RaveNew York Times Book ReviewIts title notwithstanding, The Quiet Before crackles with noise: Chartist orators whipping up support for suffrage... Futurist manifesto-shouters...white supremacists chanting ... But Gal Beckerman’s elegantly argued and exuberantly narrated book also features quieter groups whose conversations, he demonstrates, eat away at the underpinnings of established authority ... What gives Beckerman’s book its appealing freshness is his focus on the vehicles of communication themselves ... This is not least because his episodes are humanized by vivid biographical vignettes of the founders, each framed at a critical moment in their outreach to the potentially like-minded ... As brilliant as Beckerman often is on the makers and sustainers of these networks, he is less satisfying on (or perhaps just less interested in) the eventual upshot of their efforts, doubtless because so many of them ended in frustration ... [The] book (white supremacists aside) is full of genuinely moving scenes of prelapsarian innocence, catching the networkers in the bright dawn of their community-making.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)... improbably glorious and exceptionally herbaceous ... Scurr has achieved something remarkable: a completely original book on a completely unoriginal subject. But then she is herself a truly remarkable writer, one of the most gifted non-fiction authors alive ... Notwithstanding the fact that the author is evidently herself a keen gardener who clearly knows her pelargonium from her amaryllis, the project of seeing Napoleon fresh through his relationship with the natural world would seem, to say the least, a bit of a stretch. But then Scurr understands just how central botanising was to the Enlightenment mind, even, or especially, to those who also felt the blood rush of arms, and Napoleon: A Life in Gardens and Shadows reveals a Bonaparte no one else has managed to illuminate in quite the same way ... This is probably not the book to go to if what you want is a procession of military collisions, though Scurr’s account of the murderous fight, \'tree by tree\', for the walled garden at Hougoumont — the decisive battle within the battle of Waterloo — will actually drop you in the midst of the carnage more intensely than any military history ... this is one of the best books you’ll ever read on what without too much oxymoronic licence can be called Napoleonic culture ... Most appealingly, we get the women, for once not treated decoratively or empire-line erotic but fully present in their own right ... marvellous.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...if you want to celebrate the place that bookmaking and bookselling still have in our lives, notwithstanding all those hours captive to the digital glimmer, you could do a lot worse than immerse yourself in Ross King’s rich history of Vespasiano da Bisticci ... the real pleasure of King’s book is its detailed evocation of the physical grind of bookmaking ... King rightly resists any simplified chronology of the transition inaugurated by the arrival of print from the German north that prompted scribes to lay down their quills ... The Bookseller of Florence doesn’t pretend to wade into debates in the sociology of culture ... What you will find in abundance here is a historical celebration of the Greek humanist Cardinal Bessarion’s belief that books \'live, they converse and speak with us, they teach us, educate us, console us.\'
RaveFinancial Times (UK)\"... [a] powerfully absorbing closer to the series ... She may start a book with a topical howl, as in...the quietly desperate tone of Summer, at once utterly exhausted and bristlingly combative ... But the issues pondered in Summer, as in the three other books, are weighty questions of the human condition ... To all these matters Smith brings not a sermon disguised as a novel but the brawling comedy of English diction (she has a pitch-perfect ear for social voice, whether the Man Behind the Counter or the teenage crusader). She also brings her A-team of literary players to the game so that storytelling, along with knowledge and truth, stand ready to testify about the matters in hand.
RaveThe Financial TimesIn The Mirror and the Light, the majestic and often breathtakingly poetic conclusion to her Cromwell trilogy, Hilary Mantel has been astute enough to deal with this double-nature of the past by making it her great theme ... [an] engulfing total sensory immersion in a world as completely vanished as Henry’s Nonsuch Palace, materialised through feats of voice, vision, touch and taste. Voice is paramount since it needs to be immediately accessible without jarring anachronism. I have no idea what vocal (and pensive) models Mantel chose for Cromwell but in Montaigne’s Essays and Erasmus she has writing styles that are often close to utterance and are exactly poised between modern bluntness and Renaissance self-interrogation ... It’s true that passages of noun-bloat swell the volume to gargantuan heft. But this reader wouldn’t want a word less. Mantel’s description-addiction is a means of conveying the texture of the material world in the unfolding story ... as with the most powerful and enduring historical fictions the book grips the reader most tightly when, as is often the case, the writing comes as close to poetry as prose ever may. The imagery is by turns fantastically airborne and materially concrete ... Very few writers manage not just to excavate the sedimented remains of the past, but bring them up again into the light and air so that they shine brightly once more before us. Hilary Mantel has done just that.
RaveFinancial TimesThe Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is a wonderful book, not least in the literal sense of an epic unfolding in a nonstop procession of marvels, ordeals and apparitions ... The true measure of Wilson-Lee’s accomplishment, delivered in a simile-studded prose that is seldom less than elegant and often quite beautiful, is to make Hernando’s epic, measured in library shelves, not nautical miles, every bit as thrilling as his father’s story ... The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is also a work that speaks to our own information-engorged time ... Hernando was a one-man receiving station for the plenitude of the world. The same could be said for Edward Wilson-Lee ... A list of Wilson-Lee’s lists would consume this review but many are revelatory ... But, the quality of writing aside (which in its strongest passages bears serious comparison with the sensuous descriptiveness of Marguerite Yourcenar), The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, is most compelling as a meditation on the response to an explosive expansion of knowledge.
MixedThe New York TimesBut this reduction of 'being Jewish' to a state of hair-tearing anxiety about the surge of anti-Semitism means Weisman never quite delivers on his subtitle’s promise. A richly researched and nuanced account of Jewish life in stressed-out, polarized America would be timely, but this isn’t it. Instead, Weisman takes a chapter to complain about what he considers the major distraction preventing American Jews from being fully alert to the perils of the time — but this, a little surprisingly, turns out to be 'Israel, Israel, Israel' ... The second malaise Weisman identifies as blunting Jewish alertness to the peril of the times is the hollowing out of a Jewish identity that is neither uncritically Zionist nor devoutly religious ... None of this is to make light of the sinister anti-Semitic strain in the ascendancy of alt-right ideology. There are plenty of signs that Jew-hatred is pushing through the soft walls of ultraright politics and poisoning its bloodstream. There is nothing wrong, as Weisman counsels, with Jews standing shoulder to shoulder with those most damaged and threatened by tribalist populism, as Jews like Abraham Joshua Heschel did in the heyday of the civil rights movement.
PositiveThe Financial TimesAs this last, beguiling collection of stories bears witness, condescending to Updike as the lyricist of small satisfactions misses the power of his great, deep, subject: the pathos of American boyishness; the gap between bright expectation and experience into which the Rabbit Angstroms and the rest fall with their air of desperately bewildered ruefulness … Updike was better at the elegiac than the catastrophic. But My Father’s Tears, despite the implication of the title story, isn’t all mood indigo. Updike’s genius was for the richly relished, precisely nailed, moment; his incomparable powers of translation between what is observed and what gets fixed in memory.
RaveThe Financial Times...[a] howl-a-page assault on the pieties of race debates in America ... [an] outrageous, hilarious and profound novel ... No writer since Tom Wolfe in his Bonfire of the Vanities years has such an eye for social farce ... Beatty plays for very high stakes — but he wins ... [a] beautiful and weirdly poignant book.