RaveThe Star Tribune... a fascinating history of the national anthem ... Clague has come to appreciate the contradictions and controversies associated with Key\'s song.
PositiveStar TribuneInformative ... Zunz explains what Tocqueville learned — and what he failed to notice — during his travels throughout the United States ... Zunz\'s analysis of Democracy in America hews closely to conventional wisdom ... Zunz also provides a splendid account of Tocqueville\'s career as a practical politician in France ... Zunz also provides a splendid account of Tocqueville\'s career as a practical politician in France.
James R. Gaines
MixedThe Star Tribune\"The book isn\'t really \'An Underground History\' Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rachel Carson, Norbert Wiener and other individuals featured by Gaines were public figures in the \'50s—and many 21st-century Americans are familiar with them. Gaines maintains, not always persuasively, that in the 1950s Black women (like Pauli Murray) were \'pioneers of a vigorous postwar feminism.\' And that Black World War II veterans (like Evers, Robert Williams and Kennard) believed \'nonviolence without the support of armed resistance to racist violence amounted to surrender\' ... The Fifties is at its best when Gaines describes the courage of his heroes and the price they paid for standing up and speaking out in hostile environments.\
PositiveThe Star TribuneInformative and engaging, A Brave and Cunning Prince challenges conventional wisdom about Pocahontas, Captain John Smith and, most important, the early encounters between the Indians and the English. And Horn reminds us that the outcome of their protracted conflict was by no means certain ... If even a fraction of A Brave and Cunning Prince is true—and much more than that certainly is—[Opechancanough] deserves the honor still bestowed on him by the Pamunkeys, who, Horn reveals, continue to live on the ancient tribal land he defended so tenaciously.
MixedThe Star TribuneAlthough The Last King of America effectively refutes Paine, Jefferson and, for that matter, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Roberts is asserting what 20th- and 21st-century historians already know: George III was not a tyrant who lost the American empire; he respected the British Constitution and deferred to Parliament ... is at its best when Roberts analyzes how George III navigated issues with personal as well as political implications.
Robert A. Gross
MixedThe Star TribuneGross\' extraordinarily comprehensive, penetrating and intimate community study demonstrates that Concord was not a sleepy, static pastoral place ... Gross is less successful in addressing the relationship between his Transcendentalists\' social and political views, which, not surprisingly, reflected the ferment in Concord (and much of the rest of the nation) and the fundamental precepts of their often abstract philosophy ... Along with immense respect for Gross\' mastery of Concord\'s history, I wonder if he\'s giving the town too much credit—and blame.
PositiveThe Star TribuneAlong with most professional historians, Boyle rejects the commonly held assumption that a Berlin Wall separated the consensual 1950s from the divisive \'60s. In the \'50s, he demonstrates, amid repression, racism, anxiety and anger, boundaries were contested and occasionally broken. Inevitably, given the number of books on the 1960s, a lot of material in The Shattering will be familiar to readers. That said, Boyle enlivens his narrative with emblematic vignettes.
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteHis aptly titled, thorough, and lively biography reveals Jimmy Carter in all his complexity ... At times, The Outlier gives Carter too much credit ... Moreover, Bird’s scrupulous analysis often supports the conventional wisdom he is trying to debunk.
Positive\"The Plague Year exhibits some of the defects of a first rough draft of history. That said, Wright’s well-documented, detailed, and compelling analysis should command our attention.\
RaveThe Star TribuneIn Mercury Rising Jeff Shesol [...] provides a splendid account of Glenn\'s mission. Shesol sets America\'s space program in the context of the Cold War. Drawing on interviews and Glenn\'s personal notes, he includes a fascinating portrait of the astronaut who became a national icon.
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteMr. Isaacson explains CRISPR in terms readers can understand and its role in eliminating diseases ... He also asks probing questions about the moral implications of the life sciences revolution ... The Code Breaker is an indispensable guide to the brave – and scary – new world we have entered ... The Code Breaker is at its best when Mr. Isaacson conducts thought experiments to assess the moral implications of gene editing.
PanThe Star TribuneBailey canvasses contemporary assessments of Roth\'s 31 books ... That said, Philip Roth: The Biography devotes far more space to \'shmutz\' (Yiddish for filth)—Roth\'s sexual appetite—than to his literary legacy ... Perhaps titillating, this approach becomes tiresome ... As he connects real-life people to fictional characters, Bailey does not illuminate Roth\'s broader themes. And, although Roth freely discussed (along with Alex Portnoy) the perpetual warfare between his sexual longings, \'often of a perverse nature,\' and his \'strongly felt ethical and altruistic impulses,\' one wonders whether, if he could read Bailey\'s book, he would conclude, with Oscar Wilde, \'that biography adds to death a new terror.\'
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteImmensely informative and accessible, this book is a superb primer on the most important challenge facing humanity ... His book is awash in solutions, big and small, already implemented and still on the drawing board. Energy efficient air conditioners, he points out, are readily available ... Gates makes a compelling case that governments have pivotal roles to play in resolving the climate crisis.
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteScarier than the scariest sci-fi movie, This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race, Ms. Perlroth’s stunningly detailed, must-read book tells the untold story of what may well be the clearest and most present danger facing the world ... Hoping against hope that these recommendations will get some traction soon, Nicole Perlroth indicates that she is keeping her fingers crossed that the next cyber attack will not come during the pandemic.
PositiveThe Star TribuneAlter’s scrupulously researched and judicious book...provides a fascinating account of Carter’s formative years ... Alter also provides a candid and often compelling assessment of Carter’s policy successes and failures ... In foreign policy, Alter acknowledges that the president was slow and unimaginative in responding to developments in Iran. And he suggests that the Camp David Accords may inadvertently have freed Israel to attack Palestinians in Lebanon and build more settlements on the West Bank. That said, critics may find Alter’s overall assessment too generous.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... immensely informative, nuanced and judicious ... Rooted in a thorough review of published sources, government records and interviews with 170 people (including three former presidents, Cabinet officers, White House aides, foreign officials, family members and 70 hours with Baker himself), The Man Who Ran Washington, perhaps understandably, is not always able to determine the credit Baker deserves for domestic and foreign policies. The authors do not adequately explain the significance of currency reform and the revenue-neutral tax legislation. They lay out but do not always sort out foreign policy differences between Baker and George H.W. Bush.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHolzer provides an immensely informative account of the perennial struggle between presidents and the Fourth Estate, from Washington to Donald Trump ... Judicious and nonpartisan, Holzer covers a lot of ground.
MixedThe Star TribuneStebenne acknowledges that the middle class, a term that describes \'a state of mind and a way of life\' as well as a level of income, was neither monolithic nor completely homogenous. And Promised Land demonstrates that white males benefited from middle-class life far more than women or African-Americans. That said, his generalizations about the middle class are often vague, imprecise and open to question ... These days, of course, few Americans disagree that the income and influence of the middle class has shrunk and inequality has increased dramatically during the last half-century. I suspect, however, that a consensus is less likely to emerge in support of Prof. Stebenne’s conclusions ... middlebrow culture’s dominance increased the marginalization and alienation of other groups; and economic growth brought prosperity to the middle class and environmental pollution to everyone.
MixedThe Pittsburg Post-Gazette... may well stimulate some Never Trumpers to laugh with tears in their eyes ... Mr. Buckley’s claim that politics has become self-satirizing has never been more true than it is now. Make Russia Great Again relies all too often on references lifted from the headlines, well-known character flaws, and stereotypes ... Satire, of course, is not always subtle. But as Christopher Buckley preaches to the choir, Make Russia Great Again may leave readers laughing self-righteously but not better informed, enlightened, or challenged. And a fair number of Never Trumpers may apply the motto Mr. Buckley invents for the Democrats as their campaign theme to his book: \'Come On…We Are So Much Better Than This!\'
RavePittsburgh Post-Gazette...a tour de force account of this devastating and mysterious medical malady – and the efforts of geneticists and neurobiologists to find a cure for it. Mr. Kolker takes us inside a family that seemed likely to take full advantage of post War II prosperity ... The horrors visited on the Galvin family are almost unfathomable ... Alongside the family tragedy, Mr. Kolker reviews the age-old question: is schizophrenia \'caused\' by nature (heredity) or nurture (the environment).
MixedThe Pittsburg Post-Gazette... is awash in arresting details ... Mr. Rucker and Ms. Leonnig focus far more on personnel and personalities than on policy initiatives of the Trump Administration. The authors do not discuss tax cuts, repeal of environmental regulations, or the president’s criticism of Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell...They ignore Mr. Trump’s repeated efforts to persuade Congress and the courts to get rid of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act ... provides a lot of ammunition, some of it new even to political junkies, to confirm a by-now-familiar thesis that Mr. Trump is a danger to democracy and national security and unfit to be president of the United States ... That said, I suspect that in our hyper-partisan, polarized political climate, where information is filtered through silos, the book will be dissed by MAGA-hatted men and women who don’t trust a word that appears in the Washington Post. It will be cited by Never Trumpers in the same way a drunk uses a lamppost, more for support than illumination and ignored by millions of Americans who disdain politics and politicians.
PositiveThe Star TribuneCohen makes a passionately partisan and powerfully persuasive case ... Cohen provides an informative and detailed analysis of dozens of cases involving education, campaign financing, voting rights, employment discrimination, collective bargaining, punitive damages, class-action suits, health care and criminal justice.
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMr. Eisen and Mr. McHugh maintain that Porter was a voracious reader. Porter’s letters, however, are silent about what he thinks about the books he’s read. Other than a passing reference to his preference for Republicans, Porter is silent about American culture and politics. The volume documents Cole Porter’s passionate affair with Boris Kochno, the lover of Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes, in 1925, but sheds no further light on his homosexuality ... According to the editors, Cole Porter’s \'depth of feeling\' for Linda Thomas Porter, his wife, \'is striking.\' It is difficult, however, to find it in his correspondence ... Fortunately, The Letters of Cole Porter are filled with insights about the craft of songwriting and the business of show business in Hollywood and on Broadway.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteLike its predecessors, Herself Alone is monumental, magisterial and masterful ... With all her flaws, fundamental elements of Mrs. Thatcher’s political character deserve the praise Mr. Moore bestows on them ... Mrs. Thatcher’s political positions include a few surprises. She was, Mr. Moore demonstrates, an ardent believer in climate change. Nonetheless she was, without doubt, an ardent conservative, who played an outsized role in the turn to the right that has dominated Western democracies since the 1980s. As Mr. Moore demonstrates, she lit a path to our partisan, polarized present.
RavePittsburgh Post-Gazette... a lively, lucid, often eye-opening deep-dive into the causes and consequences of the demographic disparities in our colleges and universities—and how they might best be addressed ... At a time in which about 40% of young adults believe that an undergraduate degree is not worth the cost, Mr. Tough demonstrates that the wage gap between college graduates and those without a degree is as high in the United States as it has ever been.
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteFilled with fascinating details about the lives of small-town automobile dealers, hardworking inhabitants of a working-class neighborhood in Chicago, and derivatives traders, as well as consequential policies and policymakers, Transaction Man is an informative account of the forces that have transformed the economy and society of the United States ... Transaction Man is distinguished more by Mr. Lemann’s engaging and, at times, surprising stories about his well-chosen cast of characters than by the originality of his analysis ... Having laid out the failures of these \'grand conceptions,\' Mr. Lemann proposes pluralism ... He might be right, but getting there won’t be easy.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... a lively account of the activities of this quartet and their stables of secret operatives ... Impressively researched, Lincoln’s Spies illuminates a little-known aspect of the history of the Civil War ... Waller struggles at times to specify when and how spymasters substantially improved the tactical or strategic calculations of Union generals ... It seems reasonable to conclude as well that in Lincoln’s Spies
Anthony Abraham Jack
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteSome readers of The Privileged Poor, I suspect, will take issue with Jack’s claim that he is not \'telling the story of spoiled kids lamenting that they have not been given everything they want.\' That said, Jack does make a compelling case that access is not the same as inclusion. And that institutions of higher education should take hidden injuries of class seriously and not treat lower-income students as a homogenous group ... Unfortunately, The Privileged Poor does not address the academic performance of Jack’s students — or examine race as an independent variable. Jack does not indicate whether grievances subsided as students reached their junior and senior years. Nor does he investigate the post-graduate careers of the Privileged Poor, the Doubly Disadvantaged, or compare them with those of other students at \'Renowned\' university ... As Jack reminds us, adopting no-loan policies was a bold step to remove economic barriers to access. Alas, however, his book also demonstrates that America’s colleges, and, more generally, American society, must do more to overcome the structural inequities — social and cultural differences that comprise \'the bleak reality of living with empty pockets in deep-pocketed institutions.\'
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteIn The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation, historian Brenda Wineapple...provides a terrific—and timely—account of the first attempt in American history to impeach and remove a sitting president ... She also analyzes debates about whether impeachment requires a criminal offense, an abuse of power or (as some Radical Republicans claimed) deplorable, bigoted, reckless acts, especially if they undermined
other branches of government.
MixedPittsburgh Post-GazetteA rather old-fashioned work of American history dedicated to the march of progress and filled with digressions (about the menu at a presidential banquet, bad spelling, and foreign visitors’ perceptions of Ohio), The Pioneers is a Valentine to settlers who, as Gen. Putnam put it, exhibited \'spunk to the backbone\' whenever they were faced with adversity ... Although he emphasizes the pivotal role played by the Cutlers in maintaining the prohibition against slavery in Ohio, McCullough does not address the attitudes of his protagonists toward race ... The Pioneers leaves us little reason to doubt (as an obituary writer for Ephraim put it) that the Cutlers, Rufus Putnam, Samuel Hildreth and Joseph Barker \'belonged to that class of strictly upright, honest and true men, of whom the pioneers of this state afford so many examples.\'
PositiveThe Star TribuneA minute-to-minute, suspenseful, heart-wrenching and inspirational narrative, Fall and Rise should endure as a prose poem memorial to a day like no other ... Zuckoff’s protagonists—airline pilots, flight attendants, passengers, firefighters, office workers—look like America. In their extraordinary ordinariness, in the range of their responses to a horrific event, they testify to the value of every human life ... Embedded in Zuckoff’s narrative of the saved and lost is an analysis of our nation’s vulnerability on 9/11.
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteThompson provides an informative, insightful, accessible and judicious examination of the profession, the characteristics and values of computer programmers, and the opportunities and challenges America’s four million digital architects (and the Big Tech companies that employ them) present to our culture, economy and politics. Drawing on dozens of interviews, Thompson gets inside the heads of coders.
Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette... an informative, often moving, account of the intimate relationship between John and John Quincy Adams. It serves as well as a meditation on the distinctions between representative and popular democracies ... Isenberg and Burstein mention the Adamses’ faults, but they deserve a few more innings. John Adams, for example, signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law ... That said, Isenberg and Burstein make a compelling case that the Adamses’ ideas, policies and leadership deserve our attention.
PositivePhiladelphia Inquirer\"... a graphic and gripping account of the Parks case and the efforts of lawyers in the California Innocence Project to overturn Parks\' conviction ... Burned leaves us in suspense.\
RaveThee Philadelphia InquirerIn Help!, Brothers examines the creative process in the corpus of work produced by Duke Ellington\'s orchestra and by the Beatles. A richly detailed portrait of the delicate balance between group dynamics and individual vision, and the nexus between African American vernacular traditions and commercial imperatives, Help! adds significantly to our knowledge of popular music and iconic musicians of the 20th century. It also opens some windows onto the often rough world of collaboration as it really is.
MixedThe Star TribuneBrands does not challenge current interpretations of American politics in the first half of the 19th century or the roles played by his protagonists. A gifted storyteller, he provides a traditional narrative that sets the context and then, in no small measure, allows them to speak for themselves ... That said, Brands does not adequately address a fundamental question about oratory.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMs. Churchwell...provides an informative, and often surprising, history of these two tropes (and others) that dominate political discourse in the era of Donald Trump. Behold, America is at its best when Ms. Churchwell excavates the origins of our iconic phrases ... Ms. Churchwell moves, rather abruptly, from World War II to 2016. She is eager to get Donald Trump in her crosshairs. Her present-oriented ideological agenda is clear throughout Behold, America ... These days, Sarah Churchwell concludes, \'America has inherited a story that diminishes it.\'
PositiveStar TribuneIn The War Before the War, Delbanco, a professor of American studies at Columbia University in New York, provides a compelling, elegantly written account of how fugitive slave laws laid bare \'the moral crisis\' in the hearts and minds of antebellum Americans ... Along with concerns about history as hindsight, The War Before the War hears \'echoes in our time\' in debates over fugitive slave laws. The book includes past-in-the-present references ... Many of them, alas, involve little more than brief homilies to ideological soul mates. That said, Delbanco is on target, in my judgment, in reminding us of the devastating impact of \'America’s original accommodation with slavery.\' And in suggesting that these days, millions of impoverished people are out of sight and mind, much as blacks were in the 19th century[.]
Nicole C. Kirk
MixedThe InquirerKirk argues that the John Wanamaker Department Store\'s architecture, employee education programs, and art exhibits extended his religious mission while promoting new business practices ... She may be right. After all, the store\'s religious iconography did leave many customers deeply moved. That said, Kirk does not, in my judgment, effectively refute the consensus among historians that, consciously or unconsciously, Wanamaker \'did not put the Lord\'s business first.\' She mentions, but only in passing, Wanamaker\'s role in creating refund policies and easy credit to generate impulse buying. She describes organ recitals at Wanamaker\'s in detail, but not the possibly relevant context—skyrocketing sales of keyboard instruments—for presenting them. Nor does she connect Wanamaker\'s sumptuous Christmas and Easter decorations to the holiday shopping season ... Almost 100 years after his death, it seems equally clear that, more than anyone before him, he invented ways to exert control over the twin \'pliers of appetites and desire.\'
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"In The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy, Mr. Miller provides a comprehensive examination of the Kremlin’s efforts to subvert our democracy, Mr. Mueller’s investigation, and the impact on the Trump presidency. Although Mr. Miller’s book contains no new \'smoking gun\' disclosures, it does offer lots of new information. Most important, The Apprentice demonstrates, to anyone willing to assess the evidence, that the Russia probe is anything but a hoax or a witch hunt.\
PositiveThe Philadelphia Inquirer\"Lewis... makes a compelling argument that the \'willful ignorance\' of the Trump administration allows it to maximize short-term financial and political gain \'without regard to the long-term cost\' ... As The Fifth Risk documents, expertise and experience matter, a lot — and, alas, many deeply knowledgeable people have left government service, and are now forbidden by federal law from making contact with their replacements. Most important, perhaps, this book makes it more difficult to deny that government can be and has been the solution, not the problem.\
PositivePhiladelphia Inquirer\"... Leibovich asks the right question — \'What to make of this beautiful s- show of a league.\' He provides answers while inhabiting \'true believer\' and \'cataclysm\' camps ... The book is especially powerful and poignant when Leibovich addresses concussions ... Big Game is a cliffhanger. In the NFL, as in life, Leibovich concludes, the eternal question — how much longer? — touches everything. \'Clock management,\' he reminds us, \'is a lie.\'\
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette\"[In The Brink: President Reagan and the Nuclear War Scare of 1983, ], Mr. Ambinder provides chilling details about Cold War intelligence gathering, nuclear codes, the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) of the United States and the White House Emergency Plan (WHEP) ... Mr. Ambinder also reminds us that \'enough hasn’t changed between 1983 and now.\'\
RaveThe Philadelphia Inquirer\"Kaufman intends his book to be a \'wake-up call\' for progressives. The individuals he interviewed in depth to put a human face on the fall of Wisconsin, Kaufman emphasizes, refuse to give up, even after seven years of seemingly \'endless defeats.\'\
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle\"Empire of Guns covers a lot of ground. Extraordinarily (and, at times, excessively) detailed chapters address the evolving state of the gun trade in Birmingham; the \'myth\' of pacific British industrialism and the reality of continuous war; the \'social life\' of guns in England, Africa, India and North America; the relationship between guns, money and private property; changes in the firearms industry after 1815; and opposition to the gun trade over the past 200 years ... By focusing on a single toxic activity, Satia concludes, rather harshly, both sides avoided \'the truth that modern life is founded, intrinsically, on militarism and that industrial life has historically depended on it.\' Satia appears to believe that things have not gotten better in the 21st century. To be sure, four “developed” countries (Japan, Great Britain, Australia and Canada) have enacted legislation to reduce gun violence ... A $72 billion industry, with England as the second-biggest supplier, augmenting the political power and economic prowess of governments and \'private\' contractors, arms exports are not likely to decline anytime soon.\
Ryan H. Walsh
PositiveTulsa World\"Astral Weeks focuses on popular culture and politics in Boston. The city, Walsh claims, was ground zero for the folk music revival and the hallucinogenic revolution. And Boston became \'the epicenter for Vietnam War resistance.\' These claims may be a bit exaggerated. However, Astral Weeks demonstrates that a whole lotta shakin’ was going on in Boston ... Walsh’s compelling narrative...focuses on only one aspect of American culture. In December, Walsh notes, in a brief conclusion, the Apollo 8 astronauts glimpsed \'the mysterious dark side\' of the moon and viewed Earth \'as a whole planet.\' The year 1968 is best viewed in this way as well, with Walsh’s cast of characters only part of a larger, more complex story.
PositiveThe Philadelphia Inquirer\"Fraser is scarcely the first person to mount a critique of American exceptionalism. That said, his analysis is fresh and compelling, grounded in detailed accounts of six signposts of mythic memory that illustrate how social class has been removed from our national conversation ... Fraser knows that in the 21st century the nature of work is changing and the term proletariat may no longer be relevant. Nonetheless, he concludes, it\'s as important as ever to recognize that ignoring class - and failing to deconstruct \'the myth of a classless society\' - is a dangerous and destructive mistake.\
MixedThe InquirerEnlightenment Now is not without flaws. Pinker\'s characterization of \'greenism\' as apocalyptic, quasireligious, misanthropic, indifferent to starvation, and subject to ghoulish fantasies seems, well, hyperbolic. His attacks on \'the institutional review bureaucracy\' in the sciences and social sciences, and on bioethicists for bogging down research, impeding work on \'medical miracles,\' and \'failing to protect, and even harming, patients and research subjects,\' seem rather one-sided ... Most important, perhaps, Pinker\'s \'conditional optimism\' and his claim that \'problems are solvable\' underestimate, at times, the political and cultural challenges to sustaining what he calls \'the benevolent forces of modernity.\' That said, at a time when science, reason, and objectivity are being stigmatized, Enlightenment Now is an urgently needed reminder that progress is, to no small extent, a result of values that have served us - and can serve us - extraordinarily well.
Daniel H. Pink
RaveThe Philadelphia InquirerIn When, Pink draws on hundreds of recent empirical studies in psychology, economics, and biology to provide guidance on how to use 'the science of time' to improve performance at work, enhance health, and deepen personal satisfaction. Designed as a new 'when-to' genre, his book examines the rhythms of each day (peaks, troughs, and rebounds); the impact of breaks; midpoints, halftimes, and endings; and group synchronization ...Pink is a splendid writer, with a knack for distilling important takeaways of scholarly research. As he simplifies, however, Pink at times obscures ambiguities and limitations ... That said, When contains a cornucopia of compelling information and insights ... Most important, Pink emphasizes, human beings are hard-wired to prefer endings that elevate ... In the end, Pink writes, we yearn for meaning. With When, he delivers more than a fair share of it.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneGoldfield is a skillful storyteller. He enlivens his narrative with anecdotes drawn from the experiences of ‘ordinary’ Americans from the ‘gifted generation’ who benefited from the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society … Although some historians will find his account of the activist years too celebratory, too focused on change from the top down and too inclined to give presidents (especially Dwight Eisenhower on civil rights) more credit than they deserve, Goldfield’s interpretation does not depart from the conventional wisdom of professional historians … The Gifted Generation does not provide a definitive answer to an important question: Under what conditions does more government produce good government?
Bill Minutaglio and Steve L. Davis
MixedThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"Fast-paced and suspenseful, their book captures a mad — and menacing — moment in American history. Clearly, Minutaglio and Davis have done their homework. In my judgment, however, they compromise their credibility by presenting in italics (and sometimes surrounded by quotation marks) ‘interior thoughts and monologues derived from memoirs and primary sources’ … That said, The Most Dangerous Man in America is awash in authenticated details, by turns outlandish and outrageous, that illuminate 1970s American culture and politics.\
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerHe breaks little new ground and steps on his narrative to take shots at Donald Trump. But he does capture the twists and turns in the primary races and the general election contest among Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and third-party candidate George Wallace, with consummate skill in selecting and presenting incidents and comments that reveal character in the important players ... The what-ifs listed at the end of Playing with Fire underscore O'Donnell's emphasis on the role of individuals (for good and ill) in changing the course of history. Although he claims the peace movement 'won' in 1968, however, O'Donnell does not spend all that much time on the impact of collective action and domestic and international social and economic forces. This issue, it seems to me, is well worth our attention. For 2017 as well as 1968.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHis book is chilling, compelling and certain to be controversial ... Ellsberg recognizes that it is 'entirely quixotic' to expect the present president or Congress to announce a 'no first-use' policy; the elimination of ICBMs and doomsday machines; and a probing investigation of war plans in light of a 'nuclear winter.' But who can blame him for warning us, as the Rev. Martin Luther King did about Vietnam, that 'there is such a thing as being too late.'
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleIn The Dawn Watch, Maya Jasanoff, a professor of history at Harvard University, explores Conrad’s life and work 'with the compass of an historian, the chart of a biographer, and the navigational sextant of a fiction reader' ... Jasanoff is a splendid storyteller and stylist ... equally adept in supplying historical context for her narrative ... Most important, Jasanoff provides compelling assessments of Conrad’s novels ... Conrad 'made me see,' Jasanoff concludes, with both eyes fixed on the 21st century, that 'today’s hearts of darkness are to be found wherever civilizing missions serve as covers for exploitation.'
Gordon S. Wood
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a splendid account of the improbable friendship, estrangement and reconciliation between Adams, an irascible, ironic, hypersensitive middle-class New England lawyer, and Jefferson, a self-contained, diplomatic, slaveholding Virginia aristocrat ... Wood claims that Adams was too skeptical, contrarian and cynical and too much inclined to question just about every element of the American dream to capture the imaginations of his fellow Americans. Wood is right — for most of American history. But he leaves you wondering which Founding Father is more likely to connect in 2017 with our all too anxious and angry, partisan, polarized and paralyzed nation.
PositiveThe Philadelphia Inquirer...a vivid and compelling account of the life and work of this complex and controversial popular music figure ... If Reed went too far, personally and professionally, 'that was just the price that had to be paid for everyone else not going far enough.' These claims, and DeCurtis' assertion that Reed's 'failures' (his albums did not sell all that well) are 'marks of his integrity,' should, in my judgment, be met with skepticism. DeCurtis is almost surely right, however, that Reed's drug addiction, his bisexuality, fascination with transsexuals, rejection of gender orthodoxy, and contempt for the obsession with success were part of the 'cultural moment' of the 1960s and '70s.
PanThe Portland OregonianCalico Joe, the new book by John Grisham, is not a great baseball novel. But it, too, uses America's national pastime to search for moral and cultural truths ...is a melodrama. As a ballplayer and as a person, Joe Castle is too good to be true ... Warren Tracey, by contrast, is too bad to be interesting. A drunk and a womanizer... The finale of Calico Joe, a reconciliation of sorts between Warren Tracey and Joe Castle, isn't all that credible.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn Alone, he combines military history and memoir in a compelling account of the beginning of World War II, the fall of France and the 'miracle' of Dunkirk ...narrative of Alone is, by turns, charming, powerful and poignant ...provides an unforgettable story of a tragedy within the larger tragedy being unleashed on Europe ... More often, however, Korda celebrates heroes. None of them is French ...Korda celebrates the 'mustn’t grumble' English, whose soldiers fought their way back to Dunkirk and whose civilians put themselves and their vessels in harm’s way to bring those soldiers back.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteHer book contains an account of the extraordinarily divisive campaign, insights into Ms. Clinton’s personality, character, and values, and the challenges confronting women in politics ...her narrative will be familiar to virtually all readers of What Happened, and seems belabored ...Ms. Clinton emphasizes that she’s proud to be a pragmatic progressive, who has mastered the details of policies ...What Happened is at its best when Ms. Clinton addresses the role of women in politics. A sexist double standard, she demonstrates, is alive and well ...makes an intriguing argument about the applicability of a female style to effective governance.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleHenderson is a skilled storyteller. Sons and Soldiers records concrete acts of courage, commitment, compassion (and, of course, unspeakable cruelty) that may well move — and perhaps motivate — his readers ... his narrative invites readers to wonder whether World War II was the last 'good war,' a conflict in which the enemy was so evil, the cause so just, the stakes so high, and all the alternatives so much worse that the carnage and the 'collateral damage' was and should have been accepted. Reluctantly.
Alvin S. Felzenberg
MixedThe Philadelphia InquirerThe book is at its best when Felzenberg describes Buckley as an enfant terrible, shaking up the Establishment (and his alma mater) at age 29 with the publication of God and Man at Yale and then founding the National Review. This Buckley defended Sen. Joseph McCarthy, flirted with the John Birch Society, and condoned the violence of Southern segregationists … Arguing that it is one of the least explored aspects of his career, Felzenberg devotes two-thirds of his book to Buckley's advice to and assessments of the presidents of the United States from Eisenhower to George W. Bush … Alas, although Felzenberg demonstrates that Republican presidents sometimes solicited and almost always listened respectfully to Buckley's advice, it is not at all clear how much influence he exerted.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a masterful blood-and-guts account of the decisive battle in the Vietnam War ... The heart and soul of Hue 1968 lies with its vivid and often wrenching descriptions of the 'storm of war' as soldiers and South Vietnamese citizens experienced it.
Thomas E. Ricks
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleRicks recounts the fight of two 20th century giants against the enemies of freedom. His book does not provide new information or fresh interpretations about his subjects, but it’s an elegantly written celebration of two men who faced an existential crisis to their way of life with moral courage — and demonstrated that an individual can make a difference … He is also right to remind us in his fine book that in their words and actions, Churchill and Orwell demonstrated that liberty ‘is not the product of military action. Rather it is something alive that grows or diminishes every day, in how we think and communicate, how we treat each other in our public discourse, in what we value and reward as a society.’
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMs. FitzGerald’s book is filled with vivid portraits of evangelical leaders, including not only the 'usual suspects' (Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, James Dobson and 'new evangelical' Rick Warren) but also the two principal theoreticians of the Christian right (R.J. Rushdoony and Francis Schaeffer). Her analysis is insightful, but it should be noted that she comes at her subject as an outsider to evangelicalism. She does does not approve of people who are certain they know what God wants, and she views education as the process of learning the single right answer to every question ... 'Presidential election votes may seem to deny it,' Ms. FitzGerald concludes, 'but evangelicals are splintering.' She may be right, but these days it is probably wise to think — and think again — before making predictions about the future of religion and politics in America.
Elizabeth Brown Pryor
MixedThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...meticulously researched ... Pryor tends to accentuate the negative. 'Blind to Southern resolve,' her Abraham Lincoln gives mixed and misleading signals to secessionists and loyalists in the South; is an inept military commander; made bad appointments to reward political allies; lacked dignity and did not inspire confidence; exhibited prejudice toward African-Americans, Indians and women, and grossly underestimated the difficulties of bringing the South back into the Union at the end of the Civil War. On occasion, Pryor’s critique is unfair ... Like all human beings, Lincoln had feet of clay. Nor is it surprising that his contemporaries fixated on his shortcomings. And yet, even as Pryor reveals the man partly hidden behind the legend, that man still deserves acclaim as a pre-eminent political leader.
Elizabeth Dowling Taylor
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune[Taylor] uses a detailed (and, at times, moving) biography of Murray to illuminate this little-known chapter in our history ... Murray’s life underscores the fragility of the black elite. Despite his exemplary service, he was demoted as assistant librarian; his salary was reduced (and frozen for 25 years). Requiring white employees to report to a black supervisor, he was told, might produce 'friction incident to caste' ... Blacks were 'outraged, heartbroken, bruised and bleeding,' declared George Henry White, the last black member of Congress of the era, in 1901. But they were also 'rising people, full of potential force.' He was right, Taylor notes, before adding a timely lesson of her own: 'Rights won must be rights guarded, and, if necessary, rewon.'”
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...an enlightening and engaging history of immigration in New York ... In chapters on the 17th and 18th centuries, Anbinder focuses on a few unrepresentative folks and makes the questionable claim that immigrants of means were the rule rather than the exception. When he turns to the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, however, his book comes alive, taking on a 'you are there' immediacy and then stepping back to present the big picture.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerIn his sweeping interpretation of the decades surrounding the Civil War, Steven Hahn emphasizes the emergence of the United States as a nation-state, a continental empire, and a global juggernaut ... These questions, of course, remain as relevant now as they are at the end of A Nation Without Borders, when the guns of World War begin firing and 'the rumblings of revolution' (in Mexico and Russia) can already be heard.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleBair has capitalized on interviews with Capone’s descendants. The result is an engaging biography that debunks many, many myths about Capone and captures him as a complex person ... Bair’s account does generate considerable sympathy for Capone ... But Bair does not provide satisfactory answers to the most fundamental conundrum posed by Capone’s descendants: How could a person 'be so admirable and still be guilty of the terrible things he did?'”
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a sweeping, sharp and stylish history of the Indian Wars of the second half of the 19th century — and their tragic consequences for the native people ... Cozzens retells familiar stories — the Little Bighorn, the Nez Perce exodus, the Ghost Dance, the Wounded Knee massacre — with panache. His sketches of scores of fascinating characters, including Sherman, Phil Sheridan, George Crook, Nelson Miles, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph and Geronimo, are memorable. Cozzens adds vivid descriptions of ordinary people on both sides.
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteThe result is a partisan defense of 'The Man From Hope' that some will dismiss as spin but also a source of useful information about his post-presidential political and philanthropic activities ... Mr. Conason provides a detailed (and convincing) 'there is no there there' response to critics of the effectiveness, budget, transparency and potential conflicts of interest of the foundation. Revelations about annual deficits or how little money was doled out in grants, he makes clear, are based on misunderstandings of how the nonprofit operates and cash flows are reported ... Surprisingly...Mr. Conason at times appears too quick to downplay concerns about multimillion dollar contributions from foreign governments to the foundation.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...a masterful analysis of how global connectedness has created vast new responsibilities (and vulnerabilities) for the armed forces of the United States.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAmerican Heiress contains sharply etched portraits of an extraordinary cast of characters ... Most persuasively, Toobin maintains that before, during and after her time in captivity, Hearst was a rational actor ... All that said, when Toobin reveals that Hearst 'didn’t turn out to be a revolutionary; she turned out to be a mother,' you are still left to wonder what this young woman (who did not cooperate with the writing of this book) really thought about her captors, her parents, capitalism, communism — and herself.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...an engaging and informative history of the service ... she makes a compelling case that Congress shares the blame for the Postal Service’s current woes.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...an evocative in-depth portrait of the most complicated Kennedy ... Mr. Tye’s account of Kennedy’s early career is insightful, nuanced, fair and balanced ... Deeply sympathetic to Kennedy for making forgotten and neglected Americans his primary constituents, Mr. Tye chooses to end his biography with a moving — and myth-making — tribute to Robert Kennedy, the person.
Jean Edward Smith
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle[Smith] makes a voluminously detailed — and compelling — case that vindication is unlikely to come for the Bush administration anytime soon ... Surprisingly, perhaps, Smith may well give Bush too much credit for his domestic policies. He does not mention the serious and substantive criticisms of the president’s No Child Left Behind 'teach to the test' educational initiative. Or his failure to support a provision authorizing the government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies in his prescription drug plan for seniors. Or the deficits generated by his tax cuts ... Bush, we now know, is an avid reader. One wonders whether he will peruse Jean Edward Smith’s well-documented, unflattering indictment, and what this remarkably unreflective man will make of it.
PanThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette[Norman] draws on interviews with family members, friends and associates in a comprehensive biography of the legendary pop music icon that sheds light on his childhood, his tumultuous relationship with John Lennon, his career after the breakup of the 'Fab Four,' his marriage to Linda Eastman, the love of his life, his struggles with alcohol and drugs, and his disastrous union with and divorce from Heather Mills ... Mr. Norman’s narrative of Mr. McCartney’s life since the 1970s is far too long. Most readers, I suspect, will grow bored with the details of every charge and countercharge in Mr. McCartney’s divorce proceedings. And when Mr. Norman ventures into politics, they will find some of his claims dubious.
RaveThe San FranciscoIn Black Flags, Warrick draws on more than 200 interviews, many of them with diplomats and intelligence officers, to provide a revealing, riveting and exquisitely detailed account of the life and death of Zarqawi, the improbable terrorist mastermind, and the rise of the movement now known as the Islamic State ... Although at times Warrick gives too much credence to the (inevitably) self-serving narratives supplied by his sources and too much credit to the prescience of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, his account of the mistakes and missed opportunities that gave rise to ISIS seems all too tragically true.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a sweeping, suspenseful and somber chronicle of the Spanish Civil War that is organized around the experiences of about a dozen Americans. At its best, the book captures the idealism, courage and illusions of its subjects as well as the significance 'of the dark days that were just the beginning of the trauma and tragedy' that would become World War II.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneCohen sets the context for the sterilization of Carrie Buck and thousands of others: a panic, fed by the pseudoscience of eugenics, that so-called feebleminded people constituted a threat to public safety and the nation’s gene pool. And he demonstrates to a fare-thee-well how every step along the way, our system of justice failed...Imbeciles leaves you wondering whether it can happen here — again.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneLike all fine works of history, Masters of Empire will force readers to think hard, this time about how much influence and power Indians had in colonial America — and about when and why they lost it.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...an extraordinarily well-documented account of the influential, interlocking organizations with innocuous names created by the Koch brothers.
PanThe Philadelphia InquirerMore than anything, Parini reveals, Vidal feared 'becoming a rumor in his own time' - and forgotten when he was dead. 'One feels the Great Eraser always at work,' he said again and again in conversations and letters. Empire of Self may stay the hand of the Great Eraser. But probably not for long.
RaveThe OregonianA comprehensive, informative, and engaging account of the impact of diverse communities of immigrants, often lumped into one group, on American life.