MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewAbout Shakespeare we famously possess a small, precious handful of facts. In her encyclopedic new biography Hermione Lee seems to provide several million about Tom Stoppard. She greets us, rather forebodingly, with a genealogical tree, as if the extended Stoppard family were a medieval royal house. The book’s chapter heads tease us with delicious epigraphs, but to find the sources of those quotes you have to flip to the back and ransack the microscopic endnotes. These are quibbles. The lack of an editor’s blue pencil is not. In the course of 750 pages of text we get not only detailed play sources, production histories and migraine-inducing plot summaries (one of them eight pages long), but seemingly everything Stoppard ever wore and every room in every house he ever bought and every \'posh\' friend he ever made ... Tom Stoppard is every bit as informed and intelligent as any Stoppard play. If only it were as pointed or as agile. Stoppard himself, dodging puckishly, seems to get lost amid the facts.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... terrific ... If Jill Lepore and the late Tony Judt had collaborated, this taut, swift and insightful tract might have been the offspring. Yet Shapiro’s subtitle is misleading: His subject is us, the U.S., not Shakespeare plays. If you’re worried about the current state of the Republic, this is a book that will stoke your fears — while educating you on why you might justifiably be having them ... The 1998 chapter is worth the price of the book alone ... Shapiro’s book is history, but not past history. It’s ongoing and all too painfully still-relevant history. As he bounces back and forth between 1833 or 1916 and today, the similarities between Then and Now overwhelm the differences and Shapiro’s title resonates anew, reminding us how divided we’ve been since our very beginnings, with historical-tragical constantly muscling out pastoral-comical ... Among all the fine words currently being spilled examining the American mess, James Shapiro has outshone many of our best political pundits with this superb contribution to the discourse. He upped the wattage simply by bouncing his spotlight off a playwright 400 years dead who yet again turns out to be, somehow, us.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"Like the two earlier miscellanies, this volume is Boswellian in its devotion to its subject and in its near-biblical bulk ... Luckily for all of us, Bennett was born with the gift for style that’s been the genetic inheritance of English writers from Jonathan Swift through George Orwell. In spite of age, he still writes with the bite and vigor of a young man ... If you’re not already an Alan Bennett follower, Keeping On Keeping On is not the best place to jump in. There are, as he fears, too many churches visited, too many antique shops, too many meals, and simply too much diary ... Still, there are writers we turn to with almost religious gratitude and Alan Bennett, for many people, is one. In an age of amnesia, he knows and honors the past. In a civilization ruined by cellphones and flip-flops, he is ink and paper, corduroy and tweed. In a world running on ignorance, he’s well read, thoughtful and informed on any number of topics.\