RaveNew York Review of BooksDenk, at the age of fifty-one, has written a book that shows what it’s like to be a pianist, but also what it’s like to be Jeremy Denk. As if that were not enough, it is also about the elements of music, and beyond that an account of the ways in which music and life mirror each other. It is a book like none other ... None of these books, however, comes close to the scope of Every Good Boy Does Fine ... Every Good Boy Does Fine...is wildly ambitious, far exceeding the author’s modest description of it as \'the story of piano lessons\' ... The book is laid out in musical form: three substantial sections on harmony, melody, and rhythm ... Denk writes feelingly on the artist’s self-dramatization, the formation of a self, sometimes manifesting as arrogance, the conviction that you have something special to contribute to the appreciation of what you are performing, grasping whatever gives you the audacity to present yourself before the public. These are as much the subject of the book as its ostensible subject, piano lessons ... There is one final aspect of the book that contributes substantially to its originality: it is a coming-out story ... As he does throughout the book, Denk weaves invisible threads connecting life and art into something very close to musical form.
RaveAir MailWagner’s reach, as Ross comprehensively demonstrates, is vast, greater by far than that of any other musician in history, greater perhaps than any artist in any medium, his influence profound and continuing and by no means confined to music itself. I find myself already slipping into hyperbole, always a danger with Wagner. This is something Mr. Ross never does. One of the many beauties of this incomparably rich book is that it refuses to engage in any simplistic analysis of its subject, who emerges in his full bewildering complexity. It is one of the most valuable books about Wagner I know of, compelling one to engage not merely with the composer and his legacy but with music itself, how it works on us, what it is ... The book is of such scope, filled with so many surprising and unexpected details, crammed with astonishing juxtapositions and unexpected connections, replete with searching analyses of artists in every medium who have been influenced by Wagner, that all one can possibly do, here, is—like a guide in some great palace or museum—to point the reader gently in this direction or that ... By the end of the book, you may not like Wagner any more than you did before, you may not enjoy his music any more than you have in the past, but you will be compelled to admit that he was an absolutely titanic figure, whose influence and traces are everywhere, in areas scarcely touched on in this review.
Ash Carter and Sam Kashner
RaveThe New York Review of BooksFor practitioners of what used to be called the lively arts, Life Isn’t Everything, an oral biography of Mike Nichols, is manna from heaven, its brilliantly orchestrated polyphony bringing him, his work, and his world to vivid life ... It is properly celebratory and deliciously filled with his bons mots, but from its opening pages, it shirks none of the complexity of the man, acknowledging the darkness so close to the shining surface ... Life Isn’t Everything is no whitewash job ... Again and again, it returns to the question of identity. Under the infinitely polished surface, complex things seem to be lurking ... The breadth of the witnesses is remarkable, as are their candor and perceptiveness.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewA Christmas Carol, despite the multitudinous saccharine versions souped up on stage and screen every festive season, is a pretty damn scary thing, but Jon Clinch’s prequel to it is black as hell, outstripping even Dickens’s remorseless and painful probings of his protagonist’s soul ... By some uncanny act of artistic appropriation, he has, without imitating Dickens, entered into the phantasmagoric realm that is the great novelist’s quintessential territory, and, like the fat boy in Pickwick, he triumphantly succeeds in making our flesh creep. But Clinch does much more than that ...he creates a penumbra of invention around the original novel ensuring — caveat lector! — that you may never be able to think of it in the same way again. Here, as there, he fleshes out characters and events often very lightly sketched in the original ... Clinch endows Dickens’s snapshots with a three-dimensional, often alarming, life ... His most startling and creative conception is the title character ... Clinch has done something remarkable in Marley, not merely offering a parergon to Dickens’s little masterpiece...but creating a free-standing dystopian universe, a hideous vision of nascent capitalism in which nothing is real and every transaction is a fraud issuing from the brain of a master forger, who by the end has reduced even his own life, quite literally, to a trompe l’oeil. Clinch’s Marley is one of the great farouche characters, at once frightening and dangerously attractive ... We can but hope that this masterly Gothic prequel will banish forever the Currier and Ives version of Dickens’s dark fable.
RaveThe GuardianIt speaks for itself with such clarity, certainty and wisdom that only one thing needs to be said: read it. And then read it again ... It is wonderfully distilled, but not sententious; even in extremis, Altan never loses the limpidity and translucence, vivid with the vividness of dreams, which is characteristic of his other writing ... It is a radiant celebration of the inner resources of human beings, above all those triggered by the imagination. Its account of the creative process is sublime, among the most perfectly expressed analyses of that perpetually elusive phenomenon. And it is a triumph of the spirit.
William J. Mann
MixedAir Mail... remarkably ambitious ... [Mann] has conducted many vivid interviews with Brando’s friends and associates, and been exceptionally thorough in his investigation of Brando’s boyhood, his family life, and his political activities...Of these he gives the fullest and most sympathetic account yet, showing how deep-rooted was Brando’s commitment to social justice and racial equality ... This montage-like, back-and-forth technique is by no means unsuccessful in exposing layer after layer of Brando’s life...Sometimes he leaves something and never returns to it, but the weaving is handled with remarkable deftness ... The passages of reporting—like on the civil-rights march—are highly successful, dramatized but factual and credible; less convincing is Mann’s attempt to enter into the mind of the man he invariably refers to as \'Marlon\'—never a good sign in a biographer ... Despite the author’s constant assertion that Brando regarded acting as a childish, insignificant activity, the actor’s own words, liberally quoted, give the lie to this. He fought fiercely and constantly to take his work beyond the competent, the intelligent, the attractive ... Mann’s book is continuously fascinating, vivid, and full of new information; for anyone interested in Brando, it is indispensable. But about the central activity in his life, it is fundamentally wrong. So, yet another book on Brando is still to be written.
RaveNew York Review of Books...this is not a mere Sacks smorgasbord: it has a distinct identity of its own and covers a remarkably wide range of topics, none of them unknown to his regular readers, but unified by a particular tone ... we are left with an image of the author that is extraordinarily touching ... There are echoes here across the whole of Sacks’s voluminous oeuvre—tales differently told, glancing allusions to people encountered elsewhere, fragments of autobiography ... the pieces collected in Everything in Its Place introduce us to the remarkable, odd boy that he was ... Sacks traces with fine sympathy the terrible spiraling failure of care over the twentieth century.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Carefully meditated but curiously upsetting ... The story of Elspeth and Kenneth’s marriage is depressing; but Dennison’s account of their child’s life is heartbreaking ... Dennison, in this finely written book with its sometimes bejewelled vocabulary has dug deep into some of the complex truths that underpin The Wind in the Willows and give it its layers of resonance ... at its core, what it celebrates, despite adventures and crises, is a quintessentially English dolce far niente, a refusal of the real, a quiescence that is almost mystical. As such, it embodies the odd, half-life so elegantly described by Dennison in this biography, perhaps the most haunting of whose revelations is that the figure of Toad was inspired by little Alistair, the lost child of lost parents.
MixedThe GuardianHis book is predictably droll, provocative and crammed to bursting with startling facts and improbable names ... It is also strangely impersonal. Was ever an author so present in, and yet so absent from, his own work? It is always unmistakably Ackroyd, just personally uninvolved ... It is with the 17th century that Ackroyd really embraces his kingdom, delineating in astonishing detail the topography of queer desire across the city ... Ackroyd’s rapid survey of the changes in his – my – lifetime does not do full justice to the extraordinary transformation of the queer experience.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewSlyly and wittily, he analyzes political events in Shakespeare’s world in terms of our own experience ... Tyrant is a fine polemic, but it is considerably more than that. We learn not simply what Trump tells us about Shakespeare but what Shakespeare tells us about Trump. Illuminating scene after scene, Greenblatt is especially fine on the mechanisms of tyranny, its ecology, so to speak, leaving one deeply moved all over again by Shakespeare’s profound and direct understanding of what it is to be human.