PositiveThe Washington Post... while [Millard\'s] book is neither as infectiously readable as Moorehead’s (which is now outdated) nor as comprehensive and deeply researched as Jeal’s, she does add a new dimension to the story. Perhaps as a corrective to the Anglocentrism of earlier accounts, she brings a third figure into the foreground: Sidi Mubarak Bombay, a formerly enslaved African who acted as guide and interpreter for Burton, Speke and several other explorers over the years. It’s a refreshing shift in emphasis and certainly overdue, but since relatively few details about Bombay survive in the historical record, there are limits to how much Millard can tell us ... Millard recounts all of these travails with a fluid grace that wears its learning lightly. She leaves some important parts of the story untold but shows a keen sensitivity to aspects that have at times been underplayed, such as the role of slavery and the slave trade in the effort of discovery.
RaveThe Washington PostRobert J. White [...] didn’t see why he should be content replacing individual organs when he could theoretically replace all the organs at once — by transplanting a sick patient’s head onto an entirely different body ... White’s unorthodox quest made national news several times over the course of his long career, but in Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher, Brandy Schillace finally gives it the thoughtful book-length treatment it deserves ... although [...] technical hurdles to White’s dream were being overcome, the moral impediments — not least the cruelty of causing so much animal suffering in the name of medical research — were another matter ... Even more intriguing, however, are the philosophical issues raised by White’s work, and Schillace’s book is most fascinating when discussing how he did and didn’t address them ... As this spirited and breezily provocative book makes clear, we’ll have to grapple with the implications of a human White Operation much sooner than we think.
RaveSalon...as in his earlier novels...Lethem harnesses the engine of a familiar genre to transport us to a territory uniquely his own. It comes as no surprise that he uses Tourette\'s as an excuse for some heady verbal pyrotechnics ... More unexpected is the sympathetic warmth he brings to the characterization of Lionel. Motherless Brooklyn has a few problems -- including some cartoonlike stock characters and one scene near the end that flirts with maudlin sentimentality -- but it works far better than the average hip postmodern novel in terms of sheer emotional impact. Because Lethem never lets the metaphorical and linguistic possibilities of his narrator\'s illness overshadow his immensely appealing humanity, we really care about Lionel and his search for his mentor\'s killer ... Readers looking for one of Don DeLillo\'s or Thomas Pynchon\'s grand metaphysical conspiracies may be disappointed. But really, Lethem is too inventive a writer to produce just another literature-of-paranoia knockoff, with Tourette\'s as its central trope ... Instead, he\'s given us something that is at once less derivative and more traditional: a detective story that transcends its pulp roots not by adopting high-art pretensions but by bringing to the genre an originality and an idiosyncratic sympathy that few other writers could muster.
PositiveThe New York Times... ingenious and starkly original ... While he does fall back on the conventions of the genre (at one point, an overzealous reporter gets his fingers broken by thugs), he uses them mainly as narrative scaffolding for what emerges as his real project -- an ambitious, wide-ranging exploration of racial struggle and the dynamics of social progress. The idea of physical elevation, of course, has obvious metaphorical significance in this context, and Whitehead makes much of it, framing his subject as a contest between warring conceptions of how best to lift people from one level of being to the next. And since any attempt to replace \'the robust edifices of the old order\' is likely to spawn a thicket of deceptions and betrayals, his use of the film noir idiom proves cunningly apt ... Ultimately, I\'m not sure Whitehead is in full control of the many thematic elements he has unleashed in this dense and sometimes difficult book. Toward the end, one can sense Whitehead\'s ambition straining against the seams of the pulp fiction story he\'s chosen to contain it. He\'s obviously trying to do for second-generation elevator transport what Thomas Pynchon did for alternative mail delivery in The Crying of Lot 49 ...That\'s a tall order, but the fact that Whitehead has succeeded as well as he has is news worth spreading. Literary reputations may not always rise and fall as predictably as elevators, but if there\'s any justice in the world of fiction, Colson Whitehead\'s should be heading toward the upper floors.
PositiveThe New York Times...[an] exhaustive, deeply reported account ... The chronicle of California agriculture has always been mixed — half environmental nightmare, half remarkable success story — and Arax gives himself enough room to report on the positives as well ... Granted, there are times when The Dreamt Land feels overstuffed and chaotically organized, as if Arax decided to include every relevant newspaper feature he’s ever proposed to an editor. But I suspect that few other journalists could have written a book as personal and authoritative ... As Arax makes plain in this important book, it’s been the same story in California for almost two centuries now: When it comes to water, \'the resource is finite. The greed isn’t.\'
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalOn the one hand, the wealth of transcripts and recordings allows Bowden to re-create scenes and conversations in great detail and with (one presumes) near-perfect fidelity. But for a writer perhaps more obsessed with his subject than his readers will be, there is such a thing as too much material to work with. Bowden takes us through endless permutations of Welch’s ever-changing story, leading us down every blind alley of obfuscation and pulling us into every whirlpool of internal contradiction ... This kind of wheel-spinning, combined with the likelihood that some readers will find the Welch clan difficult to stomach even in small doses, can make reading the book an unsavory experience at times ... Even so, this is a story of extraordinary persistence and the grimmest, least romantic kind of heroism there is, and Bowden tells it with the dexterity of an old pro, bringing coherence to a narrative that in other hands may have seemed merely muddled and infuriating.
MixedThe Washington PostIn the decades since the war\'s end, publishers have churned out so many \'epic tales of endurance\' and \'amazing sagas of survival\' that a reviewer can be excused for approaching yet another one with a certain skepticism. But Zamperini\'s story has a legitimate claim as one of the most remarkable—and appalling—to emerge from those perilous times ... [the book\'s] heavy reliance on personal reminiscence does have drawbacks; Hillenbrand presents as fact a few too many stories that seem like family legend ... The book\'s early chapters unfold like a \'Seabiscuit Redux,\' as Hillenbrand sketches the career of an undisciplined misfit who starts to find redemption ... the book has an upbeat ending ... Hillenbrand credits Zamperini\'s defiance and irrepressible spirit.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThough the book shows signs of being exhaustively researched, much of the material, by the author’s own admission, has been freely embroidered ... Details have been invented. Even reproductions of newspaper articles have been punched up \'with one or two minor additions in the interest of advancing the narrative.\' And since French includes no endnotes or even a list of sources, it’s impossible to know just where the facts end and the folklore begins ... And if the book is never quite as engrossing or entertaining as it should be, it is at least atmospheric enough to keep one turning pages.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn Beneath a Ruthless Sun, journalist Gilbert King recounts this perplexing story with compassion and a vibrant sense of time and place ... King writes with consummate understatement ... a truly outrageous example of small-town Southern prejudice and malfeasance.
PositiveSalonBeing Dead takes off on a more eccentric course, swerving backward and forward in time in order to put these two deaths in context. The result is an odd, gorgeously written but curiously abstract novel that’s easier to respect than to love … As characters, Joseph and Celice are a little difficult to take — prickly, small-spirited, almost willfully unsympathetic. But by placing their lives and obscene deaths in the context of the larger natural processes of decay and regeneration, Crace allows the couple a measure of redemptive grace, something that might have proved impossible in a more conventional narrative. And so in Being Dead he pulls off a remarkable bit of legerdemain, combining various unappealing parts into a whole that somehow — despite those descriptions of oozing, gull-pecked, maggot-infested wounds — achieves a rough, uncompromising beauty.
James McGrath Morris
PositiveThe Washington PostWhether the story of this turbulent literary friendship will matter to casual readers is a debatable question. Posterity, after all, has not been kind to Dos Passos. While not exactly a footnote in American letters, he is no longer widely read beyond the university classroom, while Hemingway is still, well, Hemingway. But Dos Passos’s best work bristles with verbal energy, and it achieves a philosophical scope that Hemingway rarely matched. Here’s hoping that Morris’s book can help to even up the score of their posthumous literary reputations.
PositiveThe New York TimesAlthough Life of Pi works remarkably well on the pure adrenaline-and-testosterone level of a high-seas adventure tale, it's apparent that Martel is not interested in simply retelling the classic lifeboat-survival story. Pi, after all, is a practitioner of three major religions who also happens to have a strong background in science; with such a broad résumé, his story inevitably takes on the quality of a parable. … He writes with a playful and discursive casualness, but that doesn't prevent him from delivering some arresting descriptions … In the book's final chapters, just when many novels are winding down to their foregone conclusions, Martel gives Life of Pi an intriguing twist.
Lesley M. M. Blume
PositiveThe Washington PostBlume’s book is a slightly different animal. It’s a deeply, almost obsessively researched biography of a book, supported by a set of superb endnotes worth reading in their own right. And if that sounds a little dull or esoteric, you clearly haven’t read the novel she’s writing about...In recounting this tale of creative struggle and breakthrough, Blume can sometimes devote more attention to the horse race of competitive genius than to the artistic merits of the works and authors she describes. But with her emphasis on gossip and celebrity, she is arguably just following Hemingway’s lead.