RaveThe Wall Street JournalConvincing ... A clearsighted narrative of 17th-century England, deftly integrating original and insightful analysis of underlying social phenomena and expressing his enthusiasm in brisk, wryly humorous and occasionally bawdy prose ... Embraces episodes of high drama equal to any associated with the Tudors. There are conspiracies, battles and executions aplenty, plus apocalyptic scourges of pestilence and fire in 1665-66.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... compelling and compassionate ... Mr. Guyatt draws upon meticulous archival research and analysis of prisoners’ letters, diaries and memoirs. Crucial evidence was teased from Dartmoor’s surviving five-volume register of incoming Americans. Transcribing every entry into a searchable spreadsheet, Mr. Guyatt sifted this data to test the veracity of personal narratives compiled from memory ... Of the dozen or so prisoners who left detailed memoirs of Dartmoor, none was black. In an era when U.S. citizenship remained a deeply contentious issue, No. 4 was seen by some writers as a dangerous precedent for black self-determination, and King Dick became caricatured as a swaggering tyrant. Through a vivid and convincing reconstruction of life inside Dartmoor, The Hated Cage provides a valuable corrective to such distortions.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalGiven its extensive timeframe and diverse cast of characters, Crown & Sceptre could easily have become little more than a potted history of Britain from 1066 to the present. But while Ms. Borman offers deft and thoughtful assessments of every reign, the chronological approach is enriched by details that help to humanize her subjects ... A judicious selection of illustrations not only shows how monarchs have sought to shape their own public image—notably the striking portrait commissioned by Elizabeth I to commemorate naval victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588—but also the way in which critics have subverted convention.
RaveWall Street Journal[A] disaster forms the vivid centerpiece of Charles Spencer’s The White Ship, but the event is just the fulcrum for a more expansive and intriguing story. In a deftly written, thoughtful narrative, Mr. Spencer explores the significance of the tragedy, spanning a tumultuous century of strife that began long before William Ætheling’s death ... As kings, queens, knights, bishops and even the occasional pawn move across the chess board, readers must concentrate to keep track of a shifting cast of remarkable characters.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalSpanning almost a century of the Georgian era, The Howe Dynasty presents a richly detailed and lively saga of one of its most distinguished families. Challenging and insightful, it reflects impressive scholarship, grounded in exhaustive archival research on both sides of the Atlantic. An especially valuable source is the correspondence that Caroline Howe maintained over more than 50 years of friendship with Lady Georgiana Spencer, mother of the celebrated leader of fashion, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. The Howe Dynasty shows how women whose supreme function in life was to produce male heirs could nonetheless find a voice through informal \'networking,\' establishing crucial contacts in the drawing room or on the hunting field that could be mobilized to secure favors and control opinion.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal.. vividly written ... In novelistic prose, Mr. Kelly conveys the starkness of close-quarter naval warfare, where retreat was impossible and men dismembered by solid iron shot were unceremoniously pitched overboard to clear the decks. Valcour also evokes the remote and rugged landscape where events unfolded and the raging storms that suddenly transformed Lake Champlain’s surface ... Ironically, without the tarnished hero of Valcour, the United States might not exist today.
Peter R. Henriques
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... rather than offering another cradle-to-grave biography, in his First and Always historian Peter Henriques presents a series of stand-alone chapters, each exploring a particular episode or topic that illuminates Washington’s character ... relatively short and written in chatty and accessible prose ... Mr. Henriques seeks to engage those who already know something of his subject but want to learn more.
Edward J. Larson
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalLarson lays down a pairing that has hitherto been neglected ... Mr. Larson has written a dual biography intended to highlight the overlap between his subjects. As their combined lives spanned almost the entire 18th century, this is an ambitious undertaking. Perhaps inevitably, given such a broad and hectic canvas, there are some minor glitches. The Redcoats who marched to disaster with Braddock, for example, were not the elite Coldstream Guards but the less glamorous and more expendable 44th and 48th Regiments. Likewise, specialists may be puzzled by the author’s habit of equating the American Revolution with the war of 1775-83, rather than extending it to include the decades of political upheaval that bracketed the fighting ... Yet Franklin & Washington does ample justice to its subjects’ achievements. Whatever the true nature of their partnership, there can be no doubt that both Founders provided an example of selfless and honorable service to their country.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... spirited and provocative ... [Coe\'s] lively opening pages raise expectations of an irreverent, and distinctly feminist, approach. Yet despite the occasional digression upon subjects that take the author’s fancy, the narrative of You Never Forget Your First is surprisingly conventional ... written in chatty and accessible prose ... Ms. Coe offers a brisk and breezy take on the first president that will likely satisfy her intended readership, with a modest page count and considerable space taken by lists and compendiums of information. Yet simply tracing Washington’s eventful lifetime poses a formidable challenge: There’s a good reason why those \'dad books\' are so thick. Here, compression of dense source material leads to some skewed chronology ... In addition, while Ms. Coe is at pains to unpick some of the hoariest yarns woven around Washington, she is not above spinning others.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalDrawing upon meticulous research, Mr. Matzen delivers a vivid, moving and persuasive account of a harrowing time that the actress seldom discussed in detail and which has been glossed over or sensationalized by frustrated biographers ... As Mr. Matzen demonstrates in his fascinating book, Audrey Hepburn, for all her future fame, was defined and haunted by World War II.
Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMessrs. Meltzer and Mensch offer a fresh perspective by focusing on the strange and astonishing events arising from British schemes to undermine Washington’s command from within and on the initiatives to frustrate such efforts through the formation of a Patriot \'Secret Committee\' employing methods that prefigure today’s \'counterintelligence\' ... Narrated in short, fast-paced chapters, The First Conspiracy deploys a conversational style that may rankle some readers ... There is also much repetition, and some hyperbole. For example, the authors never tire of emphasizing that the British soldiers and sailors converging upon New York were members of \'the biggest, most powerful, most feared military in the world\' ... Their conclusion that Washington was a target rests on rumors of a \'horrid\' or \'hellish\' plot that began circulating several days before Pvt. Hickey’s trial. But none of the official records...reveal such bloodthirsty objectives ... A more plausible explanation is that an exaggerated account of the conspiracy was spread to bolster the Patriot cause.
Harlow Giles Unger
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalToday, while Franklin remains an undisputed giant of the Revolutionary generation, the other Benjamin eulogized by Adams and Jefferson is largely forgotten outside the ranks of historians and medical specialists. Now two authors—award-winning journalist Stephen Fried and seasoned historical biographer Harlow Giles Unger—have produced sympathetic and readable reassessments of Rush’s remarkable career, intended to secure what they consider to be his rightful place as a leading Founding Father ... Both rely heavily upon Rush’s prodigious output of publications and his lively and wide-ranging personal correspondence. Their books reveal a dedicated humanitarian with an enduring influence upon American medicine, not least through the estimated 3,000 doctors that he trained. Yet neither author ignores the contradictions in Rush’s character, flaws that mired him in controversy and that help to explain why he still requires rehabilitation.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal[Rush is] sympathetic and readable ... [while highlighting] contradictions in Rush’s character, flaws that mired him in controversy and that help to explain why he still requires rehabilitation ... Given his many undoubted achievements, why was Rush destined to be relegated to the supporting cast of Founders? Here, as Mr. Fried emphasizes in a perceptive analysis, his intimacy with so many famous men worked against him ... Through the efforts of Mr. Fried...what Benjamin Rush characterized as \'the distant and more enlightened generations\' are now better placed to judge him.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Philbrick made his name as the author of maritime titles, and his fans will relish his convincing account of Arnold’s brief stint as commodore. His retelling of the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain is a finely balanced blend of narrative, description and analysis that highlights Arnold’s flair for combat on land or water.