MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewHere, to put it bluntly, is a highly peculiar biography—peculiar not for what it says about Dickens but for what it says about Wilson himself. He is a strong presence throughout his book ... Wilson has a number of persuasive ideas about Dickens, whom he sees as not only a conflicted personality but a tragic one, despite his genius for comedy ... The Mystery of Charles Dickens has judicious things to say about Dickens, but then, suddenly, Wilson veers into autobiography, as his own internal pressures rise to the surface ... The kind of carelessness that blemishes Tolstoy is also on display in The Mystery of Charles Dickens. And there is at least one serious error, the statement that Dickens forbade his and Catherine’s children to see her after she was banished ... The greatest geniuses are inexplicable, but they share an amazing fecundity of invention ... How to begin comprehending such a phenomenon? Alas, not through A. N. Wilson’s Mystery of Charles Dickens.
Emmanuel Carrere Trans. by John Lambert
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... 20 essays (totaling 97,196 words) that reveal both the depth and the breadth of [Carrère\'s] achievement. Not that all of them are masterpieces. Carrère has done what so many self-anthologists do (I plead guilty to the same misdemeanor): He’s indulged himself by rescuing from obscurity certain stories that did not really demand rescue ... The abundant majority of the pieces in this book, however, are riveting, not least those that he later developed into full-scale books. In such cases, it’s clearly not a matter of recycling old material but of responding to an urgent need in him to know more, understand more, feel more. And we are gripped by the same pressure: No matter how often he returns to his story, we are carried along with him ... Carrère is masterly both at singling out the telling detail and of grasping and conveying his subject as a whole.
PanThe New York Times Book Review\"Dery goes into far too much detail tracking the endless, clearly compulsive changes of residence the Gorey family undertook throughout [Gorey\'s] childhood ... Dery can be good on Gorey’s art... And he recognizes that the Anchor covers could be startling in their implications ... Mark Dery, alas, knows practically nothing about ballet and ballet history. Everything he tells us is clearly received wisdom at best. He is equally weak in other areas. He refers frequently to Gorey’s love for silent film (which he identifies as one of a “pantheon of canonically gay tastes”), but his knowledge of silent film is as thin as his knowledge of ballet ... Other mistakes of Dery’s are less factual and more the result of misunderstandings and a hyperbolic and dramatizing vision of cultural life... But then Dery is a self-proclaimed \'cultural critic,\' and cultural critics tend to deal in zeitgeists, not art ... Dery isn’t an experienced biographer, so it’s understandable that he stumbles. But he is an experienced writer, and although parts of his Gorey book are persuasively written... the new book is so swamped in clichés that I kept being reminded of the famous pieces Frank Sullivan wrote for The New Yorker about a fictional Mr. Arbuthnot, \'the cliché expert.\'\
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewOne of the things that led Sachs to write a second biography of Toscanini, more than twice as long as his first (published in 1978), was the new availability of huge archives of documents and letters — in 2002 he edited The Letters of Arturo Toscanini. The letters cover an immense range of musical, political and personal matters, but the most astonishing ones are passionate love letters ... Sachs frequently steps over the line and in his ardor for his subject and addiction to detail tells us more than most of us need to know. But these are failures of excessive zeal rather than failures of judgment. Sachs’s account of Toscanini’s career is persuasive and compelling in the important ways.