RaveWall Street Journal[A] thoroughly and gruesomely entertaining biography ... Alex Danchev died before he could write his final chapter. His manuscript was ably finished by Elizabeth Whitfield. All this befits their subject. This is a fascinating biography of an artist by Alex Danchev, this is not by Alex Danchev; this is fascinating as biography, but not because of the art.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalA time capsule from the last days of a posh and largely gay Ruritania, and a primer on the interwar glory days of English modernism, the book is a self-knowing account of Mr. Vickers’s ascent from outsider to insider ... Names are dropped as carefully as cigarette ash: Diana Vreeland, Princess Grace, Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn. But it’s the supporting cast that really creates this madcap social history. As Simon Heffer did with his annotations to the diaries of the Anglo-American sybarite and politician Chips Channon, Mr. Vickers supplies another pleasure of a lost age, the footnote ... When Mr. Vickers has his eye to the keyhole, we see a secret panorama.
David Hockney and Martin Gayford
RaveThe Wall Street JournalSpring Cannot be Cancelled is Mr. Gayford’s warm, intelligent and quietly inspiring report on what Mr. Hockney has been up to. It’s also a memoir of love in the time of Covid: of friendship and a shared passion for art ... Spring Cannot Be Cancelled is full of such insights, and all the more enjoyable for being related in the tone of two friends enjoying a long-distance glass of wine. The dialogue, apparently simple but actually highly sophisticated, could not have occurred between any other friends.
Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Stevens and Ms. Swan might, like Bacon’s friends, share a tendency to confuse the man with the art—like Oscar Wilde, Bacon was his own best work—but they bring a sober eye and an organizing mind to Bacon’s \'gilded gutter life.\' As in their acclaimed \'de Kooning,\' the authors frame their subject and his work as a portrait of the age ... The authors excel at illustrating his formation—Bacon destroyed almost all his early work—his manipulation of his image and value, and his helpless gambling in the power games of love. He believed in beauty and tragedy, and he got and gave both. His long romances with violent lovers like Peter Lacy, the alcoholic ex-RAF pilot who beat him savagely, and George Dyer, the petty thief who died by suicide in a hotel bathroom in 1971 on the eve of Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais, were tormented and cruel ... But this was who Bacon was, and who he was determined to be ... The paintings that emerged from the suffering and destruction are the spiritual testament of a Wilde man in an age when hope in humanity had been exposed as a cruel and gory joke. Bacon had the Regency gentleman’s contempt for public opinion, but his figures are alone and abused, shamed and exposed, their faces broken by the slash of the brush. The hand that held it was tremulous with fear, desire and drink, and that was his signature. His talent was protean. Had he been trained, he would have been a better draftsman, with the technical skill to integrate his figures and their backgrounds. But he would have been a worse painter.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal[A] dramatic, detailed and eccentric-packed story of the century between the decoding of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 ... as Toby Wilkinson shows, the discovery of lost monuments, grave goods and mummified corpses also stimulated the emergence of their true inheritors, the modern Egyptian nation.
RaveThe Literary Review (UK)One Two Three Four begins and ends with Paul McCartney counting in the band on stage at the Cavern Club in 1961. In between is a brilliantly executed study of cultural time, social space and the madness of fame ... All the episodes of the sacred biography are here, and most are devastated by Brown’s expert shuffling of perspectives ... The exceptional strangeness of The Beatles reflects the ordinary oddity of real life. One Two Three Four, by putting The Beatles in their place as well as their time, is by far the best book anyone has written about them and the closest we can get to the truth.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... witty and informative ... When Ms. Groskop wrote a weekly commentary for the Guardian on the Poldark television series, her columns were more entertaining than their subject. Here, too, she steals the show from her ostensible subject, using ironic autobiography and solid scholarship to guide us into the steamy territory of modern French letters ... a vividly personal Gallic gallimaufry ... The richness of French literature means that some heavy hitters are missing. It might be unfortunate that we meet Gustave Flaubert but not Jules Verne, and Victor Hugo but not Émile Zola ... Ms. Groskop always goes for the joke, but Au Revoir, Tristesse abounds in fascinating details that reflect deep learning and real enthusiasm ... Ms. Groskop is a skilled raconteuse who brings people—and the page—to life. She writes with a self-deprecating appreciation of the Frenchman or -woman manqué(e) that lurks in us all. You don’t have to be a savant to enjoy this book, though a little schoolroom French will go a long way. And Au Revoir, Tristesse will make a witty, seductive companion should you find yourself unaccountably alone between 4 and 6 in the afternoon.
Roberto Calasso, Trans. By Richard Dixon
PositiveThe SpectatorCalasso is elliptical, allusive and dazzlingly eclectic. We might expect to encounter Darwin, dispensing the final cut to the animal past as human history, but not Beatrix Potter, for the further powerplay of swathing the animals in human garb and sentiment. Like Marsilio Ficino’s 15th-century attempt to revive Plato’s academy at Florence, The Celestial Hunter is ‘an initiation through the book’, speculative but capable of changing how you see things.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... detailed, enthusiastic and absorbing ... Mr. Gopnik expertly traces Warhol’s technical and intellectual roots to his studies in painting and illustration at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology ... laudable if not impressive detail.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... thrilling and tragic ... Mr. Lebrecht expertly explores the Jewishness of Marx and Mendelssohn ... Unlike many popular historians, Mr. Lebrecht gives equal space to Jewish counter-movements, with accessible accounts of the splitting of Ashkenazi Judaism and of the birth of Zionism ... Mr. Lebrecht is especially good on the ironies and chain-reaction intimacies that make a people and a past ... Mr. Lebrecht writes in the present continuous tense, placing readers in a dynamic drama and emphasizing that the future was always unwritten ... Mr. Lebrecht has written a lament for a lost world and a celebration of human endurance and the religious imagination.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... gossipy, enthralling and sometimes appalling ... Along with all sorts of biographical detail, this book captures the age in which Freud lived during the first half of his long life, perhaps so well that the broader cultural portrait comes close to eclipsing its principal subject. Still, he is never far from view ... Though Mr. Feaver’s chronicle drops more names than a misplaced phone book, Freud’s nasty charm is addictive and irresistible ... One could say that The Restless Years, with its vivid anecdotes and rakish candor, is a kind of collaboration between Freud and Mr. Feaver—an amalgam of two kinds of 20th-century confessional: the diaries of European disintegration, like those of Count Harry Kessler or Victor Klemperer ; and the very English social diaries of Chips Channon or Alan Clarke. This was the double nature of Freud’s life.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... entertaining ... Like Mr. Lowe, Will Birch is a pub-rock veteran and ex-producer. He is casually expert in the way of those rare music writers who can both play music and write, and his account of life on the road is brutally and comically frank. He likes his subject as a friend, but then, it’s hard not to like a legend who, hearing he’s been offered a spot at a jazz festival in west London, says, \'Lovely . . . I can get there on the bus.\'
Roberto Calasso, Trans. by Richard Dixon
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalLike its predecessors, The Unnamable Present...is aphoristic in exposition, allusive in interpretation and uncompromising in erudition ... Mr. Calasso is not a lecturer or a literalist. He does not write straightforwardly, but shuffles between ideas and episodes, treating all thought as contemporaneous. He handles the events of the past with the reverence of a priest, rather than the dispassion of a historian. Material facts are the tangible aspect of hidden truths ... In Mr. Calasso’s cosmology of ritual and repetition, even those who remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
Ernst Jünger, Trans. by Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J. Hansen
RaveThe Wall Street JournalJünger’s war diaries, translated here with damning clarity by Thomas and Abby Hansen, are a fascinating, refined and disturbing record of the moral disasters of Nazism and collaboration ... Jünger’s aesthetic sensibility is so refined that he seems insensate to his surroundings ... A diary is always written to be read. Jünger, conscious of his fame and position, wrote with posterity in mind. A fellow-traveler on the road to murder, he describes the microcosm of collaboration, but casts a pall of mystical speculation over the chains of command and guilt.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalHelp!, by the Duke University musicologist Thomas Brothers, is a historically masterly and musically literate unraveling of some of the most-admired credits in 20th-century popular music: the compositions of Duke Ellington and the Beatles.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"As Tim Mohr’s original and inspiring Burning Down the Haus shows, music could make all the difference in the world ... Yet Burning Down the Haus is more than an exciting yarn. Mr. Mohr has written an important work of Cold War cultural history, and his first-hand interviews are invaluable evidence.\
RaveThe Wall Street JournalAs he traces London’s art scene from the 1940s to the 1970s, the configuration of friends and rivals he presents is as lucid as a family tree. Filled with vivid anecdotes that might have otherwise disappeared into the Soho air, Modernists & Mavericks is Mr. Gayford’s masterpiece, and a major work of modern art history ... Mr. Gayford identifies a common thread of \'idiosyncratic accommodations\'—to the history of art, to photography, to war and its aftermath, to Romantic Paris and the romance of postwar London. He also detects a common pursuit of what Freud called \'art that is in some way concerned with truth\'—an effort to produce painting that, in Mr. Gayford’s words, \'felt like reality without imitating it.\'
Andrew Lloyd Webber
RaveThe Wall Street JournalUnmasked is Mr. Lloyd Webber’s charmingly idiosyncratic, surprisingly endearing and ruthlessly entertaining autobiography. It is customary to compare great musical autobiographies to the Memoirs of Berlioz, but Unmasked is much more fun ... Like the author’s music, his memoir is irresistible. Mr. Lloyd Webber sounds like himself on the page; this, like writing show tunes, is more difficult than it may appear. His love for the business is infectious, and his anecdotage polished ... The critics call Mr. Lloyd Webber a ham, and it clearly hurts. But the critics, Richard Rodgers once told him, are 'afraid of sentiment,' and are often musically illiterate. This is musical theater, after all.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalWhat were the sources of Reed’s rage, and the obnoxiousness that led the Swedish actor Erland Josephson to believe that he had just met someone called Lee Rude? Like most rock biographies, Anthony DeCurtis’s Lou Reed: A Life spins Freud’s early hits. But, then, rock was the sound of revolt in the days when the family was still nuclear, and Reed did write Oedipal numbers like ‘Kill Your Sons’ … A Life is comprehensive and sympathetic, if too generous in its patience with Reed’s sadism, rudeness, vanity and patchy solo albums. For Mr. DeCurtis, Reed’s biographical Rosebud was homosexual shame deriving from his upbringing. In the end, he didn’t want to be the first gay rock star.
PanThe New RepublicA novel is not a historical document, but it does become one, regardless of its author’s preference. Our entertainments reflect their times: how we choose to remember historical events, and how we prefer to remember them. Especially when the worst of times, World War II, becomes material for the lightest of entertainments … Doerr's novel is an unsavory mixture of ‘relativizing’ and ‘aestheticizing’ … Doerr's writing is pompous, pretentious, and imprecise. Every noun is escorted by an adjective of reliable but uninspiring quality. Eyes are ‘wounded.’ Brown hair is ‘mousy’ … When World War II is reduced to a conflict between technological determinism and innocent children, the difference between aggressors and defenders is erased. We see no evil, only ‘normalized’ reflections in the Sea of Flames.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...[an] elegant and intimate account of the rise and fall of the Wilson-Nabokov friendship.