RaveNew York Review of BooksBell...makes graphic use of varied sources ... She writes particularly well about the situation of women, whether maidservants in the 1860s or feminists in the 1960s ... Her perspective is intimate and personal ... Beguiling ... Bell is especially illuminating about these years, writing vividly of wilderness idylls in bombed-out spaces; of campaigns against grand plans for inner-city freeways; of the songs of Ton Steine Scherben, \'the soundtrack to West Berlin’s anti-establishment and anarchist movements\' in the 1970s ... Her personal quest and psychogeography of the city—a study of tumult, shock, shame, and denial followed by confrontation and increasing openness—take her down routes outside conventional history writing. In its artful spontaneity, The Undercurrents belongs with other examples of contemporary writing that uses walking, drifting, or even taking a bus as a mode of exploration, and often of healing .. These excursions can be distracting, yet Bell’s \'drifting\' technique works well in piecing together scattered, partial images ... Every step, every stone in Berlin is weighted with a history that we need to read and understand, yet the city is also rich with music, art, a mix of cultures, and opportunities. Bell’s intriguing book...recognizes this, while evoking the struggles of the past to build a story as \'sprawling and unruly\' as Berlin itself.
RaveThe New York Review of Books... eight detailed, immensely readable essays ... dramatic storytelling and also brings out a secondary theme: the tension between objective research and subjective response—the restless curiosity and passionate sense of wonder that so often drives those who study the natural world ... One of the fascinating aspects of Dry’s account is the way that surprise results prompt new questions and new directions ... Dry’s clear scientific explanations are matched by a lyrical evocation of natural phenomena, but although she tells her linked stories with verve and wit, she never falls into the trap of presenting her subjects as lone heroes. Instead she shows how their work was bolstered by that of other researchers, by advances in different fields, by developing technologies, and by funding and institutional support ... Dry is rightly wary of presenting scientific advance as simple progress, a straight line between two points. People belong to their time ... Dry looks beneath her subjects’ masks with sympathy and curiosity. Noting their shared sense of a quest, at once playful and serious
RaveThe New York Review of Books...in his engaging and illuminating The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age, Leo Damrosch makes no attempt to describe [the club] as a coherent entity, or to follow its development and endow it with a specific part in \'shaping an age.\' Instead, he uses the Club to give a fresh slant to the more familiar story of the friendship between Johnson and Boswell ... Concerned that we should see, as well as hear, these groups, Damrosch includes a superb array of color plates and black-and-white illustrations ... Damrosch is a crisp guide to everything from rhetorical styles to the gallows at Tyburn, where prisoners from Newgate were executed. Like a benign lecturer fixing his audience with a stare over his glasses, he alerts us to crucial points with a nod ... He wears his learning lightly, and his sympathetic enjoyment is infectious ... While Damrosch’s insights into the characters and achievements of Johnson, Boswell, and the leading Club members are astute, he is also generous in his acknowledgment of other commentators. These evoke a body of readers over time that includes some unexpected voices ... on Damrosch’s stage, we are transported back to a world of conversations, arguments, ideas, and writings.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksMeticulously researched ... A skilled and experienced biographer, Seymour weaves her way through cobwebby curtains of rumor and gossip, showing how tabloid intrusions are nothing new, privacy has always been won at a price, and reputation—the judgment of the public—remains a slippery, fragile thing ... The combination of pure mathematics and agonized personal passions gives Seymour’s book an arresting power.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThis fine biography of Francis Willughby (1635-72) is intriguingly double-layered, the life of a 17th-century naturalist seen through the eyes of a modern ornithologist ... The dialogue between past and present brings the whole book alive ... Mr. Birkhead responds engagingly to Willughby’s eager curiosity, adding contemporary knowledge, including vivid observations and personal anecdotes—another story of the making of a naturalist. We feel the author’s excitement.