MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThroughout her book, Conant quotes from a trove of largely unpublished and often strikingly unvarnished interviews with Higgins’s fellow journalists. In assembling these accounts, the author often relies on cliché ... These rote descriptions and sexist binaries, from both Conant and her sources, are tiresome to read but must have been even more exhausting to live inside.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewPainfully timely ... Wright’s book tells Madame Restell’s story alongside the broader history of abortion, with regular, blunt reminders of today’s restrictions and hypocrisies ... This is unavoidably a one-sided story ... Heartfelt.
MixedThe New Republic... an enraging, gruesome, and depressingly timely story about the fragility of American democracy, as both institution and concept ... And, as the book lays out in stark and relentless detail, there was repression ... The story of uprising and repression that American Midnight tells is overwhelmingly a story of men: of industrial workers, politicians, secret agents, soldiers, vigilantes, protesters, and prisoners. Hochschild’s goal, it seems, is to emphasize how far the anti-Red crusade was an expression of what we might now call toxic masculinity, the urge to assert racial and gender dominance by those who felt their authority and virility fading...The appeal of war, with its rigid reinforcing of the gender binary, is therefore obvious...It’s also somewhat reductive. Women had, after all, been openly agitating for their rights since the middle of the nineteenth century. Why did their demands seem so threatening in this moment? ... without a fuller picture of the role of women in these years, the argument about the fundamental misogyny of the moment feels less convincing ... Most strikingly, Hochschild does not discuss the way the government treated suffrage leader Alice Paul and members of the National Woman’s Party between 1917 and 1920, an important illustration of how a crackdown on public protest could quickly morph into a wholesale violation of Americans’ constitutional rights.
PositiveNew York Times Book ReviewMark Braude’s exuberantly entertaining biography sets out to rebalance the much-told story of Left Bank Paris, in which Kiki — model, memoirist and muse — is usually cast as a bit player. He brings that milieu to life in all its grit and energy — but also the larger sociopolitical pressures that myopic mythmaking leaves out: the still-vivid trauma of World War I and the growing conservative backlash against everything the cosmopolitan city represented ... For all its liveliness, this attempt at restoring Kiki to prominence does not quite succeed at making her memorable as an artist. Braude describes her as a talented, if uncommitted, painter, a realist among the Surrealists, whose art and temperament were rooted in tangible pleasures rather than abstract ideas ... What Kiki created did not accrue in value and status like the works of her peers. As Braude observes, markets and museums shape artistic legacies — and you can’t auction charisma.
Hilary A Hallett
PositiveThe Boston GlobeHallett’s sense of history makes this a biography rich in detail — sometimes to excess — and broad in scope. Yet the frequent zooming out to sketch larger trends — the decline of the aristocracy, shifting attitudes to marriage and divorce, urbanization, feminism, and the rise of the movie business — stalls the story’s momentum, and muddies our sense of Glyn’s place in all this change. Was she a harbinger of a new sexual equality, or a skilled reworker of Victorian patterns? Did she reflect the changing times, or drive them forward? Either way, the It Girl and her creator had a profound impact on modern attitudes to love and sex — one that echoes today, long after Glyn’s name has faded, in a romance novel’s eternal promise to sweep the reader away.
PanAirMailGiven the value, danger, and sheer flamboyance of Baker’s spying activities, it’s a shame that she hasn’t found a better chronicler of her exploits or her complicated history. For Agent Josephine, Damien Lewis, the British author of several works of military history and biography, dug into hard-to-access archives and the chronicles left by key players to create an account that is long on detail but sadly lacking in psychological insight or storytelling panache ... Despite Baker’s nominal centrality, Lewis is more comfortable with the male characters in her story, whom he’s able to fit into familiar story arcs ... for a writer such as Lewis, apparently steeped in Fleming’s work, there’s a constant hum of astonishment that Josephine Baker would, or could, work as a secret agent ... The specifics of her espionage career are remarkable, and certainly worth the telling—both in this form and in the screen adaptation this book has its eye on throughout. But what’s truly remarkable is that she was so consistently underestimated. Josephine Baker was a spy all along.
PositiveWall Street JournalIn Ms. Fraser’s clear-eyed telling, Caroline Norton remains a woman of her time, rather than a heroine for ours, and the progress she championed was limited. Even in her rage and grief, she did not question the ideology of separate spheres or the power of femininity to sway men’s judgments. Yet her willingness to mine her own life to advocate for social change was startlingly modern. She made the personal political, facing down scandal to make it clear that her husband had wronged her and that the law had allowed him to do it. It was, at least, a beginning.
MixedAir MailHood’s early ambitions to be a writer—she has published about 30 books since hanging up her uniform—clearly helped her to manage the job’s exhausting schedule and no less exhausting sexism, with an Ephronian approach of turning it all into copy. After all, there can’t be many better proving grounds for a student of human behavior than an airline. So it’s a shame that in her effort to keep things breezy, Hood sometimes pulls her punches, relying on surface detail to carry the story, and quickly shifting away from darker topics, as though she’s reluctant to go beyond the barstool anecdote ... Hood’s love for air travel, paused only by the pandemic, is infectious and undying.
PositiveThe New Republic... thoughtful and heartfelt ... Phillips mostly resists the temptation to judge her subjects for their mothering choices, and her reading of Lessing is sensitive and sympathetic. Yet she flirts with judgment at times, especially in the short section on Susan Sontag ... Although cultural clichés have long presented motherhood as an unchanging state, a woman’s apotheosis, Phillips argues instead that its essence is transformation. By the time the mother of the baby on the fire escape has become the guardian of an empty nest, she has ventured out, fought monsters, faced fears, and become a new version of herself. If we looked differently, Phillips suggests, wouldn’t hers be a \'hero-tale,\' her quest as bloody and noble as any knight’s?
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewBetsy Prioleau’s biography of the \'Queen of Park Place\' is an appropriately twisty tale of someone trying to outrun her origins ... In a vivid opening scene, Prioleau details the adult Miriam’s arduous toilette, and her reliance on pearl powder to whiten her skin. Over the course of the book, the mystery of Leslie’s birth pales in the face of a still greater riddle, which intensifies with every depression, recession, panic, crash, bankruptcy, lawsuit and family ruination: how anybody got the idea that capitalism works, and that men should be in charge of it ... Prioleau, a historian with a particular interest in sex and power, embraces Leslie’s world with enjoyable gusto ... a bracing challenge to the idea that the biography of an accomplished woman must also be an inspiration. Prioleau, to her credit, does not let us take the girlboss and leave the racist; her subject is no heroine, no role model, no rebel. For all that, her story sparkles, as intoxicating as a champagne fountain that somebody else is paying for.
PositiveAir MailBreezy ... Argetsinger conjures the shallow, spangled drama of state pageants...without judging or sneering. But a certain sadness and strangeness still cling like hairspray to the whole process ... The more the pageant’s glitzy, cheesy heart is dissected, it seems, the harder the whole thing is to hold together ... Argetsinger’s upbeat approach skirts the existential hand-wringing to focus instead on the stories of the contestants. Her sympathetic ear brings forth candid, conflicted testimony from an array of former and almost Miss Americas ... Other books have grappled more deeply with the power structures and cultural impact of the pageant, but few have done such a lively, clear-eyed job at evoking its pleasures.
Janice P. Nimura
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... richly detailed and propulsive ... Elizabeth is a striking figure, and Emily, self-doubting and hardworking, never quite gets clear of her shadow. To her credit, Nimura...doesn’t strain to fit the sisters into the narrow shape allowed to feminist pioneers, as either virtuous role models or \'badass\' rebels against society. Instead, they emerge as spiky, complicated human beings, who strove and stumbled toward an extraordinary achievement, and then had to learn what to do with it.
PositiveThe New Republic... disentangling Crystal’s story from Max’s and centering her in a full biography does more than simply amplify a drowned-out voice. It forces us to confront how we understand leadership and legacy in progressive movements ... Such a broad outlook threatens to dissolve into a haze, but Aronson makes a strong case for stepping back and seeing it clearly, and for seeing Eastman herself as a pivotal rather than a peripheral figure in the history of the American left.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn The Black Count, Reiss does his best to train a skeptical historian’s eye on the Dumas legend, but he often appears equally dazzled by his extraordinary subject ... Reiss presents the coming of revolution as a whirlwind of idealism, confusion and raw need. Conspiracy theories thrived where harvests failed, and radical political ideas became reality on the back of desperate food shortages. Dumas was swept up in revolutionary ardor, as even the abolition of slavery became a real possibility ... The biography is bookended by meditations on remembering and record-keeping. In the novels of Alexandre Dumas, the worst crime is to forget; Reiss details the criminal forgetting of Alex Dumas, which results in Reiss’s having to hire a safecracker to access the general’s private papers ... This remarkable book stands instead as his monument.
MixedThe Washington PostThere’s a certain coldness to this mudlark’s process of discovery and storytelling alike, as if the mud dulls the capacity for shock ... Maiklem’s attempts to describe her emotional connection to the river and to mudlarking remain rather vague, in sharp contrast to her ability to focus on, say, the carving on the head of a centuries-old ship’s nail. Perhaps a collector’s obsession is impossible ever to fully explain or share, but it means her narrative remains fragmentary—a cabinet of curiosities lacking the binding thread of a story. There’s only so much an object can reveal, and most of their stories inevitably end in speculation, the tantalizing uncertainty of what can’t be recovered. The foreshore, the mudlark’s domain, remains \'a muddle of refuse and casual losses.\'
PositiveNewsday... fascinating ... With an eye for the vivid and revealing detail, Satow zips through the Plaza’s first century ... While Satow does highlight several moments of overt racism at the hotel, she tends to treat these as isolated incidents, rather than as evidence of the systemic exclusion that underpins the Plaza\'s \'exclusivity.\' To that end, the history might have been enriched with more attention to the voices of staff below the managerial level — the maids, bellhops and busboys who keep the hotel running and guard its most intimate secrets. The prostitutes who appear in the story, strolling the bar and public spaces in the 1980s and 1990s, would have been better treated as real people with stories of their own, rather than as problems for management and symbols of excess or tawdriness ... demonstrates that New York institutions are not invincible but will depend for their survival on knowledge, imagination and resistance to the whims of billionaires.
PositiveThe Washington Post... demonstrates how the flat daily record of a diary can offer unexpected creative possibilities ... The disrupted chronology throws up unexpected connections and coincidences, which are themselves a way of collapsing time and reordering the world, and, depending on your frame of mind, can mean everything or nothing ... Many of [Julavits\'] anecdotes are outlandish, drawing moral lines in unexpected places, and delivered with a deadpan wit ... Both the humor and the pathos of the book arise from this mismatch between the urgency of a decision in the moment and the awareness that always runs beneath it: that time will eventually make most things not matter.
PositiveThe Washington PostThese were not the kinds of lives that leave an extensive record, yet Rubenhold is able to weave a vivid narrative of Victorian working-class life from small factual scraps that she unearthed in police records, government reports and church registers ... The specter of illicit sex still haunts the Ripper story, an unkillable ghost that makes the crimes seem more titillating and their victims more expendable. Rubenhold’s account, however, makes a compelling case that the real monster shadowing these women’s lives was alcoholism ... Though we know how these women’s stories play out, Rubenhold achieves much here by making us feel genuine sadness and anger at their loss.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"... a compact and energetic study ... Ms. Cassidy effectively evokes the slow grind of [Paul\'s] fight [with Wilson]... Clearly aware that race is a central question for the suffrage movement’s legacy today, Ms. Cassidy is scrupulous in detailing instances of Paul’s inclusivity...\
RaveThe New RepublicHartman’s real interest is in these young women—those who who ran away from grinding labor and resisted the trap of good behavior. In granting these forgotten women a voice, and conjuring their longing for freedom, Hartman resists the century-long diminution of their lives to social problems ... pushes beyond the effort to recover forgotten stories, in order to tell them in a deliberately poetic, evocative way ... That perspective transforms the so-called slum from a place of incipient criminality into a space of intimacy, love and tenderness, for all that it coexists with violence and suffering. Woven together in this remarkable book, these stories remind us how much is lost when histories focus only on what’s visible on the surface, on the stories that come down to us polished and preserved by the powerful; they demonstrate that the best of intentions to improve other people’s lives are liable to harm as well as help, so long as the people affected are not allowed to speak for themselves. The result is an effect more usually associated with fiction than history, of inspiring a powerful imaginative empathy—not only towards characters in the distant past but towards the strangers all around us, whose humanity we share.
PanThe Washington Post\"Along the way, Peck shares plenty of details worthy of their own histories ... But amid a parade of other facts, these details too often feel included but not incorporated, their significance hard to judge. The overall sense is of the war as a mass of coincidence rather than one with clear causations ... [Peck] takes pains to clarify that his book is neither a biography of Wilson nor a defense of the man’s politics and policies. But as any historian of America in World War I well knows, neutrality is a difficult and delicate balance to hold ... It is the historian’s responsibility to connect these dots [when looking at an administration, and Peck fails to do so fully].\
RaveThe New Republic\"[Longworth\'s] new book, Seduction, offers an insistent, clear-eyed reminder of the fact that history does not get buried or forgotten by accident, but by design, in order to burnish and elevate the reputations of powerful men, and to cut women down to size ... [Longworth’s story of Hughes] has the pace and intensity of a true crime story, which in a way it is ... By unearthing unpublished material from the archives of Hughes and his contemporaries, and, more often, by astutely reading between the lines of official histories, Longworth shows how valuable and revealing it is to tell the story of a playboy from the perspective of his toys ... Again and again, Longworth’s book shows that power in Hollywood depends on who’s in charge of the story ... Longworth’s essential book reclaims the narrative from a man who obsessively sought to control it and from the many other men who benefited.\
MixedThe New RepublicRobert Verkaik’s new book Posh Boys is a detailed and damning history of the institutions that at once run and ruin Britain ... One weakness of Verkaik’s analysis is that it doesn’t really consider how the most traditional all-male schools like Eton differ from all-girls schools and co-ed schools. There is no doubt that girls in private schools, whether single sex or co-ed, benefit in similar ways from the improved chances of university access and the post-school network, but it’s still harder for professional women to accumulate wealth and power on a scale to match the entrenched advantages of their male counterparts ... Verkaik argues that \'pushy\' middle-class parents are needed to pull up the standards of struggling state schools, and that the presence of their \'articulate, confident, able\' children will help their less privileged peers. But this is a painfully one-sided view ... white, middle-class kids have just as much to gain from learning alongside children who are different from them.
RaveNewsdayIt’s a remarkable achievement on the part of Brown, a columnist for the British satirical magazine Private Eye, to build a book as entertaining, daring and moving as Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret around this shell of a woman ... since Margaret made bonfires of her private letters and documents before she died, he must look for her in books written by hangers-on and disloyal servants, and tease out the significance of chance encounters and coincidences. The result is a book that says as much about 20th-century British culture and history as it does about its subject ... Brown’s skill is to keep shifting the angle of vision and with it, our sympathies, creating a story considerably more fascinating than its subject deserves.
RaveThe New RepublicThere are plenty of before-they-were-famous thrills, standard issue for a rock-star memoir ... But Albertine’s celebration of the moment before the scene got big, when the line of safety pins in your pants was there to save them from ripping apart, mostly resists cliché. She is determined to put \'punk\' in its proper place in the course of a whole life, from childhood to marriage, through cancer and IVF, motherhood and divorce, and back around to creativity in new forms: filmmaking, sculpture, writing ... Albertine is frank and bitterly funny about her pursuit of partners who make no effort at all, compared to the time and money she spends maintaining her physical desirability ... Both the relentless inequality of power between men and women and the violence that lurks underneath to maintain it are recurring themes in Albertine’s life and in both of her books ... How, after all, can we \'overcome\' the people who made us, without losing part of who we are? And after their loss, who do we become? Such questions are hardly new, but Albertine’s willingness to probe them unflinchingly makes her book unpredictable, bracing, and engrossing.
PositiveThe Washington PostShe dryly articulates the way single women in their late 30s come to think of their lives as \'a shifting math problem,\' an experiment in how little time can be allowed to elapse between meeting a man and having a baby ... Drawing this contrast between her mother’s life and her own feels like a throwback to an older generation of feminist stories, of 1970s daughters rebelling against 1950s values, but it’s a reminder of how those domestic pressures linger ... MacNicol adopts a tone of affectionate awe when writing about the important women in her life, the friends whose lives have intertwined with hers from her early days in the city as a 20-something waitress. This chosen family offers her support and companionship, but also a glimpse of the way that stories can twist and rupture ... There is undeniable luck and privilege in being able to shape one’s own story as a single woman, as MacNicol is careful to acknowledge. Still, it can be hard to feel grateful for our luck in the abstract, so MacNicol focuses instead on what it offers her: the opportunity, indeed the obligation, to choose the life she wants. And not just once, but over and over again.
RaveThe Washington PostIn Dead Girls, her sharp-eyed book of essays about literature, pop culture, and the fantasies they weave for and about young women, Alice Bolin is never more precise than when putting her finger on her self-doubt ... This instinct to forestall criticism by pointing out the flaws in her argument is consistent with the way Bolin describes herself elsewhere, as a smart kid hamstrung on the road to maturity by her own cleverness. This defensive undercutting can make her essays frustrating, but it’s a pose that’s appropriate to the larger problem they grapple with: how to grow up in a culture that refuses to do so? ... She has a keen eye for the uncanny contradictions of California ... To write cultural criticism with authority used to mean erasing any trace of the first person, adopting a stance of quasi-scientific neutrality (read: white and masculine) toward works of art. Bolin, by contrast, insists on the centrality and importance of her own responses to culture ... In her willingness to show herself as a work in progress, thinking through a problem rather than presenting its solution, she leaves breathing room for indecision and revision, ensuring that her writing is always pulsing with life.
PositiveThe New RepublicThere are hundreds of mini biographies packed in here, and more often than not they begin with an unconventional girl, working to support herself, sometimes married to a free-thinking, liberal-leaning man, who sees injustice in her life and her world and looks around for a way to change it. She goes to a meeting, makes like-minded friends ... The cumulative effect of these stories is a gathering wave, as more and more women enlist in the WSPU’s campaign of publicity-seeking civil disobedience and the male authorities struggle to respond ... Atkinson’s book helps put working-class women back in their rightful place at the center of the British suffrage story ... A patchwork of compromises in practice, women’s suffrage, when it was won, was undoubtedly a sweeping moral victory.
MixedThe Washington PostBeyond their iconoclasm and remarkably supportive families — and of course, their gender — the main biographical trait these women share is that they all are white ... Barnet, whose previous book was about the women of Greenwich Village and Harlem in the 1910s and ’20s, acknowledges that the cliche of the suburban American Dream was based on segregation and exclusion ... yet we don’t hear voices from communities of color — the main targets of urban-renewal policies. Barnet might have noted, in her discussion of the rise of agribusiness, that the patterns of racial exclusion that created the suburbs also affected rural areas, with black farmers routinely denied federal assistance to save their businesses ... Still, Barnet makes a powerful case for a shared perspective among her subjects ... All four women learned by immersing themselves in their environment and letting their eyes lead the way.
RaveNewsdayMacdonald's grief also threatens to detach her from solid ground, but not forever. Mabel cannot hunt year-round: after a bloody, lonely winter spent chasing rabbits and pheasants through the fields around Cambridge, Macdonald must let her rest during her spring molting season, and find her own way back to the tame, paved-over world. But her writing -- about soil and weather, myth and history, pain and its slow easing -- retains the qualities of Mabel's wild heart, and the commanding scope and piercing accuracy of her hawk's eye.
PanThe New RepublicYet despite Claridge’s determination to restore Blanche to the heart of the Knopf reputation, we don’t come away from the book with a strong sense of how she made her judgements—we don’t get to see her intelligence at work, or to read her commentary on new authors or her arguments in favor of one or another...Claridge hasn’t quite found the story in her biography, but pieces of several: the Knopfs’ fraught marriage and Blanche’s search for affection; her pursuit of talent and nurturing of authors; Knopf’s place in the publishing landscape; the pressures on the business from money and politics; the relationship between the American and European literary worlds. Threads of all of these narratives are picked up and dropped, but never quite woven together.
MixedThe Washington PostRothschild’s first novel, The Improbability of Love, is an exuberant, uneven satire of consumption and corruption in the London art world. This is fiction aimed at readers who find Downton Abbey too bleakly realistic.