RaveThe Wall Street JournalExcellent ... Garfield, an Englishman in his early 60s, is lucid, witty, learned and clearly a bibliomaniac ... In All the Knowledge in the World, he has produced a lively threnody to the encyclopedic impulse, or the powerful desire to grasp and encapsulate everything that is known within a single book or set of books ... A lively threnody may seem an oxymoron, but Mr. Garfield both loves encyclopedias and bewails their demise.
PanWall Street Journal... a great ragbag of a book, containing 180 sections of varying length on everything but that most useful of all appliances found in the modern kitchen ... In Mr. Dyer’s book we are treated to rather dullish disquisitions on Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac, both of whom Mr. Dyer much admires. He provides some abstract pages on the painters De Chirico and J.M.W. Turner, and several abstruse ones on Nietzsche. A number of passages on Beethoven’s late quartets come neither to trenchant insights nor useful conclusions; he tells us he has no musical training, only a love of music. Others are on some of the jazz musicians he admires: Coltrane, Art Pepper, Keith Jarrett, et al. The tennis careers of Björn Borg, Andy Murray and John McEnroe are touched upon, but not gone into at any depth ... What is not in the book is as notable as what is ... A pity that Mr. Dyer’s wife, his editor, his friends have left it to me to tell him that in these pages he is more than a \'bit\' but a serious, a genuinely heavyweight DMT bore ... But I Digress might have been an apt title for this book, in whose pages digressions abound, some more interesting than others ... What The Last Days of Roger Federer seems really to be about is Geoff Dyer’s fear, at age 63, of growing old and out of it. Throughout the book, he regales the reader with his medical problems ... I hope that Geoff Dyer’s shoulder heals, that he is able to return to the tennis court without handicap and that all his first serves go in, and that a decade or two from now he returns to the subject of the toll of age on the artist and, this second time round, nails it.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Eyman supplies what feels like the \'true gen\'—the real lowdown—on the directors, producers and studio heads with whom Cary Grant worked. He is up on the complex, even arcane, manipulations of Hollywood finance and is able to explain them lucidly. He knows not only where the bodies are buried but also who buried them. He also has a fine ear for gossip.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalCan an examination of the single word \'character\' sustain a book of 383 pages and another 40-odd pages of endnotes? Turns out it can, and does so brilliantly in Marjorie Garber’s magisterial book on the word, its etymology, its altered meanings, its social ramifications. Best known for her work on Shakespeare, Ms. Garber from time to time departs her field to take on other, dare one say unlikely, subjects, among them sex and real estate, bisexuality, the love of dogs, and cross-dressing. Scholarly by training and savvy by instinct, she writes without any of the dampening jargon now common in academic prose and with an impressive respect for the complexity of her subject ... One understands Ms. Garber’s temptation to enliven her pages by these contemporary names, but her book loses some of its elevated tone in doing so ... These contemporary references also reveal Ms. Garber’s politics. In the five-stage illness known as Trump Derangement Syndrome, Ms. Garber, I should say, is at stage one. (At stage five, the mere mention of the name evokes unprintable epithets streaming from one’s foam-flecked lips, with seizure seeming not far off.)
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalJeanine Basinger has since seen many more movies than I. She seems, in fact, to have seen all movies, right up to yesterday ... at once an impressive history and a penetrating criticism of movie musicals, nicely punctuated by the author’s wit and insider knowledge ... In her book’s final section, Ms. Basinger discusses, in sometimes tedious detail, many of the movie musicals made after the close of the studio era, all the way up to 2016’s La La Land and 2018’s A Star Is Born. She grants the strengths to be found in some of these movies, but also locates their usually ruinous flaws.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalOne wonders if things aren’t even drearier than Mr. Markovits sets out. They are so, in that in my view he overrates the quality—the merit, you might say—of education that underlies and reinforces the new meritocracy ... what if the elite schools aren’t really in fact all that intrinsically splendid but flourish largely owing to snobbery? ... The emptiness of much contemporary education may be quite as grave a problem as that of the meritocracy itself ... An author cannot end a book as bleak as The Meritocracy Trap without offering solutions. Mr. Markovits offers two: open up the elite universities to a more democractic student body and devise tax policies that restore the old position of the middle class. Neither of these watery solutions—dilute educational snobbery and soak the rich—is likely to convince, let alone excite, anyone who has read through all the dark pages that have gone before. A great deal more, alas, will be required to spring the country free from the meritocratic trap.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalI hope to persuade you,\' Mr. Rée writes, \'that philosophy in English contains far more variety, invention, originality and oddity than it is usually credited with ... Mr. Rée fulfills these claims through his wide learning and impressive ability to make the most abstract, not to say abstruse, philosophy intelligible to those of us not in the business. He smoothly interweaves the lives and the thoughts of the philosophers he writes about into a continuous and lively story. Added to this is his consideration, often brief, sometimes lengthy, of writers and intellectuals ... [Rée\'s] lively chronicle of philosophy in English is a splendid accomplishment sufficient unto itself. Highly intelligent, always even-handed, quietly but consistently witty, Witcraft is an excellent guide along the twisted and tricky path of human thought.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... a serious, useful, and important book. Wedged in between its overwhelming sadness, the book has an upside ... What gives the book its heightened relevance is the striking increase of older people in America and in Western Europe.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... excellent ... the Club itself gets very little direct attention in Mr. Damrosch’s pages, despite its giving him his title...The real subject of The Club is literary life in England in the second half of the 18th century ... In [Damrosch\'s] career he has achieved the ideal for academic publication set many years ago by Jacques Barzun at Columbia: that of impeccable scholarship at the service of absolute lucidity, resulting in work that can be enjoyed by thoughtful readers both inside and outside the academy. “The Club” is such a work—learned, penetrating, a pleasure to read ... As Samuel Johnson seems to have dominated every room he ever entered, so does he dominate Mr. Damrosch’s book ... filled with interesting oddments ... 31 elegant color plates and numerous black-and-white drawings of the book’s dramatis personae [are] scattered throughout this splendid book.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"In Essayism, the Irish writer Brian Dillon says a great deal more [about the essay form]. He says it, moreover, essayistically, which is to say in rambling, rather disorganized, far-from-complete fashion ... Ought one to admire the courage of a writer who works under such a psychological burden? Or ought one feel he should be charged a psychotherapist’s fee for laying all his mental problems on us, strangers who happen to have come upon his book? ... Brian Dillon’s Essayism is both an exemplar and a casualty of the therapeutic culture’s influence on literature in general and on the essay in particular.\
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"As a title Class Matters is, I believe, a misnomer...the intricate calibrations of class—upper-middle, lower-middle and the rest—are not of the least of interest to Mr. Fraser. Class, for him, is a synonym for power, or want of power, and, in his view, there are two classes, and two classes only: those who have power and those who don’t ... Productive in so many ways, America has let Mr. Fraser down by failing to produce a true proletariat, one that would carry on the class struggle that is the true name of his desire ... If the utopia that was meant to be America by its early settlers has failed, my guess is that Mr. Fraser would argue this is no reason to eschew the dream of utopianism generally...In the rubble of the tower of Babel, the first of humankind’s utopias, with its architectural plan to reach heaven from earth, the following two-line poem is said to have survived: \'Those who in Elysian fields would dwell, / Do but extend the boundaries of hell.\' Mr. Fraser might wish to consider having those lines framed and set on a wall in his living room, there for him to contemplate daily.\
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalNecessary or no, Mr. Aldous’s biography is full of interest, not least on the subject of the relation of intellectuals to power. As a biographer, Mr. Aldous’s prose is cool and even-handed, though from time to time he lapses into such overworked and imprecise vogue words as 'charismatic,' 'optics,' 'take' (for 'view') and the invariably hyperbolic “seminal.” His own politics, pleasing to report, do not come into play, and at the end of his book one doesn’t know what they might be. He is properly critical of his subject’s self-justifications and no less properly skeptical about the putative integrity of politicians ... The Imperial Historian is especially good on the inner conflicts of presidential politics.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIn a highly readable style, nicely seasoned with occasional ironic touches, Denis Boyles limns the intricate business negotiations that went into the creation of the Eleventh Edition...Mr. Boyles provides excellent portraits of the key figures responsible for the 19th- and early-20th-century editions of Britannica. His last chapter is given over to the Eleventh’s mishandling, owing to its having been a work of its time, of such key, and in our day super-sensitive, subjects as Women, African-Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Arabs and its difficulties with Catholic and Protestant readers. None of this finally diminishes the overall accomplishment that is Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Eleventh Edition.