RaveLos Angeles Review of Books... for those who find consolation as elusive, if not as impossible, as a political solution to our darkening times, Ignatieff’s book makes an eloquent and empathetic case for us to look a bit longer ... One of the many virtues of Ignatieff’s book is that it does not flinch from [dark] perspectives. While a deeply sympathetic writer, Ignatieff is never sentimental ... At...times, these portraits seem to be missing a stroke or two ... In a chapter devoted to David Hume, he offers a beautiful rendering of the Scottish philosopher’s final days ... Ignatieff’s other portraits, ranging from Marcus Aurelius and Michel de Montaigne, through Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln, to Albert Camus and Václav Havel, are rich and nuanced. They are also touched by a sense of urgency, stirred by personal events in Ignatieff’s life and public events that have swept across all our lives. This no doubt accounts for the occasional textual misstep ... Yes, consolation is so terribly important. Perhaps now more than ever. In this regard, Ignatieff has done us a great service with this moving and affecting series of reflections.
Curzio Malaparte, trans. by Stephen Twiley
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksWhat is surprising is not the cold shoulders Malaparte kept getting, but that he himself was at first surprised by this reception. His accounts of these many humiliations, which pockmark his diary, are mesmerizing. At times, it seems that the one thing Parisian intellectuals had in common was their distaste for this smooth-talking, shape-shifting Italian ... Even in his most absurd or self-absorbed passages, however, Malaparte often stumbles into insights ... And while Malaparte’s philosophizing mostly flops, his phrasemaking (so finely wrought by the book’s translator, Stephen Twilley) often shatters. His vignettes of working-class Paris are heart-stopping ... Peppering the diary are accounts of him barking and howling at night with neighborhood canines. Defending himself against the charge of eccentricity, he insists that \'there is nothing more natural, when you love dogs, than to bark with them.\'
David A. Bell
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books... [a] masterful account of charisma in modern history ... Though Donald Trump is never mentioned, our nation’s very own \'He Who Must Not Be Named\' casts a malign shadow over almost every page. In his lucid and bracing history, Bell helps us better understand how this charismatic grifter came to occupy the most powerful office in the world ... Though progressive and liberal movements are rightly repelled by the charismatic power Donald Trump wields, Bell warns that we cannot dispense with that power but must rather make use of it. While his prescription—namely, that we must choose our charismatic leaders with care—is not as reassuring as we might like, Bell’s description of our predicament makes for essential reading.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of Books... [Applebaum] joins her professional skills to her personal experiences, producing an often sobering, sometimes shocking, but never despairing account of the rise of authoritarianism in the West ... One of the many welcome aspects to her book is its acknowledgment that democracy, like any other form of government, is not forever. It cannot be a machine that would go of itself; it is a machine that, instead, goes only as long as its users care for it ... Applebaum provides a tour of the gallery of rogues who have commandeered the machine. Her portraits are always sharp and often lethal ... Applebaum rightly refuses a one-size-fits-all theory to explain why individuals like Polish journalist Jacek Kurski and Hungarian historian María Schmidt not only drank the Kool-Aid of authoritarianism, but now gladly serve it up to others ... Inevitably, Applebaum sometimes too quickly jogs past individuals, tossing them a glance that neglects more than it nets.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksReiss in turn emphasizes that Dumas’s novels were fueled by his father’s own experiences in earlier wars. These experiences, we discover, were as remarkable and romantic as the man who related them to his son. They also allow Reiss — though with less literary panache than Dumas and, at times, an equally cavalier treatment of history — to introduce us to the world that, come 1789, replaced the Old Regime ... Reiss, a professional journalist, gets bits and pieces of European history wrong ... Such errors weigh less than other, more elusive problems with the historical canvas painted by Reiss. It is not that he gets the general history of the revolution and Napoleon wrong; it’s just that he does not get it right enough ... All too often, when Reiss turns a phrase, he turns it towards a cliché ... The biggest problem, though, is that this story frequently seems to be less about Dumas than Reiss ... At the end of all these travels, Reiss returns with an account that, in its essentials, does not differ from John Gallaher’s 1997 monograph, General Alexandre Dumas: Soldier of the French Revolution ... The past has no choice but to rely on writers and readers. Reiss offers a start, but we have yet to reach the end of Dumas’s story.
MixedLos Angeles Review of Books\"... concise and compelling ... Christiansen rightly describes Haussmann’s approach as ruthless, but does not quite do justice to Haussmann’s own term for his method—éventrement, or evisceration ... With just 170 pages of text, Christiansen could not do full justice to [how important Paris\'s expansion of sewers was to the city] ... Yet another victim of the book’s apparently forced brevity is its account of the Commune.\
Martha C. Nussbaum
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksWith The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis, Nussbaum adds to her own fearsome reputation ... Her writing manages to deeply engage the texts she explores—ranging from Aeschylus and Seneca to George Eliot and John Rawls—all the while fully engaging the attention of specialists and non-specialists alike. Like David Hume, who insisted on the need for modern philosophers to serve as \'ambassadors [to the] conversable world,\' Nussbaum bridges the worlds of the academy and society ... Nussbaum’s accounts of envy and disgust, as well as sexism and misogyny, are...subtle and sound. These qualities are praiseworthy and pivotal to the life of civil discourse. Still, as a historian, I regret the absence of historical perspective and occasional glossing in her book ... More to the point, I am uncertain what Nussbaum qua philosopher brings that is truly noteworthy to this look at our political crisis ... Still, Nussbaum’s message is worth hearing. It may not be as philosophical as one might expect, but it is important and powerful.
PanThe Los Angeles Review of BooksA career in journalism is hardly a handicap to writing history; from Alistair Horne to Alan Riding, reporters have given us riveting and revealing accounts of France’s fall and occupation. Poirier? Not so much. First of all, her book is littered with mistakes that a desk editor, not to mention her book editor, should have caught ... Poirier repeatedly sinks below the surface, plumbing a deeper level of mistakes and misunderstandings. In her presentation of existentialism, she declares that there \'was no longer any room for complacency and ambiguity\' in postwar Paris. Perhaps this was true for complacency, but a student who has taken Existentialism 201 knows that ambiguity was and will always be a basic and brute datum of our lives. Equally botched is Poirier’s depiction of the postwar trial of the writer and Nazi collaborator Robert Brasillach ... the list goes on ... what we get is a pile-up of preening, partying, and priapic Parisians ... a lazy person’s guide to writing history, one that amounts to the arbitrary stringing together of scenes and conversations one has collected, willy-nilly, from a few days of book-combing.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe spirit of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness hovers above Elizabeth Kostova’s haunting new novel ... Kostova builds her characters with skill and patience, making them both fully human and deeply humane ... As Kostova brings her riveting tale to a climax, weaving effortlessly between Lazarov’s past and Alexandra’s present, we discover both a superb storyteller and a subtle moralist.
Susan Rubin Suleiman
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books...a personal, poignant, and perceptive account ... The author handles this complicated subject — which has created a cottage industry among academics and fueled very public debates — with lightly worn erudition and deeply felt compassion ... With her own knack for nuance, Suleiman captures the quality that sets Némirovsky apart, despite or perhaps because of her flaws: as a writer, she is attachant. We read and treasure her — we are attached to her — because, at her best, she brilliantly conveys the entangled state of our ties with others and with our own selves.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books...[an] absorbing account ... Kaplan tells this story with great verve and insight, all the while preserving the mystery of its creation and elusiveness of its meaning ... While some might question Kaplan’s claim that the novel 'changed the course of modern literature,' few will ever question either the work’s perennial appeal or the brilliance with which Kaplan has told its story.