RaveThe Wall Street JournalDeeply researched ... Grapples with the emotional legacy of exclusion in a way that many of the more traditional histories of the Chinese American experience have been unable to ... Ms. Chin has written a deeply empathetic and important book, one that renders visible the hidden achievements and sufferings of her family members—and insists that the wounding history of exclusion be seen clearly as well.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe most gripping true-life sea yarn I’ve read in years ... A tour de force of narrative nonfiction, Mr. Grann’s account shows how storytelling, whether to judges or readers, can shape individual and national fortunes—as well as our collective memory ... The story of the Wager has the weight of myth ... Mr. Grann renders vividly the furies of the waters around Cape Horn ... The Wager is likely to cast a powerful spell on modern readers as well.
RaveWall Street JournalJane Stanford’s poisoning remains one of the most dramatic unsolved murders of its day ... Mr. White is...a brilliant, acerbic guide into a world that resonates with the present ... Offering a detective story with more twists and turns than a Dashiell Hammett novel, Mr. White leads us through his research into the labyrinth ... But he fails to make us care much for any of this dastardly cast of characters—including the victim ... Who Killed Jane Stanford? puts to rest any lingering doubts that the university’s co-founder was, in fact, murdered ... Mr. White is an adept and engaging tour guide to this corrupt and vivid world, as well as to Jane Stanford’s devotion to spiritualism. I found myself envying the undergraduates in Mr. White’s classroom, in which he used the murder to teach historical research methods ... The subtitle of Mr. White’s book might as well have been \'Why she deserved what she got.\' The result is that the narrative largely relegates its subject to the role of victim—rather than to her rightful place as the forceful woman who kept the university alive in its early years. That emphasis may, in part, be due to the incomplete or distorted material Mr. White had to work with ... Mr. White has done an astonishing job of sifting through the available clues—and turning up an impressive array of new details, including a mysterious pharmacist with shifting addresses ... Fascinating.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMs. Prendergast blows away that sentimental mist with her tenacious research and humorous asides ... As someone who has spent a lot of time in the same university archives where Ms. Prendergast tracked down her characters’ lives, I found her sections on the frustrations and occasional joys of research to be a welcome break from descriptions of dangerous abortions, abusive relationships and men behaving badly. For readers not in love with archival research, these interludes may be a bit jarring, as the author toggles between scenes in early-20th-century San Francisco and her experiences at U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library 100 years later. Similarly, her embrace of bias and uncertainty—an issue many narrative nonfiction writers dance around for fear of undermining their authority—are welcome ... a book that grapples with the difficult task of retrieving women’s lives from incomplete or distorted archival records. As for any romantic notions that readers may hold of what California Bohemia was like in the early 20th century, Ms. Prendergast’s book will blow them away.
Daniel James Brown
RaveThe Wall Street JournalDaniel James Brown’s masterly Facing the Mountain...gave me moments of chicken skin. With its gripping battle scenes and finely etched characters, I can’t remember the last time a book jolted my central nervous system in quite this way ... Mr. Brown’s nuanced and sympathetic telling of the story of the 442nd against the backdrop of the wider Japanese-American experience during wartime reveals a vitally important—and timely—episode of American history ... Mr. Brown vividly re-creates the pre-war worlds and lives of a few of the thousands of young men who would join the regiment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor ... With nuance and sensitivity, he describes the feudal nature of old Maui, which was organized around the sugar plantations and owned and operated by a few related families ... Facing the Mountain is a propulsive and gripping read, in part because of Mr. Brown’s ability to make us care deeply about the fates of these individual soldiers. A small quibble is a writing tic that grows wearisome after a few hundred pages—his repeated use of generic cliffhangers at the end of many chapters ... But...it’s a page-turner—a testament to Mr. Brown’s storytelling gifts.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... entertaining but uneven ... The book’s play-by-play re-creation of tennis matches, drawn mainly from the accounts of contemporary sports writers and Marble’s memoirs, are fast-paced and fun. But the real treat is the book’s spin through the glamorous worlds of Hollywood, Palm Springs, San Simeon and Wimbledon that our working-class heroine navigates on her way to stardom ... Mr. Weintraub doesn’t prove or disprove this claim; this compelling episode of Marble’s life remains a mystery. Yet the author begins his book with her supposed car chase through the Swiss Alps. Does it matter if the story is true? Yes, because of the teasing prominence Mr. Weintraub gives it in his preface ... [Weintraub] sensitively documents her struggles and shows how her athletic achievements did not, in her case, lead to riches ... If you’ve ever wondered what the world of competitive women’s tennis was like before King, Evert and Navratilova, The Divine Miss Marble hits that sweet spot.
David K. Randall
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIn Black Death at the Golden Gate, David K. Randall gives a vivid, fast-paced and at times revolting history of the plague in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century ... Mr. Randall, a senior reporter at Reuters, has built his story on the work of earlier writers... Mr. Randall acknowledges these sources and adroitly synthesizes them, along with Blue’s letters and contemporaneous accounts from newspapers. But frustratingly the author eschews detailed endnotes for a lightly sourced list of texts that informed each chapter. It stretches credulity, for instance, that Mr. Randall could know what Wong Chut King might have dreamed in the days before he died ... With the latest upsurge in measles cases making the headlines, Mr. Randall’s book is a timely reminder that public health challenges responsible for killing tens of millions of people world-wide are not confined to the past.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalIn a multigenerational saga that focuses on governors Pat and Jerry Brown, veteran journalist Miriam Pawel has written a vivid history of a political dynasty that has governed the Golden State for nearly a quarter century ... Deftly contrasting Pat’s era of boom-boom public spending with Jerry’s focus on fiscal restraint, Ms. Pawel paints a powerful portrait of this complex but loving father-son relationship ... Ms. Pawel recognizes the limits of attempting to write the definitive book on a family dynasty while its scion is still in power ... Future historians may not treat the Browns so kindly. But Ms. Pawel, with her extensive interviews, deep archival research and brilliant synthesis, has made an enormous contribution to the historical record.