PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Christofi has produced what he calls \'a reconstructed memoir\' eliding extracts from Dostoevsky’s public and private writings with the events of his life ... It is an ambitious concept, and it works. Mr. Christofi backs up his work with 452 endnotes. In short, he has not made things up ... A personal biography then, but the sociopolitical ferment of Russia does bubble up through Mr. Christofi’s pages ... One sees the novelist at work in these pages. Keeping a hand on the narrative tiller, he understands the importance of specificity, as writers must ... Mr. Christofi’s weakness for cliché corrupts his prose ... I greatly enjoyed this book.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... innovative ... It is an ambitious concept, and it works. Mr. Christofi backs up his work with 452 endnotes. In short, he has not made things up ... A personal biography then, but the sociopolitical ferment of Russia does bubble up through Mr. Christofi’s pages ... veils the monstrous side of the subject. What Dostoevsky thought and how he acted were often at variance. (Who among us is immune to this contradiction?) He wrote about humility, but didn’t have much of it ... One sees the novelist at work in these pages. Keeping a hand on the narrative tiller, he understands the importance of specificity, as writers must ... Mr. Christofi’s weakness for cliché corrupts his prose ... Cliché is always regrettable, but especially so in a book on a literary master. The reader might also regret anachronistic language such as \'passive-aggressive.\' I would have liked more glimpses of Dostoevsky’s Petersburg ... I greatly enjoyed this book ... Readers often fear tackling Dostoevsky’s novels, possibly because of the fuggy reverence that occludes his reputation. Alex Christofi’s welcome volume will dispel anxiety. It would be sad to miss out on one of the greatest novelists ever to have lived. And after all, as Dostoevsky wrote in a letter, \'Books are life.\'
RaveThe Spectator (UK)\"Selina Hastings has written a wonderful biography, with lashings of lesbian lovers, which provides a soundtrack to one version of the 20th century ... Hastings has had the cooperation of the Bedford estate and full access to diaries and letters, and she and her researcher have delved heroically and judiciously. She is an accomplished stylist and her prose suits her subject: elegant, deft and restrained, as operatic arias ‘hiss’ from the horned gramophone in the schloss ... The word ‘arrogant’ rings through these pages like a knell and so does snobbery ... Hastings is too accomplished a biographer to pass judgment. She doesn’t have to. Bedford emerges from this fine book as an appalling figure—a monster, really, or a pig ... My favourite Bedford book is A Visit to Don Otavio (1953) ... this and A Legacy will stand the brutal test of time—as will Selina Hastings’s biography.
RaveThe SpectatorNarratives of frozen beards in polar hinterlands never lose their appeal. Most of the good stories have been told, but in Icebound Andrea Pitzer fills a gap ... Pitzer is an able guide to Barents’s three Arctic voyages ... To break up the winter monotony, Pitzer works hard to establish context, whether of exploration in general or polar castaways in particular. Besides traveling in Barents’s footsteps, she has diligently mined the sources ... Pitzer’s prose is robust, clear and sometimes elegant.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... melodious ... These pages sing like a symphony ... Ms. Roberts puts artistic coherence first, as a writer should ... Ms. Roberts [is] a robust and diligent researcher ... As Ms. Roberts adroitly weaves personal quest with Russian history, vignettes feature splinter communities of Old Believers ... The author quotes widely, from early travelers to the poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky and, of course, Chekhov, who made his own journey, delightfully recounted, across Siberia to Sakhalin Island ... Throughout her prodigious travels Ms. Roberts emerges as a fine descriptive writer...She understands the crucial role of specificity in a traveler’s prose ... Notwithstanding the occasional cliché and weak phrase, Ms. Roberts’s prose is on the whole a model of style and clarity. She controls the narrative drive as if with a pianist’s foot pedals and modulates the tone between the flats of long motor journeys and the sharps of emotional intensity.
RaveThe Times Literary SupplementThe detail in the lengthy documents [Hans] left, especially dozens of pages about living and working behind enemy lines...is astonishing. This book will be an important addition to Holocaust literature ... Neumann has a gift for observation and an eye for specificity ... On the whole Neumann avoids speculation, but naturally, questions remain ... But she has borne witness, which is everyone’s duty. We have heard of many of the atrocities recounted in these pages before. But we must go on hearing them. This is a very fine book indeed.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)MacLean is a fine sleuth ... MacLean is compassionate, and he balances his stories of powerful men and women—a minor oligarch, an American banker—with those of the dispossessed. Much of this ambitious book is not an easy read, with stories of forced labor, human trafficking and worse in Europe’s heart of darkness ... MacLean tends to overwrite...and he uses too many adjectives. He also has a fondness for cliché...and for a dash of purple prose ... But he has a keen sense of place.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)...engaging ... She conjures the laden caravans of the old Silk Road, pyramids of saffron at the Siyab market in Samarkand and dust on the fabled Pamir highway. Her biographical sketches of the giants of history are strong ... Kari Dickson has fluently translated the book. Fatland produces some excellent phrases — that still-burning methane crater ‘looks like a glowing mouth\' ... like most books, Sovietistan is too long.
Lloyd Spencer Davis
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... an interesting blend of polar history and natural history ... In these pages one sees human knowledge inching forward ... There is plenty of gripping information here about the habits of the hapless Adélies, notably their breeding, which takes place from late October to late January. These passages are the best in the book ... The book includes a biographical sketch of Levick—though the man remains shrouded in the penumbrae of history and one never gets a sense of him ... The history of the whole expedition in A Polar Affair will be useful for those not familiar with the Scott saga, as will, indeed, the details of previous Antarctic exploration and even the Peary and Cook drama at the other end of the earth. I wonder, though, how many who pick up this new volume won’t already know all that. Despite the paucity of information about Levick, there is enough chiaroscuro in his story, and Mr. Davis’s spotlight might have been better trained on it ... The prose style occasionally jars ... A propensity for cliché doesn’t help ... Worse, Mr. Davis tries to link the penguin story with the human one.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Grann ably conjures the rasp of sled runner on ice and the skin burn of minus-40—and that’s before wind chill is factored in—and he understands the importance of specificity and detail ... began life as an article in the New Yorker—Mr. Grann is a staff writer—and it still is an article, really ... A touch of hagiography clings to the tale. Mr. Grann aims to make his subject a hero but sometimes diminishes him with platitudes and cliché ... The style is pleasant, if at times sentimental.
RaveThe GuardianAtmospheric, geological and geographical features that contribute to desert formation are well handled here, as are modern political issues, such as nuclear testing in southern Australia in the 1950s ... The Gobi section is gripping, too ... He correctly identifies desert duality: deathly and forsaken, yet \'the site of revelation, of contemplation and sanctuary.\' He handles the metaphorical aspect of his subject with a light touch ... The Immeasurable World is delightfully variegated. Within a page, Atkins switches from environmental jeremiad to an account of the famous Burning Man festival in Nevada, an event you will never visit after reading this book ... In the end, one wonders what connects the disparate narratives in these chapters, bar vague reflections on the haiku of the desert—biological and social. But it’s an entertaining volume.