PositiveStar TribuneIn Barnum: An American Life, Wilson brings him alive on the page, thanks in part to the voluminous print record of Barnum’s life, in letters, speeches and newsprint ...Wilson suggests Barnum’s potent combination of naiveté, arrogance, persistence and luck — combined with his brash, uncouth, self-confident attributes, a go-getter of the first water — make him a particularly American figure, which may be a gross generalization but is also hard to argue with ... In Wilson’s thoroughgoing biography, what makes Barnum a sympathetic subject is that his financial success showed \'that a person could move not only from rags to riches but even from obscurity to respectability.\'
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThese smoking bats are at the heart of Kevin Cook’s jazzy Ten Innings at Wrigley, but first there will be some scene setting and then there will be some tidying up after. Along the way, Cook will treat readers to all manner of baseball nuggets, like the kind of color commentator you like to have in the broadcast booth. Plus, there will be a soupçon of baseball patois to keep readers on their toes ... The game itself gets blow-by-blow coverage. There is early season promise in the air and Cook adds enough chatter from the announcers to convey an atmosphere of 1970s radio ... The tempo, the color, the tension all combine to make manifest the excitement as each batter came to the plate ... the soul of the book is the 97 total bases, 11 homers, 45 runs, the at-bat fireworks. Oh boy!
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle\"In The Patch, [McPhee] has assembled a sparkling tessellation of nonfiction pieces that run from plump essays to squib-shorties ... The short pieces cohere in their suddenness, darting from topic to topic: here a vest-pocket profile of Cary Grant and his thing about autographs, there an explanation as to why granite is an indispensable ingredient in every Hershey’s chocolate bar. A crazy quilt, then ... The quilt is work on its way to becoming, material that will latterly have all the brio, dash and polish one could ask from an essay.\
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle\"... [a] rich, tight narrative of Worsley’s polar exploits ... But if Grann is a fine storyteller, he’s no psychoanalyst, though he will give a couple of peeks into the more mysterious forces that drove Worsley.\
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThere are plenty of opportunities to weep in The End of the End of the Earth – mostly for the birds – a collection of crystalline thought pieces and nonfiction stories. Even when you find yourself wagging your head in disagreement, you have to admire the work that went into the writing ... Though versed in birding, he makes no claims on being an expert: He makes mistakes, he maintains a life list, something a higher sort of birder would consider déclassé ... Franzen writes elegant essays without being prim because he is too idiosyncratic and opinionated for that, and his opinions are the kind that inevitably will ruffle feathers, which are the best kind.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review...sharp, engrossing ... an artful blend of the historical and the personal ... Jauhar is particularly comfortable describing these miraculous inventions, their evolution and exactly how they operate. At the same time he sews his family into the picture, including himself ... Jauhar was wise to partition his book into metaphor and mystery, for stress, the great bogeyman of the final pages—from the romantic breakup, depression, social disconnectivity, to the boss yelling at you, the drive to work, to the eighth cup of coffee to keep awake to do yet more work—and the general lack of down time is breaking our hearts in more ways than one.
PositiveStar TribuneI ripped the envelope open, the book spilled out, and I scrambled for the Xanax. The Last Lobster Egads! I thought lobsters were like diamonds: They released only so many of an abundance to keep the market price up. And while diamonds have lots of admirable qualities, they don’t taste like a lobster. The last lobster! It had better be mine ... White spent his time looking for an authentic fishing town, then settled in. Stonington is on the Maine coast, well past the gentrification, past Acadia National Park, up where the er’s become ah’s — as in lobstah — and where the lobster traps are piled in the driveways of the waterfront houses ... He does a fine job of delineating Stonington, and not just the lobster boat races and lobster bakes, but the fog and the submerged rocks, wind and tides, and does just as good a job of describing the activity on a lobster boat at work. There’s the 4 a.m. cup of coffee, winching up the pots, the disappointment or delight when the pot hits the deck, the baiting of the trap: \'A whiff of week-old salted herring is better than a dose of smelling salts. It will wake you up and curl your hair.\'
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorFox’s trek along that border is chronicled in the keen-eyed and -eared Northland ... Fox can’t help but trespass pretty much all the way from the coast of Maine to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters as the border is poorly marked if long in the making (border negotiations stared right after the Treaty of Paris was signed), giving that touch of jump and sparkle that every good travelogue needs ... For all the hugeness of everything, Fox can be an intimately sharp observer of place, noting, for instance, that the northern cold makes light shine upward through the airborne frost and reduces the landscape to a charcoal sketch ... The remainder of Fox’s journey is as natty and crisp, and quite lighter of spirit than the [Standing Rock] reservation story. One comical episode has him trying to enter a little snaggle-tooth blip on the straight line to the coast along 49’40\' or fight, a eensy piece of the U.S. protruding into Canada, but no way to get there except through Canada. The border patrols are deeply suspicious about why he wants to go to such an isolated spot. Then again, that is the leitmotif of the entire story.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorRobb gets about his new patch by foot, bus, and bike, thus gets a close look at the lay of the land, for which he has a keen sense of mood. This is a shadowy, rain-soaked land, just right for the horrible acts that did take place on what by all means should have been a peaceable ground, that is until it was decided to set the bounds formally and that usually is the cause of strife. But it is also a handsome place, full of unexpected beauty that Robb exploits neatly ... The land is still there, though the Debatable is long gone. Still, Robb coaxes it back into being for us to marvel.
Åsne Seierstad, Trans. by Seán Kinsella
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"The story thread here is Sadiq’s attempts to bring the girls home. But Seierstad has told it in the form of living theater and, as such, the book has all the momentum of Thomas the Tank Engine. There are long sections of aimless messaging between Ismael and Leila, and time slows as pieces are moved around the board as in a draw-bound chess match ... Who needs more misery when what Seierstad has delivered is a good dose of raw, slow agony on one hand and raw, unaccounted ecstasy on the other, and, to all appearances, never these two shall meet.\
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorHistory, well and freshly told, is perhaps Choudhury’s forte. He doesn’t know Calcutta’s all that well, so we get to see it with the same new eyes ... We learn, in dribs and dabs, about the genteel decline of the numinous old city. Choudhury will occasionally outdo himself in place writing ... This is not to fall prey to Orientalism, but to be observant, to stop and smell the coffee.
RaveBarnes & NobleTales — stories, anecdotes, yarns — are an important part of this book, for this is a communing with these creatures as much as a marveling at how they live. He brings the outdoors to inside your head ... He devotes a chapter to each of the birds...some delicate as china and some ruffians...and all brought close to the reader without losing its wildness.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorNor is gossip his thing – not entirely absent from Balancing Acts, but only a couple of the dabs in this pointillist portrait, a finely grained, multifaceted revelation of what it means to be an accomplished artistic director walking that balancing act between high- and low-brow (and entertaining the audience in the process), the insolent with the inclusive, the cackle with the visceral ...Hytner is no boor either, even without these obvious avenues of approach ... More than once, though none too often, he helps a star down a step or two from vainglory, or pokes some fun at an actor’s foibles ... Between the color commentary and all the humorous cameos – and much the meat of the story – is a master class in the anatomy of artistic directing ... is inclusive; a bricklayer, mathematician, or soccer player will become as engrossed by this material as a seasoned director, playwright, or theatergoer.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneStoll writes like he is taking a leisurely punt down the River Cam, but each sentence contains a little (or a great) item of value. He is a marginalian’s nightmare. The cruel river of dispossession guides the story. But Stoll poles off into side streams to explore entire ecosystems, always accompanied by the surrounding circumstances that make a space a place … The book is a masterpiece of panoramic history. It follows as the Black Plague, the Little Ice Age (which at 500-plus years must not have seemed so ‘little’ to those in its midst), the acts of enclosure and the state taking ultimate ownership through eminent domain.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"Fraser brings a learned hand to this substantial biography of Wilder, learned and substantial though also light on its feet, washed with color, and opinionated ... Fraser’s color commentary freshens the story time and again, because Laura’s life was one of wildfire, dust storms, house fires, illnesses like diphtheria, tornadoes, crazy \'sinister\' weather (as is said, if you don’t like prairie weather, wait a minute), warfare in the Black Hills and warfare with the Osage ... Fraser’s volume feels as secure in its verisimilitude and necessary guesswork as those cozy fireside-reading sessions out there on the glorious prairie, that burning, pestilential, heartbreaking, health-sapping, dust-broiling, dark, and wintry prairie. The book will stand true – a testament to bootstrapping work by both Fraser and Wilder – a lot longer than those sod huts.\
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle...Surfing With Sartre include not just Jean-Paul but David Hume and Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger, Karl Marx and Woody Allen. James butts heads with these gentlemen... James, however, is a bell-clear writer — unlike, say, David Hume — and, here, takes home the gold ... That point? We are squandering our most precious quality/quantity — time — when we could cut our workweek in half. We could dedicate those extra hours to mastering something of greater meaning to us than work ...James is an apostle of adaptive attunement ... James doesn’t shy away from words like rapture and sublime.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"By the time you finish reading Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants — and again I’ll offer a wager: If you start her book, you will finish her book — your appreciation of the Indian caste system will have become finely tuned ... This is a real story, ringing true, told with wide-eyed wonder, and it invites you right into the family, to be a familiar, to understand ... Gidla is our Virgil into the world of the untouchables and their acts of defiance; not just as an observer, but as a participant.\
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleStrøksnes is a journalist writing a book, and the subject is, admit it, outré cool. And he doesn’t treat it like some gonzo bizarrerie, but as chromatic, investigative work, one in which you can laugh instead of feel nothing but grim ... Most of the time he is more focused with page after page of sharp vignettes...Strøksnes has dozens and dozens of these low-key noteworthies, on the family empires of lighthouse keepers, on the history of cod drying, the shock of a williwaw, the iridescence of place names .. There is the wonderful radiance of these two gents out chasing their curiosity — the we-only-regret-the-adventures-we-didn’t-take school — out chasing that romantic mingling of terror and beauty, the sublime.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorSmalls’s story is dramatic enough, but Lineberry gives it greater honor by setting it in the context of its surrounding circumstances ... Lineberry goes deeper. She pulls apart Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which encouraged helping freemen gain education and work, but had no teeth to enforce compliance ... The book is a neat piece of narrative history, told with exceptional brio. It flows with energy and bravado. It's also a crisp reminder that history is never tidy. Thanks, then, to Lineberry for reminding us of the existence of such people as Smalls.
RaveNewsdayBardenwerper, a military veteran, has made a probe of the MPs’ feelings, as they morphed over time and association with Saddam, and carries it off with balanced aplomb ... In chapters that are short and jumpy, what ultimately emerges is how to comport oneself in the world ... This is no reverse Stockholm syndrome at play, Bardenwerper convincingly suggests, but a bracing affirmation — a great Whitmanesque hug — of human dignity in the face of all that is harrowingly wrong.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewGrann has sweated the details: dug into the archives, interviewed surviving principals and peripherals, thought long and hard about what he has heard and read, and—despite his relative youth—displays an old-school, learned hand in Killers of the Flower Moon. He is also a canny raconteur, providing both the play-by-play and the color commentary, following one thread, then picking up another, and so the tapestry of the story takes shape ... The case turns on a bit of serendipity—and there will be no spoilers here. Let it be said that Killers of the Flower Moon follows the painstaking disentangling of all those threads. It is deeply gratifying when the last thorny knot comes loose, the villains such a surprise. Still, the story is deeply saddening, and though Grann plays it like a violin, it is mournful tune.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewTheir relationship is charming and charmed — words here stripped clean and in amplitude. Sacks is murderously shy, and to witness how he emerges from this cocoon is wonderful ... You both read and watch, from Hayes many portraits, the vanishing of Oliver. He is such a brick...And Hayes is a brick, too. There, and aware that he had not only fallen in love, 'it was something more, something I had never experienced before. I adored him.' It’s the kind of adoration that glows invitingly, like a warm, lighted window passed on a nighttime walk through a sleeping city.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...[an] achingly lucid new memoir ... Hens’ memories — spun as stories, for he is a piquant, enchanting storyteller — follow one after another, though not before they have been surgically dissected for elements of self-discovery lurking in that memory’s cigarette. First, however, Will Self’s introduction is a gloriously mad prelude ... Despite qualms that the last cigarette might extinguish his access to literarily fertile material, Nicotine is proof positive that Hens still has the stuff.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review...equally engagingly, it is a book about an unlikely and extraordinarily fruitful friendship. And, yes, as Lewis has demonstrated since Liar’s Poker, he writes like a smoothie feels — silken ... There’s more here, however, than the lessons: the story of Tversky and Kahneman’s friendship is tear making in its humor and pathos.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThis is a playful, even waggish work of biography, carrying its research lightly, yet never missing a beat or frivolous or judgmental. It feels like a careful grave rubbing, catching the nicks, fadings, and fine lines – gold and bronze chalk against a dark background ... Napoli draws Ray Kroc honestly without making you loathe him outright – a minor miracle.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...sinewy, eagle-eyed, and, at times, rankling ... Kamensky wields a keen putty knife in a restoration that strives – rather than for objectivity – for acuity and honesty. Kamensky has that in spades, even when you disagree with her, even when some of her conclusions poke you in the eye ... Kamensky is also heroic in making this dreary time in Copley’s life a fascination in the minutiae of the milieu he moves through, but also in the background and evolution of his painting.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review...a rumbustious, polychromatic group portrait ... One of the remarkable aspects of Macintyre’s authorized-if-not-official history is that he keeps a cool hand on the theatrics while maintaining an edge-of-the-seat narrative ... little intimacies lighten tales burdened by scenes of death and carnage.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewMoor is a boots-on-the-ground empiricist of trails. No armchair explorer, he has hoofed the Appalachian Trail ... Moor doesn’t moon about as he seeks the meaning — the soul — of trails. His is a serious endeavor. Occasionally his writing will become painfully dry to appropriate science in making a point ... Better to walk along with Moor as he reads trails, offering esoteric wisdom.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewPlaying Dead may be Greenwood’s first book, yet it is smart as a fox, displaying a wicked sense of humor braided with rue ... Greenwood’s storytelling invites you to participate. It challenges you to participate, and it takes sauce simply to enter these precincts.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorI Shot the Buddha will delight readers with a taste for Siri’s mystical side. Cotterill is adept with the spirits of Laos, opening the lid to their jar only so much, retaining their mystery ... The different strands become orchestral by the book’s end, with the entire gratifying cast of Siri’s misfit, pillorying, and sardonic friends getting involved.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble Review...[a] learned, stirring story of the institution ... Gallagher makes this case; it easy to nod in agreement with her opinion that the spirited crux of the American post is that 'if a people’s republic were to work, the people had to know what was going on,' especially in a 'sprawling, diverse, and thinly populated United States.' This is not patriotic pap, she argues. It is fundamental to participatory democracy and a sense of trust in government ... the office’s history is high with color. Gallagher doesn’t break out the Crayolas, but she knows a good story when it bites her ... Gallagher’s history is vital, disputatious, and cheering at once — like the early Republic’s newspapers that served to justify so insurgent an operation — tackling public service, private enterprise, federal power, states’ rights, the value of a national infrastructure, the fruits of bipartisanship, and the constipation of regional and political polarization.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerBanks brings an atypical perspective to this writing: that of a third-generation plumber with a yen to be a poet, a workingman's biting realism mingled with a freethinking that could happily pass the bottle or bong with antiestablishmentarians ... He has been through three marriages that ended badly. All the journeys here will coax one or more of these relationships into an aching light, in which the cycle of marriage, divorce, and abandonment...Dodgy ... But Banks has another aspect, one that makes you want to hold him close. He is a sucker for delight, surprise, and wonder.
David Foster Wallace
RaveThe Philadelphia InquirerWallace brought to tennis writing the complete package: knowledge of the game and a style in a zone of its own, a distinctly ingenious talent for sprawling distillation, detail, whisking highbrow with lowbrow, deploying the vernacular to reach higher ground, and fervidity, free of irony and code ... These essays are not only informed and artful, but also comic and, at times, confidently poignant.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...one of the articles’ beauties is their absence of bravado; instead, there is a big heart, an eye alert to beauty, a temperament to engage different ways of being in the world and an existential awareness of atmosphere: history, landscape, culture, prospects.
Terry Tempest Williams
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble Review[Williams is] tough, curious, and possess[es] a razory sense of humor ... The greatness here lies in her spirit’s palpability. Williams’ hunger for intimate engagement with nature has found her in tight corners ... rich in history—well-versed history and too often a grim history—and brimming with vignettes of the writer’s personal experiences.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerThe high point is Weigel's parallel between two institutions: dating and the economy. This parallel is utterly absorbing and makes for such exotic bedfellows as Herbert Marcuse and Milton Friedman ... Labor of Love is a cornucopian investigation, bright and critical, though at times with all the music of a graduate term paper. Weigel occasionally regurgitates source material wholesale, rather than shading it into the otherwise engrossing narrative. Above all, we're left with that fascinating connection between work world and dating world. Dating, like work, is transactional, and work is the bottom line for everyone.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorMissing Man is an artful piece of investigative reporting. There is not a wealth of original material, but Meier has finely choreographed Bob Levinson’s story, and brought it into the light from the shadow world where most US governmental agencies seem to have wish it had stayed. Meier’s style is brio and dash, always with a trail of crumbs, while handfuls of grit and episodes of hateful behavior are thrown in for texture.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneAnyone who has read Lepore knows that, let loose in archives — library archives, archives of memory — she is crackerjack, squeezing into claustrophobic corners where the good stuff is found. Here, she returns with only random volumes of the Oral History, if indeed they are that. She surfaces with different riches, profiles of her own, of Gould, Mitchell and sculptress Augusta Savage, a subject of Gould's uninvited advances.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorClaridge handles the theme of a woman’s struggle for power and recognition with aplomb...[but] the incessant Blanche/Alfred shoving match – the 'couple’s peace was always frangible,' writes Claridge, sounding a new depth in understatement – soon wears thin.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorMitchell Duneier’s Ghetto is an arresting, listen-up synthesis of ghetto-living theory and practice over its 500-year history; particular emphasis is paid to the last century, when ghettoes shape-shifted with alarming speed. You emerge with an oh-so-better understanding of the forces that fashioned the ghetto. You will see the ghetto as a complex, dynamic organism, the ills of which will never surrender to a magic bullet, for the ghetto is a vivid expression of institutionalized racism, a rotten way of being in the world.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerReséndez is adept at untangling the intertribal slave trade, as well as the pernicious behavior of white settlers in northern California. Reséndez closes his smart, maddening account with the end of the Indian wars but leaves wide open the nature of the current Indian reservation system. How many of us understand the workings or consequences of that institution? By any other name - in the sex trade, on Florida's tomato farms, in Thailand's seafood-export industry, everywhere - slavery endures.
RaveBarnes and Noble ReviewRoiphe has thoroughly sifted the coming of death, and the result is fine and weighty...The Violet Hour is wonderfully rangy, an easy-handed association of the protagonists’ being in and then exiting the world. There is nothing tidy about it, much like Thomas’s bed, messy as life. And there isn’t enough of it, like any final conversation.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneGarrels finds and draws a nation, out of cultural blindness, turning its back on AIDS and special-needs children, alcoholism and bigotry. When she speaks about something a listener is familiar with, it rings true. Truth breeds trust, that rare and wonderful journalistic bird.
PositiveThe Philadelphia Inquirer...Bissell will travel far to gather these fragments, to the apostles' tombs, Spain to India. In so doing, he pulls off the neat trick of humanizing the apostle in question. His place writing is light as merengue, as befits a flying carpet. Apostle is a fine mash-up. Certainly, early Christianity is its subject, but storytelling is its object, how we call our world into existence and try to make sense of it.
Robert D. Kaplan
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWhen Kaplan lets his emotions speak, his cup overfloweth. 'The ultimate purpose of existence is to sanctify beauty,' say, or 'Travel is about movement through stages of landscape, mirroring one’s journey through life.' These pronouncements are disarmingly passionate. No one would accuse Kaplan of being a softnose, but that kind of talk, that’s called vulnerability.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewWhat makes the book a treat rather than a screed — other than the fact that it is impressively learned and carefully polished — is that Bryson’s humor is not mean of spirit. He can be acerbic, with brio, but he is more at ease with the ridiculous and improbably comedic, wielding his sharp stick to poke his subjects only occasionally in the eye, or the backside.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorGuralnick has injected enough helium and momentum into the material to get it airborne and moving stately forward. Guralnick obviously (mostly) admired Phillips, but the biography has the ring of truth.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorSurely, history is a messy business, but Beard is a discerning ragpicker. Looking backwards from the end of the book when Rome is eclipsed as a power center in the third century CE, we have followed a fragile and fantastic chain of connections from very deep in antiquity. It makes your hair stand on end.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...a good and meaty biography, with as many digressions as there are condiments for hot dogs. Well informed by primary-source material, [it's] complemented by an array of illuminations all Stiles’s own...
RaveThe Barnes and Noble Review“Susanna Moore’s stately and graceful history of the early centuries of Hawai‘i’s history, Paradise of the Pacific is here to entertain, effortlessly, and to instruct, slightly more demandingly.”