PositiveThe Washington PostSome of the most moving pages of this book are about Nancy Lanza, the mother of the shooter who in eight minutes killed 26 children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 ... She was his first murder victim. Brooks pays attention to melancholy ironies like this. She doesn’t try to explain them or even tie them together. She just asks the reader to remember and to sit with the sadness ... In each of her brief \'pure acts of attention,\' Brooks is paying her respects to fleeting but meaningful episodes in our history, pushing back against our culture’s waves of forgetting ... By preserving the capacity to be surprised, she concludes, we may be more open to keeping memory alive. With her caring but purposively unmoored essays, she has done just this.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn his coda to The Polymath, [Burke] worries that in our Internet age, when at our fingertips we find so much scannable knowledge, we are losing the capacity to dig deep and become truly absorbed in a variety of subjects. His survey of polymaths is a reminder of the importance of doing just that.
RaveThe AtlanticOn the Move is a glorious memoir that throws open that window and illuminates the world that we have seen through it. In this volume Sacks opens himself to recognition, much as he has opened the lives of others to being recognized in their fullness. In brief remarks on his almost 50 years of psychoanalysis, Sacks tells the reader that his analyst, Leonard Shengold, “has taught me about paying attention, listening to what lies beyond consciousness or words.” This is what Sacks has taught so many through his practice as a healer and through his work as a writer.
Anthony T. Kronman
PanThe Washington PostKronman wants his readers to believe that his own fears about his favorite, very exclusive university are really decisive for the future of the country as a whole ... Kronman goes on to assert that this education helps students become members of a natural aristocracy, developing a \'superior character\' that should result in such people being \'elevated to positions of leadership with sufficient frequency for the regime to survive.\' Kronman doesn’t say anything about how these superior beings would rule, but he does say they are more human and more real. He fails to give a single argument for his view of what real humans are or even a robust description of what superior character is. He just cherry-picks the canon to support the notion that his preferred mode of philosophic conversation does indeed raise one above everybody else. Socratic humility and irony disappear in the author’s commitment to his own taste ... Kronman paints a paranoid picture of campus life, and I am unpersuaded by the recycled anecdotes meant to show that a tide of levelers rejects the very notion of recognizing great achievement.
Ronald C. Rosbottom
MixedThe Wall Street JournalIn Sudden Courage: Youth in France Confront the Germans, 1940-1945 the author finds many points of light in young people who acted with bravery, passion and savvy in confronting a brutal enemy willing to exact the ultimate punishment on those who got in its way ... As in his earlier book, he proves to be a fine story-teller but doesn’t have much to say about the traditional concerns of historians regarding social context or patterns of behavior that might shed light on the actions of individuals ... Mr. Rosbottom avoids engaging in the intense debates that take place among historians as to whether France should be cheered for saving around 75% of its Jews, or condemned for sending a quarter of them to their deaths. Nor does he ask about the role of young people in the épuration, the violent prosecution of collaborators in the aftermath of the Liberation, in which tens of thousands were punished and several thousand executed outright ... Mr. Rosbottom is committed to staying on the sunny side of the street where heroic young people defy the odds and attempt great things. That may not be history, but theirs are lives worth remembering—especially if, like the author, we still look to young people for idealism and inspiration.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksWhat King does so very well is explain the complex ideas of these brilliant and unconventional women, while situating them within the scholarship (and political debates) of their times and exploring their complicated lives with sympathy. Gods of the Upper Air is gracefully written, and it succeeds beautifully both as intellectual history and group biography ... a magisterial group biography, but also a narrative account of a way of thinking, an approach to living in a world with many cultures ... it is clear and confident in explicating ideas ... it brings us close to the intimate lives of remarkable women who resisted convention while carving out spaces for creativity.
PositiveThe Washington PostWhen you turn your attention to forgetting, does that mean you are in fact remembering? This question runs through Hyde’s beautiful prose like a bright red thread, or perhaps a string tied around your finger ... Hyde is no Nietzschean; he’s closer to Henry David Thoreau, who relished the sense of losing something instead of pounding his chest to insist that there was never anything to be lost. Thoreau, like Hyde, remembers forgetting, but he is consumed by neither memory nor loss. The last words of A Primer For Forgetting are \'teach me to disappear.\' But there they are: words visible on the page—the trace of a lesson.
RaveThe Washington Post... a tour de horizon of the Anthropocene Age’s destructive maw, and it is a fascinating and frightening excursion ... Kolbert is not nostalgic ... a bold and at times desperate attempt to awaken us to this responsibility.
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle\"Cullen provides nuanced, sensitive portraits of the Parkland kids who have become media stars ... These are extraordinary young people, and Cullen does them and us a great service by showing their ordinary lives.\
PanThe Washington Post\"There are insightful pages on British zoologist Hugh B. Cott’s work on how animals fool one another by blending in with their surroundings ... Busch’s subtitle signals that she’s providing only notes on invisibility. Her slim volume lacks a general argument. Instead, the author shares her enthusiasms for the natural world and for how one can position oneself to catch a glimpse of those things that shine through the obscurity around them ... Underwater, though, Busch loses me, and when she asserts that \'submerged, I have become a refugee from the visible world,\' I am visibly rolling my eyes ... Field guides need to be precise, and although there are some fine moments in How to Disappear, Busch can be a bit wooly ... A discussion of the \'vanishing self\' may belong in a book on invisibility, but when Busch writes of an anesthesia before minor surgery producing the \'most blissful\' moments of boundless \'gratitude\' and \'an ineffable accommodation by a larger and supremely benign sphere of existence,\' this guide eludes me.\
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
MixedThe Washington PostThe authors tell a tale of overprotective parents eager to make everything safe for their offspring, leaving little room for young people to learn from their mistakes because they were shielded from ever making any ... This is reminiscent of conservatives’ accusation that radicals in the 1960s were a product of permissive child-rearing practices derived from Benjamin Spock. Every age seems to have its own cures for the previous generation’s supposedly poor child-rearing ... Lukianoff and Haidt do an excellent job of reminding readers that assumption of fragility can be disempowering. But are students today disempowered because they’ve been convinced they are fragile, or do they feel vulnerable because they are facing problems like climate change and massive, nasty inequality? ... Lukianoff and Haidt don’t answer these questions but instead rehearse the by-now familiar list of campus demonstrations allowed to run amok ... beginning their unfortunately titled chapter \'Witch Hunts\' with the Chinese Cultural Revolution is either offensive or comical, depending on the reader’s mood ... The authors are right to push back hard against the cultivation of fragility and victimhood, and to defend free speech as essential to the mission of higher education. Professors and students shouldn’t be afraid to express themselves, make mistakes, find better ways of thinking and living through passionate disputation. Lukianoff and Haidt’s insights on the dangers of creating habits of \'moral dependency\' are timely and important, and the concluding self-help section of the book is reasonable: Keep ’em safe, but not too safe.
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
RaveChicago TribuneLukianoff and Haidt do an excellent job of reminding readers of how the assumption of fragility can be disempowering ... In the effort to grow \'Coddling\' from a popular article into a popular book, the authors engage in what they in another context label as distorted thinking: \'catastrophizing.\' They turn their target phenomenon into something dramatic, urgent and very new ... Lukianoff and Haidt\'s insights on the dangers of creating habits of \'moral dependency\' are timely and important, and the concluding self-help section of the book is reasonable: Keep \'em safe, but not too safe.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...George Anders’s You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education is meant to inspire students to recognize how a multifaceted undergraduate experience can aid them in the workplace ... Mr. Anders introduces readers to students from a wide variety of schools who have made their 'useless' educations powerful indeed ... Liberal-arts grads, he suggests, will be especially adept at helping translate technological innovation into everyday uses because they have studied and practiced the 'nuanced feat of changing people’s minds' ...wants his book to be a practical resource and, like Mr. Stross, provides many instructive examples. Readers should feel permitted to sample them rather than plow through them all.
Bill Minutaglio and Steve L. Davis
PositiveThe Washington Post\"The book’s linking of Leary and Nixon may at first appear a little forced, even if the president grew obsessed with the druggy outlaw. Leary and Nixon may seem like an odd pair … [Leary] symbolized everything the Nixonians hated about youth culture. Their plan was to make an example of Leary, painting him as the greatest threat to American young people, and then declare victory when they were able to recapture him … Leary’s prison escape and his sojourns in Algeria and Switzerland are told in a breezy, novelistic style. The authors have done an enormous amount of research, but they have decided to weave a tale, not make any arguments or broad claims. They write in the present tense, as if they are witnesses to events as they unfold. The chapters are very short and easy to digest. There is no analysis to get in the way.\
Anders Rydell, trans. by Henning Koch
MixedThe Washington PostWhile the research was ridiculous, the grimly efficient engine of annihilation wrecked havoc across the world. That havoc has been described and analyzed by numerous historians before, and Rydell adds little to their contributions ... The Book Thieves does have its own story to tell, but it would have been more effectively told, say, in a long magazine article than in a book -length project. Still, there are moving moments in The Book Thieves, as the 'people of the Book' are hunted down along with their venerated objects of study.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleMishra cites a myriad of such authors, and although the breadth of his reading is impressive, his argument is chronologically scattershot and thematically repetitive ... Still, even if the book could have been streamlined, the theme bears repeating: Our current situation is recapitulating some of the most violent and dangerous episodes in modern history ... Noting that we need a deeper understanding of our own complicity in suffering as well as a 'transformative way of thinking,' he leaves readers with a dire diagnosis — not a recommended treatment. With powerful and worrisome insights into history, Pankaj Mishra has clarified our present. The future is up to us.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal[Seidenberg] develops a careful argument, backed by decades of research, to show that the only responsible way to teach children to read well is to build up their abilities to connect reading with speech and then to amplify these connections through practice, developing skillful behavioral patterns hand in hand with the neurological networks that undergird them ... the first chapters of the book provide a fascinating account of scholars’ best guesses as to how we first began to use abstractions to denote the sounds that make up words ... The heart of this book, though, is the concluding section on 'educational challenges.' It is clear that we are not doing a good enough job of teaching young people deep reading skills ... Mr. Seidenberg makes a convincing case that we have learned more about reading and the brain in the past two decades than in the previous century. He also shows that our failure to use this new knowledge to improve how we teach children is causing real harm, especially to the most vulnerable. Every teacher of young children as well as those who train them should read this book.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWhere Memory Leads describes in more prosaic, chronological form the itinerary of a historian whose life work has been to piece together an account of massive, state-sponsored crimes while making a place for the voices of those mercilessly persecuted ... written in the key of history, a register that moves from meaning to message. Here, the author is crystal clear. 'The only lesson one could draw from the Shoah was precisely the imperative: stand against injustice.' Obligation fulfilled.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleI wish Gessen had told the reader more about what it was like to live in the Jewish Autonomous Homeland. Unfortunately, she has found few sources about daily life there. In any case, her real interest is less the homeland than the writers, like Bergelson, who can never feel at home — those who must always wonder when it’s time to leave, who must decide when to run, when to stick it out ... Her sad and absurd tale is less about a failed social experiment and more about the contradictions of writing without roots while longing for home.
MixedThe Washington PostDombek writes breezily and well about the history of the idea of narcissism, leaning heavily on Elizabeth Lunbeck’s excellent 'The Americanization of Narcissism' ... She punctuates her survey of thinkers and pop culture with asides about her boyfriend, waiting for subways and living in Brooklyn. These digressions, for me, were mostly of marginal interest, not saying enough about either the writer or her concerns.
PositiveThe Daily BeastHuman beings 'navigate between competing notions of their own being,' and Soul Machine is a very fine guide to that modern and ongoing effort.