RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksOlubas seems determined to prove that Hazzard is to Australia what Joan Didion is to America: a literary icon ... Given complete access to Hazzard’s diaries and journals, Olubas was able to climb into her subject’s mind and heart and find the answers to how Hazzard felt at various times and why she said what she said and did what she did — the kinds of questions that perplex many biographers, forcing them to guess and surmise. Brigitta Olubas has made glorious use of her years as a Shirley Hazzard scholar, too, and in this biography, she eloquently presents all that was won and lost in Hazzard’s writing life.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of Books... creative ... Some of the unspoken speeches unearthed by Nussbaum’s dogged research and informative text spark jump-up-and-down joy ... Now to the bits that don’t stir jump-up-and-down joy. Much of Nussbaum’s book reads like a garrulous guy on a binge while his editor is A.W.O.L. The author meanders back and forth from a third-person narrative to first-person asides, political anecdotes, pesky footnotes, and lame jokes....He jams his book to the brim with historical information, proving that he’s read widely, and is hellbent on sharing every bit of his findings, which he piles into 374 pages of main text, 38 pages of notes, a 30-page bibliography, and a 28-page appendix ... Eventually, Nussbaum circles back to the dilemma facing Lewis, but only for a few pages before he interrupts the narrative again with more reflections on his own speechwriting. Then, and only then (thank you, Jesus), does he return to finish the story of Lewis and his 1963 speech.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... peeks inside the psyche of one such male friendship between not-quite bros forever but seasonal pals. As such, this memoir is pitch-perfect for outdoorsy dads, sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, and the like ... By now, you’ve deduced that this memoir is more about the author than his subject, and parts are achingly sad, particularly when McGrath writes about his parents ... it’s too late for the summer friend, but certainly not for readers.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksHer regrets? Her reliefs? These questions, and more, are asked and answered in penetrating detail by a writer who pans for gold and presents it many times, albeit in sentences that are long and somewhat convoluted ... reads like a polyglot of personal diary and literary travelogue in which a writer meanders back and forth between her youth in America.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksNot every one of the 15 chapters in this book is equally weighted but each carries the heavy load of racism that Coates saw during her seven years as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Writing with verve and style, she relates her experience ... In some chapters, Just Pursuit reads like a personal diary ... She offers no solutions, but she supports her premise in horrific detail: \'[T]he pursuit of justice creates injustice.\'
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksIf \'perseverance is genius in disguise,\' then Bernardine Evaristo is a 22-carat gold, diamond-encrusted genius. She is the patron saint of persistence and proves it with her ninth book ... Whether homosexual or hetero, she was always a feminist and approached her struggle for success with a winning strategy: persistence — no matter what ... Now 62, Evaristo is unsparing about her own racism ... She addresses \'colorism or shadism\' ... When Bernardine Evaristo wrote her first novel, Lara, in 1997, she wrote, in part, an affirmation about winning the Booker Prize. Twenty-two years and eight books later, she finally received it. Dreams really do come true.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksAs might be expected of an academic, her tone is a bit pedantic as she makes her grim case with studies and citations and statistics. She admits up front that she’s \'neither charismatic nor a gifted speaker.\' Unfortunately, she’s right. At various points, this disquisition cries out for a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, but Anita Hill is not Mary Poppins. Her treatise is on man’s inhumanity to man, and while her catalog of ills is short on solutions, she spotlights behavior that will make some readers cringe at the extent of sexual violence in our society ... So, caveat emptor: Do not look to Believing for inspiring prose or literary flourish. But perhaps that’s appropriate since there’s no poetry in gender violence.
James Tate Hill
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books[A] keeper ... Hill winningly recounts his life after he was declared legally blind ... Hill’s story is funny and sad at the same time, and raw in its honesty.
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books... enchanting ... The author wraps history and humanity in a sparkling package ... It’s an inspired idea that will thrill anyone who loves life stories woven into presidential history ... By far the strongest chapter in Ginsberg’s book—and the chronicle of a relationship that changed history—was Harry Truman’s friendship with Eddie Jacobson ... Gary Ginsberg has written in First Friends a romp of a read. Enjoy!
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksBren brings impressive academic credentials to her history of the Barbizon. Unfortunately, her book’s subject, at least in her telling, does not live up to its billing as \'the hotel that set women free.\'
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksWhen debate about the property seizure reached the U.S. Senate, Charles Sumner, who led that body’s anti-slavery forces, railed against the slaveholding Confederate general, saying: \'I hand him over to the avenging pen of history.\' That pen has now been wielded to dazzling effect by Ty Seidule in Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause. Few others could write this book with such sterling credibility. Only a man of the South, a Virginian, and a soldier with a Ph.D. in history could so persuasively mount the case against a national hero, and label him a traitor ... stunning book ... Ty Seidule writes with the passion of a convert who’s seen the light and needs to shine it for other to save them from \'the lies and tropes\' that blinded him for so many years. Robert E. Lee and Me is a cri de coeur, one man’s journey to humanity and his salvation from the pernicious lies of white supremacy.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksNot a news-making investigative foray into the Conservative movement, Reaganland is, instead, a phenomenal collection of data and detail masterfully woven into a compelling narrative about how the country turned right, steered brilliantly and cynically by think-tank founder Paul Weyrich and direct-mail mastermind Richard Viguerie ... Perlstein poured extraordinary research into this book, and those who lived through the era may be stunned to learn all they missed at the time — or wished they had ... With editorial asides that are informed, trenchant, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, Perlstein pillories Democrats as much as he punches Republicans, and in the process becomes a trustworthy narrator.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksTrebek doesn’t shy away from the cost his cancer has exacted on his mind and body since he was diagnosed in 2019 ... As you’d expect from someone in the entertainment industry, Trebek drops a few names — Rudolf Nureyev, Merv Griffin, Ed Sullivan, Queen Elizabeth, and Prince Philip — but no startling anecdotes.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of Books...impassioned ... Gird yourselves, white America: Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is putting you on notice, and he brought the receipts ... His book is a damning indictment of Donald Trump and white America, particularly white male America — or at least that part of it which believes in its superiority simply because it’s white. Additionally, this book, provocative and lyrical ... Far less egregious, but still a mistake, was to publish this book without providing any photographs, especially since Glaude frequently refers to instances that demand illustration.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksRosenblatt is not a man stooped by modesty ... Just when you’re tempted to throw Rosenblatt’s book into the bin marked Egoistic Excess, you land on words that expand your heart ... This book of writing fragments — some chapters are a page, others a paragraph — is not to be read for instruction. Rather, it’s a hymn of praise for the craft of weaving words in order to survive, which Roger Rosenblatt sings to himself with style and grace.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksBall reports that she conducted more than 100 interviews for the book, most of which she folded into the narrative without attribution. Such is the dilemma of writing about a powerful person still alive and able to exercise immense influence ... The book is expertly crafted and thoroughly researched, but readers are kept at a remove, being deprived of on-the-record quotes from Pelosi’s family — including her husband, five children, and in-laws — as well as friends, political adversaries, staff, supporters, donors, and colleagues past and present. Did Ball consider asking former Speakers Newt Gingrich or John Boehner to hold forth, or inquire of Tom DeLay, the former Majority Leader, about his political negotiations with Pelosi? ... less a life story than a legislative treatise and a detailed testament to the laws No Nonsense Nancy has proposed and gotten passed in her more than three decades in Congress.
MixedWashington Independent Review of BooksThis collection of the famed author\'s early stories seems heartfelt, if ill-considered ... they were never published at the time, and probably for good reason ... While fascinating to a loving grandchild, the average reader might be less than dazzled.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThe wealth of detail in this book will rivet automobile enthusiasts; others might want to take a pass ... Documenting the 100 laps of the 1938 Grand Prix demands much from a writer whose verbs must ricochet off the page like rocketing electrons: zoom, careen, brake, zigzag, swoop, streak, charge — faster and faster and faster — until victory is finally achieved.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThe challenge in writing a novel based on real people and events is making the nonfiction details so accurate that readers will accept the creative leaps. For the most part, Wolfe succeeds. One glaring exception, however, occurs when he has JFK saying to Mary that \'the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.\' That iconic phrase belonged to Martin Luther King Jr. ... Wolfe writes with grace, and many of his sentences sparkle ... will ring true to those who’ve followed the comet of Camelot, or who lived in Washington during the days when J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI ... Kennedy aficionados and conspiracy theorists will enjoy a thumping good read and appreciate Paul Wolfe’s prodigious research, while journalists may note with interest his mention of Ben Bradlee in the author’s note.
MixedWashington Independent Review of BooksWith facile writing and impressive research, Caldwell examines his premise in detail, hitting the era’s hot-button issues: abortion, affirmative action, busing, Robert Bork, Gloria Steinem, women’s rights, and gay marriage ... As a conservative, white, male graduate of Harvard, Caldwell writes to the right, occasionally to the left, and sometimes swerves center as he cites lawsuit after lawsuit to make his points, one of which actually suggests that maybe Southern segregationists were correct all along ... His book, which relies on much of the conservative journalism he’s published...reads like the lamentation of an anguished man who sees his world slowly crumbling beneath him ... What Caldwell grieves, progressives might celebrate, even the messiness of change and the discomfort of adjustment. He rails against political correctness, considers it an affront to have to call black people African Americans, and resents the federal holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr ... While much of this provocative book — with its conservative critique of the last 55 years in America — is interesting, it never rises above the author’s anger or overcomes his fury with the people of color, women, and gays who’ve challenged the system and won the changes that have rattled Caldwell’s world. He vents his spleen at a society that is not standing still and remaining soldered to tradition, but, in his view, is descending into chaos and leaving white men grasping the shreds of what once was.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksMiller, 47, writes with daunting authority and suffers no lack of self-confidence ... Her publisher is positioning her memoir as a feminist wail from the male trenches. But, while Miller blasts some unnamed men for sexual assaults, her book is actually a knee-bending homage to one particular man who dominates every page: David Foster Wallace ... A bit too Barbara Cartland-y, but it’s a rare lapse in an otherwise literary-soaked tribute to one man’s memory ... proves that Miller has read widely and deeply ... She commands an astonishing vocabulary, too ... Throughout the book, she employs an eccentric style that would give Strunk and White the bends, adding \'y\' to words for no fathomable purpose ... For the most part, though, she makes magic on the page ... If you’re a devotee of David Foster Wallace, you’ll devour this memoir with pleasure. If not, you may enjoy the cultural scavenger hunt and appreciate how much Adrienne Miller makes you stretch.
David M. Rubenstein
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksFor those who love history and enjoy biography, David M. Rubenstein has delivered a masterstroke with The American Story ... a delectable smorgasbord of U.S. history, covering 39 books discussed by 15 authors, some of whom have written more than one biography ... Rubenstein brings more than his b-for-boy-billions to this book. He has delved deeply into American history ... The Q&A format of this book is ingenious. Rubenstein, who’s mastered his subject matter, asks informed questions that stimulate impressive responses, and the \'patriotic philanthropist\' is not above probing into the personal and provocative ... a creative concept that delivers delicious bite-size bits of American history to those who haven’t had the time or inclination to read widely. I devoured every page with immense pleasure.
Terry Tempest Williams
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksBelieving the life of the planet is now at stake, Williams marshals dazzling prose to summon activists to resist and revolt ... not a book you drink in one gulp; you take a few sips and savor the skill of a talented writer who fuses soul to scholarship. For some, the essays will be a conservationist’s creed with too much information about red-winged blackbirds and sand bill cranes, while others will be impressed by the depth and detail of the author’s avian expertise.
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... spectacular ... The book provides a platinum primer on investigative reporting as Kantor and Twohey take readers inside their responsible march to publication ... Threads of the Weinstein story had appeared in the New York Times since 2017, but not with the full wallop of this book, which reads like a John le Carré thriller, detailing egregious crimes, a tangled web of clues, frightened witnesses, cover-ups, bribes, threats, double-dealing lawyers, and cash payments in exchange for non-disclosure agreements. She Said makes All the President’s Men look like \'Mary Had a Little Lamb\' .
Catherine Cusset, trans. by Teresa Fagan
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of Books... [a] romp of a book ... Brief and breezy at under 200 pages, the Life of David Hockney reads like a fanzine about the man considered to be England’s most famous living artist ... For those unfamiliar with Hockney’s art, this book will disappoint, as it contains no reproductions or illustrations. Cusset cites several works by name but describes few, probably figuring that fans will have read at least one of the artist’s 27 books and be able to recall images ... Still, to write about David Hockney without showing his paintings is like writing about Winston Churchill without quoting his speeches.
Erin Lee Carr
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksWith piercing honesty, [Carr] writes a dazzling drunk-a-log about her on-again, off-again struggle with sobriety, and examines which genes the gods gave her and which they took away ... Carr’s writing is filled with tiger-stalking courage. In fact, she writes so well that when she falls off the wagon, you can almost taste the tingling pleasure of her first forbidden sip of cold white wine; how the second and third sips loosen her tightly braided psyche; and then, how the wine slides her into sociability ... She’s more than gifted, and she writes beyond her years — yet frequently shows the charm of her youth.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksPreet Bharara writes himself into the diamond circle of Clarence Darrow. There have been other good books by lawyers that have enriched our understanding of the law and its application by practitioners of the bar. But Darrow set the gold standard ... an un-put-down-able primer from the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), written with immense skill and engaging style. He’s tough, smart, and funny. He does not condescend to readers without legal credentials ... He tells riveting stories from real-life experience and attributes his near-perfect record as a federal prosecutor to the hard work and preparation that his team invested in achieving convictions in cases such as the Madoff/JPMorgan Chase Ponzi scheme and a scam defrauding a fund for Holocaust survivors ... Preet Bharara writes that you will not find God or grace in legal concepts or in formal notions of criminal justice. But be assured that you’ll find God and grace in this fascinating book.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThe story of the most scandalous love affair of the 20th century has been told often in books by and about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and most recently in the Netflix series The Crown. Readers of The Real Wallis Simpson will find nothing new in this book, no previously unpublished interviews, no revelations from the padlocked Windsor archives ... Pasternak does her best with the public record, and she writes engagingly about the duchess as being \'warm\' and \'witty,\' but her earnest effort at restoration is undermined and falters because of her omissions: specifically, the Nazi stain on the Windsor image.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThe extensive research shows, but so does the entanglement in writing that is dense and academic ... After plowing through 320 pages of small type, plus 54 pages of notes and bibliography, one wonders if the author was trying to refashion her Ph.D. thesis for the commercial market ... Like a student bewitched by her research, Miller provides every exhaustive detail about L.E.L. and her lovers, friends, neighbors.
John Julius Norwich
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of Books\"...the viscount’s Valentine to Francophiles ... You can’t help but be amused as you meet various kings ... You’ll appreciate the author’s Oxford credentials ... No documentation, but in a sly footnote, Norwich quotes Madame du Deffand: \'It’s the first step that counts.\' Regarding Madame: Again, consult Google and then—Ça Alors—continue your merry romp through A History of France.
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books\"Michael Ovitz answers these questions [about his celebrity clients] and more with flair and no false modesty ... this book is delicious, and, yes, a bit malicious, as it settles scores. The writing engages and amuses throughout, even the sideswipes.\
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books\"I just didn’t expect to fall in love [with The Library Book] so quickly. But by page three, I was head over heels when I read how she made magic of the mundane ... You become engaged; you want to find the culprit; you agonize for the traumatized librarians; you cheer for the hundreds of volunteers who rush to help remove the smoked wreckage from the Central Library; you applaud the man — the wonderful man — from ARCO who opens his corporate headquarters across the street to warehouse the damaged books, and then helps raise $14 million to rebuild the library ... Orlean makes music with her words; they warble and trill across her pages and sing straight into your heart.\
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksSo, I looked forward to a joy ride with this book, imagining myself breezing along in a sleek, vintage Jaguar XK convertible—top down, laughter rising to the skies. But midway through, I felt stuck in a dilapidated jalopy, gears jammed with sludge. My fault, I’m sure, for not finding humor in the grotesquerie of a spoiled brat so blinded by entitlement that she flicks cigarette ashes into a servant’s hand because she can’t find an ashtray; who announces at a dinner party that the host’s food looks like upchuck ... Perhaps Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses is intended to be an indictment of the British monarchy and its pernicious class system. If so, he’s written a masterpiece, especially for those disinclined to crack a knee and curtsy to the crown. He is highly skilled at dissecting the cruel crevices of class in the U.K. ... His \'glimpses\' are the literary version of mating a donkey to a horse and getting a mule: nothing short of jackass brilliance.
PanThe Washington Independent Review of Books\"Alas, poor Robin. While your star shines, your biographer shambles. Granted, the challenge of writing about someone of sparkling talent is daunting, but there’s no excuse for plodding prose ... No surprise that the best lines in the book belong to Williams, who psychoanalyzed himself better than anyone could.\
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books\"A brilliantly written chronicle of one of the dynasty\'s mightiest members ... Eileen McNamara writes with grace, elegance, and diplomacy, never making moral judgments on harsh facts.\
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksWith skillful research from old newspapers and magazines, oral histories from presidential libraries, and a few interviews, Rodota has fashioned an interesting story about the white concrete edifice that looks like a giant clamshell ... Yet the author does a good job of mixing historical facts with personal anecdotes to tell the story of what was both the most famous and most infamous hotel in Washington, DC, until the presidential election of 2016. Perhaps Rodota will follow this book with another hotel story entitled Tales from the Trump International, which might indeed provide some needed wowza.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of Books... Tina Brown pawing at that pedestal with The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992, which chronicles her glory days as the English editor who came to America to revive the magazine, and later to resuscitate the New Yorker ... Midway through these diaries, you might think that most of Brown’s roadkill has been gathered up and gone to the angels ... Brown does not chop with a cleaver. She wields her scalpel with surgical precision, blood-letting with small, incisive cuts ... These diaries are a celebrity drive-by of the great and the good and, sprinkled with high and low culture, are written with style but little humor...provide a psychological X-ray of the diarist, an unintentional autobiography of sorts, and these entries show a woman of immense talent consumed with her dazzling career. And as tough as she is (and must be) in a man’s world, her feminist self resents being dismissed.
PanThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThe Gatekeepers promises to offer 'shrewd analysis and never-before-reported details,' but there appears to be little of either in the book. Perhaps Whipple was too grateful for his access to cast a critical eye and dig beneath the glossy surface ... For a writer, Whipple’s text hardly inspires, but his chapter notes pique interest. Many of those cited (again, mostly men) hiss and spit at each other like cats being hosed.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksBefore you even get to page one, you know you’re not meeting Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. This is not the story of a warm and cozy girly-girl, all frills and fluff. Kelly knows she’s good as any, better than some ...the success story of a young woman who learned early in life that hard work will open any door that’s not already kicked in by great good looks. Her book is a testament to slogging, bone-cracking, round-the-clock effort, which she soldered to a laser focus to succeed ...memoir is also a love letter to her father... Overall, she writes with bawdy good humor and rarely 'half-asses it,' as she says.
Jean Kennedy Smith
PanThe Washington Independent Review of Books...like sitting down with your great-grandmother to look at a scrapbook of old photographs taken with a Brownie camera loaded with Kodak film. A relic from a bygone era. Sweetly nostalgic ... At first, I assumed this slight book was ghostwritten but, as no other writer is named, perhaps not. Still, I agonized for whoever did the writing because the poor soul seemed to have no access to fresh material — no personal diaries, fulsome letters, or unpublished photographs ... sin[s] of omission — and there are many throughout the book — mar this memoir and keep it from being more than superficial gloss.