PositiveWall Street JournalIn his effort to give \'ear to a genuine ancient Persian voice,\' Mr. Llewellyn-Jones synthesizes what can be gleaned from artifacts, inscriptions and fragmentary accounts ... The lack of contemporary sources is particularly acute with Cyrus. Mr. Llewellyn-Jones gamely imagines his childhood and how he developed an obligatory sense of destiny, as well as the young prince’s physical appearance ... Whatever the attractions of Persian men, Mr. Llewellyn-Jones’s sketch of Cyrus is, I suspect, closer to an Iranian soap opera star than the likely homelier reality ... Mr. Llewellyn-Jones’s exegesis of the Cyrus Cylinder...is pithy and insightful ... Forster’s theme was how the living \'can recover self-confidence by snubbing the dead\'; the dead, Mr. Llewelyn-Jones argues convincingly, have been snubbed long enough.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThe biographer’s gift lay in fusing the personal and impersonal, his experience as an art student and jobbing critic, the stoic’s sense with an epicurean sensibility ... \'Guernica,\' the monumental canvas commissioned by the Spanish Republican government lamenting the bombing of the Basque town of the same name, is spared Richardson’s disapproval—there were plenty of shortsighted contemporaries for that, Luis Buñuel and Anthony Blunt among them. Its stand-alone treatment, however, relies heavily, and disappointingly, on secondhand perspective ... The Minotaur Years misses Richardson’s keen sense of an ending...trails off with Picasso mining earlier material for his largest wartime composition, \'L’Aubade,\' and the related \'Reclining Nude.\' No rousing last words—but the last word on Picasso, just the same.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... exemplary ... Along with the previous installment, Fame is everything an artist’s biography ought to be—illuminating, allergic to cant, personal, enormously picaresque—but so seldom is. Mr. Feaver’s Lives of Freud cannot be praised too highly ... Mr. Feaver does not do grandiose exegesis. Insights are gleaned from conversation and canny observation.
Jed Z. Buchwald and Diane Greco Josefowicz
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe authors are chiefly concerned with Young’s and Champollion’s approaches to the hieroglyphic riddle. Rarely have I seen the false starts and blind alleys, firm beliefs and 180-degree recalibrations, exhilaration and loneliness of pioneering thought captured so well. On the other hand, not every reader will match Champollion’s stamina or persevere through the book’s densest thickets ... its achievement is no less admirable. For nearly 500 pages we are invited to inhabit the minds of two of history’s finest linguists.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalJanis A. Tomlinson...prefers to let the facts speak for themselves. One sometimes feels it isn’t enough ... She is an expert, evenhanded guide and there is no question we are in the surest hands. For style and charm, however, one longs for Hughes on Fernando VII...and, in passing, on Andy Warhol ... [with] Ms. Tomlinson’s command, it’s difficult to imagine an opening for future biographers.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Nathanson, a professor of law at Villanova and an astute writer on the game, is at his best on the Bouton-Shecter collaboration—late nights at the Lion’s Head Bar in Greenwich Village; Shecter making sense of Bouton’s scrawls on stationery, envelopes and toilet paper; the pair noodling over the manuscript stripped down to their underwear in Shecter’s airless Chelsea apartment ... Mr. Nathanson is good, too, with Bouton wisecracks ... I could have done without Mr. Nathanson’s grander claims for Bouton. He is compared, separately and unironically, to Bob Dylan and John Lennon ... To Mr. Nathanson, \'Ball Four\' is metaphorical for or analogous to just about anything, from Bouton’s chewing gum venture to his selfish divorce, which \'devastated the Bouton family the way Ball Four devastated baseball.\'
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIn Montparnasse has less to do with evoking its titular neighborhood—Ms. Roe’s passing descriptions notwithstanding—or interpreting the objects themselves, than it does with untangling Surrealism’s evolutionary history. In this undertaking she succeeds admirably, making sense of the by-turns anguished and playful chaos ... Ms. Roe argues for Surrealism’s generational inheritance and relevance, with reference to the Young British Artist set pieces of the 1990s and Alexander McQueen. Surprisingly, she leaves its interaction with and influence on the Abstract Expressionists of the future during the wartime exile in America unmentioned. In fixing on the emergence of Surrealism rather than its popular apotheosis in, say, the mature paintings of Dalí, René Magritte and Joan Miró, Ms ... Roe leaves readers to draw their own visual conclusions. The expectation is reasonable and just as the artists themselves would have wanted. For the Surrealists’ chief revolutionary legacy lies in the credit—and role—they gave to viewers.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalAmritsar 1919 chronicles the run up to Jallianwala Bagh with spellbinding, almost minute-by-minute focus. The devil is in the details, and only through their mastery can the combined effects of the mutiny’s decadeslong shadow, mutual misapprehensions and otherwise reasoning men in the wrong place be grasped. Mr. Wagner’s achievement is one of balance—of minutiae and sweep and, above all, of perspective. E.M. Forster observed in A Passage to India (1924): “It is impossible to regard a tragedy from two points of view.” Mr. Wagner does so without sacrificing moral clarity or verve.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMs. Anand’s narrative is vividly realized in the face of her subject’s hazy, underground existence ... mixes Tom Ripley’s con-man-for-all-seasons versatility with Edmond Dantès’s persistence. Singh’s mysterious, fascinating career raises various questions, not least: When it comes to serving up revenge, how cold is too cold?
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"The [book\'s structure\'s] success owes as much to its simplicity as to Mr. Gilmour’s remarkable feel for detail, perspective and proportion ... The British in India isn’t merely colorful trivia. Mr. Gilmour grapples with systematic injustices and suffering and the frequent debility and loneliness of the Anglo-Indian lot ... Mr. Gilmour’s command of primary and secondary texts imbues these stock types with nuance and humanity ... The erudition, balance and wit of The British in India are in keeping with Mr. Gilmour’s superb Anglo-Indian biographies...\
MixedThe Wall Street JournalTo Peter Mundy, an English East India Co. merchant, Nur was \'hautie and stomakefull.\' Others targeted her dominant Persian coterie. The reasons for contemporary mistrust can be well imagined, and we should be grateful to Ms. Lal for attempting to set the record straight. In glorifying Nur’s virtues, however, she overshoots the mark. A doggedly fault-finding biography is dull indeed; the reverse can be equally trying ... Ms. Lal recalls ... \'Still vivid are the glint in my mother’s eye as she spoke [of Nur], and the spark ignited in me by Nur’s accomplishments and allure.\' The activating spark is priceless; it isn’t necessarily history.
Miles J. Unger
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewOn the way to the hothouse, proto-Cubist summer of the Demoiselles, the shocker of his book’s title, Unger ably covers the El Greco-influenced 'Blue' and 'Rose' periods; the patronage of the Steins; and Picasso’s path-altering discovery of African art in the collection of the Trocadéro museum, the precise dating of which has divided scholars. Unfortunately, insistent platitudes and pigeonholing tend to mar Unger’s efforts. Picasso is 'bathed in the dazzling aura that surrounds all famous men' ... On the other hand, Unger appreciates Picasso’s boyhood talent without overegging its merits. He’s good on the Steins (particularly Leo’s insufferable condescension). And certain of Unger’s details were new to me. I had never, for instance, heard the rumor that Puvis de Chavannes was Maurice Utrillo’s biological father ... Writing in 1906, the year before the Demoiselles was conceived, the novelist and critic Eugène Marsan took his measure … 'Monsieur ... You might call him, to help you remember, the Callot of the saltimbanques, but you’d do better to remember his name: Picasso.’
Barbara Ehrlich White
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalRenoir: An Intimate Biography is Ms. White’s second study of the painter, drawing on an additional 2,000 letters made available since her Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters appeared in 1984. Through Ms. White’s command of Renoir’s correspondence we get vivid glimpses of his inner life … Ms. White, whose portrayal of Renoir in decline is neither cloying nor gratuitous, accentuates the inverted relationship between the painter’s dismal reality and his life-affirming subjects … Ms. White is reliably content to let Renoir speak for himself, allowing his grounded aims (‘originality within tradition’), temperament (‘you know what it is to be popular—it always starts well and always ends badly’) and wit (‘if I only sold good things I’d die of hunger’) to shine through.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal...we should be grateful, too, for Brad Gooch’s fine, searching biography, Rumi’s Secret, which will fascinate his subject’s many admirers ... Rumi’s 'transformative friendship with' and coded references to Shams represent 'the greatest and most guarded' of the secrets to which Mr. Gooch’s title alludes ... In certain respects, Rumi’s Secret reminded me of Gilbert Highet’s delightful Poets in a Landscape... Although Mr. Gooch doesn’t attend as diligently to Rumi’s physical surroundings, his sensitivity and sensibility are worthy of the great Highet ...appreciated Mr. Gooch’s liberal and apposite sprinkling of Rumi’s words throughout the text... While I wouldn’t urge Mr. Gooch to pursue stand-alone translation, his interpretations are faultlessly calibrated and interposed.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalIn fashioning his dramatic arc, Mr. King occasionally overreaches...Against the backdrop of war- and postwar suffering, this playful hyperbole trivializes the creative struggle of Mad Enchantment. Mr. King is marvelous on Clemenceau, an appealing and enlightened figure, his advocacy of backbreaking reparations at Versailles notwithstanding. On the other hand, I couldn’t decide whether the book’s potted history of the Great War in France was excessive or insufficient. Mr. King’s portrait of Monet—as driven, largely generous, sometimes petulant, never quite cruel—is finely balanced.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Harris captures the senselessness of triumviral intrigue magnificently, not relenting as the players meet their gruesome ends.