PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe question naturally arises: What does Mr. Damrosch have to offer that is new? Actually, a good deal. To begin with, this is the first biography to make use of the two superb new editions of the Histoire that have come out over the last decade, revolutionizing Casanova studies ... n his quotations, Mr. Damrosch provides his own fresh translations from these editions and draws upon the scholarship of their editors, as well as upon numerous French and Italian commentaries ... More important, Mr. Damrosch is an authority on the 18th century and so ideally suited to place Casanova within the context of his time ... When he reaches the end of his biography Mr. Damrosch joins in the \'appalled applause.\' His concluding remarks are a tribute to the liveliness of Casanova’s prose ... The great virtue of Mr. Damrosch’s biography is that, while never losing critical distance, he fully succeeds in communicating that \'vivid presentness,\' that \'joyful eagerness\' for life, which is what keeps us reading Casanova—and reading about him.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThis ebullience of this aubade-style effusion is entirely new. Mr. Parks, writing in his 60s, has a youthful vigor as he seeks to recapture the feelings of those who followed Garibaldi on his nation-creating journey ... He writes devastatingly that the historian’s book \'is simply bound to be dull because she is scared of stories.\' Mr. Parks has no such fears: Garibaldi’s life is full of thrilling stories, however they are told ... This is already a rattlingly good story, but clearly not a new one. Mr. Parks, however, finds an intriguingly new way of telling it, by combining it with an account of his own journey, literally in Garibaldi’s footsteps ... Despite...obvious differences, the close engagement with the physical difficulties of the terrain and the sweltering summer heat gives Mr. Parks a new insight into Garibaldi’s campaign ... Mr. Parks’s passionate engagement with this story lends this travelogue a special quality. This is true even of a purely atmospheric passage like this description of the sound of the cicadas ... It’s as if his full involvement in this journey—which is an exploration of his own attachment to Italy as much as it is of Risorgimento history—has sharpened all his senses, enabling him to write of the landscape with heightened intensity ... He also describes encounters with Italians along the way who have skeptical views of Garibaldi, and resists the temptation to embark on a heated defense of the hero, recognizing that it would be futile.
James Merrill, Ed. by Stephen Yenser and Langdon Hammer
RaveWall Street JournalThis book, which takes us from age 6 (a letter to Santa Claus) all the way to his final days in Tucson, Ariz., where he died from AIDS-related complications in 1995, immerses us in that world and enriches our understanding of the poetry that came out of it ... Merrill’s poems explore the complex bonds between himself and an ever-widening circle of friends, lovers and relations around the world. That circle—bewilderingly and for some people disturbingly—also expanded to take in the next world, via the poet’s longtime practice of conducting seances via the Ouija board ... Merrill’s poems constitute a vast, hospitable home into which we are invited. With the possible exception of Yeats, no poet since Wordsworth has made such great poetry from the material of his own life; however, while Wordsworth mainly reflects on his own relations with the natural world, Merrill focuses on his connections with other people ... For those not so privileged, these letters, together with Mr. Hammer’s biography, constitute the next best way to acquire a similar feeling of intimacy ... This book shows us that the term \'man of letters\' has never been more appropriately applied to a writer.