PositiveSt. Louis Post-DispatchSo what makes Brands’ book worth reading? The answer: its deep look at its two main characters and their views on slavery ... Brands quotes his characters at length; their stilted 19th-century English can raise readers’ eyebrows. But Brands also tucks in some stray factual gems ... And some readers may find eerie parallels to events in recent months—widespread racial tension, for example, and the debate over whether federal or state government should act to handle a problem—in our time, the coronavirus, and in Lincoln’s, the extension of slavery.
A. J. Baime
RaveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchIn this presidential election year, historian and journalist A.J. Baime has given America a winner ... breezy, easy-to-read English ... then came Election Day. Baime covers it in a chapter with prose to delight in.
Donald L. Miller
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchTo be sure, Miller takes the general to task for some military miscalculations — and personal shortcomings ... Readers who fall short of Civil War Buff status may find Miller’s attention to tactical detail a literary forced march, although a profusion of maps helps to keep things clear. And Miller steps back often from his regiments-and-road-junctions approach to offer some interesting sidelights.
MixedSt. Louis Post-DispatchMorris tends to bewilder readers lacking advanced degrees in science or mechanics ... Although we recall Edison as a genius of light, Edison is anything but light, with its 700-plus pages ... Morris goes into intricate detail on Edison’s business dealings, even though those dealings seem of limited interest to general readers ... Weighty prose, indeed. Still, readers will enjoy Morris’ depictions of Edison’s personality and his work habits ... This book shines some light on the man behind that bulb.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchCivil War buffs will delve into Lincoln’s Spies, feasting on details unearthed by Waller’s deep-digging research.
John C. McManus
PositiveSt. Louis Post-Dispatch...McManus often steps away from the generals’ headquarters to describe what the war was like at the foxhole level ... even in the worst of settings, McManus finds some bright bits ... Let’s hope that some members of the dwindling band of WWII Army vets are still around to read—and savor—McManus’ second volume. Until then, we all have Fire and Fortitude to read. And savor.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchLike so many authors, Fishman covers the technological challenges facing NASA. He goes into exquisite detail on such seemingly trivial matters as the ladder that Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin used to climb down to the lunar surface. Indeed, Fishman gives readers an entire chapter on the American flag that the two planted in the lunar soil ... But Fishman also covers the bureaucratic sniping, the turf-war tussling and the Cold War contests involving the White House, Congress, NASA — and the Soviet Union, which began the space race in the late ‘50s with Sputnik ... Fishman’s snappiest salute may go the technological marvels that the space mission rushed along — and that today reside in our pockets and purses inside our cellphones ... In a larger sense, Fishman finds a philosophical payoff ... Fishman’s journalistic background taught him to write short, simple sentences, using plain-and-simple Anglo-Saxon English. As a result, despite all the detail, One Great Leap goes down smoothly ... And credit Fishman with an eye for colorful detail.
John Lewis Gaddis
RaveSaint Louis Post-DispatchGaddis goes far beyond the simplified generalizations of newspaper obituaries to picture Kennan as a complicated and contradictory genius who could awe people one day and exasperate them the next ... Gaddis also takes pains to point out Kennan\'s flaws, to depict him as thoughtful, austere and melancholy ... Gaddis quotes a lot of Kennan\'s unofficial writing, and even the throwaway lines seem to shine ... Gaddis\' biography may offer more George F. Kennan than most general readers care to consume. But this single man played a huge role in the history of the last half of the 20th century. He deserves a weighty biography.
PositiveSt. Louis Post-Dispatch...[a] long and complex tale ... with characters like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor strolling through the pages, readers will find it hard to set The Golden Hour aside ... Williams ties together the mysterious threads ... The Golden Hour runs short on action but long on everyday description ... Williams lightens the complexity here and there with humorous flashes.
MixedSt. Louis Post-DispatchIf you need a Father’s Day gift for a man who once pitched for a baseball team, consider your search over ... it’s a history—and detailed description—of those 10 pitches, with a chapter devoted to each ... Trouble is, this book throws more insider stuff than the average baseball fan will care to deal with. Kepner goes into minute detail on such arcane matters as the placement of which finger goes where on the ball, and which way the ball’s seams ought to face. When Kepner isn’t writing this kind of prose himself, he’s quoting others to the same effect ... Here and there, Kepner tosses in some humor ... But mostly, K strikes out as entertaining reading.
PositiveSt. Louis Post-DispatchThe plot twists and turns like a desperate running back on fourth down, with readers sometimes hard-pressed to determine which character is lying to whom and why. Some readers will find Pavone’s style fascinating, while others will find it frustrating ... Still, he gives some crisp observations on the society in which we live.
MixedThe St. Louis Post-DispatchDespite his skill with words, Brooks chooses to write most of this book in abstract prose — and despite the author’s strong case for community, the reader’s eyes may start glazing over ... a long, long sermon ... Finally, some readers will be dismayed — while others will be relieved — that nowhere in this book does Brooks write the name Trump.
MixedSt. Louis Post-Dispatch\"[Reeves\'s] book will win embraces from fellow environmentalists, from marine biologists and from geologists specializing in rivers. The rest of us may find parts of Overrun tough wading. Reeves tends to slip into multi-syllable prose of an abstract nature ... Reeves also wanders into the combat zone of bureaucratic infighting — fascinating to those on the inside but stultifying to the rest of us.\
PositiveSt. Louis Post-Dispatch\"And give Finch a lot of credit. Although he was born in New York and lives in Chicago, he seems to have a keen sense of life in London more than a century and a half ago ... Finch may disappoint some readers with the discovery of who took the Shakespeare play and why. But he’ll delight them with other bits of this novel.\
PositiveSt. Louis Post-DispatchMort’s characters tend toward unhappiness. That tendency breathes sharp reality into Mort’s prose ... Much of his prose deals with the drudgery of everyday details, polished by Mort into interesting, sometimes fascinating reading ... Since the decline and fall of magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, the audience for short stories seems to have dwindled to high school and college classrooms. The rest of us can pick up a copy of Down Along the Piney to realize what we’re missing.
MixedThe St. Louis Post-DispatchShinkle organizes his story by topic, spelling out the details in simple declarative prose. But some readers may be bothered by Shinkle’s habit of referring to his characters by their first names or nicknames. (Even the esteemed Eisenhower becomes just plain \'Ike.\') ... Readers who lap up Washington wonkery will relish Ike’s Mystery Man for its insider accounts of bureaucratic turf wars. Others may find it too wonky for words.
PositiveSTL TodayJust after Thanksgiving in 1950, some 300,000 Chinese communist soldiers fell upon American soldiers and Marines advancing through North Korea toward the Chinese border at the Yalu River. On a strategic level, the Chinese assault amounted to a disaster for the United States ... Still, author Hampton Sides — he’s a journalism professor and popular historian — finds a brighter outlook on the tactical side in On Desperate Ground. Sides focuses heavily on the 1st Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver Smith — one of the few American generals to win a salute from author Sides ... Sides’ prose is refreshingly nonacademic.
Charles B Rosenberg
PositiveSaint Louis Post-DispatchRosenberg takes pains to sketch out the problems of 18th-century life, from everyday details to the struggles of statesmanship, given the long distances and slow transports ... Some readers may raise their eyebrows over the author’s choice of British spellings of words, even when spoken by Americans.
Joshua B. Freeman
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchIf you teach economic history for a living, you’ll find Behemoth to be essential reading. The rest of us will probably find it must-dig-in-and-push-on reading. Still, Freeman throws in a few sparking bits. For example, he outlines the role of the factory in art (think of Margaret Bourke-White’s dramatic photos, Charlie Chaplin’s 'Modern Times' or Diego Rivera’s mural at River Rouge) — and even gives us an unusual factory connection to the phrase 'knocked up.'
RaveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchThomas Perry writes dandy crime thrillers. The latest: The Bomb Maker, whose title covers only half the plot ... Yes, Perry devotes a lot of space to the bomb maker, a clever but evil man. But Perry devotes even more space to the Los Angeles cops trained to disarm bombs ... Trouble is for the killer, Stahl has an equally clever mind and a strong dose of caution and common sense ... The author writes highly detailed accounts of how Stahl finds and disarms bombs, with Hines’ help. Are the accounts accurate? Who knows? But they sound accurate ... Warning: The Bomb Maker teems with gore as well as technicalities ... It’s a bang-up book.
Christopher J. Yates
RaveThe St. Louis Post-Dispatch...a wickedly fascinating book … This book has a lot of sex and a lot of violence — the sort of prose to make a few cold winter evenings a bit steamy. The dialogue is pitch-perfect … In this gritty tale, Yates drops some colorful prose.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchReaders who tackle the daily Cryptoquip in this paper’s Everyday section will enjoy reading magazine journalist Jason Fagone’s The Woman Who Smashed Codes … Elizebeth Friedman managed to stay a step ahead of Germany’s cryptologists. Although author Fagone tries to keep his prose simple, his subject sometimes makes for tough reading...Still, he brings alive Friedman, dead and gone since 1980.
MixedThe St. Louis Post-DispatchHis tale moves at the pace of the settlers’ covered wagons plodding across the prairies. If Wallis’ intense research turned up a detail, you can bet that it made its way into his book. His index lists 338 names, most of them belonging to obscure people. Readers will struggle to keep them straight ... Wallis’ research produces some interesting trivia ... This long book may find some readers in central Illinois among those who have a Donner party relative in the family tree. The rest of us will find it far from light summer reading.
RaveThe St. Louis Post-Dispatch\"... fascinating story of a lawman whose heart lies in the right place — but whose hand is all too willing to take bribes and whose fists regularly mete out justice on a back-alley basis ... A warning: The Force teems with gore and profanity and detailed bouts of sex. A judgment: It’s the best damned crime book so far this year.\
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchBilly Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a novel about the Iraq war. Sort of … [The Bravos] are feted at Texas Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys are taking on the Chicago Bears. And that's where this war novel takes place — at a pro football game, where the soldiers drink too much and brawl with groundskeepers and where Billy Lynn falls in love with a Cowboys cheerleader … The book bounces around, from low comedy to high tension, from the affluence of private-suite Cowboys fans to the near-peon status of the foot soldiers, from GI high jinks to philosophy about how the soldiers who fight a war look at it, as opposed to how the civilians for whom they are fighting that war look at it.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-Dispatch...with Testimony, Turow’s tale stays within the courtroom — but a court of a different sort and setting. Rather than Kindle County (Turow’s thinly disguised Chicago), Testimony unwinds in the Netherlands, at the International Criminal Court in the Hague ... To dig out the truth, ten Boom heads into Bosnia, with a side trip to Kosovo. There he meets some fascinating characters, comes close to losing his life — and learns that nothing about this case will prove simple ... Turow tells his tale in classy fashion, even when he writes about everyday details ...guides readers through a minefield of a plot until everything finally becomes clear. It’s complicated but will hold anybody who ventures in ...one character will surely remind many readers of the real-life David Petraeus.
PanThe St. Louis Post-DispatchThe market for this book may be slender. After all, most Americans who remember Monroe and her movies are drawing Social Security checks. Others will roll their eyes at the author’s identification of characters by their first names — a confusing element in a tale with a cast big enough for one of Cecil B. DeMille’s epics. And some readers may roll their eyes at Winder’s insistence on recounting Monroe’s wardrobe, day in and day out.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchOn the one hand, the tale amounts to what academics call a Bildungsroman and the rest of us know as a coming-of-age story. But George also gives us a novel based on the notions of rising and falling, of life and death ... The verdict on this novel? In effect, a book critic is a one-member jury — and in this case, the jury finds author George guilty of producing a dandy book.
RaveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchSteve Twomey has done a public service by writing Countdown to Pearl Harbor, a well-written and fascinating account ... mostly, Twomey tells his story in terms of people, Japanese as well as American, in settings ranging from the Oval Office to the bridges of warships off Oahu. These people tell their stories in retrospect, still marveling at it all. As will readers. This is a splendid book.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchBrands takes pains to praise MacArthur’s good points — for example, his daring amphibious assault in Inchon in the fall of 1950. And the author has plenty of criticism for Truman, mainly for his hesitance to shut MacArthur up. But in the end, Brands sides with the president ... Brands writes with a smooth hand and with a nice way of telling his story, whenever possible, in terms of people.
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchBoth tracks produce lots of surprises and surprise endings. Bosch’s legion of readers will come away entertained — and gratified that in his acknowledgments, Connelly all but promises yet another Bosch tale. To be sure, readers unfamiliar with the Los Angeles area’s highway system may wonder why Connelly spends so many paragraphs in tracking Bosch’s driving routes.
Ronald C. White
MixedThe St. Louis Post-DispatchWhite depicts Grant as a man of modesty, calmness and honesty who had a West Point graduate’s upstanding view of duty. Alas, much of this book sidetracks into regiment-and-road-junction accounts of battles, although the many maps help readers. The book also details turf fights around Grant, first between his generals and then among his bureaucrats. This stuff would have been of great interest to Americans of Grant’s time. But today…
J. Kael Weston
PositiveThe St. Louis Post-DispatchPolitically, Weston makes his liberalism clear. But readers expecting an anti-war tract may be in for a surprise, or at least half a surprise. As Weston puts it, “I could only hope high school and college history books one day would declare in bold print and without asterisks: Afghanistan had something to do with 9/11 and was the right war. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and was the wrong war' ... This book shines when it recounts Weston’s day-to-day dealings with Marines (and Iraqis and Afghans). Some stretches turn dryly abstract but revert in good time to daily doings. At times, Weston uses cynical humor about the folly of war.
PanSt. Louis Post-DispatchLike many a political pundit, Mayer says that the libertarian Republicans elected to the U.S. House have made governing tough — and even, as the shutdown of October 2013 showed — impossible...It’s all here, from the Tea Party upswing to the fossil fuel industry’s expressions of doubt about global warming. For some readers staggering under the load of Mayer’s listings of names, dates, places and obscure foundations, the message may seem unworthy of the effort required to read it.
PanSt. Louis Post-DispatchIt all rolls in on relentlessly chronological fashion, weighted down with trivia — who sat in on which recording session, who shared the billings in Las Vegas, who produced and directed which movie, which wife put up with which of Sinatra’s affairs, and so on. Despite it all, Sinatra remains Chairman of the Board. But readers of this weighty book may be simply b-o-r-e-d.
PanSt. Louis Post-DispatchStudents of the Holocaust will want to read 1944. But general readers may find this long book a wearying slog through minefields of adjectives and adverbs...