PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe Polymath is vulnerable to the same charge that polymaths themselves have faced for centuries, that its breadth outstrips its depth. Mr. Burke does not slow down for stories about his hundreds of characters or explore their ideas in any detail. There just isn’t time, with all the ground he covers. As a reference work, however, it is an admirable mixture of industry and erudition.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Begley’s book is...brief, offering a brisk passage through the facts so far as they can be known. The accusation Houdini made against Robert-Houdin of \'utter disregard for the truth\' applied to Houdini with a vengeance; he lied not merely as an act of self-promotion, which could be said about many showmen and performers of his time and our own, but also about things that really didn’t matter. Many writers before Silverman accepted these lies without challenging them, but both Mr. Begley and Mr. Posnanski...take pains to separate truth from myth ... Brevity has its rewards and its challenges. In Mr. Begley’s book, the necessity to get the basic facts of Houdini’s life into a compact series format leaves less space for the development of scenes than a reader might hope for, and also fewer opportunities to stand back from his subject and offer historical or cultural perspective. Flashes of Mr. Begley’s charm or wit...create a longing for more such moments.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Posnanski’s solution to the problem of having 500 predecessors is less satisfactory. His is a book about the writing of a book about Houdini. We tag along as he contacts experts on the great man and the history of magic, and people whose lives have been shaped by their helpless infatuation with him. We meet the only comparable living illusionist, David Copperfield, and explore his remarkable collection of magic artifacts, and are introduced to a string of lesser magicians and failed or former or would-be magicians. At one point, we just sit with the writer at his desk as he cuts a deck of cards. Scenes from Houdini’s life are similarly shuffled into Mr. Posnanski’s narrative, but the overall effect is to put Houdini at a remove.
MixedThe Boston Globe\"As a demonstration of the value of reason, knowledge, and curiosity, Enlightenment Now can hardly be bettered...But a countervailing tone is also evident in Enlightenment Now, one of brash certainty and overstatement; of contempt for those he considers anti-rationalists, such as people of faith; and of sneering dismissal of those he might be likeliest to win over with his argument, such as intellectuals, essayists, critics, and journalists … Enlightenment Now leads inevitably to the battle between science and the humanities … a valuable if at times an irritating book.\