RaveThe New YorkerSwarns sticks closely to chronology and strives for an objective account, even as she depends on conjecture to join the recorded history of the two hundred and seventy-two to the broader experience of slavery in the Americas. The result is a vivid, pointillistically detailed narrative that foregrounds the people who were enslaved ... The 272 brings the \"original sin\" of slavery close and renders the practice—and the efforts to justify it—all too recognizable.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewChristendom doesn’t feature protagonists, stories, rising and falling action, or shifting points of view. It’s a series of set pieces in which the animating presence is the historian ... The result is an extraordinary synthesis — and one that is, for the most part, extraordinarily hard going ... For most of its reading, the strongest impression the book leaves is of how remote the history of those times and places feels when the notion of Christianity’s exceptionalism is left out ... In all this, something is missing — or has been left out, once again by the author’s design, as far as I can tell. This is any recognition of religious faith as a quality unto itself, not just an expression of other, firmer-seeming qualities ... Without it, Christendom is more learned than persuasive.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... wry, un-ponderous, anti-obligatory. Because the sound Thompson created with Fairport was rooted in centuries-old songs, he isn’t captive to ’60s clichés; and because British electric folk is off the classic-rock grid — as he ruefully observes, \'The niche remained a niche\' — the book’s period accent makes it feel fresh and exploratory.
Edoardo Albinati, Trans. by Antony Shugaar
PositiveThe New YorkerThe English translation, done with unflagging vigor by Antony Shugaar, presents readers with a very long novel that feels even longer than it is. The effect is surely intended. Of the novel’s many forays into ideas, the richest is its exploration of \'the gratuitous,\' la gratuità. It’s a mode of experience in which power and the absence of purpose meet; and, in the reading, this gratuitously long novel about religion, manhood, sex, and violence becomes a test of its own unruly philosophy ... Albinati has fictionalized the crime his classmates committed and elaborated on it in the language of broad-brush cultural criticism. He calls it \'the kind of scandal that disfigures in an indelible fashion the space that it lays open to the glare of daylight,\' and goes on to cycle through rhetorical effects in an effort to register its significance ... it becomes clear that The Catholic School is not a social novel about well-born Roman Catholics, and not a work of true crime. It is a very late entry in the long European tradition of the novel as a quasi-philosophical essay in disguise ... The novel’s unbounded intelligence, its cool take on sexual violence, and its disregard for conventions of character and plot are assertions of the author’s independence from Catholic and bourgeois expectations. So is its extreme length. At the same time, the length suggests how hard it can be for such a man to shed such an upbringing, even in supposedly secular contemporary Italy. He can’t just get rid of it once and for all; he has to assert his freedom from it again and again.
MixedThe Village VoiceThe story is not broad but deep, plunging the reader into the ice water of somebody else’s calamity; and the somebody is an expert whose specialty colors his telling of the story ... Through deft references to the new Europe, McEwan makes this centerless kind of friendship seem analogous to the European Union, an alliance born of convenience and self-interest rather than principle or defense against a common enemy ... Satire overwhelms realism, plot outruns character and theme reducing Amsterdam to little more than a higher airplane read ... winds up unsettled rather than unsettling. Let’s hope that Amsterdam isn’t the model for the Euro-novel of the future, for it is a book in a tremendous hurry to get where it is going— but one with no real destination.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... considerably more than a fleshed-out magazine piece, told in [the ] high style, through the methodical accretion of social detail and vivid commentary in the voices of the protagonists. Abstruse ideas are explained matter-of-factly ... quite often something other than fascinating. Few of the people who read the book will likely need disillusioning (the estimation of L. Ron Hubbard could hardly be any lower in polite circles). The claims about Tom Cruise\'s beliefs and behavior are not especially surprising (the surprise is that, in spite of them, he is still a movie star). Mr. Wright doesn\'t oversell his book as a tale of the rich and famous or an exposé of an operation poised to take over Hollywood. Instead, he leaves the impression that Scientology, for all its power, for all the benefits that it claims to have rendered to people around the world, is a charmless system of belief and a small-time organization made large through celebrity and money. It isn\'t fascinating reading, but it is a feat of reporting. The story of Scientology is the great white whale of investigative journalism about religion ... sometimes hard going on account of its subject matter. But it is an utterly necessary story even so ... The surprise isn\'t that Mr. Wright presents Scientology as a perplexing and alarming organization. The surprise is that he has managed to tell its story at all.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"It is high-minded cultural criticism, concise, rhetorically agile, lit up by Douthat’s love for the Roman Catholic Church. In some respects it goes to the root of the discontent that drives all three books; in others it is a simple sour mash, applying to Pope Francis insinuative caricatures like the ones he applied to Gabby ...
Douthat’s own position is traditionalist-cum-literalist: Any relaxing of the Catholic teaching on marriage — one man, one woman, one time — means that core teachings can be changed; if core teachings can be changed, the Catholic Church is no longer the Catholic Church; and if the church is not the church, all hope is lost. From this fixed position, he slyly derides other positions, especially the liberal outlook.\
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewObviously, Robertson is getting the last word with this long book. And yet his strong point of view is offset by the tenderness he shows, and his stress on his own experience is set within a craftsman’s effort to tell the story whole — an effort to do justice to their adventures as young men, talented, stylish, successful and lucky, who knew the joy of creative friendship besides ... Robertson has a strong memory and a gift for recalling, or providing, dialogue, whole scenes of it ... Testimony is high-spirited, hugely enjoyable and generous from start to finish.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Whole Harmonium is an undramatic, literal-minded chronicle: essentially a long, strenuous paraphrase of Stevens’s writing, with thin strips of quotation laid on the gridiron of chronology ... All through the book he follows the trail of what Stevens said and when he said it, introducing people and ideas mainly through Stevens’s brief remarks about them. This seems sensible. It lends an idea of order and lets us hear the epigrammatic power of the poet who wrote that 'life without poetry is, in effect, life without a sanction.' But it reduces the biographer to a faithful servant plodding alongside his subject.