MixedAir Mail... a perplexing achievement, encyclopedic in its reach, heroic in its research, lucid, readable, and frustrating ... Menand is, after all, a mighty polymath. He is a formidable explicator of complexities. And he is an amusing writer, wry, sly, and humane ... Menand, in writing about the Cold War decades, makes the mistake of supposing that what can be discussed in relatively cool and scientific tones counts as hard reality, and what can be discussed only in a more emotional language can be usefully ignored, or, as it were, amputated. This leads him to lop off the exuberance of the Abstract Expressionists and the rock ’n’ rollers in favor of, respectively, aesthetic discipline and commerce ... But chiefly Menand lops off the literature of social protest, in its principal version of those days ... precise and informative in its tiny foreground brush strokes, and blithely unconcerned with the larger fuzzy background ... My head is swimming after hundreds of pages of Menand’s alternately exciting and exasperating detail work[.]
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewIn The End of the French Intellectual, he strings together a set of personal reflections, historical annotations and topical commentaries on the ideal of the lofty intellectual, in the course of which he finds 10 ways to say, with suitable references to master thinkers across the centuries, that intellectuals ought to uphold universal principles ... he inquires into the intellectual scene in our own time ...The scene turns out to be a disgrace. The leading intellectuals of today are hucksters and opportunists ... And their political ideas, not merely conservative, in Sand’s judgment, turn out to be shamefully extremist and right-wing, especially on questions of immigration and Islam ... But is any of this true? I have to say that, in my estimation, none of it is true ... The End of the French Intellectual is unconvincing unto its title. An intellectual scene...cannot possibly be at an end. On the contrary! Which Sand must recognize, at some level. Otherwise, why would he have taken the trouble to compose his diatribe?
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewHitler's allies rule the White House. Anti-Semitic mobs roam the streets. The lower-middle-class Jews of Weequahic, in Newark, N.J., cower in a second-floor apartment, trying to figure out how to use a gun to defend themselves. The novel is sinister, vivid, dreamlike, preposterous and, at the same time, creepily plausible … One of Roth's talents is the ability to spin the decibel dial as he writes dialogue, such that, in The Plot Against America, his little boys emit thin little sounds (which are rendered still more plaintive by shifting into present tense), and the father in his humbleness emits a slightly louder tone, and cousin Alvin a shriekier one. In this fashion, the tones ascend in volume until, at last, Franklin Roosevelt addresses an anti-Lindbergh rally at Madison Square Garden. Roosevelt sonorously declaims, in syllables so majestic that only dashes will suffice, ‘We – choose – freedom!’
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe book is superb, though perhaps not in every way. And the greatest of its virtues is to stand knowledgeably and disputatiously in the shadow of its predecessor, the first of the extensively researched books in English, which was The Black Jacobins, from 1938, by C.L.R. James, the West Indian Marxist. The Black Jacobins was more than superb. It was a masterpiece. But 1938 was long ago ... L’Ouverture nonetheless showed himself to be those men’s superior, philosophically, politically and militarily — a point made by C.L.R. James that survives mostly intact in Philippe Girard’s sophisticated and anti-mythological biography.