed of hope to cling to, only to have the president reply, with his well-known deadpan understatement, ‘Look, this isn’t an ideal situation to say the least.’ They both laughed. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewTo distinguish this book, Burns and Novick, in their introduction, proclaim their intention to do what few have done: recount the war from not just the American viewpoint but from that of the North and South Vietnamese too. This intention is laudable...In the end, though, apart from a few sections — including an oddly starry-eyed sketch of Ho Chi Minh — Ward pursues this goal of a multinational account in only a desultory, sporadic way ... Once again, the personal testimonies effectively capture the ground-level experience of the conflict. Memorable vignettes and arresting details abound...And yet to those who’ve read in the existing literature, many of these soldiers’ stories will sound awfully familiar ... Undercutting the narrative thrust further is the layout — sumptuous to behold but unfriendly to readers. The main text is laced through a gallimaufry of maps, photos, captions and sidebars, and rendered mostly in flat prose. The result is a coffee-table book aspiring to be a history book that reads like a textbook ... One highlight of the book is the five brief stand-alone essays that seek to examine a single question about the war in depth ... If The Vietnam War falls short as scholarly or even bedside reading, though, it remains a vivid and often captivating volume — and, construed literally as a companion to the television series, a valuable resource.
Jean Edward Smith
PositiveThe Washington PostWritten in sober, smooth, snark-free prose, with an air of thoughtful, detached authority, the book is nonetheless exceedingly damning in its judgments about George W. Bush’s years in office ... Smith’s deft synthesis mainly rests on information gleaned from the library of first-wave accounts ... In a few places, Smith draws uncritically from questionable sources but overall Bush reads as authoritative and trustworthy ... Smith ably crystallizes and confirms the prevailing understandings of the Bush presidency rather than forcing a reappraisal.