RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe Man From the Future is an apt title for Ananyo Bhattacharya’s brisk exploration of the products of this astonishingly fruitful mind, and where his glittering array of contributions to such diverse fields have taken us since ... Mr. Bhattacharya...is a first-rate guide to the dauntingly complex nuts and bolts of these abstruse subjects. Although I am skeptical that any attempts at popular explanations of quantum mechanics can succeed, the author’s crystal-clear prose and his keen ability to relate the essence of mathematical and physical problems in understandable terms work just about everywhere else, making for a tour de force of enjoyable science writing ... Mr. Bhattacharya...relies entirely on secondary sources, not even consulting the von Neumann papers at the Library of Congress ... This necessarily narrows Mr. Bhattacharya’s portrait of his subject; it also leads him into some inaccuracy and injustice to von Neumann and others ... It is, however, a marvelously bracing biography of the ideas of John von Neumann, ideas that continue to grow and flourish with a life of their own.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalIn retelling the story of Oleg Gordievsky...Mr. Macintyre is...traveling well-worn ground. But for a number of reasons The Spy and the Traitor is far less successful in offering a new understanding of the mindset of the double agent ... Mr. Macintyre adds some new drama to his retelling, thanks to the extraordinary access he gained to the MI6 officers involved in the operation ... From interviews on the Russian side, the author also gleans some previously unknown details ... One of the shortcomings of nearly all true-life spy tales is that the primary source is inevitably the spy himself. Many long passages in Mr. Macintyre’s book that recount his conversations and thoughts are taken directly from Mr. Gordievsky’s earlier memoir. The author rarely questions his rationalizations and explanations, and the few fresh quotations he gleans from 100 hours of more-recent taped interviews sound perfunctory and well-rehearsed.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Okrent argues that racial theory was the decisive \'weapon in the immigration wars.\' Yet by his own telling, it seems to have been a weapon that fired mostly blanks. Mr. Okrent offers little evidence that these ideas changed many minds or drove immigration policy in a direction it was not already headed; indeed, the racial theorists mostly repeated the same old widely held prejudices in new pseudoscientific garb ... Mr. Okrent’s determination to be exhaustive in presenting his findings leads to repetitiveness and a certain amount of disorganization, not leavened by some wooden metaphors ... But this is an unsparing look at the history of some very ugly ideas, not without echoes today. Mr. Okrent never asks a crucial question—why many of these ideas arose in America but never really took root in America.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalAs Ben Macintyre observes in The Spy and the Traitor, the world of the professional spy attracts people with a predisposition to egotism, romantic fantasy and deception, then intensifies those feelings with its rules of secrecy and its culture of hidden power. \'A degree of intellectual snobbery is common to most\' spies, he writes, \'the secret sense of knowing important things.\' Equally common is a sense of loneliness and resentment toward the same system. / All spies crave undetected influence, that secret compensation: the ruthless exercise of private power.\' ... In retelling the story of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer who spied for Britain from 1974 until his exposure by Aldrich Ames in 1985, Mr. Macintyre is also traveling well-worn ground. But for a number of reasons The Spy and the Traitor is far less successful in offering a new understanding of the mindset of the double agent.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"How hunting came to hold an iconic place in American culture in the first place is an interesting tale, and in The Fair Chase Philip Dray explores it with a balance and fair-mindedness that is unusual for such a contentious subject ... Mr. Dray’s approach to such material is mostly anecdotal and impressionistic. He is not always careful to distinguish between the things hunters said about themselves and the things they actually did, and it takes more assiduous digging than he has done to get to the experience of hunting as it existed outside the pages of the sporting gazettes ... The great strength of this telling is the author’s ability to see that little about his story is black and white. He makes a strong case for the credit due to sport hunters for successful campaigns to save the American bison, halt the wanton slaughter of birds for their plumage and set aside land for nature conservation ... In predicting the imminent demise of hunting due to evolving “ethical” attitudes, Mr. Dray, I think, underscores the historical inadequacy of his equation of American hunting as a whole with the elite sport hunting movement. He barely touches on the history of hunting in America before the late 19th century.\
PanThe Wall Street JournalMr. Klimburg is not the most lucid or engaging guide through the technicalities of the subject. He is overly enamored of poli-sci speak and the jargon of international bureaucracy, devoting pages to discussions of 'path dependency' in the government decision-making process and the nuances of the 'multistakeholder approach.' He offers up the inevitable allusions to Clausewitz and Tom Friedman, and never seems to have met an acronym he didn’t like. At crucial moments he retreats into vagueness and platitudes. The more disappointing deficiency in The Darkening Web is the failure to engage the inescapable trade-offs that all of these challenges pose ... Mr. Klimburg effectively outlines the dangers we face but, when it comes to solutions, offers little more than abstractions about international governance mechanisms.
Edward Jay Epstein
MixedThe Wall Street JournalNothing in How America Lost Its Secrets is likely to sway Mr. Snowden’s many fervent supporters. And for all of Mr. Epstein’s breathless tales of foreign travels and clandestine meetings with unnamed 'sources,' in the end he can produce only the most circumstantial evidence to support his more provocative claims. He is far more convincing, however, in casting doubt on the accepted picture of Mr. Snowden as a selfless whistleblower acting on the highest motives. At a minimum, Mr. Epstein shows that much in Mr. Snowden’s story simply does not add up, and that much was discreditable in his actions even if one accepts the good he did in bringing attention to the excesses of NSA’s domestic data-collection activities ... He repeatedly passes off detail as relevancy, effort as result. For all of his gum-shoeing around hotel lobbies that Mr. Snowden once passed through and interviewing sources who must not be named, precious little of substance emerges.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThe Secret War covers much familiar ground, but the decision to combine what are in fact only tangentially related subjects in one narrative may have been a mistake. There is little that connects codebreaking, spies, sabotage, resistance movements and deception operations in World War II other than the fact that they were all secret. As a result the book reads more like a ramble than a purposeful journey. But there are certainly interesting byways, especially on those excursions where the author is a reliable guide.