MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Harvey is a skillful writer and thorough researcher ... Mr. Harvey asks throughout his book whether Strang was a \'visionary idealist\' or a \'misanthropic opportunist,\' a question that misses the point. What’s important is how someone like Strang, a man who offered any number of reasons to distrust him, acquired so many loyal devotees ... That doesn’t delve deep enough. Since Mr. Harvey sees Strang as a microcosm of a certain kind of vexing, volatile Americana that’s still with us today, he ought to have gone further and considered, for instance, why most American \'losers\' were impervious to Strang’s seduction. (And not all of Strang’s followers were bumpkins.)
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThe future is often portrayed, in books and in articles, as being overrun by the sinister consequences of robotics and artificial intelligence. In The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast, Andrew Blum offers a reassuring counterpoint to such technodystopias ... one of the most suggestive conclusions of this book is that weather forecasting is shaped by society’s larger agendas ... In his overview of 19th-century weather scientists, Mr. Blum surprisingly omits the distinguished British meteorologist James Glaisher, who risked his life to obtain data by soaring aloft in a balloon. Mr. Blum also mistakenly states that Nazi Germany’s attempt to install \'a clandestine intercontinental automatic weather station\' in Canada was \'the only known Nazi incursion on North American soil.\' In truth, Nazi saboteurs also landed in New York and Florida. Finally, the book gives a rather perfunctory account of climate change—which is startling, since climate change could, conceivably, profoundly alter our culture, our lives, our planet’s very geography.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"Earth-Shattering: Violent Supernovas, Galactic Explosions, Biological Mayhem, Nuclear Meltdowns, and Other Hazards to Life in Our Universe is blithely engaging, a glittery planetarium that is, for the most part, a stage for astonishing and unnerving spectacles ... I greatly admire [Berman\'s] ability to lucidly explain astrophysics to the nonscientist ... Inevitably, [Berman\'s] accounts of egregious Earth-centric afflictions, while never pedantic, are just a little stolid.\
MixedLos Angeles Book Review\"Given its brevity, one wonders whether author and publisher are trying to capitalize on the earlier best seller [The Lost City of Z] ... While The White Darkness is cleanly written, smoothly weaving together Worsley’s story with Shackleton’s, I believe it should have been published as part of an omnibus volume... I find charging 20 dollars for its current incarnation — a skimpy narrative padded out with 53 color photos — somewhat disquieting ... Comparing The White Darkness to Grann’s excellent The Lost City of Z makes the new book seem even slighter. Though it also began life as a New Yorker article, The Lost City of Z is a real book.\
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal[An] odd book, made odder still by the fact that it’s often simultaneously engrossing and exasperating. And yes: The reader who perseveres through Underbug will also learn a thing or two about the recondite workings of termite civilization ... Ms. Margonelli takes a rather cosmic view of the termites’ endeavors ... The most fraught of the sundry fields Ms. Margonelli explores have to do with national defense and the attempts by the Pentagon to extrapolate from termite attributes to create cutting-edge weaponry ... Underbug isn’t for the casual reader. Its structure is reminiscent of a termite mound, either baroquely convoluted or profligately shambolic, depending on how it’s viewed. The book is best read as a collection of essays. And while Ms. Margonelli writes well and tries to maintain a blithe tone, the science is complex and demands at least a modicum of background knowledge on the part of the reader. But she raises weighty, worthy questions about the moral underpinnings of termite research and, indeed, of the nature of science in general.
Edward J. Larson
RaveWall Street Journal\"Mr. Larson, an academic and author of many other books (including a previous work on exploring Antarctica), is a talented storyteller with a dry sense of humor, and the nicest compliment that I can pay him is that he does full justice to his three protagonists’ remarkable bravery, resourcefulness, accomplishments—and flaws ... Mr. Larson’s scholarship indicates that both men also lusted after fame and fortune. Cynics could conclude that Peary and Shackleton were hypocrites. And yet, my own cynicism notwithstanding, I can’t help thinking that these two adventurers (even mendacious Peary) wouldn’t, couldn’t, have endured the hellish ordeals they did if they hadn’t possessed a modicum of idealistic patriotism.\
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...an absorbing, suspenseful chronicle of a remarkable Cold War episode … The Taking of K-129 is admirably thorough in its research. Mr. Dean, a longtime magazine journalist, clearly loves technology, and he is quite good at describing it. He is also deft at detailing how government agencies interacted with one another and with the private sector … Was Project Azorian worth the money spent and the incredible work that went into it? Mr. Dean thinks it was.
Kate Winkler Dawson
PanThe Wall Street JournalJuxtaposing the stories of the fog and Christie’s crimes, Ms. Dawson maintains, offers a flavor of postwar life in Britain and illuminates ‘the way in which humans experience fear’ … Ms. Dawson, a journalist and documentary producer, is an assiduous researcher. She resists, for the most part, exploiting the Grand Guignol aspects of her narrative, and her portraits of the ordinary people confronted by the depredations of the fog and Christie are moving. But the book can be frustrating. Its paired subjects are unrelated—Christie’s main killing spree didn’t begin until after the fog had ceased—and hence don’t illuminate each other … Finally, there are puzzling omissions.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...an excellent, highly engrossing account of the search for a man who was cunning, avaricious—and a dreadful speller ... Most of The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell is taken up with the FBI’s investigation into the packages and, eventually, into Regan’s treachery. It is a fascinating story, and it would be criminally mean-spirited of me to ruin it by disclosing any more particulars here. I will say only that, unlike in films and most spy novels, the human factor—personality traits—and serendipity played large roles in the case ... It is a pleasure to be in the hands of a writer who so skillfully weaves his assiduous research into polished prose. I have just two caveats. There is a fair amount of information in the book about coding and decoding, and I suspect that many readers will find the technicalities hard going. Second, Mr. Bhattacharjee did not interview Brian Regan ... Though it concentrates on the Regan affair, The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell presents an estimable, thoroughly enjoyable overview of espionage in the digital age.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...[a] riveting and poignant new book ... The Winter Fortress metamorphoses from engrossing history into a smashing thriller ... Mr. Bascomb’s research and, especially, his storytelling skills are first-rate. He even makes a reindeer hunt unnerving. And some of his anecdotes are priceless ... a tribute to courage, resourcefulness and patriotism in a neglected corner of the war.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIt would be great fun to drive or stroll with Mr. Petroski and pick his brain about the infrastructure one sees. He seems to know everything possible on the subject and adores it all. But this book, a labor of love, can sometimes be laborious for the reader. The Road Taken is replete with so much minutiae about everything connected to infrastructure that the general reader might become a bit bemused at times.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Jaher, a former screenwriter and astrologer, doesn’t proffer an apologia for spiritualism, but the book is fair to its entire cast of flamboyant, enigmatic and complex characters. He is also a diligent researcher, and his storytelling skills are impressive.