MixedNewsdayFull of broad brush strokes and fine detail ... Like its subject city, it can be maddeningly diffuse and hard to navigate ... a series of loosely connected chapters without much forward momentum ... offers a grand tour of facts great and small.
David W. Blight
PositiveNewsday\"In one of the year’s most impressive biographies, Yale historian David W. Blight captures the many sides of this complex man ... Even if the author\'s prose can shade into a fulsome ripeness, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is superb. It gives a full portrait of Douglass’ political evolution, his family life and the emotional upheavals born of Douglass’ unlikely trajectory from slave to, as he often put it, a \'self-made man.\'\
PositiveNewsday\"More than 10 years in the making, Presidents of War is a weighty contribution to the crowded shelves of American political history ... The author is an expert on the Lyndon B. Johnson years, and his chapters on the unfolding disaster of Vietnam are finely etched.\
PositiveNewsdayFun and informative, Don’t Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip is Richard Ratay’s tribute to a classic American mode of travel ... Mixing family memoir with pop history, Ratay chronicles the development of modern highways, the evolution of rest areas, the origins of speed limits, debates over seat belts and the founding of once-familiar roadside stops like Howard Johnson’s. He evokes the fads of the ’70s ... Throughout, Ratay is an amiable guide.
PositiveNewsdaySir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, didn’t just concoct fictional mysteries — he solved real ones ... In her entertaining new book, Conan Doyle for the Defense Margalit Fox accounts the real-life case of Oscar Slater, wrongly imprisoned in 1909 for a murder he did not commit, and the efforts of Conan Doyle to win Slater his freedom. The details of this judicial travesty...unreliable witnesses, dodgy evidence and a series of coincidences that led to Slater\'s guilty verdict — seem ripped from one of Conan Doyle’s Holmes tales. But it’s a true story.
PositiveNewsday\"Combining biography and criticism, Dean is often shrewd in her judgments. If early chapters on Parker and English journalist Rebecca West feel thin, Dean does show that these figures were nobody’s victims. The book picks up steam with Arendt and the debate over totalitarianism and the Holocaust ... Dean is sometimes at pains to place these figures in relationship to the feminist movement of the late 1960s and early ’70s ... The strength of Sharp lies in the way Dean stands up for the \'individual personality\' of each of her subjects. And they were individuals, all.\
MixedNewsdayThe Infernal Library, Daniel Kalder’s long march through the writings of 20th century tyrants, is mind-numbing and mortifying in equal measure ... Kalder’s task seems to have driven him over the edge — his book brims with vituperation and strident put-downs ... There is sometimes a crudeness to the author’s charges ... However meretricious such drivel is, the examples Kalder surveys have a power that is almost confounding.
Bill Minutaglio and Steve L. Davis
PositiveNewsday\"Can you dig it? In their wild new book, authors Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis chronicle the far-out odyssey of Timothy Leary — philosopher king of the hippies and evangelist of LSD — as a fugitive from justice in the early 1970s … The authors themselves, who also collaborated on Dallas 1963, are clearly high on their material, gathered from hundreds of primary and secondary sources — interviews, transcripts, journals, letters and the like. Minutaglio and Davis don’t do dry, detached nonfiction. Instead, they have crafted a hopped-up, sometimes risibly over-the-top narrative that unfolds in present-tense real time. It takes a while to get used to, but once you’re in, their book delivers an outlandish concoction of twists, turns and international intrigue.\
RaveNewsday...a demanding but essential read ... Chernow’s detailed portrait of Grant’s private life and struggles humanizes a man often described as sphinxlike ... There would be many second thoughts about Grant, whose military and political record was subjected to an acid scrutiny. Chernow, however, convincingly restores Grant to the pantheon of great Americans.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn Alone,’ Michael Korda revisits this perilous moment. But he has not written a book purely about the retreat. Korda, a former editor turned prolific historian and biographer, also looks at the larger strategic picture as Europe erupted into war in 1939. He chronicles the downfall of Nazi appeaser Neville Chamberlain and the accession of the more aggressive Winston Churchill ... With all this in play, it’s some time before the action really picks up. When it does, Korda tells an exciting story laced with eyewitness detail and a fine sense of drama ... To his credit, Korda dials down the romance of Dunkirk. It was bloody slog from start to finish ... Though Dunkirk has been rendered as largely an all-British affair, Korda gives neglected France its due.
PositiveThe Boston Globe...[a] comprehensive, if sometimes plodding, dual biography ... Markel has dived deep into archives and brings an impressive knowledge of American cultural and food history to his account. The brothers may have hated one another, but Markel is persuasive in his case that neither would have succeeded alone ... John, always attracted to visions of purity, would take a dark turn to eugenics. In the end it is Will who emerges as the more sympathetic figure — and better businessman. Even in terms of their philanthropic efforts, it would be Will, not John, 'who achieved a certain kind of immortality.’'’
Thomas E. Ricks
PositiveNewsdayRicks tracks his subjects without falling into the usual traps. He is neither sanctimonious about Orwell, nor overly reverential when discussing Churchill ... Ricks sometimes awkwardly transitions from Churchill, at the height of his influence in the early years of the war, to Orwell, in ill health and working for the BBC from 1941 to 1943. The writer was a marginal figure at this point — his fame was mostly posthumous ... Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent, brings a keen understanding of military affairs to Churchill’s wartime conduct.
MixedThe Boston GlobeIt has all the makings of a novel, and though Miéville sees the event as a ‘story,’ his telling, drawn from the vast secondary literature on the revolution, is a rather straightforward and conventional political history, capped on a note of guarded optimism … His book, pitched somewhere between an introduction and a selective account of 1917, can be heavy going and dense with esoteric terminology. (Parse, for example, the difference between ‘‘left’ entryism’ and ‘‘right’ socialism.’) One wishes for more of the kind of atmosphere Miéville evokes in this passage: ‘Secret routes wound across the top of Petrograd, a roof-world above the courtyards, secret skyline walkways.’
PositiveThe Boston Globe...Olson sometimes overstates her case — it was the United States and Soviet Union that ultimately turned the tide of war — and wonders hither and yon in this anecdote packed account. But she tells a great story and has a fine eye for character ... Olson’s fine sections on other SOE-sponsored missions in Holland and France detail the terrible cost born by those who did extraordinary work under extreme pressure and the civilian networks that risked all to help agents complete assignments ... Olson’s pointed volume is as much about betrayal as it is about heroism and hope.
PositiveNewsdayGrann’s reporting and archival sleuthing ballast a powerful account, which, at its best, evokes the noirish worlds of the movies Chinatown and L.A. Confidential ... The last section of Killers of the Flower Moon is a haunting exploration of the legacy of these crimes, and a first-person account of Grann’s encounters with Mollie’s granddaughter and other tribe members, as well as his exacting, even fanatical, research. As Grann discovers a pattern of mysterious deaths that extends far beyond the official tally, a sense of creeping dread takes hold of the reader and never lets go.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIt’s an incredible yarn with twists and turns, near misses, false leads, ignored facts, cultural misunderstandings and, yes, ghosts ... Watson does a good job detailing the expedition and the swirl of theories around it. He also tracks dozens of characters, both historical and contemporary...He is especially good on Inuit accounts of the expedition, which provided vital clues to the whereabouts of the wrecks.
RaveThe Boston GlobeThis is a story of eccentric explorers, archaeological controversy, and political intrigue in one of the most dangerous countries in the Western hemisphere. But it is also about Honduras’s cultural patrimony and the ways we understand the history of pre-Columbian societies ... What Preston describes is hair-raising — jaguars on the prowl, deadly snakes everywhere — but also magical, a jungle world far removed from the 21st century ... Preston offers a persuasive defense of the mission and stresses its sensitivity to the cultural politics of discovery. His chapters on the meanings of the find are fascinating.
RaveNewsdayBaird emphasizes Victoria’s private side and guides us through her personal life with a sympathetic touch. She makes excellent use of Victoria’s voluminous personal writings and humanizes this forbidding figure ... Baird is also a fine guide through the political side of the monarchy, and Victoria’s dealings with a long line of prime ministers, political upheavals and electoral reforms ... Baird brings a compassionate humanity to the story of Victoria, and leaves us with a fresh understanding of her influential rule and, just as importantly, her interior life. This Victoria has a strong, beating heart.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThis is not a typical chronological survey of American history. Hahn organizes his material around themed chapters and moves back and forth in time. He has synthesized vast amounts of material and fashioned a conceptually challenging panorama ... Hahn rejects the notion that slavery was confined to the South, arguing it was a national phenomenon ... Hahn’s book is a dense read buzzing with ideas ... Hahn’s account of the post-war decades showcases his impressive knowledge of black political activity.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThough his account is thin on context, it is fast-paced, dramatic, and amply illustrates why Truman’s stock has been on the rise in recent decades ... Brands steps backs, briskly tracing the lives of Truman, the World War I artillery captain, plain-spoken Missourian, and FDR vice president who became an unlikely commander in chief, and MacArthur, youngest ever major general and a hero of World War II who presided over the occupation of Japan with an eye to being president one day.
Ronald C. White
PositiveNewsdayIn this sympathetic, rigorously sourced biography, White conveys the essence of Grant the man and Grant the warrior. The author’s sharp reassessment of Grant’s political career doesn’t quite pack the oomph of the sections on the war years, but he reveals Grant’s profound commitment to the rights of African-Americans ... White’s account of this time certainly redeems Grant from the ranks of presidential mediocrity. His civil rights record stood unmatched until Lyndon B. Johnson ... What emerges from these pages is Grant’s essential decency. He deserved better from posterity, and from White he gets it.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeTaylor goes far beyond the familiar tale of Redcoats vs. Minutemen, showing how what unfolded was really a multisided civil war within a larger imperial struggle over the fate of the North America ... showcas[es] the author’s mastery of the period. He has synthesized work old and new, especially scholarship from the last 30 years that reflects his interest in Native American history and the role of slaves and women in the period ... Taylor views some events and individuals with a peculiar skepticism bordering on cynicism...Still, his sections on the war of independence are vivid and convey the full scale of an upheaval that divided families and pitted neighbors against one another.
RaveThe Boston GlobeAmerican Heiress is a page-turner certainly, but Toobin, a gifted writer, infuses it with much more, including vivid portraits of Hearst, her family — her mother in particular, a rigid arch-conservative — and the members of the SLA. Even if he ridicules the ideas and condemns the violent deeds of this ragtag group of revolutionary wannabes, they emerge not as cardboard villains but flesh and blood protagonists.
PositiveNewsdayIn his absorbing personal history, Harding recounts, with a measured pathos, the experiences of a succession of tenants. It is a story of aspiration, fleeting joy, escape and the small-scale dramas of domestic life ... Harding makes excellent use of eyewitness testimony, interviews with Gross Glienicke villagers, family papers, government archives and other documents, as he moves across a century of time ... The occupants of the lake house were not big historical players. But their story, however modest, even at times banal, is well worth the telling.
James Lee McDonough
MixedNewsdayMcDonough’s massive William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country is a solid if plodding contribution to Sherman studies. McDonough, author of several Civil War-themed books, gives the general a full cradle-to-grave treatment ... McDonough’s account of this vital chapter of the war and the sweep of Sherman’s life is detailed and authoritative, but also curiously muted. The author refrains from Margaret Mitchell-style melodrama, but there is something missing from these pages, an animating spirit that would make Sherman fully live and breathe.
MixedThe Boston Globe...entertaining if sometimes maddening...Boyles takes a long time getting to the ostensible subject of his book. He takes detours and digressions through the worlds of newspapering and book publishing in chapters that will be of interest to specialists only. Like the reference work he details, Everything Explained That Is Explainable tells you a lot you don’t know — and even more that you perhaps don’t really care to know. Still, Boyles writes with such a mordant touch his chapters move along even as they assault you with hurricanes of information.
RaveNewsday[A] superb new book ... The author’s dramatis personae include screen legend Marlene Dietrich, returning to her broken homeland, and director Billy Wilder; poets W.H Auden and Stephen Spender; journalists Martha Gellhorn and Rebecca West; and photographer Lee Miller. George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh have walk-on parts. Feigel writes acutely about the soul-searching of Thomas Mann, the exiled elder statesman of German letters, and his children, who all felt the oppressive burden of squaring the achievements of German culture with the barbarism of the Nazis.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeOne book will not settle the long-running gun debate, but Haag has powerfully reframed the issue as one rooted in dollars and cents, not the Second Amendment and inalienable rights. In a brief section at the book’s end, she weighs in on contemporary debates, arguing that we should look at guns as a business and put the onus on makers, not owners. She also endorses smart-gun technology and the same kind of consumer regulations that 'apply to almost every other commodity.' Her recommendations are a touch cursory and anticlimactic. Her historical sense, however, is brilliantly on display in these pages.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIt is the saga of many lesser-known figures that forms the center of this well-paced if sometimes earnest account and gives the book its resonance ... Hochschild’s heart is with the volunteers, who fought for a losing cause; and, whatever one’s feelings about the Republic, Hochschild’s account closes on a poignant note of mourning and remembrance.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThe Invention of Science covers so much ground, and so many thinkers, heralded and unheralded, you will need to take frequent pauses to catch your breath. There are intellectual fireworks galore here; and if Wootton is a touch arrogant about his own views, his vigorous account of how science became the way of the world is more than welcome.
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"While the sheer amount of material seems to often overwhelm Sinha’s ability to elegantly present it as a narrative, she does offer fresh insights ... The Slave\'s Cause is as multifaceted as the movement it chronicles. Sinha includes lengthy thematic chapters on women in the fight and how abolition linked up — and clashed with — other reform movements. Sinha examines the heated debates over colonization efforts ... She also details how the movement responded to the Fugitive Slave Act\
MixedThe Boston GlobeNot all of the author’s ideas come off — he links Escobar to the legend of El Dorado, but the connection is a bit strained. There is, however, much that is fascinating as his journeys unfold.
MixedThe Boston GlobeThough the impressively learned author weaves science and intellectual history into his account, his discussion of the quake’s impact on Enlightenment thought — Voltaire and Kant grappled with its cosmic meanings — is tucked away at book’s end and feels slightly cursory. But Molesky excels in his sections on the material impact from the three disasters and the plight of the city’s residents — lisboetas — from all classes.
PanNewsdayLough covers all this with a mind numbing level of detail. Alas, this is a book only a banker — or a Churchill fiend — could really love.
RaveNewsdayBeard, a celebrated Cambridge don, makes the Romans seem fresh, strange and up to date, almost our near contemporaries, not ghosts who haunt crumbling ruins. Her Romans speak with a resonant shout, not a muffled whisper.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeThe Hunt for Vulcan is a short, beautifully produced book that tells a cautionary tale...Levenson is a breezy writer who renders complex ideas in down-to-earth language, though he can be a bit too colloquial at times.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn a biography of stunning richness and sophistication, Pulitzer Prize winner T.J. Stiles turns the focus squarely on Custer and away from the grim terminus that has defined his legacy. Whether Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontiers of a New America redeems its subject is another question — Custer is just too polarizing a figure. But Stiles brilliantly puts flesh and bone on what has become a cultural stick figure.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeWulf knows her subject well, but her book, divided between a biography of his life and sections tracing his influence on Thomas Jefferson, Simon Bolivar, Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and others, sometimes feels disjointed. She is at her best in her vivid and exciting chapters describing Humboldt’s epic travels.