MixedThe New York TimesThe author tries to make sense of the billionaire entrepreneur he has shadowed for two years ... Isaacson, whose previous biographical subjects include Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs, is a patient chronicler of obsession; in the case of Musk, he can occasionally seem too patient — a hazard for any biographer who is given extraordinary access ... The details of...domestic intrigues are, in the book and in Musk’s life, largely beside the point. He is mostly preoccupied with his businesses.
PositiveThe New York Times\"Huang delights in details such as these — memorable yet mostly forgotten. He acknowledges there are other biographies of Wong, including Graham Hodges’ \'pioneering\' volume and Anthony Chan’s Perpetually Cool. With Daughter of the Dragon, Huang is offering something different, presenting this as the third volume of his \'Rendezvous With America\' trilogy, which has included books about Charlie Chan and the conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker. Daughter of the Dragon is biography embedded in cultural criticism ... the book is clearly intended as a form of reclamation and subversion ... Huang is a wry and generous storyteller; the Anna May he evokes stepped out from the limited roles she was relegated to and turned to writing as a way of showcasing her curiosity and wit.\
Wolfram Eilenberger, trans. by Shaun Whiteside
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewEilenberger is an energetic guide to these philosophers’ ideas, though it’s clear that he holds Weil’s writings in special esteem.
Patrick J Deneen
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewFor a book that’s ostensibly about the oppressively liberal American political system, a surprising number of pages are devoted to the ins and outs of what happens on elite college campuses ... The confidence (and condescension) is breathtaking ... Deneen’s worldview is unrelentingly zero-sum ... Underneath all the gemütlich verbs lurks a suggestion that some readers may find chilling: a vision of the \"common good\" so obvious to Deneen that it’s not up for debate or discussion.
PositiveThe New York Times\"Life can be deadly — I found myself slipping into this kind of ambient paranoia while reading Emily Monosson’s unsettling new book ... Like The Last of Us, the video game and HBO series premised on a fungal pandemic turning people into zombies, Blight emphasizes the decidedly unsalutary things that fungi can do.\
RaveThe New York TimesFast-paced ... Terrifying ... Goodell’s stripped-down style suits his subject. This is a propulsive book, one to be raced through; the planet is burning, and we are running out of time ... Reads like the hard-boiled sequel to Goodell’s previous book, The Water Will Come. Global warming and rising sea levels are connected, with disastrous effects ... Complacency would only compound the horror, which perhaps explains the tenor of this book.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewA Terribly Serious Adventure is lively storytelling as sly \"redescription\": an attempt to recast the history of philosophy at Oxford in the mid-20th century by conveying not only what made it influential in its time but also what might make it vital in ours ... Krishnan himself is so skillful at explicating the arguments of others that at various points it seems as if he must be stating his own position. But no — he mostly hangs back, elucidating a variety of ideas with the respect he thinks they deserve.
RaveThe New York TimesAckerman is a warm and companionable guide, so enthusiastic about her subject that I suspect even the avian-indifferent will be charmed by her encounters with owls and the dedicated people who study them. Each species seems like a marvel, but certain owls are so special that her book is peppered with superlatives ... The photos in Ackerman’s book are fascinating.
RaveThe New York TimesDeeply knowing, properly indignant and — maybe the best revenge — very funny ... It’s a daringly creative and often gleeful coda to this long, sad, sordid true story.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewVladeck is a conscientious guide through the legal thickets, taking care to show exactly how the conservative members of the court have used the shadow docket to expand religious liberty and crush reproductive rights ... Vladeck has taken it upon himself to translate the court’s deliberately cryptic orders and legal technicalities into accessible English. Perhaps inevitably, though, his subject matter can get so convoluted that it forces him to write mouthfuls ... He also takes pains in this book to be as fair and methodical as possible.
Scott J Shapiro
RaveThe New York TimesReaders who start this book assuming they will be handed a more sweeping conclusion will find that their expectations have been (entertainingly) subverted: In other words, they’ve been hacked.
Rachel Louise Snyder
RaveThe New York TimesThis is in many ways an inspirational book, but I wouldn’t call it a comforting one. Snyder would never succumb to the pretty idea that suffering makes a person stronger. What she does describe — vividly and powerfully — is how, instead of responding to relentless hardship by building a protective carapace against the world, she was determined to open herself up to possibility ... Her memoir is bookended by death — and also by life, since Snyder observes the world with both an unsparing eye and a generous spirit ... All of this is hard to reconcile, but Snyder’s memoir shows how one might — must — live amid multiple truths.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewWry and revelatory ... Grabar, who writes for Slate, does this now and again: elegantly stating a simple truth that undergirds the complex knot of social questions at the center of his book ... Many Americans expect parking to be “convenient, available and free” — in other words, “perfect.” Grabar empathizes with these desires, which is partly what makes Paved Paradise so persuasive. Only somebody who understands the emotional power of these fantasies can gently show us how bizarre such entitlement actually is.
PositiveThe New York TimesThe entirety of Toobin’s book is given over to McVeigh and the ensuing trials ... The first half of the book recounts the events leading up to the bombing in Toobin’s unfussy prose ... Homegrown repeatedly draws a \'direct line\' (as promised on the jacket copy) between the Oklahoma City bombing and the insurrection on Jan. 6; at multiple points Toobin interrupts his brisk narrative with some galumphing sentences reminding the reader of parallels that are glaringly obvious. The more intriguing parts of the book come from his descriptions of all the legal wrangling.
PositiveThe New York TimesSurprising ... She has a knack for nimbly threading together her own memories and tastes with the histories of the objects themselves ... By the end of the book, she comes to a détente with her own yearning. She recognizes that she can appreciate beauty without possessing it.
RaveThe New York TimesThe material that Grann has to work with is again unwieldy. He sets up his story as a mystery ... It’s the kind of inspiring chronicle that would make for a rousing maritime adventure. But this is a David Grann book, and so he gives us something more ... Despite the evident deliberation that Grann put into setting up the story just so, the question of whether or not there was a mutiny quickly appeared to me, almost 300 years later, beside the point. Yes, everyone from the shipwreck had his particular tale to tell, whether out of vanity or self-preservation. But Grann is so skillful at describing the men’s physical ordeals at sea and on land that their quarrels over the naval code pale next to the startling fact of their survival.
RaveThe New York TimesHer new book offers a multiplicity of notes as a rejoinder, assembling memories and observations, artifacts and artworks, tracing the persistence of racism and brutality while also exploring the varieties of Black life ... Merciful interruptions, attentive kindnesses, moments of regard: In Sharpe’s book, intimacy and tenderness provide something that resembles hope, though perhaps a more accurate word would be respite ... Ordinary Notes makes full use of its form, finding in fragmentation a way to propose and to elaborate, eddying back and forth between cruelty and care, sorrow and joy. A narrative would have presumed an arc, and an arc would have presumed a kind of grand progress that is antithetical to Sharpe’s worldview ... Her critique is so radical that it’s only logical for there to be a decidedly apolitical quality to the responses she eventually offers. She finds a measure of solace and recognition in books, in friendship, in poetry, in art.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review[Bakewell] manages to wrangle seven centuries of humanist thought into a brisk narrative, resisting the traps of windy abstraction and glib oversimplification. But covering such enormous terrain means that Humanly Possible doesn’t quite have the bracing focus of her earlier work ... There is a beauty to this, even if it doesn’t quite answer the question of how to rein in all the godlike powers we have already unleashed.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewIlluminating ... In addition to Dallek’s scrupulous research, he knows how to tell this story with a clarifying elegance and restraint.
RaveThe New York TimesThe book is riveting and darkly funny and, in all senses of the word, unclassifiable ... Bottoms Up returns information to its context, capturing as much as possible the texture of reality, showing us how bewildering it often is ... The arc of Howley’s extraordinary book feels both startling and inevitable; of course a journey through the deep state would send her down the rabbit hole.
RaveThe New York TimesHarrowing ... Powerful ... A wrenching book ... Asgarian spent nearly five years reporting this book, finding people to interview and digging through official records ... Even if you’re still skeptical of her proposed solutions, Asgarian gives you plenty to think about.
PanThe New York TimesThe overall sense you get from reading his new memoir is that of the mechanical try-hard — someone who has expended a lot of effort studying which way the wind is blowing in the Republican Party and is learning how to comport himself accordingly ... All the culture war Mad Libs can’t distract from the dull coldness at this book’s core. A former military prosecutor, DeSantis is undeniably diligent and disciplined ... Even the title, with its awkward feint at boldness while clinging to the safety of cliché, suggests the anxiety of an ambitious politician who really, really wants to run for president in 2024 and knows he needs the grievance vote ... For the most part, The Courage to Be Free is courageously free of anything that resembles charisma, or a discernible sense of humor. While his first book was weird and esoteric enough to have obviously been written by a human, this one reads like a politician’s memoir churned out by ChatGPT ... At around 250 pages, this isn’t a particularly long book, but it’s padded with such banalities ... Take out the gauzy abstraction, the heartwarming clichés, and much of what DeSantis is describing in The Courage to Be Free is chilling — unfree and scary.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewHasan offers an entertaining primer on rhetorical techniques ... On his show, Hasan is known for confronting his guests (or “opponents”) with factual evidence, pinning them down with details so that they can’t wriggle out of a question and are left to squirm ... The debates that Hasan writes about seem to meet certain conditions — you have a case to make; your opponent has a case to make; you’re more or less equally matched; and whatever you say won’t impinge on the relationship between you (and even if it does, you don’t care).
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe subtitle of The Wandering Mind is \'What Medieval Monks Tell Us About Distraction,\' which is a tantalizing, if somewhat misleading, proposition. This is a charming and peculiar book. I can’t blame Kreiner for using the cultural obsession with distractibility to train our focus elsewhere, guiding us from the starting point of our own preoccupations to a greater understanding of how monks lived.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... lively and ambitious ... I was so rapt by “Against the World” that it was only when sitting down to write about it that I realized how resistant it is to a neat summary, because there isn’t a single story Zahra tells ... Every story in this book is relevant and absorbing; Zahra plaits her narrative strands together with such deliberation and skill that nothing is out of place ... She doesn’t rely on the syntheses of other scholars, examining instead how people understood events as they unfolded in real time. Her searching book reminds us that a view from 10,000 feet doesn’t always capture what’s actually happening on the ground.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewSeamlessly recounted, threading together science and emotion, ideas and experience ... Even if Hendrickson doesn’t explicitly say so, getting these narrative transitions right is evidently crucial to him; connecting his thoughts is a way of connecting with us, drawing us in, capturing our attention and keeping it there ... Hendrickson has cultivated an undeniable gift for concise metaphors, distilling potentially long-winded explanations into memorable images, briskly delivered.
PositiveThe New York TimesPhilip traces [the] history ... All of this is inspiring, even if I wished Philip had said more about some of the possible complications in getting the balance right — between welcoming industrious beavers and keeping some of their more invasive activities in check. But she admits that part of what spurred this book was something more immediate.
RaveThe New York Times... revelatory ... This book doesn’t rescue Hoover’s reputation but instead complicates it, deepening our understanding of him and, by extension, the country he served ... The myth of American exceptionalism relegated him to caricature, a supervillain who managed to cling to power only through devious means. But as G-Man vividly shows, Hoover was an exceedingly popular figure for much of his career ... part of what makes G-Man such a fascinating book is how much attention Gage pays to Hoover’s other side — that of the consummate bureaucrat who was determined to modernize and professionalize the F.B.I. As such, despite his obsession with secrecy, he left behind an enormous paper trail. “G-Man is the first major biography of Hoover in nearly three decades, and the first to make ample use of records that have become available in the intervening years, including documents from a Cold War decryption project known as Venona ... This is a humanizing biography, but I wouldn’t call it a sympathetic one — as Gage shows, Hoover accrued too much power and racked up too many abuses for him to be worthy of that. What she provides instead is an acknowledgment of the complexities that made Hoover who he was, while also charting the turbulent currents that eventually swept him aside.
PanThe New York TimesPence...tries his hardest in this memoir to have it all ways at once ... [His] fondness for someone who egged on the mob that threatened to kill him is an especially degrading form of self-abasement that’s embarrassing to watch ... The bulk of So Help Me God”is given over to tracing his relationship with Trump, much of it in minute yet obfuscating detail ... Not that Pence’s explanations amount to much more than self-serving spin ... Some of Pence’s contortions are so elaborate that they’re worthy of Cirque du Soleil. A chapter on Covid gets especially creative. Trump’s bumbling, combative Covid briefings are depicted as wonderfully comforting, instead of utterly confounding ... Pence, who presided over the White House’s troubled coronavirus task force, is relentlessly upbeat, despite a pandemic death toll of more than 377,000 Americans by the end of 2020 ... The most obvious conclusion to draw from So Help Me God is that Pence continues to have political — perhaps presidential — ambitions and so finds himself in bit of a pickle. If he had refused to certify the vote, that would have been it for him — no matter what happened after that, he would forever be seen as Trump’s lackey. But since he did certify the election, he has to find a way to placate the Trump supporters he’ll inevitably need ... Threading such a tiny needle seems impossible on the face of it, but if anybody has had the miraculous experience of failing upward, it’s Pence.
PositiveThe New York TimesOne of our great narrative journalists ... Conover’s approach isn’t so much about pinning people down as letting them reveal themselves. He’s such a wry and nimble writer that much of the time this works, yielding rounded portraits that are full of ambiguity, anguish and contradiction ... Sometimes, though, Conover is so empathetic that he seems determined to put the most generous gloss on what people tell him.
PositiveThe New York TimesGuided by Mukherjee’s granular narration...I was repeatedly dazzled by his pointillist scenes, the enthusiasm of his explanations, the immediacy of his metaphors. But I also found myself wondering where we were going. What kind of organism might these smaller units add up to? What was the shape of the story he set out to tell? ... The organization of the book may be cellular, but the overall effect can feel sprawling — like a city that allowed developers to keep building lovely houses while doing little to contain them. Similarly, some of the writing in The Song of the Cell is so lovely that you can get caught up in its music. Mukherjee has an undeniable gift for metaphor ... If Mukherjee were another kind of storyteller — tidier, if less honest — he could have showcased a more linear narrative, emphasizing how developments in cell research have yielded some truly amazing possibilities ... But as a practicing physician, he has seen too much suffering and death to succumb to an easy triumphalism.
RaveThe New York TimesIntriguing ... Brooks doesn’t quite attack...knotty questions head on, but Seduced by Story sidles close to them, suggesting that we can resist bad narratives propagated by bad actors only if we train our \'critical and analytical intelligence\' to distinguish between a truly good story and a damaging one ... Brooks is a nimble and elegant writer, letting his argument unfold, showing us how fiction can do two seemingly incommensurate things at once ... Seduced by Story turns out not to be the condemnation of narrative that I thought would follow from Brooks’s complaints in its early pages, but rather a potent defense of attentive reading and its real-world applications.
Matthew F. Delmont
RaveThe New York TimesA running theme in Delmont’s book — the prescience with which Black Americans identified the fascist threat while much of the United States was still in an isolationist mood ... Delmont is an energetic storyteller, giving a vibrant sense of his subject in all of its dimensions. He draws attention to the role played by Black personnel in logistics ... Delmont doesn’t skimp on...sobering stories, explaining that he wants to provide a \'definitive history.\' But he also clearly sees his book as a chance to honor those Black Americans who fought for the United States but never properly got their due.
RaveThe New York TimesThis isn’t a book-length argument for centrism, insisting that political persuasion is all about watering down one’s positions and meeting others halfway ... Emotions turn out to be a core part of this book. People don’t like to feel dismissed or condescended to — and nobody likes to feel stupid. You cannot persuade anyone by browbeating that person into submission ... He’s mostly writing as a champion — not necessarily a bad mode, though much of the book consists of Giridharadas handing over the mike, allowing his subjects to describe their own philosophies of persuasion. I usually want more friction in a book, but given his subject — how to save our imperiled democracy — perhaps reality has supplied more than enough of it. While the world seems to counsel despair, The Persuaders is animated by a sense of possibility.
Margaret A. Burnham
RaveNew York TimesA database of what Burnham calls a \'forgotten history of racially motivated homicides\' in the American South during the Jim Crow era ... Recounting such stories is part of the important work that this book does, offering evidence as a rejoinder to decades of \'manufactured uncertainty\' ... But historical retrieval is only part of Burnham’s goal with this book, which also makes a case for reparations ... Each death in this book is recounted with intensity and specificity, but some patterns do emerge ... With justice so elusive, even a simple acknowledgment of the facts is a necessary step.
RaveThe New York Times... quietly wrenching ... To say that this book is about grief or coming-of-age doesn’t quite do it justice; nor is it mainly about being Asian American, even though there are glimmers of that too. Hsu captures the past by conveying both its mood and specificity ... This is a memoir that gathers power through accretion — all those moments and gestures that constitute experience, the bits and pieces that coalesce into a life ... Hsu is a subtle writer, not a showy one; the joy of Stay True sneaks up on you, and the wry jokes are threaded seamlessly throughout.
RaveNew York TimesExuberant ... What gives Wulf’s book its heft and intrigue is how such lofty ideals could run aground on the stubborn persistence of petty rivalry and self-regard ... There are a number of colorful characters in this book who compete for our attention ... Wulf offers vibrant portraits of them all, but there are two people whom she places at the center ... Magnificent Rebels isn’t the only book about the Jena Set to be published in English this year. Jena: 1800, by the German journalist Peter Neumann, is significantly shorter, focusing more on the roiling intellectual atmosphere than striving, as Wulf does, to make a case for the Romantic fixation on the self. But as Wulf’s nimble storytelling vividly shows, part of what made the Romantics so fascinating and maddening was their refusal to be pinned down.
RaveThe New York Times... like so many of the stories in this intimate and revelatory book, the truth of it is real but incomplete ... Aside from her candid reflections in the prologue and the epilogue, Aviv mostly hangs back, even though her own experience primes us — as maybe it primed her — to be alert to how stories can clarify as well as distort the mental distress that a person is going through ... Aviv’s narrative is so attuned to subtlety and complexity that any summary risks making it sound like she’s doing something she’s not. This isn’t an anti-psychiatry book — Aviv is too aware of the specifics of any situation to succumb to anything so sweeping and polemical. What she does is recognize the multiplicity of stories that attach to her subjects’ experiences, exploring a variety of interpretations instead of jumping at the impulse to explain them away ... delicately balances two truths that prove remarkably difficult to hold in tandem. We all have our own minds, our own experiences, our own suffering; we are also social creatures who live among others, and social forces have at least some bearing on how we understand who we are ... a book-length demonstration of Aviv’s extraordinary ability to hold space for the \'uncertainty, mysteries and doubts\' of others.
PositiveNew York TimesLynne Tillman offers an account that is startling in its blunt, even brutal, refusal of sentimentality ... The book is mostly composed of personal recollections, but Tillman occasionally offers some explicit words of guidance for anyone who might be in a similar situation ... Where another writer might seek the most self-flattering light, Tillman is unsparingly frank about the power she knew she had ... There’s something surprisingly retrograde in Tillman’s intergenerational mother-blame, but I suppose there’s something revealing in it, too ... Tillman is too aware of ambiguity and ambivalence to reduce her mother to [a] caricature, rounding it out with a fuller portrait, almost in spite of herself.
PositiveNew York TimesGregg’s clever and provocative book is full of irreverent notions and funny anecdotes — the creative upside to being a human animal. But our ability to abstract from our immediate experience means we can take that creativity too far ... If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal is mostly fixated on the ill, or the way that humans insist they are improving things when they are ultimately mucking them up ... It’s worth thinking about how much trouble humans can create when our ambitions extend beyond our immediate needs. But Gregg, in his very human desire to dramatize the stakes, can be prone to overstatement — occasionally glossing over the animal experience while demonizing the human one ... He’s mostly writing in a more polemical vein than an exploratory one. He extols how much \'happier\' and \'healthier\' we would be if we followed the lead of nonhuman animals but he doesn’t touch on how, well, ableist nature can be ... Human existence isn’t inherently good or evil; despite Gregg’s comic distortions — which are undeniably entertaining — the more subtle suggestion that courses through his book is that, compared with nonhuman animals, our existence is more extreme.
RaveThe New York TimesFairbanks is too good a writer to resort to crude psychologizing, but she repeatedly suggests that there is a terrible price to pay for trying to ignore how people see their own situations; the undeniable material facts of everything that happens to them is often inseparable from an emotional reality ... In addition to being an elegant writer, Fairbanks is unfailingly empathetic; she draws out tangled emotions with such skill and sensitivity that I was mystified by a few awkward analogies ... More resonant are the echoes she finds in the current American situation, where multiple reckonings are happening at once, but in comparative slow-motion.
PositiveThe New York TimesI kept waiting for the kind of happy reconciliation that never quite comes. Instead we get Wilkinson declaring that math \'as a brute, malign and mechanical thing.\' He confesses that by the end of his journey, he was still consumed by \'an indignant resistance\' ... This, then, isn’t a chipper story of personal growth — and for that I was grateful. Wilkinson has accomplished something more moving and original, braiding his stumbling attempts to get better at math with his deepening awareness that there’s an entire universe of understanding that will, in some fundamental sense, forever lie outside his reach ... As enjoyable as these bits are, Wilkinson can get so frustrated with the actual math part that I wondered at times at his refusal to talk to a tutor.
RaveNew York TimesYou get the sense that Ziegler could recite this history backward and forward, comfortably parsing the arcane differences between 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations. She takes bits of levity where she can find them...but Dollars for Life is an inevitably sober book.
RaveNew York TimesThat I found myself surprised at so many moments while reading An Immense World, Ed Yong’s new book about animal senses, speaks to his exceptional gifts as a storyteller — though perhaps it also says something regrettable about me. I was marveling at those details because I found them weird; but it turns out, if I try to expand my perspective just a bit, they aren’t so weird after all ... Yong offers these facts in a generous spirit, clearly aware that part of what will enthrall readers is discovering just how few of these facts many of us have known ... Yong’s book is funny and elegantly written, mercifully restrained when it comes to jargon ... If there is a benefit to trying to imagine ourselves into the experiences of others, maybe it lies in the enormous difficulty of doing so; the limits of every species’ sensory bubble should serve as a reminder that each one of us has purchase on only a sliver of reality.
RaveNew York TimesGrisly yet inspiring ... Fitzharris depicts her hero as irrepressibly dedicated and unfailingly likable. The suspense of her narrative comes not from any interpersonal drama but from the formidable challenges posed by the physical world ... The Facemaker is mostly a story of medical progress and extraordinary achievement, but as Gillies himself well knew — grappling daily with the unbearable suffering that people willingly inflicted on one another — failure was never far behind.
PositiveNew York TimesBuoyant ... This book is full of confessions...funny and frank, delivered in such a generous spirit that almost any reader (even the most dedicated Ja Rule fan) is bound to be won over by Abdelmahmoud’s story of trying to figure out who he was ... Part of what Abdelmahmoud does in this book is make space — for joy and for discovery, but also for anguish and ambivalence ... But range can also present challenges. Too tight a tether can make you feel stifled, while the absence of one can leave you unmoored.
RaveThe New York TimesDray is an excellent and conscientious storyteller, taking care to alert us when the historical record is spotty or ambiguous while still offering vivid specifics wherever he can ... Dray seems to sense that the story he has written remains unfinished; what happened in Buffalo earlier this month suggests that a terrible legacy from more than a century before lingers still.
RaveThe New York Times... frightening ... Plokhy is too committed to the specifics of each catastrophe to succumb to the temptation of making a grand case. Every nuclear disaster is terrible in its own way ... The global scope of such dire subject matter means that the experience of reading this book is a formidable exercise in cumulative disillusionment ... With catastrophic climate change bearing down on us, nuclear power has been promoted by some as an obvious solution, but this sobering history urges us to look hard at that bargain for what it is.
MixedNew York TimesThe prospect of Federer’s retirement from tennis is just a fraction of what Dyer contemplates in this tour through various endings — last days, last games, last performances, last works. Dyer’s thoughts are so restless that instead of corralling them in essays he scatters them among numbered sections ... Coltrane, Dylan, Nietzsche, yes, but also Dyer, always Dyer, the point around which this book (like all of his books) invariably turns ... It turns out that Dyer, having set out to write a book about endings, is drawn to endlessness, to the way that one thing leads to another ... Dyer is in his 60s now, and even though this book details the various ways that his body has slowed down, he has maintained a youthful buoyancy, an implacable easygoingness ... Might all this strenuous anti-grandness come across as, well, a touch grand? ... There are some gorgeous passages in The Last Days, some marvelous bits of criticism, some enthralling descriptions of psychedelics, some funny jokes. Still, there is a lot of detritus in a book that often reads like an assemblage of notes, as if every thought that came to mind was so endearing that it deserved to be recorded in full ... This idea of writing sounds appealing and pure; it expresses a kind of youthful idealism. But The Last Days of Roger Federer made me realize something else, too. After a while, even our 14-year-old selves get old.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, edited and translated by Marjorie Perloff
RaveNew York TimesPrivate Notebooks: 1914-1916 is a strange and intriguing record — illuminating when it comes to Wittgenstein’s preoccupations, his sexual anguish, his continuous struggles with his \'work\' in philosophy, along with his intermittent comments about his \'job\' in the military ... In the second notebook especially, the punctuation gets noticeably idiosyncratic ... Private Notebooks shows the philosopher wrestling with this process in real time ... The notebooks show the circumstances in which Wittgenstein’s mystical turn toward the end of the Tractatus was born — not in an attempt to escape that world, but in a determination to immerse himself in it.
PositiveThe New York Times... this is an unapologetically personal book ... The engine for this vivid, loving book is Lim’s insistent questioning — her recognition that whatever comes next for Hong Kong will require not only fortitude but also willful acts of imagination.
PositiveNew York TimesWry and fascinating ... Emotions and feelings come up a lot in Seek and Hide — something I wasn’t expecting from a book that does serious work as a history of ideas, too. Gajda, who was a journalist before becoming a law professor, is a nimble storyteller; even if some of her conclusions are bound to be contentious, she’s an insightful guide to a rich and textured history that gets easily caricatured, especially when a culture war is raging ... A number of people in Gajda’s book can seem like free speech absolutists in one context and zealous advocates for privacy rights in another ... Just because Gajda acknowledges the personal damage wrought by such decisions doesn’t mean that she comes down categorically on the side of Team Privacy; the issues are too complicated, the history too circuitous ... Gajda says that she used to be uncomfortable with the idea that courts could balance protections for an individual’s dignity and liberty with protections for a free press and free speech; as a journalist, she was worried that an overzealous judiciary might curtail the reporting of real news that powerful interests were keen to keep secret. Now she seems to see things differently, placing what seems to me a surprising amount of faith in the judicial branch and even Facebook’s Oversight Board ... This strikes me as the kind of wistful generalization that’s otherwise absent from this smart and empathetic book.
MixedThe New York TimesO’Neil distinguishes between shame that \'punches down\' and shame that \'punches up\' ... Such distinctions are bound to be controversial—too categorical or potentially condescending, portraying people as more abject than they might see themselves to be ... O’Neil...encourages readers to try to think more deeply not just about what shame is but what it might be for ... O’Neil gives the example of Hopi \'shame clowns,\' who poke fun at transgressors in a ritual that offers \'ridicule and then redemption.\' The purpose of the ritual is reintegration, not ostracism ... This seems far removed from how many people experience shame nowadays, whether as a participant or a spectator, looking on with amusement or horror as some nonpublic person gets a very public comeuppance in a social-media pile-on. O’Neil inevitably touches on these kinds of scenarios in a book whose subtitle refers to \'the new age of humiliation\'.
RaveThe New York TimesAbsorbing ... That I arrived at this moment in the book with my heart in my throat speaks to how skillfully Yovanovitch narrates her life story.
William P Barr
PanThe New York TimesBarr takes care in this book to present his childhood as more hardscrabble than a rarefied prep school education and an apartment on New York City’s Riverside Drive would have anyone believe ... an intemperate culture-war treatise smuggled into a lawyer’s memoir: a seemingly sober recitation of events that’s periodically interrupted by seething tirades about \'militant secularism\' and a \'Maoist\' American left ... Barr doesn’t make much of an effort in this book to counter assertions by his critics that even before reading the Mueller report he had mostly made up his mind ... This is a pattern in Barr’s book: He nitpicks his way to desired conclusions by carefully navigating a lawyerly path around finely drawn distinctions, all the while lobbing bomblets at anyone he defines as an enemy ... Making room for such intricate rhetorical contortions is partly why this book is nearly 600 pages long ... There are also numerous places where Barr offers what looks at first to be a blizzard of detail but nevertheless makes some strange omissions.
MixedThe New York TimesThe Man From the Future...bills itself as a biography of von Neumann but is more devoted to exploring the ideas and technological inquiries he inspired ... Bhattacharya...doesn’t probe too deeply into...apparent contradictions. We get a brisk tour through the first three decades of von Neumann’s life ... [Von Neumann] was, as Bhattacharya puts it, \'a complex character,\' and there are tantalizing glimmers of such human strangeness and complexity in this book. But The Man From the Future sometimes seems so focused on explicating that future — narrating the fates of von Neumann’s ideas long past his death, from cancer, in 1957 — that the man himself recedes from view ... The skill with which Bhattacharya teases apart dense scientific concepts left me feeling ambivalent. On the one hand, what we do see of von Neumann hints at such a fascinating personality that I wanted to know more.
PanThe New York TimesAs someone who enjoyed Mallaby’s More Money Than God (2010) and The Man Who Knew (2016)...I anticipated that he would be gentle on the otherwise tight-lipped venture capitalists who agreed to talk to him. And he is. But where the indulgences of those earlier narratives were redeemed by ample demonstrations of Mallaby’s intelligence and storytelling skills, The Power Law mysteriously contains only trace amounts of either. Part of the problem is that Mallaby never quite settles on the story he wants to tell ... The book includes a lot of granular detail about deals getting made, phone calls volleyed back and forth, meetings arranged and postponed. Banal bits of conversations get recounted, even when they seem only to serve as narrative clutter ... Some of Mallaby’s metaphors make no sense ... Such is the material that pads this overstuffed book, which never quite delivers on the case it laboriously tries to make.
Anne F Hyde
PositiveThe New York TimesHyde doesn’t gloss over suffering. But in her immersive and humane new book she draws attention to the relationships between white and Indigenous people that made \'strangers into kin,\' long before such unions were decried and, in some states, outlawed ... The history she recounts is both sweeping and intimate, allowing her to trace larger developments while also showing how families responded differently to changing circumstances ... The proliferating narratives can make it hard to keep track of all the threads — a number of Georges and Johns and Williams within and across families means that a set of family trees would have been a welcome and clarifying addition to Hyde’s book. But the profusion of stories is part of her point, as she shows how the same events could affect people in disparate ways, with some adapting or even flourishing while others escaped or resisted or got crushed ... Hyde wants us to see how some families found ways to endure, but there’s an irreducible grief that wends its way through this book.
RaveThe New York TimesAppealingly titled ... I had never thought of the index as much more than a tool ... Duncan says, we usually turn to an index as a \'convenience\' and \'timesaver.\' It’s like a map ... If all of this sounds obvious and unobjectionable, Duncan’s smart, playful book will encourage you to think again. The straightforward utility of the index turns out to be what made it such a disruptive innovation in the first place ... Duncan writes...with an admirable clarity that also hints at the enormousness of his subject ... Duncan gives a surprisingly vivid explanation of how the two foundations of the contemporary index — alphabetical order and pagination — themselves had to be invented ... That Duncan brings...old, intricate disputes to life is a testament to his gifts as a writer — imaginative but also disciplined, elucidating dense, scholarly concepts with a light touch ... Index, A History of the is furnished not with one index but two ... The second was compiled by Paula Clarke Bain, a professional indexer. I don’t want to give anything away (words I never thought I’d use about an index), other than to say that its relationship to Duncan’s text is not just as a guide but also as a companion. Duncan has written such a generous book, attentive to the varieties of the reading experience, that it’s only fitting he gave Bain’s index some space to flourish, a chance to come into its own.
PositiveThe New York Timesin 1961, the civil rights lawyer Constance Baker Motley tried to coax Malcolm X into acknowledging that the average Black American \'is substantially better off than he was at the end of slavery.\' He scorned the very premise ... It’s an evocative exchange, one that the Harvard legal historian Tomiko Brown-Nagin showcases to illuminating effect in Civil Rights Queen ... [A] thoughtful biography ... Brown-Nagin does this now and again — providing an intermittent critique while recounting the story of an exceptional life that she manifestly admire ... Civil Rights Queen isn’t quite an intimate biography. Brown-Nagin focuses mainly on Motley’s life in the courtroom ... Civil Rights Queen is the result of diligent research ... The book as a whole offers little else by way of gossip or Motley’s own idiosyncrasies, beyond what Motley herself was willing to reveal in her memoir ... Some of the most poignant episodes in the book recount the harrowing experiences of Motley and her clients in the South — risking their lives in their persistent efforts to make the country measure up to its stated ideals ... Civil Rights Queen is a balanced assessment of a brave and brilliant woman who helped to reconfigure the system before she became a part of it.
PositiveThe New York TimesThere’s something undeniably gratifying about an elegantly crafted morality tale—and the business reporter Christopher Leonard has written a good one, even if you suspect that the full shape of it isn’t quite as smooth as he makes it out to be. The Lords of Easy Money is a fascinating and propulsive story about the Federal Reserve—yes, you read that right. Leonard, in the tradition of Michael Lewis, has taken an arcane subject, rife with the risk of incomprehensibility (or boredom), and built a riveting narrative in which the stakes couldn’t be any clearer ... All of this usefully highlights how extreme financialization has transformed (or deformed) the economy and our politics ... Still, The Lords of Easy Money presents the complexity of the current system as if it were merely disguising some unshakable fundamentals; there’s a satisfying clarity to reading a book that puts the jumble of political and economic turmoil into such stark narrative terms, but there’s more to the story than that.
Harald Jähner tr. Shaun Whiteside
PositiveThe New York TimesThe pointedness...is quintessential Jähner; he does double duty in this fascinating book (translated into English by the gifted Shaun Whiteside), elegantly marshaling a plethora of facts while also using his critical skills to wry effect ... Even though Aftermath covers historical ground, its narrative is intimate, filled with first-person accounts from articles and diaries ... Jähner trains his focus on such details because it’s through them that so much of the real transformation in postwar Germany first came about.
Barbara F. Walter
MixedThe New York TimesOnly a fanciful vignette about two-thirds of the way through—envisioning a morning of chaos in November 2028, with bombs going off across the country as California wildfires rage—made me think that Walter was \'fear-mongering,\' or at least pandering to our most literal-minded instincts. Then again, if things are as dire as she says, forcing us to see what a collapse might look like may arguably be the responsible thing to do ... Walter’s earnest advice about what to do comes across as well-meaning but insufficient—though I’m not sure how much of it is her fault, considering that the situation she has laid out looks too inflamed to be soothed by a few pointers in a book.
Elizabeth D. Samet
PositiveThe New York Times... discerning ... a work of unsparing demystification — and there is something hopeful and even inspiring in this ... Samet is maybe too insistent that the truth of the Civil War has been irrevocably lost to fanciful delusion.
Anna Della Subin
PositiveThe New York TimesSubin, who studied at Harvard Divinity School, clearly delights in...curious details, and Accidental Gods is brimming with them—though in addition to the strange, almost scriptural stories she tells, she also has some connections and ideas to explore ... roving and ambitious ... If there is a pattern that emerges in this book, it has to do with divinization’s double-edge ... Accidental Godsmeanders at times, delineating some connections that are less plausible than others; but then the book is less a straightforward historical study than an irreverent bible in its own right, a sort of celestial thought experiment.
Nastassja Martin, tr. Sophie R. Lewis
RaveThe New York Times[A] haunting, genre-defying memoir ... Though in Sophie R. Lewis’s elegant translation from the French, it becomes clear that \'memoir\' is another word that doesn’t quite fit this slender yet expansive book. Martin writes as an anthropologist ... She writes about philosophy, too, noticing that everyone around her tries to find a reason for what happened because \'it is hard to leave sense unmade.\' She questions the human propensity to try to assimilate everything into familiar terms ... What Martin describes in this book isn’t so much a search for meaning as an acceptance of its undoing.
MixedNew York TimesIn his new book, Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show, Karl comes across as almost poignantly ingenuous and polite to a fault, repeatedly flummoxed by what he saw in the last year of the Trump administration ... The author’s expressions of surprise are so frequent and over-the-top that they are perhaps the most surprising parts of this book. Betrayal is less insightful about the Trump White House and more revealing of Karl’s own gradual, extremely belated awareness that something in the White House might in fact be awry ... Karl [was] apparently so entrenched in his establishmentarian assumptions that until very recently he deemed certain distressing possibilities simply unfathomable ... The Trump era blew a hole through all kinds of institutional norms and presuppositions, revealing vulnerabilities and blind spots. It probably speaks to Karl’s decency as a person that he didn’t want to contemplate anything so terrible, but for all the high-minded talk in his books about the journalistic pursuit of accuracy, he gives little indication that he had the imagination to handle the truth.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewTo be a literary biographer is to court the extravagant ridicule of the very people you write about. For all of the salutary services a writer’s biography can offer—the tracing of the life, the contextualizing of the work, the resuscitation of a reputation and the deliverance from neglect—the biographer has been derided as a ‘post-mortem exploiter’ (Henry James) and a ‘professional burglar’ (Janet Malcolm) … Curtis, whose previous subjects include the midcentury painters Grace Hartigan and Elaine de Kooning, has written the kind of straightforward, informative book that Hardwick frequently deplored—a ‘scrupulous accounting of time’ (as Hardwick derisively put it), a recitation of the facts that stretch across Hardwick’s long life, with scarcely little that truly captures the compressed intensity of the work itself. Still, the book is a start … Curtis assiduously chronicles the literary panels, the gossip and the ailments of Hardwick’s later years, before she died in 2007, observing the rhythms of Hardwick’s work while never quite falling into sync with them. But then a march is different from a dance, even if each has its own choreography.”
MixedThe New York Times... interpretive and immersive ... Birmingham ably guides us through the first few decades of Dostoyevsky’s astonishing life, paying particular heed to his time amid reformist circles in St. Petersburg ... Against all of this turmoil, Birmingham’s chapters on Lacenaire begin to feel like an intrusion, despite the vivid portrait. The poet-murderer was chillingly unrepentant — kneeling before the guillotine, he twisted his torso so that he could see the blade coming down. But next to Birmingham’s rich, detailed narration of Dostoyevsky’s life, with all of its paradoxes and tortured ambivalences, Lacenaire’s extreme self-regard quickly becomes predictable, even a bit tedious. His villainy is like a gargoyle — inert and thoroughly grotesque.
PositiveThe New York Times... [a] rich, layered account of the 1960s ... Whatever consensus politics existed in the 1950s, Boyle sets out to contextualize it in terms of the interests belonging to a particular postwar demographic—the rapidly growing middle classes ... Boyle’s roiling account is full of...juxtapositions, showing how conflicting impulses made for a 1950s political order whose stalwart exterior masked a \'fragile arrangement\' ... the book covers the range of material you would expect from any foundational account of the 1960s and the penumbra around it—Kennedy in Dallas, King in Memphis, unrest in Newark and Watts, LSD and the pill. But he also writes about those moments that can sometimes get lost in the deluge.
RaveThe New York TimesIf Concepcion were only about Samaha’s mother, it would already be wholly worthwhile. But she was one of eight children in the Concepcion family, whose ancestry Samaha traces in this sprawling and powerful book back to the sultanates that preceded the Spanish Empire’s arrival in the Philippines ... Piecing together historical records with family lore, Samaha offers striking recreations of his ancestors’ lives ... This is a resolutely intimate book, but Samaha always keeps an eye trained on the bigger picture, repeatedly bringing up the question of whether a country has functioning institutions — that crucial, if often unsung, scaffolding of stability that allows individuals to imagine a future for themselves (or, in its absence, spurs them to leave).
PositiveThe New York TimesThere Is Nothing for You Here...weaves together...two selves, slipping back and forth between the unsentimental memoir reflected in its melancholy title and the wonkish guide promised in its inspirational subtitle. The combination, however unlikely, mostly works—though by the end, the litany of policy prescriptions comes to sound a bit too much like a paper issued by the Brookings Institution, where Hill is currently a fellow. When recounting her life, Hill is a lucid writer, delivering her reminiscences in a vivid and wry style. As much as I wanted more of Hill the memoirist and less of Hill the expert, I began to sense that giving voice to both was the only way she could feel comfortable writing a book about herself ... Hill recounts [her family hisotry] with immediacy, tenderness and a good bit of gallows humor ... she has plenty to say about Trump. Instead of making the usual insider-memoir move of fixating on all the brazenly outrageous behavior...Hill notices his insecurities, the soft spots that, she says, made him \'exquisitely vulnerable\' to manipulation ... Hill the expert points to heartening examples of benevolent capitalism at work. But Hill the memoirist knows in her bones that the neoliberal approach, left to its own devices, simply won’t do.
PanNew York TimesFor someone who so frequently and serenely proclaims that he’s right, Steven Pinker can get curiously defensive ... Pinker spends page after page walking us through concepts like \'base-rate neglect\' (giving too little weight to the original probability of an event in the face of new information) and the \'availability heuristic\' (guessing the likelihood of an event according to what comes easily to mind) ... When Pinker is dealing with abstract puzzles involving small-stakes situations, the book is familiar but fine ... The trouble arrives when he tries to gussy up his psychologist’s hat with his more elaborate public intellectual’s attire ... Some of Pinker’s observations on racial issues are similarly blinkered ... The tone of Rationality isn’t as relentlessly chipper as that of the previous book, but Pinker’s optimism seems to have weathered the Trump years and the pandemic largely intact. He still disparages those who have the audacity to question his ideas about progress ... In 2007 Pinker lent his professional expertise to Epstein’s legal defense team...a sterling example of a thinking process so confidently pristine that it can give unthinking cover to the grotesque.
PositiveThe New York TimesAfter reading The Contrarian, Max Chafkin’s judicious biography of Peter Thiel, the secretive and Trump-supporting tech mogul, I was struck by how much Thiel remains a mystery — less of an intriguing enigma than a hollow cipher. This isn’t to fault Chafkin, who is unfailingly diligent in his efforts to narrate Thiel’s life and understand, as far as possible, what he actually believes. But contrarianism tends to be reactive, not constructive; if there’s truly a there there, it risks getting lost in the incessant repositioning of oneself against a fickle discourse.
PositiveThe New York TimesReassuring lines...might make The End of Bias sound like an anodyne, standard-issue business book, but Nordell, a science journalist with a degree in poetry, is too reflective a thinker to make this just another well-meaning tribute to the importance of diversity training ... Nordell doesn’t just cling to the relatively calm shores of workplace etiquette. She also looks at bias in education and health care, in policing and even genocide ... this isn’t a book that lets anyone off the hook. If anything, The End of Bias argues for a more profound sense of responsibility; Nordell describes bias as a kind of theft, one that deprives individuals and undermines entire societies.
RaveThe New York Times[A] quietly dazzling new essay collection ... This is, needless to say, fraught terrain, and Srinivasan treads it with determination and skill ... These essays are works of both criticism and imagination. Srinivasan refuses to resort to straw men; she will lay out even the most specious argument clearly and carefully, demonstrating its emotional power, even if her ultimate intention is to dismantle it ... This, then, is a book that explicitly addresses intersectionality, even if Srinivasan is dissatisfied with the common—and reductive—understanding of the term ... Srinivasan has written a compassionate book. She has also written a challenging one ... Srinivasan proposes the kind of education enacted in this brilliant, rigorous book. She coaxes our imaginations out of the well-worn grooves of the existing order.
Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta
MixedNew York TimesThis is a book that was written with speed and diligence. Whether it will appeal to you depends on how enticed you feel by the authors’ promise to delve into \'the decisions, meetings and moments that shaped one of the worst years in U.S. history\' and \'to document it all\' ... They generally make good on that promise ... There are scoops in this book, but for the most part they’re more like teaspoons of weak tea than substantive revelations ... This book as a whole lacks the narrative verve of recent books...about the pandemic.
PositiveThe New York Times... smart and provocative ... The question of what constitutes \'necessary\' cuts to the heart of whether war can ever be abolished — a question that reverberates through this book, even if Moyn is too searching a thinker to proclaim that he has it definitively figured out.
Robert S Levine
PositiveThe New York Times... fascinating if flawed ... Levine puts a lot of weight on the fact that in 1865, Johnson had privately expressed a plan for limited Black suffrage. Yet at the same time, Johnson was publicly insisting that suffrage too radical would set off \'a war of the races.\' And whatever Johnson may have said, what he actually did couldn’t be clearer. He used his power to undermine Reconstruction at every turn, presiding over what the historian Annette Gordon-Reed has called a \'slow-motion genocide\' ... Levine nimbly narrates the road to Johnson’s eventual impeachment.
RaveThe New York Times[A] barnburner of a new book ... Ackerman contends that the American response to 9/11 made President Trump possible. The evidence for this blunt-force thesis is presented in Reign of Terror with an impressive combination of diligence and verve, deploying Ackerman’s deep stores of knowledge as a national security journalist to full effect. The result is a narrative of the last 20 years that is upsetting, discerning and brilliantly argued ... [A] revelatory book.
RaveThe New York Times... astonishing ... turns out to be wilder and more expansive than a standard-issue biography ... a real-life thriller with a cruel ending ... Donner writes sensitively about Mildred’s travails while also describing how women were expected to serve a Nazi regime dedicated to the idea that \'the role of women is to populate Germany with good Germans\' ... so finely textured that I can’t even begrudge Donner’s decision to narrate events in the present tense; a choice that can sometimes seem like a stagy effort to amp up the drama instead comes across as an effective device for conveying what it felt like in real time to experience the tightening vise of the Nazi regime ... Amid all the tension and the horror, Donner has an eye for stray bits of grim comedy.
Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley
PositiveThe New York TimesGeoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley do an impressively judicious job of explaining exactly why fears of quarantine are understandable and historically justified ... an impressively wide range of interests to bear on a subject that involves not only infectious disease but also — in their ambitious yet seamless narration — politics, agriculture, surveillance and even outer space.
PositiveThe New York Times... entertaining and illuminating ... Everts is a crisp and lively writer; she has a master’s degree in chemistry, along with an ability to put abstruse scientific processes into accessible terms ... For obvious reasons, this is a summertime book, and Everts keeps it light, even if her subject has some unavoidably serious implications ... Understandably, Everts nudges the reader away from staring too long into the existential abyss. She’s as fascinated by the ambiguities of her subject as she is by the certainties she can pin down.
PositiveThe New York Times... lively ... It should be said that Müller’s concept of populism—as something that’s inherently opposed to pluralism and ultimately democracy—is pejorative and not uncontroversial, especially among those on the left who want to reclaim the word. But his definition also offers the benefit of a clarifying specificity ... this is one of those rare books about a pressing subject that reads less like a forced march than an inviting stroll ... Müller takes care to situate the United States in an international context, using examples from other countries to illuminating effect ... hopeful, though its author cautions that he’s not particularly optimistic.
PanThe New York TimesAside from offering a few perfunctory biographical details, Sohn mostly depicts Comstock as a nuisance or a cartoon villain ... Sohn doesn’t try to present Comstock as anything more complicated than a self-satisfied prig; nor does she sufficiently parse some of the more troubling beliefs of the women she calls \'sex radicals\' ... The combination of the overstated and underdrawn reflects the awkwardness of this book: The Man Who Hated Women gestures at a gripping narrative and a profound argument while ultimately falling short of either ... Sohn isn’t wrong, but in her determination to flatten Sanger into a hero for our times, she ends by affirming a kind of girlboss feminism, unapologetically glib and individualistic.
Peter S. Canellos
PositiveThe New York TimesIn a new biography of Harlan, The Great Dissenter, Peter S. Canellos—an editor at Politico and the author of a biography of Ted Kennedy—says that Americans don’t yet fully appreciate this personal and political transformation, if they even recognize Harlan’s name at all ... This new book is a worthy addition: Solidly accessible and thoroughly researched, it makes a persuasive case for Harlan’s significance and sometimes reads like a mystery ... Canellos discerns an unbroken thread running through Harlan’s life. The judge harbored a lifelong abhorrence of national divisions — it’s just that his understanding of who was responsible for the most fractious of those divisions would change according to his experiences. His conversion to the civil rights cause was hard-won ... Canellos is protective of his biographical subject, straining to put a charitable gloss on some of Harlan’s more troubling comments from the bench.
RaveThe New York Times... a remarkable book, striking a delicate balance between two seemingly incommensurate approaches: Miles’s fidelity to her archival material, as she coaxes out facts grounded in the evidence; and her conjectures about this singular object, as she uses what is known about other enslaved women’s lives to suppose what could have been.
RaveThe New York Times... a propulsive present tense ... filled with moments like these — candid and self-aware, undergirded by Ellsworth’s earnest efforts to get at this history, and to get it right ... Part of what makes this book so riveting is Ellsworth’s skillful narration, his impeccable sense for when to reveal a piece of information and when to hold something back ... makes for sobering reading; but it also sheds light, and some of it is hopeful.
RaveThe New York Times...rich and kaleidoscopic ... Dobbs himself plays up this lugubrious element with the \'American tragedy\' in his subtitle and in the arc of the book itself, which is explicitly structured as a classical tragedy, he says, albeit with four acts instead of five. But in his wry and absorbing narrative I sensed an ironic dimension, too ... King Richard distinguishes itself in part by limiting its narrative mostly to the first hundred days after Nixon’s second inauguration, when the victorious president looked poised to coast through another four years before the wagons of the Watergate scandal started to circle closer and closer ... This circumscribed frame allows Dobbs to deploy his observational gifts to full effect ... King Richard makes vivid use of the tapes to convey a White House that seemed to be an unholy combination of the grimly determined and aggressively puerile ... Toward the self-pitying figures in this book, Dobbs is empathetic, but he isn’t sentimental.
RaveThe New York Times... potent and entertaining ... For interested readers, Budiansky supplies an appendix that moves through Gödel’s proof, step by step, but granular knowledge of formal logic isn’t essential for anyone’s enjoyment of this moving biography. Budiansky brings a polymath’s interest to bear on a man whose life intersected with the political and philosophical upheavals of the 20th century ... Not only does Budiansky offer a clear discussion of the incompleteness theorem along with the accolades it elicited; he takes care to embed the proof in the life, avoiding the kind of gloomy interpretations that so often made Gödel feel misunderstood ... It’s this emphasis on the human and humane implications of Gödel’s life and work that gives this book its mesmerizing pull ... makes ample and illuminating use of Gödel’s correspondence and journals, including a diary, kept in a special shorthand, that had never been translated before. Budiansky is judicious with interpretations, preferring mostly to let his themes emerge from the absorbing story he tell ... as this vibrant biography so beautifully elucidates, the truth of a life can’t ever be proven; it can only be shown.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewDedicated is Davis’s attempt [...] to show that commitment, so often associated with conservatism and traditionalism, can be a radical act ... What follows is a combination of cultural jeremiad, self-help guide and call to action ... Part of his argument is that the grinding, painstaking work that commitment entails is necessary to effect any lasting transformation ... Dedicated is occasionally moving, but it isn’t unsettling. There’s something of the earnest law student about it; the writing feels assiduous and conscientious, as Davis takes care to persuade us that between the zealots of the past and the zealots of the future, there really is a third way ... Given the book’s emphasis on not just confronting difficulty but delving into it, the gardening bit feels a little too comfortable and familiar. Rhetorically, though, it makes sense: The metaphor of a plant is easier to accept than the chaos of another. Davis’s point is that we have to start somewhere. He has planted a seed with this book. Now watch it grow.
PositiveThe New York Times... if this book is a departure for [Gordon-Reed], it’s still guided by the humane skepticism that has animated her previous work ... short, moving essays ... No matter what she’s looking at, Gordon-Reed pries open this space between the abstract and particular ... One of the things that makes this slender book stand out is Gordon-Reed’s ability to combine clarity with subtlety, elegantly carving a path between competing positions, instead of doing as too many of us do in this age of hepped-up social-media provocations by simply reacting to them. In On Juneteenth she leads by example, revisiting her own experiences, questioning her own assumptions — and showing that historical understanding is a process, not an end point.
MixedThe New York TimesI sometimes wasn’t so sure about Mechanic’s insistence that we need to extend any special empathy to ultra-rich people, who seem more than capable of taking care of themselves. But as this readable book progressed, I appreciated his attempt to pull off a delicate balancing act: serving up the digestible morality tale of people spoiling themselves truly rotten before he digs into the fibrous, sociological knot of the system as a whole ... At times the parade of opulence is so garish that I started feeling numb ... I sometimes sensed that Mechanic, despite his generous talk about the need for \'empathizing with the pain of fortunate people,\' felt what some of his readers might: the stirrings of class rage. One thing that makes it hard for a reader to do much empathizing is that Mechanic ended up talking to only a handful of these \'fortunate people.\' It wasn’t for lack of trying ... Mechanic offers such a fluent survey of the vast literature on historical inequality—indicating that he’s not only read that literature but understood its implications—that I was surprised by his upbeat ending, when he suggests that transformative change could happen if only more rich people had a change of heart ... Considering that the sumptuous lifestyles he has described...it’s unclear how this is going to work.
Patrick Radden Keefe
RaveThe New York TimesKeefe nimbly guides us through the thicket of family intrigues and betrayals ... Even when detailing the most sordid episodes, Keefe’s narrative voice is calm and admirably restrained, allowing his prodigious reporting to speak for itself. His portrait of the family is all the more damning for its stark lucidity. Amid all the venality and hypocrisy, one of the terrible ironies that emerges from Empire of Pain is how the Sacklers would privately rage about the poor impulse control of \'abusers\' while remaining blind to their own.
RaveThe New York Times\"... an intimate look at how a city of steel became a city of health care aides ... The Next Shift is an original work of serious scholarship, but it’s also vivid and readable; Winant has an eye for the telling, and occasionally crushing, detail ... Winant offers a lucid explanation of how the peculiarities of this system developed into what he calls the \'public-private welfare state\'—a dysfunctional realm of escalating health care costs and entrenched and entangled interests that no one seems capable of replacing ...
This system, as depicted in Winant’s eye-opening book, is not only inhumane but unsustainable. \
RaveThe New York TimesIn Traveling Black, Mia Bay’s superb history of mobility and resistance, the question of literal movement becomes a way to understand the civil rights movement writ large ... Bay is an elegant storyteller, laying out the stark stakes at every turn while also showing how discrimination wasn’t just a matter of crushing predictability but often, and more insidiously, a haphazard jumble of risks ... Bay’s narration of all this is seamless, skillfully recounting the granular details while offering judicious glimpses of the bigger picture ... Her excellent book deepens our understanding of not just where we are but how we got here.
Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes
MixedThe New York TimesIt’s understandable that Allen and Parnes would do everything they could to amp up the drama—not an easy feat ... A future researcher will undoubtedly find it useful to have a page and a half of exacting detail about what everyone was thinking when a fly landed on Mike Pence’s head during the vice-presidential debate, or to learn how Biden’s people insisted on watering down one of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s jokes during the Democratic convention. Given how the American political system currently works, the granular politicking ably recounted in Lucky is a necessity—but what becomes unintentionally clear is how wasteful so much of it is.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThere are several themes that emerge in this excellent book. The first has to do with how African-Americans led the struggle Masur describes, even as racially discriminatory laws made them vulnerable — whether to the whims of local officials exerting their discretion or to white mobs seeking legal cover for anti-Black violence. Another concerns how the language of race and class was, as Masur puts it, \'fungible\': Even after the Civil War, legislation cracking down on \'vagrancy\' and \'vagabondage\' allowed state legislatures in the former Confederacy to practice discrimination under cover of laws that seemed \'race-neutral.\' So much in this history was contingent; so much could turn on a single word. Toward the end of her book, Masur describes the debates over the Civil Rights Act of 1866, when senators haggled over who would be protected against racial discrimination, deciding to replace the inclusive word \'inhabitants\' with the more restrictive \'citizens.\' ... If this is a cleareyed book, it’s still a heartening one. Masur takes care to show not only the limitations of what was achieved at each step but also how even the smallest step could lead to another.
MixedThe New York TimesIf you’re looking for a book that parses the inner workings of Amazon, Fulfillment isn’t it. There’s little here about the company that’s new...MacGillis has set out to do something different. The Amazon depicted in Fulfillment is both a cause and a metaphor. It’s an actual engine behind the regional inequality that has made parts of the United States \'incomprehensible to one another,\' he writes, stymieing a sense of national solidarity ... This book, like its subject, can sprawl. Some material feels tangential. A chapter on the rising fortunes of the nation’s capital contains plenty of detail about the history of lobbying — along with the life story of David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group and his merging of high finance with political influence — but hardly anything that’s specific to Amazon itself ... But in a way, these sprawling connections are part of the point. MacGillis suggests that one-click satisfactions distract us from taking in the bigger picture, whose contours can only be discerned with a patient and immersive approach.
Daphne A. Brooks
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewFor a critic, there’s maybe nothing so central but also confounding as the question of taste—why we like what we like, and whether it’s something we decide for ourselves, based purely on our own freedom and idiosyncracies; or if our tastes can be shaped and even scripted, influenced by earnest argument, entrenched biases or cynical manipulation ... Brooks blurs and eventually explodes this binary ... Brooks traces all kinds of lines, finding unexpected points of connection ... Brooks is so fluent in both the jargon of the academy and the vernacular of music magazines that she slips comfortably between the two ... Her book is at its most generative when it’s doing this—inviting voices to talk to one another, seeing what different perspectives can offer, opening up new ways of looking and listening by tracing lineages and calling for more space. At the same time, Brooks can sometimes get trapped in the old power struggles of the canon wars ... For the most part, Liner Notes is playing its own deep layers and putting out a call for more.
PositiveThe New York Times... illuminating and hopeful ... [McGhee] appeals to concrete self-interest in order to show how our fortunes are tied up with the fortunes of others ... She is compassionate but also cleareyed, refusing to downplay the horrors of racism, even if her own book suggests that the white readers she’s trying to reach can be easily triggered into seeking the safe space of white identity politics ... Against \'zero-sum\' she proposes \'win-win\' — without fully addressing how the ideal of win-win has been deployed for cynical ends ... There is a striking clarity to this book; there is also a depth of kindness in it that all but the most churlish readers will find moving. She explains in exacting detail how racism causes white people to suffer. Still, I couldn’t help thinking back to the abolitionist Helper, who knew full well how slavery caused white people to suffer, but remained an unrepentant racist to the end.
Reuben Jonathan Miller
PositiveThe New York TimesInterviewing these men, Miller wears his social scientist’s hat, but he admits to chafing under its constraints. He’s supposed to maintain a scholarly detachment and use terms like \'family complexity\' and \'social desirability\' as shorthand for what he learns. But part of what makes his book stand out is how he parses his own proximity to the material ... powerful.
PositiveThe New York Times[Kolbert\'s] narrative voice is steady and restrained — the better, it sometimes seems, to allow an unadorned reality to show through, its contours unimpeded by frantic alarmism or baroque turns of phrase ... The overall sense you get after reading Under a White Sky is that as much as we fixate on technical issues, we have been trying to ignore the existential one.
Janice P. Nimura
RaveThe New York TimesJanice P. Nimura, in her enthralling new book, The Doctors Blackwell, tells the story of two sisters who became feminist figures almost in spite of themselves ... The broad outlines of their lives could have made for a salutary tale about the formidable achievements of pioneering women; instead, Nimura — a gifted storyteller [...] recounted another narrative of women’s education and emancipation — offers something stranger and more absorbing ... A culture that valorizes heroes insists on consistency, and the Blackwell sisters liked to see themselves as unwavering stewards of lofty ideals. But Nimura, by digging into their deeds and their lives, finds those discrepancies and idiosyncrasies that yield a memorable portrait. The Doctors Blackwell also opens up a sense of possibility — you don’t always have to mean well on all fronts in order to do a lot of good.
PositiveThe New York Times... impeccably timed ... Jentleson is explicitly a partisan in this fight, and in Kill Switch he doesn’t pretend to distance himself from the action to give the view from 10,000 feet. But his intimacy with the Senate turns out to be his book’s greatest strength. Jentleson understands the inner workings of the institution, down to the most granular details, showing precisely how arcane procedural rules can be leveraged to dramatic effect ... Jentleson ably narrates this history.
PositiveThe New York Times...gorgeous and unsettling ... Aftershocks is thematically structured an earthquake, including the rumbling foreshocks and the shuddering ground after an upheaval. The narrative swings back and forth in time ... Aftershocks knits together the author’s own experiences with the histories of some of the places she has lived. She has seen poverty and suffering and civil wars, but always at a remove, while ensconced in the privileged bubble of expat life ... Elsewhere in the book she writes of the kind of split loyalties that were fostered and exacerbated under colonial rule — another fault line. The more Owusu looks, the more fissures she finds.
PositiveThe New York TimesThere’s a certain poignancy to reading Beginners at the end of 2020, when merely going to the grocery store qualifies as an \'exposure event,\' and the spirit of adventure has been largely eclipsed by the matter of survival ... The tone is modest and reassuring.
RaveThe New York Times... provocative and fascinating ... mostly enthralled me, even as a couple of parts set my teeth on edge. But that’s just the nature of opinion and disputation, something that Strevens would surely understand, given his argument that opinion and disputation play an essential role in the scientific world ... Strevens’s book contains a number of surprises, including an elegant section on quantum mechanics that coolly demonstrates why it’s such an effective theory ... Strevens also has some pretty uncharitable things to say about the majority of working scientists, painting them as mostly uncreative drones ... He may well be right, but from a book about the history of science, I wanted more proof. Then again, The Knowledge Machine is ultimately a work of philosophy, and should be considered an ambitious thought experiment. Strevens builds on the work of philosophers like Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn to come up with his own original hypothesis about the advent of modern science and its formidable consequences.
PositiveThe New York TimesIn his prologue, Mitenbuler suggests the story he’s about to tell will go from rude to rarefied, but one of the most fascinating things about the history he recounts is that animation, like so much of American culture, continually scrambled all sorts of categories and expectations. The arc of Wild Minds is appropriately weird, full of high-flown aspirations and zany anecdotes ... The cartoons discussed in Wild Minds often contained misogyny and racism that veered from casual to grotesque — after all, a \'wild mind\' could also be a sexist and bigoted one. And then there were the systemic prejudices that structured the entire industry.
MixedNew York Times Book ReviewFeline Philosophy shares a core with those previous books, but its advice is offered with a lighter touch than the very serious, Cassandra-like pronouncements he usually favors. This time he makes reference to essays by Mary Gaitskill, Pascal and Montaigne, among others, and reflects on some cat-centric fiction by Patricia Highsmith and Colette. His literary treatments are appropriately fleet-footed; he hops from text to text, never alighting on any one for very long ... Gray has written so brilliantly about the perils of anthropomorphism in his other books that it’s surprising to see the rank anthropomorphism he deploys in this one — only instead of projecting human qualities onto cats, he projects the qualities he wants humans to have.
Martha S. Jones
RaveThe New York TimesJones has written an elegant and expansive history of Black women who sought to build political power where they could ... in a sense Vanguard is a rebuke to our fixation on firsts. Jones is just as interested in everything these women made possible — not just the trails they blazed, but the journeys they took, and what came after.
William G. Thomas III
RaveNew York Times Book ReviewThe historian William G. Thomas III explains in A Question of Freedom the Dred Scott decision \'denied Black citizenship and gave slaveholders blanket authorization to take slaves into any state or territory in the United States.\' It rejected the very idea that Scott was a legal person under the Constitution with standing to sue in the first place ... It’s a rich, roiling history that Thomas recounts with eloquence and skill, giving as much attention as he can to the specifics of each case while keeping an eye trained on the bigger context. The very existence of freedom suits assumed that slavery could only be circumscribed and local; what Thomas shows in his illuminating book is how this view was eventually turned upside down in decisions like Dred Scott. \'Freedom was local,\' Thomas writes. \'Slavery was national.\' ... Throughout A Question of Freedom, Thomas is candid about his personal connection to this history. The last Queens enslaved in Maryland were held by the Ducketts, a branch of his family.
John Fabian Witt
PositiveThe New York TimesThere’s something to be said for a book that takes the bewildering cacophony of American approaches to the pandemic and tries to bring some clarity to how we got here ... Witt, a legal historian at Yale, offers a brisk guide ... Witt constructs his argument carefully, rarely allowing himself a rhetorical flourish, but the conclusion he arrives at is devastating.
RaveThe New York Times... 700 pages that are as deliberative, measured and methodical as the author himself ... This isn’t to say that “A Promised Land” reads like a dodge; if anything, its length testifies to what seems to be a consistently held faith on the part of the former president — that if he just describes his thinking in sufficient detail, and clearly lays out the constellation of obstacles and constraints he faced, any reasonable American would have to understand why he governed as he did ... At a time of grandiose mythologizing, he marshals his considerable storytelling skills to demythologize himself ... Obama doesn’t force the metaphor, but the events described in A Promised Land suggest that something very old and toxic in American politics had been unleashed too.
RaveThe New York TimesThe essays in this collection are restless, brilliant and short; all but one are fewer than 10 pages. The brevity suits not just Walker’s style but his worldview, too. Longer pieces would require the kind of connective tissue that might risk turning the essays into closed systems, sealing off entries and exits. Keeping things quick gives him the freedom to move; he can alight on a truth without pinning it into place.
RaveThe New York Times... captivating ... Paul writes about her struggle to love someone while dedicating herself to her painting, explaining in her prologue that she hopes her book will \'speak to young women artists — and perhaps to all women — who will no doubt face this challenge in their lives at some time and will have to resolve this conflict in their own ways.\' But this makes her mesmerizing book sound more helpful than it is, or than it needs to be; Self-Portrait is less tidy and more surprising than such a potted purpose would allow ... Paul’s powers of observation are keen and often ruthless, but she never resorts to the language of self-pity — even when a reader might expect her to. Self-Portrait reveals an abjection that declines to announce itself as such ... Pages of this book are given over to notebook entries she kept decades ago, describing her painting practice with a moving, almost painful, immediacy.
PositiveThe New York Times... steady and restrained ... [Wiedeman] could have easily let loose from the beginning with a sensationalist narrative of exploitation and degradation, but he bides his time, allowing his evidence to accrue...This method gives the reader a chance to understand Neumann’s arc ... Throughout it all, Wiedeman is an appropriately understated guide, aware that his subject is so laden with self-regard that it only takes a deadpan clause to convey the absurdity of it all ... would be absorbing enough were it just about one man’s grandiosity, but Wiedeman has a larger argument to make about what Neumann represents.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewCulture Warlords isn’t one of those books in which an intrepid author journeys behind enemy lines in order to write plaintively of our shared humanity ... one of the marvels of this furious book is how insolent and funny Lavin is; she refuses to soft-pedal the monstrous views she encounters, and she clearly takes pleasure in cutting them down to size ... Culture Warlords expressly melds reportage with activism.
PositiveThe New York TimesThere’s something refreshing about an author who harbors no illusions about his own book — especially when that book is about the current occupant of the White House, whose chaotic energy has spawned a booming industry of insider accounts and cris de coeur ... I have to imagine that this book will probably strike the famously tight-lipped Mueller as an act of betrayal. Weissmann’s portrait of his boss is admiring, affectionate and utterly devastating ... Unlike the other Trump books that get hyped as \'explosive,\' this one lays out its case so patiently that its conclusions arrive not with a bang but with a snap — the click of an indictment falling into place ... What Weissmann’s book provides is the inside story of how the country’s institutions have so far failed, he says, to hold a \'lawless White House\' to account ... a fascinating document — a candid mea culpa, a riveting true-crime story, that’s nonetheless presented in the measured prose of someone who remains a stalwart institutionalist ... Weissmann’s suggested solutions reflect his own faith in the perfectibility of institutions. He proposes granting the power to appoint a special counsel to the director of national intelligence — a pretty idea that isn’t entirely explicable, considering that the director of national intelligence is a cabinet-level official who reports to the president.
PanThe New York TimesReaders who pick up Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, and are tantalized by the promise on its dust jacket of \'an utterly vivid window into Trump’s mind,\' will quickly get schooled in a lesson that apartment hunters in New York often have to learn: A window can be only so vivid if it looks out onto an air shaft ... The Trump that emerges in Rage is impetuous and self-aggrandizing—in other words, immediately recognizable to anyone paying even the minimal amount of attention ... One half of Rage reads like...a typical Woodwardian narrative of very serious men soberly doing their duty, trying their darnedest to keep the president focused and on message ... So far, so tedious. Enter Trump ... Woodward ends Rage by delivering his grave verdict ... It’s an anticlimactic declaration that could surprise no one other than maybe Bob Woodward.
Volker Ullrich, Trans. By Jefferson Chase
RaveThe New York TimesIn Jefferson Chase’s translation, the narrative moves swiftly, and it will absorb even those who are familiar with the vast library of Hitler books. To read Downfall is to see up close how Hitler lashed out — compulsively, destructively — whenever he felt boxed in.
RaveThe New York Times...vibrant ... everything in Time of the Magicians— ideas, narrative and phrasing (translated from the German into seamless English by Shaun Whiteside) — has been fused into a readable, resonant whole ... Eilenberger is a terrific storyteller, unearthing vivid details that show how the philosophies of these men weren’t the arid products of abstract speculation but vitally connected to their temperaments and experiences.
PositiveThe New York Times[Manne] is like a pathologist wielding a scalpel, methodically dissecting various specimens of muddled argument to reveal the diseased tissue inside ... There are plenty of privileged men in the book, but Manne is aware of her own privileged position, too ... One of the qualities that makes Manne’s writing bracing and even thrilling to read is her refusal to ingratiate herself by softening the edges of her resolve ... doesn’t feel as surprising or as tightly coiled as that book. In Down Girl, she offered a brilliantly original understanding of misogyny, a term that can sound too extreme to use, by showing the routine and banal forms that its hostility often took. The concepts of entitlement and privilege aren’t nearly as rare or mysterious; swaths of this new book are clarifying but also familiar ... Still, the subject of Entitled is trickier in many ways than the subject of Down Girl. Feelings of entitlement may be essential to misogyny — but Manne argues that they’re essential to defeating misogyny, too.
PositiveThe New York TimesSeparated...will give you a sense of how the United States, a country that prides itself on its constitutional protections, also possesses a body of immigration laws that can be weaponized by an executive branch willing to do it ... Separated is structured chronologically, with the narrative of Soboroff’s own discovery of what was happening presented incrementally, highlighting the secrecy and \'extraordinary confusion\' of the process—and how removed even a journalist like Soboroff was from what was happening on the ground ... The subtitle of Separated is Inside an American Tragedy, but what Soboroff memorably depicts isn’t just tragic but brutal.
RaveThe New York TimesIn the years that it took the journalist Catherine Belton to research and write Putin’s People, her voluminous yet elegant account of money and power in the Kremlin, a number of her interview subjects tried various tactics to undermine her work. The dauntless Belton, currently an investigative reporter for Reuters who previously served as the Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, allowed neither approach to deter her, talking to figures with disparate interests on all sides, tracking down documents, following the money. The result is a meticulously assembled portrait of Putin’s circle, and of the emergence of what she calls \'K.G.B. capitalism” — a form of ruthless wealth accumulation designed to serve the interests of a Russian state that she calls \'relentless in its reach\' ... to read this book is to wonder whether a cynicism has embedded itself so deeply into the Anglo-American political classes that even the incriminating information it documents won’t make an actionable difference.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... a brisk and pointed tribute to painstaking, ordinary and valuable work ... [Sullivan] attempts to strike a hopeful note can sound unsatisfying because of how problematic all the solutions are.
Mary L. Trump
PositiveThe New York Times... detail—memorably specific, fundamentally human and decidedly weird...gives this book an undeniable power, even if its narrative is bookended by Mary’s strenuous efforts to put her training as a clinical psychologist to use ... The story she describes in Too Much and Never Enough is presented as a cautionary tale ... dysfunction is abundantly chronicled in this book ... Of course, her book is unlikely to change anybody’s mind. One imagines that a number of the president’s supporters may not even consider his upbringing to be that disturbing ... Mary, who was also a graduate student of comparative literature, knows how to tell a story and choose an anecdote ... This is a book that’s been written from pain and is designed to hurt ... it’s when Mary talks about her need \'to take Donald down\' that she starts speaking the only language her family truly understands.
Julian E Zelizer
PositiveThe New York TimesAs Julian Zelizer shows in his briskly entertaining (if politically dispiriting) new book, Burning Down the House, an ambitious and impatient Republican from Georgia by the name of Newton Leroy Gingrich long ago figured out that corruption was a useful charge for a young upstart to deploy against establishment politicians — a way of turning their vaunted experience against them ... Zelizer writes about all of this with aplomb, teasing out the ironies and the themes, showing that what made Gingrich exceptional wasn’t so much his talent as his timing. He happened to seize power at a moment when a post-Watergate ecosystem paradoxically selected for politicians like him — legislatively useless, for the most part, but freakishly talented at political warfare and self-promotion, wielding idealism as a cudgel while never deigning to be idealistic themselves. You don’t have to be nostalgic for the old political era of smoke-filled back rooms to wonder if the public was better served by an arsonist bearing a blowtorch and a Cheshire cat grin.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
PositiveThe New York TimesGlaude is more explicit about looking to Baldwin not just for perspective and inspiration but for instruction and guidance ... Glaude is up to something bigger than his own summary allowed. Where a number of writers have paid ample tribute to Baldwin’s essays from the late ’50s and early ’60s, during the early years of the civil rights movement, Glaude finds energy and even solace in the later nonfiction that charted Baldwin’s disillusionment ... Even if you don’t agree with Glaude’s interpretations, you’ll find yourself productively arguing with them. He parses, he pronounces, he cajoles. He spurs you to revisit Baldwin’s work yourself ... Glaude’s defense of Baldwin’s trajectory is more cultural than literary. He imputes a political discomfort to critiques like Als’s that isn’t entirely fair, but he writes ardently and protectively ... The idea isn’t to return the country to what it was before President Trump; Glaude wants a wholesale re-envisioning, not a complacent restoration.
PanThe New York TimesKnown as a fastidious note taker, Bolton has filled this book’s nearly 500 pages with minute and often extraneous details, including the time and length of routine meetings and even, at one point, a nap. Underneath it all courses a festering obsession with his enemies ... The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much. It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged ... His one shrewd storytelling choice was to leave the chapter on Ukraine for the end, as incentive for exhausted readers to stay the course ... In another book by another writer, such anecdotes might land with a stunning force, but Bolton fails to present them that way, leaving them to swim in a stew of superfluous detail ... his chapter on Ukraine is weird, circuitous and generally confounding. It’s full of his usual small-bore detail, but on the bigger, more pointed questions, the sentences get windy and conspicuously opaque ... When it comes to Bolton’s comments on impeachment, the clotted prose, the garbled argument and the sanctimonious defensiveness would seem to indicate some sort of ambivalence on his part—a feeling that he doesn’t seem to have very often.
PositiveThe New York TimesWhen Gessen speaks about autocracy, you listen ... Gessen isn’t part of the typical #Resist crowd, fixated on the Mueller report ... Gessen’s writing style is methodical and direct, relying on pointed observations instead of baroque hyperbole ... Surviving Autocracy faces the problem that most anti-Trump books do: How to conclude in a way that strikes the right balance between realism and hope. Gessen ends with an excerpt from \'Let America Be America Again,\' by Langston Hughes—an appropriately rousing choice, though it also happens to be the same poem with which Amy Chua chose to end her book Political Tribes, published two years ago. Still, to obsess over endings would be to miss the larger point of this trenchant book.
Zachary D Carter
RaveThe New York Times\"The Price of Peace, Zachary D. Carter’s outstanding new intellectual biography of John Maynard Keynes, offers a resonant guide to our current moment ... It’s rare for a 600-page economic history to move swiftly along currents of lucidity and wit, and this happens to be one of them ... Carter begins with a love story, and ends with an elegant explanation of a credit default swap; even readers without a background in high finance will learn how to appreciate the drama of both ... Carter’s explications of macroeconomic theory are so seamlessly woven into his narrative that they’re almost imperceptible; you only notice how substantive they are once you get to his chapter on Keynes’s notoriously dense 1936 book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, and realize that you’re riveted by a passage on fluctuations in liquidity preference because you somehow know exactly what it is that Carter is talking about ... As this brilliantly incisive book shows, being fair and judicious doesn’t necessarily mean trying to reconcile all sides.
RaveThe New York Times... ebullient and ambitious ... Sheldrake’s book is full of striking examples like these, prying open our cramped perspectives. He offers motley quotations, all of them enigmatic yet pertinent, from figures as varied as Tom Waits and the French feminist Hélène Cixous ... This book may not be a psychedelic — and unlike Sheldrake, I haven’t dared to consume my copy (yet) — but reading it left me not just moved but altered, eager to disseminate its message of what fungi can do.
RaveThe New York Times... engrossing ... His wariness makes Gellman a thorough, exacting reporter; it also makes him a marvelous narrator for this particular story, as he nimbly guides us through complex technical arcana and some stubborn ethical questions. Instead of rushing toward a conclusion, he hangs back. He’s clear about what he knows and what he doesn’t. He deploys plenty of metaphors, not to adorn the stakes but to clarify them. He shows how discussions of medieval ramparts and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon are surprisingly pertinent to the architecture of mass surveillance ... His voice is laconic and appealingly wry ... would be simply pleasurable to read if the story it told didn’t also happen to be frighteningly real.
PositiveThe New York TimesJohnson is a spirited and skillful rhetorician, juggling a profusion of historical facts while never allowing the flame of his anger to dim. Sometimes his metaphors can get a little overheated ... He also errs on the side of rolling, multiclausal explications where a sharper indictment might sometimes do. But the story he’s telling has so many elements that it makes sense he would immerse himself in the intricacies of tax increment financing and municipal bond debt. As he ably shows, so much exploitation lies in the details.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...a...feat of empathy and narrative journalism ... Kolker recounts the Galvins’ home life with such vivid specificity that it can seem as if he’s working up to a suggestion that their upbringing determined the course of their mental health. But family turmoil is inherently more amenable to narrative drama than the slow, painstaking crawl of medical research, and Kolker — who skillfully corrals the disparate strands of his story and gives all of his many characters their due — knows better than to settle for pat truths.
PositiveThe New York Times... a powerful and lucid account, weaving together events with the people who experienced them up close ... Saunt doesn’t try to smooth over the knottier parts of his narrative...He’s also aware that the documentary record overrepresents the voices of those who left a paper trail. His account acknowledges the diverse experiences within and across Indigenous communities.
RaveThe New York TimesMore than a retelling of Vassily’s story, Young Heroes is a memoir of Halberstadt’s family and the country where he was born — a loving and mournful account that’s also skeptical, surprising and often very funny ... confident, precisely drawn imagery that will make you remember what Halberstadt describes in his own unforgettable terms ... A thread that runs through Halberstadt’s book is the inheritance of trauma...another version of the historical record that gets inscribed into our genetic code. Those parts of the book are elegantly delineated, but it’s the unexpected specificity of Halberstadt’s observations that ultimately make this memoir as lush and moving as it is.
RaveThe New York TimesHochschild writes movingly about an unlikely pair who also served as a potent symbol ... Hochschild is a superb writer who makes light work of heavy subjects ... Where information is scant or nonexistent, he deploys elegant workarounds that evoke a vivid sense of time and place ... Hochschild’s book shows us what a radical movement looked like from the inside, with all of its high-flown idealism and personal intrigues. Whatever protections we take for granted once seemed unfathomable before they became real.
MixedThe New York TimesFritzsche describes an era that has been covered by other books—not least his own—many times over. As an esteemed historian of how ordinary Germans accommodated themselves to the Nazi regime, Fritzsche is neither revising his scholarship nor breaking new ground here. But there’s something particularly clarifying about the hundred-days framing, especially as it’s presented in this elegant and sobering book, which shows how an unimaginable political transformation can happen astonishingly quickly.
MixedThe New York TimesDespite her reputation for controversy, Roiphe has never been that formidable a polemicist; her perspective is too blinkered, her blind spots too obvious. At the level of the sentence, though, she’s a skillful writer. Even in this book, without the ballast of a sustained argument, there’s a deliberation in her pacing that keeps everything moving ... The best parts of the book are the ones in which Roiphe reconsiders her old positions, admitting how much they left out ... Her newfound openness only goes so far. While Roiphe’s empathetic imagination extends to men and to women like Beauvoir, who were tormented by the men they loved, other women in this book aren’t afforded the same depth of understanding ... I began to wonder if this book is Roiphe’s attempt to be \'relatable\' — to jump on the bandwagon of fragmented, diaristic writing by women that confesses to vulnerability and doubt. In 2020, ingratiating oneself to a shrinking cadre of male gatekeepers is no longer the shrewd strategy it once was. The Power Notebooks can be read as a power move ... But Roiphe doesn’t seem quite ready to let the old ways go.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThis energetic little book started out as a series of talks for French public radio in 2016, and it offers a knowing guide to Machiavelli’s life and work. The tone, in Willard Wood’s translation, is playfully conspiratorial. Boucheron invites us to think through how Machiavelli became synonymous with unscrupulous despotism when the real man suffered for his republican allegiances ... Boucheron’s breezy use of the first-person plural keeps his argument humming amiably along, though some English-language readers might feel buffeted by the occasional gusts of cultural presumption ... Boucheron thinks the United States is currently grappling with what the historian J.G.A. Pocock called the \'Machiavellian moment,\' when instability puts the future of a republic at stake. A resurgence of Machiavelli suggests something has gone awfully awry. \'If we’re reading him today,\' Boucheron writes, \'it means we should be worried.\' ... But just as his subject had a \'taste for paradox,\' Boucheron refuses to leave it at that. If we’re reading Machiavelli today, we might also learn something from his \'lucidity, the weapon of the despairing.\' In other words, there’s still some hope.
PositiveThe New York Times... is billed as a collection of essays from the past four decades, but the Ehrenreich in these pages will be mostly familiar to the million-plus readers of Nickel and Dimed, which began as an article for Harper’s Magazine that is reprinted here ... shows how Ehrenreich’s sincere activist efforts have always contained a vein of dark wit ... There’s a consistent tone to all of the essays: tough and acerbic, crusty to the point of imperturbable ... the Ehrenreich of this collection is Ehrenreich the activist, the author of startlingly prescient essays and scabrous op-eds. She was writing about the splintering middle class during the self-congratulatory Reagan years, and about problems of trickle-down feminism long before well-heeled women were exhorted to lean in. These pieces weren’t the place for her to parse any ambivalence. After all, she had a job to do.
PanThe New York TimesWhat happens when an author tries so strenuously to empathize with her subject that she loses control of her own book? ... It’s a question that kept coming to mind as I read My War Criminal ... mystifying ... The problem with My War Criminal is that Karadzic — a psychiatrist who wrote bad poetry before becoming the president of Bosnia’s hard-line Serbian nationalist party — apparently knows enough about her determination to write a book about him to turn her own method against her. Karadzic gets fashioned here into the charismatic character Stern so clearly wants him to be ... During the conversations, she deliberately avoided challenging Karadzic in any way ... Stern inflates the drama of her narrative ... More disconcerting than the awkward literary affectations is how Stern writes about the actual history of the war. Stern says she isn’t trying to deny a genocide, nor is she trying to redeem Karadzic. But in her attempts to \'follow his moral logic,\' she entertains his tortured excuses and grotesque fantasies ... It’s exasperating to watch a smart woman play possum like this — not just in the interviews but in the writing, especially when her conclusions don’t tell us anything we didn’t know before.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewSay the name McDonald’s, and what comes to mind? Tasty hamburgers or hardened arteries? Entry-level jobs or dead-end McJobs? Responsive community outreach or mercenary corporate power?...Chatelain has written a smart and capacious history suggesting that McDonald’s should summon all of those thoughts, and then some ... Chatelain is less accusatory and more circumspect. Throughout this impressively judicious book, she is attuned to the circumstances that encouraged increasingly intricate ties between McDonald’s and black communities across the country. This isn’t just a story of exploitation or, conversely, empowerment; it’s a cautionary tale about relying on the private sector to provide what the public needs, and how promises of real economic development invariably come up short ... a serious work of history, and Chatelain has taken care to interview the surviving principals involved, but she also includes some lighter details to round out her picture ... Chatelain writes very little about the food itself, but when she does, she’s resolutely nonjudgmental about why people eat it...Her sense of perspective gives this important book an empathetic core as well as analytical breadth, as she draws a crucial distinction between individuals actors, who often get subjected to so much scrutiny and second-guessing, and larger systems, which rarely get subjected to enough.
PositiveThe New York Times... extraordinary ... Wiener’s storytelling mode is keen and dry, her sentences spare — perfectly suited to let a steady thrum of dread emerge ... Early on in the book, she refers to \'an online superstore\' and \'a social network everyone said they hated,\' later swapping out the indefinite articles for definite ones, effectively showing how the internet behemoths have eliminated their competition.
PositiveThe New York Times... those two kinds of minimalism — sleek lifestyle branding and enforced austerity — don’t quite convey the enormousness of the subject Chayka explores in this slender book ... The book itself is like an exercise in decluttering, as Chayka cycles through different ideas in order to find those he wants to keep ... generates more questions than it answers — which is only appropriate, considering that the \'deeper minimalism\' Chayka pursues is more about vulnerability than control ... Reading Chayka’s book put me in mind of a longing for less stuff, and a longing for more support.
PositiveThe New York TimesSome of the stops on this travelogue are so spectacularly scenic that I found myself envious, and not a little bit suspicious: Here was someone who had figured out a way to tour the world by writing about the end of it ... a funny, self-deprecating inquiry into [O\'Connell\'s] own complicity.
Cathy Park Hong
RaveThe New York TimesThe essays wander a variegated terrain of memoir, criticism and polemic, oscillating between smooth proclamations of certainty and twitches of self-doubt ... [Hong\'s] tone can sound petulant and aggrieved, sly and comic, sometimes all at once ... studded with moments like this — candor and dark humor shot through with glittering self-awareness ... The polemical Hong is earnest and righteous...The lyrical Hong is no less furious, but she’s wryer and sharper, less blunt and more subversive. She sees how she benefits from the model-minority myth even as it traps her, absorbing her accomplishments to fuel a system she doesn’t believe in. American culture might thrive on noise and bombast, but Hong knows that power can accumulate elsewhere.
PositiveThe New York TimesSimpson and Fritsch try to tell the story as clearly as they can, but more money means more convolutions ... [they] are able guides to a byzantine world; their presentation is methodical, almost lawyerly, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. When reading a story full of weird financial transactions, narratives and counternarratives, it’s helpful to have everything laid out as plainly as possible — even if the layers of chicanery are sometimes so densely packed that their syntax gets squeezed into ugly shapes ... For a couple of guys who spent their careers investigating how money can shape incentives, or at least appear to, they seemed for a while either defensive or naïve when it came to the murkier aspects of their own business model ... Fusion’s conservative critics doubtless won’t be placated by this book, even though the authors say that those critics were ultimately what made the book possible ... reads like a morality tale about unintended consequences.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... reflective and illuminating ... [Myint-U] writes briskly about Burma’s history as part of the British Raj ... The book’s focus is on the convulsions of the last 15 years, from a seemingly unshakable military dictatorship to the beginnings of democratic rule, but examining the legacy of Burma’s colonial past is crucial to grasping what’s happened more recently ... a learned yet also intimate book ... an urgent book about a heavy subject, but Thant Myint-U is a writer with a humane sensibility and a delicate yet pointed touch.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewI realize that writing this while the president is still in office is an extraordinary step,\' Anonymous says. In light of three years’ worth of resignations, tell-all books, reports about emoluments and sworn testimony about quid pro quos, this is a decidedly minimalist definition of \'extraordinary.\' How can a book that has been denuded of anything too specific do anything more than pale against a formal whistle-blower complaint? ... It’s hard to look like a heroic truth teller by comparison, but Anonymous tries very hard, presenting anonymity as not just convenient but an ultimately selfless act, designed to force everyone to pay more attention to what this book says by deflecting attention away from the person who’s saying it ... You, the reader, will already recognize most of what Anonymous has seen and heard as revealed in this book if you have been paying any attention to the news ... to judge by the parade of bland, methodical arguments, the ideal reader would seem to be an undecided voter who has lived in a cave for the past three years, and is irresistibly moved by quotations from Teddy Roosevelt and solemn invocations of Cicero ... suggests a dyed-in-the-wool establishment Republican ... A big tell comes early on, when Anonymous reveals what \'the last straw\' was. It wasn’t Mr. Trump’s response to the right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when a white supremacist killed a woman and the president talked about \'the violence on many sides.\' It wasn’t even the administration’s separation of migrant families at the border. These examples might have left Anonymous appalled, but the truly unforgivable act was when Senator John McCain died last year and Mr. Trump tried to hoist the flag on the White House above half-staff.
Kerri K. Greenidge
PositiveThe New York TimesThe Guardian editor, Du Bois wrote, was \'a clean-hearted, utterly unselfish man whom I admired despite his dogged and unreasoning prejudices.\' That man comes through in Black Radical, Kerri K. Greenidge’s spirited biography, an ardent and mostly approving account of Trotter’s life that nevertheless conveys the more vexing elements of his personality ... Black Radical opens up a rich seam of inquiry that persists to this day, about the tug-of-war between reformers and radicals, and whether victories that seem purely symbolic at first can ripple out into real-world effects later on.
RaveThe New York Times... slyly brilliant ... searching and elegantly argued. O’Toole isn’t unsympathetic to those who voted in favor of Brexit, but makes abundantly clear that he believes they were suckered into a raw deal ... His tone is charmingly wry but never gleeful. He reserves his most withering indictments for elite politicians like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson — the \'Brexit ultras\' who successfully deployed the language of autonomy and wounded pride to cast Brexit \'simultaneously as a reconstitution of Empire and as an anti-imperial national liberation movement\' ... This toggling between grandiosity and self-pity is a neat trick, and O’Toole says the absurd rhetoric has been so successful because England has never grappled properly with its experience of winning a world war while also losing an empire.
PositiveThe New York Times... isn’t just another compendium of insider gossip and bumbling treachery. The authors offer something more sobering, more analytical and, at this point, more revealing ... The book isn’t the work of bleeding-heart insurgents; the authors are national security pundits, and Wittes is famously a friend and confidant to the former F.B.I. director James Comey ... the authors are earnest and methodical — and the case they make is scarier for it .
PositiveThe New York Times... absorbing ... the kind of story that has levels to it, only instead of a townhouse it’s more like an Escher print ... reads like a detective story, with Cahalan revealing tantalizing clues at opportune moments so we can experience the thrills of discovery alongside her. Her voice is warm and often charming, though she has a weakness for whimsical asides ... But such amiability was probably what got some reluctant sources to talk ... Without Cahalan’s intrepid reporting, the truth of Rosenhan and his paper might have been lost ... Instead of arrogance, her book counsels humility.
PositiveThe New York TimesPrincenthal takes a tangled history and weaves it into an elegant account ... She delves into central questions of marginalization and race, discussing a persistent cultural bias toward the experience of white, relatively well-off victims, who receive a disproportionate amount of attention from both the media and the criminal justice system .. it’s the irresolvable tensions that give Princenthal’s book, like the art she writes about, its pull.
PanThe New York Times... aggrieved and self-pitying ... after reading Kaiser’s [memoir], you’ll wonder whether she herself has learned much of anything at all ... she so strenuously insists how fundamentally decent she is that her awkward remonstrations have a perverse effect on her credibility. [Kaiser] is frequently \'humbled.\' She is forever a \'human rights activist.\' She is worldly and smart and spectacularly connected while nevertheless \'vulnerable\' and helplessly \'naïve.\' All of this makes for a bizarre book: Targeted has the slightly sweaty smell of someone trying to launder her reputation ... When it comes to personal revelations, the book is opaque and exceedingly repetitive, as if the prose had been pushed through the messaging mill of a P.R. firm. Kaiser concedes she did everything for the money — but even as she admits her actions might look \'selfish,\' she maintains she was ultimately selfless.
PositiveThe New York Times... peculiar and indelible ... [Christle] conveys her beliefs and suspicions in discrete paragraphs of text, quoting lines of poetry, personal correspondence, psychological studies. (Writers like Maggie Nelson and Sarah Manguso are distinguished practitioners of the form.) Some sections are as short as a sentence; almost all open up new possibilities for inquiry ... \'Tears are a sign of powerlessness,\' Christle writes, \'a ‘woman’s weapon.’\' Another writer might have left it at that, but Christle keeps the sentence wriggling without letting it off the hook.
PositiveThe New York Times... absorbing ... is mainly about these women’s stories, and the dueling efforts to suppress them and to bring them to light, though Farrow knows how to leaven the narrative, slipping in scenes of the occasional domestic squabble between him and his partner, the former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett, as well as offering some necessary comic relief. Farrow can be disarmingly wry, even when writing about another shadowy psyops firm spying on him and other journalists ... there are some hopeful threads, too.
PositiveThe New York Times...freewheeling and profane ... After reading Wylie’s memoir, you’ll have learned something ... Some of Wylie’s pronouncements sound schematic and jarring, especially when he talks about \'the rise of jihadism and the popularity of Crocs\' as analogous \'products of information flows,\' but there’s often insight in the unexpected connections he draws, and it’s not hard to see why he and Bannon initially bonded over their shared obsession with culture ... Wylie covers plenty of ground, explaining in illuminating and often scary detail how Cambridge Analytica exploited the data to create Facebook pages that would needle \'neurotic, conspiratorial citizens,\' propagating an outraged solidarity.
PositiveThe New York TimesThe book weaves together profiles of online extremists that first appeared in The New Yorker with Marantz’s memorable and often surreal reporting experiences ... The narrative is trenchant and intelligent; wry but not glib; humane but never indulgent. Most of Marantz’s subjects are enraged, resentful and — when it comes to the non-internet parts of their lives — profoundly mediocre. Their appetite for attention is so desperate that it’s both repugnant and poignant ... As disturbing as these specific stories are, what filled me with a creeping sense of dread were the parts of Antisocial that incisively describe how a Darwinian information environment has degraded to the point where it now selects for people who can command the most attention with the fewest scruples.
PositiveThe New York TimesSo much has been written about Jimmy Hoffa, the former Teamster boss who vanished from a Detroit suburb in 1975, but a new book about him still contains surprises — not least because of who wrote it ... In Hoffa’s Shadow is several books in one — an attempt to piece together the enduring mystery of Hoffa’s disappearance, a glancing history of the labor movement, a reflection on the government’s surveillance powers and, underpinning it all, a memoir of Goldsmith’s relationship with his stepfather ... The book’s pacing is steady and unrelenting, as Goldsmith toggles between his own careful narrative voice and Chuckie’s off-the-cuff wiseguy vernacular. Goldsmith is sober, strait-laced, punctilious; Chuckie sounds like he’s telling it like it is, except when he’s not, which is often — a trick he learned out of professional necessity ... In Hoffa’s Shadow covers a lot of ground, but I was most struck by the frankness with which a buttoned-up Goldsmith writes about his stepfather, and how Goldsmith’s firsthand experiences have apparently encouraged him to question some of the surveillance powers that other law-and-order conservatives have traditionally taken for granted.
PositiveThe New York Times... a riveting account and a curious artifact. The book is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about Snowden, but when it comes to privacy and speech and the Constitution, his story clarifies the stakes ... The second half of Permanent Record reads like a literary thriller ... weaves together personal intel and spycraft info, much of it technologically elaborate yet clearly explained.
PanThe New York TimesGladwell has never shied away from incendiary material, and his newest book is no exception ... Gladwell has a well-honed method for handling live wires, which involves encasing them in psychological and sociological theory and then proceeding to bend them to his will...every anecdote, every story, gets folded into a Big Idea ... his italicized conclusions are designed to hit us with the force of revelation when it finally dawns on us how everything fits together ... Amping up the drama like this doesn’t have to feel cheap; there’s a fine tradition of storytelling as benign manipulation, and in his articles for The New Yorker, Gladwell often gets the balance right. But not here. In Talking With Strangers, he uses theory like a cudgel on sensitive material ... Gladwell’s insistence on theory can be distorting, rather than clarifying. Theory can provide a handy framework, transforming the messy welter of experience into something more legible, but it can also impose a narrative that’s awkward, warped or even damaging ... this anodyne sentiment is too vague and banal to explain anything, much less carry a book, and Gladwell knows it.
RaveThe New York TimesThe pink ribbon, that ubiquitous emblem of breast cancer awareness, has long been an object of controversy and derision, but the poet and essayist Anne Boyer doesn’t just pull it loose, unfastening its dainty loop; she feeds it through a shredder and lights it on fire, incinerating its remains ... extraordinary and furious ... [Boyer\'s] story, told with searing specificity, is just one narrative thread in a book that reflects on the possibility—or necessity—of finding common cause in individual suffering.
RaveThe New York TimesIt’s a provocative thesis, but one of the marvels of Robin’s razor-sharp book is how carefully he marshals his evidence. He doesn’t have to resort to elaborate speculation or armchair psychologizing, relying instead on Thomas’s speeches, interviews and Supreme Court opinions. Just as jurists make ample use of the written record, Robin does the same ... rigorous yet readable, frequently startling yet eminently persuasive ... I’m not sure I wholly agree with this diagnosis, but it isn’t every day that reading about ideas can be both so gratifying and unsettling, and Robin’s incisive and superbly argued book has made me think again.
PositiveThe New York TimesKochland is a corporate history, lucidly told. Telling this story as well as Kochland does is harder than it looks, and not just for the obvious reasons ... Leonard doesn’t have much by way of rich narrative material to work with. Memorable stories are usually buoyed by memorable characters, but with few exceptions the Koch employees who talked to Leonard have imbibed the company culture and sound remarkably alike ... Even Charles Koch doesn’t make much of an impression; he seems less charismatic in Kochland than methodical and deliberate — like the engineer he was trained to be ... it’s Leonard’s depictions of Market-Based Management in action that are most illuminating here, and the light they give off is chilling ... Charles Koch calls Market-Based Management \'a way for business to create a harmony of interest with society.\' The question Kochland raises is whether this \'harmony of interest\' results in a place where anyone without a few billion to spare would actually want to live.
PositiveThe New York Times... isn’t just another drop in the deluge of Trump books; in fact, it isn’t really a Trump book at all. Instead it’s a fascinating look at a Republican Party that initially scoffed at the incursion of a philandering reality-TV star with zero political experience and now readily accommodates him ... generally strikes a tone of measured fairness throughout.
PositiveThe New York Times[An] elegant and kaleidoscopic book ... King includes some of the more vexed aspects of this history, including Boas’s involvement in a sham funeral for an indigenous Greenlander whose cadaver had been secretly harvested in the name of scientific research ... This looks to be the perfect moment for King’s resolutely humane book, even if the United States of the early 20th century isn’t quite the perfect mirror. Boas and his circle confronted a bigotry that was scientifically endorsed at the time, and they dismantled it by showing it wasn’t scientific at all.
PositiveThe New York TimesWith Because Internet, [McCullough] has written an incisive and entertaining guidebook of her own ... McCulloch is remarkably good at showing how internet speech has been evolving \'to restore our bodies to our writing,\' as certain online conventions have changed over time ... McCulloch is such a disarming writer — lucid, friendly, unequivocally excited about her subject — that I began to marvel at the flexibility of the online language she describes, with its numerous shades of subtlety ... Reflecting on these changes in \'expressive typography,\' McCulloch is fully celebratory ... She’s immersed in online life, where she sees the future looking emancipatory and bright. \'There’s space, in this glorious linguistic web, for you,\' she insists. I hope she’s right lol.
MixedThe New York TimesSteinke wants her book to do more. She finds the literature about menopause to be dispiritingly sparse; at one point, she resorts to providing a close reading of a self-help book by the actor and ThighMaster purveyor Suzanne Somers ... Sometimes she seems aware of the glaring discrepancy between her lofty wisdom and the knottier reality ... Too often, though, the insights in Flash Count Diary feel forced, the analogies strained ... The unevenness extends to the writing, which reads well enough when Steinke is recalling moments that left an indelible mark on her memory, her perspective widened by the distance of time. Her current perspective, though, can occasionally narrow to a pinpoint ... But the book still left me wanting more: more voices, more works about this transformation. The subject feels truly fresh.
PositiveThe New York TimesWhat Nussbaum does is thrillingly different; she treats television as art in its own right — not the kind of rarefied, fragile museum piece that requires you to handle it with a hushed reverence and kid gloves, but a robust, roiling form that can take whatever you throw its way ... though I Like to Watch is mostly a selection of Nussbaum’s reviews and profiles over the years, you can see how the residue of that \'drunken cultural brawl\' still seems to animate her ... confident, dauntless criticism — smart and spiky, brilliantly sure of itself and the medium it depicts. But as appealing and seductive as it is, it lugs some of its own baggage too. Nussbaum reacts to a gendered cultural hierarchy by deploying the weapons of that hierarchy against it: a certain combativeness, a bold swagger. It’s a feminism steeped in the toughen-up language of cultural libertarianism ... As ardent as Nussbaum’s critical responses are, she also knows that art and our judgments of it aren’t necessarily chiseled in stone; there’s a contingency that can be inevitable and even potent, should we choose to accept it.
RaveThe New York TimesOf the two halves, My Parents is the more conventionally straightforward ... Like Hemon’s fiction, the real-life stories in My Parents are so exquisitely constructed that their scaffolding is invisible. You get the sense that he is trying to understand his parents in a way that his younger self did not ... My Parents is warm, wry and loving — but because this is Hemon, he shows his affection not through sentimental declarations but by paying close attention to specifics ... This Does Not Belong to You is rawer and stranger, focused more on Hemon than his parents, though the two halves of the book work in tandem ... In My Parents, Hemon depicts himself as a gentle boy ... In This Does Not Belong to You he is a junior sadist ... There’s a fatalism that suffuses This Does Not Belong to You, an overwhelming sense of mortality and the suspicion that storytelling might never be enough. This despair is leavened by what Hemon so beautifully and concretely conveys in My Parents, with Hemon as a middle-aged son who is carefully and movingly trying to make sense of it all.
MixedThe New York TimesThe history recounted in Reckoning is buoyed along by a sense of righteous inevitability ... Hirshman has written a timely and readable volume on an urgent subject, but her disdain for anyone she deems to be the wrong kind of feminist can be so potent that it’s corrosive ... Hirshman gestures at some of these complexities, including the trade-offs liberal women have had to confront, especially when it comes to the piggishness of certain male Democrats ... The strongest parts of Reckoning are where Hirshman gives credit to the black women in addition to Hill who were central to the movement ... Reckoning glosses over an expansive definition of physical assault without peering too closely at its expansive law-and-order implications ... anyone seeking a deeper understanding of why the current moment has been such a long time coming may wish that she had done a little more reckoning of her own.
RaveThe New York TimesBouverie, a young British journalist, is aware that he’s entering well-worn ground. Unlike other books about the prelude to World War II, Appeasement avoids narrowing in on a single event (Munich) or individual (Chamberlain) in favor of a more comprehensive and immersive account ... This is well-paced narrative history: intelligent, lucid, riveting — even while possessing the terrible knowledge of what happened next.
MixedThe New York TimesIt’s a mordant, readable tell-all designed to show how Trump, simply by being Trump, has made himself the perfect wrecking ball, blasting holes through an array of institutions. There are salacious details in this book—many of which Trump’s critics will want to eat up—though with so many unnamed sources, Trump’s compulsion for hyperbole and Wolff’s own journalistic record, it’s hard to know which tidbits to trust. It makes more sense to read Siege less as a news report and more as a rhetorical gambit—a twisted bid to burnish Bannon’s anti-establishment legacy ... For anyone eager to relive the last year, Wolff tracks the scandals (or the major ones, at least—who can count?) in all their bewildering abasement ... [Jared] Kushner comes across in this account as perhaps the saddest figure of all: a hapless schemer ... Wolff...make[s] what is either a deeply ironic or inadvertently hilarious comparison of Bannon to Tolstoy. The political analysis in this book is close to nil, but that’s by design ... Siege reads like a 300-page taunt of the president—from Wolff or from Bannon, though they seem to have arrived at the kind of collaboration in which the distinction doesn’t really matter.
RaveThe New York TimesWineapple started to research her history of the country’s first impeachment trial six years ago; she briefly mentions Presidents Nixon and Clinton but not the current occupant of the White House. She doesn’t have to. The relevance of this riveting and absorbing book is clear enough, even if Wineapple’s approach is too literary and incisive to offer anything so obvious as a lesson ... Wineapple’s depiction of Johnson is so vivid and perceptive that his standoff with Congress arrives with a doomed inevitability ... Wineapple dips into the intrigue and the whiffs of corruption that surrounded the vote, including a cloak-and-dagger narrative that features incriminating telegrams. She brings the same feel for drama to the trial itself...
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"This isn’t a book you’re supposed to dip into piecemeal, searching for information; it’s best appreciated like a novel, consumed whole. Much like Holbrooke himself, who died in 2010 at 69, Packer’s book is charming, brilliant, cocksure and exasperating ... Our Man makes some high-minded noises about how Holbrooke’s death marked the definitive \'end of the American century,\' but the reason to read this book is less for Packer’s wistful tributes to American exceptionalism than for his consummate skills as a storyteller.\
PositiveThe New York Times... doesn’t track a one-way march to triumph from adversity; Talusan’s essays loop in on themselves, as she retrieves old memories and finds unexpected points of connection ... Talusan describes such experiences with unadorned prose that conveys a startling specificity ... Talusan has the instincts of a storyteller, teasing out her narrative through images and allusion. She writes about her father with tenderness and empathy.
Robert A. Caro
PositiveThe New York Times...this assemblage of personal reflections and interviews may give the true Caro completist a creeping sense of déjà vu ... the book reads as if it were designed to divert as little of his time as possible ... Small and charming at about 200 pages, a quick spritz instead of a deep dive, Working is like the antithesis of Caro’s labor-intensive oeuvre, making it strangely reassuring proof that he is, well, working ... There are a number of anecdotes in Working that Caro has shared before — after all, his books are so comprehensive that it only makes sense ... For someone so interested in the power of others, Caro seems coy about his own power to shape legacies. The writer who emerges from these pages is so humble.
Megan K. Stack
PositiveThe New York Times\"Memoirs about motherhood are exceedingly common, but Women’s Work dares to explore the labor arrangements that often make such books possible ... Stack writes sharp, pointed sentences that flash with dark insight ... Women’s Work is so full of keen insights and shrewd observations that by the time Stack arrived at her What Needs to Be Done moment, a mere six pages from the end, she had already won me over so fully that I was only mildly exasperated when she landed on this: \'The answer is the men\' ... [Stack\'s] wan conclusion to an otherwise fearless book feels like a bit of a put-on and a bit of a cop-out.\
PositiveThe New York TimesForché’s memoir starts off slowly, as she describes in minute detail how she made the fateful and seemingly inexplicable decision to follow a mysterious stranger’s directive to take such a perilous trip. But once Forché’s story gathers momentum, it’s hard to let the narrative go ... [a] riveting book ... the memoir I read was more intricate and surprising than such an earnest descriptor lets on ... Forché alludes to the political context in the book, but the shape of her memoir hews closely to what she herself saw and heard — and how, out of the horror, she began to discern what she needed to do.
Andrea Dworkin, Ed. by Joanna Fateman and Amy Scholder
PositiveThe New York TimesThe hallmarks of Dworkin’s writing are all there: the confident strut; the incantatory repetition; the startling, belligerent language; the ruthless whittling down of options to a single, irrevocable point (\'my only chance\'). This was someone who thought deeply and read widely and was preoccupied with questions not only of justice but also of style. Last Days at Hot Slit, a new anthology of Dworkin’s work, shows that the caricature of her as a simplistic man-hater, a termagant in overalls, could only be sustained by not reading what she actually wrote ... Dworkin composed her work from a personal place, but she didn’t contain her experience in anecdote; she extrapolated, she deduced, she pronounced ... The women’s movement in Dworkin’s unyielding universe was no mere lifestyle choice; it was a matter of life and death.
RaveThe New York Times\"... wide-ranging yet brilliantly astute ... Davies is a wild and surprising thinker who also happens to be an elegant writer — a wonderful and eminently readable combination. Nervous States covers 400 years of intellectual history, technological innovation and economic development, seamlessly weaving in such disparate intellects as Carl von Clausewitz, Friedrich von Hayek and Hannah Arendt. The unexpected affinities proposed in this book bring to mind the roving approach of Marshall McLuhan or Bruno Latour.\
PositiveThe New York Times\"Wallace-Wells avoids the \'eerily banal language of climatology\' in favor of lush, rolling prose. The sentences in this book are potent and evocative, though after a while of envisioning such unremitting destruction—page upon page of toddlers dying, plagues released by melting permafrost and wildfires incinerating tourists at seaside resorts—I began to feel like a voyeur at an atrocity exhibition ... I found this lurching between sweet hopefulness on the one hand and lurid pessimism on the other to be bewildering, like a heat wave followed by a blizzard. But then Wallace-Wells has resolved to offer something other than the standard narrative of climate change and collective action, which \'is, dramatically, a snore.\'\
RaveThe New York Times\"To call this standout book a corrective would make it sound earnest and dutiful, when in fact it is wry, readable and often astonishing. Immerwahr knows that the material he presents is serious, laden with exploitation and violence, but he also knows how to tell a story, highlighting the often absurd space that opened up between expansionist ambitions and ingenuous self-regard ... Seen through Immerwahr’s lens, even the most familiar historical events can take on a startling cast ... It’s a testament to Immerwahr’s considerable storytelling skills that I found myself riveted by his sections on Hoover’s quest for standardized screw threads, wondering what might happen next. But beyond its collection of anecdotes and arcana, this humane book offers something bigger and more profound. How to Hide an Empire nimbly combines breadth and sweep with fine-grained attention to detail. The result is a provocative and absorbing history of the United States — \'not as it appears in its fantasies, but as it actually is.\'\
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewPays attention to the larger changes in the culture, but its overall tenor is warm, immediate and intensely personal ... Readers looking for a biography of the group will find some of the basics here, but it’s how Abdurraqib filters the information—absorbing it, refracting it through his own distinctive lens—that gives this compact book its power ... This lush and generous book is a call to pay proper respects—not just to a sound but to a feeling.
Bridgett M, Davis
PositiveThe New York TimesThe World According to Fannie Davis is daughter’s gesture of loving defiance, an act of reclamation, an absorbing portrait of her mother in full ... Blending memoir and social history, she recounts her mother’s extraordinary story alongside the larger context of Motor City’s rise and fall ... the novelist in Davis knows that Fannie’s whole story was more complicated than a daughter’s protectiveness will allow.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"... chilling ... Interviewing eyewitnesses and consulting declassified archives — an official record that was frustratingly meager when it came to certain details and, Higginbotham says, couldn’t always be trusted — he reconstructs the disaster from the ground up, recounting the prelude to it as well as its aftermath. The result is superb, enthralling and necessarily terrifying ... Amid so much rich reporting and scrupulous analysis, some major themes emerge ... Higginbotham’s extraordinary book is another advance in the long struggle to fill in some of the gaps, bringing much of what was hidden into the light.\
PositiveThe New York Times\"It’s a testament to how extraordinarily intelligent her book is that by the time I was compared to an elephant carcass, I resisted the urge to toss it across the room ... Zuboff... has a dramatic streak that could come off as simply grandiose if she didn’t so painstakingly make her case ... Zuboff can get overheated with her metaphors; an extended passage with tech executives as Spanish conquistadors and the rest of us as indigenous peoples is frankly ridiculous, even if I can understand how Zuboff thought the phrase \'rivers of blood\' would get her urgency across ... Absorbing Zuboff’s methodical determination, the way she pieces together sundry examples into this comprehensive work of scholarship and synthesis, requires patience, but the rewards are considerable — a heightened sense of awareness, and a deeper appreciation of what’s at stake.\
Cailin O'Connor and James Owen Weatherall
PositiveThe New York Times...methodical and earnest ... The book contains useful summaries of the debates in the 1980s around the ozone layer and acid rain ... The one thing you begin to notice in this book is that propagating a reflexive skepticism and sowing discord aren’t terribly difficult, especially when there’s a vested interest willing to pay for it; \'merely creating the appearance of controversy\' is often all that needs to be done.
PositiveThe New York TimesAs the resident movie critic of the journal n+1, Hamrah is committed to his ambivalence, conveying it with a mixture of precision and conviction that will remind you how much more there is to be gleaned from a review than whether a movie is \'good\' or \'bad\' (even if it’s a movie you happen to deem very good or very bad indeed) ... A political awareness imbues Hamrah’s criticism without weighing it down. He doesn’t succumb to a leaden moralizing because he pays close attention to the medium he’s writing about, alert to what he sees and hears ... Hamrah is suspicious of anything that dulls the senses, lulling audiences into a false sense of security and therefore complacency. Part of his vigilance extends to being attuned to the circumstances under which he watches movies.
MixedThe New York TimesJennifer Traig apparently...takes solace in how useless, contradictory and downright harmful so much advice has historically been. \'The things we take for granted as normal and natural strike parents in other parts of the world as absurd and dangerous,\' she writes, in this brisk survey of child-rearing tips through the ages ... The history recounted in this book is studded with violence and death ... Traig’s book is filled with tales of men telling women what to do, and she’s candid about how furious it makes her ... She isn’t wrong, but the nonstop vaudeville can get wearying. Some of her punch lines are so broad that they should be accompanied by a sad trombone ... Parenting is a subject that generates so much piety that you can’t fault Traig for having a sense of gallows humor, though the calibration is off. Part of this has to do with how skillful and fluid a writer she is otherwise—the facts seem to tumble forth, in a way that makes her jokes feel superfluous (when they aren’t awful) and strenuous (when they are). Much of the story she tells is pieced together from other books ... Still, it’s a fascinating narrative, tracing the long history of mistakes and reversals and cultural presuppositions that have structured our most intimate relationships.
Patrick Radden Keefe
RaveThe New York Times\"... an outsider’s perspective is what gives Say Nothing its exacting and terrifying lucidity ... Keefe follows the McConville story, interviewing more than a hundred sources and digging deeper and deeper, to the point where he comes to his own conclusion about who murdered her. But the culpability of any one individual is only part of this meticulously reported book ... Keefe’s narrative is an architectural feat, expertly constructed out of complex and contentious material, arranged and balanced just so ... Keefe’s depiction of Price is so rounded and intimate you’ll be surprised to learn that he never spoke to her ... This sensitive and judicious book raises some troubling, and perhaps unanswerable, questions.\
RaveThe New York Times...from the looks of Rise and Kill First, he knows more than he’s supposed to ... What follows is an exceptional work, a humane book about an incendiary subject. Blending history and investigative reporting, Bergman never loses sight of the ethical questions ... far from an apologia. If anything, Bergman suggests that Israel’s honed aptitude for clandestine assassinations led the country to rely on them to a fault, approaching some complex strategic and political concerns as problems that an extrajudicial killing could fix ... This book is full of shocking moments, surprising disturbances in a narrative full of fateful twists and unintended consequences.
RaveThe New York Times\"... Wu’s The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age is a surprisingly rousing treatment of another presumably boring subject: mergers and acquisitions ... The Curse of Bigness is skinny, more of a dip with a snorkel than a deep dive. But the pithiness of this new volume is ideally suited to its subject. Wu doesn’t want to get into all the intricacies of antitrust law; if anything, an enormous book on the problem of enormity would only fool us into believing that the subject is more impenetrable than it really is — and stoke the confusion and apathy that have allowed decades of corporate consolidation to flourish in the first place ... Wu is an able guide through the history — from Theodore Roosevelt’s campaign against \'bad trusts\' all the way to the expansive bloat of AT&T and Microsoft’s competition-crushing ambitions of more recent memory — but it’s on the level of ideas that his book comes into its own ... Wu knows how to keep everything concise and contained. The Curse of Bigness moves nimbly through the thicket, embracing the boons of being small.\
PositiveThe New York Times\"Miller follows the twists and turns of the case, giving a blow-by-blow account of the trial that initially has the pace of a TV procedural before crawling through a thicket of detail. Mostly, though, her book is a lucid guide to a story that became far more consequential than the titillation supplied by its salacious bits ... What Miller depicts so well are the larger cultural changes that bore down on the case, even if whatever emancipation was set in motion remains unfinished still.\
PositiveThe New York Times\"Obama emphasizes how important role models are, especially for young women of color in a culture that isn’t changing fast enough. But this book isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. By the end of it, she ultimately champions endurance and incremental change; she will probably be lauded and lambasted accordingly ... it’s the moments when Obama tries to make sense of what she’s seeing now, in the country, that are among the most moving—if only because she’s so clearly struggling to reconcile the cleareyed realism of her upbringing, brought about by necessity, with the glamorous, previously unthinkable life she has today ... For all the attempts by conservatives a decade ago to paint her as a radical, Obama seems to be a measured, methodical centrist at heart. But hers isn’t a wan faith in expanding the pie and crossing the aisle. Her pragmatism is tougher than that, even if it will come across as especially frustrating to those who believe that centrism and civility are no longer enough. As she writes in Becoming, she long ago learned to recognize the \'universal challenge of squaring who you are with where you come from and where you want to go.\' \
MixedThe New York TimesThis is a timely book. It’s also a provocative one ... Churchwell has a tendency to corral the unruliness of her material by overstating her case. Still, she’s an elegant writer, and when \'America First\' and \'the American dream\' come head-to-head in her book during the run-up to World War II, the unexpected (and alarming) historical coincidences begin to resonate like demented wind chimes ... Churchwell strenuously resists any implication \'that the American dream was invented as a fig leaf to protect white privilege, to obscure the racist foundations of the capitalist system in institutional slavery.\' But the phrase didn’t have to be \'invented\' for that purpose in order to serve as such. Her entire book argues against categorical defenses like hers. Behold, America illuminates how much history takes place in the gap between what people say and what they do.
PositiveThe New York Times\"Delbanco highlights the especially tortured syntax of the fugitive slave clause (Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3) to show how the founding document, \'so filled with euphemism and circumlocution,\' was littered with bombshells ... Delbanco traces how the compromises of the Constitution, along with the long history of compromise in the century that followed, tried to paper over a violent reality, disguising a moral issue as a technical one. But the slaves who ran away repudiated that fantasy. They were persistent reminders of the truth ... Delbanco is a close reader of literature and primary documents, often to revealing effect ... The War Before the War makes a few pointed comparisons to our current moment, though Delbanco emphasizes that, by the truly bloody standards of antebellum lawmaking, which included the vicious beating of the abolitionist senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor, our politics are a veritable “\'model of decorum.\'”
RaveThe New York TimesWriters are supposed to have a hard time killing their darlings, but there are a few who apparently thrill to the task. In Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, the cultural critic Mark Dery explains how Gorey was always looking to pare things down ... faced with so much ordinariness, Dery does his best, which proves to be more than enough. Born to Be Posthumous is an entertaining account of an artist who liked to be coy with anybody who dared to write about him.
David W. Blight
PositiveThe New York TimesBlight’s is the first major biography of Douglass in nearly three decades, making ample use of materials in the private collection of a retired doctor named Walter O. Evans to illuminate Douglass’s later years, after the Civil War ... On the stuff that’s known, Blight is an attentive if sometimes fastidious guide, poring over speeches and texts with the critical equivalent of a magnifying glass ... Blight’s book really comes into its own in the later chapters, as it conveys Douglass’s trajectory through Reconstruction, his support for (and split from) the women’s suffrage movement, and beyond ... Blight isn’t looking to overturn our understanding of Douglass, whose courage and achievements were unequivocal, but to complicate it — a measure by which this ambitious and empathetic biography resoundingly succeeds.
PositiveThe New York Times\"Lewis is a supple and seductive storyteller, so you’ll be turning the pages as he recounts the (often surprising) experiences of amiable civil servants and enumerating risks one through four (an attack by North Korea, war with Iran, etc.) before you learn that the scary-sounding \'fifth risk\' of the title is — brace yourself — \'project management.\' Lewis has a reputation for taking fairly arcane subjects — high finance, sovereign debt, baseball statistics, behavioral economics — and making them not just accessible but entertaining. He does the same here with government bureaucracy, though The Fifth Risk feels a little underdone compared to some of his previous books ... For the most part, though, he keeps the narrative moving, rendering even the most abstruse details of government risk assessment in the clearest (and therefore most terrifying) terms.\
RaveThe New York TimesNinth Street Women is supremely gratifying, generous and lush but also tough and precise—in other words, as complicated and capacious as the lives it depicts. The story of New York’s postwar art world has been told many times over, but by wresting the perspective from the boozy, macho brawlers who tended to fixate on themselves and one another, Gabriel has found a way to newly illuminate the milieu and upend its clichés ... There’s so much material roiling in Ninth Street Women, from exalted art criticism to the seamiest, most delicious gossip, that it’s hard to convey even a sliver of its surprises ... \'The stories told in this book might be a reminder that where there is art there is hope,\' Gabriel writes in her introduction, but that wan, anodyne sentiment doesn’t do justice to the gorgeous and unsettling narrative that follows; it’s as if once Gabriel got started, the canvas before her opened up new vistas. We should be grateful she yielded to its possibilities.
Jose Antonio Vargas
MixedThe New York TimesThe moments when Vargas describes how profoundly alienated he feels from his own family are the most candid and crushing parts of the book ... Dear America covers some of the same ground as Vargas’s essay for The Times Magazine, as well as his 2013 film, Documented. The weakest parts of the book have him proclaiming a humble altruism that simply doesn’t jibe with the more complicated (and, frankly, more interesting) person he otherwise reveals himself to be ... It was brave for him to come forward as he did, but the motivations for putting one’s name to such an attention-getting, incendiary article are rarely so selfless and pristine. For one thing, by making himself so visible he was not only notifying the authorities of his existence; he was also gaining a form of protection by making himself known. This isn’t to begrudge him any of it. Dear America is a potent rejoinder to those who tell Vargas he’s supposed to \'get in line\' for citizenship, as if there were a line instead of a confounding jumble of vague statutes and executive orders—not to mention the life-upending prospect of getting deported to a country he barely remembers.
RaveThe New York TimesHer one-volume history is elegant, readable, sobering; it extends a steadying hand when a breakneck news cycle lurches from one event to another, confounding minds and churning stomachs ... The size of the project is liberating and constraining at once ... But in Lepore’s hands, the history gets some room to breathe ... her book is less about a struggle between heroes and villains than it is about the country’s often tortured approach to political equality and natural rights—truths that were supposed to be self-evident but have been treated as if they were anything but ... Few, if any, politicians come out of Lepore’s account looking pristine, though she casts some as more calculating and opportunistic than others ... Lepore is at her most formidable when she’s marshaling historical evidence. Some of her more literary flourishes read like good intentions gone awry ... This cleareyed history had done its civic duty: It primed me to miss the Lepore who tells it like it is.
PositiveThe New York TimesOne Person, No Vote reads like a speedy sequel of sorts to her previous book ... Her new book seems to have been written from a state of emergency, in an adrenaline-fueled sprint. Anderson is a stinging polemicist ... this trenchant little book will push you to think not just about the vote count but about who counts, too.
RaveThe New York TimesOrlean’s work in general has that elusive quality to it: exquisitely written, consistently entertaining and irreducible to anything so obvious and pedestrian as a theme ... a loving tribute not just to a place or an institution but to an idea ... Her depiction of the Central Library fire on April 29, 1986, is so rich with specifics that it’s like a blast of heat erupting from the page ... What makes The Library Book so enjoyable is the sense of discovery that propels it, the buoyancy when Orlean is surprised or moved by what she finds.
RaveThe New York Times[An] illuminating and often surprising new book ... A number of books have been published in recent years about the brave new gig economy, but Temp examines the underlying cultural shift that made it all possible ... I prefer Hyman when he gets out of wonk-mode and tells us what is really at stake ... Here, finally, is a book that encourages us to imagine a future that is inclusive and humane rather than sentimentalize a past that never truly was.
PositiveThe New York TimesWith She Begat This: 20 Years of ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Morgan takes an album that was a cultural touchstone—the kind of work that elicits ardent devotion and ardent backlash—and holds it up to the light, showcasing its brilliance and its shadows ... Morgan insists that loving something isn’t the same as giving it a pass. She Begat This makes a full-throated case for Hill’s artistic and historical importance, but this appreciation doesn’t translate into gauzy praise for some of the stickier parts of Hill’s career—including legal tussles over writing and production credits on Miseducation ... Morgan straightforwardly engages with Hill’s critics, making a point to talk to those whose opinions don’t jibe with her own ... She Begat This is thick with competing opinions, as well as chunks of dialogue. Morgan is such a fluid and candid writer that I often wanted to hear more from her. But ... It feels like the right approach to an artist like Hill; her iconic album might be 20 years old, but our understanding of it is still a work in progress.
RaveThe New York TimesIt takes a while to realize that Emre has gotten you hooked under arguably false pretenses, but what she finally pulls off is so inventive and beguiling you can hardly begrudge her for it ... The Personality Brokers is history that reads like biography that reads like a novel — a fluid narrative that defies expectations and plays against type ... The Personality Brokers contains a judicious amount of historical context ... it’s Katharine and Isabel who are at the core of this story, and Emre depicts these two women — long dead and largely unknown — with the acuity they deserve. Isabel, in particular, is drawn with precise, confident strokes.
RaveThe New York Times\"He connects the mortgage crisis to the American banking crisis to the European debt crisis to the crisis of liberalism. Brexit, Trump, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and China’s ever-escalating role in the financial system: Tooze covers them all and much more, in a volume that’s as lively as it is long — which is to say very, on both counts ... On the apparent Democratic distaste for conflict, Tooze is quietly scathing...Democratic centrism won the (financial) war but lost the (political) peace. To judge from Trump’s ascendancy, along with the historical evidence so scrupulously marshaled in Crash, Tooze is right ... One of the great virtues of this bravura work of economic history is how much attention it devotes to issues of power.\
RaveThe New York TimesIn Jell-O Girls, she weaves together her family history and the story of the classic American dessert to produce a book that alternately surprises and mesmerizes. Despite its title, this isn’t a bland tale that goes down easy; Jell-O Girls is dark and astringent, a cutting rebuke to its delicate, candy-colored namesake. It’s also the kind of project that could turn unwieldy and even unbearable in the wrong hands. But Rowbottom has the literary skills and the analytical cunning to pull it off. Like a novelist, she can imagine herself into the emotional lives of others, while connecting her story and theirs to a larger narrative of cultural upheaval ... Rowbottom traces all of this with a sure hand, drawing details from her mother’s unfinished memoir and shaping them so that they make sense in her own. Much of the writing is lush yet alert to specifics ... As sharp as her insights often are, this is a book in which Everything Signifies. Even a digression about the catacombs in an Italian monastery includes some Jell-O symbolism. You occasionally want to tell Rowbottom to ease up: Sometimes a Jell-O mold is just a Jell-O mold. The product history is mostly illuminating, though, as Rowbottom shows how the brand tried to keep up with the times ... Rowbottom’s book is too rich and too singular to reduce to a tidy argument.
PositiveThe New York TimesDopesick touches on these political developments, but its emphasis lies elsewhere. Macy’s strengths as a reporter are on full display when she talks to people, gaining the trust of chastened users, grieving families, exhausted medical workers and even a convicted heroin dealer ... There’s a great deal in Dopesick that’s incredibly bleak ... Macy suggests [ending America\'s opioid crisis] will require a profound transformation of how we understand who we are in relation to one another.
PositiveThe New York TimesThe Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics the Brooklyn-based journalist and Wisconsin native Dan Kaufman shows how the state became a conservative test case. As the head of the right-wing, Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation told him, \'Wisconsin is a laboratory for the rest of the country\' ... As Kaufman makes clear, though, the notion that Wisconsin in 2016 was some sort of Democratic stronghold showed just how complacent Clinton and the liberal establishment had become. Trump, sensing an opportunity, made an aggressive play for the state. Clinton, in stark contrast, sent surrogates instead of showing up herself. Kaufman describes her as not just out of touch but quite literally not there ... You can sense Kaufman’s mounting outrage, even if he’s quiet about it. His prose is somber and subdued. The most incensed he gets is in an earnest paragraph about Hillary Clinton and her \'negligence of Wisconsin,\' in which any bile could pass as indigestion.
Martha C. Nussbaum
MixedThe New York Times\"...one of the virtues of this slender volume is how gradually and scrupulously it moves, as Nussbaum pushes you to slow down, think harder and revisit your knee-jerk assumptions ... The book starts out strong, as she breaks fear down into first principles in order to show how feelings of insecurity and powerlessness can render an otherwise useful emotion like anger, or a desire for fairness, into something more vengeful and poisonous. She’s a skillful rhetorician, gracefully navigating her way around partisan land mines by talking about babies and ancient Greece ... Her cool approach to incendiary topics is part of what makes her work so brilliant and so frustrating. To counter the \'toxic brew\' of fearful anger, envy and misogyny, she proposes...\'strategies.\' She’s not necessarily wrong, but does she have to sound so bloodless and Apollonian about it? ... When it comes to seeing the small, scared child in everyone, though, Nussbaum can be illuminating.\
PositiveThe New York TimesIt wasn’t long ago that the term \'middle class\' suggested security, conformity and often complacency...Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, arrives at a moment when members of the middle class are no longer a robust demographic but an embattled and shrinking population, struggling to hold on to their delicate perch in an unforgiving economic order ... \'They are people on the brink who did everything right,\' Quart writes, \'and yet the math of their family lives is simply not adding up.\'
PositiveThe New York TimesThe eagle has crash-landed, or it’s about to, leaving a trail of red stuff on the cover of Steven Brill’s new book...\'Is the world’s greatest democracy and economy broken?\' Brill asks at the outset of Tailspin ... The country may not be in utter shambles, Brill argues, but it’s getting there. President Trump is just the latest manifestation of rampaging anger and resentment. Declining social mobility, a shrinking middle class, widening income inequality, crumbling infrastructure — there’s plenty to be mad about, and plenty of blame to go around.
Nell Irvin Painter
PositiveThe New York Times...candid and cheerfully irreverent ... bringing new energy and insight to questions that have long preoccupied the art world. As Painter puts it: \'What counts as art? Who is an artist? Who decides?\' Painter gets more playful with these questions than she initially lets on. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Old in Art School is seeing her relax her historian’s grip on social meaning and open up to new ways of seeing.
MixedThe New York Times\"Futureface raises urgent questions having to do with history and complicity. Wagner is determined to look at her family with the coldest eye, making excuses for no one ... Such ungenerous assessments aren’t necessarily inaccurate; Wagner knows her family better than I do. But in her push to dismantle some cherished myths, her book starts to feel bloodless, so shorn of sentiment that Wagner’s project loses the profoundly personal feelings that animated it in the first place. It would be one thing if she uncovered definitive evidence of a real whopper, an astounding family secret; what she discovers instead are the kinds of skeletons — illegitimacy, hypocrisy, selective memory, callous prejudice — that are distressing, but also distressingly common. These ordinary cruelties might not make for riveting journalism, but they make for a rich and revealing memoir ... Wagner’s skepticism and irreverence are so polished that you want to get a better sense of what motivates them. But the harsh light she shines on those around her can be so blinding that we lose sight of who she is.\
RaveThe New York Times\"Christopher Bonanos has finally supplied us with the biography Weegee deserves: sympathetic and comprehensive, a scrupulous account with just the right touch of irreverence ... He had played the outsize role of Weegee the Famous so long he confessed he had a hard time knowing who he really was.
His biographer knows, though. Flash gives us Weegee in full, offering a measure of protection against the oblivion he feared the most.\
John McCain and Mark Salter
MixedThe New York TimesThe tough-guy titles of their previous books...exhibited an adamant righteousness that The Restless Wave, with its rolling title, occasionally strives for but fails to convey. You can see McCain in this book struggling to reconcile himself to what his Republican Party has largely become, even if he declines to come right out and say so ... One of the striking aspects of this new book is how often McCain — who says his dire medical prognosis leaves him “freer” to speak his mind and vote his conscience “without worry” — insists on playing it safe. The six-term senator from Arizona slips in a few careful mentions of Donald J. Trump, and expresses concern about the rancor that has overtaken the country, but he generally stops short of calling out the president or his cabinet ... Blink and you might miss his critique ... The Restless Wave is a wistful book; McCain wants to rally Americans around helping an imperiled world, rather than accept that the call might be coming from inside the house.
MixedThe New York TimesReese got ensnared in a tangled web of promising leads and dead ends — as does King’s book, which can get bogged down in the morass of Lake County’s unrelenting racism and squalid corruption ... This isn’t to say that King’s digressions are uninteresting, or even irrelevant. It’s just that combined with the baroque twists of the Daniels case, the book begins to get unwieldy. King, an amateur historian, has an appreciation for the startling detail and the circuitous connection. He’s clearly done his research, unearthing transcripts and talking to survivors ... Beneath a Ruthless Sun tracks the noble efforts of Reese, who is mainly presented here through her earnest editorials. No doubt Reese was not as one-dimensional as the upstanding figure in this book (in the Groveland case, King mentions, she had initially called for the execution of the defendants). But without a more riveting linchpin to anchor the narrative, Beneath a Ruthless Sun grows as sprawling as the conspiracy it depicts.
MixedThe New York Times...O’Toole is a lucid and elegant writer (her book about Adams was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), and The Moralist is a fluid account that feels shorter than its 600-plus pages. Despite its length, there isn’t a passage that drags or feels superfluous. She gives each of her many characters their due, rendering them vivid and also memorable — an effect not to be taken for granted in a serious history book covering an intricate subject ... Still, about the persistent racism — including Wilson’s flouting of his own democratic ideals in the Caribbean — O’Toole says some, but not enough ... On Wilson’s tortured entrance into World War I, she is truly superb ... As a study of Wilson’s relationship with Europe, and the intrigues of his foreign policy administration, the book is exemplary. But like her subject, O’Toole occasionally gets trapped by her own noble intentions: A biography called The Moralist, which takes Wilson’s \'great sense of moral responsibility\' as its starting point, surely sets up expectations for a deeper exploration of just where he drew that line.
RaveThe New York Times\"[Wright\'s] omnivorous sensibility suits his latest subject, helping him to capture the full range of Texas in all its shame and glory. His new book is both an apologia and an indictment: an illuminating primer for outsiders who may not live there but have a surfeit of opinions about those who do ... The book rambles far and wide, and it’s a testament to Wright’s formidable storytelling skills that a reader will encounter plenty of information without ever feeling lost ... Certain readers might crave more righteous anger from someone writing about Texas, especially now, when there’s little room for agreement and plenty at stake. But Wright’s project is perspective, not conquest. In a chapter on Texas culture, he praises the work of contemporary artists who have returned to their Texas roots \'with knowledge, self-confidence, and occasionally, forgiveness.\' God Save Texas is his vivid bid to do the same.\
PositiveThe New York Times\"That they would eventually identify as part of the white oppressor class that dehumanized others is one of many paradoxes explored by Huang in this contemplative yet engrossing volume ... Chang and Eng became an immediate national sensation, giving Huang a bounty of sources from which to choose when tracing the contours of their story ... he twins did seem determined to be identified as Southern gentry. In addition to owning slaves, they supported the Whigs and became ardent supporters of the Confederacy, sending two of their sons to fight in the Civil War. Huang is right to point out the cruel irony in all of this, but when he characterizes his subjects as \'two brothers formerly sold into indentured servitude and treated no better than slaves,\' he inadvertently downplays the incomparable brutality of the slaveholding system in order to heighten the contradictions ... Huang writes movingly about the twins’ painful end in 1874, when Chang, a heavy drinker, died and the teetotaling Eng perished soon after.\
RaveThe New York Times\"It’s a testament to Lauren Hilgers’s rich and absorbing Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown that the patriot of her title, a Chinese activist and immigrant named Zhuang Liehong, comes across as frustrating and, at times, downright infuriating. But Zhuang is also determined and dreamy, suspicious and generous — he becomes real to us, in other words, an inextricable combination of noble and naïve ... Hilgers has written a penetrating profile of a man and much more besides: an indelible portrait of his wife and their marriage; a canny depiction of Flushing, Queens; a lucid anatomy of Chinese politics and America’s immigration system. Such a comprehensive project could have easily sprawled across a book twice as long, but Patriot Number One stays close to the people it follows, in a narrative as evocative and engrossing as a novel.\
Geoff Dyer, Garry Winogrand
PositiveThe New York TimesThere’s a certain tenuousness to Winogrand’s photos; the compositions hold together, but just barely. He was conveying not the coherent myth of the American century, but its unruly shadow. Dyer’s accompanying texts wear their erudition lightly ... For the most part, though, Dyer’s gifts as a noticer and a writer become fully apparent when he lets himself get deeply, comically weird ... Winogrand might not have been thinking about where anything was going or where it had been, but he did one better than that: He showed us what it all looked like.
PositiveThe New York TimesMounk is a clear and often forceful writer, if not an especially stylish one; he favors the step-by-step explication and the tidy formulation. His prose seems to reflect his preferred mode of politics: earnest, respectful and pragmatic.
Joshua B. Freeman
PositiveThe New York TimesJoshua B. Freeman’s rich and ambitious Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World depicts a world in retreat that still looms large in the national imagination. Behemoth is more than an economic history, or a chronicle of architectural feats and labor movements. Freeman...traces the rise of the factory and how it became entwined with Enlightenment ideas of progress ... Behemoth doesn’t romanticize the earlier incarnations of gigantic factories, but Freeman understands why some people did — and still do.
PanThe New York TimesChua sprints through her international material in a little over 100 pages before returning to the United States — which is where she gets stuck in a quagmire of her own making. What started out in her introduction as a shrewd assessment of our fractured political situation turns into a muddled argument about what Americans, mainly liberals, need to do next … Considering how much she’s thought about tone-deaf cosmopolitan elites seeming hopelessly out of touch, she would have done well to heed the moral of her own book: When changing lanes, check your blind spot first.
Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe book is subtitled 'A Black Lives Matter Memoir,' but only the last quarter is devoted to the genesis of the movement in 2013... Most of this ruminative volume is instead about Khan-Cullors’s life as a child and a teenager, when the heavy pull of shame and sadness kept her tethered to a more private world of confusion and pain ... Khan-Cullors gives us the personal background, located in her life ... There’s a persistent longing that threads through this book — not so much for the consumerist dream represented by Sherman Oaks, but for the secure relationships she saw her wealthy, white classmates taking for granted ... As a black, queer woman, Khan-Cullors is the kind of activist conservative politicians get panicky about, though they ostensibly share with her an overlapping area of concern.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...Frum purports to offer more than a rushed assessment of the last year. After all, he says, President Trump is not a cause but a symptom. Like another new book, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, Trumpocracy is, in part, an exploration of the reasons for the president’s electoral upset and the roots of his rule ... Among Frum’s fellow Republicans who read this book, all but the most determined Trump enthusiasts should feel pin pricks of recognition and, depending on how much hypocrisy they can live with, a queasy discomfort ... The book seems to have been written in haste, a patchwork of bits and pieces from his Atlantic columns, additional examples of Trumpian malfeasance, and new ways of expressing old outrage ... Frum has the pamphleteer’s flair for the scathing epithet, which can be energizing or enervating, depending on your tolerance for hyperbole. Even sympathetic readers may feel besieged when he works himself up to full throttle.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHow Democracies Die is a lucid and essential guide to what can happen here. Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies have collapsed elsewhere — not just through violent coups, but more commonly (and insidiously) through a gradual slide into authoritarianism ... When presenting the most distressing historical analogies, the authors’ understatement is so subdued it verges on deadpan. But our current moment is so fraught that How Democracies Die is never dull, even if the writing can be ... Levitsky and Ziblatt are drier and more circumspect. There is no democratic paradise, no easy way out. Democracy, when it functions properly, is hard, grinding work. This message may not be as loud and as lurid as what passes for politics these days, but it might be the one we need to hear.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewReset contains a fair amount of repetition — which doesn’t make it a bad book, though it can sometimes come across as disjointed. It is a tricky thing to write a memoir that’s also supposed to function as self-help and tell-all and activist’s manifesto, as well as indictment. Hammer your points too hard, and you don’t reveal enough of yourself as an ambivalent, fallible human being; reveal too much of yourself as an ambivalent, fallible human being, and you risk opening seams in the armor of your case ... It’s only when the memoir arrives at her tenure as a chief of staff at Kleiner Perkins that she fully sheds the voice of the innocent babe in the woods and allows some welcome cynicism and anger to come through. Her sentences get sharper; her jokes more cutting ... Pao, like Sheryl Sandberg, implies that having more women in positions of power will eventually benefit all women, and Reset ends with her having found sisterhood and solidarity in the tech world, helping found Project Include to fix a system that has 'exclusion built into its design.' This sounds like a promising development for Silicon Valley. For her book, though, it puts Pao back in safety mode, as she abandons the scabrous energy of her middle chapters and reverts to the kind of upbeat language she used when describing her childhood.
PanThe New York Times Book Reviewa strange hybrid of a book, part how-to manual, part jeremiad, filled with rambling disquisitions ... All of this makes The Vanishing American Adult both voluble and evasive at once, as Sasse layers tale upon tale, repeats modifiers and metaphors, and serves up bland platitudes without venturing much by way of political specifics. In other words, this is a consummate politician’s book ... To read The Vanishing American Adult is to reside in a parallel universe where older Americans stoically uphold standards of decency and responsibility, instead of electing to the country’s highest office a reality-TV star with six business bankruptcies to his name who brazenly flouts both ... It must be nice to be Ben Sasse, in a position to pick and choose the hardships one will adopt in order to learn some life lessons — and to feel morally superior for having triumphed over phony adversity. But to anyone who buys into the notion, especially now, that the country’s political future can be rescued by getting our toddlers to bring us our socks, one can only say: Good luck with that.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewEnriquez’s stories are historically aware and class-conscious, but her characters never avail themselves of sentimentalism or comfort. She’s after a truth more profound, and more disturbing, than whatever the strict dictates of realism will allow ... There is something almost biblical about the evil that threads through this collection, only the evil here is more vicious and unyielding, without the consolations of God or rescue. This isn’t to say the stories are unreadable — far from it. They are propulsive and mesmerizing, laced with vivid descriptions of the grotesque (another skillful translation by McDowell) and the darkest humor ... I will be haunted for some time by the indelible images in this book.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"To call Schweblin’s novella eerie and hallucinatory is only to gesture at its compact power; the fantastical here simply dilates a reality we begin to accept as terrifying and true ... The tale that follows is a swift descent into phantasmagoria, as the dialogue between Amanda and David — translated into lucid English by McDowell — turns into a cleareyed reminiscence of horror and a struggle for narrative control ... Damaged children, a degraded earth, souls that move between bodies but never find rest: Schweblin’s book is suffused with haunting images and big questions, and in Amanda she places a mother’s all-consuming love and fear for her child.\
MixedThe New York Times Book Review[Vanderbilt] is a generally amiable and thorough guide to a subject that can get either fussy or murky fairly quickly, and he has an obsessive determination to get to the bottom of something we exercise so often and unthinkingly we tend to take it for granted ... [The] lukewarm vagueness, whether deliberate or not, makes for a book that has a lot of interesting bits and pieces but seems to be missing a larger animating principle.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewAt 143 pages, The Argonauts contains much more than its unassuming size would suggest, a discrepancy befitting an exploration of what may and may not be contained by our physical selves ... So much writing about motherhood makes the world seem smaller after the child arrives, more circumscribed, as if in tacit fealty to the larger cultural assumptions about moms and domesticity; Nelson’s book does the opposite. Like the Argo, her ship’s been renewed, and her voyage continues.