RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewYou will have a hard time getting through Thomas Dyja’s New York, New York, New York, mostly because there is an idea on every page, if not in every paragraph — and usually attached to a perfect line from the host of sources he has collected for this history of New York City over its last four rollicking decades ... a tour de force, a work of astonishing breadth and depth that encompasses seminal changes in New York’s government and economy, along with deep dives into hip-hop, the AIDS crisis, the visual arts, housing, architecture and finance ... It’s quite a high-wire act, and one that Dyja, who has previously written a cultural history of Chicago, pulls off without ever losing the rush of his narrative. He slips in telling statistics with the skill of a banderillero, using them always to secure a point and move his story forward ... go have your own argument with Dyja; you will enjoy it. In our current atmosphere of political fanaticism and fantasy, his reasoning is a joy, as are his sense of nuance and his willingness to question his own assumptions. He elides what he calls the \'morality play\' that has warped most arguments about New York for the last 40 years, giving each mayor his due — and his skewering — with astonishing objectivity, and each genuine reformer the benefit of the doubt. He looks at the city from all points of view, from that of the poorest outsiders to the Masters of the Universe, and best of all he brings to life the volunteers, everyday New Yorkers, who stepped forward to save their city when it needed them most ... outstanding work...[Dyja] has done all that a historian can do to light the way forward, by so vividly illuminating the past.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewUnfortunately, [Baker] only adds to the ball of confusion that is our world today ... Baker’s proposed policy solutions, including a vast increase in declassification and transparency, and the termination of the C.I.A. as we know it, are all to the good...Yet too often, Baker’s search for the truth dissolves in his own prejudices and rampaging sense of moral superiority. Baseless is framed as a work diary he kept for three months in 2019, in which we are also treated to tidbits about his children, his wife, the two small dachshunds they adopted from the Humane Society in Bangor, Maine; the weather; what he’s eating...Baker is making a case for himself as a man of small and virtuous pleasures...By contrast, our leading Cold War wise men, with their \'deep crazy suspicions and enmities,\' are \'not normal people.\' Baker can be slashingly funny about this \'tiny handful of unelected desk warriors,\' middle-aged men ... Yet Baker smears even the likes of this establishment with what he chooses to \'redact\' on his own. His distortions, speculations and omissions outstrip any effort to note them all. Suffice it to say that in his view there is not a calamity anywhere in the world that was not caused by a United States government program ... wild accusations ... At times, the book is framed as a deliberate challenge to the intelligence community...But this is not how a historian proceeds. Again and again, Baker bristles with anger over actions that were \'seriously contemplated\' by the C.I.A., other intelligence agencies and the military — but never undertaken ... I share Baker’s disgust with all the crazy, wasteful, illegal, counterproductive and murderous things the C.I.A. has done, and no doubt continues to do. Hell, I even like dogs. Baker’s Olympian worldview, though, takes him to almost the same place he landed in Human Smoke, his paste-up 2008 history of the road to World War II: immobilized by purity and concluding that we should never have intervened, even to stop the Nazis. Americans are neither beasts nor angels, just human beings trying to forge our way through the murky moral choices this world poses. To pretend otherwise is perhaps the worst deception of all.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewMaraniss has used his prodigious research skills to produce a story that leaves one aching with its poignancy, its finely wrought sense of what was lost, both in his home and in our nation. It is at the same time a book that, like his family, never gives in to self-pity but remains remarkably balanced, forthright and unwavering in its search for the truth ... This is, in the end, a fascinating confluence of America, and if the story drags in places—we don’t really need to know that there were 17,000 varieties of American apple by 1905—more often one is bowled over by the vibrancy of that vanished nation.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe World of Tomorrow is admirably fearless, daring to tread territory staked by no less than E.L. Doctorow’s finest work, the 1985 novel-cum-memoir World’s Fair. Mathews’s is a long book, full of back story and digression, which is no knock on it per se; for what is a good novel — or a good life — but a long series of digressions? Unfortunately, Mathews’s work also demonstrates another truism about a novel, which is that writing one is like setting off into a trackless wood. The slightest misreading of your compass can leave you lost in the trees, many miles from where you wanted to go ... If Mathews is trying to show that humans are caught up in their own preoccupations even in the face of the most dire events, fine — after all, the Trump era proves it every day — but the point is muted by his own meanderings as he careens from the picaresque to the thriller. For far too long, Mathews follows loose plot ends and eccentric minor characters ... Mathews is capable of much better than this. In fact, he is capable of a great deal, and we can only hope it’s not long before he plunges into the woods again.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...[a] fine, sorrowful history ... Kazin’s work is an instructive one, an important book in chronicling a too often neglected chapter in our history. Most of all, it is a timely reminder of how easily the will of the majority can be thwarted in even the mightiest of democracies ... No matter how familiar one is with the era, it is still shocking to read the breathtaking swiftness with which the country flipped into reaction once war was declared...Strikes were brutally crushed and labor unions all but annihilated. Black churches and neighborhoods were burned to the ground, and hundreds, maybe thousands of African-Americans murdered in white-on-black pogroms. Civil liberties continued to be curtailed, elected Socialist leaders were thrown out of office and radicals like Emma Goldman were deported ... It is, in the end, difficult to believe that the United States could really have stayed as pure and unentangled in foreign affairs as Kazin would have preferred...Kazin would trace our existing national security state back to the decision we made to enter the Great War in 1917, but in fact that prototype was almost entirely dismantled. It was the ways of the world, alas, that forced us to rebuild it.