PositiveThe New Republic...what situates his book in the wave of CIA revisionism is his contention that the agency’s operations branch was not full of cowboys and adventurers willing to throw any kind of spaghetti at the wall but was rather led by agents and administrators who were, for the most part, cautious and judicious, dubious about the cockamamie schemes proposed to them by people who would never have to get their own hands dirty ... this wave of scholarly and popular revisionism about the agency is welcome, particularly in dispelling simplistic or conspiratorial thinking. But it may run the risk of glossing over the magnitude of the political, economic, and human tragedies the CIA caused or exacerbated. More importantly, this makeover leaves us vulnerable to future adventurism and blunders from an agency with an appalling track record ... Anderson calls his book a tragedy in three acts, and it gets positively cinematic near the end, as the scenes get shorter, turning into jump cuts. It’s undeniably well-told and vivid, and the personal reflections of people like Sichel give it a granular, first-person quality lacking in other critical histories of the agency, without turning it into a pro-CIA screed.
PanPittsburgh Post-GazetteIn the end, the biography wants to be many things but fully succeeds at none of them. The first third of the book paints a psychological portrait of Sontag, centering on how her youth as the child of an alcoholic mother shaped her personality and drives. But the book loses this thread once Sontag becomes famous ... Mr. Moser also leaves incomplete the intellectual biography of Sontag that the book starts out to be. His explanation of her earliest influences, particularly German thought and fiction, is convincing, and he nods to how her thinking expanded when she encountered French philosophy and writers such as E.M. Cioran in the late 1950s and after. But she was always a hungry and eclectic reader, and his explanation of how the writers she continued to read through her adult life sent her in new directions feels incomplete, not fully baked ... More than anything, particularly in the second half, the book feels like a \'life and times\' survey ... But here, with a few exceptions, the book feels ankle-deep, lacking the engagement with ideas and psychology that marked its first half ... The real flaw of Mr. Moser’s biography, though, is that it does little to spur today’s readers to return to Susan Sontag’s work.
RavePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"... essential ... Andrew Delbanco provides a comprehensive overview of how the legal, moral and ontological questions posed by the presence of enslaved people in free territory unsettled the tenuous compromises ... The story of the \'road to the Civil War\' is a familiar one, but in this masterful book, Mr. Delbanco foregrounds what he sees as the pivotal role of the fugitive slave issue in accelerating and intensifying the sectional conflict that culminated in secession and war.\
David W. Blight
RavePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"[Various authors] have documented [Douglass\'] life many times, most notably William McFeeley, whose 1991 biography has been the standard work for almost three decades... Mr. McFeeley’s book, though, will likely be supplanted by David Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom ... A masterful, comprehensive biography such as Mr. Blight’s is particularly welcome in times such as these, when politicians such as the president are gleefully stoking the same racial divisions that Mr. Douglass spent his life trying to extinguish.\
Timothy B. Tyson
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteAlong with offering vivid portraits of Southern transplants in Chicago’s 'Black Belt,' Mr. Tyson illustrates the repressive social system that lower-class Mississippi whites such as Ms. Bryant had to navigate, and the power that sheriffs and country judges wielded over their poor, uneducated citizens ... This powerful, moving book doesn’t feature much groundbreaking new research. Mr. Tyson’s sources were largely previously public — newspaper accounts, congressional hearings, press releases, political speeches. But he has expertly unearthed and synthesized them to give a fuller picture than we’ve ever had of the minute-by-minute details of the crime, and of what people were saying and thinking about the Emmett Till case as it unfolded. It will certainly be the definitive account of this crucial catalyst for the civil rights struggle.
PanThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe book’s scope is indeed broad, and it details how quite a few boldface literary names of the 1950s and 1960s crossed paths with The Paris Review, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, or both. Finks fails to persuade, though, as thirdhand connections to the Review — whose editor may or may not have known of the CIA’s presence in the lit-mag world — are hardly enough to make an open-and-shut case of nefarious puppeteering. Whitney also fudges differences and at times gets facts wrong in the drive to make his story cohere ... The larger problem is that Finks is so diffuse. Whitney’s Salon article was a minor but genuinely original and valuable contribution to the scholarship on the Cultural Cold War. Here, he attempts to expand that article to book length, and the seams strain. His new contribution to the field is still his research on The Paris Review, but at times the links are so distant, or speculative, that they just seem forced. ... There is much more to be learned about the Cultural Cold War and the CIA’s role in promoting American literature, but Finks is not the place to learn it.