PositiveAir MailChris Whipple has taken a crack at assessing Biden midstream, and his credentials make him an excellent candidate to do so ... The Fight of His Life is very much told from Biden’s point of view, and this is the book’s considerable strength ... Whipple is by and large sympathetic to Biden’s two biggest blunders—the poorly executed withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and his premature celebration of “independence from a deadly virus” on July 4, 2021 ... Yet there is something about Joe Biden that does not engender awe.
PositiveAir MailGeorge Stevens Jr., now 90 years old, writes beautifully about his dad, the director George Stevens, in his memoir, an account he can bring vividly to life because as a young man he witnessed the making of such classics as A Place in the Sun, Shane, and Giant...Red Dog made a couple of attempts to direct his father’s kind of movies, and thought he had a deal with David Selznick to do Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter until he learned that Selznick’s wife, Jennifer Jones, then 40, would be playing the young adulteress Hester Prynne...Not only was the movie-studio business changing, but Stevens himself was drawn into politics, working for Edward R. Murrow and the United States Information Agency during the Kennedy administration...He stayed in the Kennedy orbit long after J.F.K. died, including producing campaign films for Bobby Kennedy...So it is perhaps appropriate that Stevens is best known for producing the Kennedy Center Honors, which grew out of a TV gala in 1977 celebrating the 10th anniversary of the American Film Institute (A.F.I.), which Stevens had founded. A.F.I. already had its own successful annual tribute show, and to watch some of these shows on YouTube today (the Jimmy Cagney, Fred Astaire, and Alfred Hitchcock dinners are especially good) is to watch a master class in pacing, casting, and taste...It is a measure of why Stevens is such a trusted showman that the spiciest bit we get is that at the first A.F.I. awards show, in 1973, which honored John Ford, President Richard Nixon lavishly praised a mildy stunned Gregory Peck backstage for his performance as Jess Birdwell in Friendly Persuasion, the 1956 William Wyler film...What could Peck say except \'Thank you, Mr. President,\' wondering why after so many viewings he had not noticed Gary Cooper played the role.
PositiveAir MailI have come not to bury Henry Kissinger—war criminal or statesman, you decide—but to praise him as an uncommonly elegant writer. To say no U.S. secretary of state has been better with words is not as faint a compliment as you might think; Present at the Creation, by Dean Acheson, is a perceptive and memorable chronicle of the tumultuous Truman years ... But most books by others who have held the office quickly make it to the remainder bin ... shows Kissinger at his best, since he focuses not on doctrine but on five men and one woman who by dint of their personality changed the world in which they found themselves. He has always had an eye for detail and motive, and as we know from the White House tape recordings of his conversations with Richard Nixon, he is blessed with an intuitive understanding of how to play to a person’s vanity...Or, to put it less kindly, Kissinger is a first-class suck-up ... The fact that Kissinger happened to know the six he profiles is not name-dropping at its most egotistical, since it is his intimate observations that give the book its power ... As befits a man who just turned 99 talking about a man dead since 1994 who made him famous, Kissinger is measured and surprisingly wise about Nixon, brilliantly placing him in the context of the turmoil he both inherited and stirred up.
RaveAir Mail... one of the most delightful history books of the season ... William Alexander has done for his favorite subject what Edward Gibbon did for the Roman Empire. By the time you finish his book, you’ll marvel at how much he managed to squeeze into 300 pages ... The writer is at his most captivating (and that is saying a lot, since there is not a boring moment in this book) when he launches his own mission to discover how Naples took some flatbread, cheese, and tomatoes and thus invented the world’s first global snack ... Alexander sprinkles charm on his anecdotes as easily as you might shake pepper flakes on a slice.
PositiveAir MailThis is a joyful book, made poignant when you learn that Lori Zabar died a few months before its publication. She was 67, and had lived with cancer for several years while she finished her book. One way to honor her memory is to try your hand at making that sweet noodle kugel
Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley
RaveAir MailThere is no shortage of excellent books about the current pandemic and how we got here, but if you seek an entertaining yet sober account of how the world has dealt with lockdowns in the past and how we can better protect ourselves in the future, you should read Until Proven Safe ... a superb story—part travelogue, part science, part history, and wholly fascinating.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...revelatory, instructive, moving and, at times, very funny ... Like the haiku moments in so many of his songs, his prose can connect any reader to deeper ideas and feelings by making the personal seem universal ... It’s that revelatory power of music that his fans find in so many of his songs, and that readers in general will enjoy in his autobiography ... Bruce’s autobiography, like the best of his songs, is borne of his commitment to connect with his audience.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal[McDonnell] has worked at 13 magazines, most of them as top editor, and he shrewdly organizes his book as a collection of vignettes, each one with its word count noted at the top since when he edited stories he liked to know how long his pencil had to travel ... He has all the stories you’d expect and tells them with a subtle tension, never succumbing to the easy laugh ... The writing in The Accidental Life is direct and crisp, with a touch of tartness; there is not a bloated or sappy passage in the book. Mr. McDonell can be sentimental, especially about friends now dead (and there are enough to fill a cemetery), but he is never mawkish.